When was the last time you washed your face with turmeric and sandalwood? When was the last time you had a bath under the stars, what was the last time you had food made with locally grown produce, out in the open?
Imagine the joy then when I got all this in a hotel in the middle of a jungle. Calling lebua Corbett a hotel will not entirely be correct though.With rooms as simple and comforting as our own, people as simple as our family, and the place as informal as home it is hardly a hotel — it is almost a home. But I digress. To say that finding turmeric, sandalwood, and honey in our villa’s luxurious bathroom was a delight would be an understatement. With a fresh aloevera leaf, rocksalt and olive oil at hand this was by far the most thoughtful vanity section I have seen in a hotel. And I have seen a fair share of them.
But at Lebua Corbett thoughtfulness is a way of life. Guests are spoilt by the staff; services go beyond getting food and beverage or turn down service.
Reaching Lebua Corbett, located far away from the noisy and overtly commercial Ramnagar, where most hotels and resorts are located, not hard. You can drive in directly from Delhi, Lucknow, Kanpur, Gurgaon or Noida, or take a train to Moradabad and a car from there. The drive from Delhi lasts about 6 hours, from Moradabad station it is barely two hours away. While most of the drive is easy and usual, the last few miles are beautiful. As you leave the commotion of Ramnagar and the string of hotels behind, you arrive at a road lined with thick forest. The mountain river, Kosi, meets you off and on, and smaller hills start to appear — a sign that you are close to the tiger territory, in India’s oldest National Park.
The real thrill begins after you have reached at the parking of the hotel. Located at the foothill of the mountains, the parking is spacious and well-appointed — air conditioned drawing room, luxurious loos, and tea-coffe-snacks. The staff salutes you like you are royalty — and two handsome 4*4 Isuzu cars await you.
The sprawling Lebua Corbett Resort is located on top of a hill that has no motorable road. The climb is steep, narrow and punctuated with rocks and a mountain stream. The only way to get there is either on foot or on a 4*4 drive. We, of course choose the latter.
There is something I should disclose before going ahead with my story: I am terrified of hill roads and will do anything to avoid driving on the hills. One reason you will not see any mountains on my timeline. But, when Faisal Nafees, a friend and the GM at lebua insisted I visit him at the resort in the hills I had to concede. Having met him in Lucknow, seen his work at Saraca Estate I was sure he would have done great work here too. And so I had put my fear aside and driven all the way to the foothills of the Himalayas. But now, with no road and a open 4*4, my determination was going through its ultimate test. I tried to quietly sneak inside the closed part of the jeep but was called out by the staff: Trust us you don’t want to miss it, they said. With husband and kids catcalling too, I had to give in. And there I was, out in the open on a hill without a road on a 60 degree climb.
To say that the 15 minute ride was the most exhilarating one of my life would not be an exaggeration. The cool and clean mountain breeze, the deep green jungles, the gurgling stream, and the steep climb had set the scene for three days to come.
The welcome to lebua hotels is always special. Here at Corbett, we were received by a uniformed bagpiper and the very courteous hotel staff. The chic and modern glass room that acts as a reception and lobby was a surprise, the little things which represented the jungle a delight.
Located at the edge of the actual park (most resorts are in the town of Ramnagar, far away from the jungles of Jim Corbett National Park), the place has been designed thoughtfully. The flat, spread out plan with neutral colours like beiges and greens ensures the place blends in with nature. Rooms, gardens, and spaces have been designed to ensure no trees had to be cut, large glass facades and windows let natural light and greenery inside. A small pond houses ducks, an organic farm grows herbs and seasonal vegetables, and a stable houses four horses, and the entire place is surrounded just by a fence.
“It is important for my guests to be comfortable, but we cannot modernize at the cost of nature,” Adarsh, the man who manages the impeccable resort tells us as he walks us to our villa. One of the many sprawling suits in the resort. Mine, as I had requested, faces the east and overlooks the pond. Coralled by tall silver elephant grass, it comes with a verandah, a living room, a bedroom and a large bathroom. Minimalistic and yet modern, luxurious and still responsible towards nature, the suit is perfect for a family vacation.
If there is one place that knows how to indulge you, it is lebua. Whether at the 90-year-old haveli in Lucknow or here, at Jim Corbett National Park, the team never ceases to amaze you. At lunch we are invited to the lawns with a breathtaking view of the hills, a deep blue sky, and a table that seemed right out of a Hollywood film. Finest crystal, china and silver, sleekest glassware and a seven course meal awaited us. The best part? It was a proper European ensemble.
Dining, in fact, remains an important part of the experience at lebua Corbett. The kitchen is equipped to serve you not only regular meals but also dish out exquisite dinners and luncheons. A private breakfast under the trees, a meal by the lake, a candle lit dinner with a bonfire to keep you warm, a bespoke buffet set in your balcony. Who’d think these experiences are possible in the dead of the jungle where even a car cannot reach?
Well, @lebuacorbett does. Our breakfast set amidst chirping birds, close to grazing deer, under centuries old Sal trees was an example of exquisite culinary experiences that the hotel specializes in. Home made cakes and croissants, freshly made juices, and lassis, and a local Kumaoni spread of stuffed dal paratha, chilla made with local flour, local greens, scrambled eggs, dry potatoes, garlic pickle, and a homemade masala, made the breakfast an experience like none other.
Part 2 coming soon.