My friend Bulbul Singh, artist, poet, apple-grower, ad. Man, tractor salesman, teacher, has come down to Bombay from his applevalley of Kulu. This time not with apples, but with his latest bag of paintings, on display and-more important-sale at the Taj Art Gallery.
And every time he comes top Bombay, he brings with him the whiff of the mountain air, silver sunries and golden sunsers, the smell of green orchards and the pines beyond, the feel of the mountain snows.
Himachal Pradesh, beyond doubt, is the most beautiful state in the country. You may keep your Kashmir. I remember a ride to Dalhousie along rain washed roads, often, covered in mountain mists. The ST bus, from Amritsar via Pathankot, climbed into the sure-footedness of the goats scrambling up the ridges on the sides of the road as the bus approached them.
It was the cheapest holiday I have had and the most peaceful. I stayed in a hotel at the end of whose garden the land dropped several thousand feet into a valley of geometrically-squared fields. And all through the day strange, soft sounds emanated from the valley. The thonk of wood being cut, dogs barking, babies crying. The sounds carried up through the clear mountain air.
My room was a suite, a verandah, where I sat and had weak tea in the mornings (all through the north they do not know how to make tea \, not even in Darjeeling home of some of the most famous tea in the world), a large bedroom with an authentic wood fireplace, a dressing room leading into the bathroom. And the price was Rs. 35 per day with meals.
And it was not all those many years ago. It was November, the end of the season, the hotel was empty and about to close down for the winter. The owener was returning to Delhi with me, his last guest. Actually, there were a couple of lawyers, come up for the weekend from Pathankot, they were staying in rooms, not suites, and they were paying Rs. 15, without food.
I ate alone in a vast dining room, alone, waited on by the entire staff. And every meal ended with either raw apples or stewed apples or apples with cream or apples with cream and jelly.
The mornings were bright and sunny, the sunshine reflecting on the snow-peaks around, but to wards evening there would be thunder and lightning, followed by rains. I would listen to the radio, the high mountains helping to catch strange stations, the in clement weather further helping the reception.
I have never been to Kulu, the valley of goods and apples. Perhaps, this year I will go there, call on Bulbul Singh, the apple king. Mean while, I can see him at the Taj Gallery.