Power of Serenity
During the week, Monday to Friday, you get driven from the house to the office and back by a chauffer in your Mercedes-Benz S-Class. The bedlam of the outside world is dampened but still the phone calls are relentless, the paperwork is incessant and the stress is daunting. The weekend is something you really look forward to, but work doesn’t leave you alone on the weekends as well. There is always something or the other that comes up, you bump into a client or a colleague and a conversation of work starts a downward spiral of thoughts and anticipations of the coming week. Sometimes a thorough break is required that re-vitalizes the senses and gets you prepped for the weeks ahead.
If you are asked to pick a perfect vacation, not far from home but where you can really experience the power of serenity, the first thoughts that come to mind are those of the mountains, a beach villa or sometimes even a farmhouse in the hills away from the city with no telephone or Internet service. Those locations all have one common denominator, Nature.
To experience this power of serenity we have to get away from our busy lives and city and venture into the wilderness. Not all of us can just pitch a tent in the middle of nowhere and enjoy Mother Nature to her fullest. In today’s day and age technology has provided us with certain comforts that in no way are sins to enjoy, so why not take advantage of this when presented with an opportunity. This raw, untouched, pure nature in her native and beautiful manifestation makes anyone and everyone gasp in awe.
The key phrases here are, “ away from the city” and “not far from home.” You must be wondering what a model weekend getaway should entail? Ideally it should be in the wilderness, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. It should entail quick transport from home to the destination, a comfortable room, a clean bathroom, good food and no hassle of work, extended family or domestic help.
The closest place we have to Mumbai, away from the pandemonium is Lonavala, which during the monsoon season on the weekend gets flooded with its own racket of tourists from all over. They come to get wet in the rain, enjoy the innumerable waterfalls and the lush greenery the Western Ghats has to offer. Aamby Valley and Lavasa are common destinations and drive routes for the weekend warrior. What you need is a location close to Lonavala or Pune, perched in the Western Ghats, where the common tourist doesn’t venture. Is there such a place? You must be wondering what I am on about.
Well, yes. There is a small village by the name of Shillim. It is approximately 3500 acres of undeveloped land with a population that should be about 1000-1200 people. Located amidst rice paddies and a lush green forest on the edge of Lake Pawana close to Lonavala, this is the destination The Hilton Group has chosen to set up their largest and youngest property in India. Inaugurated on the 13th of January this year, the property is only 8 months old. It is called the Hilton Shillim Estate Retreat and Spa-350 acres of land with 70 acres of Spa area, making it one of India’s largest Spa retreats.
So now that you know such a place exists, I guess its time to check it out. Firstly, call and check for weekend availability and then make a reservation for the weekend. Secondly, give your domestic help a break, send your chauffer off, pack a set of comfortable clothes and finally leave your S-Class in your garage and pick up the keys to the GL, do not confuse them, as they might just look the same. Next, set off from home to the Hilton, located 90kms away from Mumbai.
The GL-Class is Mercedes-Benz’s largest SUV in production. They have bestowed it with the title, “Absolute Supremacy.” At first glance, it looks like no other SUV you have seen before. It has a presence on the road. It’s grand stature turns heads, making its presence felt wherever it goes. The interiors are regal and plush. The German manufacturer has added exquisite features such as real wood dashboard and door trims and Italian leather seats. The coziness is delightful. Three glass panels on the roof of the vehicle make the GL seem very spacious on the inside as well as give a complete view of the surroundings. The front sunroof is the only one that opens. There is enough space in the boot for 3 bags with the rear seats up as well. With them folded down you can even fit a very big dog in the back. The driver’s seat is adjustable in any and every way possible so as to get a perfect seating for the journey ahead. Seating 7 people comfortably the GL makes for a faultless vehicle for a weekend getaway. Mercedes-Benz has provided the GL with its V6 turbo-diesel 350 CDI power train that in no way makes the colossal SUV seem underpowered.
