Forget the Swiss Alps. Luxury in the lap of mountains is right at your doorstep and it’s called the Khyber Himalayan Resort and Spa in Gulmarg.
Impeccable service, luxurious spa by L’Occitane, delectable local cuisine, interiors speaking volumes about the rich Kashmiri culture — Khyber sets a new benchmark in luxury hospitality. No wonder then Twitterati and glitterati alike are impressed by this Kashmiri jewel. A birdie tells us that from foreign ambassadors to Bollywood divas to poets — Khyber has hosted them all. For us it was a three day romantic getaway to experience snow right at the onset of winter.
It was a scenic one and a half hour drive from the Srinagar airport. The roads were bumpy, recuperating from the floods that ravaged Kashmir about four months back, but the view outside remains splendid — pine trees, mountains and bearded men in their long cloaks. It’s always difficult to capture the magic of Kashmir in words.
Some hotels impress you with their fast and smooth check-in process. Since we had already mailed our preferences and also documents, the check-in took less than five minutes at Khyber. So while we sipped our first Kahwa in Gulmarg, soaking in the beauty of the destination resort which was to be our abode for next three days, the check-in was done and our room keys handed to us!
Rooms: Khyber Himalayan Resort and Spa has 85 rooms including three cottages — one bedroom, two bedroom and presidential cottage. The antique furniture, aesthetics of Kashmiri architecture and lavish interiors make the rooms a visual treat besides lending them a distinct character. We opted for a room with balcony though the rooms that don’t feature balconies too have floor length windows to enjoy the view outside. The rooms are spacious as one would expect at a luxury property. The bathroom is done up in a delightful manner stocked with luxury toilteries from Inara. A Kashmiri carpet sits pretty in the bathroom and that’s when you realise luxury actually lies in the details. At Khyber the mountains never leave you. Whether it’s the bedroom or bathtub, the delightful view of the mountains and meadows are always there. (Watch the Vine video here )
Food: Food is the surprise element at Khyber. I wasn’t expecting it to be extraordinary as the case usually is with hotels located in far-flung hills. The multi-cuisine restaurant Cloves, that offers enchanting panaromic views, not only dishes out sumptuous Kashmiri Wazvan with elan but does justice with its Chinese and Italian fare too.
The cigar and sheesha lounge Calabash is where we spent our long evenings nibbling some appetizers and sharing heart-warming stories when the temperature outside dipped to sub-zero level. The carpets and exquisite Kashmiri furniture that adorned this Indian drawing room-kind of lounge were equally awe-inspiring. I will remember my evenings spent there for a long time and the hookahs placed on small tables with intricate designing. That’s why we love boutique hotels as against the cookie-cutter ones.
The Spa: A heated pool with ceiling to floor windows that offer the uniterrupted view of the snow covered pine trees and the mighty mountains is another high-point of this property. The Khyber Spa by L’Occitane is the modern sanctuary where you must spend some time.I usually go for the signature massage at a spa as it allows you to experience the best that a spa can offer. So I opted for their signature 90-minute Lemon Balm Body Massage that uses Swedish, Balinese and acupressure techniques. It was blissful, but for the first time I didn’t want to shut my eyes while the expert hands of a trained masseur worked on my body because I was enjoying watching how the soft snow flakes were knocking without noise on the window of the treatment room. It was the most beautiful view that a spa can offer! The view was priceless for rest of it you can check out the menu. I was so smitten by the spa that I visited it the next day for the Shea butter facial that was perfect for the cold weather when skin needs that extra pampering.
From its lobby that houses a big dewan (Indian-style couch) to mesmerizing interiors of Calabash to rooms that have antique furniture — this hotel makes you feel as if you are living in a Kashmiri palace.
There is another reason why you will feel like that. More than 80 per cent of the staff consists of locals and after spending three days at the resort I can vouch for the fact that if anyone can give Rajasthani hospitality run for its money it has to be Kashmiri hospitality.
The Gulmarg Gondola or the ski lift is a stone’s throw away from the resort. So when you are not busy clicking pictures from your balcony and uploading them on instagram (yes the w-fi works just fine here) you can go out trekking. Daredevils can go for skiing on the powdered slopes.
A word of caution, located at a height of more than 8,000 feet, go to Gulmarg well-prepared. Though there is a doctor on call, if you suffer from sickness at such a height carry your tried and tested medicines.
Add this resort to your bucket list because this might be your only chance of experiencing a real paradise!