A HOLIDAY HOME OF YOUR OWN
Words: SHARAN SAIKUMAR
Photographs: KRISHNA ANGIRA
GREAT FROM New Delhi, Nainital
GREAT FOR Magnificent views of snowy peaks
If you live in Delhi, chances are you belong to either one of these groups: people who have houses in the hills, or people who befriend people who have houses in the hills. But the holiday-homeless now have reason to rejoice. Manish Chandra of Soulitude has granted them year-round access to not one but two of his holiday homes – one in the mountains, another by the river.
His first holiday home is cut into the mountainside just before the little-known village of Gagar in the Nainital District. Soulitude in the Himalayas has been founded on the belief that holidays shouldn’t be spent in hotels, but in intimate spaces at which you can unwind with family and friends. Divided into the main house and cottages, this property is all about Himalayan views, open decks, garden orchards and a communal kitchen that provides soul-nourishing food.
The main house, offering six spacious rooms, a pinewood common living area and open deck overlooking snowy peaks, is the heart of the property. The decor features some awkwardly-coloured walls and slightly jazzy bric-a-brac, but the vibe is incredibly warm and the vistas are abundant. Guests convene here for their meals to discuss the day’s plans and later melt into the mountains in pursuit of their own agendas.
Speaking of agendas, for a fairly little-known place, there are many. The manager and host, Prithavi Raj Singh, is a fount of information on everything from the varieties of winter flowers in the garden to the best place for kadhi-chawal in Sattal. He will start by packing you off to Gagar, upon which a temple and old baba sit surrounded by mighty peaks awaiting visitors. If you’re lucky, the baba will offer you smoky chai and regale you with tales of his friend, the panther, who comes in for a massage at night. There’s also the Ghorakhal Temple, which is worth a visit for the thousands of brass bells that glint in the winter sun. If you aren’t done with tough walks, Tagore Top, where the ruins of Rabindranath Tagore’s abode stand, is another great option. But if your legs beg for relief, take Prithavi Raj’s advice and head to the tea gardens at Shyam Khet, where you can buy super-fine organic tea at from the quaint little tea factory and shop. As winter progresses, Gagar gears up for snowfall, and the treks get a little dodgy and day-trips become the highlight of your stay. Mukhteshwar and Sattal are close enough, but, if your bones protest at the extreme cold, Prithavi Raj will suggest you take a little trip down to Bhimtal, where Soulitude runs an organic farm by the river. After you park your car, walk over an ancient British-era bridge suspended over dark green waters so clear that it takes every ounce of self control (and a healthy fear of hypothermia) to not fling yourself in to reach Soulitude by the River. While Soulitude in the Himalayas is celebrated for its views, the star at this property is the food. Nearly everything on the dining table is grown on the property and outstrips any fancy five-star hotel fare in terms of taste.
There are seven rooms with rustic-chic interiors, but it’s hard to bring yourself to leave the deck overlooking a roaring waterfall or the glass house with huge vintage fans and silk upholstery that is the best place from which to catch some winter sun. In this quiet green valley, there are no agendas or excursions (mainly because everything demands a 2km walk first), so Manish encourages you to come with your people, your board games and your books to make it your own private winter retreat. And unlike your other holiday home-owning friends, he will be happy to hand you the keys.