I was walking over pebbles: an endless stretch of them with a rhythmic sound of flowing water in the distance.In the wee hours of the morning, this was such a task. Who would want to get up so early during holidays? Cribbing and sulking, with one hand firmly held by grandpa, (lest I wriggle away) and one clutching a shiny, smooth, perfectly rounded pebble. In Rishikesh, a quarter century ago, this was the norm. A long walk, parallel to the ashram, nestled in the woods, leading to the roaring Ganges: a simple life, reeking of discipline.
I am walking on pebbles again. 20 years later. This time alone. As I saw the first streak of the sun over the mountains, I wasn’t complaining getting up early in the morning. It was my personal rendezvous with the roaring Ganga, glistening in the sun, as it flowed merrily over the rocks, gushing downwards. I have a pebble in my hand, even now: a maroon one, polished and rounded, as I begin my day conversing with the pristine Ganga during my stay at the luxurious Neemrana property: The Glasshouse on the Ganges, off Rishikesh.
At this 21st century, heritage property, which was once the hunting guesthouse of the Tehri kings, nostalgia swept over me as I walked under gigantic Litchi trees and mango orchards. Childhood memories of plucking litchis and mangoes came gushing back , while I walked in the tranquil and picturesque environs of the property.
The ONE thing that gives you constant company at the Glasshouse on the Ganges, is the mellifluous sound of the Ganga and of course the serene views of the greenish blue waters peeping through the foliage.
The exquisite private balcony :
My room at Cottage 3, is named Karnali and the balcony opens up to an astounding view that I could live with till eternity. Yes, a private balcony with a wooden porch and French windows giving the room an airy feel. I settle down in the chair, reading a book as little birdies chirp, perched on the sill.
The scene is straight out of a book, no disturbances, (only distractions: read ‘views’).
My heart hops in the verandah, just like the little birdie. Because it is truly happy, seeing Ganga bubbling away to glory, not miserable like in Varanasi.
The water is sparkling clean, just the way it deserves to be and with mountains all around, it requires a great deal of motivation to vacate my precious balcony spot and call it a day.
While luxury is a good thing, one thing I absolutely detest about 5 star hotel properties is something as trivial yet extremely vital at the same time: the Beds. Unlike the bulky, ultra soft beds which end up giving you a backache , the beds at Neemrana’s Glasshouse on the Ganges are the ones that don’t make you miss home.
While I am head over heels in love with Karnali, I really want to see the other rooms in the property. There are five cottages and each has a different layout from the other, giving it a non uniform feel and making the property live upto the non-Hotel Hotel tag.
There are rooms which are Ganga facing, non Ganga facing, semi Ganga facing and the best view undoubtedly is from the tents.
There are two tents and the proximity to the river has to be witnessed to be believed. The tents are literally over the Ganges and as one stands outside the tent, you get a 180 degree view of the pristine Ganges flowing, till it turns a sharp 90 degree towards Rishikesh ( this is said to be the first 90 degree turn that she takes from Gangotri).
Kids are not allowed to stay in the tents for safety reasons.
Each room has vintage feels, with traditional furniture: antique almirahs, royal king and queen beds and colonial style dressing tables. Each subtly reiterating, that you are staying in a heritage property, not merely a luxury hotel.
Homely meals with an organic touch:
The crunchy, fresh lettuce in my sandwich came from the lettuce beds under my balcony, I am told by Mr. Gajendra, the manager at Glasshouse, as I start my brumal morning, having breakfast in the lawns overlooking the Ganga.
Lazy afternoons are celebrated with perfectly baked thin crust pizza loaded with vegetables and mornings are kickstarted with an overdose of fresh orange juice, adding zing to this rejuvenating sojourn!
The vegetable juice is organic too, with freshly grown celery in tiny squares at the further end of the property.Most of my meals are either in my balcony or in the lawns, because honestly, I never felt like leaving the view of the Ganga even momentarily.
Chef Rajendra at the Glasshouse is the oldest in the Neemrana chain and is trained by French chefs, which explains the impeccable taste of desserts and continental cuisine at the buffet spread. Local Garhwali cuisine is a hit for me, less on oil and spices, with a homely touch. The rich and heavy paneer can take a break, while I savour the traditionally made Parwal (pointed gourd) and Tori (snake gourd).
