The one visitor I had hoped to meet during my stay in Shimla never bothered to turn up. ‘Beware of monkeys,’ said a little card on the coffee table in my room. Though I kept the balcony door locked as instructed, an opportunity to offer an apple to a monkey dropping by would have livened things up. I would have been breaking a local rule, though: ‘Do not feed or tease monkeys,’ advises a government signboard on the way up to the Ridge, the place where all of Shimla sits sunning itself when the weather obliges. This warning is reinforced by a picture of a gaping monkey showing off sharp teeth. But I am sure the offer of a juicy fruit would have been accepted in a non-violent manner.
Perhaps the simians are still scoping out the hotel, not sure which door to knock on. Hotel Marina is very new, its long, straight lines of stone and dark wood separating it visually from the usual high-end Shimla hotels. Had I been driving my own car, I might have passed it by altogether, though billboards on the way up prominently announce its existence to visitors rolling on towards Shimla. Not because the building is nondescript; but it is a far cry from many others in this stuffed-to-the-gills hill station that are basically a honeycomb of rooms designed to pack the biggest number of warm bodies into the available square footage. This one looks like a very rich individual’s private residence, especially as the rows of balconies are not visible from the road.
Colonial-era hotels in Shimla are stacks of white-painted floors topped by sloping red, green or blue roofs. The old building that stood on this site probably shared that look when, in 1941, it was bought by the current owner’s family. After the purchase, Hotel Glenarm was rechristened ‘Marina’ and continued lording it over the hills, swapping British officers for homegrown luminaries on its guest list. It took five years, 2007–12, to complete its transformation.
Now it lays claim to being the first designer boutique hotel here, especially enthusiastic about its location this close to the Mall, and it acts the part. For one thing, it holds only 84 people (unless extra beds are ordered). And the spaces of leisure are many and extremely well appointed. The theme of dark-tinted wood continues inside, showing off the chandeliers, giving the hotel an air of peaceful plushness. But it is all very different from the ‘dowager duchess’ stateliness of the Raj-era architecture; the new Marina is bold enough to seduce on the first date. There are touches of OTT glamour, such as a few contemporary baroque silver chairs in the lounge bar ‘Sixteen 69’ and floor-to-ceiling panels of interlocked Islamic motifs framing jazz instruments; but the subtle lighting makes it inviting, taking off the harsh edge. It’s a good place to meet strangers and locals, as the 100-vehicle parking lot welcomes non-resident guests to the restaurant and lounge as well.
Though the hotel arranges for adventure sports — rappelling, valley crossing, commando climbing and such — it is quite possible to come here after a long, tedious city week and not step out at all. It could be coffee on the huge terrace around mid-morning, spa in the afternoon, lounge bar in the evening, punctuated by multi-cuisine meals. Rinse and repeat the next day, with the best wines or whisky at ‘Hill’s Edge’, the main restaurant overseen by a very energetic maitre’d, bustling beneath a ceiling mesmerisingly aswirl with hundreds of hanging wooden batons.
The spa therapist does an excellent job of sending guests out into the world all de-stressed. A logical step might be to build on all that relaxation by going back to the room and slipping under the duvet, leaving the curtains drawn aside to watch the sunset from bed. If admiring the scenery counts as work, you definitely qualify for a sundowner at the bar, where a DJ plays soft lounge music, the playlist changing to dance numbers if guests are in the mood. Why go out at all?
Well, because part of the USP of the Marina is that it sits exactly at the right place in relation to the Ridge — the location cannot get any better. The grand old lady of Shimla, the Clarkes, allows a shorter walk, but it is also eyeball to eyeball with provision stores doing noisy business. On the other hand, stepping out of the Marina, one feels as if much of the population of this overloaded hill town has disappeared. A quarter of a kilometre to the left or to the right, you would be accosted again by a few hundreds of the country’s billion-strong population; but right here, the mountains can reclaim your attention for the moment. It is a huge relief after passing through the suffocating horror of ‘main Shimla’, which is in essence a densely populated small town from the plains organically growing on the mountain face, obliterating the slightest trace of greenery. The Marina balconies, democratic enough in that they all come with a valley view, cannot change the fate of the mountains; but they do let you see the peaks beyond and how the sinking sun paints them in magnificent strokes of changing colour.
The same sunset, though interrupted by lengths of power line running from pole to pole, is visible on a more panoramic scale from the viewing platform on the Ridge. Shaped like a gazebo, it overlooks the buzz of activity about fifteen feet below. On a clear afternoon, the townsfolk seem to take the day off to arrive en masse and, no matter how cutting the wind is, eat endless cones of ‘softy’. It is a 10-minute walk from the Marina, the route bypassing the most crowded lanes but still stocked with enough shops.
The shops start thinning as you walk back towards the hotel in a pleasant fading away of the human bustle, soon to be replaced by the quiet warmth of the room. Inside, the luxury of space heightens the luxury of the rich fabrics and clean modern lines. Should the temperature control act up now and then, causing overheating, slide aside the balcony door. Let the cool air flow in and keep an apple handy for any curious callers.
Where: 25km from Shimla airport, 1.5km from the railway station; from Delhi, the Kalka Shatabdi takes 4 hours, followed by either a cab (2.5 hrs) or the toy train to Shimla station (5 hrs). The hotel provides transfers from Kalka.
Accommodation: 9 deluxe rooms, 15 superior rooms and 18 executive rooms
Tariff: Rs 7,900 (deluxe), Rs 8,900 (superior) and Rs 9,900 (executive); room only, taxes extra; CP, AP and MAP plans also available
Contact: 0177-6629999, marinashimla.com