There is nothing subtle or apologetic about Te Aroha. It doesn’t
There is nothing subtle or apologetic about Te Aroha. It doesn’tshrink or blend into the mountainside. It hollers from a distance, this multi-winged, resplendent white manor with bright yellow roofs dominating a steep slope. While the entrance gives on to the motorable road, the guesthouse itself is tucked up high so that the gaze is directly drawn to a spectacular view of the ranges and valleys, with road traffic only a distant and occasional murmur.
Te Aroha (which means “the mountain of love” in Maori) has only been open for about a year. Originally the family’s summer home, it was tweaked and a sister structure built alongside to make up this ten-bedroom property.
Sumant Batra — owner, designer, lawyer, poet, author and intrepid entrepreneur, man of many hats — has lent his multifaceted character to the property (though in truth, he only wore one actual hat in the hills). While he lauds his wife Asha and other partners for their unstinting contributions and support, it is clear that the backbone and skin of this venture are his. Minute care has gone into everything from construction to furnishing, from solid restored antiques to curiosities like a High Court bench seat indented by a rotation of three judges.
A painstaking host, he discreetly ensures that his guests are well attended — stopping for a chat if they feel like one, keeping it cursory if he senses they would rather be left to their own devices. His attitude is well emulated by the staff, always unobtrusively available but not hovering ingratiatingly. The meals from the Pahadi-born, much-travelled and -trained chef span many cuisines, but someone runs the day’s menu by you to see if there is something else you desire.
At the first of several varied and invariably delicious meals, the mountain air already serves as an excuse for overindulgence. After a long shower in the spacious bathroom of the expansive Master Bedroom suite, I grab my book and slip out to a little personal lawn with wrought iron furniture, where I intersperse my reading with mountain-gazing. Chasing the sun, I move at teatime to the terrace below my room, which proves to be a splendid vantage point for a sunset.
Prior to dinner, I turn towards a swing bench to star-gaze, winding my way around the pit of a small, open amphitheatre that hosts musical concerts, barbeque nights, poetry readings and other entertainments. After, a hot-water bottle neatly snuggled between the covers at turndown service adds welcome warmth to the promise of deep, restful slumber in my plump four-poster bed.
The next day, after a leisurely breakfast, I take a short drive to Mukhteswar in the hope of a little rappelling. Seeing I have been preceded by fifty-odd high-school students, I beat a dignified retreat to Te Aroha, where I sprawl on the grass until my book runs out.
Repairing to the basement beneath the wood-and-glass restaurant, I skirt the guests playing carrom and survey the shelves of DVDs and books. I know there are more in ‘The Attic’, with its splendid view, but I have developed an attachment to my lawn and ‘my wing’. By evening, though, I am ready for another foray into the outside world.
We do the short run to Dhanachuli village by car and cut through lush fields on foot, up and down cobbled pony paths, to a charming little settlement around an old temple. Most of the families have moved to the main road, a few have built themselves modern homes, with cable and dish; but lying abandoned in this beautiful setting is a bunch of low stone houses with intriguing carved wooden windows, doors and frames, begging either to be restored or remain untouched.
On the heels of my departure next day come new attractions. A shop stocked with local products opens the same day, its shelves soon to sport six specially commissioned tea blends. The Oriental Senses spa opens late in June. A friend samples a scrub and massage and finds it pleasant without quite being blown away. Considering that it is still early days, one hopes it may still rise to excellence.
Location Dhanachuli Bend, Nainital District, Uttarakhand (7hr by road from Delhi; there are also overnight and day trains to Kathgodam, from where it is a 1.5hr drive, via Bhimtal, Padampuri and Dhari). The nearest airport is Pantnagar, 3hr away.
Accommodation 6 deluxe rooms (5 doubles, 1 single) and 4 suites (one two-bedroom, one with a private garden)
Tariff Rs 3,500 (deluxe single), Rs 5,900 (deluxe doubles), Rs 7,500 (2 small suites) and Rs 9,900 (2 larger suites). Meals extra
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