Amiya Dasgupta Is Charmed by Kasauli's Lack of Action
Excerpted from To North India With Love, available from ThingsAsian Press.
"Nah, you won't enjoy Kasauli," a retired brigadier from the Indian army told me when he heard I was planning a trip there. "There's absolutely nothing to do. Go to Shimla instead, and you'll have a much better time."
I'm glad I didn't pay heed to the brigadier's advice. I was looking for a quiet, scenic break from the stress of living in Delhi, and Kasauli turned out to be just the kind of place I needed at the time.
Perched at an altitude of about eighteen hundred meters, the small hill town offered breathtaking views of the Shimla hills, and the many walks I enjoyed down its rocky trails lined with Himalayan oak, apricot, and plum trees were some of the best I've known. The air was heavy with the scent of pine and wild rose, and there were flowers, fruit, and solitude everywhere.
Most of the old Raj-style houses in Kasauli have been owned by princely Punjab families and retired staff of the Indian army since the time of Independence. With individual garden patches and signature red roofs overlaid with wisteria, they reiterated the Old World atmosphere that hung over the town. It wasn't difficult to understand why artists loved to come here and paint, and I wondered if Kasauli wasn't on the tourist map simply because locals, such as the brigadier, didn't want travelers to arrive in great numbers and spoil the peace. Holidaymakers would mean more hotels, more shops, more restaurants, and in no time at all the quiet cantonment town would metamorphose into another overgrown concrete jungle like the nearby tourist city of Shimla.
While I was in Kasauli, I didn't have much use for company. I made a few friends though in the bazar, where I'd drop in every afternoon for tea and buns. I enjoyed hearing tidbits about the town's history at the famous Guptaji's shop, where everybody is always welcome for chocolates and a chat. A couple of regulars at Guptaji's advised me to stay away from the haunted house in Khetarpal Marg, as its resident ghost follows people who pass by after eight at night. They pointed out an old black-and-white photograph of this abandoned house hanging on the wall. I had a mind to go and check out the house in broad daylight, but visions of the ghost noticing which way I had come from and paying me a night visit kept me from venturing in that direction. The mournful silence that fell after dark was enough to give me the creeps as I walked down Kasauli's lonely, cobbled lanes.
Since there wasn't anything that could be described as "tourist entertainment" in town, I did what the residents of Kasauli do in the evenings: go to the Kasauli Club. Temporary memberships were available, and I spent many cozy hours in the ancient wood-paneled bar in front of a roaring fire, nursing a drink and listening to snatches of conversation that floated my way.
I heard about Kasauli's brewery and distillery from a retired army officer who played rummy with his cronies at the bar every evening. Apparently, this was the highest brewery in the world and was started by the Englishman Edward Dyer in the early 1800s to produce Scottish-grade whiskey. The brewery's single malt-Solan No. 1, named after a nearby town-was very popular in days past. The brewery also had the distinction of producing Lion, Asia's first beer. The next evening, the same gentleman arrived at the club with the news that the upstart girls from the posh Sanawar boarding school were giving Kasauli a bad name, parading up and down Mall Road in ridiculously small clothing. Given the range of his interests, I could see why his friends called him PTI (Press Trust of India).
I was staying at the Alasia Hotel, which was as old as everything else in Kasauli, and after I had concluded my day with a drink and PTI's latest news bulletin at the club, I looked forward to returning to its genteel shabbiness and the British-style dinners the chefs still served up in many courses. After a hearty meal, I'd take a short walk to admire the Kasauli night sky before I turned in.
Having spent most of my life in smoggy, polluted cities, I had no idea that a sky could hold so many stars. Looking up at them, I'd always feel an irresistible urge to swipe my hand and take the brilliant debris back with me to bed. I'd put it in a small pile next to my pillow and fall into a deep sleep, unconscious as the sun crept in and inevitably stole my treasure in the early hours of the morning.
Getting to Kasauli
Travelers can reach Kasauli by bus or taxi from other nearby tourist towns such as Shimla and Chandigarh in about three hours. Kalka is the nearest major railway station that travelers can use to reach Kasauli from other parts of the country.
Sadly, since Amiya visited Kasauli, the Kasauli Club burned to the ground. The club has been rebuilt, and although it is no longer the Old World bastion it once was, it is still a place of great camaraderie and local socializing.
Information about this historic hotel can be found on the Heritage Hotels of India website in the section on Himachal Pradesh.