The picturesque British Raj’s colonial sun scalped hill peak ‘Kasauli’ lies in the Shivalik ranges. The awe inspiring colours thaw Himachal’s love for one of the most sober and quite sought after destinations of Northern India. Even as NH-22 turns paved and the hush continues towards the erstwhile summer capital Shimla, just 2 km short of Dharampur you get ushered in to Kasauli. The drive to Kasauli has a high propensity for daily goers with bottlenecks at the UNESCO recognised historic world heritage Kalka Shimla crossings. The fairytale toy train runs at an average 25 km per hour on a 98 mile stretch from Kalka to Shimla. It glides across 87 quaint arched long and lofty bridges and potters through 102 tunnels en-route. Bypassing Pinjore, Parwanoo and Kalka railway station towards main district road 6, the feel of the drive enthralls your beat as you pass by hair pin bends courtesy, Jay Prakash’s m a r v e l o u s infrastructure. Within minutes of this you find yourself much above the mean sea level with Pinjore’s Kaushalya Dam well passed by. This dam and its sources sparkle turbid in exquisite from the Manki’s helipad at Kasauli. Even as the sound of the world heritage train reverberates amidst the valley and its bogies wander their strolls through lonesome tunnels, the nostalgia creeps into this breathtaking and nerve striking sight.
Kasauli slithers up and down the hill sides and offers some of the magnificent vistas and picturesque spectacles that one comes across in Northern India. It boasts of its colonial ambience in its infrastructure, housing a number of placards, hoardings and highlights. The junction of Upper and Lower Malls marks the most happening place in Kasauli as these markets sell daily commodities and souvenirs for tourists. The lower mall boasts of local restaurants selling fast food stretched by quaint shops that offer juicy citrus fruits, and wood carved crafts for creative home woolen decors and terracotta hangings. Scores to neat little gardens and orchards, this town exits in a time wrap to an era that reminds one of the 19th century.
Kasauli, till date has maintained its original flora and fauna. A cross bow of pine and oak trees encircles the town. Kasauli is a romantic retreat fragranced by its forest wealth of chir pine, rhododendrons, willows and oaks. Ideal for weekend travelers, it is more of a laidback destination. The wild deer ‘Ghoral’ and jackals are said to be very common in its nearby forests which are home to Chir pine, Himalayan oak and huge horse chestnuts trees. You can also trudge up the surroundings, inhaling the crisp air.
Kasauli, once was an integral part of the Gurkha expansion during the 19th century. After defeat of the Gurkhas, Kasauli became a major military transit and base for the British. During the first battle of Indian independence, Kasauli had a remarkable increase in the influx of Sepoys who took active participation in the mutiny. Charming and quaint, sober and quiet, Kasauli is situated at an altitude of approximately 1930 meters above sea level. Kasauli’s aura lies in its military past and religious traditions. Long back Colonel VR Mohan started the famous Mohan Meakin Breweries in 1967 here at Kasauli. He passed away in 1973 leaving behind a legacy of famous world leader brands.
The scenic beauty and serenity of the place along with its warmth and friendly people, makes it even more appealing. The quiet place circumference with gabled houses and cobbled pathways differs much from its sister hills and generates curiosity for everyone who visits. You find manicured lawns with a number of Christened kitchen gardens with pruned plots. Many landlords proudly display their property with British names earning a different place of its inception. This provides amazing landscapes in subtle ways to its tourists. Narrow winding Sanawar School and the Doordarshan TV Tower roads here offer
gorgeous and panoramic views of the open plains of Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh at night and the silver lining of River Satluj flowing through them. One can see Choor Chandni peak, the ‘Mountain of the Silver Bangles’ where snow shines at night as a bangle trickling down the hill. The Upper and Lower Malls run through Kasauli’s vertical length. According to a few, the Mall was only meant for the British gentry and to a few highly placed Indians. The Cantonment has not changed much with a stagnant population since the last few decades. Kasauli became famous for its cleanliness and attracted an annual influx of military personnel, besides a large number of tourists. It is surprising to know that a majority of the locals are unaware of Kasauli’s glorious past. What the people know today is the Church and the Man-ki Point, Sanawar School and the Kasauli Club, Gulab jamuns and the Bund Samosas!
