The next time you happen to be around the hill town, shun the conventional and try Atithi Kunj
If there is one positive from my trip to Solan, it is my spotting Atithi Kunj. Yes, you guessed it right, it is a homestay. We had visited Soaln during peak summers and as expected, we couldn’t get a decent hotel in the city or its surroundings. We had to stay in a homestay, per force.
With no previous experience of a homestay, I was quite sceptical of the place or the services it would offer. Mrs Urmil Thakur runs the place, I knew, courtesy the information offered on the internet. But I didn’t have any idea whether she lived alone or with her family? How would it be living with another family? All these questions bothered me no end.
On the other end of the trajectory was my family: mom, wife and kids. How would they take it? So, with lots of scepticism, I reached Atithi Kunj. Just a look at the place gave me a pleasant surprise. Constructed at two levels, as are most homes in the hills, the place was hidden amidst trees of pears, peaches, apples, pomegranates and strawberry bushes. From afar, I could see the beautiful roses and succulents that dotted the campus.
Instinctively, I knew my wife and kids are going to love it. There is nothing more thrilling for my wife than a few trees, and fruits tress at that! That the rooms we were offered were on the lower level was a bonus for my mom.
Mrs Thakur welcomed us warmly and we connected immediately. Both her son Varun and his wife Rashmi are involved in the day-to-day running of the homestay, while her husband, though friendly by nature, prefers to keep himself away from the business of homestay. He preferred playing with Myra, his granddaughter, much to the girl’s delight.
For the three days that we stayed at Atithi Kunj, the family served us delicious home-cooked Himachali cuisine. Those that were sourced fresh from the kitchen garden were simply delicious and left you wanting for more. She also built a rapport with my mom and children and often exhorted kids to go pluck fresh fruits from the trees. Who does that?
And while we were away sightseeing or shopping, the family took care of my mom. “You guys go out, let your mother be here with us,” Mrs Thakur told me. She would take my mom to her personal library and let her pick any book she wanted to read. So, while were away we didn’t have even the slightest concern about mom. I knew she was in good hands.
Like its owners, the rooms at Atithi Kunj Homestay too were warm, especially the family suite with two bedrooms and attached toilets. Though a homestay, it has all the trappings of a nice four-star hotel. An added attraction of Atithi Kunj is the narrow-gauge railway line that runs behind it. The Kalka-Simla Heritage Line passes through it, and both my daughters simply loved watching it.
The only drawback of staying at Atithi Kunj is that it is at a slight elevation and getting your vehicle to the parking area is literally an uphill task. But then, Varun is an able driver. He told me to leave the car on the road, that he will bring it in. I was a little embarrassed till he told me that he does this job for all the guests to the homestay. Born and brought up in hills he can effortlessly bring the vehicle up.
Now, for the city and its surrounds.
Solan has been bestowed upon with two sobriquets, the Mushroom City of India and City of Red Gold for its vast mushroom farming and bulk production of tomatoes. If you happen to be here, do not miss a visit to the Jatoli Temple, Shoolini Devi Temple and the Gorka Fort. While Jatoli Temple is just 5 km from the city on Rajgarh Road, Shoolini Devi Temple is walking distance from Solan bus stand. The temple witnesses the annual Shoolini Fair in the second week of June. Gorkha Fort, on Kalka-Simla Highway, located in Sabathu, is also known as Arki Fort. It was occupied by the Gurkhas between 1815-16 and later renovated by Raja Kishen Chand with fine murals in Pahari style in 1850.
Another not-to-miss destination, right next to Solan is Barog. Surrounded by pine forests, Barog happens to be the one of the longest tunnels of its kind in the world on the Kalka-Simla Heritage Railway line. It takes a train around 2.5 minutes to cross this tunnel, No. 33, which happens to be 1143.61 m long. The town is named after Colonel Barog who was a railway engineer back in 1898. He was assigned the task of making the tunnel in a stipulated time but unfortunately, his calculations and his order of digging the mountain from both sides so that they could meet in the middle and finish work fast failed. As a result, he was fired and fined by the British government. Legend has it that one day, Col Barog went out for a walk with his dog and shot himself dead. It is claimed that his spirit still haunts the tunnel after sunset.
So, the next time you happen to be around Tunnel No. 33, make sure you are there before dusk else you are likely to bump into Col Barog.