A trip to Shoghi, away from the madness, chaos and pollution of Delhi, can rejuvenate your mind, heart and soul, writes Abhilasha Ojha
How does one describe meditation? How does one feel connected with the universe, a higher power? How complicated is the exercise of achieving ‘nothingness’ around you? How does a simple act of cycling connect you to understanding yourself better, to helping your mind wade through all the confusion and clutter to find that moment of bliss and comfort?
Take it slow
Cycling to a neighborhood village in Shoghi, a quaint hill station barely 13 kms from Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, while crisscrossing and navigating the hairpin bends, I have a moment of clarity. Ahead of you there will be all sorts of roads, with potholes, pebbles, stones and other obstacles in some stretches, and smooth and easy bits elsehwere. It will be a struggle, but there’s just one rule that will pull you through: your eye on the road. The soft breeze gently caressing your face will be your reward; the silence of the verdant hills, broken by the sweet chirping of birds and the rustling sounds of the oak, rhododendron and pine trees leaves, and the gentle whirring of the bicycle wheels, will be your worthwhile experience. Between the obstacles and you lies the journey to the eventual destination, one that is worth experiencing and savouring.
Shoghi is the perfect weekend destination from New Delhi. Take NH1, stop at Murthal for those yummy paranthas laden with white butter (try the famous Sukhdev dhaba or even Haveli Murthal, if you want to spend some time there). Depending on your stopover time and traffic, the journey (you will eventually hit NH22) should take anywhere between 7-8 hours.
Twenty minutes of cycling sets me up for a lifetime of learning. Our cycling expedition ends at a village home in Shoghi where an elderly couple have opened their home – and hearts – to us. While the man makes chapattis on the ‘choolah’, I find his wife dutifully setting plates for lunch, which we will enjoy underneath the blue skies and bright sunlight. In the distance, I hear the cows moo, and get busy getting friendly with Sheru, their pet dog, and their two cats, both called Mau Mau!
By the time we’ve finished lunch – we have ghee being poured generously from an old kettle into a scrumptious meal of rice, dal and two types of vegetables – I’m in a happy space. There are dogs and cats running around, there’s jovial conversation among friends, there’s a sense of fulfilment that life, despite all the craziness, is good. While cycling teaches me the art of living, a meal served with tremendous love and simplicity in a village home allows me to feel gratitude.
Later that night at Aamod, the eco-friendly resort in Shoghi where we’re staying, I look up to the skies and gaze at the stars. Our city-bred group concurs that these twinkling lights are a treat, hidden as they are in Delhi, where I live, by all the smog and pollution. Aamod was set up five years ago on a hectare of forest-land by an enthusiastic corporate consultant-turned-entrepreneur entrepreneur, Gaurav Jain. An IIT-IIM graduate, Jain moved to Hong Kong with McKinsey in 1997, then on to London, before relocating to Delhi in 2008.
That’s when he also decided to live his dream of setting up eco-friendly boutique resorts across India. ‘We have beautiful locations in terms of tourism potential but not quality accommodation that adapts to being ecologically friendly.’
Needless to say, the resort is spectacular, and wonderfully integrated with the natural surroundings. Are the cottages hugging the trees or are trees enveloping the cottages, one wonders? ‘This is the way we wanted it; completely natural and absolutely charming in its experience,’ say Jain. That said, it isn’t the ideal place for those who are not physically fit, given that you have to, quite literally, trek to reach your cottage and the way the cottages, spa, restaurant and the other areas are spread out. “You get the expanse of the place, you soak in the experi-ence of even reaching from one area to the next,” explains Jain, who is quickly expanding his portfolio of branded boutique resorts. “So far, we were reviewing our brands and ensuring quality, now we will scale up,’, he says. Other than in Shoghi, Aamod Resorts already operates in Sariska, Dalhousie, Bhimtal, Manesar, Manali, Udaipur and Shimla. ‘Shoghi,’ says Jain, ‘is my favourite, not because it was our first property but because it’s genuinely a calm, serene beautiful place.’
In the lap of nature
Jain’s right: nature blends beautifully in Aamod. The spa area overlooks the mountains, while Shoghi holds its beauty quite strongly on its own. I par- ticularly enjoy Aamod’s hospi- tality when – as a surprise – we round off our morning trek with warm cups of masala tea and cookies on a hilltop. Scanning the horizon, I see a splendid vista of cloud trails, blue skies, bird calls, the rustling of leaves on oak and pine trees, the train chugging and winding gently into the tunnel through the rug- ged mountain, and the scenic landscape, the playfulness of a pair of squirrels nearby, the fallen acorns beneath my feet…
Away from the bustling malls and multiplexes of the metros, a place like Shoghi will allow you to rediscover yourself. While you can enjoy long walks, gaze at the stars, surrender to quietude, you can also – at Aamod, for instance – enjoy adventure sports, nature trails, camping, mountain bik- ing, trekking and hiking. Ah! You can always drive down to Shimla, which is barely 13 km away and stroll around the Brit- ish summer capital, which was also home to some of the best known Indian modern painters, including Amrita Sher-gil and Ram Kumar.
After spending two nights and three days in Shoghi, enjoy- ing adventure sports with my group of enthusiastic travel- lers, and spending some quiet moments on my own, I feel rejuvenated. It’s quiet, still and silent. Only my heart does that little dance of joy.