I looked up my eyes squinting, trying to grasp the vastness of the blue and white. It was as though a child recognising colours for the first time. But in my defense, Delhi skies barely looked like this on rare, fateful days. I wasn’t fully done embracing the warm blue when I was made aware of the Aravallis all around me.
I lunged deeper into my thoughts in split seconds and I couldn’t help but think of that precise moment as an epiphany of sorts. My trail of thought was broken by the chirping birds and a slight sizzle from the kitchen. I had almost forgotten the hunger pangs that seemed endless a while ago. I walked inside the dining hall, right next to the terrace, and the aroma of the spread pretty much indicated the beginning of a cosy weekend ahead.
I made my way to the Khohar Haveli after what seemed like an endless journey. The excruciating traffic and my pandemic-induced inability to sit still for long hours weren’t much help either. A couple of brakes and jerks, here and there, and finally I was out of the city bounds. The transition from the city only took a few minutes; accelerating two wheelers now replaced the heavy-duty traffic and the dusty, wide roads paved way for narrow, cobbled lanes, flanked by mustard fields on either side.
And the little Bollywood in me couldn’t help but think, “Ja Simrran ja....” I occasionally also blame my acquaintances who’ve inundated me with the reference.
Khohar Haveli nestles discreetly in Harchandpur village in Sohna district, Gurugram. With a 360° view of the Aravallis at all times, one can only think of how the most exquisite places exist far away, where traces of the human population are few. Harchandpur is a tiny village with about 60 residing families, all of whom are delighted to see city dwellers looking for an escape and ending up in their village.
The air around Khohar Haveli is engulfed in history. For one, it is nestled amid the oldest mountain ranges in the country, the Aravallis, which has seen various civilisations flourish in its lap. “These 17th-century havelis had been long forgotten until the early 1980s when Aman (Nath) chanced upon them with the help of his former student,” I was told over the cosy lunch spread, by Yogi and Ambar Vaid, who now own and run the place.
The Khohar Haveli(s) are actually twin havelis, a stone’s throw away from each other, which were acquired by Aman Nath in 1984 and 1988. The discovery of these havelis was just the beginning of a long road ahead, but one that Aman Nath particularly loves—restoration and revival.
Covered in dense yet tamed vegetation, the façades of both the havelis continue to bask in the glory of their former days. The narrow passage from the gate leading inside is graced with the history of the havelis on one wall, while its adjacent one sports ancient paraphernalia, including primal keys that have kept the havelis safe over the years. A few steps ahead bring you face to face with a jasmine tree—planted by Aman Nath—right in the centre, surrounded by a cosy, comfortable seating arrangement, under the open, natural canopy.
At Khohar, it’s all about the details and the tiny elements that lend it the old world charm. Remnants of the past here range from antique mitti items to furniture. All that, coupled with Aman Nath’s keen eye for choosing only the best.
To add to my fascination, I was told that the walls and the structures of both the havelis were not supported by concrete— bricks and cement—but rather by age-old traditional materials including dried cow dung. One cannot help but wonder how they managed. And not just managed, the foundation seems to be so strong, that they stand rock solid even today.
The skillful construction of the yesteryears seems to make its presence felt even in the most mundane things. The walls here are arched and low, the floor adorned with motifs, the stairs, undulating and the wooden doors sport ancient kundis.
Talking of stairways, there are two leading to the terrace—with an unparalleled view of the Aravalli Ranges and the small and warm dining space. However, only one staircase is open, owing to the steepness of the other one.
The property boasts of eight cosy rooms— four around the jasmine tree, two on the terrace and two at the far, back end. No two rooms are alike with the differences lying in their shapes, adornments, colour scheme, bedding arrangements and the area that they are spread across. A narrow arched path from the jasmine tree opens up the space to a sprawling garden, named Tara Bagh. At the far end of which lie the last two rooms, facing each other.
“This whole area was filled with life-sized rocks,” said Yogi. The land was bought and an extension was created via a passageway connecting the area to the haveli. What now stands there is a Mughal-styled garden— with a water channel and an octagonal fountain right in the centre—and is named Tara Bagh, in the fond memory of Yogi Vaid’s late mother.
I spent the afternoon chatting with the Vaid family under the warm winter sun, comfortably seated on the tree-tied swing in the garden. When you are away from the city grind, time seems to pass by slowly, with each minute making you feel a little more alive than the one that passed by. That being said, I never realised when the sun started setting and I was lost staring at the horizon, now in hues of pink and orange.
By now, I thought that I had seen the best of history coming alive. Little did I know that I was about to be proved wrong in just a matter of a couple of minutes, when it turned completely dark. Harchand ji, the caretaker, quickly rushed to switch on the fountain, followed by the incandescent lights so that I do not miss out on the twilight glow that was in store.
There is a strange kind of stillness here post sundown. The noisy children backed up within the homes, the cattle on the Aravalli well-fed and now resting, the hookah smoking elders retired and the village goes eerily quiet. And I won’t lie, the stillness seemed daunting at first, but once you get used to the silence, there is no going back.
I retreated to the terrace for dinner under the starry sky, with cricket sounds for company. Chef Mushtaq’s ability to spin culinary magic in a short span of time deserves a special mention. My city-oriented digestive system was surprised at the wholesome, fresh produce that now graced the table. Ambar’s not-so- little passion project is a kitchen garden in the adjacent haveli’s backyard. Cauliflower, beetroot, cabbage, spinach....all are farm fresh and make it to the dinner table, without any pesticides, shortly after they’ve been harvested.
The next morning was a misty one unlike yesterday’s and called for a coal-charred chai with fresh milk from just across Tara Bagh. Post breakfast, Harchand ji swiftly transformed into my tour guide.
A short trip around the village was up first. One often fails to recognise the simplicity of things in the fast-paced city life. It is at places like Harchandpur that you are grounded, even though for a short while. A few confused glances from the villagers, but mostly warm, welcoming smiles sure did set the mood right for the day. Next up, was a short birding expedition near the village pond, which is one of the favourite spots of migratory birds making their way to the village. I spot the white-throated kingfisher, a few ducks and a stork and blame the mist for the rest.
Coming back to Khohar to pack my bags, I was a little more sombre than I expected, partly, because I was leaving to head to the city grind; and because a few kilometres from here my phone would have ample signal, making me fully accessible to the world again.