Windamere Hotel: A Destination?
Category: Luxury (Colonial Hotel)
As you walk along the Mall road or the pathway leading up to the top of Observatory Hill
, you will see this wonderful colonial property. It's located right in the heart of Darjeeling town and overlooking the Chowrasta Mall
. It's often referred as the Original Heritage Hotel of the Himalayas.
Windamere Hotel Darjeeling
During one of my stays at Windamere and I had met up with the hotel's Managing Director Ms. Elizabeth Clarke. She is a British Canadian and a friend of the owner's family.
During a relaxed conversation as we sat on the Sunny Side Patio sipping Castleton Darjeeling tea, I asked her, why is this hotel so special? She replied... "although technically it's a hotel, it's actually a destination by itself. There are other fine hotels in Darjeeling, but Windamere does not compete with them. Because others offer rooms where guests stay anonymously. Here it's a collection of houses. It's more like an upscale home. Here guests are invited over Afternoon Tea or a glass of wine, and soon they start talking to each other. They can often be seen even sharing a table in the dining room."
Windamere is now the only property in The Observatory Hill
. The only other persons who live in the hill are the Hindu pundits and the Lamas at the shrines on top of the hill.
Shubhana, the General Sales Manager joined us soon and mentioned that this colonial heritage property is all about dreams and memories. People come back and many of them spend all their vacation days in the hotel premises and do not even go out.
They spend their time soaking in the old colonial charm of the property, enjoying the marvelous views from their rooms and from the romantic Sunny Side Patio that overlook the Himalayan snow peaks, and relishing the traditional British style of dining. The hotel provides personalized services to the guests.
This is the hotel where the 12th King (Chogyal) of Sikkim Palden Thondup Namgyal met with the lady Hope Cooke (an American socialite)... they married in 1963.
Sunny Side Patio, Windamere
See the bench at the right end corner. It has a plate with names
of the couple who met here and became life partners
Windamere thrives on returning guests. Shubhana pointed towards a bench in the Sunny Side patio that said it all. There was a small wooden board fixed on the bench that said "Jennifer and David Bidwell met on this bench on 13.10.1991" - a couple who met here for the first time and went on to become life partners. She said there are guests for who Windamere is like the only Christmas destination.
There is a couple who would be coming for the 19th consecutive Christmas. When they come, they book for the next year. There are many guests who celebrated their honeymoon here and now bring their children and grandchildren showing them the cottages where they stayed.
The first or the original building Ada Villa was built in the late 1880s. Windamere then used to be a boarding house for the bachelor British and Scottish tea planters. The young planters needed a nice place to stay while they were away from their home country. Subsequently in 1939, the property was converted into a hotel just before World War II started.
The old colonial suites are kept almost as they were in 1800s with tall cupboards and antique furniture. Only the plastering and few amenities have been added for the upkeep of the rooms. When the second world war began, the planters started vacating the place and the property became empty.
Ms. Clarke believes that there was a partner or an associate of the property who owned the original Windermere Hotel in the Lake District of England. The original Windermere Hotel was already a famous property. They loved the name Windermere and just replaced the letters 'er' with the letter 'a' thus giving the name Windamere to this property in Darjeeling. And Windamere Darjeeling too lived up to the reputation of the original property in England. However, there is no official documentation of this.
Elizabeth J. Clarke, during our conversation
See the old pillar style letter box behind her
In one corner of the Sunny Side open space, there is a red pillar type letter box of the British era. It is still used by the Indian postal service. There is a story around this. Mrs. Tenduf-La, the late owner of the property was the Grand Dame of Darjeeling. She was fondly known as "Madame". She used to joke about the letter box and often said "It is the only thing here older than I am".
Ms Clarke finally ended saying that this hotel is about "Mind, Body and Spirit. We don't call it ambience, it's the energy. We create an environment where people can just be and be by themselves". So what is Mind Body and Spirit? And how does the property reflect the energy? Let's explore that further.
Windamere hotel property has several sections or wings. There are houses, cottages, club, dining and other facilities scattered across several acres of the property. There are 38 rooms that are scattered in several houses, cottages and colonial suites. They have no numbers, rather names. The rooms are named after special visitors of the property and family friends.
Signs to houses in Windamere
You can click on a sign to get there
A room in the property is named "Chogyal of Sikkim", another one is named after the Prince Peter of Greece and Denmark who too visited the property, and yet another one as "Princess of Siam" because the Princess of Thailand (Thailand was known as Siam then) also stayed here.
Check out the links below to explore the houses, the units and other facilities that have their own charm and offerings, and discover the mind, body & spirit of the property.
The Snuggery: As you approach Windamere entrance from the Mall road, Snuggery is on the right. Amongst beautiful flowers, gardens and tiled pathways, there are two heritage houses here that accommodate a number of rooms and other facilities.
One on the right is the Observatory House
, and opposite to that is the Annandale House
. Apart from colonial charm, both houses provide modern amenities as well like TV and Phones. Observatory house has ten Superior Guest Rooms, conferencing facilities & lecture rooms, while the Annandale House has eight Standard Guest Rooms.
There is another small building called DHR Club (Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Club) which is also part of the Snuggery wing. This is exclusive for the DHR officials and VIPs, but also made available to the guests when available. DHR Club and the Annandale House are the older colonial buildings, while Observatory House came up later.
As you go down the narrow outdoor passage towards the Sunny Side open terrace, on your right will be the unassuming small Office/ Reception. And on your left are office rooms that are reserved for the management staff including that of the owner and Managing Director of the property. I came to learn that Rai Bahadur Laden-La on whose name there is a main road in Darjeeling, was the grand father of the current Managing Director.
From the Sunny Side open terrace you can access the Ada Villa, which was the original boarding house of the British tea planters who came to Darjeeling in 1800s. There are four large triple bedded rooms upstairs and two down stairs that have been restored to provide the original look and feel of the colonial days. They don't even have phones & TVs.
At the ground floor apart from some conferencing facilities and meeting rooms, there is a bar, and also a place where Afternoon Tea
is served in the old traditional British way.
Windamere is a paradise for the honeymooners. There are exclusive honeymoon cottages and suites that are at their romantic best. Check out Honeymoon at Windamere to know what can you expect here for a honeymoon. These accommodations can be ideal even for a couple or a family looking for privacy in a serene colonial atmosphere coupled with lovely views of the Eastern Himalayas.
Windamere Annex: This building is located outside the back gate and can be accessed from the Sunny Side patio. There are several colonial suites here. The Wellness Center which is like a Spa is also located here.
Dining in Windamere is a special experience. Served by waiters who dress up in attire of the Raj era, the Continental and Indian food here is special, and the dining room is fabulous.
Z'ri Gifts & Souvenirs is a small boutique shop located at a corner below the car park and stacked with different kinds of exquisite curios, jewelry, shawls, perfumes, ladies handbags, crafts etc. It doesn't have any specific open hours but can be opened whenever there is a request from a guest.
Over the years, Windamere Hotel of Darjeeling has collected many coveted accolades and awards. It has been placed at the third position in 10 Top Colonial Hotels in the Asia-Pacific by Asian Geographic Passport in 2009 after the Raffles Hotel of Singapore and The Peninsula of Hong Kong. It was also part of The World's Best Colonial Hotels as listed by The Sunday Times, London in the year 2007.
Rates provided by booking.com
Windamere is located on Observatory hill and access is from the Mall road. It is just above the Mall (Chowrasta) and a minute walk from there.
Windamere Hotel, Observatory Hill, Darjeeling 734101, India.
Phone: +91-354-2254041 / 42
Fax: +91-354-2254043 / 2254211
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