Kashmir Cottage, contrary to what the name suggests, is located not in Kashmir but at the end of a sleepy road turning left off the main thoroughfare connecting McLeod Ganj, or Molo Ganj as it is known to the local Tibetan population, and the main town of Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh. The road branching off to the cottage is narrow and winding; with thick vegetation on both sides and nearer to the cottage you are met by signs of ‘Slow Down Children Playing’, ‘Mind the Flowers’ and ‘No Horn’. The relevance of these signs, urging one to be sober in general, becomes apparent when one realizes the claim to fame of the Kashmir Cottage – this used to be the residence of the 14th Dalai Lama’s mother, Dekyi Tsering. Now, it is owned and run as a guest house by the Dalai Lama’s sister-in-law, Rinchen Khando Choegyal and the youngest of his 4 brothers - Tenzin Choegyal, himself a revered Rinpoche of the Tibetans, and fondly known as TC by the locals.
The entire cottage complex is very peaceful, apart from the objections of TC’s dog to guests returning late in the night, as I sheepishly experienced once, and to some unidentified occurrences early in the mornings, which a bleary-eyed guest complained about at breakfast one day. It is the ideal getaway for people wishing to go on the ‘do nothing’ or solo vacations because in case you get tired of doing nothing or being by yourself, which often ends up being the case, you can find plenty of things to do in and around the place.
Until then, you can spend the days waking up late, lingering over breakfast, lounging on the lawns and enjoying the sun, fresh mountain air and gorgeous views of the Kangra valley, with the two house cats for company. If you find yourself craving company of the non-feline kind, you can saunter into the large, airy and very clean kitchen and chat with the gaggle of Tibetan and Ladakhi women who take care of guests at the cottage. They’re shy but persistence pays off and you’ll have a friend by the time you leave the place. You feel well looked after in their hands, especially when on retiring to your room at night you find a hot water bottle tucked away in your bed, warming it in anticipation of your arrival. Not to mention being well fed; the meals that the kitchen dishes out, especially the local Tibetan cuisine, are delicious and on the favorable side of the thin line that divides momos and thukpa that are ‘not quite there’ from ‘so good’.
The cottage hosts some interesting guests as well, all of whom seem to have become patrons of the place through word of mouth since the Kashmir Cottage hardly advertises itself, which is just as well considering it is not the typical holiday hotel where you can arrive with a noisy family or bunch of friends in tow. There is nothing proclaiming the expectation of a certain level of sense and sensibility from the guests but something about the place just draws these out of you. A good idea of the kind of frequent travelers to the Kashmir Cottage includes a couple of scholars working on a translation of the Tibetan epic Kesar, due to be published shortly; and a group of film makers working on a documentary on the Dalai Lama. So if you’re not the shy type, you can look forward to some interesting conversations over meal times in the dining room.
Also in the dining room, lining its walls, is the in-house library. Built mostly with the help of contributions from previous guests, it has a reasonably good selection of books and magazines, including some old editions of the Readers’ Digest and National Geographic. “Birds of Kangra” by Jan Besten proved to be a very useful reference point for me since the cottage premises allow spectacular sightings of some of the most beautiful birds known to the Kangra valley. The Yellow Billed Blue Magpie, the Great Barbet and the Blue-throated Barbet are regular visitors and I was even rewarded one day by a sighting of the beautiful Kalij Pheasant, near the water tanks close to the staff quarters, as I sauntered up the wrought iron staircase to my room.