Udhampur AC Express reached Pathankot at 5.30 in the morning. It was running late by 50 minutes. The three minute halt was enough for four of us to get down with our backpacks. We had not realized in the train but it had been raining heavily. There was extreme chill in the air. As we walked out of the station in the dark, it was still pouring. The first thing we did was that we looked for a taxi stand. It was located just opposite the station. We ran to the other side of the road and inquired the charges for Gunehr. He quoted Rs. 3500. Abhinav and Dipanshu tried to bring him down to Rs. 3000. Later Parnashree and I convinced the owner for Rs. 2700. We told him we were students and did not have much to spend. No, it wasn’t a lie. It was a co-incidence that all four of us were in the phase when we had taken a break from our 9 to 6 jobs to do things that we loved and at this point of time we were all traveling on budget. Without doubt, we were students of travel and tourism. That’s what travel bloggers are. We travel to new places to discover, indulge, learn and then blog about it. This trip was all about exploring Gunehr, the 4rooms hotel, 4tables restaurant and to learn about a unique art project- SHOPART ARTSHOP.
When we had asked the taxi stand owner, ‘How long would it rain?’ He had laughed and said ‘We want it to rain for the next 2-3 days because these heavy rains have come calling after six-seven months. We had been waiting for them.’ This did not sound a good news to us. We were worried because we just had 3 days to ourselves and rains could play a spoilsport in our movement. No doubt we were disappointed and each one of us muttered a silent prayer. Parnashree was definitely more vocal about it and wished for rains to stop immediately. Within an hour, God was with us and He cleared the skies. The bright colors of the sun took over and we made our way to Gunehr stopping only once to grab some chai-pakodas at a Punjabi Dhaba. The owner of the Dhaba told us that there was a famous Shiva temple nearby and we must visit it. We went to the temple but did not go inside as we did not want to keep the driver waiting.
If you will google the distance, you will see that it takes 3 h 59 min (145.7 km) via Mandi-Pathankot Rd to reach Gunehr. We took a halt in between, thus it took 4 and a half hours to reach Gunehr. Gladly we were there in time, before 11 a.m. It was a lovely drive in the mountains and of course our lungs thanked us for the fresh air. The Dhauladhar Range in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas made it all the more picturesque. I always had a memory of Palampur from Preity Zinta’s movie and when we crossed Palampur, I was super excited. Next when we read the sign board of Baijnath, we also discussed about the famous Shiva temple at Baijnath. We decided to stop at the temple on the third day during our return. For now, stunning scenery on both the sides kept us thoroughly entertained. And ofcourse, we kept it livelier with our conversations. Kangra district is famous for Bir, Dharamshala and McLeodGanj, the seat of the His Holiness the Dalai Lama, which is almost like three hours from Bir. Gunehr is yet not known to many people. Before heading for this trip, even we hardly knew much about Gunehr.
The last turn to the left was a tricky one. The car was making its way through narrow lanes and at one point of time I was worried if we were on the right track. I asked the driver, ‘Does any boutique hotel exist here?’ He was not sure but soon we asked a man on the road for Franks’ hotel. Thankfully, he pointed in the direction that we were headed to. At the end of the village road, we found a grand house, unlike the others in the vicinity. Phew! The main gate was locked. Before we could react and reach out to Frank on his mobile, I heard a guy talking to him on phone and telling him that the guests had arrived. The lock had surprised us but now we patiently waited for Frank. In the next ten minutes, we were shaking hands with Frank and one of the caretaker of the house-Tek Chand. They opened the gate, walked us through the hotel and gave us liberty to choose our rooms. Parnashree and I decided to share and thus we choose the bigger room while the boys went for the other separate rooms. The house was done in wood and mud and it was an exclusive boutique hotel, unlike any other that I was familiar with. And the paintings that were hanging in the hotel were definitely most eye catching decor item. Once we were warmed up, Frank left for his house and asked us to join him at the restaurant soon. In the next one hour we washed ourselves to dress in fresh clothes. Next thing we wanted brunch. Now, the most interesting part of this 4rooms boutique hotel is that it does not have an in-house restaurant. I bet if you google about Gunehr and this hotel, the first thing that you will get to read is about Frank’s cooking. So basically the restaurant does exist but it is strategically located in one of the houses in the basement, almost like a few meters away from the hotel. Frank lives in that house and he uses one part of it for serving his guests. In Frank’s words, the idea is that when the guests make an attempt to reach the restaurant, they walk through the village, look around, meet people and get a hang of the place.
Trust me, whenever you are around Gunehr, do stop at Frank’s restaurant, he is an amazing cook. We devoured the brunch crazily and of course we loved every bite of it. The breakfast was an ice-breaker between Frank and us (4 travel bloggers). It was here that we made our first and formal discussions. While he was struggling to understand where we came from, what was our background, our work and what did bloggers do, we were equally curious around his upcoming Art fair. The whole concept around ShopArt ArtShop sounded too complex and I am sure he read it on our faces too. The first brief was very interesting but to be very honest, I could only make out 10 percent of it and suddenly I was impatient to know more. But when we asked Frank to explain it further, he really didn’t want to dump all the data at once thus he suggested that we must go around and talk to the villagers and ask them about Frank’s Mela. He also suggested that the skies were clear and we could head to Bir to enjoy paragliding. We decided to do the latter first and then do the village round up in the evening. Here, I must inform you that Bir Billing is the para-gliding capital of India and also a large Tibetan (Khampa) community lives here.
The trip to Bir Billing will always be a memorable one. Just when the driver applied brakes to halt and park, our excitement to be at the paragliding capital of India was met with sudden change in weather. It started to drizzle. But in no time, we were caught unaware and the hailstorms came calling. We ran towards a small tea shop at a small hillock. A lot of people had taken shelter inside the shop. They were all enjoying the lovely view with hot Maggi and tea. While we ordered for four tea, the rains took the form of hails. And trust me in no time, we saw the whole area covered in white. It was super exciting. Everything looked so beautiful and pristine. Tea was just the perfect thing that we needed that time and began to gulp it down. The wall art in the tea shop got my attention almost instantly. It was a lovely, colorful piece of art which conveyed that Bir is a popular destination for Para gliding.
Trust me, such evenings are a rare pleasure and not everyone is blessed to have them. Away from the hustle bustle of life, 4 travelers were sitting in a quaint village and were enjoying it to the core. It was so much fun to talk about our dreams, travels and adventures.The rains had changed the weather, chilly winds were blowing, temperature had dipped, and the view outside the balcony was beautiful. We ordered 4 Maggi, 6 Boiled eggs and 4 cups of tea from Anil’s shop next door. After sometime, it became really cold and I decided to take some nap. We were supposed to walk to 4tables restaurant and join Frank over dinner at 8 p.m.. He had promised to make some wood fired pizza for us and we were already excited about it. Another interesting part of this dinner get-together was that Frank was going to show us his art studio and tell us more about ShopArt ArtShop 1. This was important because we were here to know about it especially when ShopArt ShopArt 2 was about to take place in May 2016. We had a great time over dinner as you can see the yummy pizza below. And more than that I was happy that I could sleep peacefully after visiting the art studio and reading about ShopArt ArtShop. It really helped us to read and connect with Frank’s passion. By the end of the day, we were equally excited about it and wanted to spread the word as much as possible.