There is something incredibly charming about hills and forests. They inspire awe and fear. Staying at a Dak bungalow is a great way to experience the hilly life.
The state of Uttarakhand has several well-developed hill stations. The most popular, of course, are Nainital and Mussorie. However, you don’t have to limit yourself to these obvious choices. There are many more places like Chakrata and Kalatop. They have quaint forest guest houses where you can spend the night. Read about the most popular hill stations in India.
The benefits of staying at a Dak bungalow (forest rest houses) are many. They have a charming yet haunting feel to them. And the ghost stories that the chowkidar (caretaker) narrates will make your hair stand on end. There is something foreboding about the appearance of these silent bungalows. Many of them were built by the British in the 1800’s. These mammoth buildings add to the mystery of the mountains. Their colonial architecture and the remote location have inspired several surreptitious tales.
What is a Dak bungalow?
Dak bungalows are forest guesthouses built during the British era. Each one has fascinating (usually ghost) stories to tell. These bungalows were built of locally available wood and stones. Many of them have stood the test of time. During the British era, they were part of the Indian postal service and served as posthouses. They also provided accommodation to traveling government officials. Today they serve as forest guest houses. Their old world charm and the ghost stories surrounding them are the biggest draw for travelers.
Many of them are in the middle of the forest and you won’t find a living soul anywhere near them. Reading the log book is a great way to find out interesting anecdotes about them.
Most of these bungalows have two or three rooms and a veranda that provides impressive views. They also have an outhouse for servants and horses. Very basic amenities are available in these buildings. The vast majority of them don’t have access to electricity or running water. At night, the sound of pine leaves falling on the roof, the shadow of the branches swaying in the winds and the howling of wild animals in the forest will most probably keep sleep at bay.
Chowkidars are the caretakers of these buildings. They are lonely souls who spend years or even decades alone in these forests with hardly anyone to keep them company. They are famous for their idiosyncrasies but that isn’t their fault. You can’t have a lot of social skills when you live alone in the forest for so many years. They would often recount ghost tales to visitors. These stories can be quite unnerving but most people who stay in these bungalows actually enjoy that kind of experience.
There are several Dak bungalows in Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and West Bengal. Many of them have been renovated by the government of India, but the rest are in a dilapidated state. Most of these buildings cannot be accessed by roads. You will have to go on foot or take a jeep. Some have to be accessed on a horse back.
Dak bungalows are usually located in the less populated regions of the hills. Staying in one of them is a great way to experience the hilly life. Some are deep inside the forests and they are the spookiest ones. In Himachal Pradesh these bungalows are usually 12 kilometers apart. Some travel companies in Himachal now curate Dak Bungalow trails.
Here are some popular Dak bungalows where visitors can stay
This beautiful bungalow is only about 13 kilometers from Shimla, but it has none of the trappings of Shimla. It is a quaint building exuding an old-world charm. The British influence is still visible.
The Dak bungalow at Dharanghati is located in a remote area. It is inside the Dharanghati Wildlife Sanctuary in Shimla district. There is only one tea shop, a PWD rest house and a Devi Temple in the whole of Dharanghati. The temple is on a hilltop. The bungalow is in good shape.
Khadrala is a great place to dwell in the hills. It is located in the Rohru valley at a height of 9,500 feet. The Dak bungalow at Khadrala is a favorite with trekkers, peace lovers, cyclists and campers.
The Kalatop Forest House is on a hilltop covered by pine trees. The bungalow is made of wood and rocks. There are also two huts adjacent to it. This bungalow was built by the British in 1925. The huge area of the sanctuary is covered by dense deodar forests. Black bear are often spotted here.
If you are interested in staying at a Dak bungalow, you need to book in advance.