Review: Living The Amaya Life near Kasauli

We test out a space that draws more than aesthetic inspiration from its surrounding villages, it also embodies their harmonious way of living. And sample Chef Prateek Sadhu’s food concepts that are also in tune with the surroundings, while we’re at it.

Sitting at the edge of a cliff, surrounded by pine trees, I look up at the brilliant blue sky and am filled with unadulterated bliss. A cool breeze ruffles the leaves and grass around me making a swish-swish sound, which is the only noise apart from the cries of some magpies flying and swooping amid the trees. The pure clean air that I gulp in almost greedily, the clear skies, the sight of the verdant rolling hills surrounding me and the utter calm and quiet of my environs — this is truly luxury at its best.

The luxury of calm contentment. Image: Courtesy Amaya.

The husband and I are at Amaya, the newest eco resort on the block, near Kasauli in Himachal Pradesh. Landing at Chandigarh airport and driving up the winding narrow roads, I had wondered, all this trouble just for some rest? However, reaching the resort and taking in our surroundings, we quickly realise what a good decision we have made. Near the village of Darwa, but away from the bustle of it, Amaya sits nestled atop a hill overlooking the magnificent Dhauladar mountains. On a clear day, the entire snow-covered range is visible and makes for a stunning sight. The property consists of villas built on 20 acres of terraced forests.

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An aerial view of the terraces. Image: Courtesy Amaya.

The build

At first sight, the villas which are independent bedrooms and living/dining spaces, look a little haphazardly built. The reason for this is that they have been built around existing trees, without cutting any of them — this makes my heart sing with happiness!

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The art of being in nature, without disturbing it. Image: Courtesy Amaya.

Built and designed by Bijoy Jain of Studio Mumbai and his team, the resort’s architecture is unlike anything I have seen and is a commendable effort in sustainability and beauty. Natural materials like marble, wood and stone have been used. The carefully built villas can be sold separately or together as per guest requirements. The structures built entirely by hand and without cement, do not clash with the natural surroundings but instead, blend beautifully into their serene settings.

The common areas at Amaya are picturesque too. Image: Brita Banerjee Dasgupta.

The creature comforts

The décor inside is calm and pleasant, with mid-century modern Scandinavian furniture. The limestone walls are bare and the only colour in the rooms, dull blue, grey or green, is through handmade rugs scattered on the floors. The décor is almost monastic in its austerity but that is exactly what makes it uplifting and restful at the same time. This departure from the norm of decorating with bric-a-brac, art or textiles is unexpected but makes me understand minimalism in its true essence. It reminds one of simpler times and gives the opportunity to seek, in peace and without distraction.

Very Scandinavian in style. Images: Brita Banerjee Dasgupta.

All the elements are necessary, not extra. There are no fussy curtains. Instead, marble slats have been used on the windows and doors for privacy. I must admit, I am most taken with this idea, as I notice the sunlight filtering in through the slats yet, maintaining complete privacy. How creative and inspired is this idea! It’s almost as if the creators decided to let nature take centrestage and not let the design elements vie for attention.

Tastefully done interiors. Image: Courtesy Amaya.

Even so, Amaya is equipped with all the amenities for a relaxing and comfortable stay. Hot water in the bathrooms comes through copper pipes and is reused to irrigate the farm in the property. Nothing is wasted and everything is reused and recycled. There is a tea and coffee set up in every villa apart from in room dining services. Being at an elevation of 4,500 feet above sea level, Amaya is chilly most of the year. For warmth, there are room heaters on demand and electric mattress warmers. The latter truly make the bed most comfortable and cosy.

The surroundings

The dining areas consist of a large airy room with an enormous communal table and a few smaller tables around it. Like the living spaces, the dining hall is decorated sparsely with whatever is required and nothing more. Yet, each piece of furniture, linen, crockery, and cutlery is well thought out and chosen carefully for comfort. In true Himachal style, an open verandah wraps around the dining room and has enticing lounge seating.

Most guests sit either here or like us, on the open lawn area overlooking the dining area and the swimming pool. Service led by Vikas Dogra, is efficient, observant yet unobtrusive.

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Sunset by the pool. Image: Brita Banerjee Dasgupta.

The pool area is picturesque and the backdrop for the most stunning sunset views. The swimming pool is unique due to the absence of the use of tiles. It is hewn from limestone and the water temperature is maintained at a comfortable 26 degrees Celsius.

