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olwen in the punjab

Just writing up this itinerary filled me full of excitement as it was clear there was just going to be so much to see and experience. I accompanied the first group on the Hola Mohalla ride in 2016 along with 9 guests.

The horses and camp supplies are provided by Bonnie from Dundlod in Rajasthan so you know you are going to get a fit horse and a well organised camp. The actual itinerary is the dream of Colonial Sarpi Singh, who lives in Chandigarh where the ride starts and finishes. Col. Singh is a long time friend of Bonnie and sometimes accompanies the Rajasthan rides so if you have ridden with Bonnie before you may well have already ridden with the Colonel. He has designed the Hola Mohalla itinerary and is assisted during the week by his daughter Nanaki. As a Sikh, the Colonel is of course knowledgeable about the Sikh religion and can help you understand the history of the Hola Mohalla which will make your visit so much more interesting. Some of his friends may be your guides when you arrive at Anandpur Sahib and visit the Hola Mohalla.

Like most of our India trips there is time built into the itinerary on the first day to see a little of Delhi. This is ideal to help you get over the flight and start to get into the right frame of mind. In 2016, on the first full day, we then flew from Delhi to Chandigarh, but as we all know, hanging around airports and dealing wtih airport security can take a lot of time. Also, internal flights in India have quite a strict luggage limit. So, for 2017, we are travelling from Delhi to Chandigarh by train which will mean that we will be able to mount up that afternoon for our first ride. In 2016 we set off riding from Ramgarh Fort but the first couple of hours wasn’t so good, with quite a lot of traffic and built up areas, so we are omitting that first morning ride and meeting the horses in the river bed to ride through to Pinjore and to our first night’s camp.

Thereafter the itinerary rode well in 2016 and we expect it to be even better in 2017. The riding follows dried up river beds and you see much of rural life, from the subsistence farmers eeking out a living in the river bed (until a flood washes away their home and farm) to the larger farms of the Punjab plains. The Punjab is a wealthier area than Rajasthan and so while you see some basic farming with ox and camel carts, you will also see many large, highly-tuned tractors.

And as you get closer to the town of Anandpur Sahib you will see many hundreds of decorated tractors towing trailers (some double-decked) full of pilgrims heading for the Hola Mohalla. The excitment is positively palpable.

The riding pace also quickens as you leave the river bed and ride along the tracks running alongside the wide canals.

On the riding itinerary you have four nights in hotels – all very comfortable and ranging from a four star hotel in Delhi to the beautifully renovated Bharatgarh Fort – and three nights in a comfortable “safari-style” camp. The food is delicious Indian cuisine throughout.

The climax of the trip is of course the visit to the Hola Mohalla. It is incredibly hard to describe the atmosphere – the crowds are huge, the noise amazing and the sights completely out of this world.

If you have time, then I do recommend you stay on to visit Shimla. The ride ends near to the town of Kalka which is the starting point of one of the most famous train journeys in the world. This narrow guage railway was opened in 1903 and goes through 102 tunnels and over 886 bridges as it climbs from Kalka at 655m to Shimla at 2100m.

Shimla is famous as the former summer capital of the British Raj and it still has a fun, holiday, feeling. The streets are safe to walk through; there are lots of people (mainly Indian) on holiday; the shops are bustling and there are some great restaurants. You will be in Shimla for the Hindu festival Holi – the festival of colour and that’s a huge amount of fun. Don’t worry all that colour will wash out!

You can read all the blog posts I made when actually on the Hola Mohalla trip by clicking on the links below:

Arriving in Delhi

From Delhi to Chandigarh

First day’s ride to Pinjore Gardens

From first camp to Siswan

From Siswan to Nalagarh

From Nalagarh to Bharatgarh

From Bharatgarh to Anandpur Sahib

At the Hola Mohalla festival

From Hola Mohalla to Shimla

This is a great horseback adventure. Maybe not as many hours in the saddle as on some other rides, but I can think of no better way to see and experience the sights, smells and noises of India.

Olwen Law, March 2016

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