Taj Guras Kutir: Where Modern Design Meets Himalayan Majesty

Discover high-altitude luxury at the Taj Guras Kutir resort & Spa with its design-centric spaces, indulgent amenities, and jaw-dropping views of the majestic Kanchenjunga
The resort's design focusses on serenity, while the menus follow a farm-to-table approach
The resort's design focusses on serenity, while the menus follow a farm-to-table approach

The low harmonic hum from the monk reverberates through the air as the sunset covers the mountains with darkness. Candles flicker against gilded paintings on the walls, and incense wafts from burners. People cluster around as the lamp is lit and prayers are offered to Kanchenjunga, a powerful force in local culture. I sink deep into the lounge chair as the butter lamp lighting ceremony at the Taj Guras Kutir Resort & Spa helps to melt away fatigue and kinks—a result of the drive from the Bagdogra airport.

Outside, a stiff wind makes the trees rustle under the starlight early evening. The subtly lit lounge has windows and doors overlooking the mountain ranges. People sip drinks, read books, and talk, surrounded by classic woodwork panelling and décor that exudes an air of luxurious minimalism while scattered objets d’art provide plenty of character.

These guys understand what it takes to create atmosphere, I think. It reminds me of a scene from an Agatha Christie novel set in a ski resort.

Only The Snow-Clad Peaks Are Missing

The Kanchenjunga remains elusive throughout my stay. I catch glimpses of it—in the striking black-and-white photographs on the walls. The ever-helpful staff show me the mountain on their phones—various photos and videos, shot in the day in brilliant sunshine and on moonlit nights when the peaks have a mythical aura. The buzzy vibes of Gangtok with its electric music scene, hipster cafes, and stunning monasteries have attracted many a traveller. However, accommodation options have tended to be on the conservative side, with limited luxe stay options. Named after the vibrantly coloured rhododendrons found in the region, the Taj Guras Kutir Resort & Spa is a notable addition. The luxury mountain resort, with its serene and subtle spaces and design-centric rooms and suites, is a perfect foil to the dramatic ranges of the Eastern Himalayas and the canopied forests of Pangthang in Gangtok.

The resort's design focuses on serenity, while the menus follow a farm-to-table approach
The resort's design focuses on serenity, while the menus follow a farm-to-table approach

"The highlight of the project's setting within this location are the stunning views of the valleys and the magnificent Himalayan range, as well as its remote location in a beautiful forest," says Ankur Choksi, Principal and Co-Founder of Studio Lotus, an architectural firm that designed the resort. "Our approach had to integrate this sense of connection to nature and yet create a comforting and cocooned interior experience for the guests, to bring relief from the sometimes harsh weather outdoors." The beauty of the setting is revealed from all levels of the main building on the Northern side, where one arrives.

"To create a sense of reveal and respite from the long journey, a light timber pavilion creates a preamble to the main building. Acting as the guest reception area, it leads into a meditative courtyard that allows you to transition into the hotel's warm, cosy interior spaces that further open up to spectacular vistas of the mountains at the far end," he says.

Rhododendron Trails

The next day I wake up early at sunrise to get a dekko, but it’s a no-show again, though the views of other mountain ranges more than make up for it. The rising sun rays light up the green forests as white clouds float in wispy tendrils, casting moving shadows. My wood-panelled room has beautiful ceiling-high windows with mountain views and a window alcove with cushions to enjoy the view.

The resort offers an indulgent breakfast buffet with options ranging from local dishes to continental and some fare from other parts of India. I opt for healthy hiking fuel with a plain millet dosa, some sliced fruits, and a cold cuts and cheese platter (Monterey Jack, cheddar, feta, with prunes, olives, pickled onions). They also serve freshly made "hot" items like dosas, alu sabzi with puri, chole bhature, eggs, etc, which are made to order. I had heard about the local avocado, pumsi, and asked to sample a salad. But the fruit, unfortunately, was not in season.

