2020 has been a difficult and challenging year for all of us with Covid keeping us all indoors and making us cancel all our travel plans. After nearly 8 months of being cooped up indoors, once the restrictions started easing up a bit, we decided to take a little holiday and after doing all my research, we decided that the safest place to go to would be Usha Ascot, Matheran – a place I call my second home because of the number of holidays we’ve had there.
Allow me to explain my choice – Usha Ascot is in Matheran, an eco-sensitive hill station 83km from Mumbai . While we desperately needed a holiday, we did not want to take any flights so wanted a destination within driving distance. We also packed our snacks for the trip and didn’t take any halts along the route. We could have gone to resorts in Karjat, Lonavala or Alibaug but with the pools being shut, there was no point in going there. I insisted on Matheran because of the open space, the greenery and the peace and quiet there. We also called up the resort and were told that there were no Covid cases in Matheran and that the whole resort had been cleaned and sanitised with all the necessary precautions being taken. When you enter Matheran, they make everyone sanitize their hands and note down the oxygen levels of each person. This is repeated when you reach the resort as well. All the staff at Usha Ascot wear masks and those at the reception wear face shields as well.
We have been going to Usha Ascot since around 15 years so of course, this place feels like second home. While it does not have the kind of luxury one would associate with a chain hotel, it offers the luxury of nature, peace and calm along with the warmth of feeling “at home”. They have spacious rooms and suites and lovely villas for larger groups of people, a lot of open space for kids to play, a kids’ play area, an open badminton court and indoor games room with table tennis, carrom and foosball, a spa and a discotheque as well as a banquet hall. Of course, they have a pool too, which is shut currently as per the government mandate, and – the thing I love the most – swings around the pool area. What more does one need for a relaxing holiday?
When I say that Usha Ascot is like second home, I mean it even in terms of food – the delicious taste of home cooked meals served with warmth and love, and mostly desi (and pure vegetarian. They do have a bar though). The breakfast spread includes South Indian staples such as idli / uttapam / medu wada along with upma / poha and of course toasts and cereals. Lunch is a hearty, siesta inducing thali while dinner is a mix of Punjabi, Chinese, chaat and street food.
Under normal circumstances, the breakfast and dinner were always arranged as a buffet by the poolside. It’s fun eating under the shade of the trees in the mellow winter sunshine keeping an eye out for the monkeys who will try to grab a toast off your plate if you aren’t careful. Dinner times by the poolside were always with live entertainment with Mr. Khan singing ghazals ever since my first trip to Usha Ascot.
During these Covid times, because of government restrictions and shortage of staff, all meals were served indoors, either in the dining hall or, when there were more people, in the banquet hall to maintain social distancing. To maintain hygiene, the food was served by the staff only. (I believe they have resumed the al-fresco breakfasts and dinners from Diwali onwards.)
My favourite time to go to Usha Ascot has always been for New Year’s Eve because parents and kids can all party together . The resort is beautifully lit up for the festivities, the weather is just perfect and there are several activities, games and parties for kids and adults. The picture below does absolutely no justice to how pretty the whole resort looks in the twilight when all the twinkling lights are turned on.
This year, more than any other, I feel the best, and safest, place to celebrate Christmas / New Year is Usha Ascot. In that safe cocoon, you get a temporary respite from the stress of Coronavirus. Who knows, I might just end up having another little holiday there before 2020 is over.