Shangri-la has been described as a paradise on earth in James Hilton’s classic “Lost Horizon” and for those in Kathmandu, Shangri-la Hotel is “your private paradise”.
A chance meeting in 1975,between Shyam Bahadur Pandey and Desmond Doig, (then in Kathmandu covering the coronation of King Birendra for the Junior Statesman), led to a concept for a dream hotel. Thus was born the 50-room Shangri-la hotel. “There is a famous Pipal tree in New Road where we used to meet our friends and spend the evenings there, chatting. One of our mutual friends, Utpal Sengupta introduced me to Desmond who was then staying at Hotel Makalu,” says Pandey, Chairman and owner of Shangri-La. He adds, “The concept of making Shangri-La was finalized by then. Since Desmond’s background in landscaping was unparalleled at the time and the fact that he loved the Nepali community, its people and the natural surroundings, made him the perfect person to make my dream of building Shangri-La a reality.” But how long did it take to complete the project? “To realize my dream took a long time and we took our time. But each accomplishment was a big victory for me,” says Pandey with a tone of satisfaction. In the last 25 years, the hotel underwent massive expansion, and Shangri-La today boasts over 100 rooms including apartments, suites and a whole new business floor. But that was not all for Pandey.
Their award winning Shambala Garden offers tranquility and peace of mind for Pandey, who confesses that the garden is a “refuge” for him especially during his “troubled hours”. Today he is a proud owner of their chain of Hotels (in Kathmandu and Pokhara) and father of the present Executive Director, Pravin Pandey. How does he feel about passing on the legacy to his son? “I thought it was time for me to shift to higher grounds and give my son total freedom to work his way. It feels really good to see how fast Pravin has learnt and taken complete responsibility of the business.” Any plans for the future? “Absolutely,” says Shyam Pandey. “As of now I can only say that something much bigger is in the pipeline, but it’s definitely going to be in the tourism sector.”
This July marked Shangri-La’s 25th anniversary and the hotel celebrates its journey of a quarter of a century with their guests, staff, clients and the Lazimpat community. As part of their celebration some events and schemes for their clients have been held or implemented while more have been planned for the coming months until September, when they will have a gala bash for the grand finale. The highlights of the program will be food and culture.
Looking back on the programs, their first event on July 4th was probably the best way of starting the celebration where the staff dressed in traditional Nepali clothes, served their oldest menu ala carte with rates from 25 years ago. This was followed by “Mafia Lunch”, a feast for those Italian food lovers on July 10th and 11th. The fiesta continued with a Day with Rajiv, cooking demonstration by their executive chef followed by hi tea for ASMAN and AAA ladies at the award winning Shambala garden. Going the Hong Kong way was “Enter the Dragon” on July 17th and 18th where customers savored Chinese delicacies for lunch and dinner at the Shambala Café, which came along with a free session of swimming in the hotel pool. “Maharaja’s Masti”, a typical Indian ambience on July 24th and 25th at the café during lunch hour, was yet again a treat especially for tandoor and kabab relishers.
Switching the mood from food to fun, Shangri-la in collaboration with eventnepal.com came up with a night of Salsa with Deepak Bajracharya and Raju Lama enthralling the patrons with live music at the Shambala Garden. The upcoming events in August include G&R (Grills and Roasts) a fusion of continental, Nepali, Indian and oriental cuisine on August 1st and Choo Choo Train, a kids carnival with hi tea. The event will feature a number of games and the launch of their Birthday package and Khel Garden. An art exhibition with exciting gift hampers too is on the cards for kids on August 14th 2004.
What more? Discounts and happy hours at Horizon and Jazz Bar until August 15th and that’s not all. They have already started a welfare committee and a welfare fund for their employees and also have plans for some social work with Jiwan Kalyan Kendra and the institute for mentally challenged children besides blood donation programs. The celebrations will culminate in a grand finale, the big bash in September.
Their excellent service and attention to the finest details is perhaps why Shangri-la is still a unique hotel. When asked to share some of his special moments in the Hotel, Shyam Pandey concludes, “Every day is a special moment for me because each and every guest at the hotel brings with him or her, a wonderful and special experience.” No wonder the guest book reads… “Absolutely first class”-a compliment by Everest hero Sir Edmund Hillary and “This is the pleasantest hotel I have ever been in with the most agreeable company inside it” by Dame Freya Stark, international explorer.
Interview with Pravin Pandey
How is Shangri-la celebrating its 25th Anniversary?
A long-term program has been planned and it began on July 1st. We wanted to remember all the people who were involved in establishing this hotel twenty-five years ago. We went to visit Desmond Doig’s resting place at the British Cemetery. We have had joint programs with the community of Lazimpat and there’s still more to come. We had programs like street cleaning, and refurbishing of parks. We are organizing athletics events, physical development/training program for our employees. We are honoring people who have supported us in the last 25 years. Then of course, we will have a grand finale in September. On July 4th we had the program “Back in Time” when we served the oldest menu of the hotel. One of the programs planned with Jiwan Kalyan Kendra is to give the kids a big bhoj with a gift for each child. We are supporting the mentally challenged children. We are taking the top 25 supporters of Hotel Shangri-la to Pokhara for a special celebration program. We are celebrating with our clients, supporters, staff as well as the community of Lazimpat. The celebrations will go on for three months and culminate in the big party in September.
What can be done to counter the slump in tourism?
We were the first to come up with in-house packages. We had the slogan “Cheaper than staying at home.” Our target group was the expats. Then we have the ‘Monsoon Madness’, which is primarily for local Nepalese as well as expats. The Nepalese market is very strong but they don’t plan ahead. Such packages force them to plan ahead. Our “Jaunhai Pokhara” was a very successful program. For buying the package we gave them credit cash, which they could use in any facility within the hotel.
What are the significant changes that Shangri-la has been through in the last 25 years? What are your future plans?
In 25 years this hotel has grown from a small 50-room hotel to one with 100 rooms. We had no sister concern; now we have one in Pokhara, the ‘Pokhara Village’. If all goes well and according to plan, we will add two more properties in the future. We will establish a resort in Begnas, Pokhara targeting up-market people who come for peace and serenity. Begnas is underdeveloped but well preserved. We will build an eco-friendly resort that will help the local community. Besides employment, they will also benefit in other ways because we will buy vegetables and other commodities from them. We want to live in Pokhara and support the local community. The present resort in Pokhara is a copy of a Gurung village.We will develop a similar resort in Chitwan.
At present are hotels more dependent on parties and conferences?
F & B activities are very strong. More conferences are being held in Kathmandu than before due to security reasons. So we see a lot of people come here from other parts of Nepal to hold talks and other programs. But this should change once the situation improves in the country.
What can NTB or the Government do to improve tourism in Nepal?
I am at present the chairman of PATA and we organize a lot of events around the world. We work hand in hand with NTB. NTB’s primary problem is their budget. It is dependent on tourism, as the fund is collected directly from the tourism industry. With the slump in tourism the funds are low. We want the Govt. to match the fund raised by the private sector and to do more promotion. Nepal does very little promotion outside. In fact there should be more promotion when tourism is low. If this is done there will definitely be improvement.