I have to admit this. Writing this blog is almost as painful as it is enriching. For every time I write about a beautiful house and its quaint charm I am consumed by envy because I am unable to enjoy these places beyond a few hours. Thus, from now onwards I shall also aim to write about houses and heritage structures that you and I can walk into and live and appreciate.
The first of these is Dhun-Heta. The four bedroom bungalow at Panchgani belongs to Heta Pandit (the owner of Bandra’s Tehmi Terrace https://bombayarchitecture.wordpress.com//?s=tehmi+terrace&search=Go) and now functions as a hotel. In fact, at Rs 1,000 per person per night it is yours. And, as I found, even if you go alone, you won’t have to share it with other guests because Heta won’t give the place away to more than one party at a time.
The house was built in 1914 by an Englishman named Henry Couldrey. Heta says the plot on Table Land road was leased by him to build a house. So he built Rose Villa next door as a sort of house model. Then when he found that the model worked, he built the bigger house. While originally, the house did not have a name, Abbas Ali, the Nawab of Wai, who bought the house from Couldrey called it Abbas Villa. The Nawab then sold it to a Parsi gentleman from Pune, Ardeshir Dossabhoy.
Heta says her mother Manijeh Patell bought it on April 20, 1942, from the Dossabhoys. “The story,” Heta adds, “is that Dossabhoy had lost a lot of money in a business in Pune and could not afford to keep the houses — Rose Villa, Rock Side and Abbas Villa — so he began renting them out. My grandfather had rented Abbas Villa from him thinking that that would be a convenient location for them since my mother went to school at the St Joseph’s Convent across the road.” However, Dossabhoy was unable to make ends meet despite this. “My grandfather then loaned him some money but he was too proud to take a loan. Instead, he mortgaged the house and since he could not pay the mortgage, it finally came to our family.”
Though her family hasn’t regularly occupied the house in at least a decade, Heta has maintained the property well. Despite having looked at photos of the house on her website (www.stayindia.com) I wasn’t prepared for what I saw. A 200-metre pathway – surrounded by tall hill trees — leads to the bungalow. There are two cottages – more recently built — on the property. Dhun-Heta of course stands apart.
Originally, a flight of 16 steps led to the main door of the house. However, keeping in mind the knees of her guests Heta has prudently converted this into the rear of the house while the original staff entrance is now used to herald guests in.
So there’s an interesting story about the staff entrance. Heta says that earlier, the kitchen was never inside the house. The staff would cook the food in the cottage behind the house (where Jena Cottage now stands) and bring it to the pantry (the current kitchen of Dhun-Heta) and serve the ladies and the men of the house in the dining room.
What sets this house apart from quite a few others is that each bedroom has its own attached bathroom. This is unlike Hindu houses where traditionally, the bathing/toilet area was always away from the living quarters, giving the house its colonial stamp.
The house is filled with furniture that dates back to the early 1900s, so if you are a bull in a china shop, you may want to be extra careful. The staff will open the doors to the other rooms for you and you are free to take a peek. Heta won’t mind. So long as you appreciate the house for what it is, a memory that is still alive and thriving.
(A travelogue version of this visit appeared in Mumbai Mirror: http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-08-31/travel/32787985_1_panchgani-heritage-house-bungalow)