#10. Slow Travel in an Idyllic Village in Chamba
Slow travel in the mountains, a Himachali delicacy, and some silver linings.
Have you ever dreamt of escaping to the mountains for an extended period of time? Waking up to the sight of the sun rising from the horizon, listening to the sound of the river flowing down the mountain, discovering a new walking trail every day, and watching the stars twinkle at night?
I spent a month in the mountains back in September. Away from city traffic, pollution, and crowds, I was able to soak in the serenity of an idyllic village called Maira in Chamba, Himachal Pradesh.
Tucked away in the middle of an apple orchard is Gaddi Trails Ecolodge, a verdant and homely place run by my friend, Yuvi. I had been meaning to take a long-ish trip to someplace quiet for a while. I wanted to get some long-due writing done and this place seemed perfect for my needs. While I had initially thought of doing a solo trip (a self-curated writing retreat of sorts), two of my friends joined me — one for the entire month and the other for a week. What made it special was that I was travelling with both of them for the first time — Pallavi, a friend of 12+ years, and Dharmik, a friend of 5+ years (both ex-colleagues-turned-friends from different workplaces). Having mostly done solo trips in recent times (pre and post pandemic) this was a pleasant change for me. The 14-hour drive passed by in a breeze and the parathas at Murthal fuelled us for the long but scenic journey ahead.
Our first few days at Maira were spent settling in, adjusting to the change of weather and environment. Mornings were meant for doing our respective work — Dharmik was working a full-time job while I had readings and assignments pertaining to my public policy course. Evenings were for slow, leisure walks by the river or to the waterfall, sometimes by myself. On days when Dharmik got off work early, we would drive a little further away to catch the sunset or simply take in the pine-covered mountain ranges along the winding roads. Cut-off from mass tourism, this part of Himachal felt like a blessing.
The homecooked food made by Deshraj ji (the chef and caretaker) at the lodge was delicious — a simple dal, roti/rice, sabzi, and Himachali chukh on most days. Once a week, we had pizza night where we devoured woodfired pizza and gin around a bonfire in the garden, while post-dinner rituals included endless rounds of Uno and Shithead (a fun card game we learnt on the trip).
More about Gaddi Trails here: Gaddi Trails: A Beautiful Eco-lodge In A Lesser-known Part Of Chamba, Himachal Pradesh
The reality of working from the mountains
I’ve wanted to experience slow travel for a long time and, in fact, shifted my professional focus from project management to content writing and strategy for this very reason a few years back. However, I soon realized that long-term travel that is more than two weeks long but less than a year can be quite expensive, especially if you want a comfortable stay with good Internet connectivity, basic amenities, and away from tourists. This meant that I continued to work from home even while working remote jobs.
Cut to September when I moved on from my full-time job with a tech startup and wanted to travel somewhere peaceful to get some personal writing done. Gaddi Trails achieved that perfect balance between affordability and comfort. I had to spend a part of my time studying and attending virtual classes, but I also got time to meander down the mountain roads, bask in the sun, read books, and write.
The most important aspect of working from the mountains is of course Internet connectivity. We had Jio dongles and Airtel mobile hotspot and managed well with these for a month. On weekends, we took off to places that were a few hours’ drive away, such as Khajjiar, Padri Jot, and a helipad in Salooni (where we played badminton!). Weekdays were more work-focused.
The great realization for me though was the need for discipline when it comes to remote work while travelling. On many mornings, I just wanted to sit in the garden and keep looking at the mountains in front of me instead of studying for class. My friend, Dharmik, often had to forego evening walks to the river and waterfall because of work calls, and there were some days we stayed in all day because we were so busy with our respective work, despite the tempting mountain trails beckoning us.
With regard to my writing goals, I had imagined I’d be super productive amidst picturesque surroundings but I found it quite challenging to focus and put in the hours required to get work done. It felt like a holiday but not a holiday; a workation that was relaxed but not as productive as I would have liked it to be. Setting a rough schedule for meals, work, and leisure hours helped, but even then it was challenging. My conclusion was that I enjoy slow travel but I prefer keeping work and leisure travel separate so that I can focus on each individually.
Weekends at Padri Jot
Since Sunday was the one day we were all free, we made two trips to Padri Jot (or Padri Pass) during our stay. It is the main tourist attraction near Maira and is located on the Bhaderwah-Chamba National Highway, close to the Himachal-Kashmir border. A mountain pass with green meadows offering stunning views of the valley ahead, it’s a place that is not to be missed if you’re in this region. The Gaddis (shepherds, cattle herders, fruit gatherers, hunters) camp here in the summer months and move down to the valley in the winters.
The meadows make for a great picnic spot — you can walk up and down the slopes to build an appetite, find a spot with a view for lunch, watch sheep grazing at a distance, and take a nap while the sun is still out. It can get pretty hot in the summer and cold in the winter post-sunset, so it’s best to visit in the day and leave before sunset.
A Himachali Delicacy
My favourite part of our month-long stay was undeniably the Himachali Madra we got to eat. A curd and legume-based curry cooked in ghee, it is a Himachali delicacy that is typically part of Dham (langar or celebratory feast). The dish follows Kashmiri cooking style with Himachali flavours, making it truly unique to the region.
According to folklore, Madra was first prepared in honour of Lord Ram, while others claim that the dish finds mention in the Mahabharata as well. It is also believed that the dish was invented in the royal kitchen of Chamba.
While the rendition we had was made using rajma, it is also made with chickpeas. Rich, flavorful, heavy, and best eaten with rice, make sure you have time for a nap afterwards!
The Art of Slow Travel
The best thing about living in the mountains for a month is that the pace of life — and the mind — invariably slows down. It’s possible (and easy) to spend silent moments looking up at the sky — to catch the sun, the clouds, the moon, and the stars in all their glory. To listen to the birds chirping, to watch the flowers bloom. To notice small changes in the environment, and to take in time — one moment at a time.
Slow travel allows us to experience life slowly, mindfully, deeply. And the hope is that this eventually extends to our life back in the city in small but significant ways over time.
I’ll leave you with Billy Joel’s beautiful song titled, Vienna, which reminds me of my time in Maira:
Silver Linings of 2021
I launched this newsletter in April 2021 on a whim. Ten issues later, it has 300 subscribers! If you’re one of them — thank you. Also, a special shoutout to Ashish Clifford, Ashish Goel, Sriman Kota, and Rajeev Reddy for the coffee that fuels these posts — it means a lot.
I’m also delighted to share that this past year I got to write three articles for Lonely Planet. I never imagined this would happen and feel lucky that it did in an otherwise dreadful year! Sharing the links below in case you would like to read them:
This hidden village should be on every experiential traveller’s bucket list
Three Offbeat Experiences in Ladakh
What’s more, I got invited to The Musafir Stories podcast where I spoke to the wonderful hosts, Saif and Faiza, about my trip to Nagaland. Being on a podcast is completely out of my comfort zone but I chose to give it a shot anyway — because why not! I hope you will listen to the episode.
As we enter a new year and reflect on the year that was, make ambitious plans and resolutions for all that we want to ‘fix’ in our lives, I hope we can also take a moment to celebrate all that we have achieved so far and are already :)
Happy New Year!
This is amazing Ila. Very well written!!