I love travelling to places no one has heard of as I especially enjoy the remoteness and the quiet. However, as we alighted from our bus into the traffic snarls of Manali there was nothing we wished more than a ‘Beam me up Scotty’ moment. Finally an auto-rickshaw did the job, the Scott in him reminiscent of the rickshaw guy in the Visa advertisement. He deftly manoeuvred the three-wheeler through traffic and narrow lanes to finally switch back and run alongside the last steep section of road, which ended at The Lama House.
As the gates closed, I felt a sense of peace envelop me. The large white bungalow stood isolated and serene like a jewel crowned on the evergreen pines and cedars. We walked through the well-tended garden to the front porch and Karma, the youthful Bhotia dog, came running to greet us. Behind him stood Pavane Mann, the lady of the house, smiling and affable, enquiring about our journey and welcoming us.
The three-storeyed, eight-room bungalow used to be a spiritual retreat and learning centre of Spiti Tulku Rinpoche, a Nyingma lama from Spiti. He built the home on land sanctified by his guru and according to ancient rites of Tibetan Buddhism, creating a space conducive for higher learning and meditation for chosen monks.
It is everything a hill home could be and more. The front porch lined with colourful geraniums opens into the coffee lounge and dining area where you can French-press your own freshly ground coffee and devour homemade cakes and cookies. Six of the eight rooms in the home are open to guests, while the rest are kept for the family. We got a sumptuously spacious corner room on the upper floor, with natural light peering through the windows. One side overlooked the garden and forest, while the other peered into the apple orchard.
The cosy Library Bar on the same floor is lined with old family photographs, books from Pavane’s collection, seating draped in throws, and old rugs hugging the floor. In the evenings you will find a concoction known as ‘The Admiral’s Hot Toddy’ here. Maybe ask for a dash of rum if you prefer.
Pavane is a connoisseur of brews. She sources organic coffee beans from single estates and makes no bones of how barbaric instant coffee is. Good tea and whisky are also on offer. An adventurous woman, Pavane has little ground left to cover in the Himalaya. A passionate trekker and wilderness lover, she founded and ran Outdoor Adventures India for almost 23 years. While she has hung up her work boots (not her travel boots), she is more than happy to share her vast bank of information and her myriad adventures with guests.
We landed in time for breakfast which lazily extended from eight to near noon. Puranchand, the resident cook, tossed up great pancakes, waffles and a delectable masala omelette. There was wild forest honey, spreads and homemade fruit preserves alongside an array of breakfast essentials. For lunch, Pavane encourages guests to sample some of the restaurants in old Manali below, but we didn’t venture beyond the excellent Casa Bella Vista café. The extensive menu stems from the owner’s passion for food, with the pasta, salads and desserts being her own recipes. The wood-fired pizzas here are touted as the best in Manali and a promise of everything being as organic as sourcing can make it.
If you’d rather eat in, give them a heads up. The Lama House has a fixed meal plan for each day of the week. The recipes are from Pavane’s grandmother, fondly referred to as mom, and what she describes as the quirky tastes of her grandfather. There are old staples like shepherd’s pie, quiche and salads alongside rajma rice, kadi pakoda, Hyderabadi biryani and bread pudding.
While the first day was about soaking in the tranquillity of the space, day two was spent exploring the area around the house. The walk to the meadows of Lamadug and the Manali sanctuary above are ideal for an early-morning saunter through a forest sprinkled with wild rose bushes. The crowds at Hadimba were reminiscent of a mela but the beautiful temple remains a favourite. A third day of just soaking in the heightened energy of The Lama House with a book in one of its many nooks would have been ideal.
There was a small get together in the evening as some friends and family dropped in. There was rum, toddy and some good single malt to choose from. I settled for some excellent Macallan, while great conversations ensued. I wasn’t sure if it was the mature spirit of the whisky or the spirited ambience of The Lama House but I was rejuvenated enough to tackle the next leg of my road trip—Ladakh.
Six rooms including three bay window valley view room, one fireplace room and two mountain-facing rooms