Clouds End Villa, Dharamshala, India

Before we go into details, here’s a short film that I made on arriving at the hotel. It’s not meant to be a glossy film showing the accommodation at it’s best, just an honest first impression on what the average visitor might encounter on arrival.

Location - Clouds End villa is a 15 minute walk out of Dharamshala town, although it’s best to take a tuk tuk when you first arrive as the way is uphill and not signposted until you get out of town. Alternatively, you can walk down from the village of McCloud Ganj in about 45 minutes. Walk down past McCloud Ganj post office and continue on the road past the ‘Ladies Venture’ hotel until you reach two signs warning of steep descent. About 50 metres after this point the road turns sharply left, on the right is a shop and beside that is a very rough track. This track leads through forest, suitable for rucksack carriers but not for those pulling suitcases, for about 500 metres, then you turn left down a rocky path and the Villa is on the left. Here is the scene just where you turn off the road with the shop on the right.

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Check In/Reception - The staff were friendly, courteous, professional and made me feel at home right away. I was shown to my room and they dealt with the paperwork (all hotels in India have to take a photocopy of your passport and visa) whilst I freshened up, making checking in a painless experience.

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The Room - My room was spacious, with a well furnished adjoining sitting room and bathroom. The wood furniture was solid and the bed and it’s linen extremely comfortable. There were marble floors throughout, deep pile towels, satellite TV, constant hot water and a delightful lack of surplus gadgets, which is something I really appreciated. If I wanted tea, or anything else, I simply rang a bell and the staff would appear; I much prefer that, it’s so much more personal and satisfying than having a tea and coffee machine in the room. It also creates an atmosphere of effortless class, as opposed to many lesser hotels which sometimes tend to try just a little too hard to please.

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The room walls were thick, which meant the room kept pretty much a constant temperature for most of the day, staying cool in the midday heat and cool in the evening when outside it felt like it was freezing. The walls were whitewashed and adorned with interesting prints of animals and ancient fabrics.

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The Restaurant - Freshly prepared food was available on request. For something a little cheaper and of only slightly less quality The Potala restaurant down in the town of Dharamshala town is a very good choice.

General Notes and Impressions - Dharamshala, the nearest town to the Villa, isn’t up to much and not really worth visiting unless you want to catch a bus, or visit the good museum and Potala restuarant. Heading upwards to McCloud Ganj though will present you with wonderful mountain views and if you’re lucky once you get to the village you might catch a glimpse of the Dalai Lama (I did). There are also several really interesting courses you can do in McCloud, including Tibetan Cookery (Sangye’s course is best), yoga and meditation, all for a very reasonable price. Head further up in the mountains to Triund (a 3 hour walk from McCloud) and you start to get those snowy peak views that you’re probably expecting from the Himalaya Range.

The area that the Villa itself is in is largely quiet with birdsong overcoming the calls of workers in isolated agricultural plots and the very distant sounds of Dharamshala town. At night my room itself was completely silent. This made a very welcome change to the noise that most hotels in McCloud Ganj get bombarded with (I stayed in 4 of them and 3 of them had unacceptable noise levels from 6am until 11pm each day). The Villa is the home of the Maharaja and Maharani of Kangra, and the Maharajas’ family coat of arms (the Katoch family) is painted onto a metal sign fixed to a wall outside the front gate, above which is written ‘Clouds End Villa’. The wrought iron gates, supported by 7 foot tall dishevelled stone pillars, hang slightly open, giving the impression that they have been that way, ajar and welcoming, for decades. Aged trees flank the pathway which leads up past guest rooms to an acropolis about 8 metres above the entrance, where the Maharajas summer house is located. If you are lucky, as I was, the Maharaja may invite you over for the evening. If you’re invited, do go, it’s not every day that you have the pleasure of talking to a charming man who can trace his family tree back over 5000 years and can relate the story of his ancestor defeating Alexander the Great on the battlefield as if it were only a few years ago.

Away from the guestrooms, hidden in undergrowth that marks the beginning of the wild forest beside the upper lawn, stands a stone arch. Embedded into its back wall is a series of tiles portraying Rama receiving the monkey god Hanuman, the side wall shows Krishna playing his shepherd role, and below them is a natural spring. This was the original spring for the house, bringing water to every bathroom.

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The sunset from the Villa’s entrance looks like this.

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In Summary -TrekandRun’s verdict is that Clouds End Villa is a classy, quiet getaway perfect for couples or, as in my case, solo travellers who just want peace and quiet, ample subject matter for their camera and to be within easy reach of some excellent walking routes. Staying at the Villas also gives you an opportunity to observe one facet of ‘traditional’ India that the average backpacking traveller would seldom come across; the India of the former ruling classes, the Maharajas. My stay at Clouds End Villas was fascinating, extremely enjoyable and very comfortable and I cannot recommend the place highly enough.

To learn more about Clouds End Villa please visit their website - www.cloudsendvilla.com

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