The trek to Dalhousie’s Cottage

“Would you like to visit Dalhousie’s Cottage?” asked Prithvi.

It was our first tour group’s first evening at The Hotel Grand Shangri-La, Kalpa and we were having dinner. Prithvi, the Managing Director of the hotel, was offering suggestions with regard to places we could visit.

“Dalhousie? As in Lord Dalhousie?” I asked.

“Yes, the very same. His cottage is about 8 km from here,” was Prithvi’s reply.

“But what was Lord Dalhousie doing here? I mean, he has a place named after him, Dalhousie, in another part of Himachal Pradesh, right? Or is this the Dalhousie you’re talking about? I’m a little confused now,” said someone from my group.

“Dalhousie, the place, is quite different from what I’m talking about. This is a cottage that Dalhousie built for his stay whenever he came to this region. Kalpa was his favourite hunting ground, you know,” Prithvi said.

“Hunting, as in, shikaar?” asked another person.

“Yes. Kalpa used to have a lot of wildlife, including snow leopards and Dalhousie was particularly fond of hunting them. He used to sail up the Sutlej and then set up camp in the area. The cottage was built later, when his wife came here. Local legends say that she had an incurable disease and was dying..”

“She must have had TB,” piped up another voice from our group.

“So, would you all like to visit Dalhousie’s cottage tomorrow? It is a nice level walk on winding roads and under beautiful trees… It is only after we cross Roghi village that the climb begins — just the last 2 km, in fact. Those who cannot do the climb can stay back and rest in the village,” Prithvi said most persuasively.

Our group didn’t need much persuasion and there was a resounding yes from all of us and next morning, after a hearty breakfast, we set off for the trek with Prithvi leading the way.

Kalpa, Trek to Dalhousie's Cottage, Travel, Himachal Pradesh, Kinnaur

Walking past brightly painted hotels in Kalpa. The yellow one in the background is called “Hotel Apple Pie” !

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The Grand Shangri-La at Kalpa

I am not fussy about hotels. No, really I’m not. A clean room, a clean bathroom, a convenient and safe location, a restaurant with some decent vegetarian options… and I’m a happy and satisfied customer of that hotel. Everything else — air-conditioner, spa, multi-cuisine restaurants, gym, room with views, wi-fi, etc. — are only add-ons for me and their presence or absence is not a criteria for choosing a hotel.

Sure, I like 5-star and luxury hotels, but while very nice, posh and what not, they tend to overwhelm me. An occasional heritage hotel has been known to tempt me, but it’s always because of the story it has to say, rather than the facilities they offer. While travelling, I’m always more concerned about the place I’m visiting rather than the place I’m staying in. So a basic hotel works just as fine as a not-so-basic or more-than-basic hotel. Like I said, I’m not fussy.

But last September, during a trip to Himachal Pradesh, I stayed in a hotel where I had such a superlative experience that I was forced to admit that the place of stay also adds to the travel experience. And 6 months on, I can even say that my stay at this hotel is among the memories that come to mind whenever I think of that trip. The hotel that has spoiled me for ever is The Hotel Grand Shangri-La at Kalpa in Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh.

The Grand Shangri-La, Kalpa, Hotel, Kinnaur, Himachal Pradesh

The Grand Shangri-La

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Travel Shot: The longest grape vine in the world

What I love most about travel is the unexpected. I don’t mean the ‘discovering’ type of unexpected; I mean finding something you were not aware of before and in a place where you least expect it to be.

Take for instance, the trip I made to Hampton Court Palace (near London) in 2009. It was a beautiful summer’s day and I had arrived at Hampton Court Palace in style — by boat over the River Thames, much like how King Henry VIII would have. I spent a wonderful time at the Palace (actually they are 2 palaces, but that is a story for another post!), and wandered around its extensive grounds, tennis courts, privy and knot gardens, and what not, and nearly drained my camera battery with the number of photos I took. Just what I expected a palace in England to be like.

When I came across a rather nondescript looking glasshouse, I almost didn’t go in to explore. But then curiosity won, and I found myself in the presence of the world’s longest, and one of the world’s oldest, grape vine, also known as the Great Vine.

Longest Grape vine, Hampton Court Palace, England, UK, Great Vine

The Great Vine at Hampton Court Palace. If you look closely you can see the vine laden with grapes.

