Katherine Hepburn once famously said, “If you obey all the rules you miss all the fun.” Not at Windamere in Darjeeling, I thought to myself, you would have been punished if you didn’t obey all the rules. ‘All the rules’, for, there are plenty of them. Windamere used to be a boarding house after all. So what if it has long been converted to a hotel. Old habits die hard! Nay! Old ‘rules’ die hard!
This 19th Century boarding house, for the bachelor tea-planters from England and Scotland, became Windamere Hotel in the 1930s, post which came deluge of travellers from around the world. Thus started an era of high profile guests and grand parties. The Christmas party at Windamere is legendary—there are stories of how party enthusiasts would book their tables a good one year in advance! The tradition continues to date, well almost; now, bookings are made months in advance. With the cottages, library, music room, and snuggery intact, Windamere retains its old-world charm even as everything around us is fast crumbling. And it holds on to the old-world discipline too… the ‘rules’ I was telling you about! Every cottage, dining room, music room, coffee room and even the bathroom has its own set of rules.
I saw them first when we were checking in—the rule about tipping the staff. A commonplace one, I didn’t even raise my eyebrow.
Then we entered our room and it was a different story. On the fireplace, sat a ‘mouthful’ of rules telling us why we shouldn’t keep the windows open, why we should stay away from monkeys, the room-heater, rules about morning tea… All neatly placed in proper frames or as laminates!
And then I saw this when I stepped into the bathroom!
If there are rules in the bathroom, there must be more! Convinced, I armed myself with the camera and headed out, first towards the reception to click the one about tipping staff, and then, towards the dining room. Eureka! There was one about the meal timings; and another even more amusing one! You cannot enter the darn place until the steward rings his bell. I dare say, the bell dates back to the boarding house days too.
Like a bunch of good children, we queued up to go in for lunch. We didn’t have the courage to disregard the ‘lunch bell’. What if we got a dressing down for not being on time? No no… no taking chances with 19th Century, you said it, rules!
My treasure hunt resumed after lunch. I headed straight to the library and the music room, only to be further rewarded. Here, in colloquial language was another set of rules imploring you not to move pieces of furniture, not to touch the grand piano and not to… and many others.
By now, my amusement had given way to fear. I cautiously looked around everywhere before I slumped into a sofa… Then leapt out, what if there were rules regarding that too? For the rest of my stay at Windamere, I was on guard—I looked for instructions, asked for explicit permission before I touched anything, did anything or even simply moved!
From the Editor’s Desk:
The photographs are a bit shaky, but we still felt it was a great story to tell. Apologies about the photo-quality.
Deepa Dutta Chaudhuri
Writer, blogger and one half of the warring couple of Wheels on Our Feet.