Over the last five months, I’ve been called ‘blessed’ umpteen number of times. To be able to live amidst the mountains during the lockdown has its own perks, and I truly understood the importance of this experience when I celebrated my birthday at a homestay in a quaint village.
By Japleen Kaur

A day before my birthday, two of the closest people in my life along with me were contemplating how to make my day special. I’m a sucker for birthdays, and that means every year the celebration has to get better.

Luckily, I was in Mashobra for some work and upon researching, we came across this beautiful property called Meena Bagh Homes nestled inside the woods of Ratnari, three hours away from Mashobra. And when I say inside the woods, it’s an understatement, because we couldn’t see a single person for miles from the homestay.

We were the first guests to visit this property during the lockdown and that made the owner, Sanjay Austaquite, skeptical. But a few convincing calls later, we were on the road towards Ratnari, of course, with our sanitizers and masks in place.

Soon, we were parking our car and taking our luggage out from the boot. Meena Bagh’s adorable mascot Biswa, a two-year-old bitch welcomed us along with one of the staff members. A short walk later through the apple orchard, we were standing on the premises surrounded by a blanket of misty clouds. Experiencing monsoon in the hills is literally the most romantic feeling ever.

The first sight of the room filled my heart with gratitude. I jumped on the bed and refused to get up.

View this post on Instagram

How beautiful it is to write to you, to the air, to the ocean, to the dying light of the day, and midst all of it, to you, standing by the ocean with eyes closed, hands stretched, winds in the hair, and swaying to the rhythm of these songs playing inside your head that they can't listen, only you can, only you can dance to these songs of happiness. How beautiful it is to write to this day, when nothing else matters, the chains are dissolved, the skies are stormy, and yet your soul is blue of the freedom, yellow of the smiles on summer day, and these songs that play in your head, as you sway to those tunes with eyes closed. This old indie track you once heard in a bus, when the destination was unknown and yet the journey was constantly bringing you a little closer to yourself. How therapeutic, oh how beautiful it is to repeat this word in whispers as you stand there, swaying in front of the ocean, and your old book lying on a bed in the Himalayas, in your home, while you dance in front of the ocean, on the wet sand, because your home, it's everywhere. How therapeutic it sounds, this word, you, your story, the songs you keep listening to in your head, isn't it all therapeutic, this feeling you feel within you while reading these words, the way I felt it while writing them. Because how beautiful it is, to write to you.

A post shared by Abhinav Chandel (@abhiandnow) on

The wooden flooring, indoor planters, eccentric cushions on luxe white bedding, and a study table in the corner (where I took a workshop later that day) — if ‘bliss’ had a face, it would look like this.

Meena Bagh Homes is ideal for large groups as you can rent out the entire cottage, which has four rooms each with attached washrooms. There is ample space to hang out in the common area, which is right next to the kitchen. The best part about this living area is that it has huge windows that open up to the views of the valley on a clear day.

The property has won several awards for being eco-friendly. The owner, who is also a journalist, has filled the space with decor items that are not only sustainable but also promote local culture from different regions. They also organise regular plastic collection drives in nearby villages, educate the locals and participate in building zero-waste policies.

This homestay is no less than a farmstay as it houses two cats, a couple of hens, few ducks and a handful of sheep.

Also, the wholesome meals we had at Meena Bagh straight from their farm left us content and satisfied. Zucchini, shallots and carrots that I would otherwise pass brutally were eaten by the kilo.

View this post on Instagram

The morning coffee soaked in ample sunlight, while the monsoon clouds came together to conceal the green top of mountains in front of the windows, by the bed. And that’s how the first trip since lockdown has evolved, where a small trip to Shimla, to ensure adoption of two puppies brought us to the middle of a jungle. Where along with ghost stories, we found apple trees surrounding us, while slugs crawled all across the marshy ground, as the little streams flowed between the woods and we were given strict instruction to not get off anywhere until we reached here, because the times are different, and everyone is scared of outsiders, even if they come from the same state, two mountain ranges across. And I would’ve told you the name of this place, but we came because of friends, and the place is still not open, the interiors of these mountains are still coming to terms with this new world, slowly, with the new normal. Where masks are necessary, and namastes are acceptable instead of handshakes, and while we no longer can smile at the strangers down the road, because of masks, but a simple nod tells us that we are still welcome, and the simplicity of life still remains. And until it all returns to the normal we knew, I would sit here, have a cup of coffee by the window, and watch the clouds float over those green tops of apple laden slopes, across the valley.

A post shared by Abhinav Chandel (@abhiandnow) on

The caretaker and cook Vikram Ji was all smiles at all times, telling us tales from his village while whipping up delectable meals. We also had a lovely barbecue dinner on my birthday eve with a glass of one of the finest whiskies from Sanjay’s personal collection, which he chose to pair with a scary dose of horror stories from the valley, that was enough to keep me up all night, but the comfortable bed came to my rescue.

The next morning started with a hot cup of coffee and breakfast fit for luxury travellers. Pancakes with homemade marmalade and jams, farm fresh eggs cooked to perfection and hearty aloo paranthas.

That’s how I turned 25 with the best company one could ask for and a homestay made of love.

Oh, and we decided to extend our stay as we weren’t ready to let go just yet!

Getting There: A road trip from Shimla towards Narkanda and then 30 minutes to Ratnari

Stay: INR 7,500 for a room with a discount for the third person

Website: meenabaghhomes.com 

Related: Himachal Pradesh’s Barot Offers An Experience Of A Lifetime