Punjab may not be known as a hill state but a new eco-resort is offering that hilltop feeling amid the abundance of nature right on the state’s border with Himachal Pradesh. Just a two-hour drive from Chandigarh, Gaj Retreat Manaswal village — located between Garhshankar and Nangal towns — virtually puts you in the lap of untouched nature and also gives you a real-time feel of rural life. The best part about the eco-resort and spa, the first such in Punjab, is that the whole experience comes without compromising on the luxury part of the stay.
The resort is a less than a 30-minute drive from the chaotic yet thriving Garhshankar town, which lies on the Chandigarh-Hoshiarpur highway. Within the first few minutes, the plains of Punjab give way to the hill roads of the lower Shivalik range of the Himalayas — the well-carpeted road and the lush scenery around make the drive quite enjoyable.
The village and the resort are perched on a plateau right at the border of Punjab and Himachal Pradesh — a 360-degree look around from the resort gives you the first experience of being in the midst of bountiful nature and the wilderness, including the snow-capped Dhauladhar range and a lush valley below. The resort is part of a private forest reserve.
“One unique thing about this resort is that it has been built from locally-sourced materials, be it the wooden logs or stones. While we offer comfort and luxury, we have ensured that people coming here experience natural surroundings. The retreat has extensive recycling and refuse-elimination programmes to cut and offset its carbon footprint,” owner Nagender Singh said.
“The small rocks and stones used in the walls were dug up right at the site itself and the remaining construction was almost entirely done using environment-friendly concrete blocks instead of red bricks. The roofs hark back to the traditional building technology and are made from locally-grown bamboo and thatch. The boundary walls are made using the rammed-earth technique,” Singh said.
Spread over six acres, Gaj Retreat has 32 well-appointed, spacious rooms laid out in the form of pool villas, luxury tents, forest villas, chateaus and family suites. Some of them have private pools in addition to the resort’s main pool. That the owners belong to the erstwhile royal lineage of the area adds to the charm of the place — Manaswal is the ancestral village of the promoters of Gaj Retreat who trace back their roots to over 1,000 years. The luxury tents, with a South African concept and design, give you a feel of how the royals would have stayed years ago whenever they were outdoors.
“The concept of setting up a rural eco-resort at Manaswal was to provide a haven from the fast-paced urban life of today. Visitors experience the rural lifestyle and feel refreshed with a momentous and meaningful holiday. Gaj Retreat has been conceptualised incorporating principles of ‘Responsible Tourism’ and emphasising local community participation, to provide a range of benefits for the area,” said Singh, who set up the project with his brother Yatendra Singh.
Bringing visitors closer to nature is not the only USP of the resort. It has several adventure, sporting and activity-oriented options as well. From driving all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) on the rugged rural expanse and the rocky riverbeds to off-roading through the ravines on 4×4 vehicles to trekking, nature walks, mountain biking, bird-watching, star-gazing and much more, Gaj Retreat has a lot to offer.
The area around Manaswal is home to wildlife like rabbits, deer, wild boar and over 60 different species of birds. A stroll along the paved paths of the resort at night will take one closer to the natural noises of the fauna. “An added attraction is village excursions to give visitors an opportunity to observe the rural lifestyle and to participate in traditional village activities like milking cows, making gur (jaggery) and going to the well. These include rides on tractors or bullock-carts to picnic spots,” said Nagesh Rana, a manager at the resort.
The food and the service are handled by people from the area and offer a lot of warmth and local flavour. The resort has an exotic bar, lounge cafe, swimming pools, a spa and wellness centre — and a magnificent expanse of manicured greens, restful fountains and nature preserves.
Nearby sites that can be easily visited from the resort include the Keshgarh Sahib gurdwara in Anandpur Sahib — the second-holiest shrine of the Sikh religion after the Golden Temple — Bhakra Dam, Satluj river wetland, Dholbaha Dam and the Chintpurni temple.
By Jaideep Sarin