Silly sher and sweet cat
Bheegi Billi meaning a “wet cat” has the connotation of a “sheepish cat”. When you put that “sheepish cat” under a magnifying glass, it appears like a “silly tiger” or a “silly <g data-gr-id="77">sher</g>”. Those were the exact words of an eccentric friend that sold to us impromptu, the idea of driving down to <g data-gr-id="82">Silisher</g>, near Alwar. The friend was aware that platitudes of plateaus, hills and lakes would not convince us, so he chose the method he did. There is no story involving a <g data-gr-id="84">trans-lingual</g> pun on the words ‘silly’ and ‘sher’ but the lake palace was home to Sheila, the queen of Raja Vijay Singh, who had the lake built in 1845.
The lake is not a natural lake. A <g data-gr-id="81">rill</g> running through a valley surrounded by the ancient Aravalli hills was easy to dam – the king realised and did so, to fulfil the water needs of the surrounding regions. The result was a 10 square kilometre lake with breathtaking panoramic views. The dam itself is a marvelous piece of architecture with old Roman style columns that earlier dams had.
Getting back to the narrative, if one is travelling from Delhi, one takes the NH8 through Gurgaon, after which there is a sharp left turn, almost a U-turn, followed by quick right turn where he stopped to have a meal at a restaurant called “Harish”. Fervent <g data-gr-id="87">apologies</g> for the digression, but “Harish” is our answer to “McDonalds”. Every waiter was wearing a shirt with “Harish” embossed on it. The nation is “moody” right now and “moody” people are <g data-gr-id="88">kins</g> of Narcissus! If one continues straight after Harish, one reaches Allwar in about an hour. It was already dark by the time we reached Silisher/Siliserh, which was a bonus over the silly tiger tale, for it was a full moon night under which the lake looked resplendent.
There are many hotels nearby, but if one has to soak the scene in, the lake palace is the place. The hotels all end a couple of kilometres before approaching the lake, and the phantasmagorical pleasure of driving through the woods with the headlights switched off under the full moon is an out of the world experience. The lake palace is now a heritage hotel run by RTDC. <g data-gr-id="116">Hotel</g> it is all right, the heritage seems to be wearing away under the duress of time and apathy. At Rs 2,500 a room, for the condition the place is in, it is on the costlier side, but given the demand from weekend-getaway-ers, it still commands that price. The food was not great, but we did not hate it either. All that is beside the point. The point is to stand on terrace on a full moon night, and think that one is a werewolf! An endless envelope of the black sky spangled with stars, with the distance highlighted by silhouettes of the Aravallis, and same stars reflected in still dark waters, to no end.
The terrace itself is beautiful with its huge marble floor and domed chhatris which get accentuated under moonlight. One can keep staring into the skies and the starry waters and into oneself all night, but for the fact that they shut down the terrace after dinner, for the fear of monkeys. Apart from monkeys, we also saw a civet cat scaling up the outer walls of the palace. For the uninitiated, the civet cat has the mouth of a rat, tail of a cat, and time of a bat. With its snout it’s capable of digging hard earth, therefore it’s also known as a grave digger which by the way it is, and with its tenacious body it can climb vertically.
A civet had once climbed up to the balcony of my <g data-gr-id="91">hostel</g> room and given birth to three puppies. A guard had told me, “Sir sweet cat is very dangerous,” which sounded like a contradiction in terms, but when I saw the three day old kids climb vertically, I knew what he meant. In Silisher, I was delighted to see my old friend “sweet cat” instead of the “silly/wet cat”.
The view from palace in the morning is equally romantic and expansive. The sheer expanse of the lake and its bracketing by the hills makes it a picture perfect place. The palace is on a hillock overlooking the lake. So, one has to climb down substantially through a maze of steep stairs to the lake. For all our pilgrimage, we could not partake of the pleasure of boating, for boating was off that day’s schedule to aid the fishermen lay their nets. There were a bunch of Australians fishing there with a rod, and they did grab a big trout.
Disappointed, we climbed up again and drove <g data-gr-id="105">round</g> the mammoth perimeter of the lake. Babas are as ubiquitous as <g data-gr-id="106">dhabas</g> in this country, and we spotted both. On the lonely shore of the lonely lake that breeds lonely crocodiles that we couldn’t spot, there was this <g data-gr-id="107">baba</g> sitting on his grabbed land with a bunch of minions. He told us about the visitations of an angel on the hill that faces his ashram. “Only I can see him, no one else can,” he quipped. Mulling over such profundity, we moved on. One of us collected twigs, another chatted with <g data-gr-id="108">washer women</g> whose coloured Rajasthani attires added to the photographers’ stereotypical imagination, after which we waded through mustard fields like philosophical buffaloes. Flanked by Sariska Tiger Reserve where we may spot a “Silly Sher” some day, and Tijara which has an enchanting ancient fort, <g data-gr-id="109">Silisher</g>, will beckon many a time again.
To end, quite literally, and trans-lingually, a silly <g data-gr-id="162">sher</g>:
Sometimes nature beckons you
Sometimes bacon nurtures you
Andaman & Nicobar
A group of nearly 570 islands, this exotic location has amazing wildlife, pristine silver sand beaches, mountains, breathtaking natural beauty and tribal tour. The lush green vegetation and scenic beauty is more dominant in <g data-gr-id="173">pre monsoon</g> (May to August) to post monsoon (September to November) with showers of rain.
HOW TO REACH: Through ship services from Chennai, Kolkata and Vishakhapatnam or a direct flight to Port Blair airport.
ATTRACTION: Havelock island for scuba diving and other water sports and surfing at little Andaman.
Kodagu, which is also known as Coorg, is an administrative district in Karnataka. Known for its dense forest, which also offers the best variety of flora and fauna, it is widely known as Scotland of India. To embrace the magic of rain and fragrance the place must be visit within June to September.
HOW TO REACH: Coorg doesn’t have a station by itself but the nearest railway stations are Mysore, Mangalore and Hassan which are within the range of 120 to 135 km.
ATTRACTION: For an invigorating experience visit Coorg’s most popular waterfall of 5 km drive.
The hill station is situated in the lap of <g data-gr-id="227">Northern</g> state of Himachal Pradesh. The mighty Dhauladhar ranges stand high and provide a magnificent view from Dalhousie. Monsoons in Dalhousie aren’t heavy and the light showers make for a pleasant weather which doesn’t restrict movement.
HOW TO REACH: Since the place doesn’t have its own airport, Gaggal and Pathankot airports are just 140 km away. Pathankot’s Chakki Bank railhead is the nearest railway station.
ATTRACTION: Kalatop, Ajit Singh memorial, <g data-gr-id="216">Jandhari</g> <g data-gr-id="218">ghat</g>, <g data-gr-id="217">sach</g> pass among others holds the best
Spiti valley, HP
The place, which is well known as a “little Tibet”, is untouched by man and retains its serene and mesmerising beauty. The uniqueness of this place is the pleasant and moderate weather. September to October is an ideal time to visit when autumn colours of Spiti are blooming with orange leaves on the trees enhancing the beauty of magnificent backdrops by many levels.
HOW TO REACH: Nearest railway station is in Shimla. The nearest airport is the Kullu airport at Kullu.
ATTRACTION: The place has a <g data-gr-id="243">hypnotise</g> sight of flora and fauna at pin valley.
Amit Ranjan teaches literature and is currently working on his book on John Lang <g data-gr-id="73">Sreedeep</g> is a Photographer & Research Fellow with C-PACT, SNU