The vintage weekend
When the world opens up again, a getaway close to the city at a heritage home nurtured by the British and Parsis might be just what you need
Long before skyscrapers and aluminium composite panel facades embellished Mumbai, we had humble houses of stone and wood, built not to attract attention, but to make living comfortable. They were spacious and airy, with red oxide and stone flooring that cooled the soles of the feet, especially during burning summers. Not to forget, the lofty, sloping wooden roofs, with Mangalore tiles for cover.
The good thing is that the hills still promise these small, quaint joys, and it doesn't cost too much.
When we reached the gates of Dhun-Heta on a cold January morning after taking an early morning bus from Mumbai to Panchgani, we were welcomed by the in-house cook Sharadji and the housekeeping staff that stay with visitors at the bungalow daily until 6 pm. The getaway at the century-old property that's an uphill climb from Panchgani market, has been one of our most well spent, yet. The home, originally built in 1914 by an Englishman named Henry Couldrey, exchanged a few hands, before it was bought by Manijeh Patell in April, 1942. It is now owned by her daughter, Goa-based heritage researcher Heta Pandit. The brick-red structure, which is surrounded by a three acre forest, boasts of four bedrooms (attached bathrooms), a dining hall and a large drawing room, which also serves as a reading space. A sun-lit backroom with a stained glass facade functions as a sitting area, and opens into a gorgeous, green backyard.
A lot of care has gone into retaining its old-world charm. And for this, credit goes to Pandit. It's like visiting a museum, almost. There is a vintage wash basin in-built into a cupboard—a standout artefact, best observed from a distance. The walls are decorated with a variety of knick-knacks, blueprints and maps. A crowd of framed photographs from the private family album on the tableside, remind you it's a home.
Breakfast is free, and you can choose from upma, poha, omelette, or have all three, if you wish. Tea and coffee is available through the day. If you don't want to spend time in the kitchen, Sharadji will prepare lunch and dinner, at a nominal charge of R500 per day (groceries, excluded).
Wintry evenings demand that you light a bonfire in the garden (firewood is provided), and sing old Hindi numbers. Since there is no WiFi connectivity and the network is erratic, it will give you enough opportunity to connect with nature, and the home, of course.
Because, you will be booking the entire home, it's advisable that you go with a large group (maximum 10).
Price: Rs 8,000 for the entire bungalow
To book: airbnb.co.in
There are early morning buses from Mumbai to Panchgani. The home is a 10-minute walk from the central market
Parsi Manor, Matheran
The most arresting feature of the 100-year-old Parsi Manor is its vintage charm. The homestay is secluded, yet not far from the central market area, making it convenient. The rooms are cool, airy and spacious with stone tiled-flooring and four-poster beds typical of old Parsi homes.
At night, you can unwind in the verandah's Bombay Fornicators and play a board game stocked at the property. Those addicted to their phones, are in for a detox—the place has no WiFi or television, and barely gets phone reception. The food is sumptuous with a distinctly Parsi flavour. You can prearrange meals, which will be served in the dining area. Don't be alarmed if you discover rogue monkeys creating a ruckus on the roof early morning. Stay long enough, and you'll miss it when you are back. Don't forget to take mosquito repellent.
Price: Rs 5,000 onwards per room
Dune Barr House, Verandah in the Forest, Matheran
This iconic 170-year old British mansion, named Barr House, was built for Captain Barr of the Royal Army and later owned by a Parsi family. It has now been converted into a hill station resort and is run by the Dune Wellness Group. A 20-minute walk from the market area, the mansion has 11 rooms, each named after a famous family of Bombay, whether British, Parsi or Bohra. "The washrooms are interesting. The floor is made of red mud, which gives it a rustic feel, but the stay offers modern amenities," says Apurupa Vatsalya, who visited the property in June 2019. If you are going with family, you might want to check the Elphinstone Heritage Suite, named after the former Governor of Bombay, which has a bedroom, a separate children's room and a large lounge-like drawing room. The lounge area also has a library with a decent collection of books, on Parsi history and heritage. The stretch around the property is gorgeous with the main sunset points a stone's throw away. But it can get secluded at night, so you might want to be back before it gets dark.
Price: Rs 5,500 onwards per room
There are daily trains from CST to Neral. From Neral, you will have to go to Matheran by road. You need to either trek or ride a horse after that
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