I often wonder how the British identified idyllic little spots in the hills and made them into their retreats. The Himalayas has so many hill stations tucked away into their folds and almost every little town has a colonial connection. And as the mist paints the landscape white , I find myself in one of the most surreal cottages in Dalhousie, which dates back to the colonial era. Surrounded by dense forests and with the mist for company is Brijvilla, one of the best places to stay in Dalhousie and is a destination by itself.
The villa comes with its own history. But it is the journey up to this beautiful cottage in Dalhousie that takes my breath away. Climbing up a steep hillock, with no civilisation around me, I enter a narrow lane. Pretty red and pink rhododendrons bloom as the Himalayan bulbuls call upon me. I am taken in by the atmosphere. And that is when I chance upon a Victorian bungalow, designed by a Scottish architect that dates back to the 1930s. Surrounded by the mountains and forests, I am lost in the charm. Brijvilla was earlier known as Silverton Estate and has just been taken over by 1589 Hotels who have hosted me and I have this pretty villa, one of the best places to stay in Dalhousie all to myself.
As I stand there and lose myself in one of the most charming cottages in Dahousie, I am at a loss for words. Sandeep, the manager greets me along with Nitin, who arrives with a cup of hot ginger tea and some delicious cookies. The lush lawns in front of my room open into the mountains. A friendly German Shepherd Major hops over to say hello. I sit with Sandeep who gives me a tour of the Brijvilla, one of the best places to stay in Dalhousie.
Once a home of the British soldiers, it still retains its colonial flavour. In the ground floor are two rooms and one of them is mine that opens into the gardens. Dahlias and daisies bloom in front of my eyes. There are two dining halls in typical Victorian style but the most fascinating part of the cottage is the winding wooden staircase that takes you to the second floor. I do not know about you, but I have always been fascinated by the wooden steps. These old staircases are neither creaky nor eerie but they are grand and majestic with their colonial touch. There are four more rooms upstairs but it is the terrace that beckons. This is where I sit and grab a book while sipping another cup of hot ginger tea with some spicy onion pakoras.
I wake up the following day to the call of the Himalayan whistling thrush. The song is so alluring that am out of bed even though the sun is yet to rise. I wander around the trees, strolling along the path, searching for the bird as the sun slowly peeps through the woods. Streaks of light surround me. It is still dark and for a moment it feels unreal to be in the midst of this golden light and watch dawn break. But the whistling thrush which has just sung a beautiful melody to dawn has just vanished.
Nitin walks up to me with a hot cup of masala tea as I sit by the lawns and am rejuvenated by the crispy morning air. We chat a bit as he tells me that he is from Kangra and he misses his baby daughter but loves to be in the hills.
I slowly drag myself out of the lawns to get ready for the day. The sun is up and the entire villa looks all lit up and glows in the morning light. But the weather plays truant here all the time. Just when you think that it is going to be a warm and a beautiful day, the mist is already on its way. The weather changes all the time like my moods and right now, I am under the hypnotic spell of the golden sun. But during winters, Sandeep assures me that I will be charmed by the snow here
Breakfast is served, with some delicious parathas and some poha with fruits and toast. The achaar or the pickle is absolutely spicy with chilli or mirchi and is called Chamba Chukh, a speciality of the neighbouring town Chamba.
Dalhousie’s tryst with the British started around the 19th century when the troops marched into the hills. They had just then annexed the Sikh Empire and they were looking for a summer retreat. Named after Lord Dalhousie, the then Governor General of India, Dalhousie seemed to be a popular option, located on the edge of the Dhauladhar range. The British acquired five hills – Kathalagh, Potreyn, Terah or Moti Tibba, Bakrota and Bhangora from the ruler of Chamba and in turn his taxes were reduced. The original plan was to build a sanatorium in the mountains but then it eventually became a summer retreat.
The story goes that that Raja paid an annual tribute of Rs 12,000 to the British and the value of the five hills along with more land from neighbouring hillocks was a mere Rs 7000. The amount was reduced from his tax so that the British could claim Dalhousie. The Cantonment came up on the new land. Dalhousie was once considered a part of Punjab but it eventually became a part of Himachal Pradesh. Imagine for a moment that you are walking along beautiful promenade where horse drawn carriages ferry passengers as you see Malls built along three levels. The town still smacks of nostalgia.
We are driving through Moti Tibba and the hill top was once part of royal territory. There is an air of romance that lingers here. Unlike Shimla, Dalhousie still retains a pristine air about it. The trees stand as sentinels, protecting the town. Facing the Pir Panjal Range of mountains, the hill station is wrapped by the conifer forests that are filled with pine, oak and deodar trees. Built on five hills, there are main malls or arteries that run across the hills with two chowks named after Subash Chandra Bose and Gandhiji. Brijvilla lies right on top and is between these two chowks. As Sandeep says, it is the perfect vantage point and that is what makes Brijvilla one of the best places to stay in Dalhousie.
We drive around the hills, taking in the beauty of the landscape and explore some of the sights like Khajiyar or the mini Switzerland, Kalatop Wildlife Sanctuary , Dainkund and even a short trip to Chamba, the main town in the hills.
I head back to Brijvilla, right in time to watch the mist float towards me . Standing there in the woods, I am caught in its fold this time and I wander away along with it to a land of mystery and magic. Just as I lose myself in the wonderland, I can hear a familiar song in the mist – the whistling thrush sings his melodious tune. At that moment, the mist clears and perched in front of me with his wings open is the blue whistling thrush looking at me and bursting into a song again . I cannot have asked for a more beautiful way to end this short but romantic tryst with the mountains .
I was hosted by Brijvilla in Dalhousie which is now managed by 1589 hotels.