A fascinating travelogue by Anchal Sharma.
Just the way I like doing things, our trip to Dhanachuli was planned much in advance and a much awaited one for we badly needed a break. Dhanachuli is a small village residing in the hills of Uttrakhand, near Mukteshwar. And, I had come to know of the place through a travel tabloid that spoke of ‘Te Aroha’ – a boutique resort nestled in this remote village, as a must visit. That’s what had triggered this longing, a little more than a year ago, to visit the place. And so, after much deliberation on where we should go during a week-long off that I had taken from work, we finally settled down for Te Aroha! As the place was highly recommended by me, the onus of ensuring that the 4-day holiday was perfect too lay on me.
All excited about the trip that we decided would be a road trip; we started an hour early at 5 am, sharp, on a Wednesday morning, from Gurgaon – Me, AM (my husband Ashish) and his trusted Skoda Laura. The crisp morning before dawn and clear Delhi roads perfectly complemented the excitement of starting our journey.
On our way via NH 24, we stopped for a light breakfast at Bikanerwala in Gajraula, a clean and hygienic option offering you delicious meal options. Just about 100 metres ahead, a nice complex also houses a choice of other eateries like McDonalds, Dominos, KFC, etc.; which got AM a little disappointed, who with his love for international cuisines would have any day preferred a Mc-D over our desi Bikanerwala. Nonetheless, well-fuelled ourselves, we resumed our journey.
With a smooth drive overall, barring NH 87, which due to its poor road condition took double the time to cross, we reached our destination by 2 pm. Being a boutique resort, which was developed in phases starting from a summerhouse of the owner’s family, every room at Te Aroha has been done up differently. And, although we had reserved the ‘Front Room’, we decided to check-out all the available rooms to choose the best one for our stay there; and finally settled for the ‘Guest Bedroom’ Suite. It had the main bedroom with a king-size bed as one enters, followed by a smaller bedroom & a spacious bathroom, and a cosy lounge area with a breath-taking view of the Himalayas, accompanied by a cute little balcony overlooking the hotel’s out-café.
A pleasant break from a warmer Delhi, the weather in Dhanachuli was just perfect with a slight chill in the air and light breeze outside, even during the day. Our room on the other hand, was so welcoming and tranquil, that we just felt like lazing around, and ended up skipping our lunch.
Woken up by a call from the staff, we were informed that they had arranged for a bonfire for the guests and would like us to join the others there. Eager to meet them we got ready to go, with wine in one hand and a jacket in the other. Being a music enthusiast myself, I instantly fell in love with the setting even before I saw it, as I heard someone strumming the guitar.
We were greeted by some happy faces, those of our enthusiastic ‘Guest Relations Manager’-Navarino; the Italian chef – Julio who was a guest chef at the resort and had been there for a month now; and four other guests who were big time into wildlife and birding, and quite celebrated ones at that, something we gradually got to know during our conversations with the group.
After a nice evening listening to some lovely classics and singing a couple too, we headed to the café for dinner. The café had an altogether different look, with green coloured doors and window panes and a tree branch emerging out from in-between the restaurant area. The walls in and around the café adorned framed posters of age old ads and movies, giving the whole décor a very interesting look. The food was, undoubtedly, lip-smacking and we loved every course of our meal. After listing out our preference for the breakfast next day to the courteous staff, we signed off for the day.
Next day started with a hot cup of tea while enjoying the beautiful view from our cosy lounge followed by a scrumptious made-to-order breakfast. The day to our self, we decided to take a tour of the resort and headed towards the ‘Chitrashaala’ – a museum that has been built and curated by the owner and houses all things he has collected over these years. We entered a small aisle full of books end-to-end and to the main area that had a brief about ‘Chitrashaala’. While I enjoyed the walkthrough watching the carefully preserved posters depicting Indian art-form in terms of religious book covers, old movie posters, Indian novel covers, matchboxes, boxes of sweets and many more; AM meandered awestruck, wondering how could someone collect infinite art-works like these and present them in the form of a beautiful museum.
Still in amazement, we both descended towards the cute little TV room and then to the well-stocked library, where we spent some time browsing through few interesting books by authors from across the world. The day passed by strolling through the different sections of the resort and appreciating the detailing with which the entire place was done up, giving it an old world charm of the colonial era, yet quirky & contemporary look & feel.
