A small, quiet place after Delhi’s hurried life, we took to it immediately—and it soon became our little weekend getaway. We would come to detox our lungs and switch off our gadgets, while simply reveling in the sheer splendor of nature. Mashobra is filled with numerous charming strolls, walking trails and romantic drives overlooking pretty old houses with monkeys swinging from tree to tree. It has all the necessary ingredients for a holiday that includes misty windows, heavenly sunsets, green grass, bright colorful flowers, delicious fruit, cups of steaming hot tea, cream rolls from the local bakery, and piping hot samosas and jalebis from the neighboring sweet shop. The broad variety of trees—pine, cedar, oak, deodar, rhododendron and maple—and the rich expanse of flowers— roses, hydrangeas, tulips, daffodils—all leave you spellbound. Initially, it was an ideal spot for us to escape Delhi’s heat and pollution over a long weekend or two, and a truly revitalizing break it was indeed—with us engulfing the cool fresh air into our lungs and absorbing all the quaint sights and sounds around us.
However, we soon realized that what’s most interesting about this unassuming destination is that every summer, a population of close to 100 retired silvers—a majority of whom are from a services background—come from metropolitan cities like Delhi-NCR, Chandigarh and Jaipur and stay in Mashobra and nearby Baldia and Naldehra, for months together, where they have invested in summer retreat homes. Exotic lunch parties are held almost every single day, and people as old as 85 dress up in their finest clothes and jewels to attend them, after which they take long walks, playing golf and card games together in the hills. In spite of various health ailments, their spirit for fun is commendable.
Since most of the retirees are drawn from the military forces (army, airforce, etc.), there is a lot of discipline in terms of timings set for social events. So, the parties start on time and wind up early—evening plans wind up early too, with most families in bed by 9 pm. In a nutshell, it’s adherence to a healthy lifestyle of ‘early to bed, and early to rise,’ where people wake up with the birds at sunrise, relish a lavish lunch followed by a long walk, and end the day early with a simple dinner of a soup and toast. Moreover, the pure fresh air and clear blue skies after the city’s dust and pollution has a visible therapeutic effect, as it helps them recuperate.
Owing to its popularity over the years, a number of big hotel chains such as Club Mahindra, Sarovar Portico and the Oberoi group have built properties in the area. Further, there are lots of lovely homestays, bed and breakfast places and home renting options for those who are looking for a more personalized and long-staying experience. There’s also Mashobra Greens, a popular camping site for the young and the adventurous.
After my parents retired, they began spending more time in Mashobra, living more like locals—rather than just tourists—throughout the long summer months. Being a small place, there are several conveniences— the market is a mere stone’s throw away. Here, you can find vegetables, fruits, groceries and other everyday items during your stay. For the fanciest of items—various types of cheeses, tomato ketchup, Bloody Mary mix, olives, soda and tonic water—there’s Manoj’s Departmental Store. If perchance it is unavailable on any given day, the item is promptly brought from Shimla the following day. Then, there is Rama Sweet Shop, where you can pick up fresh mithai, samosas, pakoras and other teatime snacks. There are also several cute little eateries in the market—like Mashobra Heights and Red Chilli—where you can grab a quick meal of some delicious rajma or kadi chawal.
Further, there is a well-stocked chemist, and even a small government hospital nearby in case of any medical emergency. On one of our walks, we also discovered a local tailor who stitches clothes and a cobbler who makes shoes as per one’s size and liking.
In short, there is really no need for one to wade through the crowds and traffic at the touristy Mall Road in Shimla for anything—as a Mashobra resident, you can find everything you possibly need right outside your doorstep. There aren’t a whole lot of “touristy” things to do in Mashobra. As I mentioned, most of the visitors are people who become long-staying residents. So, if you like to walk, then it’s paradise for you—because other than walking, you could curl up and read a nice book with a mug of hot coffee and gaze at the splendid view all around you. We found that one of the most picturesque walks in the area is an 18 kilometre long level road called Bekhalti. Surrounded by beautiful deodar forests, it is laced with the occasional waterfall that springs out of nowhere. The buzzing sound of cicada insects—nature’s very own background music—is all that surrounds you. After walking about three kilometres on this road from the main market, you reach the lovely Mahasu House, a kind of boutique hotel. Here, you could pause for a cup of tea or coffee while watching the magnificent panorama of the hills around.
