A refurbished colonial retreat in Mussoorie.

Who was responsible for the birth of the once-great and noble Congress party? Most people will say Alan Octavian Hume and the rest of his gang. But the truth, as usual, is different.

It was a man called Courtney Peregrine Ilbert, a government lawyer, who came up with a very good idea in 1883: he drafted a legislation that would allow Indian magistrates to try white people.

The Whites, especially in Calcutta (now Kolkata), became very upset with this and got it substantially diluted after spreading rumours that Indian judges would fill their harems with white women. But Ilbert had unwittingly set in motion a chain of events that would, three-quarters of a century later, lead to Indian independence.

Not much is known about this man who spent his life in quiet service of Empire. But one thing is for sure: he seems to have liked the mountains because, as early as 1840, he built himself a house on a very steep mountain slope in Mussoorie.

Two years ago, following the restoration trend first introduced at the 15th-century ruin that was the Neemrana fort, Ilbert's manor was converted into a small heritage hotel with large and strikingly well done up rooms.

It has 15 rooms, a spa, a snooker room, a library, and a set of two-room suites at the back with a splendid view of the mountains, and… no smoking, Sir, if you don't mind.

The hotel is ideal for couples — of all ages. If you still feel romantic after 10 years of marriage this is the place to come to, because the silence of the mountains does not encourage talk. Younger couples can entertain themselves as they please.

From doghouse to manor

I go up to Mussoorie once or twice a year to the IAS Academy to give some lectures. So far I have stayed at their VIP guesthouse. It is a nice place, but there is a pattern I have noticed.

In winter when the sahibs are not visiting, they give me large rooms with the most splendid views of the mountains but which can't be seen because of the fog and sleet. In summer, however, when the sahibs land up en famille, I get the doghouses — the smaller rooms with a view of the admin block.

Just before my current trip, I told a colleague about this typical bureaucratic practice. She suggested I stay at the Ilbert Manor, from whom she had an invitation. I accepted with great speed.

As a guest of the management I didn't have to pay anything. But I did look at the rates — so can you at www.ilbertmanor.com — and would say that though they are not unreasonable, they could be tweaked downwards by about 10 per cent.

That, and some remedial action about the open drain that runs along the back wall — will bring in the couples in droves, I think.

Otherwise, I am afraid, it will go on being the wrong thing in the wrong place, not least because of the sort of grimy place Mussoorie has become — where an upmarket, heritage hotel like the Ilbert is quite out of place.

That said, if you are looking to get away from it all, this is the place to go.

(This article was published on June 16, 2011)
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