This year has been horrid, but in a good year I end up taking quite a few short breaks. For these breaks, I stay clear of the usual ritzy hotels. I seek places with character. And all of them within India. Here are my five favourite go-to places.
Sitla Estate, Uttarakhand: I have been to Sitla every year for the past ten years and I have seen it morph from a rustic-but-charming place into one that has every conceivable comfort. At Sitla, the accent is on community living. So there is no room service. All meals are had with all the other guests. Run by the hugely charming Vikram Maira, Sitla is for people without pretence. The views of the mountains are staggering. Vikram is happy to take you for wonderful jungle walks. The place buzzes with an intellectual energy. And the food is absolutely first class.
Elsewhere, Goa: I am a zero nightlife guy and I also am no fan of shacks. Yet, I believe there is lots to do in Goa. Nothing for instance. Which is why, Denzil Sequeira' Elsewhere is simply magnificent. It is in North Goa. In a village. You get to the property via a bamboo bridge. There are a bunch of tents and several stand-alone homes. I would go for the Captain's House. Sleeps six. No air conditioning. There is a private beach where Dolphins come and say hello to you at 8am every morning. There is a cook-in-hand who makes delicious meals. Fabulous place.
Ganga Kutir, West Bengal: Madhu and Harsh Neotia have impeccable taste. And that resonates at Ganga Kutir, a stunningly serene resort in Raichak - a 90 minute drive from Kolkata. The property is on the bank of Ganga which means great, calming views. The rooms are gorgeous. There is a lovely spa too. The food is fantastic. A beautiful getaway from Kolkata.
Ri Kynjai, Meghalaya: Is this the prettiest place in the country? You bet. Built on the banks of the majestically introverted Umiam Lake, it is 20 km from Shillong. The architecture is Khasi. All wood. There is a traditional Khasi Spa. The rooms are spacious, the views breathtaking and the food outstanding. Take a boat and stroll around the lake. Else put up your feet in the balcony and soak in the serenity.
Vana Retreat, Uttarakhand: An hour's drive from Dehradun airport, this place is a haven of spell-binding hospitality and copious grace. At Vana, the accent is on unparalleled but understated luxury. The chefs are from the finest hotels across the world. So the food is organic and outrageously delicious. The spa does not flog the usual treatments. There are Tibetan and Chinese healing therapies, yoga on the grounds and perhaps the loveliest resort shop that I have stepped into. It is a balm for the senses.
All of these places require you to be deeply popular with yourself and your partner. These are not for the head-banging herd. So be warned.