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La Villa Bethany is a charming homestay situated in the quaint Landour area of Mussoorie. Home away from home, the five units in the property have beautiful stone, slate, wood interiors, and tasteful décor consisting of art and books. The day’s menu is decided based on what is freshly available, incorporating guests’ personal preferences, likes, and dislikes. The dinner every night hails from a different region of the country or the world. All residents sit at one large table and eat their meal together.
Built in 1905 by Dr. Frandsen Walburg, a Dutch-American medical missionary, this old English cottage, originally called Bethany (the Biblical name for rest and healing), was home to leprosy patients until 1963. Always an abode of prayer and service, it was then gifted to a Christian mission. In 2009, the mission decided to sell it, and Amarjeet S. Kudle and his wife, Sunita Kudle, took it on a long-term lease of 40 years. Being hospitality professionals, the couple decided to revamp the place into a homestay, which they began running in 2011.
The property also practices sustainable and responsible tourism. The staff, consisting of eight members, belongs to humble backgrounds in the mountains. Solar energy is used to heat water and cook food. With a capacity of 1,30,000 liters of rainwater being harvested, it is the only property in all of Mussoorie that is self-sufficient with its water. For this reason, La Villa Bethany has also become a case study with the Uttarakhand Jal Board. Every item used within the property, including their organic, chemical-free soap and shampoo bars, is locally sourced from NGOs that work with underprivileged women in Uttarakhand. It’s not difficult to see how in the last 10 years of its operation, the property has won over 26 national and international awards.
Steeped in history, Landour is a secluded part of Mussoorie that not many people are aware of. After the 1814 Anglo-Gorkha War, most of the Irish people here suffered from tuberculosis or cholera. When a 23-year-old Captain Frederick Young, came on a hunting expedition to Landour in 1817—Mussoorie’s highest point at 7,800 feet—he fell in love with it and realized that the weather here closely resembled that of Ireland. Four years later, he began setting it up as a place where people could recuperate in a home-like environment. Young even made a small hunting lodge here which later became his home—Mullingar—the very first building of the town. Since Landour was restricted solely to the white army, Mussoorie was created thereafter for civilians. Post-independence, Landour was transferred from the British to the Indian army, and since then, a total of only 24 cottages exist in the entire area.
Paved with rhododendron, pine, deodar, and oak trees, Landour is home to the Kellogg Church, the St. Paul’s Church, and a cemetery that houses graves from the 1820s onwards. Further, the Landour Language School teaches Hindi, Urdu, Sanskrit, Garhwali, and Punjabi to students from all over the world. There is also a small market here, called Sister’s Bazaar, consisting of three little shops—a bakery called Landour Bakehouse; a grocery store known for its homemade peanut butter, jams, and cheeses; and a handicrafts shop. Other notable attractions are Lal Tibba, an observatory, and Chaar Dukan, a collection of tiny eateries that serve paranthas, Maggi, bun omelette, momos, waffles, and pancakes. Also, nearby is Woodstock, Asia’s oldest international school, and the famous Sir George Everest’s House.
The Kudles believe that with the global trend gradually moving from staying at business hotels to preferring smaller, standalone niche properties, boutique resorts, and B&Bs, leisure travel in homestays is going to become big going forward. “It ensures exclusivity, privacy, and safety, which is what people are looking most for post-COVID,” they say. The couple also manages Rock Villa by Baaya, a bespoke experience housed within 100 acres of Landour’s forest land. While one of their new properties is opening in mid-November, they have another farmstay coming up by the end of next year. “The more remote and away from civilization the homestay is, the more enticing it will be,” they add.
Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Wanderlust for the Soul, an e-book collection of short stories based on travel in different parts of the world.
This article was first published in Whereabouts Magazine.