On the winding roads leading to Panchgani, flanked by mountains freshly green from the monsoon rain, I was restless with anticipation. It had been seven years since my last visit to my family’s favourite holiday hideout for two decades. With most hamlets in the world succumbing to unavoidable tourist hordes, a part of me dreaded that my childhood paradise would no longer be the same. I carried with me an age-stained photograph taken there 15 years ago—a memory of happy times that I treasure to this day.
My only abiding summer vacation memories are of Panchgani’s Prospect Hotel—whiling away hours reading Enid Blyton’s Famous Five novels on the creaky white swings; ridiculing my sister’s searches for four-leaved clovers, but joining the hunt all the same; ending each day watching the sun set over the hills from the small but perfectly manicured gardens. I arrived at Prospect as an adult for the first time to find it was exactly the way I remembered it.
Run by generations of the Javanmardi family, the ladies of the house still run the kitchens with age-old recipes, a few of which are from Iran. Prospect started out as a rustic colonial rowhouse in 1912 with just a few rooms and a dining hall. They’ve lived in the exact same rooms and dined at the same table for decades. Over the years, the property has been expanded to include new cottages, and a swimming pool surrounded by cabanas with verandas, cane swings, and deck chairs. The property’s charm, however, remains completely intact.
The dining hall is central to the Prospect experience—a large, airy space with around 15 tables and a fireplace at the head. Its brick-toned walls are decorated with black-and-white photographs from the 60s. The reception has antiques ranging from gramophones to a grand piano whose origins stretch well beyond 70 years.
Meals are a four-course ritual, served at each table by smartly-dressed waiters. Fixed daily menus start with a soup, followed by appetisers like grilled fish and Russian cutlets, a main course with chicken or mutton gravies, dal and rice, and a dessert. Prospect’s chocolate soufflé still ranks among the best I’ve ever had.
While the rooms are equipped with all the requisite amenities, from Wi-Fi to large flat screen TVs, the charm of Prospect lies in lazing about on the lawns, enjoying a book or a conversation amidst gusts of cool winds, or spending time with members of the family who are warm and welcoming, and treat visitors like friends rather than guests. A games room has table tennis, foosball, a pool table, and carrom boards. Panchgani’s sightseeing spots get overcrowded during the high season, but it’s still worth making the trip to nearby Sydney Point (2 km) and the Table Land (2 km) for views of the Sahyadris, or Sherbaug (2 km), a nature theme park which is fun for kids.
I feel lucky to have seen Panchgani in its prime, before the growing populations of Mumbai and Pune took a toll. While most of the hill station is filled with honking cars and tourists these days, Prospect Hotel, from its lofty vantage point, has managed to freeze itself in time, retaining its rustic feel and fantastic food, capturing the simple of joys of summer vacations in the 90s.
Appeared in the October 2013 issue as “Family Favourite”.
Panchgani is a hill station in the Satara district of Maharashtra. It is a 250 km/5-hour drive from Mumbai, via the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, and NH4, taking the exit for Wai. Prospect Hotel is off Ring Road, just outside the main town, and first-time visitors would do well to look out for the board and the road leading uphill to the hotel (02168-240263/763; www.prospect-hotel.com).
Prospect Hotel has 22 rooms, spread across various cottages and rowhouses. Most open up onto pretty lawns, while others surround the swimming pool. All the rooms are spotlessly clean, and fitted with modern amenities including flat-panel TVs and showers with hot water round the clock. The standard tariff per person, regardless of the room is ₹3,750 exclusive of taxes during the monsoon (June-September) and about ₹4,500 exclusive of taxes during high season (October-May), which includes all meals and high tea. The food is a mixture of vegetarian and non-vegetarian fare that spans Indian, continental, and occasional Iranian dishes. Vegetarians, however, are likely to miss out on the Russian chicken cutlets and a few other signature dishes.
is a stand-up comic and humour writer. He can often be spotted scrounging for plug-points in coffee shops, or wandering sleepily through airports across the country.
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