Top post on, the community of Indian Bloggers

Saturday, September 15, 2012

4 Days In Kasauli


The Shatabdi Express chugs in at  Kalka station exactly on the dot, and this sort of sets the  tone of the holiday , which is  –‘ this holiday will work’.  Kalka station is like any other station acting as a feeder point to a hill station – small, quaint and giving a tantalizing hint of the promised mountains. We hire a cab to Kasauli and settle back in our seats in  anticipation of the drive . Writing this  article, one can almost feel the movement of the sharp curves of the road, inhale the smell of the pine trees , feel the caress of  the fresh mountain air  and hear the distinct chirrup of the  hill birds….  

Just after Kalka is Parwanoo,  and this is where the drive gets interesting . The hills are full of flowering shrubs and trees  and a lazy yellow   merges with a burst of  sharp orange. At one point we are almost eyeball to eyeball with the passengers of the  hill train and the eye contanct is  broken only when the train disappears inside a tunnel.   

Further along the road is the town of Dharampur, which is in two parts.  One road turns off towards Kasauli and another towards the famous Lawrence School, Sanawar. Both roads meet below the school at Garkhal.  Another  road  climbs steeply uphill towards Dagshai. Dharampur  is famous because of  its many dhabas , most notable ( and most crowded ) being Giani da dhaba. The food is uniformly good, the crowd is also, almost uniformly , good but what is great, nee mesmerizing, is the speed with which the food is served.

Burping delicately we get back inside the cab for   the last leg of the journey , from Garkhal to Kasauli. Now,  beautiful old british style bungalows   come into view, some of them dating to the time of the Raj. The houses within the confines of the Army cantonment cannot be changed structurally, so most of them retain their quaint charm along with their quaint, old fashioned  names like Cloud 9, The Raj Villa, The Pine View ….

( A few days into Kasauli , and a few long walks , are  enough for us to see , and envy,  the beautiful  summer homes of  the Kasauli elite. We also chance upon  writer and journalist Khushwant Singh’s villa. Pretty exteriors, well manicured , lawns and long driveways are the common features of the summer residences.)

How did we spend time in  Kasauli  ? We went for long, lazy  walks, absorbed the atmosphere of the British built bungalows, took  in the panoramic views , steered clear of numerous monkeys and langurs, and ate amazingly thin and beautifully served crepes at a local cafĂ©, Rudra. At  Rudra  we also heard a lot of Bob Marley . Evenings were spent at the rooftop restaurant of the hotel we were staying in. Picture this : a room with glass walls which offer a ringside view of the twinkling lights of Sanawar , the only light inside the room  is provided by the    paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling , Sanju, the inhouse  vocalist cum guitarist, who also happens to be a music teacher in the local school ,crooning hits of the seventies and eighties  and a ponytailed guy, who we discovered is the owner/partner of the hotel , giving moral support to the singer by slapping his right thigh  repeatedly with his right hand  in tune to the music.  ( Incase anyone out there is wondering why the right hand was in overdrive , let me explain. Simply put, his left  hand was holding his drink and so was incapacitated). Also, and this was the best part, a couple of good looking  local school teachers ,fetchingly dressed in shorts and jumpsuits , dancing in synchronization to ‘Dum Maro Dum…’ Will we go back to the rooftop restaurant ? yes, we will. The waiters were the best I have seen in a long time !

The Kasauli Model

One hears of planeloads of babus going to foreign lands to study  models which can be implemented back home .What needs to be done pronto , to save the hill stations in India , is to study the Kasauli model and implement it.  In all the days we were there we did not come across any litter. There are no pestering  touts / tourist guides badgering one at every step. There are no ice cream parlours, restaurants serving Mughlai and Chinese and continental. No restaurants means absolutey none.  Infact we hunted high and low for a bakery but drew a blank. The town retains its old world charm precisely because of the absence of all these factors. Kasauli has a strong army presence and much to thank the army for. The greenery here has survived only due to the presence of the Army .The discipline enforced by it is clearly evident. A case in point is the walk to Sunset Point- a place of tourist attraction. No  vehicles are allowed about a kilometre  or so before Sunset Point. At  ground zero there are no shops selling chips, no jhoolas, no ice cream vendors – absolutely nothing .Only the people and the setting Sun.

