Delhi to Naldehra: When the hills beckon


Published on 10 June 2016 in Mint

Going that extra mile to revisit childhood memories, trying golf and walking among apple orchards

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We weren’t the quintessential Bengali family who had a home in Kolkata where ageing grandparents waited with gifts and blessings for grandchildren every summer. Instead, the vacation ritual comprised my father sitting and planning our nuclear family trip to the hills. This was the only way to escape the scorching heat of Delhi.

Back then—about a decade ago—Shimla was the most credible choice. A short train ride and a couple of hours’ drive was all that was needed to reach the erstwhile summer capital of British India. Those were the days when one didn’t have to climb cliff tops for unobstructed views of the mountains; snow-capped peaks shone uninhibitedly under the summer sun.

I am not sure how and when these annual family trips to the hills stopped. Perhaps it was around the time that people started complaining about how common and crowded Shimla had become. Like many others, we too bid adieu to the Mall Road, Christ Church, and the hall by Lakkar Bazaar where I learnt to roller skate.

travel

Last month, I found myself crossing the same route, dotted with familiar pines and deodars, on a weekend break. I was on my way to Naldehra, a hamlet that is just an hour’s drive from Shimla—offbeat travel, you see, is now in vogue and going a few extra miles for quieter terrain is considered the norm. The Chalets Naldehra, my abode for the next two days, was lavish. With more than half of the first day gone in travel, I decided to stay put in my room’s balcony, with a cup of tea and a book in hand. The view of the sun sinking behind the dark-grey ranges was the perfect way to end the day.

The next morning, intermittent drumming on the window panes woke me up. It was a troop of monkeys. Grateful for the ingenious alarm clock, I hit the road for my first excursion—the Naldehra Golf Course.

It was in the early 1900s that Lord Curzon, then viceroy of India, supervised the construction of this nine-hole golf course. Perched at an altitude of 2,200m, the ground is one of the oldest and most scenic in the country. It’s open to both locals and tourists for a fee of Rs.250-500, and the 30-minute climb up the ridge was worth a few teeing-off lessons. After several failed attempts, I was finally able to swing the club hard enough to make the ball fly over the net. Golf will not stay with me the way roller skating did, but I’m glad I tried.

The next thing on my agenda almost immediately superseded the excitement at my freshly discovered golfing prowess—the apple orchards, in full bloom, at the Regional Horticultural Research and Training Station in Mashobra, 13km from Naldehra. I found myself following the station chief down a rutted path flanked by fragrant fruit trees. He told me about 170 varieties of apple trees, both red and golden, were cultivated there. Shiny golden apples hung from branches that seemed to have grown tired of their weight. An hour’s walk with him, and I wanted my own orchard. In fact, at the end of the day, premature retirement to the hills of Naldehra seemed like a good idea.

Reluctant to return straight to Delhi the next day, I decided to spend some time strolling around Shimla, hoping to catch glimpses of the summer I remembered. I ordered lunch at a café overlooking the Mall Road. It was teeming with people—college students, young couples, office-goers and tourists. Noisier than before and a little less clean—things had most certainly changed.

Perhaps I was better off exploring new places and keeping intact my childhood memories of Shimla.

Naldehra, a paradise in the Himalayan hills


Published on 17 September, 2013 in The Times of India

Among the myriad hamlets of Himachal Pradesh is Naldehra, a town tucked just a little while away from the hustle-bustle of the well renowned hill station, Simla.

About an hour’s drive from the main city, Naldehra is everything that Simla is not – serene, green and ever so fascinating. But since visiting offbeat destinations come with the onus of choosing a promising place to stay, I needed a place to stay that added its crucial bit to the experience. And so, my stop at the quaint settlement was The Chalets Naldehra, a one of a kind boutique mountain resort which was nothing less than a paradise perched on the hills.

Inspired by the magnificent Swiss chalet architecture, The Chalets Naldehra is a home away from home, where every room overlooks independently spectacular views – the misty morning clouds, the patch of forest with imposing cedar trees, and the immaculately manicured lawns. The rooms are essentially designed like pine log homes, intricately done up with great precision and care. What sets it apart from the rest is the fact that it is built atop a mountain bend, keeping the natural landscape undisturbed. The property, owned and initiated by Yatish Sud back in 2001, is now being managed by his only son, Amish.

