In a Nutshell:
Unparalled warmth of people, efficient service & outstanding home like food made in a commercial set up, by a passionate chef & his team. Each meal at this shuddh shakahari (vegetarian) hotel was either good or better than ‘good’ – commendable. Great place to do a long stay & even a long weekend. Extreme attention was paid while restoration, to this 1950s building, to ensure it retains its old elements but is comfortable to the modern traveler.
Address & other details: Amrit bhawan
Disclaimer: All restaurants / eateries / Hotels reviewed by YUMMRAJ were visited by YUMMRAJ himself & he has paid for the full Bill & tips also. http://www.yummraj.com does not have even one featured / sponsored reviews. YUMMRAJ believes in going to a restaurant in anonymity, as a normal guest, experience everything & give a honest account of the same to you.
Each section of this post has headers, so that you can skip a section if that does not interest you. Here is a jist of all the sections:
· How we got to know about Amrit bhawan
· Drive from gurgaon
· Our experience at Haridwar
. Drive to Kimsar village & the experience there
· Our experience at Amrit bhawan:
3. Stay at Amrit bhawan
4. Food at Amrit bhawan
How we got to know about Amrit bhawan
We Read about this hotel from a post by renowned food writer, nutrition consultant, edible product developer, blogger & columnist, Sangeeta Khanna, someone whose social media food posts we follow for over a decade.
Drive from gurgaon
Contrary to our perception, the drive from gurgaon to Haridwar was outstanding. Broad laned highways, but with speed limits soecifued by the authorities in most of the stretch. In a short stretch the road was two way (no divider).
Meerut delhi expressway was excellent. The roads beyond Meerut were not as wide but very good. We were driving on a Friday morning. Did not get much traffic anywhere.
It Took us 4 hours non stop from gurgaon to reach Amrit bhawan.
Our experience at Haridwar
We moved around in Haridwar on foot, in our own car & also in auto rickshaw.
We wandered around the roads & gullies around our hotel on foot. Small eateries were there on the sides. Few of the shop keepers invited us to have dinner, with a big, warm smile.
Driving around was easy not because everyone adheres to traffic rules but because the traffic was less. In narrow roads it was ok to drive as there was very less vehicular traffic.
Auto rickshaws ply without meter. So it’s a haggle with them always. Quite a pain, unless you are ok in paying whatever is being asked.
Har ki paudi (translated to feet of god) is the place where everyone goes when in Haridwar. We went there in the morning & spent some good time. The place was very well maintained, painted, neat & clean. There were mobile beggars but no one was squatting permanently.
There were temporary stalls selling different impulse purchase products. Empty plastic jars to store ganga water was a prominent item being sold.
Must tell you about a lack of agreement about the name – haridwar (as some people say or hardwar as others say). Hari refers to vishnu & har refers to shiva. This place is a gateway to temples of both hari – Badrinath & of har – Kedarnath. So followers of each call this place As Haridwar or hardwar.
Whatever is the name, it was , as always a beautiful experience just standing by the water , listening to its sound, listening to collective sound of a Hundred thousand people in the backdrop, sound of aarti in some temple in the vicinity & more …..
We went here in the morning instead of opting for seeing the evening ganga aarti here (had done that before). It’s a spectacle that is unmissable in the first visit.
Drive to Kimsar village & the experience there
We have done this few times before & we wanted to do again. Try to go to an offbeat non touristy place & experience the real people & see a slice of their life.
So thru the hotel we got introduced to Mr. Ashutosh (+91 88903 62339). He started his career in tourism long back & spent a decade as a guide in Rajasthan, from where he belongs. Then he got an offer from a high end tour company & moved to Uttarakhand about a decade back.
Ashutosh knows the roads very well & knows a lot of people (we saw him interact with many people throughout our journey).
Ashutosh was with us for the whole day & he gave us an experience that we treasure.
Our first stop was at an off-road location that took us to the bank of river ganga, where the flow of the river is still natural. Artificial water control starts between this place & Haridwar.
Crystal clear ganga water – we could see the rocks at the bottom, till quite a distance from the bank.
The water was super cold & was flowing downstream in high speed.
