Quiet walks through pine, oak and horse-chestnut trees, leisurely lunches and the opportunity to lose ourselves in rapt admiration of old fashioned buildings with gabled roofs and wooden balconies on the Upper and Lower Mall the two main streets that run right through the town prove to be the most strenuous activities of our time spent here.
With all the usual associations and activities of tourist travel stripped away, the absence of external distraction allows our mind to notice, appreciate and revel in the small details, the little ironies. For instance, the view of the mountains at dusk is quite mindboggling. They look intensely blue; the way mountains sometimes paintings.
At first we assume that only dead objects, like the lofty Christ Church, the oldest church in Himachal Pradesh, having been built in 1853, will be welcoming of our photographic overtures. But soon it is clear that the mountain folk are eager to be part of the pictures we make. In the vibrant Kasauli market the shoe-seller insists his picture be taken with the devi in the background. The cloth vendor reclining on the pile of material he has for sale, twirls his fingers through his gelled hair in an attempt to be captured on camera in the most flattering manner possible. The barber who specialises in a product called Ceramic Hair, doles out advice on the best trails to take.
Gilbert’s Trail, past the old Kasauli club, is among the most scenic, eclectic with life and colour. The smell of pine hangs in the air, sweet and heavy. Humming birds, flycatchers, minuets and magpies croon liltingly above. I stand very still listening to the brook babble beneath my feet, watching the picture the branches make against the fleecy blue sky and for these few minutes, feel completely one with life.
Signs of a kind
As we walk along, we come across signs to leave the crisp, bracing countryside as we find it. They read, " Singapore = fine for littering = clean countryside, India = no fine = countryside clogged with litter, Kasauli = Rs 2500/- for littering, so beware!"
We hike up to Sanawar Hill. This hill is as famous for Lawrence’s School, a public institution founded by Sir Henry Lawrence, as it is for the horse-chestunt lemony blossoms, ivory bell shaped flowers and wild cacti along the way. The climb ends, as all good walks ought, with a jolly good meal in Dharampur, at Gianiji’s famous dhaba that serves giant helpings of dal makhani and hot-from-the-tandoor rotis.
Then evening descends and stretches before us like an unbroken desert. We check off our to-do list. We’ve taken the walk to Monkey Point the highest lookout in town, drunk chai with the real estate-dealer who walks his Saint Bernard dog up the mall, admired Khushwant Singh’s home in this writer’s paradise of a town, bought fruit wines and apple-mintginger jams to take to the folks back home, eaten caramel custard at restaurants as fading as the Raj. All that remains, now that there is nothing left to do, is to plummet forth into an unbroken, unbusy expanse of time.