At home in Sikkim's blue-green hills

At home in Sikkim's blue-green hills

The Mayfair Gangtok Spa Resort merges Sikkim--s monastic theme with the impressive Colonial architecture

Soity Banerjee
January 07 , 2015
06 Min Read

Frankly, it’s hard to mess it up. Planted where the road forks — corkscrewing up to Gangtok or to the Rumtek monastery — the Mayfair Gangtok Spa Resort watches the blue-green hills spread themselves out, outside every window, every pane. Even as a heady confection of mist and fog talk shop with fresh spells of rain. Mornings, like eggs, are made to order here. “Would you like a Monet for breakfast or will it be a Sisley this morning, Ma’am?” “Shall we poach a sun-dried ridge or would you prefer terraced, rain-washed cardamom fields instead?” I could get used to living here, even in a two-by-two shack with a hole for a john.

Sure, it helps to have a jacuzzi in my mini football field of a bathroom. A heated pool on my private terrace. Mr Butler at my beck and call. And yes, a plus-sized bed, large enough for three of me. But really, it’s the view that’s priceless. A fact that the hotel flaunts without apology. So when people call in to ask if they could get a room with a mountain view, Björn DeNiese, the hotel’s deputy general manager, savours the moment each time with, “But, sir, all rooms come with a,mountain view.”

Spread over a generous 46 acres, of which 15 have been built upon, it’s easy to lose your way around the hotel. I promptly got lost on day one. And by the end of it I had run into hidden gazebos, a 1958 Land Rover, a heritage villa (which once served as Sikkim’s ex-CM, Nar Bahadur Bhandari’s home), a casino-in-the-making and a fibreglass yeti! I also met the Buddha — sculpted, painted, etched, photographed, enshrined and in spirit (perhaps?) — around every corner. He was happy to see me. Or so I thought, as I went singing in the rain, twirling a munificent plaid umbrella. Eventually, CD (no, I didn’t make one that up), the butler, found my tired legs, and me, and drove us all back to the villa in a golf cart.

Back in my villa — a large drawing-dining area, a bedroom, a powder room-cum-bathroom and a terrace with a sit-out, a barbeque grill, pantry and a pool — I had ample time and incentive to do nothing. Each room had at least one bay window (including the bath area) or open spaces to ogle at the Sikkimese countryside. My pet project, for instance, was to try and locate the Rumtek monastery tucked in the farthest corner of the hill facing the hotel. Thanks to the fog though, I usually spotted it after sundown, when the lights flickered through the haze like a wedding party of fireflies.

Needless to say, the two plasma TVs in the villa, one each for the soccer-crazy husband and the desperate housewife, were furniture, as far as I was concerned. As for the décor — in the rooms, the spa and the common areas including the restaurants — the Southeast Asian leanings were unmistakeable. Take a liberal portion of Balinese chic, add to that a handful of Thai elements, pepper with a dash of colonial rafters and bargeboards on gabled roofs. Now garnish with the local spices of orchids and Buddha frescos, Sikkimese woodcarvings and a decidedly bright, candied palette of colours. This curious mix of style and substance, however, comes together surprisingly well. Just don’t expect it to be distinctly Sikkimese.

If there’s one thing, however, that fills the corridors with flavours as markedly local and heady as the Sikkimese chhang, it’s the hotel’s collection of over 400 black-and-white and sepia photographs. It’s a crash course in Sikkimese history over the last 60 years. From the last Chogyal Palden Thondup Namgyal and his second wife Gyalmo Hope Cooke hobnobbing with Indira Gandhi and Pandit Nehru or Satyajit Ray in happier times, to protestors setting fire to the royal couple’s photograph during the post-election agitation in 1973; from the Black Hat Ceremony of the 16th Karmapa of the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism to the Dalai Lama’s mother’s visit in the early 1950s. The other images of intrigue included the first two-seater plane landing at the Palzor Stadium and a bunch of Sikkimese Counsellors inspecting a ‘high milk-producing’ cow at Nilokheri, Haryana.

It was only when I had scoured the corridors long enough for CD to send a search party for me (yet again!) that I beat retreat. This time to the Mayfair Spa (which uses products from Pevonia). One that was important enough to find a mention in the resort’s official moniker and that I was told (by more than one person) had been fêted in its very first year of operation by a magazine. Loath to be pummelled, however, by strangers in a dark, lemon-grassy room, even as the unrelenting pipe music wound my intestines into a reef knot, I was thinking dark thoughts, when Tenzing walked in. Pixie-like, she had kind eyes, so I let her have her way with me for one surprisingly short hour. After which she wrapped me up, like patrani macchhi, in what I thought were plastic sheets. And before long the ground beneath my feet (and derriére etc) went missing. I sank into a hot waterbed that turned yellow, green, blue, pink and red by slow rotation like a disco ball on drugs. But the same liquid that set all my alarms off in the first place quickly soothed me and, by the time I emerged a good 30 minutes later, I was ready to walk on my hands. The treatment was called Cloud 9. For a reason.

Dinner that evening was a comforting Sikkimese spread of momos (fried and steamed), clear soup, shyaphalay (fried pastry with chicken filling, a variation of the Italian calzone) and Nepalese alu dum with sel roti (a savoury, deep-fried flour jalebi) at the Jungle Café, the Sikkimese bistro. For those looking for comfort food, the hotel’s multi-cuisine, family-style dining room, Orchid, offers Indian, Chinese and Continental favourites to pile your plates with. The latter also has a quiet, open corner called the Rumtek Lounge, where breakfast is the side dish, and the view the real entrée.

By the time the new airport at Gangtok is operational in 2012, the Mayfair will be ready to turn up the volume with an additional 40 rooms, a full-blown casino, including an exclusive high roller’s den, a Tibetan carpet weaving workshop and a (relocated) local museum. In fact, it’s already making enough noise to attract the attention of other five-star chains to Gangtok — a place keen to shed its middle class-Bengali-destination tag for a West Bhutan dream run.

The information

Location Lower Samdur Block, Ranipool, Gangtok, Sikkim
Contact +91 3592 250555 / 666 / 777 / 888 / 999, www.mayfairhotels.com


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