I had arrived earlier that evening and was shown to my room immediately by Geetha, the manager. “You must be so tired — first the flight from Mumbai to Coimbatore, and then the drive to Coonoor ! Since you’re a writer and will appreciate some quiet, we have put you in Camphor.”
Camphor, my cozy and comfortable room at Wallwood Garden
I was thrilled to see an original red oxide flooring in my room
The writing desk and the view beyond…
Writer? Me? I was so chuffed at being called a writer that the rest of Geetha’s words about the room and its amenities didn’t register as I was mentally preening. Till she mentioned the word “room heater”. I snapped out my self-absorbed reverie to see her pointing towards the said contraption and showing me how it worked.
“Surely, I won’t need this, right? I asked. I may also have giggled nervously.
“I’m afraid you will for it gets very cold after sunset. Besides, there are extra blankets and quilts in the cupboard should you need them,” Geetha said seriously. “You did read the mail we sent about the weather and appropriate clothing for Coonoor, didn’t you?”
I hadn’t read the mail, but wasn’t going to tell her that. “Of course, of course,” I said airily, ushering her out of the room.”I’ll be fine and will manage”.
That night I needed two blankets + one quilt + the room heater to “manage”. I don’t know when I stopped shivering and went to sleep. I woke up the next morning to the most awful racket; it took me a few seconds to figure out that the sky wasn’t about to come crashing down on my head and that it was a family of monkeys partying on the roof.
And that’s how my holiday at Neemrana’s Wallwood Garden began !
Chail (pronounced as Chaa-il) was the last destination of my Himachal trip. Our group stayed at the Chail Palace, the former residence of Bhupinder Singh, the former Maharaja of Patiala, and now part of the HPTDC group of hotels. The Chail Palace has an interesting history. It was built in 1891 after Maharaja Bhupinder Singh got expelled from Shimla. The brief story goes something like this:
Apparently the Maharaja was having a good thing going with a top ranking British official’s daughter/wife. (the accounts differ whether it was the daughter or the wife). As a result of this indiscretion, the Maharaja was expelled from Shimla. Furious, the Maharaja decided to ‘cock a snook’ at the British and build a grand palace at a location that would be visible from and higher in altitude than Shimla.
That location was Chail, a tiny village in the Shivalik Hills and across the valley from Shimla. How this particular location was picked is another interesting story and that was narrated to us by Jagat, a waiter at the hotel.
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.
“This is your room, Madam,” said the hotel attendant as he opened the door and switched on the lights.
And I saw red. Literally.
“This is a very nice room, Madam,” beamed the attendant. “Don’t you like it?
“It’s too red, ” I said in a dazed voice taking in the red walls, red carpet, and furnishings shimmering away in different shades of red .
The attendant said soothingly, “This room is one of a kind, Madam. No other room is like this. In fact, all rooms are one of a kind. I promise that by the time you leave the hotel, you will love the room.”
He was right. By the time I left after 2 days and 2 nights at the hotel, I was not only in love with my red room, I was also in love with the hotel this room was a part of — the Bhairon Vilas Palace.