While the tea gardens or the majestic view of Mount Kanchanjangha might be what steal the hearts of most visitors to Darjeeling, for me it was "Revolver" – a five-room lodge on the queen of the hills.
Although the lodge mentioned itself as "not a homestay", the bright orange and yellowish ambience, combined with the detail in every little artefact, furniture, and even the food, gave me the strongest possible vibe of a home away from home.
Add to that a good dose of The Beatles, and Revolver becomes a recipe for success.
Staying true to the theme of its namesake – the seventh studio album of The Beatles – Revolver is the first and the only lodge of its kind in Darjeeling.
When I planned to visit Darjeeling on the last week of May, I was searching for a budget accommodation because hotel rent usually skyrockets during the month, as it is the tourist season.
After browsing several travel websites and reading several travel blogs, I found a budget hotel that frequently made it to the list of top hotels and resorts in the area.
The relatively unknown Revolver gave me food for thought, as it featured alongside reputed four or five-star hotels like Windamare, Mayfare, Central Nirvana and Elgin.
I discovered that this five-room lodge was actually a themed lodge run by a couple. Each room in that lodge is named after the four members and the manager of Beatles – George, Jon, Paul and Ringo and manager Brian.
Looking at photos posted on its website, I figured that each room, as well as the lobby and the restaurant, were full of Beatles memorabilia. This is when I decided that this was where I had to stay during my visit.
I sent a mail to the hotel asking for a booking, who then replied and confirmed one within 24 hours, without any advance payment.
Unexpected amenities from a budget hotel
The entrance to the hotel was rather unassuming. It was through a narrow lane off Gandhi Road and by the side of Union Church. A small red board on the main road showed signs to the place, which one could easily miss if not mindful.
Just before the church's main gate, the lane turns right and an attractive mossy green building could be seen at the end. I had arrived at Revolver.
After I checked in to the lodge and stayed there for few days, I realized that Revolver made into that list of "top hotels" in Darjeeling for several reasons.
Firstly, the location. Conveniently located a few minutes away down Gandhi Road from Chowrasta – the heart of Darjeeling city, Revolver gives it lodgers the option to roam around quite easily.
Then comes the rooms, which are both simple yet excellent. From the reviews, I was not expecting much in terms of luxury there, but unlike many others in its category, Revolver keeps its rates fixed throughout the year.
The hotel does not even jack up the rates even during peak tourism season.
One thing I loved was the bed warmer. There was a control (remote like) which could be used to warm up the bed. It took about 40 minutes and when I slipped in under the blankets, it felt nice and warm.
This budget lodge also had overtaken the others in terms of providing running hot water in the bathrooms. Most other budget hotels provide limited hot water from 6am to 9am in the morning, which is controlled centrally. But Revolver provided geysers that did not operate on electricity, rather on LPG, i.e., gas cylinders.
Each room had a covered cylinder. I just needed to turn on the knob of the cylinder and that of the geyser and got instant hot water from the shower anytime of the day I wanted.
Aside from those, the entire lodge, including the rooms and the café, have free Wi-Fi.
The lodge also has a small restaurant where they serve local food, Naga, Chinese and Thai dishes.
They also serve one of the finest brewed coffees in Darjeeling. I later came to know that they have their own brand named "Darjeeling Altura". Revolver cafe buys local coffee cherries and beans, processes and roasts them in-house
What ultimately makes Revolver unique from just another hotel is its theme.
Revolver's owners, Vikash Pradhan and his wife Asenla, moved back to India from Kathmandu in 2009. Upon their return, they decided to renovate Asenla's grandfather's old house in Darjeeling, and make something of it.
"We thought we'd give it a shot. However, when we started in 2009, we had no plans of shifting to Darjeeling. But as things were to be, the situation got more unstable, so, we thought might as well return back home and that is when we thought up doing a lodge," Vikash told me.
They were given the option of building something for themselves on the first floor in lieu of renovating the existing structure. "We didn't have a lot of resources to start big and neither did we have a lot of space for something expansive. We had to make do with what we had, about 900+ sqft of space on the first floor."
Vikash said they were getting into something that they had never done before; it could be mundane and boring or it could be exciting. Since they had themselves at stake, they thought they would try doing something that they could be closely involved with it on a day-to-day basis, be passionate about it, and that is when they decided to base their lodge on a theme.
"The theme had to be something very Darjeeling and catchy. We thought flowers, seasons and a lot of other things, but they were either too diverse or mundane. Since we've had family members who've always been into music, and as a town too, music being an integral part of the local culture, we honed in on music.
"Having grown up on and weaned on a healthy dose of the Beatles, there couldn't be a better option than them."
Vikash said as youngsters, and as a family, they had bits and pieces of music memorabilia lying around – stickers, patches, posters and the lot. So, they had a few to start with, but, he said they have been very blessed to have relatives, friends and guests who generously contributed to the collection.
"In fact, as of now, for a lot of them, whenever they see any Beatles memorabilia, they think Revolver, and often end up sending the same to us."
The lodgers indeed get the taste of Beatlemania during their stay at Revolver.
Each room named after the members of the band has several records, videos, as well as pictures hung in the wall. The lobbies, both downstairs and upstairs, have the largest collections of books and albums on The Beatles.
Even the smallest items, like the table clocks, coasters, keyrings, and pads have Beatles pictures, logos or songs inscribed. Aside from the very good services from the owners and lodge staff and those unexpected amenities, the theme and its reflection all over the hotel were of course a pleasant thing for me.
When my three-day stay at Darjeeling came to an end, I could hear their song "Here comes the sun…little darling it's been a long and lonely winter," playing somewhere nearby – or maybe in the back of my mind – as I saw my last Darjeeling sunrise from the windows of Revolver.
Faisal Mahmud is a journalist based in Dhaka