Discover Wildflower Hall
As the highest mountain range in the world, the grandeur, mystery and romance of the Himalayas cannot be surpassed. The Indian epic, Mahabharata, describes how the Pandavas journeyed through the Himalayas in the hope of reaching Heaven alive. "In a hundred ages of the gods, I could not tell you the wonders of the Himalaya," notes an ancient Vedic text. Indeed, the Himalayas have held a special place in India's spiritual consciousness since ancient times.
Bordered by Tibet and Kashmir in the north and Punjab in the south, the mountainous state of Himachal Pradesh lies in the Western Himalayas, which extend across 500 km and comprise 16 ridges, broken by the river Sutlej. The region incorporates some of the greatest mountaineering terrain in the world, including the high altitude area of the Cold Desert and the valleys of Spiti and Lahaul, with their stark, elemental beauty.
Set in the midst of these imposing ranges, at a height of 2500 metres (8,250 feet) above sea level, Mashobra is situated on a traverse spur, well known as Asia's largest watershed with the water basins of the Indus on one side and the Ganges on the other.
The historic Hindustan-Tibet road initiated by Lord Dalhousie in 1850 links Mashobra and Shimla. Cut into the side of precipices that descend into deep ravines and hillsides densely covered with deodar forests, the road passes through colourful roadside bazaars and the Sanjauli tunnel. The road was finally completed at the turn-of-the-century in Lord Kitchener's time. Mashobra¹s bustling, local bazaar provides the locals with day-to-day essentials, while its fertile, terraced fields grow fruit, vegetables and flowers to supply Shimla and the surrounding area with the freshest of produce.
Mashobra has a temperate climate with four distinct seasons. In the summer months of April to June, wild flowers fill the meadows, and the air is cool, fresh and pine-scented. The rainy season from July to August has an appeal of its own with misty mountains and glorious sunsets. September to November is pleasant and bracing, while winter is crisp and invigorating with snow and bright, sunny weather.
The Mashobra spur is dotted with orchards of fruit trees, and turn-of-the-century houses with evocative names like Fairlawn, Wildflower Hall and Apple Tree House. Its numerous shady glades, cool streams and flowery glens make it idyllic country for camping and picnics, as well as treks and river rafting.
The thickly wooded slopes of Mashobra are part of the Shimla Reserve Forest sanctuary and catchment area. The natural vegetation comprises cedar or Himalayan deodar, pine, oak and rhododendron, as well as maple and horse chestnut, interspersed with variegated shrubs, wildflowers and grasses. The wildlife consists of jackals, kakkar (barking deer), and the occasional leopard, as well as numerous bird species such as the Himalayan eagle, pheasants, chikor and partridges. The musk deer is the state animal of Himachal Pradesh, while the Munal pheasant is its state bird.
Commanding splendid views, Mashobra is ringed by the peaks of the Western Himalayas. On a clear day, the mountains of the Pir Panjal range in the state of Jammu and Kashmir can be seen stretching all the way across to Nanda Devi in the Garhwal region of Uttar Pradesh.
A favourite escape from the officialdom of Shimla during the days of the British Raj, Mashobra with its thickly forested hills and salubrious climate is an ideal getaway for both adventure and relaxation.
More thickly forested than Shimla, Mashobra was greatly favoured by those who enjoyed trekking and camping in the hills. It was also a popular spot for Raj picnics. The best known was the annual picnic held during the colourful Sipi fair in the middle of May. Enjoyed equally by Europeans and locals, the day of the fair was declared a public holiday and all of official Shimla, from the Viceroy down, participated in the outing.
Mahasu, Kufri, and Fagu are other scenic spots further up from Mashobra. The beautiful spur of Naldehra, which was a favourite camping ground during the Raj, is about six km (four miles) away. Overlooking a magnificent grove of deodars and covered with fine, springing turf, Naldehra is noted for its golf links, and was frequently visited by Lord Curzon and his family.Wildflower Hall History
"This country villa of ours is 1,000 feet higher than Shimla. It is on top of a hill and in the midst of the most sweet smelling pinewoods, where the mountain views are magnificent." - Lady Dufferin's description of Wildflower Hall in Our Viceregal Life in India
Wildflower Hall in its time has been a country escape for various Viceroys and high-ranking officials. For many years it was the property of G H M Batten, private secretary to Earl Lytton (1876-1880). It was also a favourite retreat of Lord Ripon. Wildflower Hall's most illustrious resident, however, was Lord Kitchener, "the greatest Commander-in-Chief that India has ever possessed". Years after Lord Kitchener left India the house continued to be identified with 'the Jhungi Lat Sahib' or the Great War Lord, as he was locally known, and it still holds strong associations as his former home.
For Lord Kitchener, Wildflower Hall was a much-loved property. He visited it regularly, spending an extraordinary amount of time and money laying out the gardens, planting trees, flowers and herbaceous borders, prompting a contemporary to remark, "It is an open secret that the Commander-in-Chief is an enthusiastic gardener." He also enjoyed shooting and camping in these hills.
It was Lord Kitchener who had a snow-pit built in the grounds of Wildflower Hall. The purpose of the pit was to manufacture ice in the days before refrigeration. Situated in a sun-less spot, the covered pit was packed with snow, which became compacted into ice with the weight of its own mass by the end of winter. Ice from the pit supplied the Wildflower Hall kitchens throughout the year.
After Lord Kitchener returned to England in 1909, the property was sold to Robert Hotz and his wife, an experienced hotelier, who also owned the The Oberoi Cecil in its early days. After demolishing the old house, Mrs. Hotz erected a fine, three-storey hotel in 1925, which became a popular getaway. An early guidebook noted that a favourite day's outing for Shimla residents was to arrive at the hotel and "partake of the sumptuous lunch to be obtained there".
After Independence, the hotel was taken over by the Indian Government, and it subsequently became the property of the Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation. In 1993 it was razed to the ground by a fire, caused presumably by a short circuit. It has now been beautifully renovated as an Oberoi deluxe mountain resort. The construction has taken five years to complete.
A handsome six-storey structure, Wildflower Hall has remained true to the spirit of the original bungalow in its external aspect. Borrowing from the traditional method of local construction using dhajji or lath and plaster, the exterior of the lower floors is clad in slate, while the upper floors are relieved by a tracery of balconies and railings. A pitched roof, typical of houses of the period, surmounts the building.
Rebuilt to the most exacting international standards, Wildflower Hall successfully blends the charm and beauty of the local area with modern-day comforts.