Serene and secluded at 6,500 feet above sea level, Seetalvan Orchard attracts peace-seekers who want to unwind in solitude away from India's frenetic cities. Indeed, relaxation comes easily there, as the superlative Himalayan mountain views work magic to soothe tension and restore tranquility.
Seetalvan Orchard is a stylish hidden oasis, at the bottom of a long driveway on a family apple estate near the historic town of Kotgarh, in Himachal Pradesh. It's just over two hours northeast of Shimla, off National Highway 22 (also known as the Hindustan Tibet Road).
After returning from studying tourism and hospitality in Melbourne, Australia, son Gaurav Jhina came up with the idea of setting up what is essentially a boutique homestay on the property. As his welcoming mother Meenakshi explained to us, in addition to providing an experience for guests, it's also a great way for them to meet people because it can be quite isolated there.
It's up to guests how much they choose to interact. The accommodations are provided in two separate wings -- an old one and a new one -- set away from the house. If you can bear to tear yourself away from the views (and it's not an easy thing to do, believe us, we wanted to spend every moment immersed in them), there's an inviting common room, plenty of seating in the garden, and a nightly bonfire.
Food and Activities of Seetalvan Orchard
Meals are served buffet-style in the dining room below the common room. It's homely, freshly cooked Indian cuisine, including some tasty local delicacies. For breakfast, eggs can be made to order. Tea and coffee facilities are also provided in the rooms. The congenial and well trained staff are always on hand to look after guest needs.
If you enjoy fruit chutneys and preserves, you'll find some delicious gourmet ones on sale in the dining room. They're locally produced by Fruit Bageecha, a company started by a couple of media professionals who relocated to the area from Singapore, in pursuit of their dream of setting up a boutique fruit processing unit.
Seetalvan Orchard is a laid-back place that's ideal for reflective activities -- reading, writing, meditating, or even singing and playing an instrument around the bonfire. If you do feel like getting out and about, a number of local walks are possible, including walks through the orchard, forest, or further afield to historic Kotgarh church and Hatu Peak.
When to Go
The apple trees start blossoming in April, as spring brings warmer weather. The busiest months are during the Indian summer in May and June, before the monsoon arrives in July. Apples are ripe by August and apple picking winds up in September. October and November are ideal for an undisturbed off-peak experience (avoid Diwali school holidays though) before the winter sets in, in December.
Accommodations at Seetalvan Orchard
The accommodations at Seetalvan Orchard successfully blend rustic with contemporary. There are seven guest rooms, spread over two wings.
Four of the guest rooms occupy a newly constructed two-story cottage fronting the mountains and valley filled with fruit trees. Two rooms are on the ground floor, and two are on the upper floor with a shared balcony that runs along the length of the cottage.
While the cottage has a traditional Himachali-style exterior of stacked stone and wood, inside is very different. Bursts of color, modern prints, and fashionable fittings have been added to the super spacious guest rooms. The aesthetic design extends to the bathrooms, tiled with dark stone, and complete with glass shower screens and plentiful hot water.
In addition, there's an older standalone two-story cottage higher up on the hill, which has been beautifully renovated. With three bedrooms, living area, and a small kitchen, it's perfect for families.
My room was on the top story of the new wing. I was immediately drawn to the balcony, and thankfully, the adjoining room was vacant so I didn't have to share it with anyone else. I spent most of my time sitting there, feeling deliciously closeted away from the rest of the world.
As the sun drifted lazily down past the Himalayas, casting a hazy pinkish orange glow over the hilltops, I gazed at it unobstructed. The delicious aroma of dinner cooking wafted up from the kitchen, interspersed with the pervasive smell of pine. There was complete stillness, except for the whisper of the breeze in the trees and the chatter of birds. And, if only the apples were ripe, I could've reached over and picked some from the trees, they were that tantalizingly close!
From 7,900 rupees per night for a double room, and 6,900 rupees for a single. This includes breakfast, dinner, and guided walks.
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Facilities at Seetalvan Orchard
The bright and ambient common room is another thoughtfully designed aspect of Seetalvan Orchard. It sits above the dining room, and has both an indoor and outdoor space.
Inside, the common room has a TV (if you must watch it, as there are no TVs in the guest rooms) and a good collection of books, magazines and games. There's also a wood burner to provide warmth on cold days and nights.
Outside, there's a huge hammock and wooden bench seating on the broad undercover balcony.
Historic Kotgarh near Seetalvan Orchard
Best known for its apple production, Kotgarh actually has an interesting history that stretches back to the time of Gurkha rule in the early 19th century. It was originally called Sandoch and later Gurukot. The British defeated the Gurkha armies in 1815, and retained Kotgarh as a British military post and trading center.
Eventually, the cantonment was wound up and the property handed over to missionaries.
St Mary’s Church was built there in 1872, and schools were opened. In the early 1900s, American missionary Samuel Evan Stokes introduced apple cultivation to the area.
The town hasn't changed much since then, although the quaint little church was recently renovated. It can be visited on a walk from Seetalvan Orchard. However, the road back up the hill is a steep climb, so you may wish to drive.
See my photos of Seetalvan Orchard on Facebook.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary services for review purposes. While it has not influenced this review, Tripsavvy believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.