I recently spent a lovely three days / nights at The Khyber in Gulmarg, my first visit to mainland Kashmir (I have only been to Ladakh earlier). I sipped on endless cups of Kahwa, rode up a gondola, got pampered at the spa and spent several hours gazing dreamily into the snowfall.
I particularly liked the focus on local craft inside the resort, from the all wood interiors to Kashmiri bric-a-brac placed on niches and photos of local skills like embroidery and carpentry hung on walls along with stunning Kashmiri landscapes.
Here are my six top reasons for why The Khyber finds a place on the Hotels I Love list on this blog…
If you believe that for hotels and resorts, location is everything, then this resort has everything. It is in a quiet corner of its own, on top of a winding road, past the noise and clutter of Gulmarg’s smaller hotels and the main winter activity area. The Khyber is located in the midst of the Pir Panjal range and every room comes with views of the Affrawat peaks or the inner valley view of Gulmarg, picturesque in its own way. I stayed in a luxury room, which comes with a private terrace and one of my favourite memories are of my morning tea on the terrace, looking out on to the mountains. Even the bathroom comes with a mountain view!
I found The Khyber an extremely warm experience and I don’t mean just the central heating. Everyone smiles and makes you feel welcome here, from GM Sujith Herbert to the wait staff at the restaurant. It is not surprising that the resort has been regularly winning awards since its opening a couple of years ago. Guests leave The Khyber feeling like they can’t wait to come back (I know I did).
Dinner on the first night of my stay was a Wazwan served on a traditional trami (of course, some would argue that a vegetarian meal does not qualify as a wazwan, but hey). I have lots to say about the food at The Khyber (perhaps in a separate post soon) but for now, a shout out to the chefs and the staff at the multi-cuisine restaurant and coffee-shop Cloves. The breakfast spread here is lavish, from idli and sambhar to croissants and eggs.
If I had to choose just one reason to love this resort, that would be the excellent L’Occitane Spa, where the rooms come with large picture windows. Talk of a massage with a view. I had two spa treatments there: a super-relaxing hot stone massage and an Immortelle facial. This spa is pure indulgence from the word go, with a welcome drink of ginger and honey to wake up all your senses.There is a wide range of treatments on offer at the spa and this area of the resort also contains the gym, swimming pool and the jacuzzi, steam and sauna rooms.
One morning, I whizzed my way up to 14,000 feet with the Gulmarg gondola, which is within walking distance of The Khyber. At the first level, at a height of roughly 10,000 feet, there are activities like skiing and snowmobiling for bravehearts. Then there is Gulmarg bowl around which there is an ice-skating rink, sledging and such. And in summer, there are other outdoors stuff that the staff can arrange, including mild hikes around the area.
If you are not inclined to be “active” (and in the cold, with a heated luxury room, who can blame you), then The Khyber is just right for you; an ideal Staycations resort. There are enough cozy nooks to lounge in with a book, a cup of kahwa and mountain views. The Chaikash tea lounge at the lobby level is a preferred adda for guests, as is the Calabash Cigar and Sheesha Lounge. There are comfortable chairs and low seats scattered all over the lobby level; and unexpected little corners like this one.
And when it started snowing, I had uninterrupted views of the snowfall (and the snow-clad peaks in the distance) right from my personal nook on my bed.