I had nearly an hour-long wait in the lobby of Hotel Prospect, but it wasn’t tiring. For one, I was on my Panchgani vacation and wouldn’t allow anything to ruin the mood. And, for another I was in the lobby for a 100-year-old hotel and felt as curious as a toddler that has just learnt to walk.
As Shahram Javanmardi, whose family owns and runs the hotel, entertained some guests in the 50-seater dining hall I let my curiosity get the better of me.
I walked up to the glass cabinet that seems stuffed with all sorts of curios – a hat, beautiful glass lamps, an LP player. There’s also a book that, Javanmardi tells me, contains the original copies (on tracing paper) of the letters written by H D Satarawala, the original owner of the century-old hotel. Javanmardi says his family bought it from the Satarawalas around 50 years ago.
Done with the guests, he [Javanmardi i.e.] settles into the antique sofa (which has built-in ash trays) and starts talking about the history of the hotel, which is closely linked to the history of Panchgani itself.
A British superintendent John Chesson, given the charge of locating a summer retreat/retirement destination near Mumbai for the Britishers, decided on Panchgani. With the area becoming a popular tourist destination and with several residential schools – St Joseph’s, St Peter’s and Kimmins have completed over a 100 years – coming up in the area, a need was felt for a hotel.
Construction of the hotel which stands atop a hill, Javanmardi says, began in 1910. “There were proper no roads at the time. The construction material would be lugged on bullock carts. The guests – the hotel was thrown open to business in March 1912 – too would come on bullock carts from Wai which was a 14-km distance from Panchgani,” he says, adding that the location of the hotel was chosen because one could, at that time, see the entire valley from the spot.
The property of the Grade II heritage hotel does not have a typical layout. The lobby, office and the dining hall, plus 10 rooms are in the main bungalow, while there are other cottages constructed around. And each cottage has antique furniture, duly polished, for its guests to enjoy.
Javanmardi, who is proud of his heritage, says he spends a lot of money and effort periodically to maintain the hotel and ensure that it doesn’t fall into disrepair. The clay hexagonal tiles that were used on the floor were removed from the lobby floor and placed outside the Oakwood Cottage. “Over the years they had shifted and had started breaking. I wanted to preserve them so had them shifted. The tiles in the lobby are new but made to look like the old ones.”
“When meals were ready to be served, the waiter would ring the bell so that the guests would know its ready,” he says, adding “When children come to the hotel, they realize how people used to live and travel in the olden days. Else, they don’t have a clue. Some have never seen an LP player or a gramophone. This is almost like a museum for them.”
WHILE YOU ARE IN PANCHGANI
Located on the way to Prospect, Il Palazzo is younger. It was built in 1925 by a doctor A J EWakil and was originally meant to serve as a private home. Kobad Davierwalla, the managing partner of the hotel, says his family took the property on rent in 1930. Since it was equipped to be run as a hotel, the family started the business, eventually buying the property. While Palazzo, like Prospect, maintains modern facilities with air-conditioned rooms and attached bathrooms it retains its colonial framework. The Burma Teak wooden beams and the furniture have been polished and maintained to survive the weather.