After some rest, we thought of heading to the sunset point at ‘Chauli ki Jali’ in Mukteshawar, which is about half-an-hour drive from Dhanachuli. However, my dear AM who is always on the lookout for quieter places yet to be found by the crowds, suggested we take the opposite route and find our own Sunset point. So we drove uphill for about an hour on a road as smooth as cream, and reached a small green hill with no one to be seen except a few cattle, who looked amused and startled at the same time by these two excited strangers. With the sun setting in and the sky constantly changing its hues as if an artist was adding layers of colours working on life-size scenery, the view of the Himalayas from this hill was nothing less than spectacular!
Happy to have found our own sunset point that I fondly named ‘Ashu sunset point’, we headed back as it was getting a little darker. By the time we reached the resort, it was time for another bonfire eve, which we quickly got ready for, of course with another layer of clothes and some wine. Since we had ordered for some continental food for dinner, AM was eagerly awaiting the same. And what do I say about the food! It was one of the most delectable meals we had ever had, to say the least. We thoroughly enjoyed our dinner; so much that AM was almost in a state of trance and kept saying, “I can’t remember the last time I had such a heavenly meal!”
The next morning after breakfast, we decided to take a village walk which Navarino and another local from among the resort staffs were happy to take us for. We drove for about 15 minutes to reach the main village area, from where it was a downhill path to experience the village life & its surroundings. It was a one hour trek to our destination – a quiet temple amidst placid environs, which, we were told, opens only during certain religious occasions.
The hour long journey passed by while we clicked pictures with the four-legged locals we befriended, observed dilapidated houses strewn across the village and tasted some interesting locally grown vegetables and legumes. However the way back being an uphill climb, wasn’t as easy as the first-half. It, thus, took us longer due to multiple halts we had to take, thanks to our sedentary urban lifestyles which leave us with much lesser stamina as compared to the hill people.
The most exciting part of our return journey was our pit stop at a local’s home who happened to be the sister of the resort employee who was accompanying us. He had already informed his sister who was extremely welcoming and offered us tea and refreshments, as she made us all comfortably seated in a nice little room, more like a drawing room with settees along with a straw mat and a TV. Since we had already heard rave reviews about the ‘Pahadi Kheera’, we actually didn’t mind trying one. Hugely excited about the experience, I thought of taking a tour of the house while we waited for the cucumber and the fresh chutney that the house lady ground for us. It comprised of an outside porch where our fragrant chutney was being made, a well-equipped kitchenette, the drawing room where we all were sitting, and two bed rooms. Impressed with how neat the house looked, I came back to devour the delicious cucumber which was as big as a bottle gourd, though a rustic yellow in colour from the outside. That, with the chutney, was simply divine and geared us up well for the rest of the trek.
On returning, convinced that we had worked out well to deserve the Italian lunch we had specially asked our guest chef to prepare for us, we swiftly freshened up and changed to get to the restaurant. And trust me, it was worth it all! I am now almost tired of writing in this travelogue about how delicious the food was, but Te Aroha’s chefs, be it the in-house chef or this one, both managed to surpass our expectations with every meal they served us.
Overstuffed with the Italian delicacies, we went back to our room to take some rest. That evening when we got ready to go for the bonfire, the realisation of it being our last night at Te Aroha dawned on us. And so, in order to make it the best one, instead of taking just one wine bottle downstairs, we took our entire goody basket with us. Navarino and Julio were both amazed and amused to see how prepared we were for the night, when they saw us taking out countless things from our feast basket that comprised not only of various types of beverages and tit bits, but also a dainty sheesha.
After an amazing bonfire lit evening of stimulating conversations over soulful music and good food, dear AM thought the holiday would be incomplete without cards. AM thus dragged all of us to the unruffled poker room for a post dinner cards session that lasted another hour, or so. For those of you wondering, yes, the resort is so well equipped that it even houses a poker room!
And so, with another breakfast meal the next day – our last one at Te Aroha – it was time to bid good bye to this beautiful property and its wonderful staff. As our holiday came to an end, with a gloomy heart, we packed our stuff and checked out; but hopeful of returning back soon for a delightful & relaxed holiday at Te Aroha again.
About the Author:
Anchal is an avid traveler who likes to visit offbeat places that offer an unconventional holiday experience. This penchant in her has only gone stronger after meeting her husband Ashish who, she says, never says no to travelling.
A marketing communications professional, Anchal feels that one should spend on such experiences than on material things, as it’s these memories and moments that will stay with you forever.
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