I am not fussy about hotels. No, really I’m not. A clean room, a clean bathroom, a convenient and safe location, a restaurant with some decent vegetarian options… and I’m a happy and satisfied customer of that hotel. Everything else — air-conditioner, spa, multi-cuisine restaurants, gym, room with views, wi-fi, etc. — are only add-ons for me and their presence or absence is not a criteria for choosing a hotel.
Sure, I like 5-star and luxury hotels, but while very nice, posh and what not, they tend to overwhelm me. An occasional heritage hotel has been known to tempt me, but it’s always because of the story it has to say, rather than the facilities they offer. While travelling, I’m always more concerned about the place I’m visiting rather than the place I’m staying in. So a basic hotel works just as fine as a not-so-basic or more-than-basic hotel. Like I said, I’m not fussy.
But last September, during a trip to Himachal Pradesh, I stayed in a hotel where I had such a superlative experience that I was forced to admit that the place of stay also adds to the travel experience. And 6 months on, I can even say that my stay at this hotel is among the memories that come to mind whenever I think of that trip. The hotel that has spoiled me for ever is The Hotel Grand Shangri-La at Kalpa in Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh.
The Grand Shangri-La is a family-run hotel situated at the foot of the Kinner Kailash mountain range and amidst apple trees with breathtaking views of the Kinner Kailash, Jorkhandam and Raldan peaks. A charming hotel with just 16 rooms, a restaurant, a rooftop café and a library (yes, a library!), The Grand Shangri-La is run by the warmest, nicest and most genial people I have ever come across and led by Prithvi Raj Negi, the Managing Director. Prithvi was a great host and readily shared with me the story of the hotel, his family background (he has Tibetan roots) and about Kinnaur and Himachal Pradesh.
Prithvi’s father and uncle fled Tibet in 1959 and made Kinnaur their home. Prithvi was born at Kalpa and received his education at Shimla and Chandigarh.The idea for a hotel actually started off as a house for Buddhist monks. But when this did not work out, the plans were changed to build a hotel in its stead. Construction began in 2007 and on 10 October 2010, The Grand Shangri-La was formally inaugurated by the 9th Drukpa Choengun Rinpoche Tenzin Choeykei Gyatso. The first national and international tourists were hosted in 2011 and within 2 years the hotel won Tripadvisor’s Travellers Choice Award in 2013 in the B&B category and was ranked 8th overall in India. (The full and fascinating background story of The Grand Shangri-La can be read here.)
I stayed at The Grand Shangri-La for a memorable 3 days. The traditional welcome, the cozy rooms, simple and hearty food, the fruit juices that accompanied each meal (apple, peach, grape – red, white and black), locally sourced honey and jams served at breakfast, warm bedding, the faint aroma of pine that pervaded the hotel, the melodious Tibetan music played in the hotel, the views, the library… I can still recall every memory with pleasure. 😀
When Prithvi mentioned that there was a library at The Grand Shangri-La, I had visions of one shelf full of books left by guests at the hotel. You know the usual pot-boilers, best sellers and maybe an occasional classic? I could not have been more wrong. The library collection is reaching the 1,000 mark and has both fiction and non-fiction books on travel, culture, literature, history, politics, Tibetan studies, Himachal Pradesh, etc. A large number of books are devoted to Buddhism. There are also autographed copies of authors who have stayed or passed by the hotel at some time or the other — HH the 17th Karmapa, HH 12th Tai Situ Rinpoche, Ashok Kothari, Deepak Sanan, among others.
Occupying pride of place in the library are the Kangyur or 108 textbooks on the holy commentaries of the Buddha. These were originally recorded in Pali and then translated into Sanskrit. Thanks to the Lotsawas or Tibetan translators, the commentaries have been translated into the Tibetan language.
The library at The Grand-Shangri-La was set up entirely by one man — Indrajit Laurence Panjabi. On a visit to the hotel in 2012, Indrajit was so impressed with it and the people who were running it that he offered to set up the library himself. Today, the library at The Grand Shangri-La is a work in progress as the collection is growing slowly and steadily.
As you will have guessed, the library was THE highlight of my stay at The Grand Shangri-La. It drew me like a magnet and I spent maximum time in the hotel at the library browsing through the collection and listening to Tibetan music. I would sit out in the observation deck and read and watch the mighty Kinner Kailash mountain ranges in front of me. When it got too cold, I would come in and make myself comfortable on one of the seats with a bolster and a book. Prithvi used to be amused to see me there all the time and shared with me stories of other guests who would do the same.
This post took a long time to write as I could not find the right words and expressions* to convey the wonderful time I had and the warmth I experienced at The Grand Shangri-La. All I say is that, for me, travel is all about surprises and the unexpected; this stay was one of them and Prithvi and his team cannot be thanked enough for it. If you haven’t yet been convinced of what a wonderful place The Hotel Grand Shangri-La is, then let me assure you that the fault is all mine. 🙂
Note: *I’m still not satisfied with what I have written, but I have to stop somewhere and publish the blog post that I intended to write as soon as I got back to Mumbai 6 months back !