The bank was full of natural rocks & pebbles.
Mostly untouched by tourists.
From here we went to see a small temple in the jungle, on the bank of the river.
Ashutosh showed us a bridge where ‘Veabar’ birds have made nests. He said – Among ‘veabars’, the male has to make the nest & the female doesn’t help at all. if she doesn’t like the nest the male has to make a new one!!!!
Then we passed thru a part of Rajaji national park in our own car. Ashutosh helped us get a permission.
The drive was just too good – he kept on telling us & showing the different jungle trees, the massive spider webs, huge termite mounds & an occasional deer.
The road was kuccha & we had to slow down or stop if another vehicle came from front.
After we crossed this area, the hill roads started. These roads were not like the fancy wide hill roads in tourist areas.
They were narrow, at times well maintained, at times broken, had railings in most part of the road.
In many parts the road was so narrow that one had to stop to give way to a vehicle cong from front.
The scenery was just too good.
Ashutosh showed us the Typical Uttarakhand house & explained how they use hand made tiles (cut out from stone collected from mountain) to make roof that stays in place even during rain & storms.
After about 3 hours drive we reached village kimsar.
We met Devender ji & his family. He is now into farming full time. In his youth he had lived in metro cities of india & worked in offices / professionally driven cars.
His wife helps him in farming & also plays a major role in the aanganwadi project at the local village.
For the uninitiated, aanganawadi worker needs to show community support and active participation in executing this program, conduct regular quick surveys of all families, organize pre-school activities, provide health and nutrition education to families, especially pregnant women, motivate families to adopt family planning, educate parents about child growth and development, educate teenage girls and parents by organizing social awareness programs etc.
Two of the three sons of the couple stay in cities alone, at their job locations. Devender ji & his wife stay here with the daughter in laws & grand children.
They showed us their farms & introduced us to their ten year old pet – Rocky.
Then came the home cooked lunch that we will remember for long.
Bhang seeds & til dhania chutney – insanely good to taste. Green in color, this Chutney was made from bhang seeds!!! Outstanding. Daanedaar. To good to taste.
Then came the daal. After eating this we said ‘Ghar ki daal murgi barabar’ – fabulous. We did not miss murga (or any meat) while eating this super YUMM daal. Best part is what we got to know later – Not only has the daal been cooked at home, but the Daal had been grown at their farm!!!!
Also, the leaf in the daal was bichauta (a leaf which when touched, agitates the skin). This is a common food in the hills. They pluck the leaves after wrapping the fingers in a cloth & then boil the leaves. Boiling leads to removal of the matter that causes skin itching. It is then cooked & eaten.
On the side were crisp fried seasoned green chillies. Lovely. We could just bite & eat off the chillies / not too hot, high in flavors.
Freshly sliced radish straight from the farm – so naturally sweet & crunchy. Wah.
The cereal we were served for lunch was mandua ki roti – ragi Rotis. Thick, puffed up, coarse.
After some more chit chat with the family we left Kimsar village to return to hotel.
Onway back we saw sunset & stopped by to click pictures at different places.
Ashutosh gave us confidence to venture out to many roads & no-roads, which we would have left out, if we were on our own.
Our JEEP compass TRAILHAWK 4×4 gave Ashutosh the confidence that a non mountain road driver like me would manage to drive safe on the village mountain roads.
Our experience at Amrit bhawan:
After we did the booking, we got a Guidance call from the hotel – it was very Comforting. The gentleman on the other end of the call has answers to almost everything & he said & did revert back on a few pointers.
He gave us a feeling ‘I am there. Do not worry’.
We booked & paid online after the initial conversation. The rates included stay & 2 meals. Beverages were on the house.
By law, all food in Haridwar is vegetarian. So the hotel of course serves only vegetarian food.
Google map shows the location exactly right. However both the roads leading to the hotel are so narrow that we thought we have entered a wrong road. A quick call to the hotel was helpful & the gentleman asked us to keep driving further & he actually came out of his office to the road to wave at us from a distance.
3. Stay at Amrit bhawan
As we entered the property, we were given a refreshing drink.
