Swim, write, eat, sleep. That’s what I wanted as a holiday. With just a few quick trips for Let’s Be Outdoorsy, it has been 2 years since I have travelled long form or at leisure. Family holidays too lately were short getaways without much leisure time spent with each other. So the idea behind this one was to relax and do pretty much nothing.
Where to From Chandigarh
We wanted to invest in a holiday in India, one preferably in the outdoors. It had to be a quaint hill station, a short drive from Chandigarh. Why Chandigarh? Because Dad (again just like the Bali holiday) randomly booked super cheap tickets to Chandigarh without the faintest idea where to. Last time it was just 4 days, thankfully this time we had a week.
This place had to have enough to keep my Dad’s Columbus like explorer’s feet busy, magical vistas for my Mom’s recent photography hobby, a lot of quiet time for Yuktie to take her away from her crazy start-up life back home and enough fitness options for me to continue with my training.
That’s a lot of boxes to check, we needed a property with these amenities and a location quaint and quite enough with those vistas. With Chandigarh as the start point and another vital criterion – not more than a 4-hour drive, we started our research.
Thanedar, Sangla Valley, Chapslee, outskirts of Rishikesh, Narkanda were our first considerations. While all of these were magical suggestions, completely outdoorsy with the best vistas, they were over a 7-hour drive away. Someone suggested Shimla. While we had travelled there as kids and were vary of how commercially crowded a destination it had become, we continued exploring the outskirts and chanced upon Mashobra.
Wildflower Hall, an Oberoi property was a place we had had a flying visit to (back when the Bollywood film Black was being shot in Shimla, we were coincidentally staying at the haunted-looking Woodville Palace hotel, where the film was shot) over 10 years ago. While Woodville was extremely scrary to stay in (we were kids remember! what might mass of as romantic as an adult is quite scary looking to a kid!), I remember being mesmerised by the open vistas of Wildflower Hall, we all had faint memories of the property. We were also unsure whether over the years the property would have lost its sheen… but it was definitely a contender.
Too Many Options While Booking Online
Here’s the thing about hotel bookings in our digital age. With an overload of information and a new property popping up everywhere, it is tough to shortlist one of repute. Even with reviews and ratings on several sites, there is no way to ascertain whether the property selected is deserving of my family’s precious week-long vacation.
We came across a zillion properties 4-5 hour drive away from Chandigarh, some near Chamba, Kasol and more but either the rooms looked questionable or the set up was not up to the mark. This time we did not have the bandwidth to deal with substandard service.
Mom’s upcoming birthday called for a special celebration and a fair bit of well-deserved indulgence. Armed with those few faint memories and the brand behind the name, we zeroed in on Mashobra and went ahead with bookings at the Wild Flower Hall, Mashobra.
Checking All The Boxes
Mashobra checked all the boxes of a comparatively short drive, relaxed hill-station, adventure and leisure, quaint yet having all the creature comforts us city folk needed, there were a few tourists, yet it had plenty of moments where we were the only ones at the place and the outdoor trails were magical to say the least.
Mashobra between the months of August-September experiences quite a lot of fog, so don’t get carried away by that mountain view room. Even though we were booked to a garden view room, when we checked, their sales pitch of waking up to a mountain view room was too tempting; we fell for that one. Luckily, we had a few days of fog less, sun crisp days and to witnessing that sunrise sure was surreal.
The highlight of Mashobra has to be a 3 km Wild Strawberry trail route. Locals told us that the path is covered with a carpet of wild strawberries in the months of May and June. Even in September, 25 strawberries in all I counted – the khatta meetha wild kind among other beautiful flowers and fauna. We walked, jogged and explored through quite a few more trails, including a mountain biking trail through the forest. Being there gave a whole new meaning to listening to the silences.
Wild Flower Hall
The property was well maintained and a perfect indulgence; best of which were the indoor pool, the super warm outdoor jacuzzi with a brilliant brilliant mountain view, the sun-kissed leisurely breakfasts in the outdoors and the early morning yoga sessions. They seem to have ample parking if you are on a road trip and the property is cosy enough for a few days of undisturbed stay. Though it is over 15kms away from Shimla, there are a few villages closely for basics if you need to purchase, and some really reasonable restaurants a short walk away from the main gate.
However, the staff were a little bit of a disappointment. On arrival, while we were to check in, one of the staff members at the check-in desk insisted we pay the balance right there and then in cash. There is a credit card, a debit card even, we reasoned with him. But he insisted on the cash bit, stating some vague reasons…that too this was before the demonetisation drama! We were stumped for a few seconds and then told him to back off (in gentler words). We promptly cleared things the next day with another member of staff. At another occasion, he insisted on giving us an indoor drone like history of the property when we categorically asked to be shown the outdoor features – especially since sunset was due in less than an hour. It wasn’t an unreasonable ask, I was keen to read about the colonial stories but not at this hour of the evening on our first day there. Yet our polite requests were ignored and the drone tone continued. I had to pause him curtly and walk out for him to quickly follow and give us what we asked. See how sour the memory of a luxurious place can be just because of the insolence of one member of staff?
I am happy to have noticed that he stayed clear of our path for the rest of our stay!
While the rest of the staff were lovely – giving us drinking water in a jug (we always ask for this in place of packaged drinking water in order to reduce consumption of disposable plastic while travelling. I still don’t understand the logic of all that unnecessary plastic.) instead of the standard plastic packed bottles, giving us a choice of over 5 different varieties of pillows and other such silly indulgences you bother exploring only at such properties; one of the senior managers too was a tad bit pushy. On Mom’s birthday, we wanted to click pictures from our phones for possibly framing later. While they were kind enough to organise a cake, she (the senior concierge member) insisted on clicking the pictures with her phone. We politely asked her to use one of ours (I had a feeling the resolution of her phone camera would not be enough for print) but she wouldn’t hear of it. The result – when she emailed the pictures across, they were clearly too small to print.
While the check-in desk and concierge staff could do better, the housekeeping and restaurant teams deserve a big applause for their beautiful service and keen observations. I still treasure the little laptop cleaning pouch and the neatly wrapped Velcro for our chargers that the housekeeping members left behind for us.
Besides these minor annoyances, the choice of Mashobra was just right for the kind of holiday my family and I needed. I got to focus on training (yoga, pool and gym and trails), Yuktie got a good amount of piece and self-indulgence time and Mom and Dad had their share of explorations, heading out for more trail walks than their kids! A weeklong vacation for four, at a premium property in India at the cost of approximately 2.5lakhs – I’d say that’s money and memories well spent.
We did visit Shimla’s Mall road too, more for the lovely memories of our last visit here. More about it in the next post.