Shangri-La is a fictional place described in the 1933 novel Lost Horizon by British author James Hilton. In the book, "Shangri-La" is a mystical, harmonious valley, gently guided from a lamasery, enclosed in the western end of the Kunlun Mountains. Shangri-La has become synonymous with any earthly paradise but particularly a mythical Himalayan utopia—a permanently happy land, isolated from the outside world. In the novel Lost Horizon, the people who live at Shangri-La are almost immortal, living years beyond the normal lifespan and only very slowly aging in appearance. The word also evokes the imagery of exoticism of the Orient.
On a flight from Pune to Delhi in 1987, I met the head of Smith, Kline and Beecham in India (an Englishman). We got talking and he mentioned these golden words, “Kasauli is the Shangri La of my dreams”. And these words kind of stayed with me. I had known of Kasauli before, my mother lived there briefly , my grandfather Diwan Kasturi Lal Chopra, was posted there with the Punjab Police, in the post partition united Punjab ( including Punjab, Harayana and Himachal Pradesh). My mother had some Nutanesque photos taken in her pre marriage days on the slopes of Kasauli all with dark goggles, salwar kameez and an elaborate dupatta (very filmy indeed).
It was a resort for the British, bought by them from the Gurkhas at Rs 5000/- (a price for a steak dinner now). To launch an offensive against Maharaja Ranjit Singh in the Anglo Sikh Wars. Later used as a station for rest and recreation. Kind of getting your sanity back (it helped as the place also had a sanitarium amongst other things).
I was pretty influenced by the conversation with a westerner from Smith, Kline Beecham (which made Horlicks in India amongst others) and I often dreamt of a place like a mystical Shangri La and of course some part of family history. I finally got to go there, for the first time in the summer of 1992 and have been there 10 times since, living largely at Hotel Alasia, and Kasauli Club and with some visits to Hotel RosCommon, PWD rest house and once at the Indian Army Holiday Home. I like the mystery of the place, the church the grave yard, the old buildings, the Serum Institute, the availability of Solan No1 (The only single malt whisky in India, Golden Eagle Beer, all from Kasauli brewery). The ham and salami sandwiches from Daily Needs, the apple wine from Gupta store, the breakfast of the bun - channa- samosa at the sweet shop in the cobbled stone bazaar with 10 and a half other shops.
I would like to mention the legacy of a few generations old, outfits or stores that are a part of the history and render a lot of character to this heritage hill resort. These bring in the Food, Clothes and Stay Experience in Kasauli.
Daily Needs, Established in 1920
Identifying the need for supplies, canned food, meat (piggery products, liquor, Lachman Dass set up a store near the Maurice Hotel, next to the Anglican Church). Followed by his son Lekh Raj who expanded to groceries, wine and supplies, with currently Jai Kishan Thakur at the helm (whom I have been dealing with for two decades) and now his able son Akhilesh, who swiftly fixes the ham and salami sandwiches to be had by me and Detective An (our dear daughter) at the wooden bench on the portico of the elevated store, drinking apple cider (watching the world go by) while they pack our picnic basket. The store is part of Kasauli history , folklore and of course a part of the weekly fix of the students of Lawrence School of the adjoining Sanawar Hill. The store has been opposite the R Maidens hotel for a while and I like the experience of hanging out there. Jaikishan Thakur , mentions a legacy of pork and piggery products stores, three in Chandigarh, three in Delhi (Deluxe Piggery at Bhagat Singh Market aka Gole market, Steak House, Khub Chand and Sons). I am a regular at all these outlets. Imagine a life (in this case many lives and generations) dedicated and devoted to Piggery Products. God Bless the Swine, I mean the Pig.We Enjoy the Chicken Sandwich, the Chicken Ham Sandwich, the pork Ham Sandwich and of course the Chicken or Pork Burger all priced at Rs 35 each. The Tempest Apple Cider is rather good. Though you may have to buy the plastic glasses to drink it out off. Heavenly.
Bun Sam- Narinder Sahu (aka Tannu) @ Narinder Sweets.
Narinder Sahu and his ancestors came from Varanasi (almost six decades ago) to set up a sweet shop in pristine Kasauli, on the cobbled street bazaar. The Bun Samosa with Channa, is an irresistible snack at Rs 10 each. They also do Bun Gulab Jamun (tastes like a Jam Sandwich). Innovative , absolutely. We enjoy it as a breakfast, or anytime snack. However, like all the shops in the hills they do not crank up before 9. am.
Jakki Mull and Sons, Established in 1862
The clothiers and drapers to the British and the royalty for over 147 years is no mean feat. I wanted to get a tailored (customized, or even better bespoke/ hand crafted suit), this summer from Jakki Mull and Sons at Kasauli. Unfortunately they do not do suits any more. I end up buying a polo necked (collared) T Shirt as Kasauli Club our selected place of residence does not allow round necked T- shirts and I am running out of freshly laundered ones. Pankaj Jain the current owner has honestly lost track of the generations they have been in this business. I like the feeling of buying something from a heritage store and chat up with the establishment owners. They do sell great fabrics, but no tailoring. Maybe he should combine it with a hotel package (get a customized suit while you holiday here).The Sikh gate keeper at Kasauli club (Gurdaas Singh) smiles to see me in a new polo T shirt and I politely ask for a reimbursement of Rs499/-. He laughs and says if I had that kind of money I would be enjoying in the bazaar.
Stay (aur Makaan)
Kasauli Club 1880,
Though I would love to go on with my treatise on the various living options some set up more than 145 years . Let us keep the focus on The Kasauli Club. Set up in 1880 as a reading room, developed into club house and dancing hall catering to the nearby cantonments, Subathu, Dagashai, Solan and of course Kasauli. It was known for its post tennis tea and Saturday dances and ball amongst others.
Burnt down in 2001 and rose like thePhoenix in 2005 is very pretty and an example of very authentic restoration, blending tradition and modernity. Met some interesting people this summer, Rahul Ram the bass guitarist and singer Of Indian Ocean (over a whisky we discussed the early 80s and their band with Gautam Ghosh, called White Fang). The guy who calls himself Sehgal, I meet him every time I go and stay at the Club, talks of his stints abroad, Golf and very little else. Ashima and Eknaam Singh , she teaches English at Sanawar, we shared cigarettes and interest in food. Got tips from her on the subtle flavors of Teetua of Himachli cuisine. We ate loads of snacks, as the food apart from Continental is just passable at the club. So Gin and Lime by day and Peter Scot and perhaps Solan No 1 by night and Chicken fingers, Chicken Nuggets, Peanut Masala, Cheese Toast and Chicken Seekh and Ckicken sausages all below the Rs 50 mark. The continental food of Chicken Chops, which come, twos, in a portion with Boiled vegetables and bread and butter is meal for Rs 75/- Well qualifies for my Salesman guide to a Holiday, all under Rs 100/- Came back two kgs heavier some due to my enjoying the drinking reading and conversing on the patio (overlooking the valley with Chandiagarh in the yonder) by day and night and the special snack diet prescribed by our dear daughter Detective An.
No Country For Old Men : Though the hills are no Country for Old Men. You see some ancient Establishments and even more ancient residents. The hills and mountains are designed for younger persons, always inhabited by older peole, as the young are busy making a living and counting their money in the plans, I believe the attraction to the hills is something as close to a fatal one, imagine living a tough life and for what. Me, I have, almost a fatal attraction, enigmatic, mysterious attachment to Kasauli, sometimes I think it is a previous birth reconnect as I roam the streets almost trying to remember something, I have inducted and re inducted all members of my family to Kasauli. Someday I will rest in peace there.