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A walk in the woods

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Comfort for the soul and bliss for the mind: find both in Badheri, says MOHUA MITRA

Summer was at its worst when, one morning, I realised that I was probably one of the few left behind in blazing Delhi. After some quiet fuming, out came the route map of Himachal Pradesh, followed by a quick search for a suitable weekend getaway in the hills and a text to my good friend Moushumi, asking her to join me if possible. It was a tall order, considering that she lived in Bangalore.

A seasoned camper and hiker, Moushumi took over the task of finding a home-stay. She finally decided on Little Chilli, nestled in the wooded hills of Badheri, a hamlet about 14 km away from Shimla, owned by a retired colonel, O.P. Thakur and his wife Vimal. Much to our delight, TripAdvisor showed a cheerful façade, a double room still unbooked and a budget that wouldn’t burn a hole in our pockets.

The Himachal Pradesh Government runs a pretty decent bus service from Kashmiri Gate ISBT to Shimla. Our air-conditioned overnight bus left on time. The seats were comfortable and the journey was fairly restful, as the bus tore through the darkness. Early next day, as a grey dawn broke through the morning mist, it pulled into Shimla’s new bus stand. A cab arranged by Col. Thakur dropped us at his doorstep, charges extra of course.

Little Chilli was a delightful place with red roofs and a white façade. Our room (Rs. 3,000 approximately per night for a double room) was well-furnished and airy, with an adjoining balcony overlooking a rolling green expanse of the valley below, and the unique tabletop runway of the Jubbarhatti airport clearly visible some six kilometres away. A quick shower, followed by a buffet breakfast spread, and we were ready to canter down to the bend, where the local bus to Shimla stopped to take in passengers.

We were back in the silent woods of Badheri by dusk. Here, the Himalayan bulbuls, with their white cheeks, a pronounced crest and a pale yellow rump flew about in joyful frenzy; the jungle fowl and the occasional kaleej pheasant scurried about in the undergrowth, ready to roost as the peach-coloured, rain-spangled sun called it a day.

The following days in Badheri and Little Chilli were blissful, as we woke up to the chatter of birds in the tree next to our window, and sat out late in the open terrace, bathed in the light of the full moon that popped out from behind the dark face of the hills. I would amble along the road connecting Totu and Shillon early in the mornings, breathe in the dewy morning air, let the fallen leaves wake up to my footfall and watch birds gathering food.

There were plenty of red-billed blue magpies, tree sparrows, blue whistling thrushes, babblers, tits, the brilliant blue verditer flycatcher, parakeets, magpie-robins, treepies, sunbirds, cuckoos and barbets. Moushumi would take a brisk walk down the same road, almost always two kilometres ahead of me, as I stood focusing my binoculars on a particular bird, scanning the treetops. Finally done with walking, ‘birding’ and being one with the hills, we would return to a simple but wholesome breakfast of cereals and curd, hot buttered toast, jam, eggs on request, or pooris and chole, tea and coffee at the corner table of the Bunker, the innovatively named and creatively done-up dining space.

Little Chilli does not serve non-vegetarian meals, so one has to travel to Shimla. A few Himachali delicacies are also on offer, unique in all respects, especially the generous quantity of ghee, which is served in bowls and should be liberally drizzled on the large pat of spinach-stuffed Himachali bread!

The stay was sheer comfort for the soul and bliss for the mind. Much like the whiff of the late-afternoon crisp mountain air and the lazy chat hours spent over several cups of steaming brew and cookies.

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Printable version | Dec 15, 2019 10:43:16 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/A-walk-in-the-woods/article14630799.ece

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