The five stars of Cassiopeia had never looked clearer. I raised my fingers and traced its zigzag outline. The southernmost, Segin, seem to rest above the wooden roof of the hotel, a shade away from the cedars and broad-leaved oaks that formed its shrouded boundary. As my gaze travelled further down, Segin’s brilliance faded into the luminous nooks on the façade. Set on every level of the building, these niches were a nod to the diyas used by local villages, signalling home and hearth to those in the dark. Further inside, the warmth continued by virtue of small alcoves outside every room. I had checked into the Taj Theog Resort & Spa, a luxury property some 30 kilometres beyond Shimla, and it didn’t look like I had to check out—or even step out—for a dose of Pahari heritage anytime soon. The flooring was Himachali carpet, the mirror framed by wood of some forgotten fragrance, and the balcony opened into a sterling hillscape. Theog, once a princely state, comprised five small ghats, and the hotel was built into one of their ridges.
Around 4pm, the clouds parted, and we made our way to Tragopan, the all-day dining space. Messiah-like light bathed the food hall, as we sat down for a traditional meal. Not that Tragopan didn’t serve more frilly European plates, but there’s something about dragging a kadak roti across the last bit of gahat ki dal (horsegram soup) in your bowl. The dal set the stage for course two— succulent trout, cooked just right, a bit of lamb gosht, and amaranth kheer—while the clouds opened up even further. Our group may have been faint of heart when it came to braving winds near dusk, but if we’d grabbed a chair at the terrace, it could have been our personal painting, anointed by Churdhar, the highest peak of the outer Himalayas.
The scenery, though breathtaking, had competition inside. Be it Theog’s difficult terrain—or the more showy handicrafts that float about in stores— most Indians are unfamiliar with Himachal’s traditional arts. The hallways, with practised nonchalance, hope to change that. Our host for the stay pointed out the Kangra rumal lining the hotel’s walls. The delicate handkerchiefs, embroidered with gopis and divinities, came from a not-for-profit in the area. Taj, as a brand, has had enough time to refine its touches of heritage in every property, and this one was no different.
The understated yet deeply provincial mood continued into the Jiva Spa, which came equipped with nourishing herbs, masks and wraps of every vintage. I can’t recall which treatment I was shuttled into, but I remember the prickly, needle-y scrub slathered on in no time. And its smell and texture—a curious mix of jaggery and chyawanprash. The masseuse wrapped me in a hot towel— the tight tuck a mix of burrito, pupa and mummification—and left me to stare at a bowl of affirmations on the floor. One probably spelled out ‘attention’, but I can’t be sure.
Evenings, if not used for bonfires and stargazing, were spent at Theog Junction. Not an actual station, but the gastropub modelled after the Delhi- Kalka toy train. We nibbled on arancini, mezze and shared abstractions, as a local singer crooned old English and Hindi hits. A little girl joined in on the show, shaking a leg as her parents focused on their tikkas. We wondered what the big deal was about this appetiser, until it landed on our table—it was made of elephant’s foot yam, a foreign sight for many upper-crust palates.
The day before our departure, we were treated to a Theog roundabout. If you stick around for at least three nights at the hotel, you’ll be able to enjoy all of them with ease. The Hatu Peak—Shimla’s second-highest—is the most obvious beginning, followed by the namesake temple, dedicated to a local form of Kali. The drive from the hotel takes about an hour.
Near the top, weirdly, there were several HDFC welcome signs that marred our view. We couldn’t do much except try and look past them. The person who it was set up for had long left the area. But he’d probably get a kick out of it to know that his welcome, albeit ugly, has stuck around and become part of the view.
Make sure you grab a book from the lobby before you head for Hatu—you’ll need it to fully enjoy what waits on the way down. A green meadow, margined by a lake, lies quiet and undisturbed.
It unmistakably beckons anyone who passes by for a picnic. We were easy devotees, and unpacked there for a spot of lunch and reading. If you plan an afternoon siesta, though, keep someone on sentry duty. Leopards might be watching.
The property has 7 room types: premium valley view (king/twin bed); junior suite valley view; deluxe room courtyard view (king/twin beds); luxury valley view; and the grand luxury room with valley view. Find out more on their website.