Dak bungalows: India

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Some famous Dak Bungalows

The Times of India, Apr 03 2016

Supriya Sharma

The walls hide innumerable tales of an era gone. The misty mountains and pine trees make for a perfect setting for ghost stories and happy gatherings. This summer, liven up your hilly sojourn by checking into these imposing British era posthouses, a.k.a. dak bungalows...

Mountain travel would be in complete without surrepti tious tales shared and collected during the night halts at silent dak bungalows. The quintessential chowkidar and the `headless ghost' parables are what childhood is made of.Mountains, mystery and mammoth rest houses go hand in hand. Just like the undulating peaks and silent forests, these bungalows have withstood nature, time and history. It was in the mid-1840s that the British set up dak bungalows to relay the post or `dak' in stages across the country. These bungalows also served as rest stops for travellers.


Photographer Dileep Prakash, currently working on a detailed photo project on dak bungalows, finds the old-world feel of these rest houses very romantic.Prakash has photographed about 35 dak bungalows so far. “Their beautiful colonial architecture, remote location -often in the middle of the forest without a soul for several miles around -and the folklore that surround these spaces, charm me. I often read through the log book, which reveals interesting anecdotes of travellers from the past,“ he says.Prakash's memories of dak bungalows date back to the 1970s and early 1980s when he'd accompany his parents to these rest houses. His father's post with the Uttar Pradesh government took him , regularly around the moun tainous regions of what is now Uttarak. hand. “These were stark spaces. A little haunting when I was a child. But even then I liked their handmade nature, the unevenness of the lime-plastered walls, the locally-sourced wood and stone used in their construction and the way cob webs and spiders would hide in room corners,“ he adds.


Usually located in the most serene, less populated regions in the hills, dak bungalows open up an unseen side of offbeat hilly life for visitors. You chance upon unidentified hiking trails, hear of untouched forest coverings and drive through secret hamlets while looking for your dak bungalow. “I would have never discovered gems like Craignano and Dharanghati if it wasn't for the love of dak bungalows. They really take you deep into the jungle and give you real experiences,“ says Garry Sandhu, an avid trekker from Chandigarh. One thing that works brilliantly well with hikers, cyclists and mountain bikers is the fact that most rest houses, especial ly in Himachal Pradesh, are usually 12 km apart. If you start from Shimla, the next place where you would unwind is just 12 km away and so on and so forth. This has encouraged travel out fits in Himachal to curate dak bungalow trails.


“Most rest housesdak bungalows in Himachal with the forest department and PWD date back to the British era. A majority are over a hundred years old. Some are now connected by roads, as in the Kinnaur sector of Himachal, which is along the old Hindustan Tibet Road.And some are still within con served forest areas falling upon trekking routes,“ says Dhananjay Ahluwalia, who runs a travel company out of Shimla. The bungalows reek of ancient history and legends that you won't find in libraries. “The visitor book at Chaura rest house on the Sarahan to Wangtu trail (old Hindustan Tibet road) has the oldest entry from the year 1800, signed by a British officer. And the Deodar trees in the vicinity of The Nichar Rest House are the tallest in the area, also planted by the British over a hundred years ago,“ adds Ahluwalia. Intrigued enough? Make your booking now... Just remember, accommo dation in most Fores Rest Houses is limited Book much in advance. These bungalows offer just basic facilities.


This is a really beautiful old building in Mashobra. The whole of Craignano has a quaint old-world charm about it. Though only 13 km from Shimla, it has, thankfully, got none of the touristy trappings or pollution of its neighbour.Craignano is probably what Shimla used to be in its heyday, an idyllic hill station reminiscent of the British influence.


One Dak Bungalow that is literally built in “The Middle of Nowhere!“ The Daranghati Wildlife Sanctuary lies in the Shimla district and is near the Rampur Bushahr area. This wildlife sanctuary covers about 17,000 hectares! The whole of Dharanghati comprises a tea shop, the PWD Rest House and a Devi Mandir, which is situated on a peak, a few kilometres up. That's it.The rest house is in a pretty good state, despite the remote location.


Khadrala is not a tourist destination, but a place to dwell in mountains, where you can leave your mind behind. It is located in Rohru valley at an altitude of 9,500 feet, very close to NarkandaKotgarh area. It is one of the oldest trading centres of upper Shimla adjacent to old Hindustan-Tibet Road. It's an ideal place for peace lovers, trekkers, campers and cyclists.


The entire Kalatop Forest House (6 kms from Dalhousie) is spread on a hilltop surrounded by pine trees. The property comprises of two huts and one bungalow made woods and rocks. These were constructed by the British during 1925. There are number of trekking routes starting from Kalatop. There is a dense deodar and fir forest covering a huge area of the sanctuary. Pheasants and black bear are often spotted here.


A quaint little hill station and a cantonment area situated in Dehradun district at an elevation of 2,270mts above sea level, Chakrata is exquisitely tucked amidst conifer ous, rhododendron and oak trees. To the east of Chakrata, lies Mussoorie and on the west lies kaleidoscopic Kinnaur. The night halts in Chakrata are facilitated by picturesque FRHs at near by Deoban and Kanasar.

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