Panchgani was first ‘discovered’ by John Chesson, a British civilian on the lookout for a village in the hills near Pune that would be ideally suited for a school town. British children were in fear of dying of the plague in Bombay, the capital of the important Bombay Presidency, and Chesson was entrusted with the task of finding a suitable village that could provide a clean, disease-free environment for the young. Panchgani’s crisp mountain air and friendly people were considered ideally suitable for such a village. Boarding schools were soon set up for these privileged children of the British in Western India. It was not long before the wealthy merchant princes of Bombay began seeking admission in these schools for their own children.
The story of Dhun Heta bungalow, Jena and Joy Cottages also begins with one such child‘s history. It begins with the schooling of a little girl named Manijeh Patell, the only child of a wealthy merchant stationed in faraway Aden (now Yemen). Considered too young to be left to fend for herself ina boarding school, 7 year old Manijeh was placed in the St. Joseph‘s Convent at the foot of Tableland in 1929 while her mother Tehmina lived with a retinue of servants at Dhun-Heta across the gates. Their home was then called Abbas Villa, named after the Nawab of Wai who had once owned it. The high point of their lives then, as Manijeh says, “was Papa Rustomjee‘s visit from Aden once every two years”.
Manijeh finished her schooling from the Convent and grew into a beautiful young woman when she met her future husband at a seaside resort near their ancestral home of Surat in Gujarat, also in western India. Manijeh and Boman married and their young family (Heta, Dhunrumi, Jena and Diana) lived for the most part in Baroda visiting Panchgani only during the summer. And while Heta, Dhunrumi and Jena went to day school in Baroda, Diana, the youngest, was aboarder at the Batha School in Panchgani.
Their love for their beautiful home in the hills never wavered. The bungalow you visit, therefore, is not a resort. It is our home.
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