The hills are alive with the sound of birdsong. The liquid trills, chirrups and tweets echo through the pines, but the birds—little brats that they are—are nowhere to be seen. The only birds we’re able to see are the jungle crows (utterly commonplace) and a couple of mynahs (there are plenty of them back in Delhi). Tarun is reduced to taking a photograph of a fat yellow-and-brown bumblebee buzzing around a delphinium. We console ourselves with breakfast on the terrace, then sit outside, cursing under our breaths at the ill-mannered children of some fellow residents at Ros Common. The children probably take after their parents though; the parents shriek to each other as they wander round the terrace, and the children imitate them. When this lot are augmented by another, equally loud family, we decide it’s time to take ourselves off to quieter climes.
Monkey Point, suggests the receptionist at Ros Common, a gentle and mild-mannered lady. "Drive up," she advises us. "It’s about two and a half kilometres uphill to the Air Force barrier. Leave your camera and cell phones in the car at the barrier and then walk up to the temple. And in the evening you can go to the Upper Mall, to Sunset Point."
So we drive up to Monkey Point, run the gauntlet of suspicious military guards—one of them, in charge of frisking male visitors, gets Tarun to pull down his socks and open his wallet. And that is all preliminary to a taxing haul uphill to the temple. By the time we reach the temple, we’re pooped and breathless. The priest at the temple is wiry and in peak physical condition, by the looks of him. Not surprising, if he does the trek uphill everyday.
We wander around the terrace for a while, admiring the view, then head downhill. A woman in high heels is tottering along, followed by a husband with a toddler draped across his shoulders. Below them comes a gaggle of formerly noisy college students (they’d passed our hotel in the morning, and we’d shuddered at their rowdiness). I’d overheard the guard at the barrier say, "You lot, there. Quieten down or I’ll have all of you sent right back." It’s worked; they’re suitably subdued.
Further down, an Air Force officer is standing beside the railing and talking on his cellphone to (presumably) another officer. His voice is loud, every word ringing clear up the hill: a complete violation of the Air Force’s strict security here. Fortunately for the Official Secrets Act, the man’s speaking mostly in abbreviations and acronyms, so one can’t really figure out what he means.
For us, the trek to Monkey Point has been interesting (the view’s hard to beat), but before we head back to Ros Common, it’s time for one pleasurable chore. We take ourselves off to a nearby shop called Daily Needs and buy some fruit wines to take back home for family, friends and ourselves. Apricot, peach and plum, with an alcohol content of 11%. Smart bottles, enticing labels and fairly affordable prices, at only about Rs 90 per bottle. After all, Himachal is the fruit capital of India. They also have strawberry, kiwi, apple, orange and grape wine—and others. Along with lots of jams, marmalades, pickles, juices, cider and cider vinegar. We’re tempted, but then decide not to go overboard.
After lunch (on the terrace at Ros Common), we have a long and much-deserved siesta. That done, we revive ourselves with some tea, and then head off to explore the Upper Mall and Gilbert Hill. The start of the Upper Mall, past the Central Research Institute (CRI) and the local television tower, is steep, but soon evens out into a narrow lane lined with flowering horse chestnut and silver oak, wild roses and wild delphiniums: lovely. We trudge on, past the Kasauli Club (established 1880) and the Army Holiday Home, then go a little way up the Gilbert Nature Walk, before we turn back and stop briefly at Sunset Point to see the sun go down. The trek back, on calves that are now aching, is inordinately long, but we get back to Ros Common by 7.30, for a quick rest before we set off for dinner at the Constellation Café in the nearby Hotel Alasia. Dinner is a disappointment—the Constellation is scruffy and badly managed. Meal over, we walk back to Ros Common, ready to put our feet up. It’s been a long day.