GOLDEN RAYS STREAM INTO THE SUNROOM,
lending a nice warmth to the otherwise nippy
MORNING. Gulma, the two-month -old kitten at our beautiful cottage, proceeds cautiously, still not used to the new human presence in her home. Against the sunlight, the steam of a hot cup of coffee sitting on the dining table is almost magical. A certain calm can be felt. It feels like home. Only better. Without the noise of the city, and with clean air to breathe, many would consider just this a luxury when compared to the polluted concrete jungles that we have to live in these days.
My home for the next two days is the secluded yet luxurious Meena Bagh cottage in Ratnari, a small village in the Shimla district of Himachal Pradesh. The elegant family property of Sanjay Austa, the owner, sits nestled amidst an apple orchard that Sanjay’s grandparents acquired roughly 65 years ago.
The drive from Chandigarh is tiring, although once you cross Shimla, the landscape on the 85 km stretch to Meena Bagh changes from haphazard construction filled hills to a view dominated by luscious green trees with spaced out hints of civilisation. From a distance, the trees look as if they are covered in snow, but on closer inspection, you notice white nets put on the trees by their owners to protect the apples from hailstorms.
The outside of the Meena Bagh property looks fairly unassuming, but as soon as we make our way through the obscure pathway, we realise the 7.5-hour car journey was worth the trouble. Himachal’s apple harvest season, which started mid-august, is in full swing, and as we walk towards the cottage, all around us are trees laden with royal delicious apples. Wild flowers in white and purple catch our eyes as we resist the temptation to pluck the fruit from the branches that are at arm’s reach at most places.
Waste logs, picked from the wood mill, make the outside walls of the cottage, lending the place a distinct mountain-cabin character. Shoes are not allowed inside, but provisions for changing into house slippers are kept ready.
The cottage has two cozy bedrooms equipped with modern amenities like wi-fi, USB charging points, heaters, and a TV, which in all likelihood you would not end up switching on. While the bedrooms are tastefully done up, it is the attached bathrooms that steal the show with their huge bathtubs, shower cabinets, and beautiful tile work.
The bedrooms open to a spacious living room that is filled with gorgeous light streaming in from the large French windows that overlook the view of the Himalayas.
Hours can be spent reading a book on the single beds that deck the living room, while enjoying the whiff of the fresh mountain air and the peace and serenity only disturbed by the chirping of the birds.
The Meena Bagh property successfully combines modern luxury with parts of old Pahari charm in every aspect of its construction. A telescope is the centre of attraction in the sunroom, and the skylights give a view of the star-studded sky at night, a sight we never get to see in the cities.
The well thought out design extends to each room of the quaint bungalow including the kitchen, which adjoins the sunroom. For nature lovers, the place is a great retreat. There are many mini trails as soon as you exit the property and if you are adventurous enough you could also do the day-long Hatu peak trek.
If you are like me and your main goal from a vacation is to feel rejuvenated and not lift a finger, the indoors of the Meena Bagh cottage are just as interesting (and distracting) an experience as the outdoors. The beauty of the cottage lies in the fact that you could do nothing at all and still have an experience to cherish.
WHERE: Meena Bagh is 85 km from Shimla by road via Narkanda (17 km). You should opt for a SUV since the route includes a 10 km jungle stretch.
Tariff Rs 27,500 per night for 8 people. Rs 2,850 per extra guest; inclusive of three vegetarian meals (non-vegetarian meals and snacks can also be ordered). Tariffs vary according to season, and are generally lower on weekdays.