On a visit to Le Meridien’s first resort and spa property in the country, Siddharth Dasgupta discovers some of Mahabaleshwar’s rarest gems, including a creative community that is putting the destination on the global stage.
A certain romance-laden confluence is afoot. I let it all engulf my senses. The Jamun trees outside my balcony, the stunning infinity pool and the magnificent Sahyadri mountains welcome me into their arms, I am not alone here, in fact, the curious symphony of the crickets keep me company at night as I sleep.
I certainly gauge it in the small fact that despite being at a Le Meridien property I’m not ensconced in some formulaically business oriented high-rise, but instead am right at home in the throes of a verdant 27-acre property.
AMIDST THE MIST
The collage of villa-clusters, a gamut of recreation options, and a small but proficient dining hub all fall under the sway of the trees, forests, and grass fields that first called this land home. In many ways, the resort has paid due deference to this fact by shaping itself around its hosts: you’ll find walls and roofs moulded around decade-old tree trunks; you’ll stoop down to escape the low-hanging branches that greet you at the entrance to your villa; you’ll be kissed by dew and small sprinkles of the vividly green moss that attaches itself to nearly every branch and bark in this weather. It all makes for something rather rare.
All of which is a far cry from the fairly stodgy Le Meridien of old, of course. From an undistinguishable business hotel chain, the brand began to position itself as a more creative home-away-from home destination nearly eight years ago. Recently though, this flagship of the Starwood Group has taken steps to improve upon even that philosophy, and has come up with the ‘Destination Unlocked’ brand signature—a new direction meant to create, cultivate and nurture a boutique-style ethos that encourages an immersive experience for the guest, one filled with insights, interactions, trips, and flavours of every local destination. It is as much a cultural quest as it is a culinary one, it is as much as a matter of discovery as it is one of hospitality.
A DATE WITH HISTORY
Thanks to ‘Destination Unlocked’, I am on my way to a cluster of some of Mahabaleshwar’s oldest temples. Walking through inches of mud and large pools of rainwater I am greeted by a small temple of stone covered with moss and tiny white wildflowers.There are no crowds here and there is no lineup of pujaris, there is, actually, no one here but me. A sweet, non-intrusive priest takes me through some of the stories behind the 5000-year-old Krishna Devi Mandir as I stand in silence and stare at the majestically forgotten beauty before my eyes.
AN ARTISTIC MEETING
Continuing with the ‘Unlocked’ journeys, next lies a visit to Panchgani for an ‘Art Unlocked’ engagement. Panchgani, with it’s old colonial cottages with irresistible red-brick roofs, fabled schools, private bungalows & villas make for heady hill-station memories. The Devrai Art Village (a non-profit initiative created by Mandakini Mathur to sustain tribal art, craft and livelihood) charms me instantly.
The Devrai Rock Dhokra is a patented process where brass and stone are fused together at precise temperatures to create animals and shapes of uncommon beauty. Then there is Organic Casting, wherein direct casting of organic objects such as branches and barks results in pieces impossible to replicate by hand. Most of Devrai’s artisans hail from Chattisgarh, and in these work-sheds and makeshift homes, they work, ideate, create, and stay, sometimes for up to three months at a stretch.
BRIMMING WITH BEAUTY
Back at the Le Meridien property, the Resort & Spa moves along to its own languid beat. Rain is a constant factor here as is the monsoon mist that comes with it. Quirky artifacts, large installation pieces and some stunning animal figurines are strewn about quite casually around the 27 acres.
Bask in the Limitless Facials, Hammam Exfoliation, and Chakra Art Therapies. Explore the Spa, tucking into Executive Chef Arindam Bhattacharya’s Grilled Pomfret and Galouti Kebabs at the signature Chingari restaurant, or laze beside a boundless breakfast buffet and perpetually mellow skies. Though, it appears churlish to focus on the minuses, some of the staff seem unsure about their roles and some parts of the property look like work is in progress as it has only officially been open since last April.
Book your stay at Le Meridien Mahabaleshwar Resort & Spa. Mahabaleshar can be reached from Pune and Mumbai. The journey takes roughly three hours by road.