Lily recounts the intoxicating life of a young bride in beauteous Dalhousie – a picturesque hill town, built across five hills. It is dotted with Scottish and Victorian architecture. Beautiful churches and bungalows lend it a quaint old world charm. The gigantic snow laden Dhauladhar peaks stand guard like sentinels. She says that she could never forget her first home after marriage as it was loaded with numerous historic ‘firsts’. And in this city she became a young mother, says the author, in her weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.
Wedded life began in earnest, in the sylvan surroundings of the picturesque hill town Dalhousie. It was built in 1854 by the British Empire as a summer retreat for its troops and officials. Built across five hills it is dotted with Scottish and Victorian architecture. Beautiful churches and bungalows lend it a quaint old world charm. The revered poet Rabindranath Tagore visited Dalhousie, in 1873, and Rudyard Kipling came, in 1884. The gigantic snow laden Dhauladhar peaks stand guard like sentinels.
We gathered straw and twigs for our minuscule nest in the pint sized cantonment, called Baloon Cantonment. British troops moved here, in 1868. It was originally created to be a convalescent spot due to its salubrious climate. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru visited, in 1954, for the centenary celebrations of Dalhousie.
I can never forget my first home after marriage as it was loaded with numerous historic ‘firsts’ in my life. It was a ground floor house made primarily of wood and was the official accommodation for Captains. We heard that in the British era Sergeants of the army lived here. Families of troops deployed on the Afghanistan and Baluchistan borders were housed here. The house was furnished with basic furniture but to my naive young mind it was my castle and queenly domain. I used to rush home from work from the Sacred Heart College that used to be under the diocese of Lahore. Many nuns from Lahore had to stay back in this convent during partition. It is a majestic building where many film shootings took place. Films like 1942, A Love Story and Gadar were shot here. An army vehicle called a three tonne, bulky though sturdy transported me up the steep hill to work. My husband’s office was a hop and a skip away from home so he merely trudged through the snow in winters. The homes had cheerful fireplaces where we actually lit log fires in the evenings. The crackle of a wood fire still makes my heart skip a beat and makes me want to hum a song. I remember carrying home wild daisies that grew profusely on the lush hill slopes.
Wordsworth’s daffodils grew in a carpet full of yellow bunches nodding their fragrant heads. It was like a vacation home for me. I would fill the house with jugs full of blooms. As there were very few vases in my worldly possessions I simply arranged flowers in any available glass or dish.
My memory pulls me to the utterly adorable trailing vines of rambler roses clinging to the slopes near Charing Cross. I pulled out a few creepers regularly to add greenery inside my little sitting room.
The afternoons were filled with a leisurely game of croquet on the lawns. Hitting wooden balls through square topped hoops with wooden mallets was a lot of fun. Much cheer and bonhomie prevailed over the game in which all officers and their wives participated.
There was an intriguing phenomena, which was truly spooky in our first ever home. Well as we rose each morning and sleep walked into the wash room we would find the soap missing? We could not for the life of us find a suitable or likely excuse to explain this daily occurrence. Each morning we replaced the bar of soap until one day the lady who lived in the house above ours met us and said, “Do you know we have a new bar of soap in our bedroom every morning!” Imagine our bewildered mirth mingled with horror when we realised that this was the handiwork of the rather well fed and scary looking rats that lived in the rafters of our ceiling. These rats scurried up the chimney of the fireplace with our belongings, safely depositing them in the house above. Once they even stole some roses made of wax from a wall hanging and whisked them away.
The memorable moments of this almost extended honeymoon posting for us were the treks and picnics to the Kalatop – Khajjiar sanctuary. Thickly forested by deodar trees the Kalatop rest house is ensconced in lonesome grandeur. The Himalayan Bear, Himalayan Black Marten, leopard, deer, Barking Goral, squirrel, serow, jackal, and languor roam freely here. Kalatop is also a paradise for bird watchers. One can spy the Eurasian Jay, white winged black bird, black headed Jay, chestnut bellied Rock Thrush, Grey Headed Canary Flycatcher.
Khajjiar has a curious floating island on a small stream fed lake and the famous ancient Khajji nag (serpent god) temple. It was built by the Pandavas in 12th century AD to worship the nag devta. The snake God is believed to reside in the Khajjiar Lake. This unique bowl of green meadows is known as the Switzerland of the East.
A walk around the cool road in Dalhousie is unforgettable for its breath-taking views. The aroma of luscious Bharmour apples tingles the nostrils.
The serenity of this hill cantonment calls out to me for a revisit. It will always remain special for me as my daughter was born here in a little dispensary. I gave birth like a primitive woman.
Pix from Net.