La Villa Bethany - Boutique homestay in Landour - A review
Our blog readers and people who know us closely know that we refrain writing about places that are too close to our heart. We love to keep such places as our own secret paradises. Why? Because we believe that by driving people to our off-the-beaten-track paradises, we are somehow ruining its charm. But we recently realized that as writers, it is wrong to drive people away from wonderful destinations; as they might come to know about it from someplace else and that could also lead to ruining the place. Instead, it is important for us (the writers) to highlight such destinations but also educate the tourists to travel responsibly and preserve and sustain the beauty of such places. Today, we are going to write about one such heavenly place - La Villa Bethany, a boutique homestay in the fairytale town of Landour near Mussoorie, Uttarakhand, India. We hope our readers take our advice about travelling here responsibly.
La Villa Bethany is a pet-friendly boutique homestay located in the sleepy town of Landour, just 3 kilometers away from Picture Palace, Mall road in Mussoorie, a popular hill station in Uttarakhand state of India. However, it is faraway from the heavy tourist traffic and over-development of Mussoorie. The English house is located on the Upper Chakkar Road in Landour just at the center of figure 8. (Read our previous blog on Landour to understand more). Ms. Sunita Kudle and Mr. Amarjeet Kudle were our hosts at La Villa Bethany and were in touch with us before our arrival for our whereabouts. The homestay was easy to find, thanks to the signboard on the road and the GPS. La Villa Bethany is situated on a ridge, down a steep slope from the road, offering a splendid view of the Doon Valley (Dehradun city). Ms. Sunita had sent a golf cart to pick us and our luggage from the main road. Loading our luggage in the cart, we decided to walk down the slope on the winding pathway. 'Welcome Home' exclaimed Sunita just as we entered the house of La Villa Bethany and those words stayed with us throughout our trip.
Our room at La Villa Bethany, Landour
Over a cup of ginger-lemon-honey tea, Ms. Sunita took told us everything about Landour and took us on a virtual tour of the offbeat town. Post our introduction to Landour, she escorted us to our room. We were allotted a room named 'Bag End'. Yes! it was ditto like the Hobbit hole straight out of Tolkien's books. The front door was perfectly round and the stairs leading to it were decorated with pot plants bearing pretty flowers. The door leads us into the large vestibule and the interiors knocked us off our feet.
The cozy furnishings instantly made us feel like living underground. Kudle's Hobbit house was however larger than the Hobbit hole we had seen in the movies. It was divided into two sections - a bedroom and a seating room. The whole room was made of wood and ply. The furnishing was just adequate with a bed, a wardrobe and a table-chair in the bedroom and a single bed and two single-seater sofas in the seating room. Right in front of the bed was a big window that opened to the majestic valleys of Dehradun. A rack placed in the seating room was filled with interesting books, tea/ coffee makers and a few antique knick-knacks. The wooden floor was carpeted and burnt wood paintings were on display over all the walls. The creation of these paintings is an art called as pyrography (decorating wood by burning its surface) which is known to very few people in India and, Mr. Amarjeet Kudle, who himself has worked on creating these, is one of them. Tolkien's map of Middle-Earth was hung in a huge frame in the seating room. The bathroom was even cuter with a wooden barrel basin and a shower area. The exterior of the Hobbit House was covered in moss that looked like it belonged in the Shire. Walkway from one side led to a grassy rooftop porch with panoramic views of the Doon valley and Mussoorie town. The Bag End room at La Villa Bethany is supposed to be the only Hobbit hole in India and we were extremely happy that it was going to be our place for the next 3 nights.
Rooms and common areas at La Villa Bethany, Landour
La Villa Bethany has other 5 tastefully designed rooms and 1 log cabin; each different from the other and unique in its own way. While some rooms are named after people who have been prominent in discovering and preserving the town of Landour and Mussoorie (George Everest suite room, Colonel Angelo deluxe room, Captain Tailour deluxe room and Pahari Wilson's log cabin), the others are named to offer tribute to people who were instrumental in Sunita and Amarjeet's life (Bedell and Shaw suite rooms). In each of these rooms are framed photographs of these personalities explaining their contribution towards Landour, Mussoorie and Kudle's lives. Even the dining room and library are named after notable people like Captain Young and Mr. Mackinnon respectively. It was very interesting to know that every nook and corner of the homestay has a personal touch. Each of these rooms is furnished with old world furniture and decor and have all the basic modern amenities like LED TV, good wifi connectivity, an electric heater, tea/coffee maker and 24 hours solar heated water. The deluxe rooms are on the first floor of the main house that opens up to a relaxing lounge and a conservatory filled with flowering pot plants whereas the suite rooms open up to the views of stunning Doon valley. The garden in front of the house is very well maintained with lots of greenery owing to the trees and flowering plants. Even a small play area is installed in the garden to entertain children.
