Heritage house- hotels in the hills.


 Dak Bunglow, Peora


In between a running hotel and an organic simple home- stay, is this breed of a different kind. The house hotels. Or more like up- furbished guest houses. Where an old property or sometimes a large sprawling estate [ also old] have been converted into a welcome stay for travelers. You will get all the amenities and comfort of a hotel, like the good linen, soft blankets and stocked toilets, and as a big bonus you will also get  the personal touch. And a piece of the lives that were lived in these houses. It may not be as grounded as a home stay. But it gets pretty close, with a touch of its own flair and a display of the history. While a lot of these are coming up all across the country, our hills have some really ancient buildings that are running these house hotels. And for that authentic house-hotel feel, I definitely need a touch of vintage.

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Dak Bunglow, Peora
Nestled in a small kumaoni hamlet called Peora, this place is as cosy and personal as it can get. It is more a home stay and less a hotel. There are probably 3 large rooms that are available to guests. It is more than a 100 years old, and that only reflects in its charm. There are large chairs to sink in, and take in the tranquility of the area. Wild flowers fill the green around, while their aroma fill in the fresh mountain air. The host and hostess Pradeep and Shubha are easy going and comforting to spend time with. The food is fresh out of the kitchen, and sometimes fresh out of the kitchen garden.  I remember drinking large quantities of fresh lemon grass tea, while gaping at the spectacular views of the Kumaon Himalayas, specially the Nanda devi, Trishul and Panchuli peaks. Right across the hill, one can see

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the hill station of Almora and it’s many shining lights in the night. A short ride away is Satoli, another small village with a throbbing NGO called Aarohi, run by Pradeep. The soaps, apricort jams, and other cosmetic and food products add a delightful  touch of shopping bonus to the area. Further around is the town of Mukteshwar. And for a day’s outing,  Nainital, Sattal, Naukuchiatal are all perfectly within reach and merrymaking. But I would suggest long walks, bird watching, some photography, maybe even some cooking in the kitchen, and chatting up with the very friendly locals.
The nearest rail head is Kathgodam. And from there this bliss is just a couple of hours up.

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Alasia, Kasauli
That feeling of stumbling upon a gem, just 5 minutes away from the hub of the town. That’s Alasia. In the small cantonment town of Kasauli. Barely 6 hours away from Delhi.  A heritage property, the place reflects the way the town itself displays old relics of the British raj. The rooms come with a good amount of space and a fire place. Which may, by now, be more of a memento than really functional. The place now also features an extension, right across the road. Overlooking a stretch of a garden, that hangs over the valley.  Alasia has a lovely old bar, where one can sit and down a few after a good walk around the small but throbbing market area. And while the food is really good, I particularly remember the delightful cheese toasts along with the plentiful plate of pakoras that is a perfect companion to a long sit out session. And what I remember doing most here is walk, eat, chill, repeat.

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Silverton estate, Dalhousie
I grew up in Dalhousie. Went to school there. Watched my mother teach in another school while my father was posted in the cantonment. I remember maxing out on this gorgeous little hill station. But I never discovered this place then. And it stood there. Silently. Majestically. Quite enchantingly. Now, when I went back, looking for childhood memories, I stumbled upon this hideout.  A little steep walk up on the road that connects the now noisy Subhash Chowk and Ghandi Chowk, just above the popular landmark circuit house, stands Silverton estate. The owner Vickram has kept the charm intact, along with the much vintage furniture. Even the bathroom fittings were a delight, with a wash basin that looks like it has been picked right out of an officer’s den from the East India company. Vickram also has an old library with vintage maps of the place, along with a very helpful  hand drawn one, marking out the treks and nature walks around town. The dinner was quite an experience. With candles and silverware stretched out on a homely dining table, while a kitchen help solemnly served delicious helpings of home cooked food. Against a backdrop of old school jazz playing. I did go to bed with an air of the raj. And woke up fresh, ready to max the many corners of the well kept garden, and the lovely treks in and around Dalhousie

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Woodville Palace, Shimla
As we get to the end of the list, we are getting a little grand. And this one surely has its share of grandiose. 10 minutes walk from the bustling and bursting Shimla mall, is the still secluded Woodville palace. Covered with ivy, and very well maintained, this picturesque property dates back to 1866. It now belongs to the royal family of Jubbal and boasts of really pretty rose gardens and multi level lawns. Surrounded by lush greens, pines and deodar, the place has two watering holes to gather in the evening- the Tiger lounge and the Hollywood bar. The hallways and the dining halls are museums in their own right. With ancient pictures, family heirloom and acquisitions on display. If one wants to find a patch of privacy in this crowded hill station, Woodville Palace has many levels of gardens, with manicured as well as unkempt stretches of greens, with inviting park benches. Featured in quite a few bollywood movies and ad films, the place still manages to not explode within the grandiose and keep the personal touch alive.

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Balrampur house, Nainital
And this last one is grand. More than grand, its truly a mammoth estate, sitting against a looming hill that surrounds it tightly on two sides. If you let your imagination run a little here, this could have been out of an ancient Bollywood movie. And you could have been the Zamindar, who would listen to the woes of the farmers in one corner of the estate, and display the ample hunting spoils in another. In reality, the place was the summer palace of the former maharajas of Balrampur. The rooms are huge. The bathrooms come in the size of a complete Bombay apartment, and the expanse has a silence that can be very soothing. And for the wicked imagination, very spooky. Riot of flowers run in abundance in the large gardens. One can catch the majestic views of the surrounding Naina peak and the Ayarpata hill. The fact that it is located on top of a bit of a steep climb from the main noisy mall area in Nainital, added yet another dimension of charm for me. A good 15 minutes of cardio exercise, and you are there ready to dig into the delicious spread cooked by experts trained by the royal family. Ideal for large group of friends or family, this place has the capacity to pack in much and yet not look or feel crowded.

So, next time you head out for the hills, look up these heritage house hotels. There will definitely be something to write home about.

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Balrampur house gardens