Little Paradise in Hills; Aastha Home Stay
Fagu is a little known hill station, just 26 kms away from Shimla on Hindustan-Tibet highway.
Situated at an elevation of 2450 meters above sea level, Fagu is nature lovers paradise. The deep valleys of Fagu are home to scenic apple orchards and beautiful flower fields. This place is filled with snow in winters and surrounded by snow clad mountains for most part of the year. The valley is also home to tall and majestic deodar trees.
Fagu is full of fog for most part of year. That is why the Britishers named it Fagu.
Fagu is also spelled as Phagu, which is a genre of poetry in old Gujarati language. In its
lyrical form, it depicts beauty of nature during the spring. It also portrays joys and pleasures of love, fear and hopes, separation and union of lovers.
I fell in love with this little piece of heaven about twelve years ago and I have been visiting Fagu every year since then except for the COVID period. So beautiful is the place that I have been staying at the same place every year. Perhaps it was my destiny to be part of hills , valleys and soil of Fagu.
Poet Rumi says if you desire some thing strongly, the entire universe conspires to help you. When I retired from government service in 2004, I had a strong desire to zero in on a small place in hills which I could visit every year. Of course, the place had to be budget friendly.
In 2009, we planned a visit to Kinnaur in Himachal Pradesh. We were five people: myself, my wife, my son, daughter in law and our six months old grand son. We made a night halt at Fagu and stayed at Peach Blossom hotel now called the Apple Blossom.
During a visit to market, we undertook a stroll along down hill slope going into valley. It was a stunning view with the entire valley covered with white nets. We were told by locals that these nets were added to protect the apple crop. I was mesmerised by the serene beauty of Fagu. I vowed to visit this place at least for one month every year .
Fagu is the base camp for trekkers, nature lovers and botanists who wish to explore Shimla's gorgeous countryside. Fagu is filled with greenery and has a rich variety of flora and fauna. It is a perfect place for nature lovers and paradise for those who are fond of scenic beauty.
Lights in Fagu hills at night look like a necklace over the Himalayas. The lights are emitted from the settlements of the Theoga tribe which is longitudinally laid out along the slopes of the Himalayas. Above Fagu one can find the temple dedicated to the local deity of Bhantia Devta.
The temple exemplifies fine wood carvings undertaken by the local craftsmen. The place has a very thinly dispersed population which makes it a honeymooner's heaven. Kufri, just six kms from Fagu is known for its winter sports. Kufri, located between two valleys and apple orchards, is an ideal location for skiing during the winter season and an excellent picnic spot during the summer months.
This tiny hamlet overlooks the Giri Valley which has a tourist bungalow built right on its peak. If you want to explore the place, you can undertake a three-kilometre trek to Chharabra. If you do not want to go for a trek you can enjoy short rides on yaks horses and ponies. These joy rides are main source of income for many homes in villages around Kufri and Fagu.
Next year, as I was browsing through google, I spotted a home stay, just 1000 yards from Fagu market named Misty Heights. A room with kitchen was on offer for 15000 rupees a month. I could not believe my luck. I straight away booked it. I still remember. It was 25th March. I and my wife packed our luggage in our car. At night, I got a ring on mobile from owner of guest house that there has been a death in his family and he was sorry to cancel our booking.
What a heart break. But I persisted and contacted owner of another home stay on my mobile. It was Aastha home Stay, adjudged best home stay in Himachal in 2008, with a daily rent of 5000 rupees. I knew it was out of reach for me but some how by instinct, I called him and congratulated him. I asked him if he could suggest some thing budget friendly. His reply was he could accomodate me in a room on roof top of cottage with kitchenette for 15000 rupees a month. I said yes and next morning three of us, me, wife and our doggy left for Fagu.
But room on roof-top was a big disappointment. I told the owner, Naresh Sharma, that the room was too small even for my Naughty, name of our dog. As we were coming down stairs, I asked him to show me the cottage. I was just curious to know how does a cottage with rent tag of 5000 per day looked like.
Astha home stay is cottage with total wooden interiors. The cottage is located amidst apple orchards and Deodhar trees, lush green surroundings, with mountains in the background.
House of the owner, Naresh Sharma was built in typical Himachali architecture. They have cow for pure milk, butter and chach. Cottage was exactly like my dream cottage. Interiors of entire cottage were done with deodar wood. It was spacious with two fully furnished rooms, a drawing room and a kitchen with all amenities. There was a small garden in front with a swing installed. View from cottage was spectacular. There was a valley in front surrounded by lush green forests of deodar trees, apple orchards and other foliage.
From October onwards, you got view of magnificent snow clapped peaks. The biggest plus point of cottage was that it was surrounded by apple orchards. In short, it had every thing I had wished for. The Cottage was just two kilometres from town of Fagu, eight kilometres from Kufri. Even enchanting hill stations like Mashobra, Naldera and Narkanda were nearby.
Even my wife Uma loved it. In the meanwhile, Nisha wife of Naresh brought tea. We relished tea sitting on swing enjoying breath taking view. I complimented him on building such a lovely cottage but regretted that it was beyond my budget. He took his time , consulted some one on mobile and asked me how much was my budget. Nothing beyond 25000 for a month was my reply. He agreed to amount quoted by me.
It was off season but I could not believe my luck. Naresh Sharma and Nisha have four daughters. Entire family looked after us like we were their own family elders. Nisha is an excellent cook and food served was tasty and of high quality. We fell in love with the family, cottage and scenery. Astha home stay became our second home in hills. Naresh and Nisha often insisted that we should come in summers when season in Fagu was at its best.
We explained that we can not afford summer rent of cottage so will come in off season only. One fine morning, Naresh gave me a ring and said uncle, there is a surprise for you. We have built a room for you and auntie at the back of our house. Room is part of our home and now we will be able to look after you better. He sensed my hesitation and added that you just pay the monthly amount that you have been paying so far. You do not have to share any construction cost. How could an outsider do so much for you. Frankly, I could not expect such a thing even from my own children.
Naresh and Isha have four daughters: Amritanshu, Astha, Ashima and Manasvi Such unique names for village girls.
Naresh and Nisha have brilliant children despite humble village background. They study on their own without any coaching or tuitions. Amritanshu appeared for class twelfth examination last year and stood third in humanities in entire Himachal state. Her sister, Aastha secured same marks this year. Naresh and Nisha provided us opportunity to explore interiors of upper Himachal. They took us to the homes of their friends and relatives where we enjoyed authentic Himachali cuisine like Siddhu, lotte, and bhang Ki chatni. We also attended Himachali weddings in their company savouring dham ,served on special occasions only.
All the guests, irrespective of their social standing, sit on floor together and eat. No one gets up unless every one has finished his meal. Another place very close to our heart is Agyatvas, a single room home stay with kitchen in the ancestral village of Naresh and Nisha. This place is away from maddening crowd with stillness all around you. Occasionally you hear a bird chirping or a dog barking. I would call it perfect place for meditation.
We also visited Lavi international mela, held annually at Rampur. In good old days, traders used to come to this mela with thorough bred horses and other things for sale. Kings from neighbouring states came to Lavi mela for the purchase of best quality horses.
We have been lucky and god has been kind. I do not know how long we could visit this little paradise on earth. Age and decease have caught up with us. But we will always remember Sharma family, Aastha home stay, enchanting Fagu and Dev bhumi Himachal.