I had to get away, clear my head. The year had more than its fair share of stresses, and I was readily distracted to the point where reading, writing and thinking were more difficult than ever before. My concentration had been diminished.
It was early May. I had arranged a house trade in the Dorsoduro section of Venice for a couple of weeks, followed by time in Switzerland: Five days in a remote farmhouse in canton Uri and then a week in Vals, in canton Graubünden. I had been to all these locales and properties before – the summer prior and the one before that, too – and wanted, I thought, to repeat the experiences.
As the summer approached, I realized that neither Venice nor Switzerland would address my need for clarity.
So I sent an email to my friend Anita Gurnani, who runs Format Travel, based in New Delhi. She had organized a trip I’d taken with my family through Rajasthan four years ago.
“I know just the place,” she said. “I’ll send you photos, you’ll love it.”
I have to admit that my only trip to India had not been all that pleasant: Hours of daily driving, touring and the opposite of clearing my head. I had been overwhelmed by the sights, smells, sounds and tastes, but at the same time I felt cut off from the narrative of lives I watched unfold. I wanted to return to India to clear my head of that earlier visit.
The location? Mashobra. I’d never heard of Mashobra.
Situated approximately 250 miles east of Lahore, Pakistan, 250 miles south of Kashmir, and 250 miles southwest of Tibet, the village was one of several hill stations developed by the British Raj during their occupation of India. The idea had been to move the summer capital to Shimla, about six miles from Mashobra, to escape the heat and monsoons of the cities. Little cottages had been built, apple orchards cultivated, and churches and cobblestones constructed to create a replica of England within the Himalayas.
Anita sent photos. The place was called Violet Hill, which I found immediately poetic. The price, which included a male staff of a cook, guide/gardener and two housekeepers, was nearly the same as what my wife and I had planned to pay in Europe. I was in. I was so in.