The manor reborn

130 years old Abbotsford-Prasada Bhavan is Nainital's first real luxury guesthouse
The Abbotsford-Prasada Bhavan, Nainital
The Abbotsford-Prasada Bhavan, Nainital

My only memory of Nainital is of boating on the dull green waters of its eponymous lake, feeling overwhelmed as I looked around. Not by scenic splendour, but by the dusty concrete landscape &mdash a bewildering web of shops and lodgings that obscured all greenery. That was 20-odd years ago, and it was crowded even then. So as I return to this touristy getaway, I can't shake off my scepticism about Abbotsford-Prasada Bhavan &mdash a guesthouse that simultaneously advertises itself as a 10-minute walk from town and a retreat that affords pure peace and quiet.

Climbing the sharp incline past the stately High Court, the buzz of the town slowly fading, my scepticism turns to curiosity. And a few unexpected turns later, to surprise. Standing on a gentle rise, APB's quaint stone-walled structure is artfully concealed by towering oak, deodar, walnut and apple trees &mdash the latter strategically planted by the owner, Mrs Kanta Prasada, to enhance privacy &mdash that stretch thickly over the estate's two-and-a-half acres, imparting a tangible sense of remoteness to the lodge.

APB is also Nainital's first real luxury guesthouse. Unlike every other ancestral property around that has been converted into a hotel, this skilfully restored 130-year-old cottage instead serves as a homestay while offering the opulence of an upscale hotel sleek flat-screen TVs in every bedroom, posh bathrooms (very important) and a spa that's expected to come up soon. The anachronistic name reflects the history of this place, and Nainital itself a reminder of a period when the hill-station was enjoyed almost exclusively by the British as a summer retreat. Built in 1876 by John Hope Simpson, it was named Abbotsford Lodge. In 1903 it acquired new owners in Jwala Prasada and his wife Purnima (also the niece of Rabindranath Tagore), and consequently a new appellation &mdash Prasada Bhavan. Four distinguished generations of this family enjoyed it as a summer home before its doors graciously opened for the rest of us.

A quick peek into the visitors' book reveals plenty of glowing praise from overseas visitors, and it's easy to see why. Century-old artefacts, including traditional silver/brass urns and centrepieces, marble busts and a striking assortment of bejewelled swords, adorn the cosy lobby, drawing and dining areas. Antique crystal chandeliers hang prettily from high rafters, illuminating gilded walls accessorised with exquisite Mughal miniatures and oil paintings. The polished period furniture glows warmly in every room. Dark pinewood underfoot displays Afghan and Jail carpets that have aged gracefully over the decades.
The old grandfather's clock still keeps accurate time.

I repair to my room after lunch &mdash comforting homely cooking that I will experience in all my meals at APB. Sprawled on my super-comfortable, golden double-bed, I realise two days aren't enough to soak in the simple pleasures, which elude me in frenetic Delhi. Like reading for hours &mdash uninterrupted &mdash &nbspthe book I've borrowed from the small library just outside my room. Or taking quiet, picturesque walks to the higher reaches. Or sitting outside, the crisp mountain air cleansing my lungs, and taking in the spectacular emerald views over delicious homemade macaroons and cupcakes. Or just sleeping, at any time of the day, without worrying about that damn alarm.

The information

Where Mallital, Nainital, Uttarakhand  
Accommodation Five bedrooms
Tariff Ground Floor Crown Room (old-world d&eacutecor) $250 Queen's Room (new, with a modernistic d&eacutecor) $340. First Floor King's Suite (old world) $300 Princess Suite (old world) $365 Juliet Room (new) $395. Tariff includes all meals, including morning and evening tea.
Contact 05942-236188,
www.abbotsfordnainital.net

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