The architecture is a blend of Sikkimese aesthetics and contemporary design
The architecture is a blend of Sikkimese aesthetics and contemporary design

The sun casts shadows on the forest path as I take a walk around the nearby forest on a nature trail with Apil Chhetri, an informed guide. I try to keep up as he stops to point out interesting plants, ferns, and trees, weaving in folk stories and information about their medicinal and culinary uses. The Sikkim mountains are home to many edible and medicinal trees and plants that grow in the wild. It is a fascinating walk, with Chhetri generously sharing the knowledge that he has gathered over the years from elderly locals, including his grandparents, whose traditional cultures have long revered plants and herbs.

He stops, picks up a round, brown thing covered with spiky thorns like a tiny hedgehog, and smashes it with a stone. Inside is a small nut. This is kattus, a wild chestnut, he says holding it out. Like many trees in India, the kattus and its parts have multiple uses. The wood is used to make windows, doors, and furniture. And kattus leaves are used for growing orchids. We also encounter wild berries like sil timmur and hisalu, a Himalayan raspberry. And gharia sisnu, a kind of nettle, useful for heart problems. Rhododendron trees are scattered along the path. Chhetri points to a vine that looks like a snake hood—the nagbeli. He says locals have named many plants for the way they look, like the "athane jaar," which resembles a 50 paisa coin. The giant leaves of the wild monstera growing up trees in the forest are called kaan cherna because of their torn and fragmented appearance. The bark of the chilauney tree will make you itch, hence the name. He hands me a cluster of fern-like leaves, which have anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties. Chhetri says it was used during the pandemic; people would burn it as they believe the smoke has purifying properties. We come across several slender trees, called utis. These are used to make doors and windows, and for erosion control on hillsides.

The Art Of Relaxation

Back at the resort, I pick up a book on Sikkim to check for more information on wild plants over a refreshing cocktail made with gin infused with blueberries. The bar supervisor Dipankar Adhikary does a line of drinks like guras vodka and Indian spice-infused rum which he mixes with brandy, honey, and hot water to make a toddy.

The evening is booked at the J Wellness Spa with Lawmi, who recommends their Signature Facial. Accustomed to the humidity of the Bengal plains, the high-altitude environment had made my skin dry. The massage with in-house products works wonders.

Dinner is at Machan, an offshoot of the legendary all-day dining place in Delhi’s Taj Mahal. I ask for light food, a meal-for-one kind of dinner. The kitchen is in the hands of talented Executive Chef Siddharth Roy, and he gets me a bowl of delicious lamb-based soup. Chef Roy aims to present Machan as a continental specialty restaurant at the resort.

The aim is to keep a farm-to-table ethos by sourcing ingredients from their organic farm for many dishes like the Guras Salad, which uses locally grown seasonal produce including rhododendrons. One of the menu sections, Lap of the Himalayas, focuses on local foods like bhutte ka bhaat, thukpa, geythuk, thenthuk, sel roti, khapse, and Nepalese thali.

A Sanctuary Trek

I am up at dawn again the next day, but outside, everything is covered in a thick fog. "Damnation," I mutter, and head out for breakfast. At the Kauri (local shell pasta) counter, a woman swiftly chops up veggies and sprinkles some spices over the dish. I have my breakfast on the deck where the sun is finally out and I can see colourful houses of the village of Phodong in front. Part of the luxury here is the views from this place. I would recommend heading down early morning to grab a front-seat table on the deck overlooking the mountains.

The next part of the day is spent on a short trek in Fambong Lho Wildlife Sanctuary where the mist envelops us, forcing us to head back as the path is too damp and steep. The forest is home to the famous red panda apart from birds and other animals. Log huts run by the state forest department are located at Golitar and Tumin. The resort offers several activities, apart from the usual Sikkim itinerary. "The mountain paths here are excellent for guided walks," says Sougata Ghosh, Operations Manager. "We host romantic waterfall dinners on our premises, and picnics inside the sanctuary. One of the highlights is a trip to the all-women monastery in Lingdok. "They also offer village lunch experiences on treks. Children can sign up for their day-in-a-forest expedition where they'll learn all about being junior naturalists.

My last evening is spent in the lounge, coddled by thick forest views from windows that invite the ambience of the region’s natural charm inside. I look out the windows at the darkness outside. The Kanchenjunga is right there, but it remains hidden.

The author's stay was sponsored by the property

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