Peepal Kothi, India

Peepal Kothi: Leaf-rimmed tranquillity

The evening waves a wand of coolness over Haryana. But even as the temperature goes down, the birdsong rises in volume. Seize the day they must, and in the last remaining minutes of light, their excited chatter and the intoxicating fragrance of freshly watered grass fills the air. Voices carry over long distances in this still swathe of greenery and I can hear clearly, the guttural voices of swarthy, local men. Thau, the old caretaker and gardener is a constant presence and here in the thick of the trees, I hear nothing of the sounds within my cottage. I watch myriad birds flitting by and the shyer ones announce their presence with harsh and at times, almost human calls. Three little children run around like cheery sprites, vanishing the moment I attempt to capture them in my lens. This is Peepal Kothi, and it has charmed me to the hilt.

Thauji, the old gardener of Peepal Kothi
Thau, the old caretaker and gardener is a constant presence
I get the cheery sprites to pose for my camera
I get the cheery sprites to pose for my camera

The Port House

There isn’t a single hint of monsoon in the air as we drive down to Peepal Kothi from Delhi Airport. Created by distinguished hospitality veteran Vijay Chowdhry, Peepal Kothi is to be my first brush with Haryana beyond Gurgaon. Exactly after an hour’s drive, we tumble down a rocky, rugged path that leads to gates that otherwise remain tightly shut. Beyond lies a three-acre garden paradise that began accepting guests since last year. The friendly staff, whom we are to get acquainted with very well over the following days leads us to a largish cottage named The Port House.

The spacious sit-out area
The spacious sit-out area

I am delighted to see its wooden exterior and spacious sit-out area with chairs that overlook the green lawns. I almost miss the two dogs sleeping peacefully under the tables; only one of them attempts to befriend us during the stay. We don’t expect luxury; after all this is a rustic farm-style boutique hotel but luxury is what we get when we enter the cottage. It has a vast bedroom and bathroom, complete with a four-poster bed, bath tub and a variety of curious antiques mostly collected by Chowdhry and his furniture store-owning wife over several years of travel.

The Orangery

The Orangery, the dining area at Peepal Kothi

We’ve had a sumptuous breakfast of omelette, roasted potatoes, baked beans, mango yoghurt and roll aboard a Vistara flight but there’s something about the fresh air and greenery of Peepal Kothi that stokes the appetite. The dining room is right across our cottage and we settle down at the shaded table outside while the staff prepares our meal. Chowdhry bought this plot of land over fifteen years ago when there was just a single tree on it. Today, it is home to over 100 species of trees and bushes including green and yellow bamboo, Buddha bellies, lime, lemon, grapefruit, pomegranate, gooseberry, neem, bargad, bael, karonda, kathal, lasura, pilkhan, shahtoot, barh, sharifa, phalsa and Chinese orange bushes, all of which attract a plethora of birds, butterflies and bees.

We spend the remainder of the day marvelling at the fallen fruits
We spend the remainder of the day marvelling at the fallen fruits

What is most interesting is that Chowdhry knew nothing about gardening when he began nurturing Peepal Kothi into an orchard of sorts. The property is entirely a labour of love and books on trees and gardening are stacked in The Orangery, for those who are interested. Our luncheon consists of the locally sourced bajre ki roti with white butter, fresh yoghurt, salad, gobhi mutter (cauliflower and peas preparation), aloo ki subzi (potato preparation), kadhi pakoda and rice. The food is refreshingly light and tasty. Some caramel custard for dessert puts us in the mood for an afternoon siesta.

Dinner is dal chawal, salad, aloo subzi, paneer masala and roti
Dinner is dal chawal, salad, aloo subzi, paneer masala and roti

We spend the remainder of the day walking around the orchards and lawns, marvelling at the fallen fruits and familiarising ourselves with Animesh the Bengali cook and caretaker, Arjinder Singh, the Himachali help, Murthi didi who makes excellent bajra rotis and earthen pots and of course, Thauji, who has been with Peepal Kothi since the beginning.

 

The sublime hour of dawn

Beautiful pink flowers at Peepal Kothi

Waking up in a beautiful garden paradise with not a single vehicle around for acres is one of the biggest blessings of travel. The silence is like a heavy cloud of smoke that’s slowly shattered by the brightening light of day. I hear at least 10 different birds and the happy shrieks of the ever-present kids.

The Bhandara festival

A stay at Peepal Kothi is all about leisurely meals, naps and strolls, best complemented by good company and reading material. However, our visit coincides with the yearly festival of Village Kota Khandewla called Bhandara. And so at mid-morning on our second day here, we set out with Bir Singh, the man who gets everything done in the area, for a drive to the Aravalli hills and a glimpse of the festival. We’ve already been warned about the immense popularity (read crowds) of the festival, which is actually a singing competition for ‘Raginis’ – men who narrate tales of bygone kings and Gods in the form of songs. Their efforts are rewarded with prize money ranging from Rs 91,000 to Rs 3 lakhs. But what we are NOT prepared for is the VIP treatment we receive, as esteemed guests of Vijay Chowdhry and Bir Singh.

