Raju’s Guest House, Great Himalayan National Park
We decided to go to Raju’s Guesthouse mainly because it was ideally located, very close to the Great Himalayan National Park and also because it had rave reviews online; we wanted to see for ourselves what the fuss was about! To our utter amazement, the place grew on us in a way we didn’t really think possible. In fact, this is the first time in my life that I have a favorite place that I would return to whenever I need to get away!
They say first impressions are the most important ones. On that front Raju’s Guest House scores quite a bit with the river crossing one has to do in a metal basket to get to it. The first day that we got to the river bed next to the road, there was no one at the other end to help us with the crossing. With no cellphone coverage and no other way to contact the family, we stood around dumbly for quite a few minutes wondering what to do next! Luckily, someone finally spotted us and Varun (Mr. Raju’s son) came out to fetch us. While precariously dangling over the rushing water, I felt like I was on a true adventure; such fun!
The guesthouse consists of about 3 or 4 rooms that are housed on the lower floor of Mr. Raju’s original home. The upper floor houses a lovely open-air sitting area, a cozy living room with a fireplace, a small dining area for four and a library with a modest collection of books and travel magazines. This was our favorite part of the house; we lounged here with the dogs, reading, warming up beside the fireplace and just relaxing.
Downstairs, our double-room was large and was completely built, from floor to ceiling (including shelves), of pine wood. It gave the place a warm, cabin-like feel, which was most appropriate for its location. A small hallway, adjoining the room, had windows that opened out to the river; a day-bed was snugly placed here. A door at the foot of the bed led to a cemented porch at the back where a couple of chairs and a coffee table were placed; the perfect place to chill with views of the Tirthan. The bathroom seemed recently updated with modern fixtures, but it maintained the rustic charm of the accommodation with slate flooring and wooden cabinets.
In front of the guesthouse lies the family’s orchard, which is filled with apple and cherry trees. Since it was cherry harvesting time, fresh cherries were always placed in large bowls in the dining hall for the guests to sample. A rustic courtyard between the guesthouse and the orchards had a fire-pit with bench seating around it. A couple of hammocks have been placed between the trees in the background. This was the best place to hang out in the evenings. After sunset, Varun lights a fire here luring all the guests to come out for a chat. It is here that we met some like-minded, fun people with whom we had really good conversations; these sessions were the best part of our stay at the Guest House.
Meals are included in the cost of stay. And what a feast they were! Lata aunty (Mr. Raju’s wife) is definitely a fantastic cook! Breakfast always included warm omelets, toasts and parathas accompanied with home-made pickles and jams; the cherry jam with chunks of cherries was mind-blowing! Lunch and dinner included salad, a couple of vegetarian dishes, a non-veg dish (mutton curry was our absolute favorite), fresh rotis, rice and dal. Dinner included a veg soup and freshly fried trout as well; a veritable treat for seafood lovers! It all ended with dessert, which was kheer or fruit custard during our stay; both were equally yummy! On our 3rd night there, since we were the only guests around, aunty made us Continental-style food in the form of pasta in a tomato sauce with cheese, grilled chicken and cutlets. Madhu and I were quite overwhelmed with the quality and taste of this spread. All food lovers must definitely stay at Guest House at least once, if only to sample Lata aunty’s cooking!
And then there are the dogs! For people like us who absolutely ADORE dogs, Raju’s Guest House is practically paradise! They have 4 dogs, each with a unique personality. Phoebe, the oldest, is shy and stays indoors most of the time; we barely saw enough of her during our 4 nights’ stay. The other 3 dogs – Yati, Bulbul and Bhalu – are always in and around the courtyard, welcoming new guests or lounging by their feet in the common spaces. My absolute favorite was Bhalu, a Labrador mix with a jet-black coat. He gave us company throughout our stay, which totally enthralled us. But he is also the most alert watchdog of the house, barking at and chasing anything unusual or uninvited within the property including birds! Bulbul is super-sweet and comparatively milder of the two. She is also far more photogenic and loves to pose for the camera. Yati is a loner and doesn’t like to be petted or touched except by Varun or his father. But he loves his walks and is always more than eager to take Raju’s guests around the village. People who don’t particularly like dogs need not worry either. None of these dogs beg for attention or get in the way; they just hang out with the guests, who can choose to ignore them if they wish!
Mr. Raju runs this place more like a homestay than a commercial retreat or guesthouse. He doesn’t bother with advertisement or even a signboard announcing the place, as he already has more guests clamoring for a stay than he would like! Moreover, he cares about his surroundings and understands the ill-effects of ‘development’ in naturally beautiful areas like Gushaini. When the state govt decided to put up a Hydro Electric project over the River Tirthan, like it has done over all the other rivers of HP, Mr. Raju went to court against them and actually won! Today Tirthan is probably the only ‘free’ river in HP running its entire course with pure, crystal-clear water!
Be it the offbeat, serene location, the sound of the Tirthan gushing past, the warm and homely service, or Lata aunty’s mouth-watering cooking, each and every aspect of Raju’s Guesthouse makes it a true getaway!
Rating: 11 out of 10 – extra points for the dogs.