Saturday, December 30, 2017

Farm to Fork in Chail



Back in 19th century, when Shimla was the summer capital of India, the Maharaja of Patiala got the British rulers riled over his dalliances and got banned from entering the city. Not the one to be put down so easily, he found a tiny little town about an hour from Shimla and made Chail his very own summer capital. Today, Chail still has the impressive Palace that the Maharaja built and the highest cricket ground in the world. There really isn't much more to the city apart from a small local market and a couple of hotels that get spillover crowd from Shimla in the summers. It's a pleasant little diversion but that's not why I went to Chail. I stopped nine kilometers short of the town to make Ekam my home for a weekend.

Sumeet Singal built this house on a cliff as his own weekend home. Today, even when Ekam is open as a luxury boutique resort, the cosy homely feeling remains intact. I asked Sumeet what there was to do during my three day holiday at Ekam. He told me that there was absolutely nothing to do. But as I found out, Ekam has much to engage the mind and the taste buds of a traveller looking for some quiet in the middle of mountains and the majestic deodar trees.

Be One with the Nature



From the winding road that leads up to the property to the views of the hills from the balconies outside the room, Ekam is built in harmony with its surroundings. In summer, you can sit in the garden as you sip your morning tea. We went in early winter when the fireplace is a fantastic spot to curl up with a book. Each of the four rooms at Ekam is tastefully decorated and has gorgeous views. You will see other guests but the folks at Ekam let you mingle or go your own way as you like.

Ekam has 400+ fruit trees that bear peaches, nectarines and a myriad of stone fruit. The kitchen garden grows most of the vegetables, salad leaves and herbs they cook with. There are cows to help with the organic farming and even the water is pumped from the reservoir onsite. This is true farm to fork if you want to experience one.

Breakfast Like a King



Fresh fruits and a view of the hills from the balcony make for some amazing mornings. We had sandwiches with homemade pesto one day and banana and nut filled pancakes the other. Both happened to be equally amazing.

The Wood Fired Italian



One of the first things you will notice at Ekam is the large wood fired oven in the backyard. That's where the chefs bake their homemade pizza dough into a lovely Italian dinner. We also had a delicious mushroom bruschetta one evening. It was accompanied by a simple stir fry but with broccoli and pokchoy grown in the garden itself, you won't believe how nice even simple flavours taste at Ekam.

The Slow Cooked Indian



The range of food at Ekam is pretty amazing for a resort of that size. While we were still marvelling at the pizza from previous evening, the chefs whipped up a fantastic lunch full of local flavours the next day. They have a traditional chulha on which they roasted eggplants to make baingan bhartha. The dal was slow cooked overnight and the himachali kadhi was so flavourful I kept eating long after I was full.

I shouldn't forget to mention the cheese balls. I'm not sure what the chefs put in these fried treats they make every evening but they are sure as addictive as crack.

You will notice all of these specials listed on a nifty blackboard in Ekam's kitchen, alongwith some amazing teas that they make from locally grown herbs like nettle and fennel. Go in the summer and there will be a peach cobbler to go with your tea and an enticing mountain trail to walk off all the calories after.

The holiday at Ekam for me was more than a weekend retreat. It was the warm, fuzzy feeling you get when you find a new home away from home.

Some Practical Tips

- Chail is about 3 hours drive from Chandigarh. There are direct flights into Chandigarh from Delhi, Mumbai and several other cities.

- We used makemytrip to make a taxi booking from Chandigarh to Chail.

- The rooms at Ekam start at 9000 for a couple and include all meals.

- The name of the village is Dunti and it is 9 kilometers before Chail. You can take a bus to Chail if you would like to visit the town.

- Ekam's kitchen is completely vegetarian but they are okay with you bringing in your own booze.

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