The first thought that came to my mind while planning a trip to Tirthan Valley was that I must stay at Raju’s Guest House (RGH) in Gushaini, which has been highly recommended in some of the travel forums that I often browse through. Since RGH had a reputation of getting booked months in advance, I talked to Rajiv (Raju) Bharti, the owner, during the first week of December last year for 3 days’ stay in mid-April 2011. Raju did not ask for any advance for booking and there were no cancellation charges either. He, however, requested me to let him know at least one week prior to my scheduled arrival date in case I cancel the reservation. This created a good impression in my mind about Raju and set a positive tone for our stay in RGH.
Raju himself came to Mandi in his Bolero to pick up us to his Guest House at Gushaini. There was no surprise element when we walked down to get into the cable trolley one by one to cross Tirthan river to reach the Guest House as we were already aware of this arrangement. Nonetheless, it was a good beginning with fun and some adventure added to the trolley rides. We were greeted by Raju’s five pet dogs that soon became our friends and guided us from the trolley point to the Guest House. The Guest House is located at the banks of Tirthan river, about 15m above the river bed. The Guest House is facing Raju's 20-acre orchards, mostly of apple, cherries and apricot trees at the lower slopes giving way to the pine and deodar forests at the upper slopes. The moment we landed in the Guest House, we immediately fell in love this place and felt that we were going to enjoy 3 days’ stay here.
|Crossing Tirthan river on a cable trolley to reach Raju's Guest House (in the background)|
|Raju's Guest House with Raju Bharati, the owner.|
The Guest House has 5 rooms with attached bath - all on the ground floor made up of deodar and pine trees’ wood floor and ceiling with wood panelled wall, giving a feel of a log hut. But all rooms have modern amenities – attached bathroom and western toilet with 24 hour hot water and room heater. Fortunately, there is no telephone and TV in the rooms. The first floor is occupied by Raju’s family and one guest room for their relatives and friends. The guest room has a fireplace, a small library and a place for dinning. What had made this room special is that it has an attached open terrace for sit out overlooking Tirthan river, surrounding orchards and forest. Given a choice, I would have definitely preferred this room.
|View of Tirthan river from our room|
|Lounge on the left and dinning room on the right.|
The courtyard has some exotic flower plants, a bonfire place and a couple of hammocks. This is the place where Raju’s pet dogs spend much of the time. We did not have occasion to use the bonfire as there were rain showers every day in the evening and night.
The tariff for the guest house was Rs.1500/- per day per head which included bed tea/coffee, breakfast, lunch, evening tea/coffee and dinner. A typical breakfast consisted of parathas-curd, puri-bhaji, bread toasts with butter and choices of jams, choices of omelette, scrambled eggs, fried/boiled eggs, choices of home made pickles ( I counted about 10-12 types of pickle bottles lying on the dining table all the time). Lunch and dinner consisted of two vegetables, one non-vegetarian dish (we preferred fresh trout fish curry/fry most of the time), roti, rice/jeera rice, dal, salad and curd. Vegetarian soup and deserts were added for the dinner. In addition, milk and bournvita were provided for my grandchildren – morning, afternoon and post-dinner. Varun, Raju's son, was kind enough to provide us with packed assorted sandwitches on our daily outings.
|Bulbul ( in the back) and Bhalu, two of Raju's five pet dogs.|
The USP of the RGH was the awesome food prepared by Lata, Raju’s wife. The decoction coffee tasted as good as the one tasted in one of the south Indian restaurants in Mumbai’s Matunga area. At last, I had a real taste of coffee in RGH after my 28 years of travel in the Himalaya. The two types of pasta – one with cheese and the other with tomato sauce mixed with some herbs, served on our first lunch were so tasty that it was over before the main lunch was served.
Once we were inside the RGH, Varun took charge of all our comforts – housekeeping, food, outdoor activities etc. There were 15 guests ( of which 13 were ladies) and Varun admirably managed singlehandedly without any hiccups. There were no pretentions of hospitality as we normally see in a five star hotel. For Raju and his family, the hospitality came naturally to them. In our three days of stay, we never felt that we were staying in a guest house. Rather we felt that we were in our second home with our own timing for breakfast, lunch and dinner and in-between unrestricted access to kitchen to have something to munch like pastries and drink apple juice to the heart’s content.
|Part of Raju's orchards|
|Iris flowers in courtyard|
|Varun and Raju|
In my view, those who are looking for a serene and peaceful hide out, where the sound of gushing water of Tirthan river is the only distraction but the pleasant one, RGH is the place to chill out. The other options are mixing relaxation with some activities like a forest walk on the banks of Tirthan river for spotting some exotic bird life, fishing and 2-3 hours’ of treks to some nearby villages. RGH can also be base for those wishing to go for one of long treks in Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP), the entrance gate being 7 kms of distance from RGH.
During my conversation with Raju, I jokingly said that there was a common complaint against RGH. He was momentarily bewildered until I clarify that the complaints were from his prospective guests who were not able to get bookings in RGH for months. He smiled and explained that it was not the space but the manpower which was a limiting factor in expanding the room capacity. He said that he would consider adding some rooms once his second son, who presently is working with one of the adventure agencies, joined him.
If I ever get an opportunity to do some treks in GHNP, RGH would surely be my natural choice for stay.