24-Hour Room Service: Glenburn Darjeeling, India
Saturday 28 March 2009
The great thing about Glenburn is that it isn't really a hotel. This is first and foremost a working tea estate, one of the most highly regarded of the 90 or so estates in the Darjeeling region. It is a beautiful and quietly busy place. You come to stay here as an honoured guest.
Sitting on the creeper-clad veranda of Glenburn's Burra Bungalow, sipping gin and tonic and sampling short eats of tea leaves fried in delicate tempura was, I felt, one of life's finer pleasures. Yet it was bettered the next morning by an early walk taking in the views and the bustle of the estate's village life as children set off for school. As we stopped in a remote spot to look at the mountains, a 4x4 arrived, seemingly from nowhere, with a hamper of hot coffee, tea and freshly-baked cake.
In 2001 Glenburn was bought by the Prakash family, who have a long history of tea planting. Owner Husna-Tara Prakash saw the potential – and the fun – in sharing the beauty of the estate with guests. She transformed one of the old bungalows into nostalgic-chic accommodation, in the process spending a month in the British Library in London researching and acquiring copies of intriguing old photographs of the area. The result is the Burra Bungalow. It has four beautifully decorated suites, along with a cosy sitting room, a dining room where dinners are served house-party style around a large table, and a wide veranda – the perfect setting for evening drinks.
The venture proved a resounding success. So last autumn a new house – The Waterlily Bungalow – was built in the estate style, offering a further four suites and Himalayan mountain views.
So now just a handful more guests can enjoy this complete retreat, where activities include tea tours, hiking along the River Rungeet into the neighbouring state of Sikkim, and bird watching.
Glenburn (00 91 33 2288 5630; glenburnteaestate.com) is magnificently situated between two rivers, the Rungeet and the Rung Dung, and on clear days offers panoramas over to Kanchenjunga, the world's third highest peak. The remote location is a charm or a downside, depending on how you respond to twisting mountain roads and a final half-hour approach along a bumpy estate track. Although faintly visible across the valley, Darjeeling town is about an hour and half away.
Time from nearest airport: Bagdogra airport, served by daily flights from Kolkata and Delhi, is a three-hour drive away. Glenburn will pick you up, the car provisioned with drinks of fresh lime, a flask of tea and a supply of cakes. Note that there is currently some civil unrest in the region; the Foreign Office warns of "sudden strikes", which can cause "severe transport disruption".
Fabulously so. Each room is unique, from the Planter's Suite complete with huge mahogany four-poster bed in the Burra Bungalow, to the delicate Camelia Suite in the new Waterlily Bungalow. The Waterlily has floors of recycled teak, and marble bathrooms with tubs and walk-in showers. It is furnished with bespoke fabrics designed in Jaipur. Antique wardrobes and mirrors have been perilously transported here from the Siliguri valley.
Freebies: Darjeeling Green Tea soaps and shampoos.
Keeping in touch: this is a complete escape; there are no landline phones or e-mail facilities. However there is reception for mobile phones.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Doubles from US$400 (£286), all-inclusive. You may want to arrange a package; I travelled with India specialists Greaves Travel (020-7487 9111; greavesindia.com) which can arrange a week's trip from £1,999 per person, with five nights' full board at Glenburn, a night in Delhi, return flights from Heathrow via Delhi to Bagdogra, and transfers.
I'm not paying that: The Windamere in Darjeeling (00 91 354 225 4041; windamerehotel.com) was once a boarding house for British bachelor tea planters. Doubles from Rs9,780 (£131), full board.
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