Intimately Yours

08 Jan, 2015

Large big hotels however luxurious are just not my thing and I have stayed in enough to recognize this indifference.  Give me a place small and intimate anytime, and I am on a cloud, wave and a breeze. It’s my kind of vacation. When did this happen ? This shift from wide-eyed wonderment at large rooms, massive pool, gym and Jacuzzi to passionate endorsement of small, detailed , personal and boutique.

To begin with I always agonize over what I would call such a place, boutique hotel is often loosely used, homestay conjures up a sense of the ordinary, retreat and hideaways are again used without restraint, my closest word is a negative like a non-hotel. But my personal word for such a place is an ‘intimate escape’. A place one would be tempted to pack away to each time work and world gets to you.

My first crush, I believe was when I met Bhuwan Kumari of The Cottage in Joelikot. She spoke of her childhood dream of owning a red roofed cottage in the hills and I dreamt of her cottage, ivy on the walls, sloping bright red roof, smoke from a chimney, mist in the back ground….vivid pictures embellished with liberal brush strokes of crayons and water colors. I only saw Joelikot two years later, before then I had spoken about The Cottage to a few hundred people, weaving Bhuwan’s story with my own sense of romance. And hence began a life long journey. Soon I met the reclusive maverick, Steve Lall in the contained forest he protected, Jilling Estate had simple cottages in a clearing of a forest you could reach only if you have trudged up a steep climb of about 2 kms. There were more such discoveries to follow – Holm Farm, Lake Resort, Sitla Estate, Red Roof, Cedar Lodge, Himalayan Trout House, Johnson’s Lodge, Om Villa, even some of Neemrana properties. There were forts and havelis in Rajasthan that beckoned , villas in Goa I discovered and homestays in Kerala that I was told about.

It was in the winter of 2003 that my destiny put a hand out to my slumbering passion. On a rather reluctant site inspection of Churhat Kothi, which to my knowledge is one of India’s first truly conceptual Jungle Lodge in Bandhavgarh – everything about it was unique, stylish and detailed. I was awe-struck. There was the central large building looking out to the wilderness, with large open windows with nothing but tingling locally made iron chimes as embellishments, long tables still holding the contours of fallen trees it was fashioned from, its surface displaying the life of the tree in its lines, knots, warts and fading colors, even the wax from several hundred candles in the center looked like a piece of art . The zen like atmosphere sparkled with orange cushions, red upholstery, shelves filled with books, small intriguing objects de art  and large frames of black and white photographs. Then one walked around to see the tents, the young owner talked less and unlike other hoteliers was not inclined to show off his camp. I learnt he was a fashion photographer much later and most of the photographs on the walls were his. The tent was minmal yet exuded a sense of style, Fab India bath linen complimented hand-made accessories and fragrant bath amenities, Khadi – I think ! I do believe that if you truly love something it comes back to you. Churhat Kothi was the first lodge that I personally marketed to the trade and media.

What is it about small hotels I wonder that has sprung forth collective brands and marketing endorsements across the world. To me small intensifies an experience, bringing into sharp focus the detail, service and the culture of a retreat or a homestay. Like the amuse-bouche…. the display and detail in the small morsel highlights a lifetime of expertise and passion, a small intimate homestay or retreat brings into focus its setting and style, what you can make of the destination is then your personal choice. It could well be a hideaway, a retreat, a quiet place to write that long pending memoir, an unsullied family vacation or a commune with friends from the past and present.

Ideally I would love to keep a place I have discovered as a personal secret and though this in the region of my work, there are places that still remain as my own private haven. Large open windows that bring in wide expanses of the sea, the weather as softly humid as the beds I curl into , high rooms that open to a terrace, windy mornings with welcome waves crashing against rocky shores, there is chanting somewhere and bells of a temple or church , a cup of coffee and a multitude of birds. Meals when hungry are simple yet remind you of the earth that offered them in prayer. And what’s more each time I walked down to the beach, the hotel’s mascot ‘Imli’ bounded along with me, a silent and frisky companion who accomplished himself as a good listener. 

And no, I am not going to tell you where this is ! Each of us has to find one of our own, even if it is in our own mind.

Wow! Lovely!
Pratima Das | 20 Mar, 2015
This is beautiful! Mirrors so many of my thoughts and feelings too - the little hideaway much needed to escape city madness, a little cottage in the quiet hills to call home. What a delight, to have these little homes one can visit and carry back their memories forever. Soft imprints on the mind. Thank you for this.
Ragini | 20 Mar, 2017