Deep within the heady woods of the Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary, at a height of 8000 ft, one is enthralled to discover pure luxury in the form of the Mary Budden Estate. This luxury is not just one of plush settings and first-class service, although Mary Budden provides both. It is also the luxury of anonymity and tranquility. It is a walk down memory lane as one is reminded of colonial times.
Indeed, the boutique homestay, with its opulent cottages, teems with rich history. Originally belonging to a British lady from the 19th Century, after whom the estate is named, it was purchased by Delhi-based artist and writer, Serena Chopra. Mary Budden was a philanthropist and social worker who set up orphanages, a school for girls and a refuge for homeless women. The present owners have kept the legacy intact and restored the rooms to their former glory.
Consisting of 2 cottages – the original Mary Budden Cottage and the recently built Rhododendron Cottage, the property does not display any advertising signs. Perhaps it is rightly called ‘Kumaon’s best kept secret’ for this very reason. The 2 cottages both have the same colonial splendour and charm. Right from the pine wood ceilings to the lavish bathrooms, the bukharis or the sprawled out living area, the place screams grandeur but in a subtle lived-in way. One could get used to this style of living and definitely yearns for it.
Waking up on a well made bed to the sound of the 250 species of birds to be found in the forest, stretching your legs on the front porch and sipping on your morning coffee while gazing at the oak and rhododendron trees or the far off peaks – a life so full that one forgets shopping trips and party nights.
Days here simply pass by as one is inclined to do nothing but laze underneath the sun with a pot of tea and a good book. There are hikes and treks to be embarked upon and trails to uncover. One can go bird-watching or wildlife spotting. On your return, you will be treated to a sumptuous meal, cooked by the in-house chef using fresh garden produce. The breads and pastries here will surpass the city loaves you’re used to. Everything, including the food, is accompanied by so much warmth and genuine pleasure that even the simplest things take on a poignant meaning.
The colours and sounds of Kumaon are special. The azure sky is brilliant as one lies under an oak tree, gazing up through the pattern of the leaves. The warm yellow slivers of sunlight slice through the foliage and illuminate everything in their path. The red of rhododendrons is scattered everywhere and reminds one that red is also the colour of celebration, not just bloodshed and rage. The sounds are mostly sounds we’ve stopped hearing because of the din of our lives. The chirping of the birds, the quietude of the mountains at night under the hanging lanterns, the sounds of the village-help gently going about their work.
There is a refreshing silence here and disturbing that seems almost like sacrilege. The silence is sacred to Kumaonis and will be to you as well.
When one thinks of a homestay, one seldom associates it with this level of lavishness. Yet, Mary Budden Estates offers the rare combination of luxury and homeliness. They recently also started a village homestay in the village of Dalar nearby. The two-room mud bungalow is perfect for those seeking a more rustic experience. Located in the village of Dalar, where only 10 families reside, it is impossible to not be swept up and feel like a local. The house is covered in vine-flowers and lies amidst lemon, orange and fig trees.
When city life threatens to take you over completely, when all you crave is the crisp mountain air and the quietude and when you want to do it in the most plush settings, Mary Budden Estates will be the perfect choice. For a while, feel like you belong in a different era, a simpler existence and take off for this beautiful property.
WHAT TO DO IN BINSAR
Thank you very much to you and your team for arranging this fantastic tour. One of the best pick from this tour was your meticulous planning and promptness of service. All arrangements were fantastic, be it a delivery of vehicle at Chandigarh airport, hotels particularly at Chandigarh, Leh, Nubra, Pangong. However the best was at Jispa, Kargil and Srinagar for different reasons. Jispa was simple but authentic with very tasty food.
Rajesh & Gauri Natu
Graphic Designer, Apple
Sunil, after I ran 21k Marathon I bragged about it for years. The same is being repeated again, with my ambition to drive across the Himalayas, which was almost faded with Srinagar under curfew. You and Chetan were the spark to our fire that we could do this drive and without a single trouble. Driving is a passion but driving thru places where there are no roads is trouble, but your breakup of program and awesome car condition helped us actually sail thru. Three cheers and five stars.
