There’s something luxuriously decadent about watching snow fall softly on the magnificent Himalaya while ensconced in a heated pool with steam swirling around you. The first view of the indoor swimming facility at the new spa block at the Khyber hotel in Gulmarg quite literally takes your breath away: it overlooks a vast expanse of snow-covered rolling mountains, and majestic pine trees. There’s not a soul around and the stillness of the mountains is hermetic. Even though the temperature is set at a comfortable 30 degrees, a plunge in requires some steely resolve. The pool is however, a great feather in Khyber’s cap. It lends a fun sort of uniqueness to the property, since it’s a huge novelty for many of us to be swimming in sub-zero temperatures.
The Khyber Himalayan Resort has had something of a dream run since it opened in 2011. Travellers who never seriously considered Kashmir have suddenly expressed interest in skiing and tobagganning, since there is now a hotel that provides a careful blend of luxury, entertainment and dining. Built in an old fashioned and charming style, all the rooms look like quaint mountain cabins, comforting and warm. The rooms with balconies are especially dramatic. Dining options are aplenty; with a buzzing coffee shop and a little bakery that overlooks the picturesque scenery. If there was something missing in this quite spectacular property it was this : a superbly luxurious spa facility where guests could unwind after a hard day on the ski slopes. “We found, typically, among our guests, not everyone in the family wanted to go skiing everyday,” says Umar Tambroo, MD and promoter of the Khyber Hotels. “The spa service was essential for the weary traveller looking for relaxation on a holiday.” Since February 2014, when the L’Occitane Spa opened here, most of the guests have responded enthusiastically, pre-booking massages online itself. I’m not sure the Khyber will ever be a destination spa hotel, only because Gulmarg offers so many other unique experiences Indian travellers are just (re)discovering.
But it’s a fantastic add-on.
My trip to Gulmarg involved two extensive and rigorous ski trainings. I went at the fag end of winter when the snow was well settled on the meadows and forests. The weather was perfect, sunny and cold. Skiing was part exhilarating, part torture, after which I felt I had earned some pampering at the spa. Like the hotel, the spa at the Khyber quietly celebrates the natural beauty of Gulmarg. There’s simply no getting away from the view. Though it’s almost mandatory to have the drapes pulled shut during a treatment, at my request, the therapist, the very vivacious Wonchi, kept the blinds open. Far from being distracting, snowfall just adds to the tranquillity. The spa has three single treatment rooms and two couple suites, each with a private steam chamber. After perusing the extensive menu I chose a Lemon Balm Body Massage that’s done with a fresh, light citrus, aroma oil. We began after a detailed consultation where I discussed some health issues with Wonchi over a welcome drink, a delicious mix of tea infused with honey ginger.The spa rooms are sanctuary like with a faint aroma of jasmine. My 90-minute massage was a combination of long and short strokes, and light, sustained pressure on my lower back. It was an interesting blend of Balinese, Swedish and acupressure techniques that rebalances the skin and revives energy. For seasoned skiers, the spa offers a Deep Tissue Intense Relief massage as ideal recuperation. Besides this there are over 50 rejuvenating treatments, from aromatherapies to nourishing body scrubs and wraps, to choose from.
Going to a spa was once a luxury but now it’s firmly integral to an urban lifestyle. Most spas today have waiting rooms with aromatic candles and elegant interiors but what really differentiates a good massage from an ordinary one is the whole shebang: the environment, the aromas and a clean, uncluttered mood for complete relaxation. Most of us carry our stresses with us but at the spa here you shed them pretty quickly. The bigger picture at the Khyber Spa works perfectly even though the rooms were a little cramped and overheated. But it’s the details that count which they get just right: calming rituals, soft Zen-like music and a thoughtful therapist who is able to slowly nudge you into a different zone. My entire experience lasted well over three hours; it was unhurried and langorous, setting the mood for a relaxing evening ahead. I wound off my evening with a wonderful Kashmiri dinner. The local dal was sharp and flavourful as was the classic Waza Murg. After a great massage, strangely you don’t feel like overeating. It’s nice to luxuriate in a feeling of inner awakening, however briefly it lasts.
Location Near Gondola, Gulmarg 193403. Two hours’ drive from Srinagar airport
Accommodation 85 rooms
Tariff Rs 14,500 plus taxes. Spa treatments begin at Rs 4,000, taxes extra.
Contact 9906603272, www.khyberhotels.com