The essence of Darjeeling, developed as a summer hill station during the British Raj and famous for its deliciously floral tea, is exemplified in the Mayfair Hotel. Once the summer home of the Maharaja of Nazargunj, the Mayfair is today a luxury resort perched high atop a hill overlooking the town – and overlooked, in turn, by the awe-inspiring Himalaya Mountains.
The Mayfair has all of the luxury and service you would expect in such a resort, with none of the stuffiness. Staff is personable and attentive, and the hotel grounds are completely comfortable for families. In fact, the hotel caters to families with its cottages and suites.
It takes dedication to get to Darjeeling. After flying into Bagdogra, or taking a train to New Jalpaiguri station, you must then embark on a 3-4 hour jeep ride to climb into Darjeeling. There is also the famous toy train, but that journey takes 7 hours or more; better to save it for the shorter “joy rides” from Darjeeling. Once there, however, the views are spectacular, rolling green hills dotted with villages and tea plantations, all overshadowed by the majestic, snow-capped Himalayas towering above.
The Mayfair is large enough to provide extensive amenities and services, but small enough to feel cozy with personal attention. The 44 rooms, suites and cottages are individually designed with warm colors and designer paint, extremely comfortable king or double twin beds, couch or sitting area, fireplace, LCD television with satellite and DVD player, and nice bathrooms.
All rooms also come with a tea/coffee maker, room heater and safe.
Family suites also have two bedrooms and a private balcony. In keeping with the personal service, the front desk will send up a personal butler to light a fire for you – great ambience and warmth on chilly winter nights in the foothills.
Everything you need is on site. For dining, try the multi-cuisine Magnolia, or the terrific nightly dinner buffet at Tiffany. The Douglas Bar is a comfortable lounge that provides the perfect place to unwind with a drink, after a day of trekking or strolling the town, and watch the sun set over the spectacular snow-capped peaks. The bar is dedicated to the Darjeeling artist Goray Douglas, and his original works are showcased throughout the lounge.
Other facilities include a full-service spa, fitness center, nice billiards/game room and a tea boutique. Don’t miss the Tenzing Norgay room, a very British old-school gentleman’s library with plenty of books and DVD movies available for check-out, and wonderful old photos of the famous Sherpa along with mountaineers and Indian royalty lining the walls.
The Mayfair advertises wi-fi, but I personally had trouble with it. The somewhat remote and mountainous location of Darjeeling makes the entire town susceptible to slow and interrupted internet connections anyway; but the Mayfair also has a computer in the lobby for guest use, and Manager Chinmoy Sahu offered me the use of his own internet-equipped laptop.
True to its family atmosphere, the Mayfair has a well-equipped playroom for children and even provides babysitting services; there is also a doctor on call. Butler, concierge, valet, laundry and travel services are also all available on-site, and only a phone call away.
The wonderfully cool climate, clear brisk air and the breathtaking views of the Himalayas drew the British here to escape the stifling heat of Kolkata. It is still a very popular place for honeymooners, trekkers and others seeking to escape the heat from lower elevations.
The mountains are a big draw, visible from most points of town and irresistible to trekkers. You can spend a couple of hours or the whole day hiking nearby; Tiger Hill at sunrise is particularly stunning. There are also more than 70 tea gardens in the region that make for a fascinating day. In town, visit Mahakal Temple on the highest point – watch out for the monkeys! Several interesting Buddhist monasteries are nearby, as well as the famous Himalayan Mountaineering Institute. Don’t miss a joy ride on the historic Toy Train, operating since 1879 and designated World Heritage Site; or simply ply the market vendors and antiques/curio shops that line the small, winding lanes throughout town.
The two high seasons are between April and June, and from October to December. During these months the mountains are clearly visible especially if you are an early riser! You will need to bring warm clothes throughout the year but particularly from November onwards; the climate is temperate with temperatures ranging only between 12 and 25 in the summer and between 1.5 and 10 degrees during the winter.
The Mayfair Darjeeling
The Mall, Opposite Governor House
Telephone: +91 354 2256 376
Rates: 8,000-15,000 Rupees per night (approx. $175-335), inclusive of breakfast and dinner
Shelley Seale is a freelance writer based out of Austin Texas, but she vagabonds in any part of the world whenever possible. Shelley has written for National Geographic, Globe Pequot’s Insider travel guides, CNN, AOL, USA Today and Andrew Harper Traveler Magazine among others. Her book, The Weight of Silence: Invisible Children of India, follows her journeys into the orphanages, streets and slums of India where millions of children live without families. Her mantra is “travel with a purpose.” She can be reached at shelleyseale.com.