Absolute Networks, Mumbai
Wow. wow, wow. What a experience! We took the route of Delhi - Jammu - Srinagar - Leh - Sarchu - Manali - Delhi. Sunil Kapoor gave us excellent service which includes his next to new 4WD in immaculate condition and all hotels were top class. Coming from Australia, we were bit nervous in start but when we met Sunil, we had full trust and all went very positive. Sunil gave us perfect instructions and everything was according to plan. Thank you Sunil and your team for our one of the best experience in life you have provided us.
Director, Webential, Australia
Eight of us from Sri Lanka got Sunil to arrange a self driven tour to Leh and we are very happy with our decision. He was punctual, trustworthy and met our expectations. The service provided was very professional. As foreigners it’s hard to arrange such a tour by ourselves and Unwind outdoor filled in the gap perfectly. All places we stayed were nice and decent. Should specifically mention about the two Scorpios which we instantly fell in love with. They were very well maintained ...
Friends from SriLanka
After days of research, we finally came across a facebook page called ‘Unwind Outdoors’. It seemed like our dream was going to be finally true. Very reasonably priced and Sunil from Unwind was like a know-it-all person.
The itinerary was so crisp and so very well laid out that there was no reason for us to worry other than coping up with nature’s fury.
Clifford Chance, Delhi
We did a SUV self drive trip from Chandigarh to Ladakh and back organized by Unwind Outdoor.
Highly recommend Unwind Outdoor as Sunil and Manpreet took care of everything we needed (car, hotel bookings, sightseeing and food recommendations, permits) and everything was organized seamlessly. Sunil was very patient with all our queries, giving suggestions and options to suit our preferences.
Ashish & Neha Thadani
Great to see the know-how of the Unwind Outdoor team regarding every aspect of the Srinagar - Leh - Chandigarh self drive trip. From weather conditions, to road conditions, to health/clothing requirements, and also driving instructions - Sunil and Manpreet are warm, meticulous and knowledgable. Villa Himalaya in Sonamarg surpassed all our expectations and ensured that our expected standards for the rest of the trip were extremely high.
Symbiosis Law School, Mumbai
Thanks Sunil for arranging a wonderful trip. Everything went well and we were in good hands with friendly and competent drivers. Accommodation was good and tents were comfortable beyond our expectations. We didn't have problem with food choices. It was a totally rejuvenating vacation and experience for us. Thanks from us in Singapore!
We had an amazing 9-day from Manali to Leh. Serene, breathless and picturesque. High altitude sickness was a big issue for us but we were in good hands.
Unwind Outdoor was superb in arranging and coordinating the trip. Taking care of all arrangements and checking-in on us. Kudos to Sunil and his team.
Assistant Director, Jurong Town Corporation, Singapore
We travelled as a couple & completed a self drive trip from Delhi-Jammu-Srinagar-Kargil-Leh-Nubra-Pangong-Tso Moriri-Sarchu-Manali-Delhi. Itinerary was meticulously designed to be a mix of adventure and comfort. Hotel choices were best. Support was available at all points in case of emergency.Vehicle provided was top notch. Thanks to Mr. Sunil Kapoor for personally putting in efforts to maintain such high standards.
Nikhil & Neha Mazumdar
Manager L&T, Mumbai
Six of us (two families) travelled to Leh in Jul / Aug 2015 and we had an excellent experience with Unwind Outdoor. From the very beginning of our excited planning phase, Sunil has been willingly suggesting us options, number of days, places to visit etc. He has all the knowledge of the terrain, passionate about trekking and traveling himself, so he understands travel-crazy people such as me and my quirks.
We landed in Leh in time for cloudbursts and flashfloods and landslides (along with mud and rocks sliding too). Despite Nature's fury, Sunil and Skarma made sure we were utmost safe and comfortable. These guys are just not into travel business, they help people fulfil their travel dreams. Truly! Go guys!!
Barclays Bank, Bangalore