Jannat – if there’s one word, that although overused across all publications and literature, to summarise this part of the world and our overall experience, this would be it. There’s no better way and dare we say, no better hotel, to experience the real “Kohinoor” of India’s Crown Jewel – Welcome to The Khyber Resort & Spa in Gulmurg, Kashmir.
Design – From the second we enter the long meandering approach leading up to the hotel – we realise that the gates of heaven have opened to us. This is exactly, if not more, than what we have read in fairy tales and always dreamt of visiting – a colonial cabin, an alpine ski resort, a luxury chalet, a snow-clad winter getaway, all rolled into one. The tall wooden logs and tiled roofs are an architectural masterpiece to behold – given the frigid and snowy winters and the minute details, no wonder the hotel took seven years to build. The warm wooden theme continues throughout the property and the décor is classic yet contemporary with rich traditional upholstery and plush sofas and beautiful traditional metalwork scattered throughout the hotel. With sub-zero temperatures and snow-clad mountains outdoors, the indoors also have several snug soft textile elements to give a sense of warmth and coziness which only elevate the perfect vistas outside. Also, when speaking of The Khyber, how can we leave out their temperature-controlled indoor infinity pool overlooking the snow-clad valleys surrounded by floor to ceiling panoramic glass walls? This is truly what dreams are made of (following Govt. of India health and sanitary guidelines, the pool remains shut due to the ongoing global scenario).
Accommodation – With several options to choose from, like the forest view, valley view and mountain view, one look at the pine and snow-covered hills is all it takes to mesmerize every visitor to want their Mountain view room. Ceilings with carved wood panels, teakwood floors, traditional upholstery showcased through embroidered bed covers and classic Kashmiri woven silk carpets, etc. all came together to make us feel like we were in our own luxurious yet cozy Inn. Also, the pièce de résistance – stepping out into the balcony greeted us to a view that left us spellbound while we made ourselves comfortable on their plush outdoor sofas. And one would be mistaken to think that the hotel doesn’t realise that the guests would wish to witness this scenery 24×7 – even the bathrooms have strategically placed large window panes where we could soak in the view while soaking in the comfort of our own bathtub.
Also, for those of us who wish to experience an uber jet-set mountain getaway, may we suggest their Presidential suite – decked with a private plunge pool, jacuzzi, master bedrooms, a living room and entertainment/dining area (add features of the Presidential Suite), one will get the VVIP treatment which starts with a chauffeur-driven Range Rover pick-up at the point of entry in Kashmir. Having said that, with our hosts warm enough to accommodate and surpass all our wants, all guests at the hotel feel nothing short of being VVIPs.
Hospitality – The Khyber is the perfect symbolism of a luxury Inn. The staff, from the housekeeping/security team till the Senior Management, personifies Kashmiri hospitality – having had the good fortune and pleasure to experience and stay in the best hotels and resorts across the world, The Khyber, not just surpasses, but also sets an example of what luxury hospitality truly and rightly stands for (“Atithi Devo Bhava” at its core). The experience we had truly made us believe that the true beauty of Kashmir is in its people and this heaven exists because of it’s angels – everything was offered to us with the brightest of smiles (much like the sunlight gleaming through the hotel’s panoramic windows) and due promptness. Even though the hotel was fully booked, there wasn’t any delay in servicing our requests – may it be in-room dining or even abrupt housekeeping requests. The service and the staff truly made our experience unforgettable.
Dining – Where do we start? We’ve all heard of “Wazwan”, a multi-course meal in Kashmiri cuisine, the preparation of which is considered as an art and a point of pride in Kashmiri culture and identity, but have we all experienced it? Given the abundance of meat-based dishes in a traditional “Wazwan”, we obviously couldn’t try them all but the sight, aromas, preparation and intricacy of the vegetarian accompaniments were sublime and a real sensory explosion. Having stayed at The Khyber for 4 nights, we got to experience the entire breadth of their culinary offerings – from North Indian, to Chinese, to even continental favourites, the food served to us was nothing short of absolute excellence. We asked and they made it – served fresh, piping hot & exactly as per our personal taste preferences. The way to our hearts is through our stomachs & the food here not only won our hearts but left us longing for our next meal.
Activities – The Khyber Resort & Spa is the epitome of winter luxury activities and adventure. Starting off with skiing, the Gulmurg Gondola, which happens to be only a minute away, is the world’s highest ski-lift that takes guests and visitors up to the top of the majestic Kongdoori Mountains whose pristine powdered slopes are a sight to behold (making this Asia’s 7th best ski destination*). There are many professional agencies from whom one can learn ranging from beginners level (1-day course) to advanced level (14-day course). Also adjacent to the hotel is world’s highest golf course, The Gulmurg Golf Club which has an international standard 18 holes – the challenging wind and weather conditions and the breathtaking scenery make this one of the most acclaimed golf courses among the followers, professionals and lovers of the sport. For the adventure and adrenaline junkies, Gulmurg is also renowned for ATV rides, Snow Mobiles, mountain biking, jeep safaris, trekking and rock-climbing. For those amongst us who still wish to stay indoors, the resort also has built-in activities and games room for children and a snooker/billiards table.
Also strongly suggested is 2 nights stay at Pahalgam which is 3 hours away from Gulmarg. It’s a beautiful town situated by the side of a stream of Himalayan melting snow.
When in Pahalgam one should surely do a pony ride to Baisaran, the “Mini Switzerland” of Kashmir (the snow-clad pristine slopes are a fond reminiscent of what our silver-screen stars frequently romanticized) and these can be easily arranged for by contacting the dedicated Activity Concierge Desk at the resort. Other than the nearby attractions, a must-visit are the scenic Aru Valley and Betaab Valley in Pahalgam – the lush meadows, pristine lakes and mountains are a major attraction for tourists. The drive to both these places is surreal. Thirty minutes from Pahalgham is the ‘dargah’ which got its fame after a song from the movie ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’ was shot is also worth visiting. The overall experience at Kashmir left us extremely emotional – having experienced such commitment to hospitality and the overall warmth of the Kashmiri people, Kashmir is not only SAFE but also a must-go while The Khyber Resort and Spa should be the first stop for any avid traveller longing for a luxurious and warm getaway among the snow-capped hills and pine-lined forests in this slice of heaven.