the barn

There have been several articles and reviews written about Jilling Estate, not just in travel books, magazines and websites, but also by travellers who have found the experience charming and different from the usual holiday getaways that seem to have sprung up all over the countryside.

In addition to reviews in The Hindu, and at many reputed travel websites, here are some articles written by visitors to Jilling - giving you a firsthand account of what you can expect on a trip here.

Jilling out with Steve by Jug Suraiya|The Last Resort by Bharati Motwani

Ex-fighter pilot and former tea planter, 58-year-old Steve Lall is today a retailer of the country's most priceless and endangered commodity. Together with his wife Parvati, he zealously guards his product for an exclusive clientele who come to sample it at Jilling: 45 acres of densely wooded Kumaun hillside, 6,500 feet above sea level, 300 km from Delhi and 38 km from the rail head at Kathgodam. steve lall

Cloaked in a lush, multicultural forest of oak and chestnut and deodar, with brief but bewitching views of Nanda Devi, Jilling is part of the erstwhile Stiffles estate and was bought in 1965 by Steve's mother who is said to have got it for the price of a second-hand car. Taken together with the contiguous tracts owned by neighbours, Jilling runs to some 140 acres of a customised Eden, a perfect place for chilling out. Scattered over the hillside at discreet intervals are four wood and stone cottages, simply but comfortably furnished, for visitors. Natural trails ramble through the woods, inviting exploration: from the seven-km-long, level Lovers' Walk, to steeper hikes that lead up to the ridge from where the valley on the farther side falls away in an escarpment as sudden and swift as the swoop of a falcon.

There is good, wholesome home cooking, eclectically crammed bookshelves to browse through, and, in the evening, blazing bonfires spiralling sparks into star-filled skies. There are no telephones, no TV, no cars. This is the secret of Steve's unique product, which is silence.

In a world where frenetic movement is mistaken for progress, strident rhetoric for the inflexion of discourse, it is Jilling's silence that sets it apart. Last week when Bunny and I spent three days there, I sat on the sunlit lawn outside our cottage and listened to the silence.

The first thing that strikes you about silence is that it is not an absence of sound, for that would make it a sterile vacuum. view from the ridgeListening to silence is like watching a glass being filled with water, drop by careful drop. When the glass is full, the water brims over the top without spilling, the convex curve of liquid held in place like a drawn bowstring. The silence I listened to at Jilling was like that resonant arc, a supple filament that strung together the ratcheting feathers of a partridge in flight, the sharp call of a barking deer, the leafy conversation of trees, the bubbles of air exploding in the bottle of soda on the table.

I realised that the silence was a gift as fragile as the finest porcelain, as evanescent as the shimmer of a butterfly's wings. Like most gifts worth the getting, or the giving, Jilling's silence is hard won; it is based on uncompromising solitude. The nearest motorable road is two kilometres away, where guests can park their cars. From there it is a brisk 40-minute climb to Jilling; for those faint of limb or heart, ponies or palkies are provided.

Jilling's deliberate isolation has kept at bay what Steve calls the 'tootak, tootak tootian' Marutised holiday-makers from the plains. If anyone tries to build a road up here, I'll shoot the bugger, says Steve in what is surely a joke -- I think. the banglaHe is similarly adamant about forest conservation. He is convinced that aforestation programmes, based on quick-growing species like pine, have resulted in monocultural man-made forests which eventually deplete the soil and lead to the catastrophe of topsoil erosion and the environmental degradation sweeping our hills. Steve believes in a policy of non-intervention, of allowing the natural medley of the forest to rejuvenate itself through the unforced diastole and systole of its own great green beating heart.

But despite its solitude and Steve's ecological evangelism, there is nothing sombre or sanctimonious about Jilling's bracing air, infused with the rich earthiness of the village community living on its periphery and in perfect harmony with it. Tara Devi, a sprightly widow and mother of 10, drops in while we are there. She reports a rogue bear who has mauled two women cutting grass, and almost in the same breath mentions a daughter-in-law who is getting fat, an ominous sign of indulgence. She herself is well, except that try as she might she can not achieve a bowel movement more than once a week. I suggest that she drink a bottle of beer daily to ease her malady. The thought of drinking Angrezi sharab at 65 rupees a bottle makes Tara Devi cackle so hard that she swears that the demon gripping her innards has been exorcised straightaway

A baby barking deer -- all huge, liquid eyes, velvet button of a nose and twitching ears, Bambi incarnate -- is found by a grass cutter and brought to Jilling.

The mother has probably been taken by a leopard, of whom there are at least three in the area. old gatewayA spirited debate ensues, the fate of the fawn in the balance. No-nonsense Steve is all for putting it back in the forest, letting nature take its course. Parvati and his daughter, Nandini, are equally vehement about harbouring the waif till it can find its adult feet in the wild. Fortunately, as is usual in the hills, the womenfolk have their way. Steve grumbles but looks pleased as punch.

When it's time to leave, Bunny and I are not in the least sad. Quite the contrary. For we know, deeper than any words, that having once experienced Jilling and its silence we can never really leave it, but will return again and again. Our goodbye is also a greeting.

That's all very well, but how the hell does one actually get there? Well, that's just it you see. Jilling as I said is a gift. And as a gift, you can't just go there and claim it; you have to wait till it's given to you, when you've earned it. And once you have, let others also earn it for themselves.

Remember: to ensure Jilling's code of silence which makes it incomparable, mum's the word.

Read 'The Last Resort' by Bharati Motwani