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KASAULI- AUTHORS, STARS, AND BUN SAMOSA

As the Sun sets behind the lofty mountains, a feeling of serenity and gratitude fuse together and a thoughtless state is entered into. How much do we city dwellers vie for that calm and peaceful state! The realisation struck as my family, and I stood in silence, letting the beautiful sunset take control of our conscious. Surrendering to nature is meditative, and the tranquillity fills the mind like no other. We were at Kasauli. A quaint little town in Himachal Pradesh, Kasauli has a Victorian charm to it, quite apparent in the architecture.

I was excited to visit because the rest of the brood had been there already and had interesting stories to share. That is the thing about stories; they create pictures in our minds and transport us to a different world altogether! Hills and mountains with the warm, lush green blanket of pines and oaks have been a source of inspiration for writers, poets, and artists. One of Kasauli’s most famous residents, Khushwant Singh did most of his writing here. A favourite and often quoted children’s book author, Ruskin Bond was born here. Kasauli was a British retreat, and it has retained its allure for being a modest place for relaxation. If you are looking for some quiet away from the city, Kasauli is the place to be. It is for those who want to walk down little roads dotted with cosy cottages and houses on the hill slopes, as well as the many British relics that were developed in the century gone by. It is to reconnect you with your inner self with explorative nature walks, unpretentious people, and picture-perfect views at every turn. You can reach Kasauli by road; it is a 6-hour drive from Delhi via National Highway-44.

If going by bus, you need to take a bus from Delhi to Chandigarh; many buses are available from Chandigarh to Kasauli. In case you go by train, the nearest train station is Kalka, 25 km away. After that, you would have to hire a cab or a bus to reach Kasauli. You may get bookings for the Toy Train, and it is a ride to cherish, with numerous tunnels and austere, picturesque views. Kasauli is 50 km from the Shimla airport, and 70 km from Chandigarh airport.

This serene cantonment town can be visited throughout the year. The weather is generally pleasant, the temperature being about 25oC in summer; the winters are colder with -1oC at night. It is still away from the massive construction and degradation, thanks to the efforts of environmentalists. We had a long weekend, which called for a vacation, and it was worth being at Kasauli. Nestled in the lap of Himalayas, the British developed the hill station in the 18th century.

Gurkha expansion in the 19th century led to it becoming a military cantonment. It is believed that that the name Kasauli is derived from Kasul, when some Rajput families from Rewari took shelter here, fleeing the torture in the 17th century. Another story says that the name comes from the stream Kausalya, flowing between Kasauli and Jabli. Sweet fragrant Kusmali flowers bloom here, and it is believed that the town derives its name from them. Folklore has it, that when Lord Hanuman was asked to get Sanjeevani from the Himalayas for the injured Lakshman, he stepped here. We started early in the morning from Delhi to avoid traffic snarls and reach by noon.

And leaving before dawn was a good idea; it gave us an ample number of hours to explore the place. On the way lies the Timber Trail Resort on the right, known for the resort built between two hills, and the cable car to take one there. Once we entered Kasauli, a left turn from the Kalka-Shimla road, the drive was marked with splendid views of hills and verdant greenery.

