We have all urged to see those beautiful cherry blossoms in Japan. The gorgeous photos labelled “Japan Cherry Blossoms season” have given us major travel goals! Did you know you could actually spot those magnificent cherry blossoms in the heart of Himachal, right here in north India? I have often travelled from Delhi to Dharamshala for weekend getaways. But this time, it was something completely unexpected. The first weekend of November, which happens to host the Dharamshala Film Festival, is followed by a brief period of blush-coloured cherry blossoms blooming at every nook and corner of the dreamy hill station of the Himachal. I was fortunate enough to have made my travel plans to Dharamshala this year collide with the blooming of these gorgeous pink flowers.
This trip was a spur-of-the-moment decision, actually. After an extensive search for the best hotels in Dharamshala, I found a good resort and I was set! The Delhi pollution had affected me terribly, and I had a bad congestion in the chest. With my throat all sore and my lungs filled with soot and phlegm, I was in dire need of an escape to the hills. A short bombardier SpiceJet flight landed at the Dharamshala airport, which is the Gaggal Airport in Kangra, and the moment I stepped out of the flight, I felt the change. I could see things in their own colour. The sky was blue, and against the backdrop of the small plane, stretched the glorious, snowy Dhauladhar mountain range. I got more than what I bargained for! Just a 20-minute drive from the Gaggal Airport was where I was putting up. Right at the heart of Dharamshala, and a 15-minute drive from McLeodganj, Adivaha is situated in the middle of tea estates and numerous cherry blossom trees. Overlooking the majestic Dhauladhaar, Adivaha offers a quiet and elegant spot for your meaningful getaway.
As I checked in and admired the outdoor scene from the porch even before entering my room, something told me that the stone walls of this new resort are from a bygone era. They looked weather-beaten, yet sturdy, and provided the whole resort with an old-world charm. Very colonial, I thought to myself. My room, which was decorated with tasteful floral wallpaper and furniture, had wooden flooring, which again, had that ghostly, antique smell. It was charming and harked of an 18th-century British period.
Famished from the early flight and a light breakfast, I had a filling Himachali lunch. Served inside a circular room with hardwood floors, wooden ceilings, and very colonial-looking furniture, the room reminded me of a British officer’s dining room-cum-library. Naturally, I dug around and found something extremely unique and interesting. Indeed, the very room I had my lunch in, was an entertaining room purposed for British officials. Erstwhile Viceroys, who were stationed at Dharamshala and Shimla during the Pre-Independent East India days, used to live in this very block I was staying in. The adjacent tea estates belonged to them, and the Viceroys enjoyed their summer in these stoned-carved villas marvelling at the snow-capped Dhauladhar, sipping some decadent Kangra tea.
Adivaha is some good 3 centuries old. The resort is housed within a heritage complex, that has been recently remodeled and restored to fuse the old with the new; to give the guests optimum comfort of the new world wrapped in an old-world charm. The boutique resort was formerly known as White Haven estate. It has changed many hands over the years, some of the previous owners being as prominent as the British East India Company and the Maharaja of Patiala. Presently a part of Leisure Hotels, Adivaha was also known as ‘East Home’, and is perched on a complex called The Viceroy’s Block.
Coming back to my Dharamshala getaway, I chose to visit McLeodganj in the afternoon post lunch. The resort was kind enough to provide me with a car that took me to and fro the centre of Mcleodganj. It would’ve also been easy to get the bus from the adjacent Maximus Mall that could take me to Mcleodganj in 20 minutes. Anyway, I strolled around the market, had some sandwiches and a cup of coffee at Jimmy’s Italian Kitchen, and then bought two beautiful posters from the Norbulinka Shop before getting back in time to have a scrumptious bonfire meal at the resort campus.
The next day, I was taken to the tea gardens for a pre-breakfast visit amidst the beautiful cherry blossoms. The morning sun, the pink flowers, lush green foliage, and the snow-capped mountains all blended to form a pristine scenery out of a picture book. I headed for the Kangra Fort next, a fortress built by the Katoch Dynasty during the ancient ages. Probably the oldest known fort in India, the Kangra Fort has been conquered and plundered several times by eminent personalities from history, namely, Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni, Feroz Shah Tughluq, and Sher Shah. In 1619, Jahangir carried a siege at the fortress with the help of Prince Khurram, and after the fort surrendered in 1621, Jahangir built a mosque within the Rajput fort. The interesting thing is, I noticed a temple of Ambika at the top of the fort, which suggested that even after the fort was taken over by the Mughals by force and tremendous bloodshed, they were respectful enough to not demolish the Hindu temple.
The majestic Kangra Fort was followed by a trip to a fascinating church I chanced upon as I whizzed across the deodar-lined road. St John’s Church in the Wilderness is spaced in a dense clearing between Mcleodganj and Forsythganj. The monument is dedicated to Lord Elgin, one of the most important Viceroys of India, who is also buried in the Church grounds in 1863. The eerie-looking church evoked an unmistakably spooky feeling in me as a chill ran down my spine when I looked around — possibly because it is flaunted by two big graveyards at its back and front. The Anglican Church is built up of the same stones I noticed at the villas in the Viceroy’s Block, so strong that it survived the devastating Kangra earthquake of 1905. The brooding neo-gothic structure possesses beautiful Belgian stained-glass windows donated by Lady Elgin. A reluctant yet excited stroll around the church took me to the graves of other Britishers and officials who had served the East India Company from India and the tragic graves of little children, who had died during the earthquake.
And there I stood, at a graveyard, which is incidentally a church paying tribute to an era bygone and suffering souls, thinking about how history has moulded the dreamy little hill town of Dharamshala to its present state. An amalgamation of Rajput valour, colonial glory, and the elusive Tibetan enigma that we see today – Dharamshala is a mysterious chapter of history in the hills of Himachal.