I did not meet Bilbo Baggins, but his place was as private and as warm as the homely Hobbit himself. The food was cooked on slow fire, and there was just the right amount of sugar stirred into the tea. His caretakers gave us the warmest welcome.
No, I am not at Bag End, the Hobbit-hole at the end of Bagshot Row in Hobbiton. But I am not too far away from it either. I am at Chani Churani, a quaint property situated on Chakrata-Mussoorie road at an altitude of 2,276 meters in Dehradun, Uttarakhand, India.
Nestled amid a sea of wild daisies that sing along with the wind, tipsy and drunk on slanting meadows of pine, oak and rhododendron, Chani Churani is designed like an elfin hamlet of eight huts, made entirely of stone and wood and mud; stone-cobbled pathways running across the property fenced with barbed wire and wood sticks.
My first impression of the place was one of virgin, unadulterated energy, right out of a fairy tale book--- unfiltered sunlight kissing the sky scarlet at sunset, mountain air lisping the music of the primitive, blowing away at my hair and pants; and tissues of white clouds stretching and shredding away into a million shapes ---sometimes sketching an elephant, sometimes a tea pot, and still sometimes recreating the Genii King gobbling the whole of the Sun in one go.
Chani Churani is not a place where you let your wild side loose. Here you come to surrender to nature, and drink in its mystique; embrace the air, the sun and the sky as you sip on your cup of morning tea, spread out on the mat of wild daisies to capture the creation on the inside screen of your mind, or simply enjoy moments of silence with your closest company, human words losing relevance before the inarticulate nature.
The mountains remain lighted up for a long time even as the clear sky gets inky, popping up with diamonds, unvarying constellations and shooting stars. The night blanket is experienced best with a bone fire, the dying embers spilling out as many secret as are shrouded by the engulfing blackness, charged up with anticipation for a certain wildlife or a ghost to show up.
Walled in with mountains, these ancient fossilized ranges wall out the whirr of city life even as they allow for internet and telecommunication connectivity. This eco-friendly property is run entirely on solar power and rain harvested water. Huge cane baskets have been provided outside each hut for waste disposal.
Although there never is a lack of directions from friendly locals, it can sometimes get tricky and tiresome locating the property nestled in the middle of nowhere. Travelers can do with some signposts along the winding stretch leading up to the hilltop, so that they know they are on the right track.
The property is perhaps one of the best shrouded secrets of the hills, a certain elfin presence protecting its mystery and magic from the ordinary city gaze, opening its gates and thickets only to the chosen children of nature. I was one of them. Touch wood. Touch hills.
Chakrata from Jollygrant Airport, Dehradun, India (108 km.)
Chakrata from Dehradun (91 km.)
Chakrata from Mussoorie via Kemptyfall (77 km.)
Chaani from Kaalsi via Viratkhai (36 km.)
Chakrata from Delhi (320 km.)
Chakrata from Delhi via Paonta Shahib (330 km.)
2) The only way to get there is by taking the road from northern cities of India, be it Dehradun, Mussouri or New Delhi, among others.
3) Costs: Rs 4,000 per night stay at the cottage. This is inclusive of food, lodging and a bonfire at night.
4) Each cottage houses two. You could ask for an extra bed, at a cost, in case of three people.
5) We also did a slight bargaining with the owner. You could try your luck too.