The repasts

We are in raptures with the food served. Each meal we have is a gastronomic experience. Curated by Chef Prateek Sadhu (ex-Masque, Mumbai), the menu is interesting and clever. The ingredients are either grown on the lands of the property or sourced locally. It is, quite literally, the farm-to-table experience. Chef Sadhu has integrated local Himachali cuisine and ingredients into his trendy menu. He has used local grown plants and herbs, which are distinct to Himachal Pradesh, in a remarkable way.

The elegant restaurant where so many fine meals are served. Image: Courtesy Amaya.

We are loving the Amaya farm salad with green leaves like rocket, arugula, and lettuce with thinly sliced pears, candied hazelnut, and Himalayan cow feta in a mustard emulsion. It is fresh, light, and full of unexpected flavours. The greens are mostly grown within the property while the homemade Himalayan cow feta is sourced from nearby Mashobra. The surprise element is the mustard emulsion using kasundi, which is the perfect blend of tanginess and warmth from the mustard oil. Mustard oil is the usual medium of cooking in the state and this particular one is sourced from the Himalayan Creamery. 

Chef Sadhu is no stranger to repurposing local ingredients and using them in completely innovative ways. I particularly enjoy the homemade corn chips, with hummus made with a typically Himachali lentil called kulth. The dark hues of the kulth lend a wonderful contrast to the pale-yellow corn chips making the dish visually appealing, apart from being of course, addictively delectable.

The vegetable pakoras and the mushroom bruschetta served to us at high tea (such luxurious decadence!) are perfect accompaniments to the endless cups of Darjeeling. But a great chef knows when not to tamper with age-old favourites and hence the makai rotis with sarson saag are exactly what we are hoping for —delicious in a familiar and comforting way! The channa madra dal which accompanies the meal is also made with lentils which are typically Himachali. 

From high tea (left) to mains (right), the meals are truly memorable. Images: Brita Banerjee Dasgupta.

For dinner, I choose the grilled chicken, while my husband opts for the tagliatelle with spring onions and mushrooms. Needless to say, both dishes are cooked to perfection. My grilled chicken is served with a sesame sauce. Sesame, again, is widely used in local food and its treatment here is noteworthy, as is the side dish of green beans and a pickled local fern called ‘lingdu’.

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Say cheese! Image: Brita Banerjee Dasgupta.

The bread, which is mostly sourdough, is delicious and made in-house by the talented pastry chef, Rohan. As is typical in Himachali culture, a lot of vegetables are pickled so that they can be used even when not in season. All the cheese served (there is a delightful cheese platter option) is sourced from nearby areas in the state. There is also the availability of a typical Himachali thali called ‘dham’ created by Chef Hemraj Thakur. The freshness of the organic ingredients coupled with the ingenious recipes and, of course, the talent of the young resident chefs, all come together to present the almost perfect epicurean journey.

One of the major factors that contribute to this exceptional culinary experience, is the ingredients that are lovingly and carefully nurtured on the property. The talented man responsible for horticulture is Chef Thakur, who grows fresh organic vegetables like tomatoes, spring onions, spinach, cauliflower, broccoli, radish, carrots, potatoes, and corn, and herbs like coriander, different varieties of chillies (including the immensely hot Darwa chilli) and thousands of trees within the property, which yield plums, apples, pears, fig, and citrus fruits.

That fresh, farm-to-table feeling. Images: Courtesy Amaya.

The conclusion

As I look around the farmed land admiring the sheer beauty of the fresh produce, a wave of gratitude sweeps over me, for the outstanding food we have been eating the past few days. My compliments to the owners and creators of this wonderful property for all the care and sensitivity that have been poured in to make this amazing product. They have put together a wonderful team led by Abhishek. But, most importantly, they have let Mother Nature continue to be, unhindered. That is truly what makes this property special.

The Amaya Life

Overall rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Max: 5 stars) | Room: 10/10 | Sleep: 10/10 | Dining: 9/10 | Amenities: 9/10 | Activities: 7/10 | Hygiene: 10/10 | Service: 9/10.

Address: Darwa Village, District Solan, Himachal Pradesh | Website: The Amaya Life | Rooms & Suites: 20 | Restaurants & Bars: 1 | Cuisines: Local, international.

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