Downhill from Cart Road, on the outskirts of Shimla, Sunnymead Bed & Breakfast is a heritage homestay with a rambling English garden. It is ablaze with dahlias, geraniums, lilies, red hot pokers, alstroemerias, irises, azaleas, camellias, begonias and other flowers I don’t know. One of the older surviving residences of Shimla, this well hidden, charming property is just a short walk along a hilly path off the main road. Madhavi Bhatia is Sunnymead’s gregarious owner, and the chief guardian and curator of the rare flowers around. She lives here with three dogs, two cats, an assistant-cum-gardener, Motilal, and Madhu, the chief house help and creator of wonderful food. Madhavi’s animals love to welcome visitors, which made it extra special for me and my six-year-old son. But if you are not an animal lover, think twice.
The homestay has colonial-style four-poster beds and flamboyant curtains; it’s where family treasures blend with the contemporary. Our room had a balcony overlooking the valley and the al fresco dining area, where guests are served gastronomic bonanzas. The cosy cottage smells of old times, and reminded me of grandparents and warm, fuzzy things. The house itself is constructed in the traditional Dhajji–Dewari method, a building technique practised mainly in the mountains. It involves filling light timber frames with stones and soil to create earthquake resistant structures. Walking is an intrinsic part of life at Sunnymead, so bring proper walking shoes (and rain gear). Taxis are available on call, but they can be expensive. We wandered on foot to Shimla’s famous Mall Road, through bazaars, the army cantonment, stopping for chaat and doughnuts at City Point bakery.
On day two, we drove to Taradevi, a pretty hill on the outskirts of Shimla. Skipping the temple atop the hill, we walked down a jungle path lined with oak and pine trees and rhododendron. After losing and finding our way several times we finally made it to Taradevi Station, just in time to catch the Kalka-Shimla mountain train. The ride turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip. On our walk back home, I stopped at the quaint Cecil restaurant for a beer, while the boy swayed to live piano. When we returned to Sunnymead we were treated to cake. A whole strawberry torte baked by Madhavi. My son is now putty for life. The cake was the pièce de résistance to a fine meal of pasta with wild mushroom and asparagus, a spinach quiche, and a delicately flavoured salad of greens picked from the garden.
Appeared in the April 2016 issue as “Sunny Side Up”.
Sunnymead is located just outside Shimla. A unique way to get here is aboard a heritage mountain railway which runs on a scenic route from Kalka to Shimla. From Chandigarh, Shimla is a 4-hour drive (taxi around ₹2,500).
Sunnymead Bed & Breakfast has four rooms with fireplaces. Meals are served in the dining room or in the garden. Madhavi sits with guests for all meals, and supervises service. Although she is a great hostess, meal times are not conducive to privacy or quiet. (Bookings at email@example.com; 0177- 2801436; doubles ₹6,000, including breakfast; dinner ₹900 per head per meal.)