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The perfect trout and my Kasauli holiday

I love fish, but let me confess: I am scared to death, like a good, land-bound north Indian, of the bones. So, I always opt for sea fish over fresh water, shell fish over any fish and fillet over a jhol.

But the trout mmm, the trout, when it arrived on the table, did away with all my reservations and fears. One of the prized catches of upper Ganga/Sutlej waters, the trout is a fish most mountain enthusiasts will rave about. It is, after all, not enough while on a holiday in the hills to take in the fresh air, collect pine cones, kullu shawls and Tibetan bric-a-bac without indulging in a spot of angling and savouring the trout. Or, that’s my belief at any rate.

In Kasauli, a charming colonial town in Himachal Pradesh, between Chandigarh and Simla, such pleasures come alive unexpectedly. Come alive, may be a wrong phrase to use actually. I haven’t caught the fish fresh you see and the trout the chef has sent us at the Baikunth Resort where we are staying on our Kasauli break, has traveled some miles. Yet, what a fish. It is served whole, marinated delicately with enough lemon, and the chef has even managed to do away with the central bone rendering this safe to eat for people like me. There is enough lemon butter sauce on the side to make this an indulgence and the mandatory French fries. It’s the best dinner I’ve had in a while. And thanks to all that walking up and down, the fresh air and exercise that are inevitable on a hill station, I am not even guilty indulging myself thus.

There can be no better time than early winter to visit a hill station. The touristy hordes of summer are gone, winter enthusiasts looking forward to the snow are still a month away, the mountain air is crisp and fragrant and the bright afternoon sun a comforting presence. Curled up with a book, basking in a garden facing the valley in Kasauli, one of the few pristine-yet-easily accessible hill stations of northern India, I contemplate the simple joys of life. There is the trout, of course, and there is also the nostalgia of the Raj years.

A comfortable one-and-half hours drive from Kalka, the last of the plains, Kasauli is an old Himachali town tracing its origin and growth to the Raj years when government officials and families traveling up to Shimla, British-India’s summer capital, may have got acquainted with this pleasant, temperate stop-over before climbing up to the erstwhile “queen of the hills”. Today, I would any day prefer the provinciality of Kasauli to the fraying charms of Shimla.

Unlike the latter, Kasauli, a cantonment town, is still uncluttered and retains much of its solitude. A church dating back to early 20th century and old hotels with Colonial architecture and quaint world names (Alasia was the old-world preferred spot, Maurice, on the mall, a close second) are the only diversions apart from long walks up uphill to “Monkey Point” or just aimless spotting of surnames outside charming holiday homes. Many of the mountain bungalows that you will spot belong to Delhi’s famous and rich—including writer Khushwant Singh’s retreat. For old-timers, there is nothing better than sitting with a tea service at the glorious Kasauli Club which offers some spectacular views of the valley. For more nouveau pleasures, on the other hand, you may amble past the mall, shopping for Himachal’s famous fruit jams and wines not to mention kullu shawls, stoles and made-in-China or Thailand clothes and footwear!

There are a couple of momo points, a solitary ice-cream parlour, and a must-visit photo studio which displays teenage snaps of many of the nearby Lawrence School Sanawar alumni. Most famous ones include actors Sanjay Dutt and Pooja Bedi and both their pictures are still proudly displayed outside this shop. Near the bus-stand is the Anglican church; the modern service that is in progress the Sunday we visit includes joyous hymns sung to a dhol, but seekers of nostalgia can well spot a sundial for keeping time here. Kasauli is infact the perfect retreat to burrow yourself in for a couple of weeks, not just days, get away from high pressure jobs, do a spot of writing, reading, painting or whatever else takes your fancy.

Mix your stay with a few different styles of accommodation as to best understand a the unique cultural regions of Kasauli. There is quite a diverse range of hideaways including luxury villas, hotels and resorts. While the old hotels are rooted in nostalgia, far superior as a stay option is the relatively new Baikunth Resort, a couple of kilometers away from the main town, that has come up on an entire hill. Run by a young couple, this offers you very personalized experience: specially baked treats in the mini fridge of your room, al fresco high teas specially arranged for you, nature walks for the young enthusiast so that you can collecty your own pine cones en route and so forth. Unlike most commercial hill resorts, Baikunth is really tranquil. Sitting in its sun soaked garden, as I am at the moment, you can gaze at the Kasauli hills above or deep down into the valley.

The air is fragrant with the many herbs and trees, some specially transplanted and grown here. The resort comprises of 35 rooms, including cottages, and a host of modern facilities, including a spa that has just been added to the existing property. There is a recreation room where you can spend hours on a game of chess or practice carom. And there is a kiddie centre too with swings et al.

The best part about the hotel, however, is the food. Dining outside with lovely grills coming your way and a glass of chilled beer is certainly my idea of a perfect holiday. And, of course, there is the trout. And finally, there is also enough hearty Amritsari style food too to keep you hogging away. After all, what is a holiday without food?

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