 The town  has two main roads, the Upper Mall and the Lower Mall. Both have bungalows and cottages along them .  Simla lights are visible on clear nights from the Lower Mall. The Upper Mall faces both Chandigarh and Simla and gets beautiful morning and afternoon sunshine. Like all cantonment towns, Kasauli  has an old bazaar . Here we  bought some asafoetida and rock salt   ( the only  bit of shopping we did )from a wizened old lady  who looked as old as methuselah  .If someone had told us she was a remnant  from the time  Kasauli had been built we would have swallowed it, so old did she look.

We heard from the locals that there are two annual  social  events  in Kasauli. The first  is in the last week of June and is called Kasauli Week.  During this week a lot of parties and socials are organized by the Army and  by  the Kasauli Club.  A dance party is held at the Kasauli Club as the grand finale. The second event is during the Founders celebrations of Sanawar  held in the first week of October when parents and Old Sanawarians swamp  the town.

File Fact  :

 Kasauli is located at a height of 1927 metres  and is  an army cantonment  town established by the British in 1842. It is located in Solan district in Himachal Pradesh, about 77 km from Shimla.


According to mythology, Kasauli came into existence after Lord Hanuman placed his feet here in order to get the Sanjeevani  herb. It is  also believed that the Rajputs of Rewari took refuge in the jungles of Kausal village during 17th century

Best time to visit

Kasauli can be visited any time of the year. However, April to November is the best time to visit.

Kasauli has a moderate climate. Winter temperature is approximately 2 degrees celsius, with Summer temperatures rarely exceeding 32 degrees celsius.

Places of Interest
Central Research Institute
The CRI works as a Collaborating Centre’ of the World Health Organization, and as an immuno-biological laboratory producing vaccines for measles and polio and the DTP  group of vaccines.

The Parsonage

This  was built in 1850 for priests of the Anglican church.

Kasauli Brewery

The Kasauli Brewery and distillery, founded in the 1820s before the establishment of the Kasauli cantonment, is the oldest extant distillery for 'scotch whisky' in Asia.The brewery is also known as Mohan Meakins.

Kasauli Club

The Kasauli Club was established by the British  in 1880 as an accessible summer retreat. It is currently located within Indian Army premises and managed by a regular Indian Army Officer as 'Club Secretary', aided by civilian staff. Typical of hill architecture, the Club is constructed chiefly of wood.


Kasauli is synonymous with the Lawrence School , Sanawar . British official Henry Lawrence, who founded the Lawrence School at Sanawar, was one of the earliest inhabitants of the town. The cottage built by Lawrence still stands on the ridge. Other educational institutions,  in or near Kasauli , are the  Pinegrove School, St Mary’s Convent School   and the school at Kasauli's K.V. Air Force Station.

Christ Church and Baptist Church are amazing examples of classical Gothic style of architecture. Christ Church has beautiful stained glass windows, a common feature of churches built by the British during colonial area.

Flora and Fauna

Surrounded by dense forests, Kasuali is home to several species of Himalayan flora and fauna including endangered ones. Babblers, Red-billed Blue Magpie, Striated Prinias and Jungle Owlet can be spotted in Kasauli. Summer is the best time to visit Kasauli to watch the birds in the natural habitat.

.Where to stay

In Kasauli  most of the  resorts are located at the top of the hill. These  offer a  panoramic view of the surrounding areas. Budget hotels are located near the foot of the hill. There is a Himachal Pradesh tourist hotel ( very lost and forlorn ) and a few private ones (Alasia Hotel , Kasauli Resorts, Kasauli Regency , Baikunth Resorts etc), but the best place to stay in  is The Kasauli Club. It is a members-only club but visitors can get temporary membership for a few days and use the club facilities. One can also check out the few cottages which take in guests.



Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A quick and easy recipe for Gnocchi in Tomato sauce



I  first  made Gnocchi  about  10-12 years  back. Ten years back we, in India, were  just  waking  up to  food beyond  pav-bhaji  and chowmein . My son was six months old and it seemed to me that all that I was doing was feeding him and ensuring that he burped and then again feeding him and ensuring … In a fit of inspiration , born mainly from a bout of rebellion , I started grooming and cooking classes aimed at the young woman – the girl on the threshold of marriage. The classes turned out to be a huge success and lasted well beyond my rebellion did !

Well, to cut a lonnng story short I taught many cuisines- Indian, Mexican, Chinese, Italian etc. The commonality  was that all the dishes were vegetarian and ,  more importantly, easy to make . One of the dishes that featured in the Italian section  was Gnocchi and in the process of teaching the dish it became a personal favourite ,  coming just after Lasagne and a light pasta salad that I learnt on the job.

