The receptionist at Ros Common had told us the Upper Mall was best explored in the evening, when we could visit Sunset Point en route. The lady had proved herself dependable as far as advice was concerned, so we went with what she’d said. At 5.30, having fortified ourselves with tea, we set off from Ros Common, walking down the Lower Mall, past rows of shops selling clothing, souvenirs, fruit wine and preserves. At the end, beyond a greengrocer’s, we turn on to the Upper Mall, which snakes up Gilbert Hill.
The start of the walk is daunting enough. One look at the oh-so-steep climb ahead, and I nearly cave in and refuse to go any further. But Papa’s girl is nothing if she isn’t brave (!), so on I went, uncomplaining. And good too, for the incline evens out shortly after the Central Research Institute (CRI; the institute does research in various fields, but is probably best known as the place where most vaccines available in India are prepared). We walk past the CRI, then uphill beyond the local television tower, passing a very diverse collection of fellow walkers on the way. A group of young men, all with hair overlong and tinted with blond streaks, goes by chattering loudly. Some way off, a smart middle-aged woman dressed in jeans and T-shirt strides briskly by. A pair of soldiers, clad in crisp olive green, walk on ahead of us while a family, in conversation with an elderly man clad in deep pink robes and a red velvet cap, pass us by near Lover’s Lane. Family with two small children, obviously quite tired from a long walk, trails along behind us. "It’s downhill after this," the father consoles one of the kids. The mother holds out an incentive: "When we get down to the market, you can have a Coke. Or would you like a cold coffee?" The reply, loud and clear, travels on the still air: "Coke is a dirty thing. Your teeth fall off and you then have to keep your teeth in a glass at night." A-ha.
We walk on, up a gently meandering slope, past the large, red-roofed buildings of the Kasauli Club. The club stands beside a magnificent deodar cedar, its branches spreading in a huge canopy right across the road. Established in 1880, this is an obvious bastions of the sahibs of Kasauli; the tennis courts opposite are neat, the car park full of sleek long cars. As if that wasn’t daunting enough, there’s the sign—far from subtle—at the main gate: `Unregistered guests will be treated as trespassers and will be liable to be prosecuted’. Well, we in our grubby jeans and sneakers are not exactly keen on getting in anyway, thank you very much.
Beyond the Kasauli Club, there’s a military barrier across the road. We ask the guard on duty if we may go on up, and he nods. "Yes, of course." We pass other people on this road, but they’re few and far between.
We’re more or less on our own as we walk down quiet, narrow lanes bordered by pines, deodar cedars, silver oaks laden with bright rust-coloured flowers, and horse chestnuts, with their pinkish-white candles of flowers. Wild roses—white and pink, the latter miniature—grow along the hillside, along with bushes of a local raspberry-like fruit that’s a vivid orange in colour. There are wild delphiniums, daisies, and feral nasturtiums sprawling out of gardens that have spilled over their boundaries. Birds, especially white-cheeked bulbuls, trill in the bushes and sit on wires beside the lane. As soon as we get our camera out and focus, the bulbuls wag their tails insolently and fly off. This happens some half a dozen times before we decide we really couldn’t be bothered anyway.
We soon come to the Army Holiday Home. Kasauli was once an important Rest and Recuperation centre for the British Army in India, and this seems to be a descendant of those days, a secluded building looking out across the mountains. We pass the high white building screened by its surrounding pine trees, and then we wander on, past Gilbert House, home to the local commanding officer. We turn back just after Gilbert House and as we go past, we notice the sentries on duty going through their daily evening ritual of lowering the regimental flag and folding it away.
On the way back, we make a little detour up the Gilbert Nature Walk, a route that goes along the edge of the mountain. It looks interesting, but is covered with dangerously slippery pine needles. What’s more, the sun’s setting, and it will probably soon be dark. We better get to Sunset Point, take our photos of the sunset behind the pines, and then get back home.
Sunset Point, it turns out, isn’t marked as such. There’s a little enclosure, with a railing on all sides, on one lip of the mountain. It juts out slightly, and in the enclosure is a seesaw, a slide, some benches—and a smelly toilet. We sit on a bench for a while, at a safe distance from the loo, looking out as the sun sets amidst wisps of cloud. Picturesque, though not spectacular. And then, scared of getting caught on a dark mountainside, we move on, downhill all the way, back to the main market on Mall Road. Sunset Point has been a bit of a disappointment, but the two hour walk, though tiring, has been strangely exhilarating too—and we’ve managed to take a photo of a bulbul too!