I stood in the middle of a huddle of conifers, benevolent giants standing guard over a gleaming, 17-foot-tall multifaceted monolith. Entranced, I float through the security entrance, into the luxurious mountain abode called Hyatt Regency Dharamshala Resort, strategically placed in a secret pocket of Dharamkot's forested environs that resonates with bird calls.
In the foyer, as my welcome drink is brought to me, I wish greedily that the pine cone partnering the pretty cup is for keeps. I quickly tell myself it's an adornment, dummy. But, you know what's not? The 80 options for accommodation, including 41 twin-bed rooms, four private villas, three suites, 17 club rooms and 15 rooms with balconies.
Families on holiday can choose from the suites or the lavish private residences. Those on a spiritual retreat will find peace in Zendo, the meditation facility, the upper quarters of which have been offered to local monks who dwelt here before. Shanti, their spa facility, makes it the perfect mountain relaxation idyll.
I am escorted up to the king-with-a-balcony room. The mesh door allows the crisp mountain air to mingle with the warm snugness inside, reassuring my stiff body that had dropped on the plush chaise longue. My eyes remain glued to the top of the blue mountain kilometres away, smoking the mist like a formidable old guard.
The rain has left the morning chilly, but the immunity booster (a concoction of lemon, ginger and Kangra wild honey) keeps me from catching a cold. Lunch is a Tibetan opera conducted piecemeal by the head chef Sandeep Biswas. Articulate and smooth, he has his orchestra bring a retinue of dishes that climaxes in the tantalisingly delectable sikarni, topped with saffron and pistachios. Dinner is a drama piece the Himachali dham, redolent with the local scents and flavours, is presented in a crescent dish, the inhabitants of which are shining with glee at having been understood so well, finally.
Chef Biswas waxes philosophical about the farm-to-table thought behind the food here. The herb garden for the kitchen is a baby still learning to walk, but coming along nicely nevertheless. The locally grown tomatoes release their juices with a spurt in your mouth, and the grilled sole from the Beas can really change a non-fish-eater (Aside: The banoffee can be done a little less sweet, though).
Hyatt Dharamshala really does get into the whole vibe of the place the ubiquitous Buddhist infinity knot motif is their answer to the hypnotic, hexagonal patterned carpet in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. Outside, one gawks, awestruck, again, like Kubrick's prehistoric apes of 2001 A Space Odyssey, at the 17-foot-high steel monolith whose many faces, present a tableau of the sights of Dharamkot forest. The property blends away nicely into the raw landscape, courtesy the stone cladding on the exterior.
The uber-classy 2082 (after Dharamkot's altitude) comes up with three cocktails curated for my palate. The first is called Mountain Dawn a fruity, fizzy tryst with butterfly pea flowers fortified with Indian sparkling wine. Valley of Flowers is the second stop -- a concoction of local floral specials, jasmine, lavender and geranium bolstered with tuberose-wax-rested vodka (I wish they would go easy on the floral perfume a bit).
I reserve the finale for dinner -- a gritty little coming together of Indian whisky and local apricots, shaken (not stirred) with freshly pressed ginger and local turmeric juice, and their signature forest honey infused with black pepper and sandalwood. It is aptly named the (Dharam) Shala Sour.
At dinner, the staff informs me that our morning hike to Bhagsu Nag and guided tour to Kangra Fort that was originally in our itinerary is in jeopardy. I fling the suggestion back at them that we go to Andretta and the Palampur tea estate instead. And just like that, it is arranged. There are few things that this driven bunch will say no to, and I can't think of any. By morning, they seem to know my preferences more than I do, and promptly pack fruits and fruit juice for the way. How paternal.
The property accommodates 76 guest rooms, including 10 regency club rooms and three suites. The property also features four private residences.
Address: Village, Dharamkot, McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh 176219
Contact: 0189 222 1234