I’m not particularly religious but even I cannot deny the spiritual lure of some shrines that reverberate with the presence of something otherworldly. It was all thanks to Club Mahindra Kandaghat that I ended up at one such refuge – Mohan Shakti Heritage Park. Giving the popular Shimla a miss, we devoted ourselves to unravelling the secrets of lesser known Chail and Solan over a nippy November weekend.
Once the summer home of the Maharaja of Patiala, Chail Palace was purchased by the tourism department of Himachal Pradesh in 1972. Thereafter, it was converted into a hotel and guests can enjoy the regal aura that pervades the various rooms, including the Maharaja and Maharani suites. Most of the main palace has been preserved in its original form and makes for a fascinating walk down the ages. However, not all parts are available for public viewing. While I enjoyed roaming through its plush corridors, what really warmed my heart was the beautiful Hyde Park-like garden in the courtyard with tall trees and generous canopies, wrought-iron benches, smiling walkers and little monkeys stuffing fresh grass into their mouths. A stay here doesn’t have to be impossibly expensive – there are rooms starting from Rs 2000 per night and even dorm beds for Rs 200 but the choicest rooms are priced at Rs 10,000-Rs 18,000. There is also the option of lunching at the restaurant but we found it a little stuffy for our taste and chose to picnic at the Sadhupul River bank instead.
Kali Ka Tibba
‘Tibba’ means mountain in Himachali and so the name of this temple translates to ‘the hill of Kali’. She is the most fierce of Hindu Goddesses, often characterised by a flaming red hanging tongue and a necklace made of the heads of slain demons. We climbed uphill along a hilly path that afforded stunning views of the neighbouring Shivalik Range. The white railings reminded me of fort complexes. Temples in Himachal Pradesh are quite lovely and this one was no exception. The white and red facade attracted me immediately and there were other mini temples next to the main one. We kept hearing the sounds of birds and found that a few were caged in an alcove below the temple area. A group of Punjabi visitors regaled themselves by singing devotional songs. We’d later see the same group at the Sadhupul River.
The river isn’t much, especially in the month of November. I imagine that it must be more ferocious in the monsoons but what makes the spot special is its popularity among tourists who park their vehicles right in the middle of the flowing stream and enjoy themselves with food, drinks and loud music. A row of eateries and makeshift hotels line the river bank but I’m not sure how safe it is to stay in the tents. A couple of wooden lodges further away looked more inviting. We spent the afternoon eating the delicious biryani thoughtfully packed by Club Mahindra Kandaghat by the river. A pleasant lull settled over us once we had finished and it would’ve been quite easy to catch forty winks. Instead, we strolled around, watching the youngsters and families frolic in the stream.
Mohan Shakti Heritage Park
I first came face-to-face with the concept of a heritage theme park at Haw Par Villa in Singapore. While that was dedicated to Chinese folklore and mythology, Mohan Shakti Heritage Park draws inspiration from Hinduism. Named after Brigadier Kapil Mohan who conceptualised the park in 1979, it is a marvel like none other. Strewn with stunningly realistic statues of Hindu Gods and Goddesses, a criss-crossing field reminiscent of a chess board (see featured image at the top of this post) and a vast field of animals overseen by Lord Shiva, the temple is a study in intrigue. The location in Hurt village is stunning, surrounded as it is by thick forests and the lofty Himalayas. The main temple is more arresting from the inside than the outside. A sweeping marble hall with unspeakably beautiful idols of deities, a ceiling so high you have to crane your neck to see all the way up, walls that echo your words and the reverberation of Vedic chants lend the temple a mystical quality that finds expression in a deep silence within your own mind. I had goosebumps when I walked out of the temple. I then walked around the main structure, as is Hindu tradition and found the walls etched with more figurines and carvings. Was there no end to the mysteries and beauties of this 40 acre park, I wondered. Still under construction, an Ayurvedic hospital and meditation centre are among the many facilities proposed to be added to the park.
As someone who loves mushrooms, I was overjoyed to discover that Solan hosts the Directorate of Mushroom Research. It came as a surprise that the city is renowned for its cultivation of various types of mushrooms and goes by the moniker of ‘The Mushroom City of India‘. Obviously, I had to purchase the mushroom pickle (Rs100-150) from an HPMC store, one of several across the state. The apple wine (Rs150-200) was a bonus. (Afternote: Both tasted exceedingly good.)
If you want to plan a trip to Solan and Chail, consider staying at the nearby Club Mahindra Kandaghat, a beautiful luxury resort atop a hill, with stunning views, adventure sports facilities and several exciting family activities. You can book a single night or become a member to gain exclusive access to all 46 Club Mahindra resorts in India and the world. Click here to know more.
Have you been to Chail and Solan? Leave a comment and tell me about your experiences. And be the first to know about the secret destinations we uncover: