The very old-fashioned term ‘hill station’ conjures up images of a quiet, scenic town with cottages covered in rose creepers and surrounded by buttercups. The British nostalgically recreated a vignette of the English countryside in Shimla, Nainital and Mussoorie — with slanting roofs, pine forests and mist, even the incessant rain of good old Blighty back home. So up came churches, boarding schools and teashops, and elegant-sounding estates like the Viceregal Lodge, landmark and testament to a time long gone. The Raj is dead; the tradition of the hill-station holiday is long-lived, of course. And even now, amidst the chaos of overloaded buses and smog-filled Mall Road, you can still see traces of lazy decadence, places where ladies picnicked under sprawling deodar trees and clubs set up the foxtrot on weekends.
Old timers will recall Mussoorie was once the bastion of old world refinement before it spiralled out of control and became a decrepit, tired version of a mountain resort. Beset as it is with parking problems and water shortages, it has lately been overlooked by India’s more discerning traveller in favour of Kashmir and Manali. One reason has been the absence of a property that could revive the vision of its grand yesteryears — legends and histories are all very well, but not when the here and now is a thin shadow.
Which is where the new JW Marriott Mussoorie Walnut Grove Resort & Spa has fortuitiously stepped in, with that dreamy combination of natural beauty and luxurious living quarters. It sits pretty — nay, sprawls — just a few kilometres from the crowds and clamour of Mussoorie’s main thoroughfare, where the hills are still relatively untrammelled. Outside, the forest floor is crisp; inside, the distinctly green smell of pine accompanies me throughout. Well-appointed rooms and suites with private balconies usher the thrill of the outdoors into the privacy of luxury accommodations — which seem designed to welcome a class of traveller Mussoorie has not seen many of this century. The bathrooms are large enough for at least a toddler to play football in, a throwback to memsahibs’ retiring rooms. The rooms have the mandatory flatscreen television and powerful Bluetooth speakers to beam from your own personal music system, concessions to contemporary chamber equipment trends.
Like the interiors, the façade and public areas are an interesting mix of old world and modern. The lobby is bright and warm, fronted by an expansive terrace with a breathtaking view of snow-capped peaks. It is planned to be worthy of the heritage and former glory of the Queen of the Hills. Built in an impressively short time, for an Indian luxury resort — just under three years — at a cost of Rs 170 crore, it should at the very least boost the local economy of Tehri Garhwal, employing over two hundred people in the area. Indeed, most of the hotel’s managerial team too is from Garhwal, and trained here.
The Cedar Spa is a terrific addition to the hotel with five quietly elegant treatment rooms at one end of the property. Outdoor chairs face a calming waterbody where they eventually plan to offer foot massages. The gorgeously minimalist ambience, together with the cold mountain air, lends itself to Zen-like relaxation. I tried the signature treatment at the spa, an invigorating massage with lemon-scented oils, and came away convinced. On the same level is a heated indoor pool and fitness centre, in case you prefer to be a more active participant in your invigoration, even on holiday.
The JW Marriott also scores big on the F&B, ensuring that even over a week’s stay, guests won’t tire of the fare. It’s a painstaking effort that bears special mention, since it can hardly be easy creating five speciality restaurants so far from big-city supply chains. The coffee shop, JW Café, has a sumptuous breakfast spread, and their signature JW Burger could compete with the best anywhere. The Wisteria Deck serves Italian, al fresco — yet proves surprisingly cosy, rather than chilly of an evening, with a fire in winter. There are bar stools as well as plush sofas to sink into, with a fiery aperitif in hand — at lunch, the bartender serves up a mean sangria. Perch is the tea lounge with an outdoor terrace, an ideal spot to sprawl with a book in the sun. Teppan serves contemporary Asian cuisine. In its chic interiors, the stylishly presented tom yum soup and Thai green curry were remarkably fresh with flavour. Small wonder, since the herbs and seasonings come from the splendidly stocked greenhouse in the garden beyond. Finally, the Trout House Grill & Bar has the best location in the property, with views of a flower garden, a large outdoor seating space, a walnut grove and of course, the Himalaya. In the evenings, for some local flavour, they serve masala chai to the tune of live Garhwali songs in the garden.
Are you impressed already? I was! However, the master stroke of the Marriott Walnut Grove’s palette is The Den. Parents with young children will be absolutely delighted with this entertainment centre and kids’ club spread over a dizzying 12,000 sq feet. This incredible space houses a two-lane bowling alley, a billiards table, gaming consoles and a very well stocked library where they plan to hold reading sessions for kids. I haven’t seen this much attention paid to a kids’ area in any hotel, and surely this would be a major draw for families planning a royal reunion.
The hotel also has one of the largest meeting spaces in the city, with the Grand Orchard Ballroom living up to its name. It features as a spacious pre-function area for a wedding or a cocktail gathering, with three adjoining rooms. A dedicated and experienced events team is in place to coordinate off-site programmes or conferences, likely to become a big part of the agenda over years to come.
The Viceroy may not be in residence, but the holiday season should be in full swing — summer or winter — at the JW Marriott Mussoorie.
Location Village Siya, Kempty Fall Road, Tehri Garhwal, Mussoorie; 60km from Dehradun airport and railway station
Accommodation 115 rooms and suites: 49 deluxe rooms, 56 valley view rooms, 2 studio suites, 8 executive suites
Tariff Rack rates: Rs 15,000–18,000 (deluxe), Rs 16,000–19,000 (valley view), Rs 28,000–30,000 (studio), Rs 32,000– 35,000 (executive) plus taxes. Web rates from Rs 11,000 plus taxes.
Contact +91-135-2635700, jwmarriottmussoorie.com