Far from the madding crowd

Not many of you have heard of Abbotsford probably. A quiet, quaint, British homestay right out of a
picture postcard. Sitting pretty in a nook of the bustling hill town of Nainital, it turned into a serendipitous discovery when we trudged up the hill trying to locate it. With the scenic beauty and serenity that this homestay offers, lyrical poems and pleasant prose would flow like a brook. I could gauge how daffodils inspired Wordsworth. Velveteen grass, colourful rhododendrons, old colonial architecture, the blue sky, chirping of birds, buzz of bees and the smell of crisp mountain air. It takes you back to that time and realm…
The heritage property, away from the buzz of the town, is looked after by Jahnavi Prasada, daughter of Jitendra Prasada (former vice president of the Indian National Congress) and sister of politician Jitin Prasada. Janhavi, whose ancestors were the zamindars of Oudh in Uttar Pradesh, nurtures her love for writing and poetry
every time she visits this 145-year-old ancestral summer home in the Kumaon hills. It was here that her magical childhood was spent.
A film maker, author of the graphic novel, Tales of Young Gandhi, Jahnavi has a deep passion for photography. With Abbotsford Prasada Bhavan, she has successfully entered the hospitality business by turning this family home into an exclusive countryside boutique property. It is here that she draws most of the inspiration reflected in her life and work.
It is here where her mother, Kanta Prasada, imbibed in her the taste for the vintage and mother nature. It is here that we met that charming woman, who wowed us with her timeless elegance and warm hospitality. While taking us around the nooks that regular travelers do not get to survey, aunty regaled us with vignettes from this building’s past. We just sat there and listened as the hours passed by under the azure canopy…
 “Abbotsford has been my home since four generations. It is a 145-year-old English lodge that my
family acquired in 1903.  I grew up on this estate with fresh air, blue skies, misty mountains, beautiful birds, wild berries, forest walks, picnics, cook-outs, star gazing and climbing fruit laden trees,” reminisces Jahnavi. Then the family left for the city. But the young girl kept coming back from time to time with her viewfinder, to take in nature’s abundance and to pen poetry. “We have tried to make this property more inclusive and accessible to people who appreciate history, nature, books, peace. I wanted to share my experiences of growing up in these surroundings. So, we’ve crafted a homestay rather than a typical hotel for guests to enrich their stay with the little pleasures,” says the lady. Her intention is to make the estate a tiny hub for people who have a yen for art, culture, literature, music, photography and food. That’s why she opened the cute alfresco Cafe Chica, named after
Jahnavi’s pug. The growth of Abbotsford has been organic. The food served at the homestay is fresh and delectable. While one can sample an English breakfast, the in-house chefs will floor a foodie with his Kumaoni mutton and vegetable preparations. To tell the truth, we came back all fattened after a weekend there.
Kanta aunty, with a keen eye for restoration, worked on Abbotsford 18 years ago, giving the house a facelift on the lines of an old colonial cottage. Almost everything has been maintained to retain its original glory, be it the wooden roof with burma teak beams or the tinned roof and pinewood flooring that give the perfect feel of the classic mountain house. Adorning the halls are fascinating art deco pieces reflecting the exotic, sophisticated taste of its owners from different times. Antiquarian decoratives from different ages and various parts of the world adorn the house. There are exquisite Italian marble busts, garden statues, Afghani and Jali carpets, Wedgewood plate hangings, swords, muskets and elephant tusks.
The art of restoring a property as old as Abbotsford was a painstaking one, but the Prasadas took it in their stride. “The British structure was in solid stone and mortar and is still standing tall after all these
years. There was some hesitation in reopening the flooring and ceilings but once they were opened we realised that they are in such beautiful shape that one didn't need to go all the way to retouch the wooden structure,” tells Jahnavi.
Now for some historical anecdotes. The property was called ‘Abbotsford Lodge’ and was owned by an English ICS officer, John Hope Simpson, posted in Nainital in 1876. The rent those days was Rs 1,000 per annum. Jahnavi’s great grandmother Purnima Jwala Prasada bought it from John Hope Simpson in 1903. “The estate is on seven acres of mountain land. It gets the first rays of the morning sun. We still have the property deeds dating back to 1903,” she says, adding, “We now have three luxury suites and four luxury rooms. By the end of the year we will have four more
luxury suites with a fabulous view of the mountains.”
It’s easy to travel back in time at Abbotsford. Lavish lunches and tea parties over cucumber sandwiches and tennis was the order of the day back then. That colonial aura hangs heavy on this pretty cottage. It’s a perfect haven for artistic, languid and languorous rejuvenation.


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