For how long can you depend on virtual travel? It’s been too long watching old “Facebook Memories”, flipping through last year’s Lan Ha Bay travel pictures and videos. And the worst part? Almost getting used to that! A whole year gone by without stepping out of the city and just ruminating on memories…more memories! It was time we made some new ones.
For travel junkies like ourselves, one whole year without the mountains or beaches or forests felt like claustrophobia. And more than anyone else, our 74 years “old” father (who’s used to spend at least 6 months of the year travelling across the globe) was getting restless, cranky, and quite out of control like a rebellious teenager. Honestly, we can’t blame him.
By the end of October 2020, we had already thoroughly researched ways to travel safely during the pandemic and the best possible accommodation options with minimum human interaction. And while browsing through numerous webpages, we stumbled upon this stunning house on Airbnb in a gorgeous little village, called Kuthar. Just one day trip from Delhi to hill station was exactly what we were looking for! The very appearance of the house took our breaths away and there was no more confusion on how we wanted to spend our Diwali week!
The Little Bumps And The First Look Of Kuthar
Delhi-Kuthar 300 km. drive usually takes about 7 hours. But just like any other one-day road trip from Delhi, there were a few wrong turns and the eternal clash between my father’s confidence in his navigation skills and my brother’s trust in Google maps. To be honest, this time, we should have stuck with the old school route which would have saved an hour of our total driving time! The victorious party, however, didn’t spare us the occasional “I told you so” looks and verbal darts!
Egg-chicken sandwiches and pork-ham sandwiches for breakfast and chicken fried rice for lunch – our “picnic style” meals were super fun. All foods were homecooked and packed in casseroles and insulated lunchboxes. And needless to say, every action was preceded and followed by generous amounts of sanitizer spraying.
Our very kind and helpful host Colonel Gurpreet guided us through the village and forest routes where Google maps refused to navigate beyond Dharampur. By the time we reached his property, it was 4:30 pm but not yet dark. We had a cheery welcome by the Colonel and his caretaker Babloo with steaming tea in the tastefully landscaped garden at the front. The initial vibes were sufficiently brimming with the possibility of a fantastic week ahead! After the tea, we decided to light some lamps and candles on the front porch (with the Colonel’s kind permission) as it was Diwali night.
We had instantly fallen in love with the wooden house, the garden, the warm welcome, and the silence of the surrounding pine woods. Now we just couldn’t wait to see our first morning in the Kuthar hills!
Two Possible Routes from Delhi to Kuthar:
Route #1 (Suggested by Google Maps): Delhi – Chandigarh – Pinjore – Bitna – Parwanoo – Kharog – Jagjit Nagar – Kuthar
Route #2 (Suggested by locals): Delhi – Chandigarh – Pinjore – Kiratpur – Barotiwala – Batoli – Kuthar
Personal recommendation: Route #2 being faster with better road conditions!
Here Comes The Sun…And Mamta!
My brother, his wife, me and my husband – the four of us shared a large room with a huge bed. After playing a couple of rounds of cards till past midnight, we had a great night’s sleep. All four of us got woken up with sharp knocks on our wooden roof. At first, it took us a couple of minutes to detect the source of the sound. It seemed like someone was knocking on our entrance door or window. We wondered why was someone knocking when there is a doorbell? That’s when we found our guest! A mountain Magpie decided we had slept enough and therefore kept tapping on the wooden roof with its beak! Instead of getting pissed, we all broke into laughter. I decided to respect the Magpie’s wish and went downstairs to make my morning cuppa!
That’s the kind of morning we experienced almost every day during our stay at Kuthar. My husband and I enjoyed two large mugs of tea in the garden soaking up the mountain sun while the other couple refused to let go of the snug quilt just yet! Right when the porch clock showed 9:15 am, entered Mamta!
Mamta was our cook, household help, local counselor…basically our go-to-gal for the entire trip! From mouth-watering Gobhi Parathas for cold winter breakfasts to impromptu onion fritters and ginger tea on a rainy evening and Bihari chicken curry with rice cooked to perfection – Mamta made sure we miss her tremendously once we get back home! She pampered us to an extent that we almost began to question ourselves, “Do we really deserve all this?”
Our host stayed with us for a day and was supposed to head back to his home in Chandigarh the next morning. So, we decided to spend an evening with him over wine and stories. And boy, did we hear some super exciting tales!! From his near-death experience of dangling off a cliff in a jeep at 14000 ft. to the spine-chilling folklores of Kuthar – his captivating stories kept us on the edge of our seats throughout the evening.
