Text & photographs by Poyani Mehta
Holidays! Young or old all people look forward to holidays. Small weekend breaks or long vacations all are happily welcomed with open arms. Plans were being made as to which place to visit in the summer of 2005, so while browsing the Internet, reading up on reviews on Trip Advisor and going through umpteen Outlook Traveller Magazine issues, I chanced upon a lovely article by columnist Jug Suraiya on a quaint Homestay `Jilling Estate’ high up in the hills of Kumaon, Uttarakhand. Then and there my husband and I decided to go and stay for 10 days at Jilling Estate in Nainital District. It was an escape from the sweltering sweaty heat of Mumbai.
Being adventurous and lovers of nature we knew it was one of the best decision we had made and it truly was. Jilling was a little above Matial Village a difficult uphill climb on foot of around 2 kms through kaccha zig zag stone paths. Small ponies are provided for to carry your luggage and children if need be after an advance notice. Upon reaching the top we were given a warm welcome by the owner Mr. Steve Lall and his family and his handsome mountain dogs.
Mr Lall was an ex-fighter pilot and an avid biker who would often go on his jaunts through different parts of India. He ran the homestay with his wife Parvati, daughter Nandini and a handful of sturdy village helpers. From day one we were mesmerized by the beauty of the huge Jilling Estate. All around us were Oak and Deodar trees, colourful chirping birds, gambolling dogs, cool unpolluted fresh air and if the sky was clear we were lucky to do darshan of the tall majestic peaks of the Nanda Devi snow-capped mountains. Walking was all we did with our helpful guide, with a stick in hand along the meandering paths, uphill and downhill, finding exciting new spots to rest our weary legs. He had 4 to 5 cosy cottages at different levels for stay and luckily we got to stay in all. The nights were spent around warm bonfires where the guests were regaled with the interesting history of Jilling Estate, scary stories, adventurous incidents about visits from the wild nocturnal creatures like leopards and bears. Torches are a must in the mountain region where electricity can go off at any given time and we wouldn’t want to bump into one of the not so welcome wild creatures. Food served was tasty and wholesome ghar ka khana which we devoured in happiness after the strenuous walks. Most surprising was that they had a Table Tennis equipment for play at 6000 to 7000 feet above sea level and what fun we had playing. No T.V. and no mobile phones during the stay but an array of books and old issues of Reader’s Digest dating back to the 50’s was an added boon.
I remember Mr Lall saying that all people are welcome to his abode but if they want noise, crowds cold drinks (the climb up and down is very tiresome) or lavish entertainment and stay, then Jilling was not for them. You have to be ready for silence, walks and talks with the hosts he said.
We again planned a vacation to a few places in Uttarakhand in 2012, this time with our little daughter in tow and we paid an unplanned surprise visit to Jilling Estate. A phone call helped and the pony was waiting down. Meeting the Lall’s again after years brought back all the old memories which had been stored within us. Our daughter ran around without a scare since she had heard so much about the place. We mused over the happy days sipping hot tea, eating hot Maggi (specially made for Kavya) and freshly made stuffed Bitter Gourd vegetable by the ever charming Parvati Aunty.
We were lucky to visit Jilling twice, such chances do not come often and for that, we are forever thankful.
Text & photographs by Poyani Mehta
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