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I know the signs. Every few months, my spouse starts getting restless. He needs to be in the mountains, feel the clean air, listen to the deodars sway and rustle, lie on soft, sharp-scented pine needles and look up at the sky with the stars so bright you can bathe in their glow. And drink in the silence.
This is what happens when you are born a hill boy. It matters not how long the plains have had you. Because, here’s the thing, they never really have you. You are already taken. And when the siren calls, you just get up and go.
And that’s pretty much what we’ve done all these years. Jumped into the car and driven off, waiting for that first distant glimpse of the range, hazy, full of promise.
So here we are, readying for our latest foray. It’s a part of Himachal (on the Kullu-Manali route) we have never been to. It is far away from the much-too-familiar Shimla-Chail-Mashobra-Naldehra trudge.
Sonaugi, named for the “golden wheat” that once grew here, belongs to our friends Vivek and Bhavana Sharma. It sounds like just our kind of place. The Himalayas are revealed in all their glory every morning, and the edge of the precipice leads down to the mighty Beas.
So we are off. In a few hours we are in Chandigarh, where we spend the night at an old friend’s place. We follow the map, up to a point. And then take off, where the road takes us.
We’ve crossed Bilaspur, the air is getting sharper, and it is time for lunch. Vivek has asked us to keep a look out for a tiny dhaba serving makki roti and sarson ka saag. This turns out to be a few chairs and tables, and a pleasant owner who lays out kali dal, rotis charred over the chulha, thin kadhi pakodi and a gallon of pure ghee, which he pours like molten liquid over the dal. In no time, we wipe our steel thalis clean.
It’s raining and dark by the time we reach Sonaugi. The morning brings us beauty. We step out of our room — large, comfortable, made cosy by a fireplace — and there it is, the reason why we travel so far, the Himalayas, limned by the sun. Breathtaking, eternal. We head towards the dining area, a welcoming room with a huge fire at its centre, benches running around, nooks with books, and delicious home-style food.
We take short walks. We retire to our room, get the always-smiling Masterji to stoke the fire and keep it going, just for the pleasure of hearing the flames crackle and leap. We read. Our phones are mostly silent, which is a blessing. We eat non-stop. Stuffed parathas accompanied by an unusual lingdi achaar, a local delicacy. And everything else the hospitable kitchen offers.
We take off to Manali town, which is just above us. It is nondescript and crowded and full of cars. We stop for pizza at Johnson’s, and run away to the lovely heritage home of a friend. We return laden with laughter and stories about ghosts and gnomes.
And then, magically, the world goes white. It has snowed during the night, and Sonaugi is covered with three or four inches of soft, powdery snow. The skyline has a row of Christmassy fir trees. We pile up the kindling, and dive back into the warm bed.
We manage the obligatory road-to-Leh jaunt, to see the majestic peaks. The sting of the icy wind makes our eyes water, we marvel at the icicles, and take photos at the highest point. The road is closed after this, and we return to our homestead, which already feels like home.
Time to leave, and this time I am on the right side of the road to savour the scenery, the Beas flowing gently below. The mountains and the river and the blue skies accompany us, right up till we hit the plains. And then they are gone, hidden behind the last bend, till we return to claim them again.
Peak Season: This summer, leave the city behind and step into a comfort zone. The hills are alive with birdsong, the air is crisp and the flowers are in bloom. In this special issue, we bring you destinations where you can learn to be still