Chateau Garli -Where Heritage Greets Luxury Travelers
On one of my road trips to Kangra, our guide mentioned would you like to visit Garli a heritage village? I was like ok let us check it out, and am I glad or what that I agreed to visit this almost abandoned yet charming village that was once the forte of Suds, the traditional merchant clan of Himachal Pradesh. This is when I first visited the Chateau Garli the lesser-known heritage village in Himachal Pradesh, that very few people visit. Travelers may not visit Garli in hordes but looking at the abandoned mansions and few occupied homes of Garli you can take my word that the Suds, the people who built these mansions were world travelers. And travel they did to far of lands, crossing the seas and visiting countries in Europe, the Middle East and also within India. Somebody, sometime during these jaunts started the trend of making huge mansions that were heavily influenced by the places the owners have visited. So you find influences from royal Rajasthan, colonial Europe, and other influences. But it would be another year or so before I will visit Garli again and stay at Chateau Garli on their invitation as a travel writer.
But this post is about my stay at the crown jewel of Garli the heritage haveli built by Lala Mela Ram Sud, some 100 years ago, ( 1921 to be precise ) that has been lovingly restored by his grandson and great-grandkids. Yatish Sud the current heir to the Late Lala Mela Ram Sud wanted to do something for his ancestral village in general and home in particular. Since he runs other excellent properties in Shimal and Naldhera, converting the heritage haveli into a luxury hotel was a natural choice. But it was easier said than done as nobody has lived in the Haveli for decades, anybody with business sense would have abandoned the project but not Yatish. After months of cleaning, scrubbing, repairing, adding modern facilities like Air Conditioning, plumbing, the mansion started looking like something that can be made liveable. But restoring the haveli was only part of the challenge, Garli is not your popular Shimla or Nainital type of hill station, it is not a tourist magnet so the idea was that the Chateau Garli, the new avatar of Haveli of Lala Mela Ram Sud should be an attraction in itself and a base camp for people exploring the Kangra Valley.
Thus came a multi-cuisine restaurant, a curated heritage walk to the village around and finally came THE POOL, with a sunken bar in the pool. Yes the pool! oh the pool! Ah the pool! This pool is definitely the highlight of any visit to Chateau Garli, large enough to swim around yet small enough to not to intimidate even a non-swimmer, the pool invites you to take a dip or just sit back and relax in the waters with a drink in hand as you enjoy your day practicing the lost art of doing absolutely nothing. But the best part of the pool is enjoyed after sunset as the “Dhinchak Disco” lights are turned on and it changes color with every passing moment.
Like I said earlier it is a bit difficult to categorize or define the architectural style of mansions of Garli, as the traveling Suds were influenced by many styles and the same can be observed at Chateau Garli in Kangra. While you have European style roofs and facade, you have colorful glass windows that are inspired by colorful windows of many a middle eastern, Persian, Moroccan and Spanish Mosques. As you enter the Chateau you see a central courtyard with a small Tulsi plant occupying the center of the main verandah. Hmm, a European style mansion with a Tulsi installed in the central courtyard, you mutter to yourself as you are ushered to your room right opposite the pool. The rooms continue the display of multiplicity of cultural influences, without any apology, while you have all the modern facilities you have heavily carved wooden poster beds, grandma-style dressing-table that may have been part of the dowry of a shy Kangra Bride many moons ago.
The room grows on you but the cool waters of the pool invite you as you look out of your colorful windows and the staff mentions they have made” Aloo Parathas” for you. Well, it is tough to say no to the call of ” Aloo Parathas” the room will have to wait you tell yourself and walk down to enjoy some hot tea with Parathas as the pool winks to you to come and take a dip.
Every nook and corner of the Chateau Garli has had its brush with history, from the many ceramic pickle jars strewn around in the verandah to the large glass of Lassi that is served to you were once part of the household items of Lala Mela Ram Sud. As I admire my lassi glass closely I can read the name of the owner on the brass glass itched like it was the tradition in those days. I shiver for a moment, partly as I hold the cold glass but more so because Lala Mela Ram Sud was the gentleman who accompanied Mahatma Gandhi to sign the original Simla Pact better known as Gandhi-Irwin Pact, as I am informed while I admire a Black and White image of Bapu Gandhi coming out of the then Viceregal Lodge in Shimla.
