“Pack your golf clubs and get the hell out of this house. Permanently.” Under normal circumstances, this ranting would constitute very sound grounds for divorce. On the other hand, in the Sud household in Shimla, it was the extremely propitious start to a business that has been lucrative and satisfying.
You’ve heard the term golf widow. Usually muttered in self-deprecating tones, it describes Minu Sud to a T. Her husband, Yatish Sud, is the sort who always has to have his teeth into a problem, and the more intractable, the better. His gas station business was working just fine on auto-pilot, and so it was golf that took up the major part of his day. Naldhera, the nearest golf course, is 22 kms from Shimla, and between the to-ing and fro-ing, not to mention the actual playing hours, Yatish was away from the house for longish spells, much to Minu’s disgust.
On the day she uttered those historic words, Yatish walked straight to the cabinet where he stored everything he was never likely to use in a lifetime, and took out a catalogue of Finnish log-huts. In that second, he had temporarily retired from golf, a new business was born and the couple had found their métier. The Chalets Naldhera project started with Yatish’s determination to acquire land at Naldhera near the golf course, and build a chalet on the lines of one of the Finnish log-huts in the catalogue, to be nearer his beloved golf course. Hasty consultations with architects ensued, at which the couple were told unequivocally that it was out of the question that chalets be built with Indian wood.
“OK, we’ll import logs then,” they agreed. But a meeting with their bank manager convinced them that importing logs for just one cottage wouldn’t work. It would have to be a larger project. And so, the Chalets were born. Soon, seven containers of un-cut, treated logs sat in the couple’s mammoth historical property in Shimla, Mythe Estate. Acquiring the land at Naldhera caused much heartburn (as well as litigation, but let’s not go into that). The problem was that the cottage that they really wanted to build, had a roof that needed a transverse beam, and local talent did not quite extend to such a concept.
By now, all Yatish wanted was to start playing golf again, and all Minu wanted was her patch of lawn to be cleared of the containers. It was round about this time that Yatish had heard of Vipassana meditation, and set off to do the course. “I’m convinced that the ultimate success of the Chalets has everything to do with Vipassana,” proclaims Yatish with the enthusiasm of a new convert.
Years, not months, passed by, and the Suds were becoming the butt of jokes in and around Shimla. Thanks to the help and support of two friends, one of whom was in the software business, the first chalet was built, transverse beam and all. There was only one problem. Neither of them had the heart to move into it! It had taken too much time and effort. That’s when they decided to develop the project into a showcase for chalets on a sort of “You approve, we build” basis. More land was hastily acquired, and the next few chalets were constructed.
Today, with six chalets, each with its own distinctive look, a pretty central garden and a cedar (deodar) forest immediately behind (where, it is rumoured, leopards occasionally roam), Yatish finally has the freedom to play golf and Minu can at last sit in her garden. The Chalets, Naldhera have metamorphosed into a resort that walks a tightrope between a family-run resort and a professionally managed one. However, it also works as a subtle advertisement for future projects. Anyone who happens to be passing by and likes the looks of what they see, can approach the Suds to build them one.
“An all wood log-hut will cost Rs 3,000 per square foot, but the more concrete you use, the more you lower construction costs,” claims Yatish. The price, admittedly steep, is for fully termite treated, fire-retardant wood that comes all the way from Finland. In the Chalets itself, there are huts that use that use logs that are round or flat. All the huts make some use of concrete, usually in the foundations, fireplaces, toilets and exteriors. Although Yatish would cringe at the word ‘eco-friendly’, the natural gradient of the plot was not tampered with at all. In fact, what is so remarkable about the property is that viewed from one angle, a particular chalet looks like a single storeyed house with a loft room; viewed from another angle, you can see that the cottage stands four storeys high.
There are only two double rooms in the Chalets. Everything else is a cottage or an apartment. The former has a loft with a steeply sloping roof and just enough space for a mattress on the floor, albeit an extremely luxurious mattress. Apartments are built on one or two floors, depending on the plan, but have no loft rooms. They are located on the ground and first floor of each chalet, and so use more concrete than the all-wood third and fourth cottage floors. And unless the guests in your chalet set up a 20,000 watt rock concert, you’re unlikely to suspect their existence once you get into your room for the night. Bathrooms are made of wood – only the floor is tiled. And Yatish’s natural exuberance sets the tone for the resort: most guests become best friends with one another on the first evening itself, especially as they line up by the barbecue pit: food in the Chalets is good, but the barbecue gets top billing.
There’s a conference room (the Chalets is a hugely popular venue for team-building conferences) with a huge TV in it, where to Yatish’s eternal disappointment, most visitors head at sundown to argue about which DVD to play. But TV apart, the best part of the Chalets is that there’s nothing at all to do. You’re forced to read a book, walk about in the garden or in the forest behind the property (leopards make themselves scarce in daylight) or play golf. Of course, if you’re attending a conference, you day is more or less chalked out for you. Then there are the trips you can make to Shimla. Most visitors drive up in their own cars, but for those who don’t, you have to give the reception an hour’s notice to call for a taxi.
All this would have been quite enough for anyone else. Yatish, however, is made of sterner stuff. What he’s looking forward to is building an indoor heated swimming pool and a spa on the premises. All Minu can do is sigh. Gustily. Ends
100 kms from Kalka, 140 from Chandigarh. The road to Shimla is good (hill conditions all the way, with parts prone to landslides during the monsoon). At Shimla, expect agonizing traffic jams at Sanjauli Tunnel, unless you take the highly recommended by-pass, 6 kms longer, but through less crowded roads. The road deteriorates rapidly out of Shimla, all the way to Naldhera. If you’re taking your driver along, dormitory accommodation and meals are available 5 minutes away from the Chalets Naldhera. You pay Rs 100 per night; the Chalets pay the rest.
Best time to visit: April to October. Summer months are the most crowded, but those in the know plan their visit specifically for winter for the solitude and silence. You can play golf at one of the oldest golf courses in the country. Clubs and temporary membership are available.
Tariff (package for two persons for 2 nights/3days with breakfast and dinner buffet) inclusive of taxes
Double room Rs 7,666
Apartment Rs 8,666
Cottage for 4 persons Rs14,666
Tariff for room only per day for two persons
Double room Rs 2,900 plus taxes
Apartment Rs 3,700 plus taxes
Cottage Rs 5,700 plus taxes
Kishore, as far as I can tell, the name of the resort is the Chalets Naldhera. I’ve checked with Anu and she’s confirmed it. Please use whatever upper/lowers you wish to give it a more correct look.