There are other places that could make nice picnic spots if you want to make most of the outdoors. One of the popular ones is Craignano, about 2 kilometres away. Lying amid groves of trees and wild flowers, it has a beautiful Italian-style villa made by Italian photographer Chevalier Federico Peliti, who named it in the memory of his hometown. Set on a cliff, Craignano is encircled by small streams and a forest of pine and oak trees. The villa also includes a sprawling lawn, stone benches and night lamps that constitute the architectural style of the colonial era. It is also known for having the world’s highest water lift—with a height of around 7,657 feet. Made by the British in 1922, the lift is now used for supplying water to Shimla and other surrounding areas.
A short walk from Craignano gets you to the Regional Horticultural Research Station. Built in 1953 to conduct research on temperate fruits and flowers in the region, this 64-acre complex is also the country’s largest germplasm centre for apples, pears and cherries. The institute even houses a small museum showcasing various types of apples and pears cultivated in the area as well as a greenhouse housing a spread of blooming flowers. Locals can even pick up varieties of flowers and fruits from the nursery here to plant in their gardens.
Another walk worth exploring nearby is around the President’s summer retreat at Chharabra, about 2.5 kilometres away. The steep path leading up to it is shaded by tall, thick trees. One of the “touristy” exploits to indulge in is to view Priyanka Gandhi’s cottage which is situated close to the retreat. The house has been under construction for over a decade. The walk finally leads up to a helipad, which is perched high on the mountain. This is the helipad used by the President of India when he visits the retreat for a few days every summer. The view of the city from this point is spectacular, and on a cloudy day, it could easily feel like one is in heaven! Chharabra is also close to the sprawling Oberoi property, Wildflower Hall. One of the things to do here—though a tad expensive—is to have a leisurely brunch. Close by,you can find a little café that has some great masala tea overlooking a Tibetan market selling colorful woolens that you could carry back home.
Short day trips around Mashobra can easily be planned to places, such as Naldehra—about 13 kilometres away, where there is the country’s oldest 18-hole golf course—and Kufri—about 7 kilometres away, where you can stroll up to Mahasu Peak or visit the Himalayan Wildlife Zoo, having about 180 species of exotic migratory birds, white leopards, bears and antelopes. While in Naldehra, you could consider stopping for lunch at the Chalet’s, a pretty hotel built all in wood. Kufri is also known for its yak rides, so that’s an important experience not to be missed there.
To pick up and carry back home some of the flavors and memories of these hills, make a stop at Shivalik Food Products. Run by Mrs Jain, this little shop at the start of Sabina Orchards has some of the finest fresh fruit juices. There’s also Col Grover’s fruit pickle outlet. Located on the main road, it’s a great spot for some of the yummiest jams and pickles. The mushroom pickle was my favourite.
All in all, Mashobra has something for everyone—a great weekend getaway for the tired city dweller, a fun holiday spot for the young; and a home away from home for seniors!
By air: Shimla, the nearest airport, is about 13 kilometres away.
By rail: Kalka, the nearest railhead, is well connected to other major railway stations.
By road: Mashobra is about a three-hour comfortable drive from Chandigarh. There are regular bus services to Shimla, the closest town, from major cities like Delhi and Chandigarh.
- A pair of good walking shoes is a must to explore Mashobra in the best possible way.
- The sun is usually quite bright during the day. Always wear a hat and apply sunscreen when stepping out.
- Carry a light cardigan or jacket along with you as the temperature sometimes dips suddenly, especially after sunset. It is also a good idea to carry an umbrella along, as the sky could also become overcast anytime.
- The monkeys can be a bit of a menace in these parts. Make sure you do not have food items with you when out, as this will attract them.
Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Wanderlust for the Soul, an e-book collection of short stories based on travel in different parts of the world. You can read all her published work on www.nehakirpal.wordpress.com