I had been to Kasauli a couple of times earlier. It was the month of March, the time of the year when the weather is just perfect in the hills and rhododendrons begin to flower.
Kasauli is an idyllic hill station that is reached through a 13-km-long winding path that branches off to the left after one has traveled around 34 km on the Kalka-Shimla Highway. The town is spread on top of a ridge that looks down below into the vast expanse of the Kalka Valley and on the other side has a succession of green hills leading up to Shimla and beyond.
Not many people visit this hill station that has few hotels and still retains its small-town charm, unlike the over-commercialized and over-built Shimla, which is another 50 km from here. During summer days when the rich and boisterous crowd from the plains hit Shimla with a vengeance, Kasauli gets left out. And thankfully so. On clear cloudless nights, the glittering lights of Shimla are visible from Kasauli. From the peaceful environs of Kasauli, the lights of Shimla look distant and pleasing.
Kasauli is known more for the boarding schools it has with children from many eminent families from the plains studying here. Sanawar is one such school, situated on a hilltop near Kasauli and surrounded by tall deodars, that has had as its alumni names such as Menaka Gandhi, Puja Bedi, Sanjay Dutt and the likes. Black and white yellowing pictures of some of these famous people as school kids in Kasauli can still be seen displayed in a photo studio in the main Kasauli chowk.
I went to Kasauli on a weekend break. My stay in the British era HPTC hotel, Ross Common, was comfortable and pleasing.
In Kasauli, you go for walks. With no major shopping arcades and social indulgence on offer, going for walks is the only thing left to do as an outdoor activity. For people like me who appreciate occasional peace and quiet in the midst of nature, it is a nice thing to do.
During one of my walks, I came across a curious man. He presented an impressive sight. He was a man of small build and many years, who wore a long black overcoat, black gloves, and a black cap over a snowy white crop of hair. I passed him trudging along slowly on the Lower Mall Road. My look towards him met with a warm smile. He commented on a puppy I had found on the way from my hotel, who seemed to have developed a fancy for me and had decided to follow me on my walk. The man seemed quite eager to strike up a conversation with me. During the course of our small talk, I found his name to be Mr. Maddock, and that he was a Philipino, who had come to India some 40 years ago and was a resident of Kasauli for last couple of decades. He had rented an accommodation in the Annexe of Hotel Alisha, which is another British-era structure converted into a premier hotel. Mr. Maddock had a daughter who was a scribe and lived in Bombay. She visited him on her holidays. She was also a painter and had made several watercolours of Hotel Alisha, which hung on the walls of the hotel’s Billiard Room. Mr. Maddock taught music at one of the boarding schools in the town. He told us that he could also repair all kinds of western musical instruments.
I told him that I wanted to see the church located on the main Chowk but somehow found it locked on the two occasions that we went there. The response from Mr. Maddock was quick and laced with a knowing smile. “The priest is a drunkard. Very often he has a drink or two too many and then dozes off to sleep.”
The next day while passing by the church I found the door unlocked. The church again was a British-era gothic structure with an impressive-looking clock tower. I went in and was greeted by the priest who looked well turned out and well fed. He looked to be the kind of person who appreciates his drinks. And thanks to Mr Maddock, I knew he did. But now he seemed quite attentive and bright. No effect of the perceived last night's drinks seemed on him now. In addition, the priest turned out to be another welcoming and happy character. He was quite keen to take me around the church, explaining things. He even allowed me to climb the church clock tower, which turned out to be a very dicey task. The rickety staircase took us halfway up the tower, which had an impressive balcony looking over the Kasauli bus stand and the main chowk. The journey further up the tower was to be through a shaky feeling ladder. An attempt I decided to do away with.
During the course of my conversations with the priest he showed me a perceptibly old and impressive-looking Pipe Organ. The majestic-looking musical instrument had seemingly fallen on hard times and was in need of some dexterous attention. The priest lamented that repairing the instrument is a costly affair and they would need to get an expert from Delhi to get it done.
“Why don’t you get it repaired from Mr. Maddock. It will cost you far less and also save you time,” said I. “That drunkard,” pat came the reply for the priest. “He is always too drunk to be of any good.”
I came out smiling.