The nip in the air could be felt, and the vistas forced us to stop, get down from the car and take in the beauty around. The enchanting smell of pine and the chilly air soothed the city souls as nature works its magic on us. Kasauli is marked with homes and cottages of army officers. There are hotels and tourist accommodations present as well in plenty. A must visit is the Baptist Church, one of the most famous ones in Himachal Pradesh. Built in 1923 by British, the church has a blend of Indian and Gothic style architecture. It is situated between pine trees and meadows and is a prime attraction in the town. Another resplendent attraction, both in beauty and architecture, is the Christ Church. Built in Gothic architectural style, the church is dedicated to St. Francis and St. Barnabas. It has tall spires, stained glasses and an old sundial in the clock tower. John Abraham starrer Madras
Café has been shot in parts and bits here. The place exuded an antique charm, something that the
pre-wedding photographers were tapping for photoshoots!
There are a good number of food outlets, present to cater to domestic and international visitors.
There are cafes, restaurants, and bars, and traditional Himachali cuisine is available in many
outlets. We had gone to the Upper and Lower Mall roads and were surprised to see a thin crowd
there (Mall roads at hill stations are usually crowded). The Heritage Market had cafes,
restaurants, and small shops selling essentials. We loved the bun samosa at Narinder Sweet
House, or as it better known as, Tannu Halwai- a simple meal, but a taste to savour! Khushwant
Singh had written about it in an article that neatly hung there, framed, amidst the tempting aroma
of samosas, gulab jamuns, and jalebis. Do not forget to try the momos at the Tibetan Market; they
are a delight. The Lower Mall was slightly busier than its Upper counterpart. The latter had a
variety of shops selling silver and bronze antiques and souvenirs. There is a premier national
institution engaged in developing vaccines in Kasauli- the Central Research Institute. The antirabies vaccine was developed here.
With our bellies full and evening close, we went to the Gilbert Trail, a few hundred metres
beyond the Sunset Point. The track was pleasant, slippery at a few points, and narrow. Changing
colours of the Sun, from the adamantly bright yellow to a mellowed down orange, and then a
deep red, could not be captured on camera, but maybe that it is the best part about it- you have to
experience it in person to truly appreciate the miracle that is. From a full spherical ball, it changed
and thinned itself along the bottom edges as it merged with the horizon.
I like looking at the stars and getting lost in that experience. It is bewitching to gaze, admire, and
fall in love with the tiny little dots, hundreds of lights years away from us, flickering in beautiful
colours peacefully. We were treated to clear skies during our stay, and the stars could be seen
twinkling in various tones and hues. Won’t the sky be incomplete without those glimmering
delights? The hotel owner told us that the lights visible below were from Chandigarh, Panchkula,
Pinjore, and Kalka.
The next morning, a sunny day, we visited the Hanuman temple, renowned as Monkey Point. The
main track to this point passes through Air Force Guard Station, and the entry closes at 1700
hours. Bags and cameras are not permitted inside. The hike leading up to the temple was
strenuous, but was worth the breath-taking panoramas (after the first hundred steps, though,
everyone was short of breath!).
We went to the Mall for lunch and shopped for traditional jewellery there. There wasn’t much to
do in Kasauli, and the pleasant weather was just the right calling for reading a novel. Amidst the
rustling leaves and chirping birds, I sat with the book, only to doze off a few minutes later! The
warmth of the Sun and soothing smell of fallen pine needle leaves created an aura most suitable
to sleep peacefully in nature’s hospitality.
Being close to Shimla, many tourists often visit Kasauli and then visit the Himachali capital, 3
hours away. Shimla can be reached via Barog from Kasauli. The Mall Road in Shimla is free of
traffic, and no vehicles are permitted entry on it. You would have to park either at your hotel or at
designated parking spaces to visit the Mall. Up for a little test of your body? Visit the Jakhoo
temple, dedicated to Lord Hanuman, about 2 km from the Mall Road. At 108 feet, the statue of
Hanuman is visible from the Mall and most places in Shimla. You can also visit Chail and Kufri
when in Shimla, which are situated at a relatively higher altitude. One of the oldest British
cantonments in India is located at Dagshai, 19 km from Kasauli. A friend had told me about ghost
sightings there, but I leave it up to her and the readers to explore the supernatural!
When visiting Kasauli, pack light. A light sweater at night works fine till October, and as the
winters approach, it is suggested you carry your woollens. If you go in the off-season, you might
be the only ones walking the Mall road, a local told us. Kasauli is for soothing your nerves and
has scenic beauty to mesmerise you. Renunciate your stress to nature when you are here,, it knows
what’s best for you.
Happy travelling to you!

Srishti Verma

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