Soul-searching had essentially been the hallmark of travelling for sages and mere mortals alike, and the green pastures of Dalhousie, cocooned in the heart of pine and deodar forests and amid folds of the mystical Dhauladhar range of the Himalayas, is the ideal nook for a world unlived.
Our otherwise reticent driver Prem Singh, who was pensive during our stay in Amritsar and Dharamsala, was at his euphoric best on our way to Dalhousie, and chanted away "Daloji-Daloji", with a broad grin every now and then.
|(From top) the forest bungalow in Khajjiar; the 81-foot Shiva statue made of copper on the way to Khajjiar; view of the distant village from Kalatop wildlife sanctuary; the picturesque patio adjoining The Colonial Restaurant, Aamod Resorts; the nature trail at Aamod Resorts, Dalhousie. Pictures by Barnali Chatterjee and Rohan Roy
It however, did not take me long to understand the reason for his euphoria.
Travelling into the delicate layers of nature is timeless, functional, surprising and iconic, which endures forever. It's like entering into a love relationship. Once you enter it, you are never the same again.
At a height of 6,500 feet above sea level, Dalhousie is within the circular embrace of five hills - Bakrota, Balun, Kathlag, Patryn and Tehra.
The colonial hangover is very distinct here with the Scottish and Victorian architecture prevalent in country houses, a cemetery spread over nine terraces, and a beer brewery.
The place is famous for its weather and water with its therapeutic qualities, which are unmatched till this day.
This is the reason why Lt Col Mapier of Magdala first conceived of Dalhousie as a sanatorium in 1851, during the tenure of Lord Dalhousie, the then British governor-general in India, and the summer retreat was named after him.
Exploring its misty roads and heavenly bends was an undisputed inspiration for a rejuvenation of life and our idea of a weeklong holiday was to walk that extra mile, have a heart-to-heart rendezvous with nature, and fill our lungs with the essence of the mountains.
This time around, we were a three-member group, and our stay at Aamod Resorts, Dalhousie, posed as a perfect counterpart to our idea of a tender and intense embrace with nature.
Unlike my last vacation in Kashmir this year, there was no horse-rides, no hullabaloo of euphoric tourists, no flagship tags of a paradise, but a simple, silent and sacred exploration of our souls.
Rohan remained lost in his world of colourful dreams unfolding at every stride and Boney spared no effort to walk that extra mile of soul-searching, a unique trait in all her vacations.
We all looked beyond at another world through the undulating mountain ranges that lay ahead of us, while life was filled with languid moments, eloquent silence and a heavenly relaxation.
Our stepping into a serene hill station thirsty for a rejuvenating stint had moved up a notch with the resort providing an abundance of warmth and hospitality- the perfect blend of luxury and eco-tourism.
With prominent signs along the Dalhousie-Khajjiar Road, it wasn't difficult to locate.
Rishi Kumar, the commercial head of Aamod Resorts, welcomed us, saying, "Holidaying is about finding. It's about finding an unexplored place, a different culture, an unread book, a new cuisine and a window that overlooks virgin mountains. It's about finding what's beautiful, relaxing and blissful. And more than anything else, holidaying is about finding yourself."
"Finding" was indeed the binding philosophy at Aamod. From midnight chocolates in rooms to guided stargazing, every little thing was about discovering something new.
Here in Dalhousie, we experienced a new approach to vacation, which is personal, but not intruding, which is close to nature without being Spartan. It was a paradise waiting to be explored.
With unmatched hospitality, impeccable service, lip-smacking food under the caring eye of resort manager Pranay Raturi and proximity to the snow-clad mountain ranges, the world around was a treat for sore eyes, stressed minds and parched throats.
The spa was a place to pamper ourselves, while the view from the restaurant named Colonial was heavenly with an open patio, almost creating a virtual bridge with the magnificent mountains. It also housed the only bar in Dalhousie!
There was an array of dishes to choose from and the taste of palak paneer still lingers in my mouth and the lamb biryani was unparalleled. The mixed parathas and the tandoor platter were a delight.
There was not much of sightseeing on our agenda, but some trails were hard to ignore and we were all set to explore and walk that extra mile.
Dalhousie is a place where the real and surreal worlds blend in a perfect ecstasy. The grandeur of this place is marked with the azure sky, the whispering pines, the cobbled paths melting into the forest tracks and the timeless essence of the surrounding mountains that inspires the muse in you.
Khajjiar was 22km from Aamod and after a late breakfast we drove down the winding mountain trails to the green saucer-shaped plateau in the Dhauladhar range that bears a topographical resemblance to Switzerland and is known among globetrotters as a "mini Switzerland".
The route passes through one of the finest deodar forests and Khajjiar had the killer-charm of a breathtaking frame that a nature-lover craves to frame as a memory.
While traversing down dale and uphill, our next destination was Dainkund, the highest point in Dalhousie at almost 11,000 feet.
The trek was a wonderful experience with a marvellous view of the Dhauladhar range, though a wee bit steep and tiring for non-trekkers like me.
However, with frequent halts, it was manageable and once at the top it was a mesmerising canvas of sweeping valleys sunlight dancing on dense Himalayan jungles, floating clouds, and a million hues of blue and green.
Our guide Lokesh Thakur pointed out a distant mountain and said on a clear night the lights of Lahore were visible.
The fog in the distance floated towards us, baptising all that came on its route; it seemed as if the curtains of paradise have been unveiled to allow us a glimpse of heaven.
However, a trip to Kala Top the following morning was as if the show had just begun.
Nestled in the virgin parts of Himalayas, the 8km steep uphill drive gave us the view of Dalhousie, often shrouded by the changing mysticism of the mist.
The air was crisp, cold and refreshing and a muddy track welcomed us at the forest gate, which snaked through the thick foliage of deodar and pine.
The three chalets serving as forest guesthouses were built way back in 1925 in the British era. They bear testimony to the fact that vintage is charming and unmatched as it goes.
The trail lead to silent woods, where we collected wild berries and cherries, and paused to listen to bird twitters and whispering pines, every step taking us away from the madding crowd.
It was another evening, another drink and another round of magical conversations by the fire.
As the dusk settled in the mountains, the landscape changed to a sepia mode, the colour of the sky changed from a deep blue to a serene purple and the world was a prism of unearthly shades.
The yellow lights from the lanterns in the resort blended with the drops of moonlight in the forest opposite.
It was time to go to bed, wi2 th the moon smiling at us through the skylight and the monkeys scratching themselves and chit-chatting on our rooftops.
It was an extravagant slice of heaven, wine glasses filled with divine nectar, memories galore, an enigma of life unlived, nature lulling you to another era, a holistic rejuvenation and certainly the muse in you, who was lost in the pine and deodar forests returning-inspired and reborn.
Stay at: www.aamod.in
Call: 01899-205200 / 205201
Mob: +91-9817478744, 9459196857