Friday, September 3, 2010

On the road to Dalhousie

Dalhousie, as the name suggests, or maybe not, is a hill-station in the state of Himachal Pradesh, and established by the British, ostensibly to escape from the intense summer heat of the plains.

Since it is a hill-station,  it stands to reason that there hills there. As it turns out, the grandest of mountains surround this beautiful hill-station - the Himalayas. The northern guardians of India's borders for millenia. Home to over one hundred peaks that are over 23,000 feet in height. That is over 7 km high. The birthplace of massive rivers like the Ganga, Brahmaputra, Indus, Yangtze, and more, that sustain over 3 billion people (Himalayas).

Strictly speaking. the hill-station of Dalhousie is located at the western edge of the Dhauladhar range. The Dhauladhar range itself is considered a part of the Himalayan Mountain Range system, and has several peaks that are close to 17,000 feet in height.,_India
National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) 
The Dhauladhar (lit. White Mountain) range is a southern branch of the main Outer Himalayan chain of mountains. It rises spectacularly from the Indian plains to the north of Kangra and Mandi. Dharamsala, the headquarters of Kangra district, lies on its southern spur in above the Kangra Valley, which divides it from Chamba [1].
To get to Dalhousie from Delhi, you could choose to fly to Amritsar and then drive, or if you choose to drive, the road you need to take is the historic Grand Trunk Route, or NH1 as it is now called. The GT Road spans India and Pakistan, and "It was initiated by Chandra Gupta Maurya, and later renovated and extended by Sher Shah Suri". The poet Rudyard Kipling (1, 2, 3) said in his book, Kim, "such a river of life as nowhere else exists in the world."

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Much of the NH1 highway between Panipat and Jallandhar is being upgraded to six lanes, at a cost of Rs 2750 crores (that's Rs 2,750,00,00,000 or approx US $570 million). So you will find four lanes being expanded into six lanes, and flyovers being constructed over several towns and villages. Over the town of Panipat there is a six kilometer flyover that takes you from one end of the town to the other. Hour long traffic jams when trying to get through the town are now a thing of the past. A similar flyover exists over the town of Ambala too, and several others are in various stages of construction.

As you enter the state of Punjab, the drive does get a lot more colorful. Even without venturing off the highway, if you are ready and handy with a camera, you can snap some memorable pictures.

As the map above suggests, you should stay on NH1 as you near the Union Territory of Chandigarh, which means that you take the flyover.

Because the Grand Trunk road has been in existence for over two millenia, there are several large towns and cities that dot this highway. Delhi, Panipat, Karnal, even the holy town of Kurukshetra, Ambala, Khanna, Ludhiana, Amritsar, and Lahore in Pakistan. Ludhiana is by far the richest town in Punjab - as a district, and possibly as a town also. You get to see surreal spectacles like advertisements touting the services of Hummer stretch limousines, Mercedes Benz showrooms, and of course, a Mac Donald's fast food restaurant.

As I have said and blogged before (link), one of the most entertaining pieces of writing, lyrical Urdu poetry can be found on truck bumpers. Sample this below:
"gumraah ki zindagi hum jiya nahi karte,peecha hum kisi ka kiya nahi karte
ye dil nadan tha jo tum par aagaya, varna ye dil hum kisi ko diya nahi karte"
Poetry on the back of a truck
The last large town on the way to Dalhousie is Jalandhar. NH1 curves right and proceeds towards Amritsar and the India-Pakistan border. To go to Dalhousie, you need to follow the signs and make a right.

As you drive further away from Jallandhar, the scenery starts to feel less and less urban, and habitation starts to grow less and less dense. You almost feel like you are leaving the plains behind, and driving into unexplored territory. The drive after Pathankot gets you into the Himalayan ranges, and the road starts to curve and bend and climb.

A regular fixture on these highways is the presence of "dhabas", of fast-food roadside restaurants. The other fixture was the omnipresence of hoardings advertising beer. Not rum. Not gin. Not whiskey. But beer. Strong beer. A brand by the name of "Godfather" - now could there be anything stronger? Eh?

© 2010, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.