Listening to some tunes, cruising on the expressway the GL is extremely refined. It is exceptionally easy to drive. Engine vibrations are low and the car is extremely civilized and poised at a constant speed of 80kmph. Press your foot down on the throttle pedal and the response is immediate, the GL throws you back in your seat and in no time it is at 140kmph and capable of doing much more. Mercedes-Benz does a great job when it comes to cutting out the external world from the interior of the car. In its quietude we could hear the buzzing of a fly that got trapped in the vehicle by mistake.
Take the first exit to Lonavala off the expressway and head towards the small town. From the town make your way as if you were going towards Aamby Valley, following that same road till you reach a three-way fork. The extreme left fork is the road for Shillim. Hilton has done a great job with the signboards.
The scenery on either side of the road is fantastic. First you go through a dense jungle, with trees on either side, and then come the lake views mixed with paddy fields. Pristine untouch scenery. It felt like as though you were transported into a painting. The hairpin bends and the steep climbs were a pleasure to drive through. The scenes were great but the situation below the tires was something completely different. It was this road where the SUV really came in handy.
From smooth tarmac to driving as if we were in a minefield is a metaphor that could be used. Potholes galore. The road has deteriorated with the monsoons, constant truck traffic and general poor maintenance. The 13kms of driving from Lonavala road to the Hilton Shillim retreat is slow and painful only because of the sudden unexpected craters and bumps. In the rains the craters and potholes get filled with water and some of them are deeper then you expect. Nonetheless the GL ploughed through the 9kms of crater-studded road without having any issues.
The Hilton comes up on you without notice, but it is distinct. Pull in and the first question you get asked is if you have a reservation. If not, you are asked to leave the property. That’s a great way to keep the guests and the property free of random visitors and curious tourists. You are greeted with a warm face towel and a welcome drink. After the check-in procedure, you leave your vehicle at the entrance, called the Gatehouse and get chauffeured to your personal villa in either an electric golf-kart or a Tata Nano.
The Shillim Estate Retreat has 12kms of road network after the reception and welcome area. Only hotel operated vehicles are allowed on these roads, mainly to keep the estate free of guest cars and because the paths are just wide enough for 2 golf-karts to squeeze by one another. There are a total of 64 Villas up and running on the retreat with another 45 getting ready by the end of this year. The 350 acres hold only 99 villas providing high levels of privacy and exclusivity.
The villas are huge, about 110sq.m in size with a valley facing balcony, and an outdoor and indoor shower. Each villa comes with its own personal butler to help the guests out if anything is required at all. The villas have 5 different choice options, namely the Valley View villas, the Spa villas, the Spa Pool villas, the Mountain villas and the Presidential Villas. The latter are still under construction.
What is unique about this property is the simplicity and the use of the natural forest for landscaping. Trees and fields have not been cleared to make space available for their buildings and if there has been any kind of forest clearing, they have planted 48,000 trees all over so as to make up for the felling. The buildings have a simple stone wall effect and minimal furniture creating lots of open space that gives a very freeing experience. The retreat has 6 choices of restaurants and has been complimented for its food and buffet spreads. The Terrazzo at the Clubhouse seems to be the most common joint for food.
The Hilton has divided the estate into 2 zones, the Spa zone and the Lifestyle zone. Children are not allowed in the Spa zone at all. That zone is exclusive and has been built a top a very high concentration of crystals, which if you believe in energy, is great for relaxation and rejuvenation.
The Spa at the Shillim provides around 145 different kinds of treatments and massages. They can be 60min sessions and can go up to 120mins depending on the option. The Balinese massage I experience there was extremely relaxing and invigorating. The spa therapy rooms are very simple, yet they have class. Every evening there is a Sunset Yoga class held at the yoga centre. A personal trainer over sees the yoga sessions. The Spa Zone also has a meditation room and a centrally heated swimming pool with a sauna and Jacuzzi.
