The Savoy, Mussoorie

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Daily Pioneer

Savoy brings back Mussoorie's lost glory

Jaskiran Chopra | 3 June 2013 |

May 2013 saw the reopening of the famous Savoy, a heritage hotel which has been a magnificent symbol of the unique old world charm that marked Mussoorie till the 1970s.

There was a time, till the early eighties, when the most prestigious address for a visitor to this popular hill station was “The Savoy”.

At the turn of the century, the hotel had begun to feel its age. It has taken years of repair and restoration to throw its doors open in a new avatar. The magic is back again.

Standing quietly amid towering deodars as a witness to the hill town’s fascinating history since the year 1902 when it was built, Savoy has come a long way. Savoy was opened to the public in the summer of 1902 and was later damaged in an earthquake that rocked Mussoorie in 1906. After being closed for a year, the hotel was reopened in 1907.

Before electricity came to Mussoorie in 1909, the hotel used chandeliers with candles and spirit lamps. It was, however, after World War-I, in the “gay twenties”, that the hotel saw its most popular days. The Savoy Orchestra played every night. Indian princes and their retinues occupied wings of the hotel and threw lavish parties and fancy dress balls.

Lowell Thomas, a famous traveller who visited Mussoorie in 1926, wrote about Savoy, “There is a hotel in Mussoorie where they ring a bell just before dawn so that the pious may say their prayers and the impious get back to their beds.”

“The reopening of Savoy is great news. In a time when all old buildings are being pulled down and all landmarks in Doon valley vanishing, this is a wonderful example of keeping tradition alive,” says author Ganesh Saili who was at the launch with renowned author and his friend Ruskin Bond.

The Deodar trees at Savoy are more than 300-year old and are believed to be the oldest in Mussoorie, even older than the hill station which came into being in 1826.The Savoy estate is the largest, acreage-wise, of any hill station hotel in India.

Savoy's register is full of famous names beginning with the Nehrus — Motilal and Jawaharlal and Mrs Indira Gandhi. Other names are the Dalai Lama, Crown Prince of Laos, Pearl S Buck and Amitabh Bachchan.

To walk along its halls and corridors is like walking into the past. There is a unique “Writers' Bar” at the Savoy, which honours great writers who were in some way associated with Mussoorie or the Savoy.

Among them are Rudyard Kipling, John Masters, Jim Corbett, Pearl S Buck and of course, Ruskin Bond, the living legend of this hill station.

The Savoy lies at a short distance away from The Library Point (Gandhi Chowk). The first floor of the Library was, in fact, the Savoy Restaurant for many years. These were the times when Mussoorie was not only the queen of resorts but also the resort of kings.

Credit for the Savoy building goes to Cecil D Lincoln, a barrister from Lucknow who took over the lands of the Mussoorie School, at the turn of the nineteenth century, pulled it down and built a hotel. Its all his: the English Gothic architecture, its fine proportions, its lancet-shaped narrow windows along the corridors and the verandas. A visitor can still spot the original school emblem, a three-leafed clover peeping from the eaves.

Two simple spires, without any parapet, surmount the corners of the main building -- rearing their heads in pride -- constitutes the main façade. When one considers the fact that the first motorcar came to the hill station in 1920, one can only admire the sheer ingenuity and dogged perseverance of those early settlers. Men and materials trundled up the bridle path from Rajpur aboard lumbering bullock-carts with the massive Victorian and Edwardian furniture.

Says Saili, “Launched in 1902, the hotel was - 'like a phoenix rising from the ashes of a school' gushed a local scribe. Royalty was to grace the station four years later -- Her Royal Highness, the Princess of Wales -- later, Queen Mary -- attended a garden party in the Savoy grounds. No sooner had she left, a severe earthquake hit Mussoorie. Many buildings were flattened and the hotel had to be closed for a year. But by 1907, it was up and ready to go again.”

In between the two Great Wars, in the 'gay twenties', Mussoorie entered its days of wine and roses. The Savoy orchestra played every night, and the ballroom was full of couples dancing the night away. You could do the fox trot or waltz to the happy numbers or do your own thing.

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