Ever dreamed of waking up in the mountains and opening your curtains every morning to postcard-like views of green pine and spruce trees? Or being completely cut off from the world for just a little while, only to be thousands of miles away, wrapping a shawl closer around your body when your home-city is reeling under sweltering heat?
In fact, when a wishful plan to visit Himachal Pradesh began taking shape, I couldn’t believe it was happening until the very morning of my journey. And then… there I was, living a moment I hadn’t envisioned, in Fagu!
Fagu, located 20 kms from Shimla, is one of India’s many ‘Queens of the Hills.’ I say ‘many,’ because I’ve heard the term also being used for Mahabaleshwar, Mussorie and Darjeeling, and I’m not sure who the real queen is.
Anyway, maybe it was the sweet fragrant air of apple trees mingled with the gentle smell of wooden rooms, or the deep green mountain foliage – but it all seemed unfamiliar. Fagu, and NorthMoon Homestay, my home for a few days, still felt like a secret, and I was beginning to love it. Looking at Himachali women walk on potholed streets in their colourful attire and tweed waistcoats, their oblivion to the outside world and me, a stranger in theirs, left me feeling like I could blend in, unnoticed.
NorthMoon Homestay is among the best places to stay at near Shimla. If you’re following me on Instagram, you’ll know that I love staying in close proximity to tourist hotspots (for the great food and energy), but far enough to experience local living in all its authenticity. And that’s why I found NorthMoon to be a total gem. Although it takes around half an hour to get to dingy, crowded Shimla, don’t worry, the drive is a picturesque one. You will have to turn in to on a steep-ish dirt road when you cut off from the main road. While there is parking space at the bottom of the hillock on which NorthMoon is located, it is not wheel-chair friendly as one will have to climb up short rocky pathway to get there.
If you wish to escape urbanity for wildly pristine hills, Fagu’s NorthMoon is the place for you! Run by a cute Himachali husband-wife duo, Suresh and Indira Sharma, it strikes a good balance between home-stay and hotel. Currently, in its 8th year, it comprises of one three-storey building with 3 rooms in total, but there is another wing under construction. A dining area is located in the next wing and is a warm, inviting space if you wish to dine there and mingle with other travellers. They do have an open-air dining area too, but the nights were too chilly and days were too warm to enjoy it.
With one room located on one floor, my space had all the privacy of a home. A balcony running from end to end offered views of poetic sprawls of apple orchards, covered in white nets to protect them from hailstones. Inside, various printed rugs on the floor added colourful bohemian touches to its wooden interiors. It didn’t take long for me to park my bags in the cupboard, switch on the TV and set up my laptop on the work desk. You never know when inspiration could hit a South-Indian beach girl gazing at the misty hills.
The washroom was basic, but clean. Hot and cold water, a towel and toiletries of questionable quality were provided. I’d wake up with sunshine streaming through my windows, thinking it was noon, but in reality, it was only 5:30 AM – it was that bright and hot, that early in the morning! The curtains did little to block out the brightness, but at night, the lighting in my room was a little too dim to read a book.
Get a taste of home-cooked Himachali cuisine when you travel to Shimla or Fagu and tuck in to a meal or two here. The food is cooked in the family kitchen and like any good guest, it is best to inform the host what you’d like to eat well in advance for them to plan and source ingredients.
I tried the simple non-veg thali at Rs. 250, comprising of rice, dal, roti and a veg dish with dahi and salad which wasn’t anything to write home about. The next night I tried a local ladyfinger preparation and roti which was much tastier (and cheaper). And fitting the location and culture, a supply of tea and coffee is provided all day on request – simply catch the staff’s eye as he walks around in the garden and he will know what to bring you.
If you work on the move, like I do, you’ll fine NorthMoon’s Wi-Fi to be excellent during the day, but slow during the night, probably as all other guests connect to it once they’ve retreated to their rooms. Mr. Sharma is a great source of local info as well, so if you’re new to the area, chat him up for some local tips and pleasant conversation.
Northmoon promises off-beat travellers a cosy stay, necessary facilities and home-made food – an experience that is moderately priced as compared to other stay options in Fagu and Shimla. Owing to it’s great location and facilities, it is definitely worth it. It is a great place to come to when you tire of the growing commercialization of Shimla and wish to experience Himachali hospitality. After spending just 3 days at the property, I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of sadness as I left this quiet hideaway.
Have you ever been to Shimla or Fagu? Let me know where you stayed in the comments below, I’d love to give it a try while I’m still in Himachal Pradesh. Comment below and let me know!