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Life in real slow motion

Naldehra is just the place to put your feet up, cross your arms behind your neck and watch the clouds drift by



CHILLING OUT AT NALDEHRA The pinewood at the cottage is healing in its own way. And the little kitchenette makes you feel at home

As the Shatabdi rolls into the Chandigarh Railway Station, porters rush to enter the compartments. Never mind. Just a polite nudge and you are down. You don't need the porters, it turns out. The exit is but a few steps from the platform. Outside, the air is cleaner than you are used to in a metro. And the taxi drivers with their Indicas are only too eager to ferry you to Kalka, Shimla, and whatever rolls off their tongue.

The bit of haggling over, there is a guy who agrees to take you to Naldehra, some 20-odd km from Shimla, a place where you can go walking on the road without coming across a traffic intersection or a cop blowing his whistle at unruly traffic. "It takes a couple of hours from here," he says. The man is a master at understatement, it turns out.

Three-hour drive

Naldehra is a little more than a three-hour drive from Chandigarh and a little less than three from Kalka, another station from where you could catch a train to Delhi, Mumbai or other major places.

As one drives out of Chandigarh, greenery makes a welcome appearance. And the little dhabas at Kalka offer you typical North Indian street food — chhole-kulche at throwaway rates. They offer you dosas too. The quality? Let's save that for another day, shall we?

A light meal over, one continues the journey to Naldehra via Shimla with its famous Mall Road where you can strike a neat bargain for everything, from a cardigan to a box of apples. As you go up, you find you have left the world behind. The city is but a speck in the distance. The air is cool, even balmy, the drive pleasant, uninterrupted.

You are now at Naldehra, at The Chalets, not too far from Mashobra. The postal address shows Village Durgapur. Never mind. You are neither a postman nor can you get a letter here. In fact, it is a place where you will have to wait for the day to set in to lay your hands on a newspaper. And there is hardly a cable connection. So most of your windows to the world are closed. Just as they should be on a holiday. Of course, there is the Internet, if you are really desperate. But remember you are here for a surfing of another kind.

Incidentally, The Chalets at Naldehra is surrounded by mountains on one side and forests on the other. This is not paradise on earth; it is simply earth at its most beautiful, most soothing. And after the heat and road rage of a city, it is just what the doctor ordered to drive away all mid-summer madness. Not a hint of traffic on the narrow undulating road leading to the quaint little place with its timeless appeal. No need to look left, look right, then dart across the road as at so many hill stations at this time of the year. No danger of being run over by a brat driving his father's latest Zen with the music blaring, "Channa ve..."

Instead, it is just the kind of place to put your feet up, cross your arms behind your neck, and watch the clouds go by. Of course, make some allowance for birds which start chirping before you start yawning. But truth to tell, here, even the crows sound pleasant, what to talk of rabbits, pigeons and sparrows.

Of course, you would have to drag yourself out of your bed to the balcony to see the clouds, to hear the birds. But even inside it is not such a bad bargain after all.

The pinewood at the cottage is healing in its own way. And the little kitchenette makes you feel at home. You don't have to call the room service for a cup of tea or coffee or a nice juice to begin your day with.

Then there is piped music where one finds some timeless gems keeping you longer in bed. There is Bhupendra with his passport-to-fame "Dil Dhoondta Hai Phir Wohi Fursat Ke Raat Din", there is Rafi-Lata magic in "Chalo Dildar Chalo Chand Ke Paar Chalo". And for those who swear by love, eternal and enthusing, there is "Nothing's Gonna Change My Love For You".

Through with brew and melody, time to head for the forest. Just a nice walk into solitude. No lions or other wild animals to keep you on tenterhooks, just slanting rays of the sun filtering through thick leaves.

Now, walk a little bit farther. Go to the golf course. The 18-hole golf course is said to be the oldest in this part of the world. Some say it is the highest. Don't bother, let people make their own claims and counter-claims. You are not here for research. You are here to unwind, and that this wonderful golf course helps you do with its undulating curves, boulders and those enduring pine trees.

Now if you are a shade more adventurous, take a taxi from Naldehra to Tattapani, go river rafting on the Sutlej — just 45 minutes or so. Didn't we talk of surfing!

The water may not be white but it is quite a challenge to conquer the crests. And yes, there is a tiny hot water channel with all the healing qualities of sulphur. Just dab it on your body or take a quick dip. Fine, but did one hear you were at Naldehra to do nothing. No golf? No river-rafting? Nothing whatsoever. Perfect. This is the place. Relax.

Do nothing. Not a man to disturb your peace, not a noise to break the all-enveloping tranquillity. Just a place to soak in the joy of gentle warm sun in the morning, sit by the bonfire in the evening.

And in the afternoon, do as grandpa does back home — listen to music, chat with friends.

ZIYA US SALAM

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