Nestle-up in the Himalayan mountains in the beautifully serene rooms of the Amber Vermont Estate.
Neither bustling Dehra Dun, where we arrive by train from Delhi, nor the winding drive up through Mussoorie town, chock-a-block with hotels, leads us to expect the startling peace of the Amber, Vermont Estate. Barely 10 minutes’ drive up from the Mall, we find ourselves walking down a pebbled outer courtyard, the only sound that of stones crunching underfoot.
The hotel’s sloping green roofs sit serenely atop three separate blocks of rooms, all with glorious views of the Happy Valley. The older block, with three deluxe rooms and a luxurious suite that opens out into the flower-filled back garden, also houses a poolroom, a TV room, a private dining room and a chic but comfortable lobby. This block, we are told, retains much of the original structure, with the wooden panelled walls and some of the lovelier old pieces of furniture restored to perfection, but the rooms (apart from the suite) are usually reserved for the owner’s special guests. We are given a first floor room in the new block, a contemporary stone-and-wood structure built on the site of the old servants’ quarters. Fortified by a luxurious hot shower and a hearty breakfast of aloo and paneer paranthas with pickle and dahi, we deliberate the prospect of a walk, but are defeated by the combination of approaching rain and an irresistibly cosy room: wooden floors, a warm bed and a glass-walled balcony through which you can see the mountains whenever they choose to reappear through the fog.
Every room at the Vermont gets its own balcony, which is priceless. But the high point of the five-acre property is undeniably the Deck: an open area adjoining the lobby where guests are welcome to dine, read or just gaze into the distance, watching the mist slowly wrap itself around the mountains, or listening to the langurs chatter in the trees. There is a dining table for four, a space for low seating, as well as two reclining chairs.
A post-breakfast siesta is followed by lunch on the Deck, after which we are driven down to Mussoorie town (the hotel provides a very welcome shuttle service to and from Library Chowk). We walk first along the picturesque Camel’s Back Road, and then along the length of the Mall, stopping to look at the wrought iron bus stops, the tired ponies lined up for potential tourists to ride. It is off-season, though, and no hordes of cantering children appear. Business is slow in general, whether for ponies or cable cars, or the many photographers offering to capture couples at ‘Bunty-Babli Point’ — which turns out to be outside the Continental Hotel, where Abhishek Bachchan and Rani Mukherjee are shown conning a hotel owner in the 2005 film.
We return to the hotel, where off-season manages to seem like a quiet state of readiness rather than despair or desperation. Yes, the spa is still being built, the regular chauffeur is unavailable and the continental chef has decided to take a holiday, but things seem entirely under control. The brisk and cheerful general manager doubles up to drive guests to town and the waiters volunteer desi alternatives to the western-style snacks we ask for (wonderfully crisp paneer pakoras). The service is slightly slow, but always courteous and mostly thoughtful — though someone needs to take care of the little things, like remembering to provide a strainer on the tea tray, and a tea cosy to ensure that the tea doesn’t get cold by the time it’s found its way up to the guests. The food itself is good: carefully prepared, non-greasy and spiced mildly enough to cater to the most sensitive palate. I recommend the tandoori platter, as well as the Kashmiri rogan josh with home-style tawa rotis. (Oh, and the gulab jamuns.) There isn’t any alcohol available, though the manager suggested he would arrange to have some bought in town if we wanted.
When it isn’t pouring, you can drive up to atmospheric Cloud’s End, among the oldest estates in the area, which seems less like a functioning hotel and more like a museum to Mussoorie past, with its tiger skins and sepia-toned pictures of the Mall and Kulri Bazaar. You could also spend a day in nearby Landour, visiting the old St Paul’s Church, the cemetery or, if you’re lucky, Ruskin Bond’s house. But if you end up at the Vermont in the middle of the monsoon, as we did, there are going to be long stretches of rain during which you can do not much except eat, drink, read, sleep — or watch TV. I watched more TV in two-and-a-half days than I have in a whole year. I also read half a biography of Samuel Pepys, feeling a strange link to foggy London as I sat in my cloud-sheathed balcony, watching the rain come down in sheets. And yet, life seemed to move much faster in 17th-century London than it did at the Vermont. How often does a contemporary holiday offer you such stillness?
* Location Hathi Paon Road, Mussoorie
* Accommodation 12 deluxe double rooms and one deluxe suite
* Tariff Rs 6,500 (rooms), Rs 13,000 (suite). Includes breakfast and dinner. Valid till last weekend of September. High-season tariff: Rs 8,500 (rooms), Rs 15,000 (suite)
* Contact 0135-2630202; www.theamber.in