Fagu: The Foggy Bliss Beyond Shimla
Fagu presents a 360-degree mountain view encompassing clusters of houses clinging to green hillside slopes, with apple orchards and potato growing terraced fields around them and conifer forest beyond. Intermittently covered under a layer of Fog (hence the British given name Fagu) it is beautiful and a near perfect.
Located at a distance of 392 km from Delhi, with excellent road conditions, Fagu is a perfect weekend getaway from Northern Indian plains. Shimla is too overcrowded and has become very kitschy in recent years (though it is still relatively clean and some of its well-preserved heritage buildings are still a sight to behold). So, the discerning traveller should go beyond Shimla. And that is where Fagu lies, just beyond Shimla.
There are two things that go majorly in favour of Fagu as a perfect destination. One, its location and two, its elevation. And then there is a third reason too-it is lesser known.
Fagu is located on the Hindustan Tibet road and in the middle of a number of popular and some lesser known destinations. Which makes it a perfect place to explore the region’s other desirable destinations. It is a further 22 kilometres drive from Shimla, the capital of the state of Himachal Pradesh, on the Hindustan Tibet road. Other nearby destinations from Fagu include Kufri (4 km), Mashobra (14 km), Naldhera (24 km), Theog (9 km), Narkanda (42 km), Hatu Peak (49 km) and Thanedar (57 km).
At an elevation of 2450 m, Fagu is the highest point in the region, which makes for an excellent 360-degree view and a perfect summer climate.
What to see
The hillside around Fagu is covered with conifers, Himalayan cedars and little villages. This is the apple country. You will see apple orchards in all directions. These orchards are easy to spot during summer days as then they are covered under a veil of white net, to protect flower of apple from occasional hail storms. You will see the green mountain slopes covered with clusters of these canopies of white net over apple trees.
Mahakali Deshu Temple
The highest point of Fagu is the hilltop Deshu Temple devoted to Mother Goddess Kali or Durga. She is the main deity in the region with many temples to her in almost every hilltop and human settlement. The most famous being the beautiful Bhima Kali Temple at Sarahan, on the Hindustan Tibet road at a distance of 138 km from Fagu. It is built in the traditional Kinnauri style with layers of stones and wood.
The Deshu temple of Fagu is reached through a stepped trail at starts near the HPTDC Apple Blossom Hotel, on the main road. The steps take you past the Kings Hotel parking from where another set of steps will take you to the hilltop temple. Alternatively, you can drive up to Kings Hotel and from there take the steps to the hilltop. The temple building is ordinary looking but a host of red prayer flags left by the devotees creates an interesting environment. The spot presents an excellent mountain view, especially in the winters when the snow-covered peaks can be seen on the horizon.
The main temple is opened only during holy navratras ( a set of 9 days), which happens twice a year. But you can pay your obeisance from outside the temple gate from where the idol of the goddess is visible. On usual days you can pray at another side temple, which is opened for the devotees when they come here.
From the parking of the King’s hotel walk a few steps further towards the valley and soon on your right you would see the building of the central potato research institute with potato farms all around it.
Just 4 kilometres by the road at a lower elevation from Fagu is the small settlement of Cheog. It can be reached by a beautiful drive through deodar forest or alternatively and more rewardingly through a walking trail. Cheog has a small market with sweet shops and vegetable shops among others. It also has a few places to stay. The best here is the Highlanders Homestay.
It is a great idea to pick the walking trails and visit one of the numerous small villages dotting the hillside around. It is a good idea to see first-hand how these hardy people live their lives in this tough terrain. The local population is friendly and welcoming. But you must not be imposing and must respect their privacy.
A village story from Fagu
Shagalta is a small village in Fagu. It is reached through a mountain foot trail and alternatively through a winding road which goes towards the settlement of Cheog from Fagu.
While walking early morning on this mountain trail we just happen to meet Mr Chandel, a resident of Shagalta. We struck a conversation with him about his life in the area, their livelihood and the tourist who frequent here. After a while, he magnanimously and happily invited us to his village home. He besides his wife has a grownup and married son, Govind, his daughter in law and a 6-year-old grandson, who goes to a local private school. The family sustains itself through farming. They chiefly grow apple, potato and garlic.
The Chandel family is setting up a new homestay, a little below their present house. The new, about to be finished homestay, has been created in a traditional manner using mud as the basic construction material. He hopes to soon open this new homestay for tourists and add to his income. They plan to name it The Mud House. If you are planning to visit Fagu and want to inquire about Mudhouse then call Govind Chandel at 9805327482.
The present Chandel House, also constructed in a traditional manner having a slate and wood roof, with its private apple orchard, a cattle shed, a kitchen garden and a grove of trees as a neighbour presents a perfect setting. They offered us tea. The tea, which was a bit too sweet, still felt great, especially in their warm sitting room.
Owing to its elevation, Fagu remains cold throughout the year. Even on warmer summer days, it can turn cold suddenly on any day if it gets a could cover due to local weather conditions. During peak winter months of December and January, things go below freezing point. This is the time it snows every year and this is when you would need heavy woollens. During summer months you would need light woollens.
Kufri and Narkanda are two places which are popular as ski destinations in winters. Both are at a short driving distance with good quality roads from Fagu. Kufri especially gets a huge tourist footfall, where one can indulge in all the touristy things, such as getting photographed on a yak, going for a mule ride, eating fast food and do some adventure sports. There is an amusement park there too. It is too crowded during high tourist season with many boisterous revellers around.
Hatu peak (3475 m) is the highest point in the Shimla region and presents an excellent view of the snow-capped mountain peaks, including Kinner Kailash. It is reached through an uphill 8 kilometres trek or a steep drive. There is a temple at the peak top dedicated to Mandodari, wife of Ravana.
Mashobra is a pleasant little hill station that was the favourite of India’s first prime minister Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru. It has a premier five-star heritage property (Wildflower Hall, run by Oberoi Hotels chain) located near the hamlet of Chharabra, besides many other guesthouses, homestays and a little market. Surrounded by a forest of conifers and deodars it is a quiet little hill station with many a mountain trails around to keep you gainfully busy.
Where to stay
One of the best places to stay in Fagu is the Himachal Tourism Development Corporation’s Hotel Apple Blossom. Its location is at the top of the ridge boasts of excellent views and is just next to the Hindustan Tibet road. It has big and fairly well-maintained rooms with an apple orchard next door. There are many other hotels and homestays to choose from. The huge king’s hotel has a great location with views, but with small rooms which are packed too close together, giving the hotel a cramped feel. The décor is kitschy and I found it a put off. The rooms are also surely over-priced.
(Reposted from Travel Bug Asheesh)