The Shangrila Murree Resort is an idyllic paradise tucked away in the foothills of snow-clad peaks
There had to be an option between seedy government facilities and the PC Bhurban, which is breeding ground for the kind of people you leave the city to avoid in the first place. But having tried countless options in Murree over the years (without being too impressed by even a single one of them) we were not convinced when someone recommended the Shangrila Murree Resort as a rare five-star facility around. There was a sense of skepticism when we turned into the resort that is perched on a hilltop. The sight that welcomed us was quite a pleasant surprise.
Snow clad and scented with the fragrance of sharp, crisp pines, the Shangrila was lit up with gentle garden lights and painted a pleasant, welcoming picture when we drove in. Children and women frolicked in the snow as the resort staff hurriedly threw rock salt on the slope to avoid people and vehicles skidding on the icy ascent to the parking lot. There were ten of us, traveling from Lahore and Islamabad, two cities that are suffering power and gas outages. We did not expect anything better up here so the toasty corridors were an unbelievable luxury. You can imagine the degree of shock our system suffered (or rather enjoyed) when the restroom facilities offered endlessly flowing hot water. Goodbye buckets, hello hot showers! I have to add a note on the bed linen, which was white, fluffy and fragrant. I don’t think I’ve been this comfortable in hotel quilts anywhere in Pakistan’s underdeveloped northern areas.
The Shangrila is actually a two decades old resort and is owned and maintained by Ms Yasmin Kazmi, daughter of Brigadier Aslam Khan who set it up back in the nineties. It is run like a world-class facility (with prices to match) and is a relief for tourists who don’t mind paying for the services. Offering forty rooms in three distinct standards, the Shangrila also harbours a trendy Huqqa Paani Lounge, which fires two blazing bonfires (at an additional cost) every evening. There is also a Billiard Room and a dining facility where you can book and prepare live barbeques. The regular dining area is perched a little higher up and offers wholesome, tasty and hygienic meals. Again, it’s all quite expensive - a double room comes with free breakfast but can cost over PKR 15,000 per night. I have to say the cost was worth every penny.
The Shangrila resort was an uplifting, happy place. We found cheerful tourists interspersed throughout the area; it’s always reassuring to be surrounded by your own kind. The one downside to PC Bhurban is its saturation and invasion of the nouveau riche who continue to flaunt their baubles and riches even when in the wilderness. The Shangrila, in comparison, was refreshingly down-to-earth. What more, the staff was courteous and helpful. I encountered lukewarm water one morning but one call to room service resulted in some sharp knocks on the geysers and a gush of piping hot water as a result. Elegant radiators in the rooms maintained a temperature that was more than comfortable. So when cold and wild December winds whistled through the trees every morning, one had to appreciate the generous warmth of the resort.
Breakfast was another delight. The practical menu boasted halwa puris, parathas an option of eggs, juices and bread. Pickles and achar were served with fresh yoghurt and the attendants hustled and bustled in service with a steaming cup of tea in hand. When flurries of snow flutter on the windowsills there’s nothing more comforting than a cup of good, strong tea in hand. Let me correct that, actually. Even better than the tea were mugs of sweet and decadent hot chocolate, ordered and enjoyed around the bonfire every evening. I must say that the facilities at Shangrila were world class and I would happily go there again.