“I pay you not write about this place. Forget you see it.”
The Dutchman reaches into his pocket and pulls out, instead of money, a handful of the stuff he’s smoking.
I sit down next to him, politely refusing his solemn attempt at bribery. The cottage he is staying in – a Tudor-styled two-storey structure – sits behind us. It says on the guesthouse website that these cottages are inspired from Swiss chalets and for once, the comparison doesn’t make me laugh when I get there. Deodars, locally known as the “Tree of the Gods”, have shed their cones on the forest floor all around us while making their powerful ascent towards the sky. The land ahead slopes down towards the banks of a stream that’s swirling urgently around boulders before disappearing purposefully around the bend, quite determined to break the tranquil mood. On the opposite bank, Doli Guest House remains unfazed in the afternoon sun, with a few guests sprawled out in the garden with books and mattresses. The smell of pine and cedar seals it. We’ve unwittingly walked into a Kipling novel.
“They change it,” the Dutchman says. “It will spoil.”
“They” meaning an avalanche of tourists, “it” meaning the peace that hangs comfortingly around Jibhi, a tiny village in Himachal Pradesh between Banjar and Jalorie Pass on the Chandigarh-Manali highway. He is probably right, but it’d be a crime not to share this.
Doli Guest House is owned by B.S. Rana, fondly known as Rana Sahab, an ex-military man who decided that living in the mountains and watching people fall in love with Jibhi trumped anything he’d ever done for a living. This is why he stands right at the front of the battle lines fighting to save the valley from the very real danger of hydropower projects. As a founder of a union to protect Jibhi’s green spaces, Rana Sahab faces all sorts of pressure to “stop making a fuss”. He’s travelled extensively around Jibhi and drawn out extremely useful trek maps highlighting the sights you shouldn’t miss. After 20 years here, he knows the secrets of the mountains and more importantly, understands exactly how they can heal you.
The garden café plies you with generous amounts of tea and local sida (a flour preparation with ghee) to go with your book in the evenings. Later, cross the small bridge that leads to the enormous boulders on the riverbank, which make for grand riverside seating, introspection and hours of conversation with other guests from around the world.
Though almost everywhere in Himachal Pradesh gives you that sense of stillness, Doli throws in good cheer, a great location that forms the jump-off point for most treks, and rates that just won’t quit. And there’s a familiarity to this place, which is both healing and buoyant. It feels incredibly like coming home. I can stay for months.
Come to think of it, the Dutchman actually does.
The main guesthouse The main guesthouse, constructed in typical Pahadi style, has five rooms, basic but very comfortable. A river runs right next to the guesthouse.
Cottages These are at a 10-minute walk from the main guesthouse. The rooms are small but comfortable, fairly equipped with modern amenities, a kitchen and clean bathrooms.
Affordable rates You can stay at the main guesthouse for just ₹600/ ₹700/ ₹800 (for different rooms plus tax) or at the extremely comfortable cottages for ₹1,000 (without kitchen)/ ₹1,600 (with kitchen)
Doli Guest House, VPO Jibhi, Banjar Valley, Dist Kullu, Himachal Pradesh, India. Visit www.kshatra.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Call 1903-227034, 0-9816058290, 0-9418442122.
is an editor, writer, and the former Web Editor of Nat GeoTraveller India. An old travel hack with a bias towards big cats, Sejal has also worked for Lonely Planet and Saevus Wildlife. She tweets as @Snaggletooth_00.
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