Charming hill getaway from Delhi
Hazy outline of towering hills and a wide open highway. Loaded fuel tank and overdose of healthy munchies. Chirpy laughter and five light hearts. Road-trip, mini-getaway and squad goals. Kasauli calling!
Panchkula to Dharampur on the National Highway 22 is a breezy hour-and-half. Just started, and almost there, already! Never mind the missed road that GPS suggested, it will have to be an alternate route. The hills are circular, Aashish reassures…we’ll reach anyhow. Down a deserted, narrow, winding road, its just our starry-eyed selves and the first row of graceful pines. Wrong turn, yet so right! Oh, its Sanawar Hill, the guys realise, as we approach the entry gates of Lawrence School (Sanawar), one of the oldest co-educational boarding institutes in the world, established for British soldiers’ orphans in 1847. Mandatory park-and-roam. Discussing every thoroughbred alum we can think of. Swooning over fluffy white clouds crocheting the crisp blue skies. Sighing at the delicate beauty of the upturned spindly pines. Wandering off to identify strange purple flowers. Or clambering precariously near the edge to get close to pomegranate trees. Giving every simple pleasure a new chance…like its the first time.
Slip into a time warp
Valley views, curvy roads and the pines are now a constant companion, but Kasauli town arrives too soon. Traffic snarl ahead…and sadly, people too. Mall Road, roadside souvenir stalls and a much-coveted parking spot. Marching on a meal mission to Ros Common…squeezing between long lanes of inching cars. Half an hour into the hills, and we’re already hating vehicles with a vengeance. Vikas is keeping his camera busy, curiously inspecting picket fences and gates of private villas owned by retired army-wallahs, politicians, cricketers, doctors, artists and intellectuals, including a lane leading to Khushwant Singh’s house.
More trudging. Some skepticism about the direction. Anvi looks like she’s ready to drop. Finally we see it…the charming old bungalow converted into a comfortable six-room hotel by HPTDC. An outdoor table under the shadowy trees overlooking the valley. Anardana chicken, Himachali pulao and comfortable conversations on cushioned, wrought-iron chairs. Post-lunch session on staring into space, the Aditi way. Cool wind, rustling leaves and enveloping peace. This. Here. Now.
Back on the Lower Mall road, a necessary pitstop for fruit beer and juice at the Daily Needs shop (circa 1920s). Invisible footprints of the many famous and not-so-famous Sanawarians who gobbled countless ham sandwich and hamburgers perched on the wooden bench outside the store. Their faded profiles advertise the timeless reputation of the Sharma & Bros studio next door. Think Farookh Sheikh, Sanjay Dutt, Maneka Gandhi, Pooja Bedi and even a Bhutanese princess. Few steps ahead, the the door of Grand Maurice Lodge still sports the old British spelling of the town (Kussowlie). This charming wooden building probably hasn’t changed much since 1862. Except for the legendary dance shows, hot scones and views of falling snow! Days gone by…
On to the most recognised icon of town…the Gothic-style Christ Church, shyly concealed behind a curtain of tall, thick chestnut and fir trees in varying hues of green. A testament to passage of time…clad in simple stone and a slanting green roof, it hides lovely interiors, including a delicate chandelier, exquisite stained glass windows, a piano from 1909 and a solid dark wood-slatted ceiling. An old photo on the wall serves as a reminder that the British acquired Kasauli from the Gurkhas and established it as a cantonment town back in the mid-1800s. Occasion to pause and ponder.
A short stroll along old buildings with wooden facades leads to the Heritage Market, where a surprising ‘cobbled road’ is lined with local shops selling woollies and wood souvenirs. Time flits by choosing wind-chimes, lounging at Cafe Mantra and sharing bun samosa at Narinder Sweets (of Varanasi lineage), where Omar Abdullah and other famous Sanawarians once hung out. The outrageous ‘Paan’ heist by a mischievous monkey will go down memory lane as the most thrilling adventure of the day. Life is so uncomplicated up here.
Hide, retreat, seclude
The 6 km drive through a wooded path to our ‘home-away-from-home’ spells the start of indulgence. ‘Divine Valley’ reads a discrete sign outside a gated residential area of private villas…careful not to intrude.
Blown away by the interiors of Seclude. Classy meets cozy in the spacious living room, made welcoming with comfy sofas, book-lined library corner, dangling beady lamps and a real fireplace. French windows open into a small grassy garden, decked with cheerful flower beds, casually placed log stumps, a small badminton court and even an Enid-Blyton-ish ivy wall. Rustic dining room, wooden staircases, elegant art pieces and individually designed bedrooms spell impeccable attention to detail. Delicious dinner of our choice, served at the terrace table, with wind chimes keeping melodious background score. As for the perfect nightcap, there’s a pitch-dark sky studded with a million tiny diamonds.
At 5 am the next day, nature takes the stage with a majestic show across the widest canvas of all. A hypnotic drama unfolds slowly, with the changing complexion of the cloudy skies, darkening outline of mountains and mellow light adding blush to purple-pink bunches of hydrangeas. The mood is heightened by a leisurely walk listening to the sounds of silence, scavenging for fallen pine cones and eavesdropping into neighbouring villas guarded by stern guards. Slight drizzle and a fresh coat of green on leaves adds cherry on top. Is it a momentary addiction or will those dreams of buying a house in the hills last, we wonder over a hearty breakfast of piping hot alu parathas, frothy cold coffees and freshly plucked plums. A lazy morning melts into midday and we’re still in our pyjamas. Feels like home…
“Mujhe ghar nahi jaana” (I don’t want to go home) wails Anvi, as we say goodbye to the sleepy hill getaway with ‘nothing-to-do’. Thank God there’s no fast-food joint, lake boating or pony ride in these 658 wooded acres spread over a long ridge of the Outer Himalayas. No agenda or itinerary. Except to slow down, smell fresh wood, spot colourful birds, find exotic flowers, walk in the mist, collect pine-cones and just breathe. Maybe visit Monkey/Manki point (legendary resting place of Lord Hanuman while he was looking for the life-restoring herb, Sanjeevni). Sink into solitude at Sunset Point. Enjoy drinks at the colonial Kasauli Club. Relive romance of the Gilbert Trail. Buy fresh fruit from a roadside fruit stall. Or fill your heart with childlike ecstasy chasing double rainbows after the rains. Isn’t that enough?
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