As I clamber up and scamper down the cobblestoned alley, less than inebriated but certainly overcome after a swig of the local saunfi, this whole place feels faintly reminiscent of an old European town though you aren't likely to find any taverns or Christmas film crews here.
And that is because Araiya, Palampur's latest soak-it-all-in resort sprawls in the serenest corner of the Kangra Valley. Here mountain dogs thrust their muzzles into your pyjama pockets and the beneficent Dhauladhars watch over you like towering grandfathers. I am already dreaming about settling into one of those window seats at the all-day diner and digging into the sumptuous breakfast spread.
At evening, sipping the Neugal Flow cocktail and taking in the darkening forest on the faraway hill, you almost forget you're at a resort where each one of your demands has been met. Even if all you do is flit from your cosy suite to the spa and the bar, cheekily named The Old Fox and back, you will know Palampur.
And if your bubble is greater than that, Sandeep Sanchihar, the ever-smiling manager, will promptly arrange a day of café-hopping in Dharamkot and Bir or a peaceful village walk (both done courtesy the very capable Exsul Travel team). Sometime back, Bollywood couple Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor Khan with son Taimur were here on an extended family holiday. Yes, it was during the very time when the media went crazy having spotted them taking leisurely walks in Dharamshala.
The accommodation options (deluxe rooms, deluxe and executive suites, and duplex suites) spell luxury throughout, the only pandemic here is joie de vivre - to be spread among friends, family, and coworkers, thanks to the superb banqueting options available. For now, my comfortable suite - which spells heady elegance but is easy on the eye - suffices.
"The most popular Instagram pictures by our guests, however, seem to be those taken are from the guestroom balconies. The outdoor pool on the bar terrace comes a close second. There are plenty of walks that can be taken from the resort as the lawns lead right into the forest. A 20-minute hike leads to a lovely flat open space surrounded by rhododendrons, which is a perfect spot for meditation or even birdwatching," Amruda Nair, Director, Araiya Hotels and Resorts, tells me.
One of the best things about Araiya is the free mingling of the great outdoors and the resort itself. It's quite an open floor plan of sorts with accommodation options arranged across levels and lots of walks and climbs. Amruda shares, "We have catered to single women travellers who want to experience the outdoors with treks and paragliding as well as families who do not want to leave the resort and prefer to bond in our expansive living rooms and are happy to enjoy tea in the gardens or bonfires at night."
Brand Araiya has always been on the forefront of sustainable operations and design and these elements were developed when Araiya Palampur was launched, shares Amruda. Locally available material, for instance, stone from the site, has been used for the construction, helping the resort cut down on the carbon footprint of the resulting transport and also construction waste. With the effortless aesthetic of refinement and luxury that the resort exudes all over, this might seem almost unimaginable to the average mind.
"We were the first to introduce organic amenities that are vegan, paraben and sulfate-free with dispensers to reduce the amount of single-use plastic. We have our own bottling plant at the resort so that guests can enjoy drinking filtered spring water that is served in glass bottles, sanitised and refilled. We also practice waste segregation and composting at the resort," she shares.
Araiya is expanding to two other states with boutique offerings in Ahmedabad and Kozhikode. While Araiya Calicut is intended as a resort offering with heritage and Ayurveda at its core, the Ahmedabad property will be a luxury golf resort spread over 270 acres.
Drive down from Delhi or Chandigarh, or take a flight to Dharamshala and take a local taxi to reach Araiya.