I have often said that I am a pahaari at heart. I don’t have—as far as I know—any ancestors who belonged to the hills, but there is nothing that rejuvenates me as much as going to the hills. Remember Wordsworth and the daffodils? That’s pretty much the effect of hills, especially the Himalaya, on me. I see the ranges rising up above the plains, and I feel suddenly better, more alive. I love looking out as we drive through the mountains, I thrive on pine-scented air. I get a thrill out of spotting daisies and buttercups and golden Himalayan raspberries.
You get the idea.
It’s been nearly a year since we last went to the hills, and I was having withdrawal symptoms. So my husband, our little one and I decided on a quick break before the LO’s school reopens after the summer break. And we chose Kasauli. Kasauli, about two hours’ drive from Chandigarh, is a place my husband and I had visited before, and remembered as being delightfully quiet and sleepy and charming. We had stayed back then (this was perhaps about ten years ago) at a Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (HPTDC) hotel, just above the main market. We had spent our days wandering around, going up to the somewhat nondescript temple at Monkey Point, walking past the Kasauli Club, meandering through the tiny and deliciously quaint market (so many ‘daily needs’ shops, selling everything from groceries and toiletries to all the fabulous fruit products that Himachal boasts of—jams, juices, wines).
How much would it have changed, I wondered. So we set off to see.
Getting there: Kasauli is one of the most easily accessible hill stations from Delhi—it is just uphill from Chandigarh, and not even one of those ‘hill station only in name’ towns, like Pragpur. This one is a proper hill station, pine woods, old British church, snow in the winter, and all. The drive up from Delhi is pretty easy, too: a smooth, wide, major highway all the way from Delhi to Chandigarh, followed by about two hours of hill roads. In stretches here right now the road is being widened, so our speed slowed down considerably.
In all, it took us about eight hours—including a couple of halts along the way for coffee and lunch—to cover the distance. We bypassed Chandigarh, so that helped cut down on the travelling time.
(Note: Nearly all the big places for breaks, including loo breaks, coffee breaks, food breaks, etc, are before Chandigarh. There are several complexes along the highway which have outlets of chain restaurants—Subway, KFC, Haldiram’s, etc—along with toilets).
Staying there: This was where we realized just how much Kasauli has changed. The Kasauli I remembered had some quaint, pretty little heritage villas converted into hotels, within a stone’s throw of the Mall. But Kasauli has, since then, obviously grown in popularity—and to deal with the hordes of tourists flooding the town, hotels have mushroomed all around. Because this is (like Ranikhet) a cantonment town, there are laws in place to prevent fresh construction within the town. But outside the cantonment limits, there are loads of hotels and home stays.
We stayed at the WelcomHeritage Glenview Resort, a pretty place with fabulous views across the wooded hills, but terrible service. Fifteen minutes for tea, for instance, and then they forgot the hot water. Housekeeping didn’t clean out the minibar, so we found the previous occupant’s leftover food inside it. And, on our penultimate day, our room suddenly filled with fumes from the kitchen exhaust, making our eyes water. We complained, but it took two hours for them to do anything about it—which meant we spent a good bit of the afternoon sitting in the lobby or on the terrace and fuming. The LO, of course, thought it was a grand adventure, never mind that she missed her afternoon nap as a result.
Sights to see and things to do: Kasauli is not Shimla. There is not a plethora of sights to see. There is a Christchurch, and there is a Mall Road, but not anywhere in the same league as Shimla’s.
Basically, the major attractions are mostly the type that require sturdy legs and a decent amount of stamina. Monkey Top, for instance, is a hill atop which stands a Hanuman Mandir—not terribly interesting, so we gave it a miss this time, since the LO would not have been able to handle the climb.
Instead, we opted for the much simpler, not at all strenuous walk to Sunset Point, from where the view is quite panoramic. Sunset Point lies a little uphill of the Kasauli Club (once, I believe, a favourite haunt of Khushwant Singh, who did a good bit of his writing in Kasauli). The army—this area falls within the cantonment—doesn’t let cars go beyond a point, so you have to park a little further up from the club, and then walk about 500 mt to Sunset Point.
The ridge which forms Sunset Point has been cordoned off, equipped with loos (smelly), a children’s play area (noisy) and steps (crowded with people trying dangerous poses in an attempt to get the perfect selfie). But the view is pretty grand, and a marble slab atop a pedestal marks the directions of various towns and cities that can be seen in the distance, Chandigarh, Pinjore and Nalagarh included.
The ‘heritage market’ of Kasauli is small and (this is really the most appropriate word for it) cute. Clothing (no, not traditional stuff) is sold, and there are a couple of shops that sell trinkets and somewhat tacky objets d’art, but what we bought was stuff from a local shop: fruit wines (a bottle each of plum and peach wine), Kangra chai, and some bars of strawberry paste which looked rather like a strawberry version of aampapad, and which I cannot wait to taste.
Right next door to this market, too, is the one main architectural attraction that is open to the public: Christchurch, an Anglican Church which dates back to 1844. Set in a little churchyard with flowerbeds and deodar trees, the church has pretty green-painted sloping roofs and an impressive stone tower. Unlike most churches, this one requires you to take off your shoes before you enter. Also, photography is prohibited inside, which is a shame: the stained glass panels behind the high altar (which depicts the Crucifixion) and some more stained glass depicting St Francis and St Barnabas is very nice indeed.
Interestingly, this is the second British-era church I’ve seen (the other being St John’s in Meerut) where some of the pews have slots for rifles. In the Meerut church, these had been put in after 1857 (when the congregation had been fired upon), so that soldiers coming to church could retaliate in case of attack. The man who sits in the Kasauli Christchurch selling religious souvenirs did not know the history of the rifle slots in the pews here, however. Perhaps they have always been there…?
The LO enjoyed the church very much (she devoutly sat down in the pew and prayed—I fear unsuccessfully—that God would make her a good girl). She didn’t want to leave, and wanted to come back, again and again. However, it was very misty the day we visited, and began raining shortly after. The clouds, rolling up and wrapping us in their misty embrace, kissed the LO’s hair poking out from under her hoodie and brought all her curls springing up, which she found very enchanting. So did we.
By far the most satisfying experience of the Kasauli trip, as far as the LO was concerned, was a little walk we took along the road from our hotel. This road, while a proper tarred one, was so little frequented that about the only traffic that passed us on our hour-long walk was a tempo, a few motorcycles and scooters, and a couple of mules. We had the road to ourselves, and it was gloriously lovely, pines on both sides, the blue sky above, and a cool breeze ruffling our hair.
The LO enjoyed this walk a lot. She admired a bright blue insect on a leaf, and chased butterflies.
She happily munched on golden Himalayan raspberries and one lone wild strawberry we found growing by the side of the road. She picked a daisy and carried it along happily until she found a buttercup she liked more. Then she found a purple flower (and purple is her favourite colour) and had to be dissuaded from plucking that.
Our Kasauli trip was short and sweet—but that’s how it is with Kasauli. You don’t need more than a couple of days here, and it’s enough to keep you going for a while.
Edited to add: My sister, on reading this post, offered this very interesting old engraving of Kasauli, which she found in a book that was published in 1858. “Kursalee – A Village in the Neighbourhood of Simla“. How Kasauli has changed!