Saturday, 4 January 2014

The Perfect Home Stay in the Himalayas - Navek-La

28th Dec, 2013
I am sitting with a glass of home brewed peach liqueur at Navek-La, the home of Brig. Sandhu, in a quaint village called Rakkar near Dharamshala in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh, India.
Am I a city girl? I have been born and brought up in one. So, maybe yes, I am familiar with the speed, amenities, chaos and clamour of a city. But ever so often I zone out – to another world, a cocoon of green, with sparkling gems of every colour winking through its open spaces. It is my little space to shut the world out from, and all this just in my little head.
Navek-La is the manifestation of that cocoon.
Naturally, you understand why I am mesmerised. A home-stay with all the simplicity of a mountain home yet an endearing old world charm, a home beautifully curated with the choicest amenities and open for travellers. Without my knowing, I was led to a space that I needed, to unwind, distress, rejuvenate, to write.
A week-long stay in the mountains with the luxury of time by your side – wishful thinking while at my desk with a pile of work yet undone. A chance meeting, an impulsive decision, and here I am, writing to you, at a home stay in the midst of the Himalayas.
I chance upon the existence of Navek-la through a sliver of conversation in the digital matrix. A home-stay hidden, with all its fruit and flowering trees camouflaging its plush persona; I think, oh I must go check it out at least.
So we set out on a quest looking for this elusive Navek-La with but a few coordinates as reference. We have a vague idea about a Brig. Sandhu being the owner but for some reason cannot reach him. So we go about asking the villagers of its whereabouts but no one seems to know. Did I imagine its surreal scapes or was it for real? I wondered. So I request my sister and co-traveller Yuktie to check whether such a place indeed exists, by which time having explored most of the village, we walk up to the local cafe and order a pahadi chai. A quick Google search leads her to the correct contact number (notice the talk of a Google search while on the move in the mountains, a pointer towards the amazing data connectivity we have up here in the mountains) and a detailed conversation with the Brigadier later we are off to find Navek-La yet again. But at least this time I know it exists!

I think it was a conspiracy to get us to reach this place around the magic hour. What’s the magic hour you ask? A photographer’s delight it is, yes, the way the rays of the sun filter through the sky just an hour or two before sunset, to give a gorgeous golden glow to everything it touches. Just around that hour, we reached the gate where the brigadier welcomed us to his abode.
A special someone asks in amazement, “How do these things happen to you? Happenchance I say, a more elaborate reasoning would be that things don’t just happen to you, they show you a glimpse of themselves, all you need to do is believe, pursue and the magic will unfold.

Beyond the limits of my computer screen now lies a patio under a canopy of grape vines, surrounded by a variety of fruit and flowering trees. I write now listening to the sound of a stream flowing from the mountains to my right, it could lull me off to sleep but for the chirpy twitter to my left where a variety of robins hop from one tree to the other, orchestrating quite a rendition.
Did I tell you about my love for fruits? When you travel to a new destination, whats the first thing you do? Some would make a bee line to the nearest bar or go check out the most popular attractions as the first thing they do when they land in a new destination. I head to the local farmer’s market to sample the fruits of the season. And

here I was in Brig. Sandhu’s gardens, which hosts a variety of 28 fruit trees and shrubs. I cannot begin to describe to you the pleasures of sampling a home grown passion fruit, freshly plucked from the garden. It is nothing much to look at from the outside, just an average sized round brown fruit. Even as you slice it into two, it’s dark seeds and tangy mush with a citric fragrance are quite nondescript. But the second that concoction touches your taste buds – the tizzy they undergo is just otherworldly.

And this was just the beginning, what with a bumper crop of kiwi, goose berries, Pomelos and lemons; a variety of citrus fruits in winter I can’t begin to imagine the overload to the senses come spring and harvest season!     
Ikroop Sandhu in a candid moment 
“You will love it in the spring,” says Ikroop Sandhu, the Brigadier’s daughter and my new friend. “All the flowers will be in bloom. But what I love must about it is, each morning, all I have to do is just step out and I can pluck from a variety of fruits for my morning breakfast.”

29th December, 2013
I am sitting with a glass of home brewed peach liqueur at Navek-La, the home of Brig. Sandhu, in a quaint village called Rakkar near Dharamshala in the northern state of Himachal, India.
Today has been one of the most exclusive evenings I have lived. Exclusive – I use this word to accentuate the quality of people and experiences I am in the midst of.

At night after a home cooked opulent meal, we head to a grand old fireplace, the Brigadier lowers himself to a leather chair by the blazing fire, which by now all of us kids are huddled around. While I sip my glass of Old Monk, he smiles with that twinkle in the eye which I now know means a story is brewing. With a soft drawl that blends in perfectly with the crackling fire, he sets on about a tale of when the mountain rats consumed all the Rum in the army supplies chamber. He churns one story after the other from his days back in the army and we travel through his memories from Sri Lanka to Siachen.

Leo wont let me write, so I decide to capture a few photographs of him, memories.
An ideal home must have a dog, may be two; this has three! Meet Leo the muscle, Tinky the sleepy one and Bella, sweet gorgeous British bella, ever ready to play. But of Leo I have a few stories to tell, Late one evening, we decided to step out for a walk, the sun had set and most patches on the road were dark, after a few meters, the sounds of the forest played havoc in our heads and we wondered whether it was a good idea to step out. We were heading to a friend’s place less than a kilometre away, yet still. Just when we though may be its wise to turn back, we hear a rustle through the leaves. My frightened sister screamed and as I turned around to investigate - Leo pranced forth. He walked straight ahead then turned his head slowly back to us, as if to say, ‘No need to fear the darkness, come, I’ll lead you.’ With Yuktie still clutching her heart I excitedly say, “I know you’ve come to escort us have you not!”  ‘Err yaa!’ He looks back nonchalant at me. A non seen toothy grin from me and we follow him to our destination. Another time when we returned from an all day excursion, we were welcomed by wagging tails, yes, but as I approached the loosely tied gate behind which leo stood, in true cinema style he stood up, a strong shove with his 6 foot standing tall height and the next second his paws are on my shoulders, the greeting of a long lost friend!
Only a non pet having dog lover could bother with such details, ahh.  

When it snows at Navek-La
I can go on about my perfect vacation in this gorgeous homestay, but then I must leave the rest of it for you to discover too. To sample the rainbow of fruits and get intoxicated by the fragrances of the flowers in spring, I promise to be back, inshallah I will.

You can get in touch with Brig. Sandhu at
(This was a self sponsored stay; the hosts were kind and gracious to extend their hospitality and sent me home with a basket full of passion fruits, kiwis and gorgeous memories) 

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