As you run up your sleeve to the meandering roads toward the Kasauli Club, you notice the 130 sky high Doordarshan TV tower clearly marking Kasauli hills from Chandigarh and Mohali. Next to Thimayya Marg, a name famous to the olive brats is the posh Kasauli Club for the vintage classics who spend a weekend to go back to old times. Founded in 1880 as the ‘Kasauli Reading and Assembly Rooms’, it was later converted into a Club. Famous for its six tennis courts, its lavish teas and gala Saturday Nights, the club saved by the breadth of its predecessors, it survived to celebrate a centenarian. At the heart of the upper mall is the famous Central Research Institute originally known as the Pasteur Institute.
Established in 1904, it was founded by Sir David Semple producing vaccines for anti-rabies, measles and polio.
The Lawrence School at Sanawar is believed to be one of the world’s oldest co-educational institutions in the world. Established in 1847 as an orphanage for children of the British Indian Army personnel killed during wars, it boasts of alumni namely, Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat former CNS and 2/Lt Arun Khetarpal PVC, a 1971 war hero. Kasauli also is the birthplace of Anglo Indian author Ruskin Bond and is home to the Indian author Khushwant Singh who visits here in the sands of time.
You can always pass by the glittering brass and swords of the Flag Staff house of 95 Infantry Brigade. At the junction of the Malls lies the Military Hospital. A common home to hymns and merry tunes is the famous Christ Church built
in 1853, which is the oldest in Himachal. The Church contains Spanish and Italian imported stained glass windows depicting Christ, Mother Mary, Saint Barnabas and Saint Francis. The Baptist Church also situated here is considered a unique example of colonial architecture of the British era. The façade of the Church is stunning with its sundial mounted bird bath on a sturdy stone pillar.
Kasauli remains a cantonment where the Armed Forces are a living presence; one reason why brass tacks and premises glitters and shines. The heart of Kasauli, mercifully, has not been overrun by hotels and little residential boxes. The Cantonment board controls most of Kasauli with point to point information to go getters and peak rovers who drive amidst Kasauli landscapes, “Rejuvenate Yourself and Relax. Enjoy the scenic beauty. Leave Kasauli clean and so others may enjoy it too. Look beyond and you see beauty, look down and you see litter, what a shame!”
Kasauli history goes back to the ancient epic Ramayana. As per the legends, Kasauli originated at the time of the Ramayana war between Lord Rama and the Demon king Ravana. When Lord Rama’s younger brother Lakshmana was injured in the war, Lord Hanuman was asked to get the Sanjeevani Bhuti, a medicinal herb from the Himalayan ranges. Hanuman rather carried the entire mountain and on his way back placed his left foot on a hill here, famously known as the Manki point. Monkey Point, a hill which derives its name from Rishi Man-Ki who used to worship an idol of Lord Hanuman and later the summit was crowned with a small temple dedicated to Lord Hanuman. Kasauli subsequently became a habitant. This temple lies within the confines of an Air Force Station and is subject to its security restrictions. The Hanuman Chalisa hymns ingrain you with positive vibes on a 500 meter staircase towards the Manki. At the footsteps of the Air Force Station, you probably get more inspired and lured to an IAF publicity hoarding that catches your attention to fit the bill. It is so believed that way back in the 17th century when the political scene was unstable and unprecedented, the Rajput families from Rewari and its neighboring areas fled their homes, migrated and settled in the lower
Himalayas. They built their homes and raised their flocks in a small village called Kasul because of a nearby spring. Today, a water reservoir rests on this spring and Kasul has evolved into the modern day Kasauli. Other versions from centenarians submit that Kasauli comes from Kausalya, a mountain stream flowing between Kasauli and Jabli. Given the abundance with which the hills of Kasauli bloom from spring to autumn, this could well be the truth. Not to mention and not a miss would you rise to the sunrise and go to bed to a sunset point? Lover’s lanes and Malls like any other hill station are core to Kasauli too! People here are friendly and seem to enjoy the most of the beauty of its verdant hills. You feel the warmth of genuine humanity with its pleasant nature. During winters on a stroll through the lanes of the town, you might not find any people for a large stretch in one go. The mesmerizing beauty of mother nature in the suburban Himalayas is worth a hike at the quaint Pine Mall Cantonment, Kasauli!
The author is a serving officer in the Indian Air Force.