The hotel serves mainly buffet. A la carte is available but the buffet is more economical than it.
Having bought and used Forest essentials products before, I was particularly excited about visiting the Signature Spa of Forest Essentials at the Glasshouse. The company specialising in Ayurveda, was founded by the famous Ayurveda aficionado Mira Kulkarni, making premium beauty products for Indians with organically grown, pure raw materials including herbs, plants, flowers and essential oils.
Floral patterns and pastel hues welcome you at the Amrit Kashi Spa, the only Forest Essentials Spa in India. I hover around the store to see familiar products, orange peel Ubtans, floral face mists and the 24 carat gold cream Saundarya, before deciding on the treatment. Arshdeep, the spa manager tells me that most of the ubtans, scrubs and pastes used for the treatment at the spa are freshly pounded. Manisha ji, the most senior therapist at the spa suggests an aromatherapy oil massage, preceded by Eucalyptus steam.She gauges the aches with precision as she works wonders with her hands, working on the painful knots as I fall into a deep slumber listening to the mystic chants playing in the background.
The whiff of Eucalyptus stays with me for a long, long time, as I step out of the spa to be greeted by the roaring Ganges again, a reminder of how nature and nature’s bounty offers the best therapy.
TOP Recommended Things to do inside the property:
Read a book on the rocks or on the hammock : It is the perfect place to catch up on reading with chairs on the promenade overlooking the Ganga, or on a hammock in the lawns or at a private beach where you can sit over the rocks in solitude.
Pebble therapy: While you are at the private beach, it is a good idea to indulge in some pebble and river therapy by walking over the smooth river bed pebbles and let the river waters caress your feet. Nature’s very own exquisite spa.
Write , sing, meditate, dance: The place is a haven for creative souls. With the song of the Ganga and birds as a stimulator, the property provides an exemplary ambience to let the creative juices flow, in peace and serenity.
Attend the Ganga Arti: At 6 pm, the priest at the in house temple, does the Ganga Arti, in a simple albeit divine way.(with lesser crowds) In house guests get to take part in the Arti proceedings as twilight falls, making it a memorable spectacle.
Go fruit picking (seasonal) : I ask Mr. Gajendra if the guests can get to indulge in a fruit picking session when the litchis and mangos are in full bloom. Special guided sessions can be arranged on request for kids and adults who want to relive their childhood.
TOP recommended things to do outside the property:
Rajaji National park : For wildlife lovers, Rajaji National park near Rishikesh is a great option. The Cheela gate is 2 hours away from the property and one can book safaris at the gate either at 6.30 am or 2.30 pm. The park offers spectacular landscapes (lush green forests and dry riverbeds) and sightings of wild elephants, leopards and a variety of deer and birds.
Visit Neelkanth Mahadev : A one and a half hour drive through the hills ahead of Rishikesh , takes you to Neelkanth Mahadev, an ancient shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva. It is believed that this was where Lord Shiva consumed poisoned that gave him the title of Neelkanth (the one with a blue throat).
Adventure: Rafting, zip lining, Bungee jumping: For the adventure junkies, there a host of activities in Rishikesh to give you an adrenaline rush. 6 Kms away at Shivpuri, there are several white water rafting operators an also zip lining over the Ganges.
Forest walks: The property arranges short treks around the property for birding and nature enthusiasts. This includes a 2 km walk and an 8 km long walk that takes you through the local villages in the vicinity and over suspension bridges.
As I stood at the banks of the Ganga on the private beach of the Glasshouse, my conversations with Ganga continue.
It was happy.
Brimming with Joy.
Laughing, swirling, flowing merrily.
I sat conversing with it for a long , long time.
Watching it happy before it enters the ‘concrete’ chaos,
Hapless and helpless.
Just like me: happiest in the hills, away from the maddening city.
Glasshouse on the Ganges is a Neemrana property and is situated 26 kms from Rishikesh and 65 kms from Dehradun.
It is on the Badrinath road and the nearest airport is at Dehradun.
Disclaimer: I was hosted by Glasshouse on The Ganges in Rishikesh by Neemrana Hotels, but the views as always are my own.