I watch the birds and their curious descent onto white-washed verandas like a voyeur. The nip in the air no longer bothers me. Maybe I’m on my way to being Himachali. The ragged edges of the mountains are topped by evenly spaced trees – something I never depicted in my school scenery drawings. It’s 7 AM but the sun has long since risen and is now a blazing ball of white gold, casting its luminescence on my coffee mug and bedroom slippers. Yesterday, at this very moment, I was navigating those mountains in my quest for the temple of Skand Mata.
That was all I could scribble before I realised that my time for a morning walk would soon be up and I had to leave the warmth of my room at Club Mahindra Kandaghat. It was my third day in this Himachali town close to Shimla so perhaps I’d better start at the beginning.
Every time I cross the borders of Mumbai city and begin glimpsing the outline of the Sahyadris, my eyes take on a special sheen and I stick my nose as close to the window as possible. “Mountain!” I breathe, behaving like an excited toddler rather than the 27 year old adult that I am. I’ve had my share of hills and chills over the years but none can compare to the profound and icy charm of The Himalayas. India is so fortunate to host a major portion of this majestic mountain range. And I was so fortunate to receive an invite from Club Mahindra Kandaghat to find myself in its shadow once again (read about my previous encounters with The Himalayas in Manali and Kanatal).
I was almost as excited about landing in Chandigarh as I was about my trip to Kandaghat. Harjyot and I had some time to kill before Amrita joined us from Kolkata; so we asked our driver Jagdish for ideas. I was keen on visiting Chandigarh’s famous rock garden but it was miles away. So we headed to Elante Mall, a popular hang-out in the area and India’s third largest mall. Imagine that being located in a small city like Chandigarh! We didn’t do any shopping but we did a lot of ogling – at swanky showrooms, chubby kids and eye-popping price tags. The mall was indeed large; our feet were hurting after walking for nearly 30 minutes to cover its entire area.
Once Amrita joined us, the adventure had fully begun. I love scenic drives and the route to Kandaghat took us via many narrow, spiralling roads flanked by soaring mountains dotted with distant houses. We made a pit stop at a decent looking dhaba for a quick lunch and asked him what was good on the menu. Pat came the reply – “everything”. The Himachalis are certainly a confident lot! We did enjoy everything that came to our table.
It was late evening by the time we reached Club Mahindra Kandaghat, a grand-looking garden resort complex protected by filigree gates. The managers were upset that we’d missed the sunset but they still hoped to entice us with some high tea and bonfire. But first, we had to check in.
I’ll confess something – my favourite moment in many trips is the moment I lay eyes on my room. It would be my home for the next few days after all and the silent witness to my coffee-making skills and occasional poetry. My room at Club Mahindra Kandaghat was supremely spacious with a beautiful bath tub, kitchenette and veranda. Flower petals had been arranged symmetrically on the king-sized double bed for a fragrant and thoughtful welcome. And there were welcome cookies and fruits which I would’ve devoured at once if not for the promised tea.
We convened in the lawns for our first glimpse of the resort. The temperature was around 11 degrees and the cold breeze made itself known to me despite my warm jacket. Club Mahindra Kandaghat is spread over what seems like a mountain in itself and there are many uphill climbs along storybook lanes to be had. We undertook one such mini journey in the dense darkness of the wintry night. Down in the lawns, the weather seemed even chillier. But our hearts warmed at the sight of the pretty private table nestled in a corner, covered with myriad delicacies like cookies, tarts, cakes and fruits. Regaled by the tales of the hotel managers, we tucked into these and sipped on warm ginger tea. They told us about the resort’s eccentric original owner who was obsessed with the colour white. While the resort still stays true to this legacy, there are splashes of colour where required! Presently, we heard raucous singing and turned to find the guests taking part enthusiastically in the outdoor karaoke.
As the night advanced, we graduated to more potent refreshments and moved to the crackling bonfire for some much needed heat. And then we were treated to a beautiful Himachali dance performance by the staff of the resort, led by the unbelievably graceful and multi-talented Pradeep Rai. When the dance ended, many guests joined the staff to shake a leg with abandon. Though still replete, we decided to move indoors for drinks and dinner. We enjoyed the choicest of starters such as paneer tikka, crunchy kebabs and grilled meats (for my companions) along with our drinks at the bar at Blossom restaurant. A revolving lamp cast mesmerising, golden shadows on the wall. Dinner was at the buffet spread at Fun Dining but I only had room for soup and salads.
My day had begun at 5:30 AM that day and I fell asleep the moment I reached my room. Besides, my alarm was set for 6 AM the next day in preparation for our early morning trek to Skand Mata Temple, a tiny figure we could see from the resort atop what looked like an impossibly lofty mountain.
Trek to Skand Mata Temple
I used to be fond of treks until one or two trying ones instilled a fear of slippery slopes in me. Since then, I’m wary of attempting difficult climbs. Yet, my heart felt light when we embarked on the warm-up walk along the highway at 6:30 AM. I was suitably attired and already felt acclimatised to the nip in the air. We were a party of six, led by Naren. After a longish stroll, we crossed the road and began climbing up the hill. ‘Here we go,’ I thought to myself and hoped that I could do it. It was supposed to be a two hour long trek until we reached the temple dedicated to the fifth form of Goddess Durga. The climb was moderately easy at the start and I felt confident when I found that I didn’t slip even when the incline was steep. We paused a few times to catch our breath and take pictures of the lightening sky. The layered shades of the newly arisen sky were a marvel to watch. A lone cherry tree blossomed against the backdrop of brown mountains and sparse vegetation.
