It was a clear and sunny day in mid-January. The sapphire blue sky looked beautiful and drew us outside from the cold interiors of our friend’s flat. The soothing sunlight kissed our cheeks and convinced us to assume a touristy attitude for the day. We got dressed and headed down from Mall Road to the Lakkar Bazar Bus Stand in Shimla. We had chosen our excursion spot for the day- Kufri.
We did not fulfill our duties as tourists though. Soon we boarded a crowded bus and were jostling with local Himachali people. We changed buses twice before finally reaching the bus stop for Kufri. Then, tying my jacket around my waist, I got ready to hike to the viewpoint. The asphalt road swayed to the left at one point and on the right branched into a raw and muddy road.
The rocky path was not frequented by tourists. Besides us, a father and child seemed to be taking a stroll from their village. The further we ascended, the more littered the road became. Our trekking boots sloshed in the slippery mud as our feet struggled up the slope. Soon we reached a crossing, where heaps of garbage lay on the side of the road. It was where our secluded trail met the busy road lined with vehicles. Packs of mules stood tied to their masters who waited to sell their backs for money. An army of tourists had assembled from every state of India that you can name. Stalls selling snacks and accessories were conducting business in full swing. Locals approached potential customers and offered rides on mules to the Kufri viewpoint and back.
As we stood pondering on the road, the smell of mule droppings overwhelmed our noses. But there was an earthy tinge to it, which made it bearable. We finally made up our minds to hike up to the viewpoint. Our boots were soon caked in mud and poop. The trail became less muddy after a point and we carefully avoided stepping on fresh dung. Hordes of tourists sat on the backs of mules, screaming, crying, or laughing away to glory. Trails of dust spiraled upward from the mules’ hoofs, and we hikers had to cover our eyes and mouths.
Following twenty minutes of moving with the packs, we reached the entry point for Kufri. Frankly, the sight we saw was unlike our expectations.
If we were there for any sort of sightseeing, it was mainly to see the brightly colored dresses of tourists and their peculiar activities. The dusty trail ascended to the viewpoint, where locals sat with gigantic telescopes. The snow-laden range afar was their source of income, despite the great distance. Gleeful couples removed their branded shades and peeked into the lens. They leaped in joy at the sight of the mountain range and smiled romantically at each other. They flicked out their smartphones to click selfies, but the range was too far away to be their selfie pal. We considered trying out the view, but the exorbitant price turned us in another direction.
After paying our respects at the Kufri temple, we headed toward the mini market. Bright yellow Maggi packets and silver water bottles were strung from stall windows. We scanned the area for items of our interest. Our eyes were arrested on packets of tangy pickles, but the prices again deflected our gaze from them. Disposed plastics lay lodged among dollops of soft mud, glittering in the bright afternoon sun.
If not anything, the animals of the place attracted our attention. Some furry shepherd dogs lay basking in the sun, while others wagged their tails excitedly at tourists. Colorfully dressed up yaks stood peacefully while their owners haggled prices with people. Thick rings hung from their septa and made their nostrils more prominent. I shuddered as a yak owner pulled at a ring, dragging the yak by its nose.
For our journey down to the base, we chose mule rides. People were lined up to get their own personal mule. But soon we found a guy with spare mules and haggled prices with him. For 200 INR a person, we were soon dangling our feet between the backs of a black mule and a white one. When my furry carrier plopped down the hill, I swayed with the motion and smiled. Soon it picked up the pace and I screamed in excitement. The cold wind swept the dust in my face. As my mule slipped on a patch of mud, I felt myself slipping through gravity. Other mule owners laughed as I let out occasional shrieks.
Soon enough we reached the base and patted our mules on the back for their effort. Our Kufri sightseeing came to an end with us seeking more animals at the Himalayan Nature Park. But it was closed on Tuesdays. So we bade adieu to Kufri and the muddy road leading to it.
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