We were three writers in need of a break from the city. We wanted a learning holiday with views of mountains, and plenty of downtime. A place with comfortable digs in a quiet, rustic setting, yet close enough to a town, should we crave the clamour of a bar, or the pleasures of souvenir shopping. It was a tall order by any yardstick. But The Mirage checked all the boxes. Plus, it served little creamers of warm custard after dinner.
The charming B&B is in the village of Andretta, near Palampur, Himachal Pradesh. Andretta is an artist’s colony started 75 years ago by a spunky Irishwoman called Nora Richards. Many of the country’s ceramic and terracotta artists have honed their skills at the local pottery school. The Mirage, run by New Zealander Denis and his French wife Dolly, is near the school, with views of the blushing Dauladhars.
At the pottery school we learned to “centre ourselves” at the wheel and got clay in our hands, hair, and jeans, as we made wonky terracotta bowls. Photo: Deepanjana Pal
Our days ranged from pleasantly lazy to activity-filled. Some began with 7 a.m. hikes with Denis and his dog Yogi, followed by hearty breakfasts of fruit, eggs, and fresh bread slathered with butter and marmalade. At the pottery school we learned to “centre ourselves” at the wheel and got clay in our hands, hair, and jeans, as we made wonky terracotta bowls. We went tandem paragliding in Billing, a 90-minute drive away, soaring like birds over the spectacular landscape.
Mostly though, we spent days lounging about, curled up on the sun-kissed porch, reading, and laughing over cups of coffee. Evenings, when the sun’s shift was up, we wrapped ourselves in the warm embrace of shawls and glasses of whisky, chatting with Denis and artists on residencies at Andretta. Dinners were served at a communal table, in a room lined with collectibles from the owners’ travels. The food was wonderful, thanks to Saroj, the shy cook who whips up trifle and delicious eggplant bakes with as much ease as palak chicken curry.
Meals and views apart, The Mirage scores for its warmth and intimate vibe. Our toasty rooms had heavy wooden beds, colourful, locally woven blankets, and quirky touches that give homestays their character. One of our rooms for instance, had a padlock shaped like Buddha’s head with a key that went into the third eye. Mine had a lock shaped like a woman, and a key that unlocked her Kundalini (that’s personal hotspot for non-yogis). Together they summed up this mud-walled cottage’s appeal: a place for quiet introspection, but also great for good, old-fashioned fun.
Appeared in the March 2015 issue as “Mountain Glaze”.
Accommodation The Mirage has two single rooms and nine double rooms, two of which are in cottages in the garden. All other rooms are part of the main house. Standard tariff includes breakfast. Staff need to be informed of other meal requirements one day before (doubles ₹3,363; www.mirageandretta.com; 98164 29091).
Getting thereThe Mirage is in Andretta, a village in the Kangra Valley of Himachal Pradesh. It is 270 km/7 hours from Chandigarh and 500 km/11 hours from Delhi. Palampur, 18 km/30 min away, is the closest town and Gaggal airport, 14 km from Dharamsala (54 km/2 hr) is the closest airport.
is Nat Geo Traveller India's perpetually hungry Web Editor. She loves exploring food markets or better still, foraging for new kitchen ingredients. She hopes to have a farm near the mountains someday. She tweets and instagrams as @nehasumitran.
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