Contrary to our original intention of not stepping out of town, our hotel staff and the Tourist Office salespeople talked us into spending a day visiting such nearby sites as Naldehra, Kufri, and Fagu.
The first stop, Naldehra, offered us a horse ride up to a golf course, and, as a restful alternative, beer, coffee and other food and drink in a restaurant overlooking the hillside. While I explored the second alternative with some gusto, my wife, being a more adventurous and hardy soul, decided to try the first. The sight and smell of large quantities of horse dung diminished her enthusiasm more than summat, and the prospect of a long uphill walk instead of riding a horse taught her the virtues of sitting and enjoying a shandy.
The sights were wondrous to behold, but if you’re not a golfer, perhaps the charms of Naldehra can be given a miss.
Our next stop was Kufri. By the time we reached the little nature park and Chini Bungalow, it was raining and this soon turned into a serious hailstorm. Temperatures dropped sharply, woollens had to be brought out and headgear and umbrella acquired from the nearby shops to keep us warm. The shopkeeper was quite thrilled at his accomplishment: “uncle ko topi pahnaya” he kept repeating.
This sambar couple were quite unimpressed by the curious two-legged visitors – putting in an appearance seemed to be part of their contract.
Right next door is the Chini Bungalow, now the HPTDC Cafe Lalit. Car drivers, tour guides and others of that ilk will tell you that the 1972 Shimla Agreement was signed by PMs Indira Gandhi and Bhutto at this very edifice.
Don’t be misled by such talk – as per the website of the Raj Bhavan of HP, the Agreement was signed in the Bhavan and I quote: “In August, 1972, after the 1971 war between India and Pakistan, Shimla Agreement was signed by Smt. Indira Gandhi and Mr. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the then Prime Ministers of two countries. The main drawing room alongwith its table and chairs on which ‘Simla Agreement’ was signed have been preserved.”
Chini Bungalow has a bit of interesting history left, even when stripped of the glory of hosting the Shimla Agreement. According to tour guides, drivers and other such romantic souls, the Maharaja of Patiala had 365 wives – what provisions, if any, he had made for the extra day in a leap year was not explained. He had a Chinese wife in that motley crowd and for her he built this bungalow. Very prettily situated, as a restaurant it is quite nondescript – nothing to indicate its past; somewhat ordinary food; pretty awful toilets; and it could have done with better signage and decor upgrade – this looks really second-class. The Chini Rani would have been seriously disappointed at this fall from grace.
Our next and last stop was Fagu, where we stopped at the gorgeous The Apple Blossom Hotel. This is really beautiful, situated on top of the top of a ridge, with commanding views on three sides. “The right place to come to if you want peace and quiet, or are working on a book or something,” a friend had commented some months ago, and he turned out to be right.
While the food and tea was nothing special, the location and sights compensated for all other shortfalls. On the hillsides were plantations of young apple trees, protected by sheets from rain and hail. The hillside houses were painted in gay colours, which defied the gloom of the rain-filled skies.
The Apple Blossom seemed worthy of a later visit and a longer stay than just a few hours and a cup of tea. May be next year!