Holidays by Shatabdi | On a train, spotting birds, scaling mountains

Trains carry a nostalgic value, relics of a childhood when holidays began and ended with rail journeys. The Shatabdis, Indian Railways’ super-fast trains that connect the metros to tourist, pilgrimage and business centres, still retain that quintessential charm, says Lonely Planet’s latest travel guide. In a pocketbook format, Holidays by Shatabdi lists 30 possible great trips from Delhi on six lines of the super-fast train, in Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. From hill stations to heritage sites and wildlife sanctuaries, these can offer a slice of adventure and history.

Here are the six quiet Shatabdi destinations that Mint picked:

1. Naukuchiatal

Naukuchiatal, or “the lake with nine corners”, in Uttarakhand’s Nainital district has a pristine lake at its centre and is surrounded by hills and forests. An all-year destination at 4,000ft above sea level, the hill station offers a variety of leisure activities, from a boat riding to paragliding. While the boat rides cost anywhere between 150-250, paragliding costs 1,500-4,500. Long walks around the blue lake are a must-do, especially on stretches away from the road. If you visit in May, you could also catch the local three-day music festival Escape , featuring emerging talent from all over the country, for an entry fee of 1,000 a day.

 

2. Pangot

Barely 17km from Nainital, Pangot is a trekker’s heaven. Surrounded by thick forests, quiet villages, endless streams and walking trails, this little-known destination offers no distractions in your exploration of nature. Take the 2km-long British bridle path to Pokhra Dhar (Woodpecker Point), one of Pangot’s most reliable birding spots, and catch glimpses of the woodpecker, luminous maroon oriole and blue verditer flycatcher around the shallow pool. Or picnic around the Pangot Nala stream. A 3km forest trek to neighbouring Kilbury, famous for reserve forests and views of the Bhabhar plains and snowy Himalayan peaks, is an added attraction. Must-dos include walks to the neighbouring villages of Pali, Tusharpani and Baggar, offering the quiet and peace that Pangot’s famous cousin, Nainital, doesn’t.

3. Dhanaulti

A tiny town in the Garhwal Himalayas, Dhanaulti in Uttarakhand, seems to be lost in time. The place offers unspoiled views of nature and birding activities at the Surkanda Devi Temple and Kodia Jungle. Amber and Dhara are the two eco parks at Dhanaulti, with rows of cedar, oak, plum and pine trees and excellent pathways—walk here or hitch a horse ride through the evergreen forests next to the parks. The Surkanda Devi Temple is also famous for its Ganga Dussehra fair. The little-visited hamlet of Kanatal, a stone’s throw from Dhanaulti, offers several trekking options, as well as a dip in the Tehri dam. Tucked in the shadow of Mussoorie, Dhanaulti is a world unto itself!

4. Barog

At 5,400ft, Barog in Himachal Pradesh is the highest point between Kalka and Shimla, and a quiet stopover. A hamlet of small, whitewashed cottages, Barog is surrounded by pine forests. Spend the morning at the Barog station, a quaint old railway station on the road to Solan, and watch the Himalayan Queen, a toy train, chugging away into the Barog tunnel, the longest tunnel on the Delhi-Kalka Shatabdi line. Stroll around Barog’s tiny markets, quiet meadows and narrow, pucca roads lined with peach and pomegranate trees. From there, you can see Solan town below and the massive Churdhar peak rising skywards. The neighbouring cantonment town of Dagshai is a relic of the British Raj.

 

5. Chail

Apart from thick deodar forests, panoramic views, a wildlife sanctuary and a sprawling palace hotel called the Chail Palace, the hill town of Chail in Himachal Pradesh also has the highest cricket ground in the world, the legacy of Bhupinder Singh, a former maharaja of Patiala. At Sadhupul, 16km from Chail, picnic on the banks of the Ashni river. The view of the Dhauladhar range and the Choor Chandni peak from Kali ka Tibba is spectacular.

How to reach: Take the Delhi-Kalka Shatabdi. At Kalka, take a taxi to Chail, 85km away, for 1,850. The best time to go is January-June and October-December.

Better known as the medieval capital city of the Bundela kings, Orchha’s grandeur lives on in its forts, palaces and temples, all within walking distance of each other. There is also river-rafting on the Betwa and lively cafés adjacent to the Raj Mahal, the main palace that offers sound and light shows in the evening. Visit the 14 riverside cenotaphs (chhatris) clustered on the banks of Betwa that give Orchha its distinct image.

How to reach: Take the Delhi-Bhopal Shatabdi to Jhansi, then a taxi to Orchha, a 30-minute drive, for 1,200. The best time to visit is January-February and April-December.

 

This first appeared in Mint.

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