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Song of the road

travel Updated: Mar 23, 2010 19:26 IST
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Kasauli is a walker's paradise. As an army cantonment town, restrictions imposed by authorities have prevented the town from being taken over by modern concrete structures. At 6,400 feet in the Shivalik Hills, away from family, television, Internet and every other life diversion, the potency of the trip dawned upon us in its invitation to do nothing but lovingly confront the bare bones of existence.

Quiet walks through pine, oak and horse-chestnut trees, leisurely lunches and the opportunity to lose ourselves in rapt admiration of old fashioned buildings with gabled roofs and wooden balconies on the Upper and Lower Mall -- the two main streets that run right through the town -- prove to be the most strenuous activities of our time spent here.

With all the usual associations and activities of tourist travel stripped away, the absence of external distraction allows our mind to notice, appreciate and revel in the small details, the little ironies. For instance, the view of the mountains at dusk is quite mindboggling. They look intensely blue; the way mountains sometimes do in ornamental paintings.

Vibrant market
At first we assume that only dead objects, like the lofty Christ Church, the oldest church in Himachal Pradesh, having been built in 1853, will be welcoming of our photographic overtures. But soon it is clear that the mountain folk are eager to be part of the pictures we make. In the vibrant Kasauli market the shoe-seller insists his picture be taken with the devi in the background. The cloth-vendor reclining on the pile of material he has for sale, twirls his fingers through his gelled hair in an attempt to be captured on camera in the most flattering manner possible. The barber who specialises in a product called Ceramic Hair, doles out advice on the best trails to take.

Gilbert's Trail, past the old Kasauli club, is among the most scenic, eclectic with life and colour. The smell of pine hangs in the air, sweet and heavy. Humming birds, flycatchers, minuets and magpies croon liltingly above. I stand very still listening to the brook babble beneath my feet, watching the picture the branches make against the fleecy blue sky and for these few minutes, feel completely one with life.

Signs of a kind
As we walk along, we come across signs to leave the crisp, bracing countryside as we find it. They read, " Singapore = fine for littering = clean countryside, India = no fine = countryside clogged with litter, Kasauli = Rs 2500/- for littering, so beware!"

We hike up to Sanawar Hill. This hill is as famous for Lawrence's School, a public institution founded by Sir Henry Lawrence, as it is for the horse-chestnut lemony blossoms, ivory bell shaped flowers and wild cacti along the way. The climb ends, as all good walks ought, with a jolly good meal in Dharampur, at Gianiji's famous dhaba that serves giant helpings of dal makhani and hot-from-the-tandoor rotis.

Then evening descends and stretches before us like an unbroken desert. We check off our to-do list. We've taken the walk to Monkey Point -- the highest look-out in town, drunk chai with the real estate-dealer who walks his Saint Bernard dog up the mall, admired Khushwant Singh's home in this writer's paradise of a town, bought fruit wines and apple-mint-ginger jams to take to the folks back home, eaten caramel custard at restaurants as fading as the Raj. All that remains, now that there is nothing left to do, is to plummet forth into an unbroken, unbusy expanse of time.

When she isn't teaching at St Xavier's College, Sonia can be found brandishing pen and camera on her travels around the world

Getting there:
Hop on to a direct flight between Mumbai and Shimla. From Shimla it is a 3-hour trip by road to Kasauli.

Where to stay:
Baikunth Resorts is perfect if you want spectacular hill views and have a car at your disposal to get you to and fro the market hub, which is a twenty-minute drive away. For more information write to mail@baikunth.com or visit www.baikunth.com.

Ros Common, a heritage hotel run by Himachal Tourism is a good choice if you want to be living right in the heart of Kasauli. For more information call +91-11-41612107 or e-mail urgent.reservation@ashextourism.com