I was at Deodar Manor in Khajiar, Himachal Pradesh. 6 days of doing nothing.
They have no swimming pools, ACs, uniformed stewards, room phones, buffet spreads or well stocked bars. Instead they offer you unrestricted views of the Chamba Valley and the Himalayas - straight from your balcony. There are no ACs, because even in the worst summers, the climate is chilly. Instead there are heaters, for the Himalayas are notorious. The climate changes from hour to hour. Which means you really can't make firm plans of sight seeing. Everything is dependant on the mood of the weather. And the Himalayas.
As I said, there are no uniformed stewards, instead there are real people. And since there are no room phones, you ought to call the staff by their names and you are forced to strike a conversation with them. Chain Singh and his petite daughter Manisha. And Raju, a mild mannered house coordinator from Meerut. He is 36, and is in love with a local Himachali girl who he plans to marry. The ever smiling and hard working Chain Singh is battling alcoholism and hence his daughter stays with him to keep him under control. If you see him, it is hard to believe that he has any vice in him. Manisha is 20 and is engaged. She loves reading books and telling stories, but laments that she hardly gets any books to read in Khajiar. She makes amazing phulkas and her dad makes awesome hot paranthas.
There is TV and free wi-fi, but any change in weather, and both are unavailable. So there is no option but to get out of the room. We passed our time by going for short treks and long walks in the hills, each one lasting about 2 hours. The breathtaking views along the roads and hills were a sight to behold. We visited the pahadi villages in the hills. There was poverty in terms of material wealth, but god compensated by giving them natural wealth multiple times over. Imagine waking up everyday to the beauty of snow capped Himalayas surrounded by thick deodar forests and apple orchards - and a buffet of colourful flowers and lush green grass around the mountains? Its a picture perfect scenary no money can buy. I saw the village women sitting on the edge of the mountain chatting with each other about their lives and when we passed them by they sheepishly smiled at us as if we caught their gossip. I saw children carelessly walking on the edge of the roads and looking down into the valley. My heart popped out, but they were cool.
Photography was my other pastime. I clicked over 1000 pictures over 6 days. I clicked the Pir Panjal range at all times of the day. That is all you can see from Deodar Manor's balcony. The winding roads and pathways through the deodar forests were another favorite. One amazing thing I noticed was that bees and flies allowed me to happily click their pictures while sitting on flowers. They were either too engrossed or couldn't care less. I also clicked people, the ever smiling pahadis, and their beautiful kids. I saw a school where classrooms were out in the open because of the beautiful weather. I would have loved to be in such a school.
Last but not the least, I inhaled fresh air all day long and into the night. I inhaled the oxygen mixed with the smell of woods. It has a strange power to calm your nerves and make you happy, just like that. When I stood in the deep woods, I could feel the deodar trees watching me down and smiling at my needless elation.
The biggest letdown of Khajiar is surprisingly the lush green meadow, one of the unique sites of India, which is infested with tourists during the day. The meadow is surrounded with cars, food sellers and horse riders trying to lure customers for a quick buck. Then there are food and bevarage sellers who sit inside the meadow to sell stuff which is eaten and thrown carelessly all over and around the meadow. How can I forget the boisterous panjabi youngsters who carry bottles of cheap whiskey and drink in plastic glasses sitting on the hills surrounding the meadows and do Bhangra playing loud music in their cars? Even worse, there are these people with huge plastic balls where you sit inside them and roll over into the meadows. People keep rolling in all day long. Also there are these small kids who roam around with a bucket of flowers with a rabbit inside it. Initially I thought they were selling flowers, but later I realised they were offering the rabbit as a photo-op to the tourists. So the meadow represents everything we should not do with our tourist places.
But all is not lost. If you really want to see the pristine beauty of the Khajiar meadows, stay in Khajiar and be there at 6 in the morning. You can experience bliss for 2 straight hours until the first tourist cars start rolling in. The meadows are about 500 metres away from Deodar Manor, but the house is tucked behind the hills so there is absolute silence in and around the place.
Deodar Manor is not a typical tourist spot. It has a 100 year old history. Sardar Gurbachan Singh was a Chief Engineer to the Raja of Chamba during the British times and he build Deodar Manor as a holiday spot for his family and relatives. The house is built at a height of over 6000 ft and faces the Chamba valley. The valley is surrounded by a range of mountains that end up into the snow capped Himalayan range called the Peer Panjal. Deodar Manor is made of stone and deodar wood which is locally available. The house itself is hidden between inside a deodar forest. Here's an amazing fact - the deodar wood used to build the house was seasoned by soaking in water for 2 years before it was cut into planks and used for the building the house. Direct dil se! - that's the right adjective to describe the house. In those days, one had to walk 6 hours uphill into the Khajiar hills from Chamba valley to reach Deodar Manor. The cottage is a part of local folklore.
And along with abundance of fresh air, natural beauty, good food, free wi-fi, and the Himalayas, Deodar Manor has Hanut Bal - the charming owner and grandson of Sardar Gurbachan Singh. Schooled at Welhams, graduated from St Stephens, Hanut has done his Hotel Management from Switzerland and works with Marriott in Canada. The reason why I write about his background is because when you meet him there is not a trace of any of this elitism in his behaviour. The guy is a storehouse of history about his family, the hills of Khajiar, Chamba, Bharmour, Palampur, Mcleodganj, Dharamsala, and everything around Himachal and Punjab. Maya and I had a whale of a time listening to his stories when we used to go for long walks together. Every evening we used to play the Blues on my online radio app and sip vodka, lemonade and fresh air from the hills. And chat.
So if you plan to do nothing, go to Khajiar and stay in Deodar Manor. Winters are even better. Khajiar gets 10 feet of snow every year. If you want to see how deep the snow is, watch Lootera which is shot in Kalatop near Khajiar. Also while booking please do check if Hanut is in town. You will get free entertainment as a bonus, at no extra cost.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Deodar Manor is situated in a lovely region of the Himalayas, with clean air, healthy forests, and plenty of opportunities for walking. The bedrooms are large, comfortable, and attractive, with modern bathrooms attached. The manor has marvelous scenery that can be viewed from the spacious deck, verandah, and windows of the manor. Ideal for cozy retreats, nature experiences, spiritual peace and getaways from city heat and noise◦Spacious rooms with classical decor◦Peaceful, cool setting in the Himalayas◦Splendid mountain vistas; forested walking paths◦Highest standards for comfort and cleanliness. ... more less