by Kedarnath Gupta
16 August 2010
Distict Sirmaur, Himachal Pradesh
Bhuira is a pristine village snug on the slopes of Himachal, three lush-green mountain hours away from Kalka, the closest Indian Railways will take you.
The drive uphill is itself a spectacle. Cabs are too fast and their seats too low. Take the bus. You’ll see more of the valley for longer. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a toy train chugging across a neighbouring slope.
Bhuira is off the road, off the tourist map and way off the pilgrim’s path. Thank god for that. There are no temples to set your right foot into or forts to click pictures of. No mall roads to walk up and down. Just some beaten tracks made of mud and stone.
And lots of fir clad hills that go blue at the horizon. And crisp air that makes you want to take deep breaths. And warm people who are very hospitable. And shy school children who ask you to stay longer. And houses on the edges of hilltops with a view that’s the stuff wallpapers are made of.
And the cozy little fruit-filled cottage of Bhuira Jams. Now, unless you can knock on the door to one of the houses in the village and charm the family into letting you stay the night, this cottage is your only hope. There are no hotels this side of the hill. Nobody expects tourists, remember?
Linnet Mushran, the owner who started and still runs Bhuira Jams, would like to think of her cottage more as a guesthouse. And she is indeed a fabulous host.
With two fully-furnished bedrooms for guests (there’s fiction and nonfiction in the cupboard, even a washing machine in the bathroom), sumptuous meals cooked from whatever’s ripe in the kitchen garden and riveting conversation at the table, Linnet’s cottage beats staying at a five-star hands down.
As much as you’ll find it impossible to get out of bed in the mornings, you better make it to the breakfast table by 8.30am. That’s her time and Linnet always waits for her guests, though she’ll never tell you that. And please, make your own bed.
While you’re there, besides the hills, treat your eyes to how the jams are made. To the quintals of fruit in the verandah. Local women do it all by hand. They pick, sort, slice, squeeze, stir, measure, check, pack, stamp and what not themselves. Not a machine in sight. This has meant more jobs for women in the local community.
Speak to them and you’ll realize they’re proud of what they do. And they’re brutally honest. The women don’t ever pop a piece of fruit while working nor have they ever wanted to spoon the jam into their dabbas at lunch.
You won’t have to abstain though. Samples of all jams made the previous day are placed on the breakfast table the next morning. Linnet makes it a point to taste them and insists her guests do too. She shouldn’t bother. It’s tough to keep your hands off those miniature jam jars anyway.
Ramkali, the one who heads the kitchen, makes fluffy omelets and the tastiest aaloo parathas. But if you’re too shy to trouble her early in the morning, you might have to skip breakfast if you plan to do the journey back home by road, because the only bus reaching Delhi before the end of the day (with changes in Rajgarh and Solan) leaves Bhuira at 8.30 am.