Yeh haseen waadiyan, yeh khula aasman, Itni garmi hai yehan, aa gaye hum kahaan? ( Such beautiful mountains, such a clear sky, how hot is it here, where have we arrived?) We were welcomed by a sweltering hot sun overhead with little or no wind as we exited the Srinagar Airport and we thought to ourselves, is this Kashmir? Our entire flight we were dreaming of snow-covered peaks of Himalayas and were carrying plenty to warm clothes – just in case. Accuweather was showing sub-10-degree minimum temperatures in most places except Srinagar which is the far extreme of our winters back home. Our plains born; urban weathered bodies aren’t made for extreme colds anyhow. A couple of hours and multiple questions to our now frustrated driver later, we saw our first glance of the beautiful milky white lidder river which started accompanying us as we sped towards Pahalgam and our home for the next couple of days, WelcomHotel Pine & Peak, Pahalgam. The weather had also cooled down a bit and the jackets got back on as we enjoyed rolled down the windows. The hotel is up on the slope so you drive up a bit even after you first encounter a check post which leads to the hotel. The guard at the front door reminded us of the door guards at the Rajasthani palaces with his big build and huge moustache. The first thing we noticed as we stepped inside was the elaborate usage of wood. The floor, ceilings, tables, chairs and even the décor seemed to made of wood. Of course, it all made sense when we were explained that wood is the material of choice for most buildings in the region because its indigenous and also helps provide better insulation against the harsh winters. Its also a seismic zone and wooden buildings are best suited for the same.
The property itself isn’t very big and hence provides a very cosy, boutique luxury hotel feels to it. Its definitely a hotel with a personality. Most of the guests were repeat guests and we saw several groups and families in the mix. Even though this was technically the low season, the hotel was packed or at least it seemed like it every time we came out to dine. We would estimate at least a 70% occupancy given our experience which is testament to its popularity. There is a single structure that houses the receptions, the rooms and the restaurants while also having a few cottages as an option for the more private guests. Although the hotel has hosted many celebrities over the years, we were told that not all of them preferred staying in the cottages and rather stayed in rooms like ours. Talk about humble celebs!
A short flight of steps leads out the lawns, lined by tall deodar trees which now offer a wall of privacy. There are numerous sit outs and gazebos placed in strategic positions offering a lovely view of the lidder river. We were sitting at a vantage point up on the slope but we could hear the gurgling of the milky river speeding by as if we were sitting at its banks. That was how serene the hotel was even with so many people staying there. The only occasional disturbance was a scampering band of mischievous monkeys who were after nothing but a sweet treat so dare you forget to leave out the sugar cubes or the cookie jar. We feel the best icebreaker is the one which is the most obvious for us, get someone to click our pics. Given that we couldn’t get the wandering monkeys trained for the same in time, we got looking for other guests to help us with the same. That’s how we met Rajiv uncle and Gita aunty who were coming back to Pahalgam after 42 years – incidentally their honeymoon. They said we reminded them of their younger selves and in their conversation, we could really feel there is still so much to learn about relationships. They’ve travelled the world much like us and the one thing they shared which was essential for a happy successful relationship and which we agree on is an open communication and space. Even though individuals become a couple in a marriage, at the end of it, they are two individuals. Communication helps bridge the gap between their thought processes which giving each other space helps each one maintains their own individuality while bringing more to the table as a couple.
After a couple of photoshoots for both the couples, we got a very enthusiastic hotel staff to take a few group photos for our memories. Early evenings have high tea served at Saahil the coffee shop, where you can have your pick of sandwiches, your preference of hot beverages and some cookies from their own bakery. We met up with a family here who had come in for the 2nd time in a year just because they felt it was so peaceful. Given our late lunch we just grabbed a cup of hot Kahwa as the temperature was starting to go down a bit. The dinner was going to be special as we were served a traditional Kashmiri Trami (Thali) also called a Kashmiri Wazwan. Because we are vegetarians, we were served a modified version also with some Kashmiri specialities but which one may not find in the traditional Trami because the local cuisine is meat heavy. That said it was one of the tastiest meals we had in our trip. They do offer multiple dining options at an additional cost customized to your requirements. You can have your meals at Lolaab, their all-day restaurant, Saahil which is their coffee shop. You can have it in the lawns in one of their Gazebos which they term as dining under the stars or have a picnic by the riverside beside their sister property Heevan which has a spectacular location by the river on the other bank. Unfortunately, the weather during our stay didn’t permit us to try the latter two options but given our other experiences we are sure they would be memorable as well.
A small flight of steps and a long corridor led us to our room, one facing the garden and by extension the river. The higher floors provide a better view of course but ours was pretty fantastic as well. The rooms are what you would expect from a typical luxury hotel. The furniture is all made of beautiful walnut wood. However, the highlight of the room being the huge bay window overlooking the lawns lined by the deodar trees. You can spot the river in the background of course, but it’s too tiny a spectacle to overshadow the view, which is pretty good on its own. The room also has a big divan appropriately positioned for us to relax and enjoy the view. Big enough to accommodate both of us and comfortable enough to sleep even. The flooring is wooden and its centrally airconditioned so you can do away with your layers until you’re comfortable. The beds were just soft enough for a great night’s sleep and ultimately that’s what matters the most to weary travellers like us coming off 10 hours + journey to get here.
The hotel is one of the best in Pahalgam and has maintained its high levels of service over the years which is why it gets so many of its guests to come back again. The food is possibly another reason the guests chose to spend so much time within the premises. The rooms are comfortable but when you are in a place like Kashmir, you are possibly going to your room only to sleep which it ensures with flying colours. We had come with tales of excellent Kashmiri hospitality and it didn’t disappoint in the least. The staff is friendly and there’s enough of them around to ensure you do not have to wait. We found our 2 nights there to be the very least you should spend here, especially if you wish to do multiple things in the vicinity. We thoroughly recommend at least 3 nights which will give you time to also enjoy your time at the property.
Some details to keep in mind before booking.
Distance from Srinagar Airport: 93 Km / 2.5 Hours
Best mode of Connectivity: Road
Room Categories: (i). Heritage Rooms (ii). Superior Rooms (iii). Premier Rooms (iv). Deluxe Suites – Khwabgah 1 & 2 (v). Three Bed Room Cottages (vi). Four Bed Room Cottage (vii). Presidential Duplex Suite – Shabistan
Food: Would recommend opting for a MAP plan with breakfast and dinner included. They have ample options for vegetarians even in their buffets.
Tips: There are steps everywhere with no lifts so be sure to ask for rooms accordingly if you’ve got elders with you. Go for a walk down to the river or ask the front desk if they can arrange for a hotel car to drop you to their sister property Heevan from where you can go down to the river.
We were invited by Welcomhotel Pine & Peak, Pahalgam to experience their hospitality but all opinions remain our own.