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Here�€™s to the english

Far from the madding crowd, Wildflower Hall in Shimla is a tribute to colonial pleasures.

Far from the madding crowd, Wildflower Hall in Shimla is a tribute to colonial pleasures.

Even the valets at Wildflower Hall have refined English accents. They usher you into an oak-panelled foyer dominated by a portrait of Lord Kitchener. Leather armchairs, crackling wood fire, Raj trinkets all over the walls. That Englishness you sense up in the hill stations reaches a peak here.

Wildflower Hall was originally envisioned as a retreat by kitchener himself, and he chose well. The acreage of forest around the hotel is a haven for wildlife and on a clear morning you can see snowy peaks on all sides. And crucially, it is removed from the teeming mess of Shimla below. Kitchener’s Shangri-La became a hotel once the Empire collapsed, but that too burnt to a cinder in a fire, which was when the Oberoi group bought the land and pledged a faithful restoration. 

So you enter a twilight world here, as all five-star experiences seem in India after a 10-hour drive. The fragrance, the civility, the sense that the madness of the subcontinent has been left at the gates. But beyond that, Wildflower Hall is almost another country—the Cavalry bar, the bridge tables and the billiards room. It’s a paean to colonial pleasures. “There were rules when the British were here,” said our guide, “but since they left, just look at Shimla, it’s chaos…” Wildflower Hall is a respite, no doubt.
The infinity pool with the Jacuzzi jets overlooking the valley is crested with flowers—just a magnificent place to idle away the day. If you’re lucky the clouds will clap their thunderous hands, unleash a hail storm and paint a fairytale rainbow. But you can’t spend all weekend by the pool. 

We explore the grounds, my wife and I, through the teeming forests of cedar and butterflies. We’d be on horseback, but the steed is poorly, so we walk, while our guide teaches us how to react should we face a bear or a family of monkeys. We have a massage out in the woods and contemplate the activities list—tennis in the summer, ice skating in winter, archery or a glass of Pimms in the bar. Under Kitchener’s watchful eye, such antiquated colonial pastimes seem to fit.

Few places fuss so visibly over their guests. Staff hover everywhere, they rush to pour your water for you and dash to open doors that they discover at the last minute are already open.  “Good morning, Mr Bhattacharya, is the water temperature satisfactory, Mr Bhattacharya?" And it seems off to say that the constant repetition of my name makes me a little uncomfortable. Besides, why don’t the rooms have balconies?

But such niggles are forgotten when we visit the house on the hill for a typically English picnic. It’s a heritage building with a giant pear tree in the yard, where we enjoy champagne, butterflies and cucumber sandwiches. There’s nothing wrong with a taste of the Raj now and again.
Wildflower Hall Shimla in the Himalayas Rates: up to Rs 21,000 Contact: +177-2648585