Saturday, March 23, 2002

Weaving dreams with fragrance of pines

Ashwini Bhatnagar

LITTLE dollops of ice candy fell on the head. They had been loosened from the cones of the pine trees by a brilliant sun. Sitting atop the green branches of the lush trees, the snow seemed surreal; more so when the shafts of brilliant yellow sunlight either bounced off the white topping or pierced through it. When it did manage to penetrate, the lumps rode the shafts and ski-jumped to the slopes below.

The jungle trail led away from the resort, hugging the mountain curves as if it was afraid of the precipice below. When the ground became gently undulating, it would start playing hookey with the ageing deodars, now running around them and then disappearing from the immediate horizon. The fresh mountain air at 9,000 feet above sea-level made the head swim and the heart pound against the quiet of the forest. It seemed like an African drum-beat calling the warriors of nature to a fragrant, lustrous conclave among the pines.

An aerial view of the snow-clad observatory The open-on-all-sides banquet hall
An aerial view of the snow-clad observatory The open-on-all-sides banquet hall

Fagu, some 22 km from Shimla, has been known as a quiet retreat. It has refused to expand its handkerchief size, though neighbouring Shimla, Kufri and Mashobara have grown in girth and population over the years. Fagu, it seems, has been happy to snooze through all the activity around it. The bus stop is much the same a it was two decades back and life rhythms of the people are still peacefully cyclic. Time rotates without even a creak.

A half kachha road leads up from Fagu. From the diversion, it meanders lazily up the mountain side. The jeep follows its course in its own mechanical fashion. Where is the hurry? After all, a mere 1200 metres cannot consume much of the precious time. However, as the view opens up, the moment to stand and stare indefinitely comes all at once. It had been creeping stealthily all along in the shadows and as the jeep turns the corner and hits a patch of sunlight on the road, it pounces with benign ferocity. The attack on the senses rocks one back on the heels.

The 360-degree unhindered view of the Shivalik ranges is one where you would like to hang a star. A star for the world to see from all directions. The thought is spontaneous, and it is perhaps because of the reflex imagery that the grounds at 9000 feet above the sea have been named Star Resorts. Set amidst a dense pine forest, it gracefully merges into the woods at some points and at others it stands proud and erect with the peaks.

For Ramesh Dudani nesting at these heights was a life -long dream. "I have lived in Mumbai for many years and travelled extensively around the globe. God has given me enough wealth but I had always aspired to build a place like this. Of course, it is a commercial venture but even if it doesn't give me any returns I will still be happy. It is a place that is after my heart and if other people can also partake of nature’s bounty and share this enterprise with me I will feel doubly blessed,"he says.

Dudani has ensured that only the best is provided at these heights. The whole unit is centrally heated and has exquisitely designed living quarters. Some huts even have jacuzzi facilities! During the winters, a snow bar functions. It is crafted out of the snow and one can sit in it as if it is an igloo. The conface he has built is similar to the one in Salvoski in Austria and the garden has tulips imported from Holland. About 5000 varieties of flowering plants have been planted in the extensive garden. Moreover, in order to take full advantage of the panoramic view, Dudani has built an observatory and installed a powerful telescope to ensure a close-up of the distant ranges for the visitors. The banquet-cum-dining area has a clear polycarbonate roof and huge windows for a 24-hour, 12 months-a-year grand survey of nature’s moods. The outdoors have been brought indoors, including the sky above.

The evening settles down cosily. The orange of the setting sun colours the snow caps before gently withdrawing and letting the whites of the hill cones emerge again. The Evening Star is out, blinking with disbelief at the ground below. At this hour yesterday, the hills were clothed prosperous green. The attire now is Sufi white!