And the story-telling went both ways. My father who happens to be a great orator himself had an equally interesting pile of his own widespread and versatile series of life experiences. Now that’s a new memory we’d been longing for! The next morning, the Colonel bid us farewell, handing over the keys, and thanking us (especially Dad) endlessly for the remarkably memorable evening we’d spent with him. We told him, the feeling was absolutely mutual!
The Royal Curse Of Kuthar: Rumour has it, about 300 years back, a group of Banjaras (nomadic tribe) came to Kuthar and the King gave them shelter in his kingdom. Eventually, with the support of the King, the Banjaras settled there leaving behind their nomadic attributes. Years passed, and one fine morning, the then royal successor asked the tribal head to vacate his kingdom and never come back. Even after much begging and persuading, the king didn’t change his decision.
The tribal leader kept begging and banging his head at the palace entrance until his head cracked open and he died. Before dying, the tribal leader cursed the royal family that they will never have an heir and the legacy would die with the present king. Even today, there hasn’t been any heir to the king. Every time the king had a child (even adopted) they died mysteriously from road accidents, miscarriages, stillbirths, and so on. Nothing less than a scary horror movie, isn’t it?
Eat, Drink, Trek, Rest, Repeat!
Over the next four days, we did exactly what we came for! Fill up our lungs (and souls) with fresh mountain air as much as possible. Every morning after tea, I would take a stroll down the hill to the nearest grocery/vegetable/fruit shop to buy necessary items (like onions, veggies, eggs) and hand them over to Mamta. That would do wonders for my appetite and make me feel like I earned the following hearty paratha breakfasts almost every day!
We even celebrated Bhai Dooj on the beautiful elevated podium with breathtaking 360-degree views of the mountains. Definitely the most picturesque Bhai Dooj ever! I cooked my ‘world-famous’ customary Payesh (Kheer or Rice pudding) using rich creamy milk from Mamta’s own corn-fed cattle! There couldn’t be a better celebration of a festival!
On one of those days, my husband and I decided to visit the Kuthar Palace. It was quite small to be called a ‘palace’ though. Kuthar Palace is also known as the Kuthar Fort by some travellers. Unlike the Naggar Castle in Kullu that’s turned into a beautiful museum with Roerick’s paintings and artwork open to all visitors, Kuthar fort is hardly maintained. The rooms, the courtyard, terrace, everything looks in dire need of care. But remembering the curse stories is what kept us excited throughout our visit. From the palace, we went off-road, hiking through lush green forest trails and trekking purely on the basis of instincts. The jungles were virgin and deep with only cattle droppings to guide us for possible tracks!
The next day, Babloo Bhaiyya took us on another trek through forest paths and villages. Apart from introducing us to the forest vegetation and plant species, he had some interesting stories too. Stories about leopards and wild boars attacking villagers and…local black magic practices and witchcraft! Naturally, the trek with Babloo Bhaiya went way more eventful and we didn’t realise how much distance we had covered on our trek! Kuthar would be one of the perfect weekend getaways for couples like ourselves!
Long Siestas, Cosy Evenings & Before Midnights!
Post lunch siestas were almost an everyday custom that we never missed! Even my brother and his wife, who were WFH otherwise, somehow managed an hour for a quick nap! Mamta would come at 5:00 pm and get on with her dinner preps. We would relish our evening ginger tea sometimes accompanied by fritters or cookies while huddling inside our warm blankets!
At around 7:00 pm, we would all crawl out of our dens and gather around the huge living room. Our evenings were always full of long Addas (chats), singing, listening to music, or even dancing (on some ‘high-spirited’ days) over rums and whiskeys. On one of such occasions, my sis-in-law prepared Nepali pork curry (one of her recently mastered lockdown recipes) that was so magnificent, that we naturally ended up gobbling up more than we could digest.
After dinner, the four of us would regularly play cards till late before one of us would lose pathetically and start throwing tantrums!
Read a book in the sun, go for a trek, stroll by the lemon and orange orchards, ask for gardening tips from Babloo for your home gardens, visit the nearby villages, or simply do nothing. Kuthar is one of those hidden places in Himachal Pradesh, that allures you with its mysterious beauty. Whether you want to spend an entire week with family or a quick one-day romantic trip near Delhi, Kuthar promises to enchant you in every way! Even though it’s just about 20kms from Kuthar to Kasauli, Kuthar dodges all the city crowd and noise. Covid-free, pollution-free, and therefore completely stress-free! Fresh healthy food, warm people, laid back life- we had the ideal escapade we needed and came back as new people!
Some Important info:
- Nearest grocery shop: 300m downhill from the property.
- Nearest Govt. hospital/health centre: within 1km.
- Distance from Kasauli: 20kms.
- Nearest town (Subathu): 12kms.
- Distance from Kuthar Palace: 700m walk.