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Luxury travel meets slow tourism in Uttarakhand hill stations

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As more tourists, corporate groups and long stay guests make their way Uttarakhand’s hill stations, hotels and locals join hands to promote responsible luxury with slow tourism initiatives

As more tourists, corporate groups and long stay guests make their way Uttarakhand’s hill stations, hotels and locals join hands to promote responsible luxury with slow tourism initiatives

There’s a distinct buzz in the room. At an adjacent table, a mother scolds her son in Kannada for wasting food. At another, a Gujarati family discusses what dish scored higher on their palate, as they try to get a fix on a wedding menu. Across the room, more couples and families enjoy their breakfast as they take in views of Garhwal’s mountains through floor-to-ceiling glass walls.

The spread on offer spans the gamut: from the now pan-India staple of idlis and dosas, and Garhwali dishes made from high-altitude lentils and greens, to western breakfast essentials such as eggs Benedict and waffles. Aptly then, the restaurant’s called Range (at least to the punster in me, though the name refers to the mountains outside). It’s the all-day diner at the new 263-key Hyatt Regency Dehradun.

The hotel comes with a spa that champions the herb tulsi, a rooftop pool and two bars, one of which specialises in malt-based cocktails and the other has a strong gin game. Drinks at both are crafted by Yangdup Lama whose Delhi’s cocktail bar Sidecar was ranked #47 on the World’s 50 Best Bars list in 2022. There is also an Indo-Tibetan restaurant in the works that will go beyond momos and thukpas. “Our aim is to market Dehradun as a destination,” says Harkaran Singh, the hotel’s general manager. “Apart from cities like Delhi, smaller business-centric cities like Ludhiana, Meerut and Saharanpur have people who are well-read, well-travelled and who yearn for luxury experiences in the neighbourhood. We already see them coming here on weekend trips.”

At the Hyatt Regency Dehradun

Dehradun’s luxe route

The Hyatt presents the latest chapter in the makeover of the Dehradun-Mussoorie-Rishikesh triangle as a luxe getaway for the affluent Indian traveller. Just in the past three years, two Taj properties and a Roseate have opened in Rishikesh. A Six Senses is set to open near Dehradun later this year. The openings indicate a flurry of activity in a region that till recently has had little by way luxury accommodation.

Apart from the pockets of wealth in nearby areas, a key reason for the hotel boom, according to industry watchers, is the development of new infrastructure and increased air connectivity. The Delhi-Dehradun Expressway, for instance, when complete is expected to cut travel time from around six hours to under three. Dehradun’s Jolly Grant airport now has direct flights from cities like Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Bengaluru and Hyderabad, which has made the Uttarakhand capital, and in turn the hill stations of Rishikesh and Mussoorie, accessible to a whole new clientele.

For the JW Marriott Walnut Grove Resort & Spa, the first from an international chain to open in Garhwal eight years ago, this clientele comes in the form of corporate groups mixing business and leisure. “We are seeing spouses accompanying corporate visitors, where we arrange leisure activities for the spouse while the other partner works,” says Anoop Pandey, the hotel’s general manager. “Pre-pandemic this mix was a very small fraction of our business. Now we’re seeing that 60% of the corporate groups are adding leisure activities to their itinerary.”

Snapshot of a trail by Been There, Doon That?

Snapshot of a trail by Been There, Doon That?

The local boom

A range of local businesses are taking advantage of this “need” and benefitting from tourism. Been There, Doon That? is a Dehradun-based slow-tourism initiative that conducts experiences and thematic walks, such as one that tours the sites made famous by Ruskin Bond’s books. “The biggest chunk of our travellers comprises high HNI couples who want to give special experiences to their children,” says founder Lokesh Ohri.

Furthering the attempt to offer hyperlocal experiences is the Devalsari Environment Protection and Technology Development Society. An outfit created by the residents of Devalsari village, 75km from Dehradun, to promote conscious travel. “We didn’t want Devalsari to become another Mussoorie or Rishikesh where mass tourism has adversely impacted the environment,” says president, Arun Prasad Gaur. “We wanted the aware tourist to come here and appreciate what we have to offer.”

Tourists at Dehradun’s Robbers Cave

Tourists at Dehradun’s Robbers Cave

To that end Gaur and his fellow residents have created guided trails around the abundant butterfly and moth population and even organise an annual butterfly festival. A rewilded forest is their next venture where they’re creating trails to sight birds, porcupine, deer, leopards, and the ever-elusive Himalayan civet cat.

Also keeping the focus on the hyperlocal is Namakwali, an all-women agency that produces a range of flavoured salt mixes that are sold at the Hyatt Regency. At her modest home on the outskirts of Dehradun, which also doubles up as a production centre, founder Sashi Bahuguna Raturi does quick demonstrations on how salt is traditionally used in the hills to preserve spices. She hosts Garhwali story-telling performances and sets up wedding rituals that can add a dash of local flavour to a destination wedding. As she breaks into a bidaai song (sung as the bride leaves), I can’t help but wonder if the Gujarati family at breakfast might be interested.

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