Note - George Everest was a British surveyor and geographer who built his house in Mussoorie. Mt. Everest is named after him Colonel Angelo started the first bank in Mussoorie Captain Tailour erected the Christ Church in Mussoorie which is now a part of Kasmanda Palace Hotel Pahari Wilson who was involved in trading timber near Mussoorie that was used in building wooden sleepers for rail Mr. Mackinnon started weekly newspapers called 'The Hills' in Mussoorie Captain Young is the one who discovered Mussoorie
The inspiring story of The Kudles of La Villa Bethany, Landour
Apart from the beautiful homestay, what we found incredibly inspiring is the story of Sunita and Amarjeet Kudle. Both of them have worked in corporate offices for 15 years in the hospitality industry during the start of their career. While Amarjeet is Ex-Oberoi, Sunita is Ex-ITC employee. But now they have completely dedicated their life and energy into providing hospitality to its guests and preserving the sanctity of their home - La Villa Bethany. Their life events are as follows:
2006 - They gave birth to a charming daughter 2008 - Their daughter complained that her parents have no time for her 2009 - The family decided to take a break from their hectic work schedule and headed to Mussoorie for a vacation. They visited Landour, saw an old house in a dilapidated condition that belonged to Mission society and instantly fell in love with it. They pleaded the Mission society, who were short of funds, to restore it. On the other hand, the Mission society was inspired by their passion and offered them the house on lease for 40 years recommending them to restore it. And they agreed! They wanted to give more time to their daughter and give her a future that she deserved. They knew it was now or never. And just like that, in a flash of a few days, the house was theirs - their new home in the mountains 2010 to 2011 - They started restoring the house. They ensured that they creatively reuse every single element of the 100-year-old house during the restoration
Late 2011 - La Villa Bethany opened its gates to the guests
A moment of enlightenment, a twist in the tale, a step full of courage and they live happily ever after.... Isn't the story of Kudles like an inspiring movie?
Responsible and sustainable practices at La Villa Bethany, Landour
La Villa Bethany means a 'Place of Healing' and Kudles believe that this place has always been healing people's lives. Earlier, the house was a clinic to heal leprosy patients and now, it heals the body and soul of guests who visit the homestay by the unobstructed view of Mussoorie and Dehradun valleys and the 100% pure oxygen. La Villa Bethany is a green inn and is committed to providing responsible and sustainable tourism in the following ways:
They use solar energy to heat their water and cook food
They are involved in rainwater harvesting and have a storage capacity of 1,00,000 liters which makes them the only self-sufficient property in Mussoorie. They insist their guests to use a bucket instead of showers to avoid wastage of water.
They actively support a couple of NGOs by providing toiletries (soaps and shampoo bars) locally made by them, thus working for their upliftment
The linen in all the rooms, right from carpets to blankets to bedsheets, are handcrafted by underprivileged women and are procured from them
They even have a small merchandise kiosk in the homestay if someone is interested to buy local handicrafts or cosmetics. The money earned from everything that is sold again goes to the NGO.
