Gunehar: Where & Why
On a visit to Palampur last summer, at the urging of those at Norwood Green I found myself headed for a day-trip to village Gunehar, hitherto unheard of. Located in close proximity to Bir, largely known as a paragliding destination when twinned with Billing – an activity I have not yet had the desire (read courage) to experience. You see, my sense of adventure extends far beyond the pale, to the palate. Wolfing down meals at all sorts of dubious places works just as well for me, if not my innards. Indeed my aim even that day last year was to locate this cafe, supposed haven of culinary treats that its owner Frank Schlichtmann created himself. In that sense, it was a wasted effort; a hot coffee and hurried chat across the cab boot was all I got.
Then, on a repeat visit this year I discovered there was a lot more to this sleepy Himalayan hamlet. Listing here, in no particular order, the 4reasons why it is worth every minute of the near-eight-hour drive from Chandigarh. For one, the 4tables Cafe dishes out some truly divine, home-cooked, wholesome fare in order to justify its worth and popularity. I confess the conjurer had me at first bite…of a delicately herbed baked chicken in a beer reduction served with potato and spinach gratin. His breakfasts – a variety of cheese, fruits, freshly baked buns, choice of eggs – all designed to take you through the day with nary a sign of hunger pangs. Greed yes, pangs no. The presence of a wood-oven out-front points at his willingness to play pizzaiolo-with-aplomb when it takes his or the guests’ fancy. Yes, Frank can cook.
The 4rooms Hotel is new, a welcome addition to Gunehar as part of the 4tables Project. Housed in a mud-walled and low-roofed traditional home with a wraparound veranda, none can tell by looking at its gaily painted walls and cheery furnishings that it was once a charred shell – an inferno victim – before receiving its present makeover. The restoration has been thoughtful and in step with environmental concerns. The comfortable rooms on both levels are real cozy, outfitted with all the essential thingamajigs, and en suite bathrooms with modern plumbing. A spacious courtyard lends itself to much stargazing or sun-soaking depending on time of visit. Recommend you catch a full moon on its trajectory across the inky sky some day.
Why I didn’t get a chance to review his skill in the kitchen last visit was Frank’s involvement with ShopArt – an initiative to fill empty shops with art wherein participating artists were to incorporate the village and villagers into their creations. The ‘studios’ would open each day from 9-to-5 while artists went about their business as usual under the often watchful, sometimes wary, now admiring, then questioning, but mostly curious gaze of villagers as they went about their business as usual. The endeavour was to exhibit at the end of a three week retreat not just artistic creations but showcase the process of creation itself. That it was a success can be measured from the numbers that showed up during the week-long ‘exhibition’ after. That a majority were locals and residents of neighbouring villages made it a resounding one. The next edition, slated for summer 2015, is a worthy third reason.
Last on the list is a tad personal in nature. An affaire de coeur, if you will, for someone not usually in the habit of leaving her heart behind. A large frame, floppy white hair, beautiful black eyes, and a friendly becoming manner, even the most stoic would be hard pressed not to fall prey willingly. Her name is Peaches, is a six-month old sheepdog from the Bara Bangal area, and for me, it was love at first drench. She came bounding out of her bath, shuddered herself free of soapy water, and leapt up to plant her slimy welcome across my face. She is the pet-in-residence – who thinks she is human. How could I not succumb? Afflicted as I am with a special kind of love for dogs.
Note: Unmarked images courtesy 4tables Project.