The General Manager of the hotel, Andreas Kraemer is on the property most of the time. He is very approachable and is a pleasure to interact with. “The Shillim retreat was conceptualized to be a self sustaining hotel. Water is used from Pawana Lake and the grey water goes through a set of natural filters that allows us to re-use the water for the general use around the estate. We have our own organic vegetables growing on the premises and we also make our own honey,” said Mr. Kraemer as he smiles and glances toward his hotel property with pride.
One of the best places on the property is the Tea House. Laid out with low floor level seating, this semi-open relaxation room is a non air-conditioned part of the hotel but in no way does it feel so. The location is immaculate. There is a constant breeze through the slotted glass full-length windows. You do not get your standard masala chai here; instead you have a choice of 30 different varieties of teas that come packed straight from Dilmah specifically for the Hilton Shillim Retreat. The teahouse is a perfect place to reflect, read a book, be creative and enjoy the natural surroundings whilst sipping a hot cup of soothing tea. This is where the power of serenity is at its fullest. No road noise, no engine sound, no cell-phones, no Internet and no work. Just you and nature’s symphony. Tranquil.
Night is a whole new experience. Pitch darkness and absolute silence. No street lights or building lights. The retreat has minimalistic ambient lighting as well. On a clear night there is a chance of a beautifully star-lit sky, but be cautious, as there is a possibility of seeing snakes in the area.
The Hilton Shillim Estate Retreat and Spa is not aimed for the common tourist. You have to have deep pockets to enjoy yourself here. If you can own a GL-class, a weekend at the Shillim estate is not even a slap on the wrist. Villa’s range from Rs.24,000 to Rs.36,000 per night for the Valley View option. A flamboyant lunch at the Terrazzo about Rs.15,000 and a 60min Spa treatment about Rs.7500/-. Get ready to spend a minimum of Rs. 65,000 to Rs.1 Lakh for a good weekend at the Shillim Estate. The Hilton has made it clear that they are targeting the premium sector of customers. They had a guest who had booked a 21-night stay at the retreat. Nonetheless the weekend was unforgettable and one of the most relaxing weekends experienced. They are planning an equestrian centre as well as a cooking class and pottery class as added activities for their guests in the near future.
The moist fresh monsoon air, the cool breeze, the sound of running water, the pitter patter of rain drops on the leaves and the chirping of birds is an experience that is now lost in most city environments. Extremely few retreats offer a holistic package close to what the Shillim has in its books.
It is all about being one with Nature at the same time doing it in style and comfort. That talks about the GL as well. You can take it down the offbeat, raw road yet it’s done in style and comfort. It makes you feel at home. You can enjoy the vast tranquility of Nature and her beauty while you are being cosseted from the elements. Being a lover of nature it is not hard to feel one with Her glory at the Shillim. During the monsoons, the rain casts a spell on the Western Ghats, turning them into one of the most picturesque locations in India. The downside is that that roads take a beating and that’s where a good SUV comes in really handy.
The Mercedes-Benz and the Hilton were alike in more than just a few instances. Both were simple and yet had their own unique class. They luxury levels were stately. The butler at the Hilton was at the ready to help when required, similarly the electronics and sensors on the GL beeped on upon sensing a hypothetical knotty situation. All the electronics can be turned off and the butler can sure be sent away, but it feels nice to know that there is someone out there, while you are in the middle of nowhere, keeping an eye out for you and your belongings.
Now that we have another long weekend coming up and if you are willing to shell out a good lump sum of dough to pamper yourself and your family, consider the Hilton Shillim Estate Retreat and Spa. You can even have them organize a pick-up and drop for you in their fleet car. If you want to experience the GL-Class, the Hilton Shillim can organize that for you as well, for an additional charge. If driving is not your cup of tea there is always an option to take a helicopter and get dropped off at their Heli-pad. Nevertheless, Shillim is a must see destination in the Western Ghats, be it whatever part of the year, it should still leave you jaw dropped.
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