Even though travel has picked up again, the pandemic seems to have changed preferences for good, with more travellers opting for small, remote, boutique properties with fewer keys for effective physical distancing. We’ve found four such resorts for you. By Radhika Tandon
The other day at the airport, I watched masked travellers walk past me while announcements about social distancing played on a loop. And I was struck by how quickly we have adapted to this COVID-era reality, when less than two years ago all of this would have sounded like a dystopian novel. The way we travel has changed, perhaps forever. It made me wonder: what else has changed about our journeys?
My accommodation preferences certainly have seen a dramatic shift. This year, I found myself searching for cottage-style resorts, drawn to the privacy and physical distancing that they naturally offer. I stayed at places that ranged from a little Goan beach shack to a garden resort in Ladakh—all worlds apart, but with a few striking similarities. Here are four charming resorts of note that I checked into over the last one year.
4 Cottage-Style Remote Boutique Resorts In India To Check Out
This gorgeous resort has 25 cottages spread over two hills, with views of the Palampur valley below and the Dhauladhar range behind. The rooms have no TV, Wi-Fi, or room service, but are luxuriously appointed. Of note are small touches such as superb showers, shelves filled with indoor family games, and the nightly delivery of a hot footbath with organic salts.
The owner, Rajat Rialch, is committed to reviving Himachali culture and traditions, with efforts ranging from creating awareness about its natural springs and water mills, to bringing in local chefs to cook up a dhaam, the traditional 12-course feast of the region. He scouts the local shepherding communities for trekking guides and women who can teach pottery and weaving to guests. Kangra art installations on the property promote native artists, and produce ranging from wheat to honey is locally sourced. Rialch used the extended lockdown to revamp the property and has added a swimming pool, a living room, and a bigger spa. From INR 14,000; rakkh.com
Rakkh Resort Palampur is located approximately 30 kilometres away from Gaggal Airport. The nearest rail junction is Pathankot, three hours away by road.
See & Do
The property offers guided walks, mountain biking, pottery, weaving and yoga classes, archery, and activities for children. There are DIY barbeque stations, a pool, and a spa as well
Image: Courtesy of Rakkh Resort Palampur
A world away from the hills of Himachal is Agonda Villas, in Goa. We drove on some of the prettiest coastal lanes I have seen in the state, then a narrow, crowded shopping street, and finally approached the property through an alley squeezed between shacks. One of just nine, our ‘luxury cottage’ was a fairly simple air-conditioned room, with a Balinese-style open-air bathroom. What made it absolutely memorable, though, was its location—right on the beach, with an uninterrupted view of spectacular sunsets from the outdoor jacuzzi on its thatched porch. The only things between us and the ocean were a handful of net enclosures that protected turtle nests. As one of only two Goan beaches where Olive Ridley turtles come to nest, the Agonda beach enjoys a semi-protected status. The long, spotless beach is lined with huts and restaurants, but bright lights, loud music, hawkers, and motorised water sports are banned, making it a quiet and pristine stretch of sand even in peak tourist season. From INR 10,000.
Goa is well connected to most major cities of India. Agonda Villas is located 40 kilometres away from Dabolim Airport.
See & Do
Kayaking is the only water sport available on Agonda beach. There are several massage and yoga centres within a radius of one kilometre. There is no restaurant at the property, but breakfast is served at the individual cottages and the staff arrange other meals on request.
Image: Courtesy of Stephen Amore
On my last visit to Atali Ganga, what was meant to be a short family break extended for over a month as Delhi was engulfed by the horrific second wave of the pandemic. Imagine having an idyllic resort almost to yourself, an interesting bunch of travellers stranded together by a shared crisis, and living in a bubble of calm while chaos reigns outside. It feels almost callous to describe how safe and comfortable we were, at a distance from the hellish images of home we watched helplessly on television.
Atali has 22 luxurious cottages and a campsite spread across 15 acres of gentle hillside. Lined with glass windows on three sides, it offers views of jungle, hill, or river from every vantage point. While I was there, an ever-changing landscape of clouds drifted by at eye level. As I recovered from an illness (not COVID-19), I joined the occasional forest walk or strolled down to the beach, which was shared only with wild ponies. Equipped with a dongle, I spent my days working in the porch outside my cottage. My daughter had a contrasting experience, trail-running in the forest every morning, learning how to ride SUPs (stand-up paddleboards) on the river and doing laps in the pool. We fell into a rhythm, meeting to dine al fresco on the cafe terrace with the faint roar of River Ganga beneath us and taking turns to choose films to watch in the conference room.
Atali Ganga’s owner, Vaibhav Kala, adheres to the principle of ‘hire local buy local’. Food is sourced locally, and single-use plastic isn’t found anywhere on the property. The staff and guides, all from nearby villages, share a strong sense of ownership that gives the resort its very special ethos and draws a loyal band of patrons repeatedly. From INR 18,500.
The property is approximately 46 kilometres away from Jolly Grant Airport in Dehradun. If you’re driving from Delhi, it should take you four to five hours via Meerut Expressway.
See & Do
There is a long menu of activities such as river rafting (September-March), stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, trail-running, mountain biking, a high-ropes course, wall climbing, and yoga classes. There is a pool and a spa at the property.
Image: Courtesy of Atali Ganga
Located in the Nubra Valley, between the postcard-perfect village of Tegar and River Shyok, and overlooked by three mountain ranges—Saltoro, Karakoram and Stok—Lchang Nang Retreat makes a very special base to explore the monasteries, surreal landscapes, and hot springs in the area.
Nubra is best-known for the Diskit Monastery, which boasts a giant Buddha statue, and the Hunder sand dunes, but both these sites were overrun with tourists when I was in Ladakh. So, we chose to visit Ensa Gompa, a small, isolated monastery with a single monk in residence, who gave us all the time in the world to wander and take in the ancient wall paintings and thangkas, then invited us to chat over soft drinks that he brought out of the kitchen. On another day, we visited the lesser-known Sumur sand dunes, silent and immaculate, and lingered beside River Nubra to watch the sun set behind mountains. We visited the Panamik hot springs and hiked up a cliff to sit beneath a waterfall. On early morning walks through Tegar, one of Ladakh’s most prosperous villages, we caught glimpses of the graceful rhythm of everyday life in the countryside.
The cottages at Lchang Nang (‘The House of Trees’) are built according to traditional Ladakhi architecture and set in extensive gardens. We picnicked in the property’s private meadow, walked through its orchards of apple, apricot, and elm trees to get to the river, and took a guided walk through its organic gardens. Built four years ago, the property is dedicated to sustainability. The resort is almost fully powered by solar panels, much of the produce is sourced from its organic gardens, and the milk comes from cows owned by neighbouring families. There were walks and excursions every day, though I spent as much time as I could in the gardens, with a book and Singge, the friendly resident mountain dog. From INR 15,000
Fly into Leh’s Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport. The drive to the retreat from Leh takes four to five hours.
See & Do
Guided walks and excursions to nearby attractions are organised by the property. Yoga classes are held daily, and cultural performances and bonfires are arranged subject to weather. The spa is currently closed.
Image: Courtesy of Lchang Nang Retreat
My greatest lessons from the pandemic have been about living simpler and respecting nature. After the long lockdowns, my holidays are now about the outdoors, with space and privacy being the biggest luxuries I can afford. These four resorts, each set in the lap of nature, share an ethos of ethical, environment-friendly practices, underpinned by support for local communities. Places like these have existed since long before the pandemic, but they’re getting their due attention now. And I’d like to believe they could represent the future of travel.