This small hotel designed by Zowa Architects is situated 1,600-metres above sea level in the village of Kasar Devi near the town of Almora, Uttarakhand. Kumaon is a region of breathtaking beauty filled with abundant mountains, valleys, forests, and scenic lakes. Almora has long been a favorite tourist destination for locals escaping the Delhi summer as well as for foreigners taking a break from the chaos. Access to the site is via a slightly steep track down, off the main road. This village road stops about 250 meters from the site and the rest of the way is through a narrow village walking track. You are met at this point by the hotel staff relieving you of your baggage, making the rest of your walk to the hotel quite pleasant. You also have the option of making the short trek by pony.
The sloping site is terraced which is typical of agricultural plots in this area and is in two parts: a small half-acre plot at the top of the site which was used to situate the service facilities, and a two-acre plot, separated by a small strip of common land. What is special about the land is that it has uninterrupted views of the valley below and majestic views of the Himalayas 300 km away.
The project includes 10 rooms, lounge and dining facilities, library, spa, and services. The architects decided to design the rooms in pairs, one atop the other and scatter them across the site at different levels. This was partly to reduce the bulk of the building and to reduce the overall footprint of the development. The lower chalet was built out of stone quarried from nearby, while the upper chalet walls were built out of fly-ash bricks and cladded with bamboo sticks to give a sense of lightness.
The main building is situated on the highest point in the site, the ground level is the main entry point which houses a lounge, library, toilet, and administrative facilities, while the first floor has a dramatic steel cantilevered dining room, with an axis vista towards ‘Nanda Devi’ India’s second-highest peak. The roof of the lounge becomes a terrace for outdoor dining and yoga. Further, the three sides of the dining room are clad in bamboo sticks to reduce the visual impact of the bulky steel structure.
The approach to the hotel is through a small gate from the footpath and a walkway arches towards the main lounge. A row of planted bamboo trees was used to cover the view of the chalets beyond and obscure the mountain views heightening the sense of expectation.
Local pinewood was used extensively from floor finish to doors and windows. Even the furniture was designed and made on site. The local craftsmen were used to make copper and stone accessories for the chalets. Almora has a fine tradition of weaving and all woolen fabric for bedding and furnishings were custom designed and produced locally.
The overall finish is one of rustic simplicity, highlighting the local materials. The concrete soffits are kept unplastered, so are the fly ash walls finished with just a coat of paint inside. In the chalets, a bed, table, and seat are designed as an island unit and were finished in smooth cement render. The toilet walls are finished in ‘kadappah’ a black stone cut into tiles. While the terraces and balconies were paved with ‘Kota’ a popular and cheap Indian granite that has a texture and feel of smooth cement. By dispersing the built structure around the site and by the bamboo cladding we were able to dissolve the visual impact a building such as this can have in a sensitive environment.
“All the structures were designed for rainwater harvesting, with a drain system taking the water to a large holding tank at the bottom of the site. The hotel plans to replant seasonal crops in the terraces and leftover spaces, using the product for its own kitchen. Overall our attempt was to highlight the stunning natural landscape and focus on the mountain views. While paying homage to local materials, tradition, and culture”, says Pradeep Kodikara.
Zowa Architects, Sri Lanka
Project Architect: Kshitij Agarwal
Structural engineer: Harsh Kakar
Quantity surveyor: Harsh Kakar
Contractor: Harsh Kakar
Site area: 2.5 Acres
Total floor area: 1160 sqm
Design phase: Nov 2013-June 2014
Construction phase: Aug 2014-May 2017
Client name: Savikalpa Hospitality Pvt Ltd.
Lighting: Decon lighting Pvt ltd
Kitchen: Sarna industries