Bhandara festival at Village Kota Khandewla, Haryana, India
A ragini prepares to sing

A local villager guides us, two women, into a vast gathering of hefty Gujjar men and leads us to a special seating area behind the singers, reserved for ‘important’ guests. We have no clue why this is happening or how we are supposed to behave. The men spare us no more than a glance. Then, our guide asks for our names and our suspicions rise. He then goes over to some elders and has a whispered conversation. Sitting there alone amidst this crowd, we feel abandoned. And then the unexpected occurs. The compere announces our presence and asks us to come on the stage! Exchanging looks of utter confusion, we walk up hesitantly and a couple of elders hand us medals inscribed with “Special guests of the Bhandara festival” and drape off-white shawls over our shoulders. Namastes are exchanged in joined hands and then we are free to go!

 

But the adventure hasn’t quite ended. Our guide requests me to photograph the village council with my fancy DSLR camera. I oblige. Then, he takes us through the revelling crowds to a tent where Haryanvi men are sitting and conversing over puri sabzi and sheera. This is the ‘prasad’ and though there is a separate tent for women, we have the honour of eating with the men. Since there is lunch waiting for us at Peepal Kothi, we are none too eager about this unprecedented meal. But the thick wheat puris and ghee-soaked sheera turn out to be so delicious that we scarf down much more than intended.

thick wheat puris and ghee-soaked sheera
Thick wheat puris with aloo subzi and ghee-soaked sheera

Just before taking our leave, we are greeted by the sarpanch of the village. Will the wonders ever cease? Our story is met with much merriment when we narrate it to Mr Chowdhry and the staff at Peepal Kothi. But I do like the look of that medal in my living room mantelpiece.

A serene early-morning stroll

Peepal Kothi

The morning air assumes the temperature and breeziness of spring. There is not a soul to be seen as we navigate the moist grassy lawns and walk through thickets of bamboo trees to spot some birds drinking from the pond. The still, moss-covered pond seems to belong to a bygone era, as does the beautiful little Hanuman temple adjoining it. A divine presence wafts through the woods and mingles with the perfume of the delicate flowers. I can now imagine spending an entire week here and finding myself cleansed of all worries. The peepul tree looks on benignly, as I wander through this place I’ve learnt to call home over the last few days.

Tarudhan Valley Resort

Tarudhan Valley Golf Resort

Our initial plan is to visit the Heritage Transport Museum and ogle at vintage vehicles but it being a Monday, the museum is shut. So the courteous Bir Singh offers to drive us down to the golf courses that the area is famous for. One of them has been built by Vijay Chowdhry himself, who decided to keep a couple of the villas for himself. These villas, which come with exclusive access to the golf courses can be purchased for Rs 65 lakhs, while the premier cottages are priced at Rs 3 crores. Walking around an expansive golf course with nothing but perfectly manicured green lawns around you for acres is an experience with no parallel. Tarudhan Valley Golf Resort is punctuated by idyllic ponds and bridges and little benches where you can sit and watch a game. We also visit the club house which affords a bird’s eye view of the 250 acre golf course. There are several others in the area and is the largest is the one belonging to ITC Hotel. On our drive back, we are accosted by endless herds of robust, sharp-horned cattle led by Rajasthani herders seeking fresher pastures.

An endless herd of cattle crosses our path
An endless herd of cattle crosses our path

I’ve always thought of Haryana as risky territory for travel but Peepal Kothi has changed that perception forever. Be it the affluent villagers with their penchant for white vehicles (they consider the colour lucky) or the wiry staff who defy age by cycling and walking for several kilometres daily in their sunset years, the Haryanvis never cease to surprise. And the biggest surprise of all is Peepal Kothi, where a holiday feels like a serene communion with nature.

Getting there

This wooden swing with beautiful carvings is one of a pair
This wooden swing with beautiful carvings is one of a pair

Peepal Kothi is an hour’s drive away from Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport and a mere 30 minute drive from Gurgaon. Located on the border of Gurgaon, it is technically a part of Mewat district in Haryana. You may have to ask for directions once you’re in the area; look out for a board saying ‘Peepal Kothi’ and take the little rocky path going downwards.

Address: The Peepal Kothi, Village Kota Khandewla, PO Hasanpur Tehsil Tauru, District Mewat, Haryana – 222105 India
Phone: (+91) 9953998363, 9650207467
Email: peepalkothi2015@gmail.com

Things to do

  • At Peepal Kothi: Let Thau demonstrate the fine art of pottery, play croquet and badminton on the lawns, linger over exotic fruit trees and tuck into delicious meals
  • Near Peepal Kothi: Walk through the village, talk to locals (Bir Singh will help break the ice) or drive down to Tarudhan Valley Resort for a tour and a game of golf (to be pre-booked)
  • Further away: Book an early morning visit to Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary (20 km) or drive down to the Heritage Transport Museum (10 km, shut on Mondays)

Rooms and tariff

Ducks in the play area
Ducks in the play area

The property has three cottages (Rs 12000 per night, double) and three suites (Rs 10000 per night, double) to choose from. We stayed in the largest and most beautiful cottage – ‘The Port House’ which is closest to The Orangery (the dining area) and the playing lawn. The suites are on the other end of the property but in a lovely shaded area, where you are completely enveloped by silence. There is no room service but you can step out and call out to the staff for anything you need. All meals are included in the tariff but you can avail of a tea service at an extra cost. The area around The Orangery is a Wi-Fi hotspot. There are some issues with electricity and water supply but the staff is able to resolve them most of the times.

Bookings: RARE – Destinations and Experiences, U-26A/6, Ground Floor, DLF Phase-3,
Gurgaon – 122002
Phone: +91-124-4062480, 81 | Mithun Mandal: +91-9650207467

 

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