Check in was super smooth. Bags reached the rooms before we did.
We were shown around the Property & were told about its history. We got to know that Bajaj family owns the house. They used this as a holiday home for decades & had family get togethers here.
Some of the workers who had been around since that time have been retained by the hotel & trained to serve guests in a commercial set up.
The beauty of the building is the retention of some old elements & then doing a very modern makeover.
Over the The wooden staircase to the terrace , the way each door has a hand woven cloth cover, the ceiling finish in the rooms, the beautiful sitting area – both indoor & outdoor. Even the choice of ceiling fans was great.
The indoor games kept were super interesting. The only thing that needs improvement is a daily counting & keeping back by housekeeping staff. Things were missing from the games sets.
Almost everything in the hotel room was plastic free – glass water bottles, tea set, dustbin in the room etc.
Really liked the brand of coffee kept in room – two sachets for the pink cup is good for a strong , not so acidic, black coffee.
We were lucky to get an East facing balcony – we almost saw sunrise from balcony.
The best part of the hotel is the private ghat of the ganga canal & the wooden yoga deck next to it. Just sitting on those cane chairs & lazing was fun.
Also enjoyable was lying down upside down on the Khatia (lightweight, portable, bed , hand made from natural materials) next to the river , looking at the water, listening to its sound, sound of birds chirping on the huge tree …..
We heard that there is an in-house massage room next to the river but did not go for it.
We also did not make use of the hot tub on the terrace.
In the evening the hotel asked us & arranged for a ganga aarti in the private bank of the river. The priest came dressed in bright traditional wear & did the aarti with flamboyant moves.
Loved playing indoor games in evening.
4. Food at Amrit bhawan
Food was fabulous in general. Though cooked in a commercial kitchen, the food felt & tasted like Like someone has cooked at home .
The beauty of the experience was that each & every meal was enjoyable & almost all items. Not a Single dish was average or poor. Rate situation I must say.
A big Shout-out to the great job by Chef Arjun & his team and the food concept creation by Sangeeta Khanna.
Menu mentions Food as sattvik – vegan / vegetarian, no onion no garlic etc etc.
Food portions are for one person. Small to begin with, when the food arrives & then one can do As many repeats. This is great as it ensures No wastage.
They do serve garlic Chutney separately, for those who want to ‘indulge’ in rajasik food, while eating sattvik food.
Lunch day 1
Raita with super thinly sliced cucumber – topped with finely ground masala. Balanced raita that was very enjoyable. Rate it 4.5/5
Radish & radish leaf curry was stunning. Chunks of radish & its leaves cooked together. Wow. Spices were there in the dish but they did not take away the pungent flavor of radish. The texture of both radish & leaves had a bite. Rate it 4.75/5
Daal – outstanding. Too good. The daana of daal were telling a story. Simple. Rate it 4.75/5
Aloo & jakhia (local seed, like say mustard, but different) was good to taste. Super simple. The aloo had been boiled & then this curry made. I usually like the ones where aloo is slow cooked. Maybe this is how it is traditionally cooked here. I don’t know. Rate it 3.5/5
Snack day 1:
Gehat ki daal ke kabab was new for us & we really loved it. Tawa fried kababs made from gehat ki daal- a local lentil. We could distinctly taste the daal. The outer layer had just started to get crisp. The mid part was moist & super soft. Rate it 4.5/5.
Dinner day 1
This dinner was a collection of dishes that were served at occasions in the Bajaj family. So the food was not necessarily Indian regional or day to day home food, but celebratory in nature.
Tomato basil soup – super thin, hot, full bodied flavors of tomato, a chilly hot aftertaste – just right for the weather. Loved it. Rate it 4.5/5
Dum aloo – visually this looked like butter chicken. Looks like the typical orange gravy XYZ served in most delhi NCR North Indian cuisine restaurants. There was a bit of cream on top too.
Well all judgements went aside after the first bite. The dum aloo made from tomato gravy was excellent. The gravy was just too good. Aloo was almost ‘besides the point’. The gravy was so good that we licked off every drop of gravy, even from the serving bowl. Rate it 4.75/5.
