This post is a continuation of a series documenting our travels to the Northern mountain state of Himachal Pradesh. After 6 nights in the often overlooked Tirthan valley, we were now travelling to the (not at all overlooked!) capital city of Shimla. (Eagles Nest Homestay – Last day in the beautiful Tirthan Valley)
Shimla has always been one of the larger hill stations in India and was even the summer capital of the Brits when they ruled over India. But in recent years Shimla has grown rapidly from a charming hill town to one of the most concretised & congested hill stations in India. Usually such places are never on my list of places to visit. What put it on my list was an article I read about a small boutique hotel/ b&b in the Lonely planet travel magazine in 2013. ( Yes, you read that right – 7 years ago as of today!)
The article was about a small bungalow in Shimla called the Sunnymead Estate. From the article it sounded like a great little place surrounded by greenery and it was surprisingly right in the middle of congested Shimla. It ticked all the right boxes for me – small hotel, beautiful room, greenery around, plenty of birdlife and great reviews. So when we planned the trek to the Great Himalayan National Park, (Trekking the Great Himalayan National Park, Part 3 -A clear morning at Shilt & descent back to Rolla) we decided to end this trip by spending two days including our marriage anniversary in the Sunnymead Estate.
The booking process was a breeze after a brief exchange of emails with the owner and ever present manager Madhavi Bhatia. We had booked the huge Tara room with a huge 4 poster bed for our stay there since it looked beautiful on photos. I’m glad to say that the photos don’t do it enough justice. It is a beautiful room, elegantly furnished and with all the modern trappings required for a comfortable stay.
We reached Shimla dog tired after a long journey made longer by traffic jams as we neared Shimla. We had called Madhaviji and let her know that we would be late and she gave us directions to reach the estate as it doesn’t have any huge signboards. The traffic jams had started to make me regret my decision of coming to Shimla. We reached the estate & the staff was ready at the gate to help us carry our minimal luggage to our room. Just walking the stone (pugdandi) path to the house itself and all my negative feelings were gone, you feel as if you are far away from the huge city you have just passed through. Flowering bushes and trees all around with a cute little white house in the middle , right out of an old movie.
The Tara room I have already waxed eloquent about was ready for us and we were shown how everything worked by the host herself. She then asked us our preferred dinner time as we had opted to have our dinners at the Sunnymead itself rather than being jolted back to the rude reality of Shimla by walking out of the gates of the estate.
All formalities done, we rested in the room for some time and sat on the beautiful shared balcony with a cup of hot coffee in hand and watched the sun go down and the sky go from plain boring blue to technicolour in a matter of minutes.
While sitting in the balcony in the fading light I could hear the birds in the bushes and knew that I would have fun birding just in and around the estate. That is if the local brat Goosie ( She had barked vigorously at us on arrival but soon went from barking to playing with us in our time at the Sunnymead!), one of the 4 playful and wonderful rescued dogs didn’t shoo them away with the same vigour and energy she had displayed when she welcomed us into the estate.
That evening before it got too dark for photos I decided to try my luck and put on the 300mm. All I managed was a blurry shot of a bar tailed treecreeper on the huge conifers around the estate. With this silent and fast moving bird you take all the shots that you get, light or not!
As it got darker and colder, Goosie went inside the house to get comfy and as if on cue a green backed tit came to visit the bird bath below which Goosie had been sitting all this while, intent on shooing birds away. Though I have much better photos of this colourful little bird this one shows how smart these little birds can be.
After it got dark we retreated to the warmth of our room till it was time for dinner. We had asked for a simpler dinner on the first day and a full 5 course Sunnymead special dinner on our anniversary. But the dinner we got on the first day was anything but simple. Fresh arbi fried to perfection, a smorgasbord of fresh veggies, hot rotis and a delicious pulao. All this was lovingly served by Madhaviji herself in the beautiful dining room on the ground floor of the house. If we hadn’t gained weight on our trek then we surely did after our two day stay at the Sunnymead.
