APRIL 2002 Contents
Business & Economy
at Every Alien Door'
'BAIKUNTH' - A RETREAT IN THE HILLS
Overlooking the magical hill station of Kasauli in Himachal Pradesh, India, stands 'Baikunth' - an imposing resort offering 17 cottages, landscaped on different levels and joined together by flower-bedecked paths. Each cottage comes with a spacious balcony overlooking the pine-covered hills where you can sip a leisurely cup of tea or enjoy a drink in the evening admiring the twinkling lights of Kasauli in the distance.
When they actually sat down to give it a name, there was a dilemma. Suggestions swung back and forth as many options were bandied about. Then somebody made a pertinent point. The retreat was in Dev Bhoomi— God’s home on earth. " Why don’t we call it Baikunth?" The reference to Lord Vishnu’s abode in heaven wasn’t missed by anyone.
Thus was born Baikunth- the resort on the hills overlooking the magical hill station of Kasauli in Himachal Pradesh.
Just a 60-kilometre drive from Chandigarh, a little off the Kalka-Shimla highway in the foothills of the Himalayas, Baikunth is a collection of 17-cottages set on 5-acres of hilly land at a height of 6,250 feet.
Travelling off the Kalka-Shimla highway from Dharampur the road forks out at Gadkhal Bazar near Lawrence School, Sanawar, the best-rated residential school in the country. On the left is Kasauli and on the right is a meandering road surrounded by steep Shivalik range, which seemingly leads to nowhere.
Five kilometers on this road and suddenly you see the green-roofed resort jutting out of the mountains. But more than that, Baikunth has come to be associated with the wind chimes that hang from the pine trees and reverberate mellifluously as the wind blows softly though the mountainscape.
" In the real Baikunth Lord Vishnu and Laxmi would sit listening to Narada’s soft music. In this Baikunth we have the wind chimes," says P.D.Sharma, the bubbly general manager of the resort.
The resort has taken three years to build and as it progressed, it started becoming more evident that this was not going to be your-run-of-the-mill Himachal ambience kitsch thing. Far from that, it has finally turned out to be a plush designer place for tourists with deep pockets.
Truly, the past meets the future here. Amidst a typical Himachali village stands the imposing resort offering 17 cottages that have been built using local stones and local labour. The cottages landscaped on different levels are joined together by flower-bedecked paths.
Says Sharma, " Baikunth is something that grows on acquaintance." While the exterior façade has been maintained to match local ambience, interiors are the surprise element. The effort, says Sharma, " was to design a place that reflected Himachali building skills from outside but from the inside make a contemporary statement of comfort."
Each cottage comes with a spacious balcony overlooking the pine-covered hills where you can sip a leisurely cup of tea or enjoy a drink in the evening admiring the twinkling lights of Kasauli in the distance. But for tipplers there’s a better idea. They can let their spirits soar in the circular bar fitted with huge glass windows and comfortable sofas for a panoramic view of the mountains.
For those who enjoy more pristine past-times there’s a hammock and even a real machan or a tree house where the only sounds you hear are the wind rustling softly through the chinars and the distant calls of whistling thrush and the hill munia--- species in abundance here. If you are lucky one may come and perch on the machan and also take a sneaky peck at your food.
On a wintry morning you can let your eyes rest on the open blue skies and magnificent sunsets beyond. Walk over a carpet of wild flowers and chase butterflies on the hillsides. Let the cool, pine-scented air revive you as you admire the breathtaking view of the green valley below and the sweep of the Kasauli hills spreading from the TV tower to the Monkey Point.
Kasauli was established in 1840 when the British bought land from a local noble for Rs. 5,000. The idea was to establish a small cantonment in the hills to fight the Sikhs. Today Kasuali is one of the most salubrious hill resorts of the north flush with wisteria, wild roses, hydrangeas, dahlias, pine, apricot and plum trees.
Mythology has it that when Lord Hanumana was ferrying the Sanjeevani Booti for the injured Laxman he landed on the Kasauli hill to rest his tired arms. The place he set foot on is now called the Monkey Point, as it resembles the paw of a simian. At night, sitting in the balcony of the cottage you can see the Monkey Point twinkling on the opposite mountain.
In the cottages you will not find the usual reminders of big city architectural and design sensibilities in the treatment of its rooms and courtyards as one so often finds in an increasing number of resorts in Shimla. The colours are stark---white, pastels and an occasional painting thaws the rather open and understated elegance.
The interiors are contemporary. Large cottages with attached baths where one could spend an evening! The resort is more than a mere retreat on the hills of Gadkhal. It’s the stuff of Himachali mystique. The rooms provide all the conveniences of modern life. Air-conditioning, heating and television. Some cottages have private gardens and dressing rooms.
As you take a leisurely walk from your cottage to the dining area take in the fresh mountain air and step right into the heart of nature. Thick deodars and pine trees will wrap you in their silence. Break the calm only to hear the chirping of the cricket and rustling of the leaves.
From Delhi 310 kms.
From Chandigarh 60 kms.
From Kalka 34 kms.
You can travel from Delhi by road, by Shatabdi train to Kalka and then by taxi or by bus.
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