The Great Vine was planted in 1769 on the site of the first glasshouse built in the Hampton Court Palace; today, the Vine has filled up the entire glasshouse. A lot of care is taken to protect the Great Vine from encroachment by other plants, as well as from disease. Only organic manure/fertiliser is used and the Vine is protected from mildew by vaporising sulphur using small electrically operated vaporisers suspended amongst the plant’s branches.

Even after more than 2 centuries, the Vine still produces grapes. According to the official website,

the average crop of black dessert grapes is about 272 kilograms… The grapes are … sold during the first three weeks of September.

I had visited Hampton Court Palace in late July when the Great Vine was laden with plump grapes and were due to be picked in a month’s time. I love grapes and wished I could have tasted them, though I doubt if I would have been able to afford them. Still, that didn’t stop me from imagining what they would have tasted like — juicy, sweet, and just a little sour. Just as I like my grapes.

PS: Apologies for the photograph quality; this one is from my pre-blogging days :-P

Moonrises, sunsets and sunrises at Kinner Kailash

Before my trip to Himachal Pradesh, everyone who knew I was travelling there had something to tell me about the place. More so because this was my first trip there and also because I would be seeing the Himalayas for the first time.

So, I got to hear about the weather, the roads, the people, the rivers, the food, the vegetation, the various mountain ranges, the monkeys, the treks, the hotels, the temples, the local culture, apples, snow, wildlife… But all of them missed out on telling me about the breathtaking Himalayan sunrises and sunsets or for that matter, Himalayan moonrises and moonsets.

The first set of sunrises and sunsets that I saw were at Fagu and Sarahan respectively. They were beautiful and I may have even termed them as spectacular, if I had not gone to Kalpa and seen the sunrises, sunsets and moonrises over the Kinner Kailash range; they redefined the words “spectacular” and “breathtaking” for me.

On my first evening at Kalpa, our group visited a gompa at Kalpa village. Our visit ended around sunset after which we were generally wandering about. Suddenly I heard Doreen, our tour leader, call out to us in an urgent voice to hurry and see the moonrise.

We all rushed to where Doreen was standing and saw the moon peeking from behind a mountain peak and getting ready to make its appearance for the night. And over the next few minutes, I was witness to a moonrise like none that I had seen before and, perhaps none that I am likely to ever see.

Kinner Kailash, Kalpa, moonrise

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Travel Shot: The sculpture with a smile

I came across a very unusual and rare sculpture at the sculpture gallery of the City Palace in Udaipur last February. It was a sculpture of a woman with a smile. What’s so rare about a sculpture with a smile, some of you may ask. Then let me tell you this:

I had seen many types of sculptures — abstract, life-like, larger-than-life, surreal…

I had seen sculptures made from a variety of materials — stone, wood, metal, mesh, ivory, silver, bronze, papier-mache…

I had seen sculptures seen in stylised poses — at dance, at war, making love, in thought, in action…

I had seen sculptures with expressions of anger, agony, pain, peace, serenity and sometimes even with blank expressions, but never a smile. Each time, I left a museum or a gallery or a site where there were sculptures, I would always wonder why. Until I saw this sculpture.

City Palace Museum, Udaipur

The sculpted smile

It was a beautiful sculpture. In spite of the damage to the face, I could not miss the lips turned up in a smile. I’m sure that if the eyes were clearly visible, there would have been a naughty twinkle in them. I promptly named her Muskaan, the one with a smile so infectious that I smiled back at her in return. Did you also smile when you saw Muskaan, dear reader?

I hope that in 2014 I see many more smiles around me — on sculptures and on people and on my blog too.

Happy New Year ! :-D

Travel Shot: The paper pile at the police station

Colva Police Station, GoaFor me, police stations and hospitals are places that are to be seen only when needed and ignored when not needed. Such places are good to have nearby, but not too close, if you know what I mean.

It’s not like I’m scared of them; just that I’d like to keep my distance from them. Most of the times I pretend like they don’t exist !

Last week was one of the times that I didn’t ignore the presence of a police station. I was in Colva (Goa) and the local police station was close to where I was staying. Housed in an old and traditional house that looked really quaint and cute, the Colva Police Station was a landmark in the area. But what caught my attention was a huge pile of papers stacked on an open shelf in the station’s verandah and clearly visible from the road.

Colva Police Station

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