Priti and her husband Sundeep, bought Hill Stream cottage with a view – to provide guests with a home to relax in, soak in a bit of ‘Himachal’, but mostly to develop this tiny hamlet in Khaniari, Dharamshala. The development started with Sundeep getting the road to the village built, using the Government’s ‘meri sadak’ (check out their android app) scheme. Next, a couple living in the village were hired to take care of the cottage. Hopefully more will be hired soon, and the dangerous urban migration trend will be stopped, at least in this small village.
Birding: I spent hours rocking in the rocking chair, in the garden. Watching mule trails and goats going up and down the hill. My steady companions through the day were an indian robin and Himalayan bulbul sitting on the garden fence, chatting and enjoying the view, an excessively irate plum headed parakeet squawking in the clump of pines in front of the cottage and many colourful birds flitting around the hibiscus shrubs in the garden. A very spectacular visitor was the Blue-magpie, with a long tail and a call similar to the Rufous Treepie. My favourite winged friend was the verditer flycatcher, a shy bird hiding it’s gorgeous blueness in thick foliage.
Rural Immersion: To give my back a break from the rocking, I walked around the village and saw traditional himachali houses built of slate. The cottage owner explained that this was the Kath-kuni style of architecture, which used naturally found material and make the houses resistant to earthquakes and naturally cool. Also, it’s prettier, and doesn’t result in ugly eco-unfriendly debris. There is a cow shed behind, where milking was done without the use of hormones and forced impregnation of cows.
Spirituality: A short walk down the hill brings you to a 500 year old Shiv temple. The head priest here is a retired government officer, who will explain the historic significance of the place in impeccable English. Further down is a 7-acre campus, called Norbulingka Institute, where traditional Tibetan arts are practiced by students selected from all over the world. We watched intricate patterns being drawn on Thangka canvas and my favourite Thangka painting is one inside the temple – of the 14th Dalai Lama, in spectacles, and a lot of global dignitaries. The doll museum here has colourful depictions of Tibetan life – an absolute must visit.
Nature: You can walk to a stream about 500 mts from the cottage, and drink some natural, ‘captured at source’ Himalayan water. Bounce around on the rope bridge and dip your feet in the icy cold water. Also observe the interesting fauna of the place. The caretaker couple told me about plants which cure boils, tummy infections and various other ailments. Good idea to hoard up on this knowledge, and use it, as I did, next time you are down with something.
Hill Stream cottage is a place that encourages you to think. If you are looking for an action-packed holiday in which you zoom to 100 ‘photo points’ in an SUV that you could instantly instagram, you need to go somewhere else. Here, you sit, observe and wonder. About the birds, butterflies, bees and the point of it all.
– Text and images by Jayati Talapatra