about anything under the Sun!
The Oberoi Wildflower Hall in Shimla
And here is the third and final post on the trip to Shimla, after this and this. Given that we spent the bulk of our time at the Wildflower Hall, it is only fair that I devote an entire post to the place. Technically, the resort is not in Shimla – it is about 19 kms north of Shimla, and on the way to Kufri, near a tiny village called Mashobra. And although the distance seems short, it is almost entirely an uphill stretch, and quite a steep and winding climb, and will easily take you about 45 challenging minutes to get there from Shimla. But it is so totally worth the effort, the Wildflower Hall really is special and delightfully pristine.
If your objective is to just have a completely relaxed break up in the mountains, then this is a delightful location to seek out. Oberoi labels it a luxury resort (you know what that means, right? Yes, it is time to break the bank) and rightly so. From the moment you step into the property, the staff will spare no effort to make you feel like your blood is blue. One tradition that I simply love about the Oberoi – they know you before you actually get there (yes, they call you the day before or that morning to find out when you can be expected), receive you very, very warmly and at the same time with a cold welcome drink…and best of all, they don’t make you wait at the reception to check in. Instead, they take you to your room first and then they come to your room to check you in. After a long journey to get there, that is such a blessing. So simple and yet so brilliant, right? Why can’t more hotels follow their lead? As a customer, they certainly get my vote for how they handle this.
The rooms were great, they have a really spacious bathroom and a nice large bathtub to pamper yourself…and some breathtaking views, especially if you get yourself a room that overlooks the magnificent Himalayas. Really, there are few better reasons to wake up in the morning and open your eyes to that sight, in the company of a loved one.
The hotel pool is outstanding – its indoor and very, very soothing but the jacuzzi is probably their crown jewel. Its outdoors on the terrace, and faces the mountains. The warm water and the cold mountain air make for a terrific combo, and once you get in, you are probably going to stay there. And the food…it was simply fantastic. Chef Mohan, who runs their kitchen is one of the best in the business, I’m sure and he was very nice about customizing and cooking it just the way we wanted – really, every meal was special and delightfully so. And the staff was great too – were eager and ready to provide anything we needed, and yet left us alone to our privacy when it mattered. We had requested a candle-lit dinner on the outside terrace one night, and they made sure it was an unforgettable experience. Everything, and I mean every single detail, was just perfect and extremely well-handled. Their resident sommerlier even called me a few hours in advance to advise me on the various wine options that will go with the menu I had picked. I wanted the dinner to be special and they made sure it was. The Oberoi is a luxury brand, and they certainly demonstrate that class. It was hospitality at its very best!
As for stuff to do around the place, there are a few nature trails that you could take – they are fairly easy hikes and will last a couple of hours and you could choose to do a picnic lunch if you like. We tried it a couple of times and were pretty happy. Sandwiches do seem to taste better when you eat them out in the wild, especially after you’ve had a good workout! Then there was the supposed white-water rafting expedition – There was very little water, it was anything but white, and we certainly weren’t rafting. In the end, it turned out to a pleasant ride in the dinghy, the only saving grace being some absolutely stunning views of the mountains from the Sutlej river. To be fair, the hotel did the right thing by refunding our charge for the activity when we complained that it was pretty lame. And there’s plenty of other stuff to keep you busy, but we chose to take it easy – our schedule typically revolved around the pool, the jacuzzi and the restaurants. Also, they have a nice projection TV setup in the bar, so watching the soccer World Cup games on the big screen was very cool.
Of course, not everything was perfect – for one, a trip here costs a fortune. And the Oberoi lives by a simple policy – air and water are free, but we should be able to make money off everything else, and we are talking some serious money. I think about 30-40% of our bill at the end of the day was extras, and we didn’t do nearly as many things as we could have, so that should give you an idea. The spa was alright – it is apparently rated one of Asia’s top spas, and if that is indeed the case, that is very sad for Asia. And for what seemed like a very ordinary message, the price was anything but. It will probably remain the most expensive massage I have had in life. And they invited us to some lecture about the local arts in the region – you would think that’d be offered as a free service, but like I said, it wasn’t water or air, so the Oberoi sees dollar signs where you and I don’t. Their wireless tariff was another such joke – they wanted us to charge more for a day of wireless access than it costs me for an entire month at home. But that was good in a way because we chose not to take it and that kept us away from the computer, which was great. Their front desk could use a serious upgrade, and I don’t mean the actual desk. Not only did they not give us the special view room I had specifically requested, but their front desk staff reasonably incompetent spend hours fixing a billing error which should have taken no more than 30 seconds. The excuse they gave me for the room was that the hotel was full and they couldn’t move us, but that was such a poorly coordinated lie – it was fairly obvious that the hotel occupancy was no more than 30% when we were there. Lastly, the reservations staff will try to sell you some lame package that throws in a bunch of benefits for a nice price tag – simply refuse it. You can always figure out what “benefits” you actually want once you get to the hotel and pay the real price for those.
All that said, the resort was great and we had a fantastic break. I can’t wait to go back there again and lie in the jacuzzi all day 🙂 And I will probably want to go there in the winter this time around – it is hard to imagine the place more beautiful than it was, but we all know that snowfall can indeed work its magic on any canvas.