Kasauli : Eat, sleep, walk, repeat

For a real feel of life in the hills, Kasauli is the best bet, insists Aarti Kapur Singh

Kasauli was once described by Khushwant Singh as “the place where kissing is always in season”. While the claim can be disputed, the location is certainly right, especially on the Gilbert Trail (popularly called ‘Lovers Lane’) where I was serenaded by this gorgeous bird (later identified as a yellow-billed blue magpie).

Merging into nature is easy in Kasauli that inexplicably loses out to Shimla in popularity. Part of the Shimla Hills (minus the crowded cacophony of what was the erstwhile summer capital of the Britishers), at an altitude of 1927m in the Shivalik range, Kasauli was then, and remains now, a welcome respite from ‘the burning plains of Hindoostan’.

After Independence, the Army developed Kasauli into a cantonment. This military legacy has to be thanked for Kasauli’s cleanliness — a Brigade Headquarter and an Air Force unit still exist in this town of less than 5,000 people spread along 658 wooded acres astride a long ridge of the Outer Himalayas.

Bunsams
Bunsams or bun samosas.

 

Thanks to Mohan Meakins Brewery (the home of Old Monk Rum), the club, the literary fest, and Rhythm and Blues Festival, Kasauli often appears in been-there-done-that lists. But those are exactly not the reasons why one should make a trip here. My agenda is always different. The first thing I often do is dump my bags and head out to the mall and dig into several sumptuous ‘bunsams’ — a happy marriage between a crispy samosa and sweet bun. The Tibetan stall serves amazing thukpa. Delicious poppy seed halwa at the sweet shop adjacent to the bank is the best dessert after the meal. Tall chir pine and deodar trees, cobbled roads and fresh mountain air goad you to move — after you’ve been a glutton. Get off the beaten path, literally, and discover trails covered with pine needles, armed with binoculars to spot ravens, drongos, flycatchers among other mountain birds. I even bumped into a ghural (mountain goat) once!

The walks always throw up travel tales. The latest, heard from an old khidmatgar (bearer) of the Kasauli Club — former Pakistan president Ayub Khan served his first appointment after passing out from Sandhurst Military Academy, with first Battalion, Royal Fusiliers at Kasauli.

A relic

The Christ Church is a beautiful relic of this part of the past and has survived since 1853. The stained glass paintings on the main wall above the altar have been done on glass imported from Spain and Italy. Kasauli Brewery is another pilgrimage (take a two-kilometre detour at the road that branched off at Gharkhal on its way to Dharampur). Originally owned by Edward Dyer (father of Brigadier General Reginald Dyer, of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre infamy), it is famous for making the ‘Scotch of the East’, Solan No 1, and the first-ever Asian beer, Lion.

Legend has it that Kasauli came into being when Lord Hanuman, on his way to getting the Sanjeevani herb, stepped here before jumping on to the Sanjeevani hill. A Hanuman mandir atop the 300-mt high hillock, called Manki Point, marks the supposed point where Lord Hanuman is said to have rested his feet. This temple lies within the confines of an Air Force radar station and base and is subject to security restrictions (no cameras or bags allowed, and entry closes as early as 4 pm). 

trek
A trek is rejuvenating.

 

Truly British

If you’re looking for the perfect spot for that romantic getaway for two, or considering a locale that is not too crowded, 7 Pines, an ‘English Retreat’ (as described on the website of Leisure Hotels, the group that owns it), is the best bet. It will win your heart at first sight. This home away from home is a retreat secluded on top of a magnificent hill, giving you a perfect setting for that calming yoga session or that greenery-absorbing nature walk. Right from the country cottage architecture to the ditsy floral prints on the bed linen, to the menu (apple crumbles, English roast chicken are in-house specialities) and even the services provided by the staff (who will leave hot water bags in your rooms while you eat dinner at the in-house dining area) — the place is as English as it could get. The quaint colonial touch given to the homestay rejuvenates you from the daily hustle and bustle of city life. Promising you one of the most memorable and alluring experiences, right in the heart of nature, this boutique ‘hotel’ — if you insist on calling it that — will make sure you take home pleasant memories.

Despite being like a backyard for people from Chandigarh, Kasauli retains its charm. Whether it is the cool greenery that envelops it, the food, or the seemingly banal act of falling asleep amidst lullabies of the mountain breeze — just eating, sleeping, walking can be done on repeat mode to recharge a weary mind and body.

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Kasauli : Eat, sleep, walk, repeat

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