Words: FABIOLA MONTEIRO
Photographs: KIRTHIKA PRASAD
GREAT FROM: New Delhi, Chandigarh, Amritsar
GREAT FOR: Unwinding amid nature
It’s easy to lose your days to a non-stop cycle of work-weekend-work, but, perhaps, you should spend your next weekend more fruitfully in the pristine, hillside town of Palampur in Himachal’s Kangra Valley. Here, even if you do choose to do nothing, you’ll be breathing in fresh mountain air and sipping on fragrant tea at the very least, and it’ll do wonders for your well being.
Sited within the sprawling Wah Tea Estate, The Lodge at Wah is the perfect place at which to set up camp. It’s far enough from the madding crowds of McLeodganj and Dharamshala, but close enough – only about an hour away – to allow for a visit should the need arise. The lodge is a charming homestay, run by Upasana and Surya Prakash, a young couple who also own the tea estate. They’ll regale you with stories of the property – of how all the wooden doors and the windows are from the old, now-demolished Palampur Court House and date back over a hundred years – and they’ll also urge you to explore the property’s surrounds. And, despite the countless reading nooks around the property that will call out to you, you’ll want to do just that.
You don’t have to start with anything tedious – go on a jeep safari to make your way to the higher reaches of the Dhauladhars. The road gets bumpy, but that only adds to the adventure. Focus on the minivets flying ahead, and keep your eyes peeled for langurs. As the wind whooshes through your hair, and the pine and deodar trees pass by, you’ll find yourself grinning uncontrollably: this was a good decision.
If you’re up for a bit of a challenge, hike to Hastan, a transit hut that’s used by the Gaddis, the local shepherding community. This two-hour hike is steep, but the brightly-coloured flowers along the way, and the views from the top, are well worth the workout. Besides, if you have Harmit Singh of Exsul Travel as your guide, you may also be accompanied by his dog Akbar, with his twinkling eyes and eager face. You’ll also want to see what these mighty mountains have the power to inspire. Make the drive to Andretta, a quiet village 20 minutes from the property that’s famed for its pottery. Plan ahead and you can get a tour of Andretta Pottery from the dashing Shubham Sankhyan who now manages the studio. He’ll give you the lowdown on the pottery’s history as well as a quick lesson at the wheel. The shop is well-stocked, with plenty of souvenir-worthy options.
Then, see how all that tea you’ve been drinking at the lodge is made when you visit the Wah Tea Estate’s tea factory. Surya will take you around, explaining how his family came to own these plantations after the British left, what makes for a good plucking, and how green tea differs from orthodox black tea. You’ll see how tea leaves go from shrub to cup. The tour ends with a tasting of five different teas; what’s fascinating is how the context you’ve acquired over the last hour helps you understand why the first flush – a delicate brew made from the first plucking of the season – is the most treasured. And then, once you’re back at the property having done more than you intended to, retreat into a corner and savour the quiet time you came here for. The reading nooks will look more welcoming than ever, and you’ll have earned every last minute of it.