Teeing off with lessons in golf

It was under Lord Curzon’s watchful supervision, the Viceroy of India during the early 1900s, that a 9-hole golf course perched at an altitude of 2,200 meters took shape. What used to be his favourite camping site just outside the summer capital of British India (Simla), with thick manes of Himalayan cedar enveloping the pristine beauty, was soon transformed into an impressive golf course. Unfailingly, he named the course after this third daughter Alexandra Naldehra.

Today, the Naldehra Golf Course is a grand 18-hole golf course, one of the oldest and most scenic in the country that resides right next to The Chalets Naldehra. Tourists can try their hand at the sport by paying a nominal daily green fee that ranges between Rs 250 to Rs 500. One could either trek their way up the ridge but since the climb is exceedingly steep it is advisable to hire a cab or pony. But it is only after you witness the breathtaking grandeur of the lush topographic glades that you realise why it is regarded at par with the reputable golf clubs of India.

After a half-hour long session with the chief coach in learning how to reach the right posture for a perfect stroke, I was finally able to hit the ball hard enough to fly off the net. There was not a single soul to score my amateur swings and thank god for that. The sport may come across as easy on the eye but it requires a great deal of patience and precision to send the ball into a hole. Both father and son, Yatish and Amish are professional golfers and regular participants in inter-city tournaments.

A stroll in the apple orchards of Mashobra

It is one thing to buy apples from your local fruit vendor, and it is another thing to pluck them off the branches and bite into its savoury, untouched sweetness. My second day at Naldehra began with a short 20-minutes drive to the apple orchards of Mashobra’s Regional Horticultural Research Station. The centre has about 170 varieties of apple trees, both red and golden, on board. Ideally, the apple harvest season in Himachal Pradesh begins in August and lasts till September. Luckily, my visit coincided with the time when golden apples are found hanging from the trees in their ripened best. But since I had already had honey pancakes for breakfast at the resort’s Garden Pavilion restaurant, I used my time for a leisurely walk in the fragrant orchards, blossoming with the forbidden fruit as the sun slowly came down heavily to call it a noon.

DSC_0048Simla’s old world charm is still intact

It is true that the number of inhabitants has gone a notch higher than it was fifteen years ago when I last visited. But the close-knit and content life that people in Simla lead will forever remain matchless. We drove further down to reach the majestic Viceregal Lodge where a guided tour of the building was about to begin. It is thrilling to revisit places of historical significance, especially when it recounts the days of the British-ruled India and India’s subsequent struggle for independence through its walls, furniture and walls.

After a sumptuous lunch at a cafe, I proceeded to the famed Mall Road which was unusually crowded for a Monday afternoon. The street teemed with college students, young couples and office-goers who seemed to have gotten off work early. With some shopping in mind I headed to the Tibetan souvenir shop down the road where I picked up gifts for friends and family.

Souvenirs are bought as a token that reminds us of all the beautiful places we visit. But that night, as I sat outside my log hut with a comforting cup of coffee in hand, I realised the greatest souvenir lies not in any materialistic memento. It is in fact the intangible experiences and collective memories that we encounter – of meeting new people, of loving an unfamiliar city, and of understanding life a little better.

Places of interest:

– Practise golf at Naldehra Golf Course (7 am to 6 pm)
– Visit the Viceroy Regal Lodge in Simla
– Go for walks in apple orchards of Mashobra

Enjoyable activities:

– Forest walks
– Heritage walks in Simla
– White water river rafting
– Horse-riding

How to reach The Chalets Naldehra:

By road:
From Delhi: About 6 hours
From Chandigarh: About 2.5 hours

By train (recommended):
The Kalka Shatabdi transports you to the humble Kalka railway station in less than 5 hours. From there, it takes about 3-4 hours to reach the resort. The hotel staff is kind enough to arrange a pick up and drop on request.

By air:
The closest airport is at Jubbar-Hatti, 45 km away.

Best time to visit: Spring and autumn are the most favourable seasons if you wish to bask in the winter sun. Winters are chilly but you do get to wake up to a lovely snowfall right outside your cottage porch!