Exotic resorts in the Northeast are transporting guests to a bygone era of luxury, says Hoihnu Hauzel
Which one sounds the most tempting of all? Escaping to an idyllic, grand old mansion in Gangtok that was built by the king of Sikkim in the ’30s? Or a king’s castle in Shillong that’s set amidst thick pine groves and boasts of the writing desk at which Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore once penned his thoughts. Or would you rather vacation in a century-old bungalow in one of the rolling tea estates of Assam?
Off the tourist radar, a handful of timeless resorts in the Northeast are offering to transport guests to another era. They all have one thing in common: they spell luxury in exotic locales.
“These properties are redefining tourism in the Northeast. Relying primarily on word-of-mouth publicity, they are drawing tourists from different parts of the world,” says Rakesh Mathur, former president of WelcomHeritage and a hospitality industry expert.
From Elgin Nor-Khill Gangtok, Sikkim, to The Royal Heritage-Tripura Castle in the heart of Meghalaya, the Northeast is alive with picture-perfect resorts and tea estates turned into resorts that are steeped in a rich history.
Take the 25-room Nor-Khill, built in 1932 by Tashi Namgyal, the 12th and last king of Sikkim. Run and maintained by Elgin Hotels & Resorts, a chain that owns hotels in Darjeeling and Sikkim, the resort is 5,000ft high in the Himalayas and offers spectacular mountain views.
Not far away at The Royal Heritage-Tripura Castle in Shillong, guests revel in what used to be the summer retreat of then Maharaja Bir Bikram of Tripura. The young maharaja came to Shillong when he was 16 and loved the place so much that he ended up building a 10-room summer retreat here in the early 1920s.
It’s a historic building with a Maharaja Suite that still has the writing desk at which Tagore worked as well as the mahogany bed in which he slept on his visits, says Pradyot Bikram Manikya DebBarman, the present owner, who converted his private retreat into a hotel in 2003.
Besides their rich past, it’s also the personal touch of the resort owners that’s making the resorts special. Viraj Oberoi and his father B.R. Oberoi the men behind Elgin Hotels & Resorts took five years to restore Nor-Khill. To ensure that the doors, windows, paintings, photographs and even the pillars were not altered in any way, the father-son duo roped in a local team that was familiar with the palace’s original look.
The look and feel may be traditional but in terms of comfort, all the modern amenities and gadgets are in position at these resorts. A spa for instance is a new addition at Nor-Khill and it’s constantly being updated to incorporate new treatments. We will be introducing traditional Tibetan and Bhutanese treatments along with Thai and other regular massages, says Viraj.