When we were more than halfway up the mountain, a few of us felt our stamina giving way. Naren advised us to maintain a slow and steady pace rather than climbing in fast jerks with frequent pauses. We tried this for the next few minutes and found our chests opening up miraculously. Gone was the tiredness though I knew my knee and calf muscles would sing in exhaustion later. The final stretch to the temple was the easiest with nearly no incline but we were almost at the end of our patience. It was a fine moment indeed when the temple finally came into view. But every time we turned a corner, it seemed to disappear. When we finally looked up at its red and white façade, I felt ready to collapse. We each found our own spots to relax and soak in the breath-taking view, while fortifying ourselves with water and glucose biscuits.
Once I’d calmed down, I entered the inner sanctum of the temple and paid homage to the deity. I thanked her for the enjoyable trek. I was glad I had managed it without any help. But now the daunting task of descending the mountain lay ahead of us. If you’ve ever trekked, you know that descents can really challenge your balance and potentially send you careening. So it was with our hearts in our mouths that we began the downward journey. But wonder of wonders, it turned out to be a real piece of cake. It was the easiest reverse trek I’d ever done. And it was all over in a mere twenty minutes. We were back at the resort by 8:30 AM – a real triumph. And I now feel less jittery about undertaking treks.
We were quite famished and decided to go for breakfast immediately. The buffet spread at Fun Dining was extensive, consisting of idli, dosa, upma, eggs, muffins, donuts, cake, fruit, cereal and many other items that I don’t recall. But I was most impressed by the juice counter which had healthful options like rose petal water and cucumber juice. I drank two cups of the excellently prepared masala tea and felt that I’d already recovered from the morning’s workout!
Given the resort’s proximity to Shimla, you might think that there’s where we ended up post breakfast. But we decided to explore offbeat Chail and Solan instead (more on that in my next post). Dinner was made truly special by the resort staff with a private outdoor table at Kebab Corner and the tinkling and lights of the fountains keeping us company. Some red wine and a gourmet three course meal consisting of cottage cheese pepper stuffed rolls, Burmese fishermen’s soup and carpet rolls with ice-cream stuffing and kiwi pearls made us fall even more deeply in love with Club Mahindra Kandaghat. These dishes were in fact the result of a chef’s competition held across all the Club Mahindra resorts.
It’s only on my last day in Kandaghat that I really look at the mountains. And I mean actually look. All this while, my eyes were seeing, yet not really taking in the curves and slopes of these towering marvels. Now I look at them as an artist might, committing them to memory for future strokes on canvas.
Yet, my treacherous memory already requires the aid of the photos and videos I captured whilst I was at Kandaghat. I remember reading this article which said that we’ve forgotten how to enjoy visual beauty in our impatience and quest for speed. You haven’t really looked at something, the author said, until you can describe it down to the last detail and even reproduce it on paper. How many scenes have you absorbed with such rapture? On my last day in Kandaghat, I took in the pristine white beauty of the resort, its picturesque views and the vivid colours of the flowers lining every hedge.
After breakfast, we proceeded to try some of the many adventure activities available at the resort. I tried my hand at target shooting (with decent success after the initial duds) and was glad the gun didn’t feel too heavy in my hand. I also ziplined for the very first time in my life. This exhilarating adventure sport involves dangling from a wire running across the sky and riding along at top speed to enjoy stunning views of the surrounding mountains. I had mixed feelings as my instructor tied the harness around me and I was honestly scared when I got into position, holding on to the handles suspended from the wire. But once the ride began, I hooted in joy and my instructor joined in! It was one of the most exciting experiences of my life and I was sorry when my 25 seconds were up. At 270m, this is the longest ziplining rope in Himachal Pradesh.
Before we left for Chandigarh, we were taken on a tour of the resort’s many secrets. The most beautiful stretch for me was the nursery where they grow a variety of herbs and vegetables. The surrounding clearings were alive with the chirping of birds and I wished I’d come here before. We learnt that there are 100 varieties of roses in the resort and 100-150 types of trees and shrubs including chestnut, cedar, cherry, dahlia and yucca.
En route to the airport, we stopped at an HPMC (government local produce shop) and I purchased apple wine and mushroom pickle. As I stuffed them into my already bursting suitcase (thanks to the beautiful Himachali cap and shawl gifted to me by the resort), I felt like I was trying to cram all the tastes and smells of Himachal Pradesh into my bag. And maybe I was.
About Club Mahindra
While you can book individual nights at any of the 46 Club Mahindra Resorts across India and abroad, it makes sense to enroll for a Club Mahindra Membership. This is especially for high net-worth families as they can enjoy a week’s holiday every year for 25 years. The resorts are in beautiful locations with luxurious accommodation and fun-filled family activities. But if you’re still unsure, read some Club Mahindra Reviews/Feedback before making your decision.
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