There’s fresh air, and then there’s the pristine whiff of the Dhauladhar mountain range overlooking Dharamshala: so crisp and cool that each breath feels more rejuvenating than the last. It might seem peculiar to think of fresh air as an amenity, but if these pandemic times have taught us anything, it might be the most desirable detail for those considering vacations—and the 5-star Hyatt Regency Dharamshala is in no short supply. The resort is perched on a steep knoll that is spread across 6.5 acres: look up and you see imposing vistas of snow-capped peaks, look down, and you see the idyllic bustle of Mcleodganj.
The atmosphere is not one of smothering luxury; sure, the hotel is intent on pampering its guests, but the real charm is when the well-pressed doormen open up the grand double doors, unwrapping a landscape traversed by the likes of the Dalai Lama, whose letter to the hotel is proudly framed in the lobby. As you go exploring under the deodars, you’ll hear the babble of a Himalayan-fed stream playing melody against the chants of the hotel’s resident monks; the property melds itself to its environs, not the other way around, a comfort that is almost as refreshing as the air.
No matter which tier of lodging you choose—the hotel has about 80 rooms of varying comforts—each offers nods to elegant Himachali motifs: be they carved in the woodwork or weaved in the curtains. In the lobby, over complimentary high tea at McLeod & Co. Bakery—best taken in the library nook full of Kipling and atlases—you’ll see honeymooners, family vacationers, solo explorers, and students of Buddhism, all eager for recommendations from the staff. Just as the hotel bends to meet its environment, the staff, from the waiters to the managers, are remarkably well-versed in all there is to do inside and outside of the resort, a trait that guests openly recognise and appreciate.
Now, not everyone has the time to let that city stress immediately dissipate into the tranquil setting, as quite a few weekend travellers visit the hotel for much-needed respite. So the hosts are quick to recommend ways guests can fast-track that bliss. “The weather outside is a bit chilly, may we recommend the sauna following your morning walk? Many of our guests opt for a swim in our heated pool after a morning yoga session at the pavilion, would you like us to show you where it is?” And that’s just the tip of the proverbial snow-cap. Some guests choose to meditate with the hotel’s resident monks (when they aren’t on pilgrimage), book rustic picnics, or schedule a private movie night at the theatre.
THYM, the hotel’s flagship restaurant, serves up a variety of continental and Indian fare, well-executed plates for less adventurous eaters; but the real treats are the à la carte Pahari dishes replicating local tastes with meticulously sourced ingredients. Before the Hyatt Regency’s Head Chef took up this post, he made sure to scour the region for authentic ways of presenting regional produce and specialties. The result of this dedication is best elaborated by the Chhaa Gosht, a succulent, buttermilk-brined curry; Auriya Kaddu, Himalayan pumpkin simmered till tender with notes of mustard and jaggery; and Siddu, Kullu-style bread stuffed with poppy seeds, almonds, walnuts, green peas, and roast peanuts, then steamed to a pillowy texture. These are the types of dishes that simply refuse to be ordered once, lingering on your palate seductively.
The bar is no different. A combination of new-fangled mixology and old-world flavours inherent to the region are joined with a wizard-like touch at 2082—eponymously named after the property’s metre-height above sea level. Many of the in-house creations have their own signature scents derived from provincial herbs and flowers native to Himachal, offering an extra spritz of flavour to already inventive cocktails. Try the Himalayan Orchard, French cognac infused with fresh pear and distillate of vetiver (khus khus), kicked up a knock with traditional, fortified wine; or perhaps the Khawalag, apricot-steeped whiskey soused with roasted barley, Kangra black masala tea, and ghee charged with centella asiatica. Before the pandemic guests could snuggle up to the fire place adjacent to the bar and listen to live music, but now the crackle of flames will have to suffice until the virus is adequately contained.
While the hotel has no dearth of distractions, there are a number of convenient day trips that can be planned from the property. Those interested in exploring the culture of Dharmashala’s Tibetan community can visit craftsmen at Norbulingka Insitute, participate in a fire puja at Gyuto Monastery, or study ancient Tibetan lore and history at the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives. Public ceremonies and sermons hosted by the Dalai Lama at the Tsuglagkhang complex are rare (typically around three times a year) and highly sought after. Those able to attend should arrange a translator. Any travellers interested in the rich history of Tibetan medicine should schedule an appointment at Men-Tsee-Khang, the largest manufacturer of such medicine in the world.
A well-known nearby attraction is the HPCA cricket stadium, nestled deep in the Kangra Valley, which might be the most picturesque sporting field in the country. The stadium can typically be rented out to large groups eager to play with the stoic, shimmering Himalayas as their audience, but this pastime is temporarily suspended due to the pandemic. If you’re in the market for souvenirs, the pottery available at Andretta Pottery is outstanding. They produce some of the best terra cotta work in the country and classes here come highly-recommended.
These times have taught us a new meaning of comfort, and while the Hyatt Regency ticks many boxes from the old mould, its rustic surroundings look even better positioned to help travellers relax in the era of pandemic travel: a getaway as fresh as the air that drifts through its deodar trees.
The Hyatt Regency offers 80 guest accommodations including four private villas, three suites, and 17 club rooms (doubles from Rs14,000; hyatt.com/en-US/hotel/india/hyatt-regency-dharamshala-resort/dhmrm) According to new COVID-19 guidelines, the hotel has increased its frequency of cleaning and sanitising high-touch surfaces and high-traffic guest and colleague areas such as elevators, gyms, spas, and restrooms. In addition, visitors undergo stringent temperature checks, and are expected to adhere to hygiene and social distancing guidelines, including wearing face masks or coverings in indoor public areas and when moving around outdoor areas.
Julian Manning can usually be found eating a crisp ghee roast with extra podi. The rare times his hands aren’t busy with food, they are wrapped around a mystery novel or the handlebars of a motorcycle. He is Assistant Editor at National Geographic Traveller India.