"Do you see that white temple up there on that hill?" asked Jenny, our friendly guide. Blinded by the bright winter sun rays, the myopic me squinted my eyes and saw a speck of white at a distance...great distance. "We are going to hike up to that temple. The view from up there is gorgeous." Jenny sounded positive. Me, not so much. I was happy with the view I had from my room's balcony at Club Mahindra Kandaghat—green pine covered hills and a faraway village.
I was staying at the Club Mahindra Kandaghat Resort, 25 km away from Shimla. The verdant hills, heavily wooded forest adjacent to the resort, well-manicured lawns, strategically located apartment blocks, multiple sunset points, lush garden—all of 16 acres of Club Mahindra Kandaghat seemed unreal to me. My reverie was broken, rather sweetly, by a singing koel perched on my balcony railing. Sat on a chair, facing the hills, I saw a hint of magenta here and there in the fading blue of the sky. I remembered the instruction I got upon my arrival at the resort—the sunsets are marvelous around this part of the country. They are a riot of colours. That evening, it seems magenta was Mother Nature's choice. From where I was placed I only got partial sunset experience, but from what I heard from others at the resort, the sunset was a beauty. Well, I had a couple more days to spend there, I mentally prepared myself to chase sunset.
'Comfortable' would be an understatement when it's about my cream and gold coloured room at the resort. Furnished with all modern amenities, a warm room during winter was what I wanted and exactly what I got. Keeping the cold weather outside in mind, all rooms come with a room heater. I couldn't help but notice that around me there was silence, except the occasional birdcalls. What a luxury for someone who is used to the noisy Delhi!
After a short rest, I headed to Blossom restaurant—an Indian/Chinese/Continental set up—for my evening tea hosted by the folks at Club Mahindra Kandaghat. It got dark pretty soon but that didn't deter the spirit of hiking because soon enough someone pointed to me the temple that I was going to climb up to early next morning. Procrastinate! Yelled my lazy inner self. There was dinner to go to. And so we headed next to our dinner venue—an outdoor setting, right next to a fountain. As the evening proceeded, the fountain was happily replaced by a roaring bonfire as we sat down for dham, the traditional Himachali meal. It was my first time trying traditional Himachali cuisine. First came kheru—yogurt and coriander soup, followed by an assorted thali. I thought siddu was litti at first, but then it was not. The lentil stuffed fermented dough sat next to paneer channa madra (fennel infused stew with cottage cheese) and dohi daal (split black dal with clarified butter)—my personal favourite. Bedwan (deep fried stuffed roti), tawa bhalla (daal dumpling tossed with spicy onion tomato gravy), pahadi maas (tangy lamb stew) and khatta murgh (chicken marinated and cooked with dry mangoes) constituted the thali. I like my pumpkin as they come and it was best when it came as a dessert. Kaddu ka meetha was a delicious sweet end to a very rich and happy traditional meal.
I told myself "tomorrow is a new day full of new experiences".
New day indeed! I was excited for that hike up the hill. We formed a group and Jenny as our leader and guide, we set out on a long walk. Not too bad, I thought. After a 20min walk in the main road, keeping a safe distance from the vehicles and their drivers, all of whom seemed to be in some kind of hurry, Jenny stopped and gathered us. I thought it was not too bad of a walk, maybe we will walk more and eventually reach the top after 2-3 hours. So naive! Jenny stopped and told us "OK guys, from here we walk up that hill". In front of me was a super slim kaccha path, rocks, shrubs, dried grass, assault to my calves and pain. Needless to say, 30 steps later, up the hillside, that was the end of hiking for me. The joy in my calves when someone from the team announced "I am done"! I guess all I needed was a reality check from someone else's courage to call it quits. We were struggling to keep our balance on that steep slope of a track when a local lady walked past us...knitting a sock. "Dheere dheere chaliye, ho jayega. Hamara toh roz ka kaam hain" (Walk slow and steadily, you can do it. This is what we do everyday). That kind lady explained that she goes up that hill daily to cut grass and bring it to her village down below. I looked up at the far away white temple and my legs protested "Not today!"
Jenny told us that some guests did finish the hike.
Back at the resort, we went to get our breakfast and all eyes went to that white temple from the windows facing the hill. Well, God is everywhere. We decided to look at the temple and pray in our hearts!
Since our hike was cut short, we had ample time to kill so we decided to look around the resort. All 16 acres of it. Our host promised us a hike, we got one anyway. The resort is spread in such a way that there were carefully manicured lawns whichever turn we took. The winding roads inside the resort grounds led to multiple sunset points, activity centre, gardens, a nursery, fruit orchard, herb garden and a plantation spot where we were shown trees planted by guests. Note: If you are a gardening enthusiast, you need to spend some time here. Bougainvilleas hugged the walls, hibiscus and roses in rows everywhere I looked. As the resort's thing-to-do, I planted a sapling. I was happy to leave my mark in a positive way.
