By Mridula Dwivedi
When I look at the almost blank page on the screen of my computer it fills me with awe. But I know soon the white spaces will become the story about Naldehra, a small, sleepy and beautiful town in Himachal Pradesh, India.
The Chalets Naldehra
I was invited by the Chalets Naldehra to spend a few days at their log cottages. One easy way to reach Naldehra is to take the Shatabdi Express Train till Kalka from New Delhi and then a road transfer. Naldehra is about 29 kilometers (18 miles) from Shimla. But then Shimla attracts a lot of tourists and Naldehra is all peace and quiet.
My train was more than an hour late to Kalka. I had a car and a driver waiting for me at the station to take me to Chalets at Naldehra. For me the mountain roads mean one thing and that is the anti-nausea medicine, Avomine. I have taken this route for the part of way before but by a toy train. I told the car driver (it was really an SUV) to stop somewhere for lunch.
He stopped Giani Dhaba (small roadside eating joints, but this one is almost turning into a proper restaurant) at Dharampur. Looking at the number of cars parked and the number of people inside, it seems to be quite popular.
A little later, with my stomach full, I fell asleep as soon as the vehicle started moving towards Naldehra. Of late I get a feeling that things have become just way too hectic and I am tying up loose ends till I finally step out for a trip.
Sleep deprivation is a natural outcome. Coupled with Avomine I was so fast asleep that I had no clue when we crossed Shimla. And the driver had to say a few words to wake me up after he parked the car in from of the Chalets at 5:00 pm!
A Frightful Hair Day
When I came to the reception I got the keys to the Chalet 208. My words probably will not do much justice to the cottage. So, I took a video of my lodgings to give you a better picture.
Inside the cottage I stole a glance at the mirror. I have never paid much attention to the phrase a ‘bad hair day’ but what I saw confirmed that I was having a frightful hair day, the type that can occur only after sleeping for hours in a moving vehicle and not knowing where you are.
I now understood why I got such sympathetic looks from the gentlemen at the reception. I was still quite dazed due to Avomine or I would surely have clicked a picture of what I saw in the mirror.
After freshening up I went to the restaurant and had some tea with pakoras (vegetables dipped in batter and deep fried!). And then I just stayed lazed around the premises. I had two more days to spend at Naldehra and I was not in any hurry, or so I thought.
Naldehra Golf Course
Next day I got up leisurely and had a breakfast of Utthapam (a south Indian dish made with rice flour and vegetables using very little oil) and then I was raring to go. But then the skies opened and it rained for hours.
Whenever there are rains in the hills, I am hopeful of a rainbow. But that was not to be on this trip. The rains let up around 11:00 am and I borrowed a large and colorful umbrella and ventured out.
While it was raining I managed to take a dip in the indoor swimming pool of the Chalets which is temperature controlled.
A Walk in the Mist
There is a golf course at Naldehra made under the supervision of Lord Curzon during the British days. It is one of the highest golf courses in India.
I knew the general direction of the golf course and with the colorful umbrella in my hand I ventured out. I am told that you can play a round at the golf course for Rupees 200 (roughly 4-5 dollars) at Naldehra but then I am no golfer.
After the rains there was mist everywhere. Soon, I reached the entrance of the golf course. There is a small entry fee which I paid and got in.
A young lad kept walking beside me trying to sell me a pony ride. I told him I was not interested. Yet, for quite some time he kept walking behind me and I had to finally tell him to leave me alone, I was really not interested and thanks for the offer.
I walked around the fences erected around the golf course on slushy mud paths. The horses were also taking the same route. I stopped at the temple near the golf course when one member of the horse party asked, “Are you a wild life photographer?”
How I wish I was but I answered truthfully saying I have a day job at a college and all this is a hobby. Another lady at some point asked me, “So will you walk back the entire way too?” I said yes, I thought the walk was easy but apart from the locals I was the only person walking.
After two hours of taking pictures and enjoying the mist-filled mountains I headed back to the hotel for lunch. I had a plate of Risotto in tomatoes and cheese for lunch. After a few minutes with a book I was restless and went out again, this time in the direction of the Durgapur village.
I must have walked for an hour when I decided to turn back. Quite close to the Chalets, I met an elderly couple also out for a stroll.
We soon got into a conversation and they invited me to in the Golf Glade Resort (maintained by the Himachal Government and they control the golf course too). Before the tea was over they invited me for lunch at their home the next day.
Meeting the Owners of the Chalets
When I arrived after tea at the Chalets I was told at the reception that the owners of the Chalets, Mr. Yatish Sud and Ms. Minu Sud were around and would like to meet me.
We had a long chat about a lot of things under the sun. Such properties are usually a result of the passion that owners have for what they want to create. Minu is responsible for the lovely garden at the Chalets.
We had wine followed by a lovely dinner together and then they turned back to Shimla where they live. I probably had more wine than I am used to and had trouble falling asleep. I almost completed the book I was reading before I could fall asleep.
A Walk in the Leopard Valley
There is a forest path just behind the Chalets and the elderly couple told me about a house at the end of the walk, all alone in the jungle.
And when the house owner walks back in the evening he says there is a leopard that walks at a distance till he is safely home. Hence they call it the Leopard Valley.
The second day started for me with a walk along that path. I walked alone and thankfully I met no leopard. It was a peaceful walk with a lot of wild flowers and Ladybugs along the route.
I went to the house of the elderly couple for lunch. They too have a nice garden where I spent some time clicking pictures.
Our original plan was to walk up to the local dhaba (near the golf course towards Shimla) and have Sidu (a local Himachali dish) and Kadhi Chawal (curd based curry and rice) for Lunch. But the gentleman was getting vertigo and they got food sent to their home.
They said they didn’t want to climb the spiral staircase without a reason but I could go up and have a look at the house.
I went up and what an incredible view they had from the bedroom and the attic! After a leisurely lunch that included heavenly homemade apple cake with rum and cream I headed back to the Chalets.
After a few minutes rest I went back to the swimming pool and later used the massage and the sauna facilities at the Chalets.
Then I went to the Leopard Valley again to see if I could get some sunset pictures. But after a short walk I decided that the view from the Chalets was better!
The next day after a breakfast of pancakes with honey and butter I was heading back to Kalka. I had a pleasant journey back only to fall sick in a few days.
This is the second consecutive trip when I have been unwell afterwards. I am wondering if it is due to the reluctance to come back to the traffic filled metro or is it that I am seriously miscalculating my fitness level?