Is it Shoja or Sojha? Both spellings are used but let us use Sojha as marked on a milestone. Let the Government have the final word.
Like the Banjara property at Sangla, I have visited their property in Sojha twice: August 2007 and recently in May 2009. The main difference between then and now: the apple trees in the gardens were blooming with the red colour of the fruit waiting to be harvested, so was a bed a sunflowers each the size of a big man’s palm. Go back in August and you will see the apples, but they might not grow the sunflowers again.
Want to read our piece on Sojha? Click here.
This is how my experience was when I stayed on the two occasions:
- The Location: Perfect, Banjara style. The most challenging part are the 133 steps leading down to the property from the road where you leave your car. If you go up and down these thrice a day, you can eat all you can and not worry about gaining weight. The property overlooks thickly forested peaks and valleys all around with some fields tended by local farmers. There is no better sight than to sit in the balconies and watch the rain turn the landscape rich green.
- The Accommodation: You have double rooms and suites in the old wing called the Retreat and five deluxe rooms in the new wing called the Cottage.
- The Cottage Rooms: Rooms with the perfect view of the valley around. Each has covered verandahs to sit around in, read books, drink tea and enjoy the views around including the setting sun. The rooms are quite big, with king beds and sofas. The room and the bath flooring are all wooden. The baths are well made with constant running water and geysers to give you hot water when you need. When making a booking, ask for rooms on the top floor. Their verandahs are totally private and you don’t hear the sound of people walking around above you.
- The Retreat: Slightly less plush than the new wing but charming anyway. You have rooms on two levels with a covered verandah running all along. The dining area is in this wing, as is a small library to borrow books from.
- Food: These guys seriously need to do something about the food. Their room rates always includes all three meals, unlimited tea and coffee and cooked snacks with evening tea. And each meal is better and more elaborate than the previous one. It is not heavy, cooked home style, and yet the fare is multi-cuisine. You get Indian, Chinese, Italian and Continental – not all together but by rotation – and it is amazing how their cooks can put such variation together in this wilderness. If you are out on a day hike, they will pack a meal to feed an Army. And all the food is hygienic, wholesome, well presented and tasty. They finally figured they need to cut down on the evening snack as some guests complained of being overfed, but it would invariably be met with howls of protest from at least some guests (including me) who wait all day for their dose of bondas, cutlets, French fries and pakodas.
- Electricity: Generators kick in when power snaps so you need not worry on this count.
- Water: Never does a disappearing act. But it is a matter of concern for the management though. They have had to lay out a water pipe a few miles long to get water to the camp but they are always nervous of it running out.
- Housekeeping: The best investment Banjara makes is in their washing machines. The bedsheets, duvets, pillows and towels always give that crisp, clean and fresh feel when the weather is cold and wet. Rooms are maintained well, and always feel clean. The staff never flinches if you ask for any additional service. They are thoughtful enough to leave a hot water bottle under the duvet every night to keep you extra warm.
- Activities: This is where the Banjara touch comes in. Having been set up by travel and adventure enthusiasts themselves, guests are never short of planned activities. These include guides taking you for hikes through forests, mountains and local villages, or mountain climbing or driving to different attractions. You can join groups already going or have them plan something exclusive for you. Their guides are full of information and anecdotes to make the experiences even more engaging. You can expect a bonfire in the evening at the camp, which is an opportunity to make friends over bar-be-cue snacks and drinks. They always have books, magazines and indoor games handy for guests.
The final word? Sojha is a heaven tucked away in a quiet corner and yet not too far from civilization for a quick trip too. And Banjara is the place to stay while you are there.
Disclosure: I became a fan of Banjara Camps properties before I became personal friends with the owners and some of their team members. So anything I write in praise is genuine, and precedes any reasons for positively biased reporting (not that I allow that to come into my writing).