We’re headed down from the hills today, and the thought itself is enough to make me glum. I have a fascination for the hills, and a definite soft spot for Himachal. And a week in Himachal is, I realise all over again, just too short.
Tarun and I have had a rather restless night in our deluxe log hut at Chail. The Chail Palace itself looks not too bad—some parts of it are positively beautiful, and a visitor at the Orchard Retreat in Thanedhar had mentioned that the Maharani Suite is particularly fine. We seem to have been exceptionally unlucky in our accommodation. The hill on which the log huts stand is haunted by dangerous-looking Rhesus macaques, and Tarun and I move out only once we’ve armed ourselves with a couple of fist-sized stones. And the room, on closer acquaintance, does not improve. In fact, it just gets worse. Halfway through the evening, we realise the significance of the room’s somewhat weird décor. There are huge mirrors all over, even two on the ceiling. There’s a heart-shaped mirror in the bathroom. And there are prints of nudes, including a somewhat Rubensque woman with a bad case of cellulite. Not what you’d usually find in hotel rooms in India. And then we happen to have a look at the key tab: Honeymoon Den. Things sort of make an amusing sense after that.
But I guess you’d want some romance on your honeymoon, wouldn’t you? This log hut may be secluded, but the general air of scruffiness and dirt is appalling. There’s a half-smoked beedi (a local hand-rolled cigarette) lying in a drain in the bathroom floor. The cistern above the loo is rusted and dirty. At night we hear the pitter-patter of little feet somewhere behind the paneling of the room.
So we’re rather glad to check out of Chail. The road we have to take goes past Kandaghat, Solan, Dharampur, Kalka and Parwanoo to Pinjore. The first 10 km are through beautiful woods: mainly pine and oak, mixed with some deodar and rhododendron. Beyond that, the woods start thinning out, the cedars disappearing, and eventually the pines giving way to more plains species. Almost all the way through the hills are also orchards: we see ripe plums and apricots; raw walnuts, pears, apples and pomegranates. The pomegranates also grow wild in places in the hills, their bright red-orange flowers visible from far away.
We stop at Dharampur to have lunch at a famous roadside eatery called Giani da Dhaba. Giani is large, and the food is delicious. We order their specialty, a lemon chicken that has a lovely tang to it and isn’t terribly spicy. Half an hour later, full of good food and some chilled lychee juice, we’re on our way again.
We drive down a highway edged with flowering trees: mauve jacaranda, orange Royal Poinciana, magenta bougainvillea. They’re pretty, but we find ourselves missing the wildflowers of Thanedhar. We reach Pinjore at around 3 PM. Pinjore is home to a famous Mughal garden, a sight I’ve wanted to see for a while. We check in at the Budgerigar Motel, have a coffee (very weak and milky), and take ourselves off to the gardens next door.
The gardens are a mess. Oh, they’ve very neat, possibly pretty to many people: but they probably bear very little semblance to the original. The water channels, almost certainly originally lined in red sandstone—or some stone, at any rate—are now lined with ugly blue-grey ceramic tiles that make them look like a shoddy bathroom. The pavilions, originally made of lightly carved sandstone (you can still see the carving) have been painted over completely in a yellowish cream. One of the pavilions, centred along a water channel, had been converted into a horrible little café with huge garden umbrellas, tables and chairs on the terrace outside.
The only redeeming feature are the extensive orchards on either side of the main garden. Here grow mangoes and chikoos (neeseberry, also known as sapota), the trees laden with fruit, jealously guarded by men who patrol with long sticks in hand to keep off marauders, both human and avian.
We eat an earliesh dinner, then make our way to the gardens next door, to see them at night, when they’re illuminated. The lighting is all right—not as great as it could’ve been. We take a few pictures, then head back to the motel. It’s back to Delhi tomorrow. The party’s over.