There is no hill station in Faridabad, sniggered a friend when I told him I was off to stay at The Lalit’s latest property at Mangar Bani in the Haryana suburb of Delhi, just a 45-minute-drive from the city.
The first thing I did upon checking into my room was to Whatsapp my friend images of the lush green Mangar valley. Set on the beautiful Gurgaon-Faridabad highway, Mangar proved to be a bit of a revelation — this ancient sacred grove in the Aravalli hills is the last protected natural forest near Delhi.
The 32-room property is perched on a height and unobtrusively blends into the rocky gradients, created as it is with rammed earth architecture, an eco-friendly way of building in which the gravel dug up during construction are re-used in the walls. According to the hotel’s Resident Manager Steve Pereira, rammed earth is non-toxic, non-polluting and highly energy-efficient.Local tinge
Everything about the resort is understated and in tune with the local ethos: chai is served under a keekar tree in a setting reminiscent of a village common, with charpoys and a tapir (a shanty tea stall).
There are bicycles to explore the Mangar countryside, which is rich in tree life such as the dhau tree, which grows only here. Chirping with magnificent varieties of bird life, recently the Black Eagle was spotted here, among the intertwined trees and bushes, there’s plenty to do in this hidden jewel of a place.
For starters, there is a quaint jewellery museum inside the village showcasing tribal ornaments from all over India. Created by Sterre Sharma, wife of former Union Minister Captain Satish Sharma, it is a beautiful display of amulets from North East, head ornaments from Punjab, heavy anklets from Rajasthan and so on. Showcased here is jewellery collected over 35 years and is still growing.
The Lalit organises visits to the museum as well as to the ancient temple of a mystic called Gudariya Baba worshipped by the local Gujjar herdsmen. The temple is set atop a tiny hillock and you have to walk part of the way through a lovely grove where peacocks dance, and monitor lizards flit by. Folklore has it that the Baba laid down a diktat that no tree would be cut in this area and to this day that is followed.Of moons and stars
For those who just want to relax at the resort, there’s a session of star gazing at night, where you can see different constellations, and the rings around the Saturn, and the moons of Jupiter. At dawn, you can catch Venus and the moon.
There are pottery classes as well as sessions of sufi music and folk dances.
Perreira also urges you to go visit the homestead of Captain Shakti Lumba, a former pilot and aviation commentator, who is one of the early residents at Mangar.
The Lalit has no swimming pool and has an arrangement with the Lumbas, who cater to those who want a swim or an organic meal with an Indian family, in his farm house.
In the Laksh farm house, as the Lumba estate is called, they grow ragi in the fields, churn butter in the community kitchen, preserve jams, even as in one little building near the gate, local government school teachers attend training workshops.‘Staycation’
The Lumbas are totally involved in activities to uplift villagers in Mangar — they were the first to build a toilet for women, set up a small school and a garment unit here, where the local women produce quilted jackets and other clothes that are exhibited at Dastkar, Jaypore, People Tree under the imprint of Laksh.
They also do an annual fund raiser at the farm house to raise money to plough into their many social activities for the villages.
Birding enthusiasts and tree researchers often visit the area. The Lalit is promoting its resort, which opened this summer, as a great place for a staycation, or for offsites.
“We have always created destinations not hotels says Jyotsna Suri,CMD of Lalit Hotels, pointing to how they were the pioneers at Bekal in Kerala, and are now, the first to develop Chitrakoot in Bundelkhand region. Little known Mangar may soon be on a tourist map too.
(This writer was invited to Mangar by The Lalit)