Resort tourism, stirred by tea flavours

Darjeeling has become too congested. Such a large land parcel is also hard to find in and around Darjeeling town.

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By Mehul Parekh

Published: Sun 13 Jun 2021, 12:05 AM

My late father, Jaysukh Parekh, was a jeweller by profession, but like many others of his vintage was enamoured by the misty tea gardens of Darjeeling hills and their rich colonial past. The trappings, which faced initial headwinds during the separatist Gorkhaland movement in the mid-1980s that momentarily shattered the idyllic tranquillity, had caught my father’s imagination. He was deeply appreciative of the Scotsmen, who set up the tea plantations in the 19th century.

He wanted to recreate the colonial charms: majestic bungalows, trained domestic helps, rolling golf courses, clubs just a drive away and weekend getaways to adjacent hills or forests for fishing and hunting expeditions.

As a consummate businessman, he was aware that these attractions would appeal to city-slickers in the new millennium and those nostalgic about the planters, whose lives are no less than minor royalties.

In 2007, he purchased a 24-acre plot at Dow Hill, located 10km uphill of Kurseong town, a tea country, to build a resort that would recreate the colonial charm of a bygone era.

Kurseong, located halfway between Darjeeling and Siliguri, was a bold choice. It was almost untouched by tourism. Boarding schools had evolved as a cottage industry to supplement the tea industry for the quaint town of around 50,000 people.

My father wanted to build a resort of international standards to make a difference in the hospital industry in the region that has

had its moments of uncertainties and turbulence; he wanted to change the perception and foster a narrative of growth and prosperity. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2010, and couldn’t be around to witness his cherished dream being realised.

The construction of the 35-room Allita Hotels and Resorts started in Dow Hill in 2012, and the $5-million project was ready by 2016.

Why did I choose little-known spooky Dow Hill over the most prominent Darjeeling, the ‘Queen of the Hills’?

I wanted to buck the trend.

Darjeeling has become too congested. Such a large land parcel is also hard to find in and around Darjeeling town.

Dow Hill is akin to Darjeeling town as far as the topography and altitude are concerned. Both are around 6,000 feet above sea level, and a visitor can experience three types of weather conditions in Dow Hill during a day, which is a rare occurrence for a jaded city-slicker. It’s an ideal getaway, especially amid the Covid-19 pandemic for the second successive year.

Though business picked up last December when people were looking for a lazy retreat, the second wave from April onwards has led to a renewed slump. However, we are keen to build on the goodwill of the brand and are embarking on a 50-room expansion plan at an added investment of another $5 million pending requisite permissions from the West Bengal government.

In retrospect, the added confidence has come because tea tourism and Kurseong got a massive boost in 2018: superstar Rajinikanth chose our property while shooting for the film Peeta. He had stayed at the director’s bungalow at the resort. The bungalow has been renamed as ‘Rajinikanth Villa #3’ and his favourite in-house Chia Bar has been renamed as Thalaivaa Special.

We have had three horrid seasons — including one in 2017 because of the impact of the 104-day strike in Darjeeling over the separate statehood movement and these two years due to the pandemic.

However, I’m a die-hard optimist.

Resort and tea tourism in Kurseong are ideas whose time has come amid rampant global warming and a chaotic world in perennial turmoil.

I’m certain a beautiful life awaits us beyond Covid.

(Mehul Parekh is managing director of Allita Hotels and Resorts, Kurseong)

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