FANTASTIC BIRDS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM
Since it was first described in 1991, the wren-babbler was thought to be endemic to Nepal. So, you can imagine the surprise (and delight) of Indian ornithologists when, in 2003, this diminutive, stubtailed, weak-voiced little thing was seen in the forests of Dehradun. Perhaps it was only fair that it be spotted in Walterre, Bikram Grewal’s four-bedroom villa resort, along the banks on the Tons River. Bikram had, after all, chosen his backyard with great care. Now the ‘establishment’ might consider him an upstart, but he sure knows his birds. Having authored many books on the subject, including the immensely popular Birds of India, he also knows a thing or two about their habitat and distribution.
So, Walterre is located perfectly: the Himalayan foothills ensure the presence of the north and northeast species, and, at 2,200ft, the climate remains gentle enough through the year. The Nepal wren-babblers seem to concur, and have since taken up residence in the garden.
Spread over three acres, it’s not a very large area – a fact birders used to trudging for miles on end will surely appreciate- but the bird life is spectacular. You might be joined by crimson sunbirds for breakfast on the terrace, the extremely garrulous white-crested laughingthrushes will descend in droves every evening, and red-billed leiothrixes can be found gambolling in the undergrowth through the day. But that’s just the start of it. This resort has a birding checklist of 350 species, so you’ll find little reason to leave the property. But it’s not just the birding that’ll keep you back.
The well-maintained gardens are another. Spread over many levels, they’re bursting with flowers: geranium, petunia, heliconia and begonia, to name a few. These bedeck the area around the house, while kachnar trees (phanera variegata) tower above the entrance to the property.
Step into the house, and you’ll find treasures of another kind. There’s period furniture, rare lithographs, and a parlour crowded with curios including, for some odd reason, about a hundred paperweights. The library boasts a wide and eclectic collection, and comes with a super-comfy single seater right next to the shelves. Being 14km away from Dehradun city, there’s plenty of quietude, so you can really catch up on your reading. The terrace offers great views of the Himalayas during the day, and the lights of Mussoorie shimmer in the distance at night. The bedrooms have comfy four-poster beds and some strange inclusions, like a full-sized easy chair inside one of the bathrooms.
Should you decide to venture into the city, a heritage walk with Been There Doon That (BTDT) is an interesting way to spend a morning. Dehradun has a rich history, and the intrepid folks at BTDT are helping people discover the interesting back stories of structures you normally wouldn’t give a second glance; every Sun morning; free). You’ll hear about the freebooter and British army deserter, Fredrick ‘pahadi‘ Wilson, the sad tale of an Afghan king in exile, and the supposedly rare hexagonal clock tower. Back at the property, a stroll along the banks of the Tons River is worth your time. You’ll almost certainly spot yellow-billed blue magpies along the sides of the road.
But it won’t be long before the thrushes, flycatchers, scimitars and other summer denizens start calling you back to the villa, and that’s one invitation you’re well advised to accept.
Walterre can arrange for a transfer from the airport or the railway station. The property is 14km from Dehradun, and local transport isn’t available easily, so it’s best to hire a car to get around.
WHERE TO STAY
Walterre: As expected, all four rooms in the hotel are named after birds. The ones on the first floor are a better bet as they offer easier access to the large terrace. The Peacock Suite also has a small TV room. Asian Adventures handles reservations for this property.
WHERE TO EAT
Each meal is an elaborate affair here, with some of the ingredients sourced from the backyard. While there’s no menu to choose from, the staff is particularly accommodating of special requests. Alpana Grewal’s signature mutton curry comes recommended.
The terrace is a great setting for meals – the passion flower vines snaking across the sides are bird magnets, and spotting five different species of sunbirds over lunch can be an unforgettable experience.