Cooped up without travel for three months thanks to the lockdown, I can distinctly remember how this time last year, our ramshackle roadways bus thudded down the serpentine hill road headed to Kalka. The mist and the clouds billowing outside entered the bus occasionally through its windows whenever the latter hissed to a halt just before a turn. Wispy and a dense white, it flowed taking its own time, as if in a dance. We were leaving Kasauli after a weekend of soaking in some quick hill bliss.
The rain had been hardly amenable and cars were like ant retinues invading homes in damp weather. They were stuffed with hormonal 20-somethings, shaking with the hooting and Punjabi music blaring out of their sound systems. Back in the capricious heat of the Capital, the events of these two days would go past in a blur. Despite all that, we'd been able to steal a blissful sip from the cup of the otherwise calm Kasauli, which was established in 1842 for the local British population in the Raj days.
A six-hour drive from Delhi and about an hour and a half from Chandigarh, Kasauli is the perfect weekend destination for families and couples alike. Pleasant all year round, the cantonment town attains a whimsical, nostalgic stupor in the monsoon. Here's how to spend a weekend in the town:
Marvelling at Colonial-era Churches and Architecture
The pretty Christ Church is barely a five-minute walk away from the Kasauli bus stand, the road encircling its precincts. Constructed in the 1853, when Kasauli was still Kusowlie, the stately structure is surrounded by deodars and pines. The formerly Anglican church, which underwent continuous refurbishment throughout its history, is at risk of turning into a veritable Ship of Theseus, but for the enduring pews and the altar. It is a striking structure whose stuck-in-a-time-warp quality lessens with each passing minute, thanks to the ever-swelling throng of tourists.
Usually, towards the evening, when the soothing mountain warmth subsides and a nip in the air takes over, the church is its Gothic, sublime self again. However, the same is not true of the secluded, much humbler Baptist Church, located at the end of the Heritage Market. The spot makes for an excellent point to view the hills stretching far away. Close by is a cemetery that has tombstones dating to the 1850s. The other wonder of colonial-style hill architecture is Kasauli's green-gabled houses that have gorgeous facades and gardens. The road up from the Christ Church, leading to the ‘Manki’ Point Trail is lined with several of them, punctuated by the finest alpine specimens.
Finding nirvana—and jam!
To be fair, both the Mall Roads of Kasauli, and even its bustling, cobblestoned Heritage Market, owe their energy and North-Indian urban getaway vibe to the bustle of the tourists. The rich aroma of butter and fried food floats in the air and a faint Led Zeppelin or Red Hot Chili Peppers number plays in the distance—where else can you get that combination? Shops selling apparels, toys, cosmetics, knickknacks and what have you—there is a lot to distract you. The allure of Narinder Sweets' crispy bun samosa was accorded cult status years ago by the writer Khushwant Singh, but there’s a queue to be contended with.
A hole-in-the-wall establishment that looks a little run-down, catches our fancy. Called Café Rudra, the place has paper tissues complimenting their offerings, tacked on the turquoise blue walls. A pin-up bandana with the faces of Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, John Lennon and Bob Marley may grab all your attention. But then, the Irish cream coffee (boy, these guys really do know their coffee) arrives.
At the market complex in the city centre, just across the Christ Church, is the famous Gupta Brothers store, in Upper Mall Road. The impressive old-school convenience store can still give those modern gourmet superstores a run for their money. Recommendation: Get some lemon marmalade and black grape preserve to take back home. It won’t be easy to choose, though, unless you’re not on a budget and have a huge dicky.
Telling trails of monkey business
Reserve your second day for exploring the splendid nature walks that lend another dimension to Kasauli. The upper Mall Road leads to the highest point in the town, called the Manki Point (a corruption of monkey; the primate abounds here). After a four-kilometre walk from the bus stand (ask for the road heading back to Dharampur), one reaches a vantage point that offers stunning aerial views of the town of Kalka, Chandigarh, and even the Sutlej coursing through the mountains.
Some like the lesser-explored and rather Edenic Gilbert's Trail better, with its revitalizing mountain breeze, avian spotting opportunities, and panoramic views of the vale profound. The kilometre-and-a-half pine-fringed trail that cuts off near the Army Holiday Home, is a blessing for birdwatchers, who often spot jungle owlets, grey bushchats, and red-billed blue magpies here. The lucky ones claim to have seen even deer and hyenas!
If you’re staying at Kimmughat, another short trail to do is the one leading from the Lower Mall Road, around the annexe of HP Tourism’s popular Hotel Ros Common. Those craving some solitude to introspect or enjoy some quality time in their partner’s company may head first to the Mashobra School (about half a kilometre from Heritage Bazaar), then walk on and turn left to get to the Old Kasauli Road. It leads to Parwanoo and there’s even a little waterfall close by.