A beautiful wooden cottage, perched on a hill, in the middle of an apple orchard is the picture that my friend Rushnae had painted of her father’s cottage in Himachal and it seemed perfect. Four friends of mine and I booked our tickets to Manali and boarded the bus from Majnu Ka Tila near Vidhan Sabha in Delhi on a Friday evening around 7:30 P.M. Having done this route a few times I knew the view that Chandigarh and Ambala had to offer did not really interest me, so I slept through this phase of the journey.
Once we hit Himachal though, the story was very different. The drive is filled with beautiful waterfalls and a long tunnel which goes through a mountain. The view that stands out for me the most in this area is the “Sangam” near Bhuntar, which is where Parvatti and Beas meet after coming from Pin Parvatti Pass and Rohtang Pass respectively. If you head there after the rains around April-May, you can actually see the two different colours mixing into each other. In retrospect a picture would have looked good on my Instagram profile.
After travelling for around 14 hours we finally got off at this small village called Patlikul, which is about an hour away from Kullu, treated ourselves to piping hot Chai and Pakoras and got into an Omni van which Sham (Rushnae’s Father and our host) had arranged for to take us to Naggar (which is where his cottage was). The ride to Naggar from Patlikul is about half an hour. As we got off at Naggar, it began raining heavily and this is where Sham met us. Travelling with a bunch of disorganised people meant that none of us had the foresight to carry rain capes, umbrellas or snow boots, which is a must during February. I am certain Sham’s first impression of us was of disgust, even though he didn’t let it on, given how unprepared we were. The walk to his cottage involves a 20 minute trek (you’ll fall in love with the multitude of hiking opportunities that Naggar has to offer), which while not usually very difficult seemed fairly daunting because of the rain. What we also learnt was that carrying suitcases to Himachal and trekking doesn’t make for a great combination.
The 20 minute walk to his cottage in Naggar is quite picturesque, you can see snow-capped hills on the other side and there’s a small stream running below which isn’t visible but makes a beautiful sound. As you approach the cottage, you can see a few apple trees below and a dense forest up ahead. The cottage itself is a cute three floor wooden structure with a sloping green tin roof which blends in beautifully with the surroundings.
Once we entered the top floor, where Sham stays the homely and cosy feel of the place hit me immediately. The main drawing room has a bunch of couches and a lot of books, which gives the whole place a very charming feel. The first thing that caught my eye though was the wood heater in the centre and the three other electrical heaters in different parts of the drawing room since we were freezing and the sudden burst of heat was more than welcome. The top floor has two rooms. The guest bedroom which we were in had a beautiful study table on one side with a window next to it overlooking the snow-capped mountains. Wooden cottages in Himachal never fail to amaze me!
As soon as we entered we received a very warm greeting from Sham’s two Alsatian puppies, Zara and Zoro. There was also the intimidating presence of Alfie, a gorgeous white cat, who kept the pups under her control by slapping them with her paw as we learnt over our stay. After we freshened up a bit Sham prepared some delicious pahadi mutton for us which we devoured in no time. Post lunch duties were quickly distributed amongst us and I took charge of keeping the main heater running and learnt how to cut wood for it using an axe.
After lunch we started talking to Sham, he told us how this place had been in the pipeline for a long time and that he loved moving away from the crowded and noisy city life (he was in Mumbai before shifting here). We found out that he discovered his love for Himachal while taking Rushnae there over the vacations. I was pretty intrigued by his tales of Laddakh and by his love for landscape photography. Very rarely does one get a chance to meet someone who has the contagious sort of zeal for life that Sham seems to possess.
The evening was spent playing Uno and Monopoly post which we all picked up our books and retired for the night. What I find appealing about homestays is the personal feel of the stay, sharing a meal with your host(s) and getting a glimpse into their life makes you feel less out of place and gives you a very distinct flavour of a destination that hotels can’t really offer.
I woke up around 7 A.M. the following morning and realised that there had been some snowfall the night before. I decided to take a small walk to the stream below. Zoro, showing a fair bit of concern, decided it was his duty to escort me lest I find myself in a difficult situation. It was his area after all. We took a small detour through the forest ahead before going down to the stream, at which point Zoro decided I must chase him, so there we were a small pup being chased by a young man who was slowly realising exactly how unfit he was. We returned after about two hours completely muddy and dripping wet from rolling around in what little snow was left. It was absolute bliss.
The rest of the day involved us trekking in the woods nearby, tasting some fruit wine and gorging on amazing pahadi food that kept coming our way. If you are looking for a getaway from the fast paced life that we all seem to be living, Naggar is where you want to head out.
Unfortunately this also signalled that the time for goodbyes had arrived. I’d like to believe that despite the amazing but heavy pahadi food we went back as a slightly fitter and a far happier group. So what are you waiting for, grab your best buddies, check out homestay options in Himachal and head out! You won’t regret it.
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