We went to bed with a filled to the brim tummy and slept soundly amidst the heated blankets of the bed. The next morning as is my habit I woke up at dawn and got ready for our only full day in Shimla. Our driver Rockyji was supposed to pick us up at around 10 am so I figured I would just walk around the estate and take some photos of the varied flowers till it was time for breakfast.
Mind you, this was November and the gardens were still full of flowers. It must be just overflowing with flowers in April and May – will surely love to return some day to find out!
As it got bright enough to get some bird photos my camera automatically started veering from the flowers below to the birds above. As I had guessed the previous evening there was plenty of birding to be done from the comfy setting of Sunnymead itself. On the conifers in the distance as the sun came up started the by now imminently recognisable thudding of a woodpecker. First it was a brown fronted woodpecker but the light was so poor that I got only grainy shots of it.
As the light improved the brown fronted woodpecker was replaced by a familiar grey headed woodpecker. The light was better now so at least I got a record shot of the bird before it flew away.
In and around the cottage itself were a huge number of himalayan bulbuls singing their song with great gusto. These birds pose nicely for the camera and I have never been irritated by these birds for the want of a good photo.
As it was still cold in the morning our canine friend Goosie was nowhere to be seen but the cold morning brought out the huge St Bernard. The gentle giant was the exact opposite of mischievous Goosie and hardly bothered looking at the birds around, leave alone running at them at full tilt!
The only thing the St Bernard wanted was to be petted and a quick pawing at me got the desired effect and I put down the camera and spent a few minutes petting the gentle giant till he was satisfied and walked off elegantly.
From then on till breakfast was served, time was a blur as I enjoyed myself taking photos of birds from the balcony of the estate. Birds paraded themselves one after the other and I was having serious thoughts of cancelling all sightseeing and just sit here and take bird photos. First was a scaly bellied woodpecker that had been late to the party and hence gave me enough light to get a decent photo of the pretty bird.
Next to the party was a loud group of yellow billed blue magpies. These huge and noisy birds swooped in and had their fill at the bountiful trees before flying off as loudly as they had arrived.
In addition to the exotic birds were a pair of humble mountain sparrows posing regally on the wires just outside the balcony. Sparrows are one of my favourite little common birds and I was glad to take photos of this posing couple to add to my list of birds seen and photographed here.
As the sparrows flew away my attention was drawn to a rumble in the tree just across the lawn and it was a Great Barbet foraging amidst the branches. It gave me just one clear shot before deciding to find other places to find food without interference.
In between all these birds there were always the Bulbuls. As it got sunny it was difficult not to take more photos of these birds singing loudly at close quarters – It always makes for a pretty picture.
Finally before it was time to go down for breakfast the small brown fronted woodpecker returned. This time in ample sunlight and gave me peace of mind as i finally got decent photos of this hyperactive little bird.
Finally it was time to go for breakfast and sadly I put the camera away for the time being. Breakfast served in the dining room was a superbly elaborate affair. Madhaviji had gotten delicious peas parathas made since the better half had shown more interest towards Indian food. I on the other hand had the parathas as well as the amazing continental breakfast on offer. Amazing ham cutlets, delicately poached eggs with parsley butter, roast tomatoes, crisp toast with home made butter, stewed mushrooms – I ate like there was no tomorrow! It was as tasty a breakfast as I have eaten anywhere in Europe, maybe even better!
As it was our anniversary that day the religious better half wanted to visit a temple and do some sightseeing as well. To come to Shimla and not see the crowded mall road or the beautiful Viceregal lodge / Rashtrapati Niwas would be criminal. So we set off for the day’s sightseeing hoping to get back to the estate early. Rockyji and his trusty Innova had arrived just as we finished breakfast so we lost no time and left the estate.
Our sightseeing activities however are a topic for another post, some other time, some other day as I wanted this post to be exclusively about the wonderful first night at the Sunnymead estate.
Till next time,