Windamere Hotel Darjeeling - Preserving History in Grand Style
Once home to batchelor tea planters from Britain and the visiting social elite of the time, this former Victorian boarding house, once described as one of the three jewels of the Raj, was converted into a hotel shortly before WWII, and now offers visitors a chance to experience the understated elegance of a bygone era in a selection of rooms and suites designed to meet the needs of the discerning tourist.
Still the best-located hotel in the region, The Windamere Hotel perches atop Observatory Hill, with its view of the exclusive promenade, the Chowastra. You can catch glimpses of Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan and Sikkim against the backdrop of the highest mountain peaks in the world.
The hotel has won numerous awards including an accolade from the Prime Minister for its part in preserving the history of the Darjeeling area. The town of Darjeeling in India's West Bengal state, in the Himalayan foothills, was once the favoured summer resort for the British Raj elite. It is well known for the black tea that is grown and harvested on the numerous plantations that predominate in the region.
Far gone are the days of British ex-pats dressed in top hats, and ladies dressed in fine silks and floral dresses, taking tea in the enclosed courtyards or under shady trees while sharing the latest gossip from home. Today, instead, you can hear the gentle and soothing chime of bells from the nearby Buddhist temple ringing softly through the manicured gardens. A new era of travellers now relax before warm hearths and enjoy table de-hote meals in the beautiful dining room, where conversations once revolved around the fortunes to be made from the local tea plantations. (Photo: naturalworldtours.com)
The hotel is deceptively large, and guests are welcomed on arrival in both Tibetan and Hindu traditions, with a red bindi dot ceremonially placed on the forehead and a white Khata (ceremonial shawl) placed around the neck.
The former owner, and Grande Dame of Darjeeling, madame Tenduf-La, would be happy to see her beloved hotel striving to keep the old-world charm alive in this modern era.
There may no longer be the milling of well-heeled civil servants escaping Calcuttas heat in the mountains, or groups of planters taking their daily meals, but the elegance of the era is still alive and well under the guidance of the current director, Ms Elizabeth Clarke.
Those who love to luxuriate in the splendour of the past will find the Windamere Hotel ideal, as will those who are looking for a unique experience in the Himalayan foothills.
The Windamere consists of several cottages, villas and the impressive Ada Villa, the main central residence built in the 1880s, has suites that are named after notable guests who graced the hotel with their presence. The Begum Aga Khan, Chogyal of Sikkim, Prince Peter of Greece & Denmark, Viscount Knebworth and Alexandra David Neal are all honoured this way. Each royal suite is tastefully furnished and well-appointed with fine period furniture pieces, fine linen and beautifully framed artworks, documents and photographs. Glowing fires lightly perfume your clothes with the gentle scent of a bygone era, while roll-top baths offer old-world luxury in the bathrooms.
The Little Peppers self-enclosed cottage with its pretty sitting room, bedroom and bathroom has uninterrupted views of the mountains and offers a spectacular daybreak and sunset views from its position on the terrace.
Set back from the main property, a short way up Observation Hill, is Tinkerbelle’s Cottage, the ideal choice for those who value privacy. This gated cottage has a dedicated security guard, enclosed garden, lounge, bedroom and two bathrooms, along with a private kitchen and dining room. A dedicated maid and butler service is available on request. This is the perfect option for couples or families requiring privacy while enjoying spectacular views of the Himalayas.
Situated under the main dining area is the semi-circular Forget-me-Not suite, boasting a cosy lounge and bedroom with bathroom, all set off by a small private garden with stunning views over Darjeeling and the mountains.
(Photo: Windamere Hotel)
Elsewhere on the grounds you will find single colonial rooms which are similar, but smaller, than the suites and an annexe with its cluster of colonial suites with an option of double or single bedrooms and Victorian bathrooms.
The Hotel Windamere’s walled garden, with numerous specimens of endemic foilage in every hue, is dotted with wooden benches where you can enjoy the blissful silence, broken only by the distant chiming of bells echoing across the landscape in the cool morning air. Crisp morning strolls will let you discover numerous viewpoints and vantage sites.
The Darjeeling Himalaya Railway Club (DHR) is a popular two-roomed bungalow and a
favourite of toy train enthusiasts from across the world
The Lowell Thomas Reading Room, the library of the hotel, is named after the famous broadcaster who gave T.E. Lawrence his moniker, Lawrence of Arabia. The library is the perfect spot to enjoy tea while spending an afternoon in front of the fire with an old friend borrowed from the vast collection of books.
The Heinrich Harrer room is the perfect venue for a meeting, or to host a small party. The room is named after the real-life character that Brad Pitt played in the movie, Seven Years in Tibet.
(Photo; The Economist)
Take afternoon tea and cakes, served and decorated in The Windameres’ inimitable style, in the beautifully appointed Bearpark’s Parlour.
One of the most popular rooms is the quaint Daisy's Music Room. With authentic pre-war styling, fireplace and comfy furnishings, it is the perfect place to pore over the numerous photo albums and journals that trace the long, fascinating history of the hotel, including wonderful photos from the annual Christmas celebrations.
The drink of the region is, of course, freshly brewed Darjeeling tea, and it is available all day in the hotel. The 1930’s themed Windamere Bar, with its traditional bar counter with tall stools and deep couches, serve alcoholic refreshments throughout the day. Enjoy a pink gin while studying the numerous framed photographs that adorn the walls. (Photo: NPR.com)
Dining is a memorable event. As breakfasts and either lunch or supper is included in the room rate, all guests have the chance to enjoy a five-course silver platter dining experience during their stay. Both lunch and dinner menus change daily in a rotation of Indian and European menus, and the choices are a constant and pleasurable, surprise.
Dinner is reminiscent of Colonial times with flickering candles and the scent of the fire. Perfectly attired local waiting staff serve guests with quiet attention. On one day you could be treated to a variation on a traditional soup followed by an old favourite like Fish and Chips and the main course of fragrant curry, with maybe a jam Roly-Poly for desert, while the next you can savour the delicate local flavours of dhosas, lentil dahl and makhani.
The pairings are innovative and well planned, all set to a backdrop of 1940’s music. It is a dining experience you will never forget. (Photo: Windamere Hotel)
The charm of central Darjeeling is a stroll away from the hotel. Here you can visit the toy steam train followed by tea in one of the many tea shops that dot the town. Local restaurants and beautiful architecture abound and are an ideal chance to experience the local culture
(Photo: Darjeeling Tourism)
Be certain to visit one of the local Tibetan monastery complexes before heading off to tour one of the many tea plantations.
Wi-Fi is available throughout the hotel
Preferred Single Rooms from: INR 11,000 (+ GST)
Royal Suites from: 16,000 (+ GST)
Cottages from: 14,500 (+GST)
Breakfast and one meal are included in the room rate.
Worthwhile reading: 48 hours in Darjeeling, West Bengal, India
Article compiled and written for Red Flower-UK
© Andrew Knapp – The Design Train
NOTE: The author does not own the copyright of photos and images used within this article and credits have been given where possible