Actor Rajkumar Rao has one, fashion designers Falguni and Shane Peacock have one too and so do I. A pine tree sapling in the hills of Uttarakhand, one of which I planted and named Grow More; more like my wish for it to bloom into a big tree and play its part in the fantastic and much-needed afforestation initiative by JW Marriott – Mussoorie Walnut Grove Resort & Spa.
Back in Mumbai, I have saved a few trees from being axed, but experienced the joy of planting one for the first time at this 115-room, luxury property, nestled in the lower Himalayas, which is a great destination for feel-good travel with your family, friends, or your romantic partner.
What adds to the planting experience is the thoughtful ritual that the hotel’s team has designed for all its staying guests around the event. A horticulturist walks you around the afforested area within the property and explains the significance of planting trees native to the region. Pine helps avoid soil erosion, an acute problem in the Garhwal region.
While you get busy uncovering the sapling, adding natural manure and soil to your pit, another team member takes your pictures, freezing the moment forever. Then, and this is the most interesting part, you are to name your sapling and write it on a placard, which is then printed and made into a nameplate and placed against your tree. I wasn’t prepared for this, but if you do visit the hotel, you must think of a name beforehand. I am sure you would want to go prepared for this simple, yet heartwarming event.
And when you are done, expect a certificate of participation and a photograph of you and your sapling. The best part, this doesn’t end here. Every year, on your sapling’s birthday you will receive a picture of your tree, which will help you monitor its progress and remind you of that one good deed you did for planet earth.
For this very initiative, JW Marriott – Mussoorie Walnut Grove Resort & Spa, has been chosen along with 14 other properties in Asia Pacific for the Good Travel with Marriott Bonvoy programme. Launched on January 26, 2021, the initiative offers meaningful travel, curated, purpose-driven experiences that focus on Environmental Protection, which aims to support the resilience of the natural environment due to environmental degradation, pollution and climate change. Second is community engagement, which aims to create a positive impact in the communities where Marriott International properties operate through cultural education or volunteerism, and, the third is marine conservation that aims to restore and preserve marine ecosystems and species.
The other Indian property chosen for the programme is Sheraton Grand Bangalore Hotel at Brigade Gateway for its work with local communities.
Back at the JW Mussoorie property, the feel-good experiences are abundant. They are served wrapped in conscious and sustainable luxury. One of my other favourites is the local thaali experience at the Botanical Café inside the hotel’s pretty green house, where it grows kale, stevia leaves, basil, thyme and a lot more, all of which is used across the hotel’s five restaurants and cafes.
Among the thalis – Garhwali, Kumoni and Devbhoomi – I chose the third one. Devbhoomi refers to Uttarakhand, the abode of God, for it houses many famous temples such as Gangotri and Kedarnath among others. And this vegetarian thali is a journey to these shrines in a plate. It has food that can be found at these shrines, enroute them or during auspicious occasions in Garhwali villages. It has dhaba style kadhi-chawal, Bhaddu ki dal (a mix of local dals such as bhatt, kullat and rajma), meethe chawal or sweetened rice, which is only made by the priest during a wedding in Garhwali villages, kheer, mandwa (Rotis made from Himalayan black millet), carrot and potato vegetable and mattha (masala buttermilk) served in kansa (bell metal) plate and bowls.
Your next meal here must be at Trout, named after Himalayan Trout, a fish found in the waters in the mountains, which is also a local delicacy. Dig in a mix of local and modern dishes here. The soft, melt-in-your-mouth Gadhwali paneer tikka, stuffed with prunes, apricots and cheese is my absolute favourite. There is also the yummy mashroom ki galaut, Sabz akhrot ki takki, made from apricot that grows on the three apricot trees in the resort, which lends the property its name, and the fresh and green kandali ka saag, a mix of leafy vegetables, which also has nettle leaves.
Another absolute must-try is the traditional aloo puri and gehat ki dal ke paratha with fresh, green chutney, and masala chai served during breakfast at JW Café. These local specialities are made by the ever-smiling local women Roshni Kumat and Bindra Nautiyal, who make these dishes at a live counter. The aloo puri is stuffed with small portions of potato filling tempered with jakhiya seeds (similar to mustard seeds but a lot crunchier). This one that you just can’t get enough of is mostly made during weddings in Garhwali villages.
And the masala chai, made from freshly ground spices, smells and tastes as refreshing as the Himalayan air. Oh bliss!
You can also get one kullad (earthen cup) of this elixir in the evening Kachdi, a local ritual of the evening get-togethers around a campfire, which the hotel staff very lovingly replicates for all its guests every evening. While a local musician sings melodious Sufi, Bollywood and Garhwali songs, guests enjoy steaming hot cups of masala milk, samosa chutney, steamed corn, grown locally, and kids’ favourite candy floss. And if you do not want to leave just yet, sign up for Tambola. You can also shop for local products here. I would recommend you buy the Himalayan salt, sourced from Himshakti, a social enterprise, which works with villagers in Uttarakhand.
The same salt is used in the resort’s restaurants, including Wisteria Deck, a café with a gorgeous view of the Himalayas. Wisteria serves fresh Mediterranean fare and botanical drinks. I recommend walnut pesto walache, made from walnut, the Himalayan black millet breat, Fab pizza made from finger millet, amarnath and banyard millet and Mukteshwar cheese, homemade cheese sourced from Mukteshwar town, 12-kilometre away from the resort.
If you’d like some Pan-Asian cuisine, head to Teepan, which is only open for dinners and definitely try their avocado sushis. So fresh!
And now after so much food, you sure want to work it out. The special treks and trails arranged by the hotel is a great way to do so. The 2-hour, easy trek and bird-watching expedition to the Benog Wildlife Sanctuary are one-of-a-kind experiences. The place is not a tourist hotspot and thankfully, when I visited, It was just me and my knowledgeable guide who helped me spot not one, not two, but 5 magpies, a Brown-fronted woodpecker, a Blue-whistling Thrush, a Slaty-headed parakeet and 5 colourful jungle fowls. Bonus, you also get to watch many langoors and their antics and deer, if you are lucky.
The foliage in the jungle is green and thick, and your trail is crisscrossed by tiny rivulets that make for an ethereal ambience for meditation. Do carry a binocular, also a bag, if you, like me, enjoy collecting little things. I picked a porcupine needle, which I decided to leave at the jungle, some wild berries and cedar tree’s tiny cones. And while I was at it, my guide set-up a small tent in a clearing where we just sat and listened to bird sounds. Though, if you’d like, he would also make Maggi noodles for you there for you to enjoy a small picnic.
The next day, I signed up for another trek. This time, slightly uphill, to a secret pine-wood forest that can be accessed from the resort. Enroute, you can enjoy unobstructed and views of the lower Himalayas. And that sure is a sight to behold. So is the experience at JW Marriott – Mussoorie Walnut Grove Resort & Spa, a luxury property, in the lap of nature, which, I would say, is all heart. Bonus points to the very humble and hard-working team at the hotel that will go out of its way to ensure that your travel was indeed good!
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