Devoid of much human interference and concrete presence, its fresh air and unexploited surroundings make for a perfect mountain break.
There are just a few things that can transport us back to the childhood, the carefree and joyous times. Kalka-Shimla toy train is one. It effortlessly lets the kid inside take over. The picture of Shimla though posts a reminder of the city life we want to forget for a few days. A quick glance at the teeming Mall Road, The Ridge, and surrounded Christ Church made me go in search for a quieter place.
Not too far from the madding crowd and traffic snarls of Shimla, on the historic Hindustan-Tibet Road built in 1850 by Lord Dalhousie, the sleepy hamlet of Mashobra was the answer to all my wishes. The untouched trails of deodars and pines, and lush green mountains blessed with minimal human obstruction were indeed the songs of nature. Perhaps a reason why it also boasts of one of the two Presidential retreats! Whenever the President visits, said to be at least once a year, his main office also shifts here at the retreat.
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Of nature and adventure
As the sunrise cast golden hues on the misty mountains and made roses bloom with joy I decided to get into an adventurous mode. The mighty Sutlej was a picture of calmness as I descended to Chabba village to test its waters. The curvaceous river, devoid of many courage-testing rapids that are a common feature in river rafting elsewhere, still had a surprise for me. The water that was pleasant while rafting turned out to be limb-numbingly cold when I abandoned the raft to float and relax. In a flash, I was back on the raft, shivering.
The chill was well taken care of by the miracle waters of Tatta Pani, literally meaning hot water. The hot sulphur springs on the banks of the Sutlej River, believed to have medicinal properties, went under water due to floods and hydro projects. It now travels to the spas around through pipes.
The mix of effort and rest had sufficiently upped the hunger level. More so because I had finally got a chance to savour the local preparations rather than the common pizzas, pastas, noodles and more that have come to define the food of Shimla and many other hill stations. Chef Pranay Malik at Fortune Select Cedar Trails is bringing back the flavours that define Himachali feast food. “The local food lost the race to fast food that became popular in places like Shimla and could not travel to other parts of the country like a Rajasthani or a Gujarati thali did. High time people started getting to know what authentic Himachali food is,” he said.
Himachali dham that dates back to more than thousand years was inspired by Kashmir’s royal cuisine – wazwan. However, it was developed by the royal cooks as a pure vegetarian meal with the local produce. The Himachali thali now comprises original representatives from dham and the same techniques that were later used for non-vegetarian preparations. I started the gastronomic journey with kheru, a soup identical with kadhi. The abundance of dairy products and lentils, and shortage of vegetables that once defined the traditional food was reflected in the thali. Be it madra pulao, aloo palda, chha gosht, pahaadi daal or sour chicken, the mix of delicate and strong flavours, balanced and not overwhelming, made the cold night full of warmth. The traditional meetha bhaat- sweetened rice cooked with saffron, dry fruits and spices added to it.
Fairways meet faith
The sports lover in me could not bid adieu to the green expanse of Mashobra that is keeping the romanticism of hill stations alive in the region before making a trip to the Naldehra golf course. The oldest of its kind in India, an exciting horse ride took me up to the green pasture that was Lord Curzon’s favourite. He was so fond of the setting that he was believed to have given his youngest daughter, Alexandra, a second name – Naldehra.
The nine-hole golf course is now an 18-hole par 68 course, tall cedar trees being its prominent feature.
The small part that is accessible to daily tourists has an ancient temple dedicated to local deity – Nal Deo, the protector of the place.