Coming to the present , yesterday I made Gnocchi ( after a long gap) and it turned out good enough to inspire me to post the recipe.

So here goes :

This recipe  serves  4-6


350 gms potatoes  freshly boiled and  peeled

75 gms self raising flour ( maida)

2 tsp dried oregano

2 tbsp oil

1 large onion  chopped fine

2 garlic cloves ( optional- I hadn’t used them )

400gms chopped tomatoes

2tbsp basil leaves, shredded ( tulsi will work fine)

salt and pepper to taste

 approx ½ cup Parmesan cheese, grated

 For the Gnocchi

 1. Mash the potatoes. Add the flour, salt , pepper and oregano .

Mix with hands to form a  dough.

 2. Make balls of the dough. Press the balls lightly .

 3. Bring a large saucepan of water to boil and cook the Gnocchi  ,in batches,  for 2-3 minutes. Drain well and arrange them on a greased baking dish.

 For the Sauce

n a pan put 2 tbsp oil ( I used olive oil  but any cooking oil will do) and cook the onions and garlic for a minute. Add the tomatoes, ½ cup water, salt and pepper and cook uncoverd for 10 minutes –or till it achieves sauce consistency. Add the basil leaves.

To Serve
Pour the sauce over the Gnocchi. Sprinkle the cheese and bake for about 10 minutes at 180degreesC or till the cheese melts.

 Serve warm.



Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Ritu Dalmia’s Diva Piccola


 Till Saturday I had never been to Diva! There - my guilty secret is out. O.K , lemme correct that - one of my guilty secrets is out. Living in Delhi and admitting that one has never seen the inside of Ritu Dalmia’s  original Diva at Hauz Khas Village is like committing social harakiri . So , of course , one had never done it – admitted, that is . But come Saturday, we sailed majestically to the cafe –only to be brought up short by one of life’s inescapable truths, which is, in Diva the door is not opened to the outside. It has to be pushed to the  inside. But the good thing is that even if one does do it, open to the outside , one is not looked condescendingly at . Nah !  Ritu’s battery of   ‘Servers’ ( ‘waiters’ would be blasphemy) are God’s own angels . They smile understandingly and   unobtrusively  open the door to the inside to let you know what you hadn’t known till then and then seat you at one of the three tables for four. The other three tables are for two . Cozy is an understatement and I smile at the adorable tot dangling over the back of the husband’s chair.

In the meantime a basket of bruschetta and the menu cards have been placed in front of us and we eat the bread and  pore over the menu . We look up to confabulate but by then one of the angels has floated over to us and is smiling beatifically. “Ready to  place your order”. A devil whispers in my ear –“ that is being super efficient “ but I push the devil away and , returning the smile- albeit not so beatifically- simper- “what do you recommend?” The angel is very firm about the penne pasta with eggplant but here I get slightly distracted. M , by now we know his name,  looks one of us alright but hey he doesn’t talk like someone from Lajpat Nagar ( don’t ask me why Lajpat ). He talks like one of them.Maybe a crash course in  ‘speaking English the Italian Way’ is mandatory for everyone at Diva ? 

We order a pizza margherita, a risotto and the penne pasta with eggplant. A very attractive girl catches my  eye and by the time I finish checking out what she is wearing – beige trousers with a white shirt that is not tucked in but  belted to emphasize the tiniest of waists- the pizza arrives. It is rectangilish /ovalish in shape and extremely good. Next to come is the risotto. Here I pause because I must confess that the risotto left me with mixed feelings. Firstly - but maybe this one is because of all the episodes of last season’s   Master Chef I had watched ,where the presentation was as good , if not better than Gordon Ramsay’s scowl – because it looked exactly like what my dishes look at home when there are no guests but only family. You know , very comsi comsa. Secondly, it made me promise to myself that I must do some research on what is a perfect risotto. What I am trying to  say is that it was nice   but that it wasn’t perfect.

How was the pasta ? entirely forgettable and , though pride is one of the seven deadly sins, better pastas have been dished out from my kitchen .

But then the angel brought me back to earth. How? By placing before us the dessert-the  best ever chocolate cake . It came on a wooden platter with a floating candle on one end  and  thin geometric lines of chocolate sauce at the other. The cake was served with vanilla sauce . Mmmm

We get up to exit. I open the door. Ooops. Did it again .This time I pushed it open forgetting that now it had to be pulled in. From the corner of my eye I could see one of ‘them’ rushing to do it  the  right way.