The home that walks: A trip to an old house in mist-soaked Mashobra is full of surprises
On the old wooden staircase inside, there is the excited patter of paws. Warm furry bodies throw themselves out of the half-open doorway and into the sunlit patch of green where I am lowering myself onto a cane moda.
The sun casting magic on Mashobra
Two handsome golden retrievers - with mocha coffee for fur, and eyes dripping warm chocolate - are suddenly upon us. Gabbar Singh and Bruce Lee - two-third owners of Khanabadosh, the quaint old stone house that we have discovered tucked amidst the pine forests of Mashobra, take guest welcomes very seriously.
Furry hosts and lovely hostess
The chief host at Khanabadosh
After having knocked me into my chair and trying to unsuccessfully climb onto my lap, Gabbar has turned around and is frantically dislodging a big stone lining a flower bed with bare teeth that he intends to bring me as a gift. Bruce Lee has decided that I am edible. He is chewing up my fingers and briskly moving upwards towards my elbows, his teeth snapping like the infamous turtle.
From an upstairs balcony, leans out a pretty woman with a throaty laugh. That’s Geetika Khanna, army wife and daughter, who decided a few years back that she had had enough of big city lights and left a promising career in one of India’s biggest publishing houses in Delhi, to start a travelling bed and breakfast.
One-third owner of Khanabadosh, she is the only one willing to make conversation without sniffing me or chewing me or bringing me rubber balls to throw and so I decide to get my story from her.
The moving home
Hidden between a cluster of red-roofs, about 10 kms ahead of Shimla, Khanabadosh is true to its name (Persian: khana-home; dosh-shoulder which means someone who carries her home on her shoulder).
The sunlit library in the old house
“Every once in a while, the bed and breakfast gets up and moves because it wants to see new places; it wants to experience new weather, it wants to hear people speaking in a new language, it wants new fruits and veggies growing in its garden, it wants to go around planting some new trees. I think it is almost like a living person and one of its needs is to move,” says Geetika, her voice dreamy.
So, every few years, Khanabadosh - and its residents - shrug the dust off their shoulders. They pack their bags, gather their preciously preserved memories, their black and white photographs, their 140-year-old wood bed, their Murakamis with fading covers, the shining Iron Man Finisher medals of a tall and slim Army officer with lean muscles who visits once in a while and hangs them casually behind the library door; and they move. They scout the world for a new place to set roots in. And they then invite their friends to come to stay with them and see it too.
Where it all began
The daughter of late Lt Gen and Mrs Khanna, former Vice Chief of the Indian Army, Geetika grew up in Army cantonments. While studying in Delhi, she met Arun Malik, a handsome young army captain and soon, the two of them fell in love and soon got married.
“The most exciting thing about the army was moving every few years. The initial few years were great but slowly I couldn’t deal with not doing anything constructive,” says Geetika. “Arun and I both decided that we would work and earn just like everyone else did but Plan B was to eventually give it all up and do what we really wanted to do in life.”
In 2014, she was in Bhutan helping Pearson (the publishing house she then worked with) set up a services division when she lost her mother. “Dad had already passed on in 2007 and now she was gone too. That made me rethink my life. That was the time when Arun quit the Army and I resigned from my job at Pearson. I wanted to move to the hills and Arun wanted to do his running and triathlons. There was so much to do and to experience,” she says. “We couldn’t have done it all had we stuck around. We both quit happily.”
For the love of hospitality
Since, as a couple, Geetika and Arun loved meeting new people and having them over, hosting came naturally to her and she decided to open her house to guests. Initially, she was a little apprehensive about how she would take this intrusion upon her privacy so she tried it for a year in Bhutan.
“I set up a small three-bedroom place. It was only when I absolutely fell in love with the idea of living with new people, that I decided to do it for good. I realised I loved connecting with absolute strangers. Often, after some conversation, it would feel as if I had known them for years,” she says.
And that was how Khanabadosh evolved and made its second stop at Mashobra in a big stone house that she fell in love with and leased from a local for three years.
A relaxed holiday
Khanabadosh (a front view)
Geetika says she is not on any travel sites and very picky about who her guests are. “I need to know who I am hosting. I refuse four out of 10 guests, which is a lot in the industry but then this is not a hotel. It’s my house and the kind of people I get are very different.”
She says she gets the discerning traveller who will enter her kitchen and say ‘let me cook a meal for you today’, or people who will want to go with her to the Sunday market to pick up veggies, or will want to participate in the clean-up drives Khanabadosh takes up routinely.
If you want to surprise yourself, you can pick up a covered book and discover what lies inside
She has opened her library to locals. They walk in and out of her house. She has added a kids’ section to her library with comics that entice village kids to read.
When there is a lot of food left over, Raman, her Man Friday, calls up the village and a picnic table is laid out for the kids who have a garden feast on their way back from school. When Arun plans his running events in Mashobra, the children participate wholeheartedly putting up flags, handing out goody bags and even helping with registrations. “They spread themselves out on the trail and cheer for the runners, even pointing out shorter routes to them,” she smiles.
Joy in the small stuff
The nearly 200 years old bed that belonged to Geetika’s grandmother
Geetika says Khanabadosh pays for itself but it is not her bread and butter. She consults with State governments and earns a bit on the side.
“Arun is running triathlons and is mostly in training and it is not a cheap sport. Sometimes he feels he should be earning more but really there is no need. He is doing his races in different parts of the world. I’m absolutely thrilled that he is getting to see new places and we don’t need him to earn money. We have gone past the stage of wanting a big car or a fancy house or diamonds. I have nothing against people who find joy in that but I myself see the futility of it all. I would rather be here or spend that money on travelling to a new place,” she says, as we walk around.
She stops to point out a fat white flower that is sleepily opening its eyes to the world. “Oh, look! We have our first tulip,” she whispers and we both stop and watch it in wonder.
A trek to Shali Tibba
The next morning, on a 5 km steep uphill trek to Shali Tibba, the highest peak in the area, as we wait to catch our breath, a giant Himalayan condor swoops down into the valley, just above my head, its haughty head titled into the deep gorge.
Its magnificent shadow falls on the bare mountain, sending a cold shiver down my spine. The wind blows my hair into my eyes and I reach for a rubber band to hold it back.
On our way back to Khanabadosh, our rickety old small car crosses an apricot tree laden with pretty white blossoms. Under it stand apple-cheeked kids with runny noses who are returning from playing Holi, their faces splashed with green and magenta gulaal, happy smiles stretched from ear to ear. I wave to them and they wave back. It’s a perfect moment. One that comes rarely in life.
Thank you Khanabadosh. I’m waiting for those storytelling sessions around a bonfire and watching to see where you will take me next.
Note: Khanabadosh has done two moves already and is ready to shift again. Destination: yet undisclosed.)
(Images credit: Geetika Khanna)
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)