Solitude in apple country: Raj era hill station

Avid Anthony Shaw is not the kind of person you would expect to meet while on holiday in the hills. Certainly not with most of India's known hill stations being crowded to the point of chaos, when they resemble transit camps more than holiday spots. Tony, as David is called by those who know him, is an Australian of 40-odd years.

What makes him interesting is that he has travelled through 65 countries in the last two decades and makes for excellent conversation over a bonfire. Especially if you are 12,000 feet above sea level. Especially if you are free from the traffic and the crowds that have been the bane of places like Shimla and Nainital. Especially if you are in Thanedhar, overlooking the distant lights of small houses in a valley below.

There are still a few places in the hills that are within a day's journey of the national capital and where you can escape from the cacophony of sound and melee of a thousand busybodies rushing around on 'holiday'. Thanedhar is one such. A tiny place - little more than a village - located on the old Hindustan-Tibet Road, Thanedhar still offers to plains-dwellers what other hill stations no longer possess: peace.

The village is strictly off limits for a traveller seeking a big bash. What it does offer is an opportunity to put your feet up and unwind, while enjoying the perambulations of the sun as it rises and sets above the distant hills, unwittingly painting the horizon in all colours of the rainbow.

A log cabin at the Banjara property here serves as an ideal place to catch up with oneself, the wood absorbing the setting sun's heat to leave the cabin snug at night. And there is the evening pre-dinner ritual of bonfire conversations, where you could be chatting with companions as diverse as distinguished political commentators or adventurous climbers heading for higher altitudes.

Mornings in Thanedhar see the sun setting the valley aglow and the light reflects off nets that protect the apples that lie at the core of Thanedhar's economy. This village, after all, is the hub of Himachal's apple commerce.

The dominant variety grown here is the Red Delicious and in season, apples seem to adorn every tree. As a visitor looks out into the valley below from his comfortable perch in a log cabin, there are orchards as far as the eye can see, a wave occasionally broken by patches of forest and some houses.