Tamatar ki lunji was a sweet curry made from tomatoes. Onion seeds were the primary flavor. Rate it 4/5
Vegetable dum biryani – usually we never order this dish. Unless under distress. Here it came as part of the meal. Turned out excellent.
Long independent grains of aromatic rice cooked perfectly so that the grains are independent yet have the softness for the perfect bite. The biryani was very tasty. Rate it 4.5/5
Harey pyaz aur anar ka raita was very good. Rate it 4.25/5
Apple crumble was warm & excellent. Rate it 4.5/5.
Breakfast day 2
Peanut butter that we had with bread was made in-house!!! For a few bites we Topped it with a bit of 3 pepper honey.
The peanut butter was not a smooth shiny paste like the bottled ones, but a Matt finish semi solid bunch of lumps. Tasted fab. Full blown flavor of peanuts.
The Ragi bread had also been baked in-house
There were 3 types of panjiri cereal that they have created in-house. Excellent.
Rate this English breakfast part 4.5/5 overall.
Poori aloo subzi was being served fresh from the kitchen one by one, freshly fried. Not stacked in a buffet.
Outstanding subzi – home like, not very hot (chilly), no additional garnishing like in shops (Chutney, juliennes of ginger, masala etc), perfect balance of taste. Loved it. Rate it 4.5/5
The poori was crisp & had ajwain in it. Very nice.
Loved the freshly made green Chutney – full of flavors. Perfect seasoning.
Mooli was fresh, sweet & crunchy
Snack day 2:
In-house made papdi Chaat, not just the Chaat, but the papdi & the masala mix had been done in-house. Wah. Excellent. Super crisp papdi & perfectly seasoned dahi with the right mix of Chutney. Very few places get their papdis so good. Rate it 4.5/5
Dinner day 2
Pahadi meal – incidentally this was the day when we had pahadi food at devenderji’s house in the hills. So we had a benchmark already set.
Bhang (hemp seeds) ki chutney – Unfortunately for the hotel, we had the real thing same day at the village.
The one at the hotel restaurant had slightly less salt. Adding salt elevated the dish.
The one at the village had a coarser texture that made it even more likeable. The texture of Chutney at hotel was smoother. Rate it 3/5 if the village one was 4.95/5
Pahadi gahat ki daal – A thick liquid with grains of daal that could be distinctly seen, they had a bite, yet were soft & perfectly cooked. Balance of taste – spot on. Rate it 4.75/5
Arbi jakhiya – arbi cooked with jakhiya was really nice. Loved the texture of arbi. Rate this dish 4.75/5
Kafuli – boiled spinach made into a paste & cooked with rice water!!! Lovely. Rate it 4.25/5
Mooli aloo ki tichwani – a curry of mooli (radish) & aloo (Potato). Too good. We were finger-licking after eating this dish. Rate it 4.75/5
Kheera raita was very good to taste again.
Jhangora rice was enjoyable – steamed rice made of barnyard millet grown here.
Mandua roti was the bread that we had – ragi / finger millet roti.
Chaulai ki kheer was very good to taste – kheer made from a millet named chaulai. Rate it 4/5.
Breakfast day 3:
We had the same items as previous day in the English menu
In indian menu they served us daal pakwan (Sindhi food). It was Outstanding. Independent grains of daal, yet soft & super tasty.
The pakwan was one of the best I have ever had. The combo was just too good. Rate this dish 4.95/5
Lunch day 3:
Well this is funny. Please don’t judge us on the lunch combination.
This was the last meal at the hotel. So we wanted to eat things that we thought were interesting but had missed out in earlier meals.
We ordered a pakora platter remembering Sangeeta’s book PAKORAS. The pakora platter had many different vegetable pakoras. Excellent crisp, perfectly seasoned pakoras with the right texture of veggie. Rate them 4.75/5 collectively.
We also ordered a kesar ravioli !!!! Did not expect this dish to be so good. Unique. Distinct. Outstanding. Everything just right. Rich, soft, bursting out with flavors. Rate it 4.95/5.
Overall rating of food averages out to 4.4/5
Just a wow experience – feel like revisiting.