The principal merit and endowment of Chandigarh lies in its location rather than its architecture. Limitless vistas to the traveler open up, once she arrives there. Not just beautiful hill stations, but curiously curious spots as well.
Earlier this week we happened to be in Chandigarh for a 2 hour Conference – ConclAv they call it now-, where in an audience of 200 just 2 people argued with each other and finis! Flying from Guwahati and back is a three day affair, bound to raise hackles- but not to the Chandigarh-initiated, in which ranks CVB fancies himself…
The destination that suits our taste best, if we have 4 hours on hand while in Chandigarh is Kasauli. As kids we have visited the place a plenty of times, for our School Principal the Rev. Jim Douglas Tytler had a Villa there, which would be the summer retreat of the whole School. It was, isss, a little Church centered hill station, tucked westwards behind the hills that led to Shimla or Simla. The solid Raj roads and railroad took you there…
The moment the takraar alluded to above ended, colleague Raj and YT took a bite of the excellent butter chicken-tandoori roti combination that forms the backbone of a Punjabi meal, and jumped into Bhag Singh’s Dzire, and yelled “Singh saab, Kasauleeee..”-before anyone could spy us- for what we love to see is usually hatke from accepted norms. Many a precious trip has foundered on the rocks of suum cuique…
One of the inherent strengths of Kasauli- its métier- is its geography. In a space of 75 km., you ascend 6,000 ft. ! Just give an hour and a half, and you are upp there in the clouds savouring the fragrances pervading endless pine-woods, admiring the expansive broad-shouldered mountains, interspersed with supremely beautiful valleys …
The other two draws of Kasauli are the Pedigree of the place, and last but not the least- Cheers! -the one and only single Malt Whisky produced in Ancient India: Solan No. 1- from the highest distillery in the world, the solvent of the 42.8 % alcohol being unadulterated water from Himalayan springs.
But of course they’ll tell you it’s no longer what it used to be- those shaalaa (minceশালা ) professional nostalgia seekers, nostalgia ke vyapari- the height being “Owwwww…nostalgia is no longer what it used to be..ha,ha,ha..”
There were times when the whisky was available only in Military stores. And boyyy…did the Generals swear by the Holy Spirit! Once on a trip from nowhere to nowhere we happened to befriend Brigadier Shamsher Singh (now retired) of Signals, who promptly christened nacheez, chotte prah, and naturally after a couple of pegs of Solan No. 1 we reciprocated by addressing him as Veerji. The difference in our ages should have been around 125 years then, a century here or there... No Sticky Label, Walker-Shalker for me, he used to say, “I am monogamous- one wife, one whisky…” –a General like which they don’t produce anymore…
As is known to anyone who has tippled on occasion, the whiskies that go under the garb of IMFL are all derived from molasses. The only ones which answer to the description of real whisky are Solan No. 1 and possibly Amrut of Bangalore. Those are the only two whiskies ever sighted on international turf, for instance Solan is reviewed by Canadian Chip Dykstra on his site rumhowlerblog, which reputedly crossed 2 million hits last year…he rates the whisky at a respectable 84/100, which is the highest end of cocktail whiskies and the lower end of the elite independently consumable brands- according to Chips, that is...we’d give it a neat, on-the-rocks 90. To give you an idea of his exacting standards, Bacardi White Rum earns a mere 70/100 on Chip-scale. This is the only whisky to figure in the Penguin title “Happy Hours: The Indian Book of Cocktails” by Bhaichand Patel, and that, without any insult …! Google Solan No. 1 and you’ll be startled by the fan following the brand commands...
The brewery, at present known as Mohun Meakins, was set up in 1860, in the foothills of Kasauli on the Solan spring, with equipment imported from Scotland by Edward Dyer, the father of the infamous Brigadier General Reginald Dyer, the perpetrator of the Jallianwala Massacre. Too bad…Reggie did not stick to his dad’s venerable vocation…
The equipment of the distillery is still the same, though the ownership has changed. The senior Mohun happens to be a teetotaler and has never sought to hype the whisky from his side. On the other hand, he has been contracting the production as the availability of Malt and Himalayan water dwindles. Today one has to visit Kasauli to buy the concoction, it is so scarce, and all we could lay our hand was a solitary bottle. MRP? -only Rs. 280.00! Best things come for free nooo....?
Having accomplished the prime
object of the Mission, we now trot around the hills, intending to bring friend Raj
face to face with the most celebrated hasti –personality- of Kasauli-
Sardar Khushwant Singh. But of course he is too old now to undertake the
journey to his home at Kasauli, they say, and the Khushwant Singh Festival of
2012 did not venture beyond the celebrated Kasauli Club. Anyhow, we get to
explore a bit, the precincts of the historic home where he did most of his writing. YT and his friend share a certain
warmth for Khushwant paaji if only because he calls himself a “simple-minded Sardarji”. Quite
endearing I sayyy…! Raj should be delighted to find that the estate is named
after him..Raj Villa… or the other way round. With some temerity, we complete a
pradakshina of the house-apparently at the other end is a sunset-point. “Whose
woods are there I think I know, his house is in the village though, he will not
see me stopping here..” there the analogy ends: snowfall ‘ardly ‘appens in
Kasauli, it happens in the leap years they used to say- ya- it did happen in
2012…We remember Miss Parks, our school-time old-flame, our chaperon, never
allowed us to go in the direction where Raj Villa lay, it was supposed to
abound in dangerous precipices...
|RIDIN' INTO THE SUNSET|
As for the vastu- khandahar batate hain - imarat kitni haseen thi… Here are the mandatory snaps:
|ਸੱਦੀ ਗੱਲ ਏ : ਤੂ ਕੀ ਸੰਜੇਗਾ ਤੰਨੁ ਕੀ ਦੱਸਿਏ !|
The first one is in rrrreallly bad taste—baaad boys, but what better can you expect from a Rehgarpuria, aks the Dev Nagaris and Karol Baghis I sayyy… Rehgarpura, a Karol Bagh suburb where the outcastes used to live was our home till we were further outcasted from there… to JJ Colony, Inderpuri, next door neighbors to, we boast, the Rt. Hon. Mayawati, whom every Indian Politician aspires to emulate, but lacks the gumption…
It was too tempting a photo-op, and we’re sure Khushwant paaji will understand, large hearted that he is…by the way Khushwant Singh was never a Solan No.1 enthusiast- he just prefers the generic Scotch…The twain did not meet…alas…
May waheguru see Khushwant paaji break the glass wall of the Century, and may the equivalent of Thoreau’s Walden, or Poe’s Bronx and Maugham’s home at Cat Ferrat, light up on 2nd February 2015 resplendent in glory!
And don’t you sneeze at the pains we take for just a dekko at Raj Villa. Defined circuits of Great Writers’ Homes form big-ticket tourism in the West.
|RAJ VILLA 2013|
|GRANDEUR BEHIND RAJ VILLA|
|RAJ VILLA IN ITS PRIME|
|MAUGHAM AT CAT FERRAT RESIDENCE|
|POE'S HOME BRONX|
Paparazzi gathered at the 99th birthday celeb of Paaji.. Paparazzo condescendingly remarks “ SIRRRR, I HOPE I’LL ATTEND YOUR CENTENARY CELEB NEXT YEAR…”… “WHY NOT..?!” says Paaji, “ YOU LOOK QUITE HALE AND HEARTY, CVB..!”