All the construction material that is used in restoring the house is sourced locally and the projects are assigned to local talent
They buy the fruits, vegetables and grocery used in the kitchen from local farmers and vendors
All the food that is cooked at the homestay is first served to the guests and the family, then the staff and then to their 4 dogs; hence there is no food wastage. Everyone staying at La Villa Bethany premises eats the same food without any discrimination
They provide employment opportunities to the locals from the mountains and most of their staff are people from nearby places
They do not serve lunch at the homestay and ask their guests to support local business and try out local cuisines. Landour anyway has number of lovely cafes and eating joints. If any of the guests are not comfortable stepping out, they have menu cards of all the restaurants that deliver food from which the guests can choose and order
They discourage guests to drive on the steep roads while coming from Mussoorie because of two reasons. One being the safety of the guests; the roads are extremely narrow and steep and not everyone is used to driving on such roads. Secondly, they do not want to create traffic in Landour and pollute its healthy environment. They have thus tied up with local taxi drivers to drive guests to La Villa Bethany, thus providing them employment opportunities
They provide long term accommodation at slashed rates to students who have enrolled at Landour Language School
We were so glad to speak with Sunita on all these initiatives that they have in place to provide work and employment to localites and support the local business. She was very patient will all our questions and we chatted like long-lost friends. She stated very humbly - 'There is a lot of talent and eagerness to work in the local people, we just have provided them with the right opportunities'. Ms. Sunita is also a secretary of KEEN (Keeping the Environment Ecologically Natural) where they have organised door-to-door garbage collection, segregation and disposal in Landour and Mussoorie. Owing to their wonderful work, the Kudles were awarded in the category of 'Best accommodation for local community' in 2012 by Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism; and it was just within 1 year La Villa Bethany's operations. Sunita and Amarjeet have also adopted two villages and helped them by providing cattle to earn a livelihood. In 2013, when Uttarakhand got flooded, the Kudles requested each of their guests to chip in some money to provide help and relief to the affected villagers. They were able to raise an amount of Rs. 20 lakhs through donations that were used to provide the villagers with long term sustainable relief by distributing them solar cookers, cattle, fishing nets and sewing machines. The Kudles have also been awarded REX Karamveer Puruskar in 2014 by International Confederation of NGO in collaboration with United Nations for their impressive work. They proudly display all their awards in the dining room.
Food at La Villa Bethany, Landour
The food at La Villa Bethany is prepared taking into care the dietary restrictions of the guests. English breakfast is served in the morning with an Indian option. The dinners are grand and each day a new style of cuisine is served. Everything is freshly made with the right amount of spices. The food is delicious and light on the stomach. We especially used to wait for desserts served at the end of the meal. Communal dinner is encouraged at La Villa Bethany at their 10-seater dining table. The guests can have breakfast at their own comfortable time but everyone is encouraged to eat dinner together with Kudles and the other guests. Since everyone gets together, there is ample opportunity to get to know each other and interact with people coming from different parts of the world with different backgrounds. It's amazing how a 30-minute meal affair turns into a 2-hour interactive session.
Library at La Villa Bethany, Landour
The library at La Villa Bethany is stocked with a great collection of books almost on every genre. They have a separate rack for books by Ruskin Bond and the other authors who have lived in Landour. The library also has a world map where each guest is requested to mark their home cities. It is a delight to see the map filled with so many crosses across all the countries. Sunita proudly says - 'This map is my life's earning. The world comes to meet me here at La Villa Bethany'.
We had a wonderful time staying at La Villa Bethany. In the day time we used to explore places to in Landour, the evening was dedicated to spotting winterline and photography while the nights were spent interacting with Sunita and the other guests and reading books. Sipping a cup of coffee we used to enjoy the sunset from the window of our Hobbit hole. The sight of the glittering Doon valley in the evenings were just enough to pull away all the tiredness. The yak wool blankets, the electric heater and the hot water pouch in our room ensured we slept deeply like sleeping beauties.
If you want to enjoy the bliss of doing nothing, spend a few days away from busy city life, take a walk amidst tall deodar and pine trees, breathe 100% pure oxygen, spot snow covered Himalayan peaks, photograph rare birds, savour your appetite, read books, meet interesting people, contribute to travelling responsibly, catch up on sleep, relax amongst mountains, and spoil yourself with wholehearted hospitality, then La Villa Bethany is certainly your kind of place! We would love to go back to Landour and La Villa Bethany to get away from the world for few days.
You can book your stay at La Villa Bethany through their website. Just drop a mail or WhatsApp message to the Kudles and they will provide you with the best room after understanding your requirements and your taste. Your four legged friends can also tag along with you to La Villa Bethany! If you are wondering what you can do while staying at La Villa Bethany apart from relaxing, you still have not read our previous article on Things to do in Landour.
Sunita and Amarjeet Kudle also have other properties in their portfolio and they take bookings for those as well. One of them is in Landour named Oakville (run as a heritage homestay) and one is situated in Jabarkhet named Rockville (run as a 3-bedroom BnB cottage that can accommodate up to 10 people). The Kudles are also coming up with new and unique accommodation very soon.
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Have you ever found a place so heavenly that you have held it back from people you know might ruin its charm? What is your take on responsible and sustainable tourism? Did you love La Villa Bethany as much as we did? Do let us know in the comment section below.