The Himalayas evoke a sense of spirituality, awe and mysticism in everyone who knows of their existence. And why shouldn’t they? Spanning across 5 countries and various cultures, the mountain range is home to the planet’s tallest peak, Mt. Everest. A substantial portion of the Himalayas run through Northern India and visitors from far and wide come here to observe their majesty, “find themselves” or just relax in the hill stations, villages, retreats and cities that dot their peaks. Strong, powerful, grounded, beautiful yet raw, visiting the Himalayas is an experience that will have you falling in love with the culture, the history, the people, the serenity and yourself. To begin MY love affair, I chose the very best: Wildflower Hall & the Ananda Spa- both ranked amongst top resorts in the world and positively the very best in the Himalayas. Writing a review to compare both these resorts is like splitting hair as they both are truly “as good as it gets”. However, in the interest of my readers who may need to choose, I have given it an unbiased shot.
Location and Accessibility
Wildflower Hall is based in Mashobra Valley, Himachal Pradesh, 8250ft above sea level. It is a scenic, winding, 4-hour long drive (difficult for those, who have motion sickness) up the mountains from Chandigarh airport (most flights via Delhi). The closest city is Shimla (30 mins from resort), whose airport is almost always closed in winter due to heavy snowfall and is unfortunately notorious for unreliable flight schedules. In its glory days, Shimla used to be the hillside retreat of the dignitaries of the British Raj and is therefore rich in colonial history. Today unfortunately, it has lost much of its charm and is often dirty and over crowded. Mashobra Valley itself, however, is stunning, sparsely populated and to this day remains one of only two Presidential retreats in India.
Ananda, located near a small town called Narendranagar in Uttaranchal, is a 50-minute, relatively easier, drive from Dehradhun’s Jolly Grant airport (most flights via Delhi). The closest city is Rishikesh (30 mins from resort, on banks of the Ganga River), a culturally rich, spiritual hub. Known as the Yoga Capital of the world, Rishikesh attracts millions of visitors every year, who come on holy pilgrimages to wash away their sins, to have their midlife crises or to experience the mysticism of this place. Stories of Indian Mythology, like the Ramayana, have influences here, and yet the vegetarian city is surprisingly new age. The Beatles rocked it in the ‘60s, its many temples and ashrams are dedicated to everything from yoga and Ayurveda to crystal healing and all styles of massage. You can learn to play the sitar, experience laughing yoga and enjoy the evening breeze that sets the temple bells chiming before a Ganga Aarti. Adventure lovers use it as a popular white-water rafting centre, backpacker hangout, or a base to treks in the Himalayas.
Verdict: if you are short on time and want to experience a unique city/ culture, Ananda’s accessibility & proximity to Rishikesh makes it a better choice. If you don’t get easily carsick and want to get away from it all, the tranquility & views offered by the pine- cedar forests surrounding Wildflower are the way to go.
The Resort property, food and service
Hidden in the Himalayas, on undulating grounds amidst luscious green forests and beautiful lawns, Wildflower’s fairy-tale like setting and views set it apart from other resorts. The castle-like main building, originally the home of a British lord (but redeveloped since), has 81 rooms and 4 suites all with their own LCD satellite television, Wi-Fi connectivity, walk-in closet, personal bar and 24 Hour Butler service. The resort has a main multi cuisine restaurant that offers panoramic views of the valley, indoor and outdoor seating and excellent food. The service at the Oberoi group’s top hotels, like this one, is unparalleled and the staff goes out of their way to please you. They’ll be happy to serve you dessert in the elegant library or set up a private dinner fit for royals. Wildflower has a fantastic gym, a gorgeous temperature controlled indoor pool and a heated outdoor infinity Jacuzzi. The Jacuzzi is a real treat and one of the highlights of the hotel, as it allows you to appreciate the scenery and chilly mountain air, whilst being in a steamy hot bath!