The indoor tour of the property took us to their in-house gaming zone. Equipped with a daycare centre, table tennis, a kiddie pool for water zorbing, ball games, arts and crafts centre, an area cordoned off for live music and a souvenir shop, the' fun zone', as they like to call it, was any vacationing family's holiday within a holiday. Fit for both adult and kids alike, this could very well be that one place in the resort where you can get the best of fun and view—from the poolside it gave a 180 degree view of the property and neighbouring hills. The fact that the resort is somewhat a solitary place—between Solan and Shimla, it's but natural to have some doubts if you are thinking of a 'fun' holiday. I thought about it too at first but all changed as soon as I stepped into their outdoor gaming zone. There's so much to do—paintball tournaments, archery, target shooting, rock climbing, commando net, monkey crawling, Burma bridge and ziplining. I found out my hidden skills of shooting, rather expertly, at the ground instead of the opponent and hiding behind the safety posts for long period of time. Adrenaline still high, I agreed to go ziplining. For the acrophobic me it was a big deal because not only it was the longest zipline in whole of Himachal but also because I volunteered to go first. From that very moment when you get pushed from that ledge to the 38 seconds of zipping through the tree tops till you land on the other side, everything happened so fast that it was literally a blur. Pure fun!
Back at the resort, after hours spent outdoors, I met with some members of the local Self Help Groups. The all-women team had come from the neighbouring villages. I was then informed that there were 17 SHGs, 10 women in each group, and that they produced goods like chutney, papad, knitted woolen clothes, jute bags, all on their own. For marketing purposes, they have their own stall at the resort's souvenir shop; apart from that, they sell their goods during state exhibitions, fairs etc. All proceeds from the sale at the souvenir shop goes to these SHGs. From walnut face scrubs to fruit preserves to the fiery chilli mango pickles to woollens, these ladies bring the best of organic products and it's all good. Highlight of the meeting: a lady came up to us and told us that she finished knitting a pair of socks on her way to and from the hilltop. It was our happy reunion!
As a day-time activity, one can take a guided tour of the neighbouring village to experience their daily life up close and personal.
I told myself "tomorrow is a new day full of new experiences".
Shimla is just 25 kilometres away and though it meant tearing myself away from the comfort of the resort, I decided to take a trip to the old city. Drive of civilisation and over population didn't spare Shimla and that it was warm in December spoke volumes. But I found while driving up and down the winding road of Shimla, amid deodar forest, the beauty and charm of the old world Shimla somewhat intact. Along with my host, we paid a visit to the Viceregal Lodge located on the Observatory Hills of Shimla. Also known as the Rashtrapati Niwas, this former residence of the British Viceroy of India was later handed over to the Indian Institute of Advanced Study. It was here where the future of India and Pakistan (the Partition) was discussed between Nehru and Mountbatten. We joined the guided tour of the place and I found myself face to face with such a crucial part of India's history. There's a small round wooden table, which is now divided into two parts as a symbol of Indo-Pak Partition. The 128-yr-old building's walnut-wood ceiling (common in Kashmir), chandeliers from Belgium, Burmese teak covered walls (because then Burma was a part of India), cedar wood floors, ballroom, the sweeping staircases...I couldn't help but imagine the many grand Balls that must have been hosted and attended by Who's Who of bygone days. The 1888 building was regal then and is still regal now.
My brush with history didn't just end there; next we moved on to the famous Mall Road. It's an experience in itself. Depends on what you choose to observe, there was a sense of peace and in that busy market square. Everything just looked so old in Shimla, and in a good way of course. The colourful old LIC building, the post office, street lamps, horses and vendors waiting for customers, it all looked beautiful to me. We called it a day there and decided to head back to Kandaghat.
My last evening in Himachal and I was determined to experience the glorious sunset everyone was talking about the other day. On our way back, somewhere around 5pm, I saw the beginning of what would in the next few minutes were to become one of the most picturesque sunsets I have ever seen. From few faint lines of orange across the fading blue sky, in the span of three minutes, the winter sky turned from orange to golden to fiery red. What a sight! We stopped to take in the view and amidst constant clicks of cameras, I had just experienced one of the most perfect hill holidays.
Location: Club Mahindra Kandaghat, Kalka -Shimla Highway, Shimla Hills, Dist. Solan, Himachal Pradesh
Accommodation & Tariff: 72 well-furnished apartments; from â¹ 10,000 per night.
Contact: Club Mahindra Kandaghat