What to do around Heritage Village of Garli in Kangra Valley Himachal Pradesh?
Like I mentioned Garli is not your typical hill station, where you stroll on mall road and meet the very same people you were running away from in your hometown. A visit to Garli has so much more to offer that you can easily spend a few days exploring the many relatively unknown gems around from the nearby and better know heritage village of Pragpur to the famous, yet rarely visited Rock Cut Masrur Temples. Then within driving distance is the famed Kangra fort that has a history going back to more than 2000 years and was built and rebuilt by Katoch Kings of Himachal.
But your best experience around Garli will be to walk around the village, first with one of the staff of the Chateau Garli as your guide and then a few more times on your own. On each visit, you will discover a new aspect of Garli, a mansion here, a ruin there a chatty shopkeeper inviting you to check the goods to a stoic baker making biscuits the good old wood-fired way in the local bakery.
But all that is for another blog post as I want to keep this post focused only on the Hotel that is Chateau Garli. But let me give here a quick list of places that you can visit around Garli
- Pragpur Heritage Village
- Kangra Fort
- Masrur Rock Cut Temples
- Pong Dam Reservoir Backwaters
- Dadasiba Radha Krishna Temple
- Shaktipeeths of Kangra Devi, Bagla Mukhi Mata, Jwalajee and Chintapoorni Mata all are within driving distance for those looking for blessings of Mata Rani aka mother goddess.
- You can also visit McLeodgunj as a half-day trip from Garli like I did if you are missing the hustle-bustle of a hill station and come back in the evening in the calm cool environs of Garli
As you walk around Garli you will realize that the Garli Suds were one of the early philanthropists of this country. Right at the entrance of Chateau Garli is a well built by Lala Mela Ram Sud, which he dedicated to the village folks who still use the water from it from the handpump added to it. In order to allow people to take water from the well Lala jee shifted his home boundary so that the well can be open and accessible to all. As you walk around the village you see Schools, a hospital, a community hall ( Naurang Yatri Niwas) now converted into a hostel for travelers and even one of the earliest piped water supply systems all contributed by the wealthy Sud families for the benefit of the community. Most of these schools etc. are still in use and are a legacy that will last much longer than the mansions around.
How is the food at Chateau Garli?
The food at Chateau Garli is influenced by Himachali, Punjabi & other North Indian cuisines. The parathas are really good and so are most of the vegetables that are grown locally including in the family farm just down the road. But you can also order continental dishes from the menu and I liked the few dishes I tried. But if you really want to enjoy your visit to Garli, ask the chef in advance to prepare the Kangri Dham a traditional festive meal in Kangri festivals and marriages. You will be left licking your fingers and asking for more. But please note it is a lot of effort to make the same so you will need to inform the chef in advance and some minimum group size may be needed.
Now you may wonder if the food is so good then why I am not sharing any images 🙂 Well truth be told unless I am shooting professionally I rarely have the patience to click my food, I love to eat it rather than clicking my food. But for your reference, I am sharing an image of one of the simplest yet yummy meals I had sitting in the courtyard of Chateau Garli.
How to reach Heritage Village Garli in Himachal
Garli is very well connected by road, rail and air network to all the major cities in the country.
The nearest major airport to Garli is Chandigarh about 190 KM or 4.5 hours away. Though the Gaggal Airport of Kangra is closer at 60 KM flights are infrequent.
By road, it is about 8-9 hours drive from Delhi NCR ( 480 km appx )
Best way to travel to Garli from Delhi NCR
In my opinion the best way to travel to Garli is by train. You can either take the Chandigarh Shatabdi and take a cab from there or even better is to take the overnight comfortable train from Old Delhi Station to Amb Andaura railway station ( Station code AADR, please don’t confuse it with Ambala Cant. ). From Amb, Andaura Garli is about 45-minute comfortable drive and Chateau Garli will coordinate with you for the pickup and drop.
Here is the contact information for Chateau Garli
VPO 12, Garli, Distt. Kangra, Himachal Pradesh, India
Overall it was a wonderful trip for me and I got to see many places around Garli and Kangra during the trip and I will be writing about them in another blog post.
Please note this visit to heritage village Garli in Kangra was on the invitation of the management of Chateau Garli as a travel writer. All views expressed are my own