The front façade of the Maharaja of Tehri Garhwal’s Viceregal Palace, warmly welcomes Ananda’s guests into a plush reception area. Although the Palace building only hosts the reception, the Viceregal Suite, the tea Lounge, the billiards room (India’s oldest) and a library (with an interesting collection of old books), it makes for a striking first impression. Care is taken to retain much of its old-world charm. The rooms and villas are in auxiliary buildings and can be reached by a short buggy ride or a steep uphill/downhill walk. The founder of Ananda, Mr. Ashok Khanna, spent his formative years with the Oberoi Group of hotels, and has managed to pick up their commitment to detail. The staff of Ananda imbibes the same unyielding customer driven philosophy, with an added element of “Zen”. Service is therefore excellent, but the true winner is the food. With only one main dining room, guests are surprisingly never bored as the menu changes daily. Because Ananda is geared towards a healthier lifestyle, every item on the menu has “home cooked goodness” to it. One can keep track of the calories one takes in, as well as choose a menu customized to one’s body type and health needs. Ananda’s award winning Spa offers a temperature controlled outdoor lap pool and a state of the art 16-station life-cycle gymnasium.
Verdict: Wildflower Oberoi’s choice of location, amenities, grandeur & immaculate service makes it a winner.
Value for money
Both of these are 5-star luxury hotels, so expect to pay accordingly.
Rates at the Wildflower Hall are typically based on per room, per night and include breakfast. Other amenities such as spa treatments and meals are paid for separately. The resort offers some non-chargeable activities like archery and a forest trek.
Ananda’s packages can be great value for money. A per night package rate includes spa treatments, majority of the resort activities, which are mainly wellness related- like yoga, Vedanta lessons, healing etc and up to 2 meals a day (breakfast and dinner).
Verdict: Ananda’s packages offer the whole 9 yards, such as multiple spa treatments, several meals and a host of wellness activities. For an all-inclusive type vacation Ananda is the way to go.
The Wildflower offers one of the Oberoi Group’s most revered, award-wining spas. The menu is extensive and has signature treatments, like the milk and rose bath and the holistic rituals. The hotel chain carefully designs its spa menus, and ensures that same level of proficiency and expertise is maintained as a standard across the board. The view from some treatment rooms is blissful and romantic, overlooking the mountains and pine forests. The therapists ensure that you have a royal experience, so that you keep coming back for more. [Insider tip– if you’re a spa junkie like me sign up for one of the spa packages, which is about 3 hours long and offers a combination of treatments including a massage, a scrub and a bath.]
Ananda is more a “spa destination” par excellence, than simply a resort. I have seen nothing like it in all of my travels (which is saying a lot) and its accolades show that it stands out worldwide. From the moment you check in until you leave you are consumed by “spa culture”. Clothes are made redundant, as guests are encouraged to dress in resort-provided, ultra comfortable Kurta Pyjamas, for the entirety of their stay. That, in itself, initiates a surprising sense of calm and when you look around you, you feel like you are a part of a spa and wellness cult! The restaurant offers a wellness menu, so that the food you eat matches your wellness routine. The spa itself is magnificent, 24,000 sq ft of goodness offers nearly 100 body and beauty treatments, making it not only one of the largest spas I have ever seen, but also the most extensive in treatments. The therapies integrate traditional Indian systems of Ayurveda, with contemporary western spa therapies. The spa’s offerings are not limited to body treatments, and include other experiences like yoga, meditation, healing experiences, fitness and discourses by visiting masters on subjects like chakra healing and vedic studies. Personalized therapy and activity programs are designed to meet individual needs and health goals (de-stress, detoxification, relaxation, anti-ageing, weight loss), while guidance is offered by physicians in the areas of nutrition, well-being and exercise. The spa therapists are like magicians who know every contour of your body, relieving and awakening muscles you never knew you had. The men’s and women’s changing, showering, sauna and steam facilities are separate but the common areas are the same and a couples massage can be booked if you prefer to spend sometime together.
Verdict: Ananda Spa trumps any other spa, with much ease.
Overall its tough to choose one or the other, but depending on what you are looking for on your holiday, this post should give you a good idea of where to go.
Enjoy the Himalayas!