...Soumya Sitaraman.

Originally Published in Design Digest. August 1998

Mussoorie! The very word evokes a childhood of stories: My imagination running amok between tales of sudden hailstorms and high wind sweeping the deodar clad mountains; of my mother's life in "Landour Cantt." as the Cantonment was called, and the fantasy that Ruskin Bond spun out of smoky "chaat" shops, slush football and Tonga bells. The stories do not end there. Mussoorie: the retreat of the Rajas and their European friends that quickly turned around to include the former by invitation only. This was British Mussoorie, infamous for its Mall area where the Natives were forbidden to enter: the retreat for the Officers and enlisted members of the British army to savor the attentions of a mistress; a place of unspoken understanding where the formal codes of Simla yielded to nestle forbidden pleasures; a place where rank and rumor bowed to a code of non-acknowledgment and silence. The tales spin fast into one whirl of mixed images and feelings.

Mussoorie today lived to imagined expectations, with a little of everything. The old paths and roads still exist. Hill folk tread lightly carrying bundles of firewood. Children in small groups come and go to school. Their cheeks, ruddy from the exercise and fresh air. Their destination, miles away by foot. The whole area has homes with unique features. The Colonial houses with a Tudor finish lead the eye up to an imposing piece of British architecture overlooking the Doon Valley, the St. George’s College. Some years ago, there existed a small castle adjacent to the college. It was the privilege of the principal of the College to reside there. A rope bridge with open wooden slats crossed the chasm between the two hills, a shortcut between the two adjacent peaks. The Castle is gone today. In its place stands a huge new hotel, five star no less.

A spanking new five star hotel usually spells waste and ecological damage. The JayPee Residency Manor was a surprise. When the parent company JayPee Constructions bought the property in 1992, the castle lay neglected. In an effort to remain harmonious with the tranquil and underdeveloped hill station, the company hired architects whose careful consideration is evident from interior floor plans all the way to the exterior surface treatment.

The JayPee Residency Manor so called for its pseudo Tudor exterior, sits in several layers on top of a crest of the Sivalik Mountains, in Barlowganj, Mussoorie. A two tiered sloping roof surrounded by ten turrets defines the central structure. Modeled after the castle that preceded it, the hotel’s interesting facade breaks into several terraced levels.

Wood strips, presumably teak, create bold visual pattern in geometric criss cross on the white grit wash facade that overlooks the main terrace. Treated in the same manner as the surface walls of St. George’s College, the facade of the building is expected to brown over time. It will then melt into the scenery, blending with the mountains.

The Manor sits on a nine acre plot, with another nine adjacent acres reserved for staff quarters. The four staff colonies also built around the contours of the land, are a mere ten minute walk away. A 1.3 km joggers path girdles the Manor. Benches beneath slim fiberglass sunshades placed strategically all along the way entice the spirit to tarry a little: to rest, take in the peace of the mountain and rest tired eyes with the cooling balm of greenery. A colourful play area attracts children. Flights of steps lead from the joggers path up to the various multi purpose terraces and the hotel itself. The terraces serve as courts for various sports like badminton, tennis and croquet. Keeping in mind future possibilities, the terrace that serves as a skating rink was built to double as a heli-pad.

The main terrace, beautifully landscaped, is a pattern of paths that branch through colored floor tiles. Running through lush green carpets of grass, they intersect to delineate several separate spaces. Polished stone paths studded with black diamonds at regular intervals snake along the periphery flower beds. From this vantage point, one can get a full view, stretching from the Doon Valley below to the Shivalik range above and around. A natural rock garden gets attention on the West side, balancing the lawns that extend from the periphery railing to the suite doors on the East.

Going back in through a magnificent wood paneled corridor, through the doors of the central terrace, one encounters the Residency to the right and the Bar to the left. The Residency is the only multi-cuisine restaurant of the hotel. Along the walls, yellow irises cut and framed in beautiful stained glass add an elegant decorative touch. Back lit, these apertures complement the soft lighting and white marble floors. The romance is enhanced by recessed lighting and cozy alcoves.

The comfort extends to the large, plush bar that faces the Residency. Set back between framed sections of the far wall, the bar counter overlooks several carpeted sitting areas. Rich warmth from the highly polished wooden pillars that rest on low pedestal walls separate each self-contained section. Herringbone wood floor panels run between green rectangles, carpets keeping with the Earth tones. The sea of dark green marble flooring swirls around and out spilling into the corridor. A bold black and white fishbone pattern contained within maroon stripes flows along the edge of the deep green marble floor elegantly. The pattern breaks into rectangles, like small carpets, along the corridor. A balmy sun spills in through the segmented windows.

On the same level, the East Wing of the main terrace serves the four suites of the hotel. These rooms boast a spectacular view with the benefit of the private terrace space. They are designed for multiple users, offering privacy and pleasure. Each suite has a living, dining and wash area attached for guests of the occupant. Should business require it, the three small boardrooms can be combined into a single space with a total seating capacity of thirty. Stairs lead below to the lobby, offices and some of the seventy one rooms. The an alternative is a gentle burgundy ramp with a smooth wooden banister. Two little windows on the facing wall frame the landscape outside. The dramatic fishbone design turns a long graceful "U" in between and flows away along the edge of the lobby.

The lobby level entrance bursts with an impression of expanse and light. The striking fishbone running along the edge also frames sections of the dark floor, eliminating the need for decorative carpets. Large panes of glass frame the panorama of lush mountain and swirling gray cloud. Located in a primarily residential area where no blasting is allowed, this unique hotel encircles a rock formation that rises from beneath and through this level. The tor surfaces level with the main terrace above. Glass windows all along the interior box the large column of bedrock that extends through to the main terrace. Here, the living, breathing mountain lies within the hotel that stands on it.

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