Whether it is star gazing through the skylight over your bed in the town of Sholtu or the heartbreakingly picturesque location of the hundred-year-old property in Sangla, the 300-odd colonial-era forest rest houses of Himachal Pradesh are a celebration of the idyllic.
The old-world charm of staying in quaint cottages amid wooded mountains is often accentuated by the rest houses’ British-era, late 19th-century architecture—sloping slate-tiled roofs, expansive verandas, wood-panelled walls, stone chimneys and fireplaces. The caretakers of the rest houses, especially in the remoter locations, cook simple pahadi fare for the guests. All this for anything between Rs500-1,000 for a couple.
Pulga FRH in Parvati Valley sits at the edge of what locals call the ‘fairy forest.’ Photo By: Paloma Dutta
The remote location perhaps makes the forest rest house just outside Kugti village, the last settlement before the Kugti Pass, a particularly endearing site. Wooden houses propped on stilts, roofs tiled with slate—the place shows how basic creature comforts marry an exquisite setting. The 13-kilometre trek from the Hadsar road head—a narrow mountain trail most of the way—is interrupted by waterfalls from glacial melt tripping over the path before disappearing into the Budhil river. Along the way you will meet the nomadic gaddi tribes with their goats.
Sangla village, with the mighty Kinnaur Kailash range in the backdrop, is a destination within itself. Photo By: Utsav Kapadia/Dinodia Photo/Dinodia photo library
The Sholtu Forest Rest House (FRH), on the other hand, was built in 1925 on the bank of the Satluj river inside a clump of forest in the Rampur district, a couple of hours ahead of Shimla. It is an ideal pit stop on the way to Kinnaur Valley from Delhi. The skylight on the sloping wooden roof over the bed looks out to pine trees during the day and stars at night.
The 110-year-old FRH located just outside Sangla village adjacent to the Tibetan border is a destination in itself, a poetically pretty, wooden cottage situated under the shadows of the mighty Kinnaur Kailash range, a stone’s throw away from the Baspa river. A distance of just 12 kilometres from the charming but busy Dalhousie leads one through wooded avenues to the FRH situated inside the Kalatop Wildlife Sanctuary. This exquisitely located nearly hundred-year-old hilltop FRH has many trekking trails and opens up panoramic views of the Pir Panjal range.
When on a trek to the high altitude Kareri Lake, the forest rest house overlooking the edge-of-the-world Kareri village is a caravanserai for tired bones. A rejuvenating three-kilometre trek from Barsheni (the last motorable stretch of road), just past Pulga village in Parvati Valley (a quieter alternative to neighbouring Kasol) takes travellers to the enchanting Pulga FRH at the edge of what locals call the ‘fairy forest.’
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Originally allowing only forest and government officials to stay in the FRHs, the Himachal Pradesh tourism department has over the years opened up these rest houses to the general public at a nominal tariff. Many of the properties can be booked online at himachalecotourism.org and the average cost is Rs500. For the rest, a phone call to the district DFO’s office, followed by a transfer of some documents over email is enough to secure a roof in the wilderness. The exhaustive list of FRHs can be found on hpforest.nic.in.
works as an editor in a publishing house for her bread, butter and bus ticket (more often than not to the mountains). Travel makes her believe in serendipity, essential kindness of the human heart and the power of Bollywood to build instant friendships anywhere in the world.
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