A home away from home, ‘The Retreat’, Bhimtal

While I was looking for homestays during my last summer’s travels to Uttarakhand, I had stumbled upon ‘The Retreat’, Bhimtal. They were sold out, but I was already in love with the place. I am a daydreamer and often last year I kept visualizing myself at the quaint colonial homestay. This year, when I started working on my project of waste management, (where I am working with the village women to remove waste from the world ecosystem and convert it into something useful and beautiful; adding livelihood and pride to lives of village women), the first place that I had written on my list was Bhimtal. Though, I am still at the primary stage of the project, I wanted to visit Bhimtal, to look at the villages around.

I had quite a few e-mail communications and telephonic conversations with Padmini Smetacek, the host at ‘The Retreat’, Bhimtal, about my accomodation and I got some good vibes. There are times, when you do not need to see something to believe in it, the energies that you receive are convincing enough. This is so true to this place. My general OCD-self was completely relaxed before reaching this place. From the moment I reached, and all over my stay, I promise, this has been the best experience of a homestay.

Away from the constructions surrounding the Bhimtal lake and nestled in the foothills of the Kumaon’s Lake District, amidst a forest estate, ‘The Retreat’, Bhimtal is a home away from home. It takes a lot of things for me to call something ‘home’, and this place has everything to call it a ‘home’. It is an old British bungalow, maintained well, keeping the historical feel alive. If you love to unwind, wake up to the chirps of birds, get excited at the sight of colourful blooms, soak in the sun, smell the rain,  feel the pebbles under your feet, read and daydream, gaze at the starry night and paint stories in your mind, this place is for you. So, if this summer, you are looking for some digital detoxification, pack your bags and head to ‘The Retreat’, Bhimtal. For queries and bookings, contact  http://www.theretreatbhimtal.in/

I have travelled to Kumaon, Uttarakhand quite a few times, but every time I fall in love with the place like an old wine in a new bottle. I believe it is not only the place, but it’s the people who make the place. And this time, I give all the credit to the host and her family at ‘The Retreat’, Bhimtal. I think my descriptions would fall short to describe how enchanting the place is and you should make time for a visit to experience it all by yourself; and you would not regret it.

This place looks exactly like my childhood sketches, an old bungalow amidst pine, cedar and oak, filled with flowers and all plants I could name. It is the place I would think of, if I ever write a fairy tale. There is a ridge behind the homestay where you could go for leisurely walks, I enjoyed most of the mornings and evenings, watching the sunrise and the sunset while walking on the ridge. Breakfast used to be lavish affairs in the verandah, getting childlike excitement at the sight of colourful birds of varied species. If you are a bird or butterfly spotter, this is the perfect place. You have your complete privacy to sit and drown in your thoughts or choose to unfurl the artist in you. Or you may join for long conversations in the evenings with the host about her family’s splendid history. The best part for foodies like me is you are spoilt by exotic homemade food from locally sourced vegetables and meat. The taste will always linger in my soul. The family makes the best food and will give any Michelin star restaurant run for their money. From shakshuka, to kadi chawal, from pot chicken roast to focaccia bread, from lemon cheesecake to pumpkin soup, they make food that you will crave once you leave this place. The best part, surviving all odds, the host and her family is always smiling, warm and eager to help you out. They will guide you for walks to the Sattal lake, arrange a cab to nearby villages, make you rhododendron juice when you are back from a hike. They will even spill the beans about some secret spots nearby, which you can explore.

The home and the people breathe an atmosphere of comfort and peace. This is a  perfect get-away for nature lovers, botanists and entomologists, bird watchers, yoga and meditation enthusiasts, trekkers, walkers, campers, couch potatoes, dreamers, artists, and writers. If you are looking for a laid-back atmosphere, with the world class hospitality, this place is a must visit. I appreciate innocence, I appreciate an organic growth. And this is something you will find in abundance here. The kids of the family are so well-behaved and so full of love that it moved me. I feel sad, that in cities these days we are losing that innocent, unadulterated charm in the younger generation. I definitely love to travel to explore a new place, but it’s more because of the people like of ‘The Retreat’, Bhimtal; there is always so much to learn from them.

The family strives consistently to conserve the forest and wildlife in the area. If you are planning to visit this place, please travel responsibly and respect the privacy of the host as well.

The parts of Bhimtal I explored during this trip, we will talk about it in my next post, because I have already started daydreaming of ‘The Retreat’ again. I celebrated my  birthday here. When Padmini, got to know about it, she baked me a cake and I had the most heartfelt celebrations in years. More than work, I relaxed here and on the day of departure, I didn’t feel like getting back, but with the hopes of going back sometime soon for a family vacation, I think of this place and the people fondly.

Every place stays with us, but some are special. Which is the best place that you have been to which you can call home?

 

I travel solo in India, and I feel safe

In the current scenario of India, it is very strange on my part to come up with this article. I feel ashamed, helpless and angered by the increasing number of rape cases in the country. It has given me sleepless nights and at times I have wondered if I should reschedule my travel plans. But holding on to my urge to travel, I didn’t allow my fear to overpower me. I travelled solo this month and I have been doing this since I was eighteen. I travel solo in India and I feel safe. I wish no one goes through the horrendous situation and everyone feels safe, be at home or in a distant land. As a traveller, I would tell you how and why I feel safe for solo travels in India.

1Carry a self-defence equipment

To be on the safer side, I always carry a self defence equipment, even when I am travelling within the cities. I still carry a pepper spray and have even upgraded to a taser gun. I make sure to place them in the most conveniently reachable part of my bag. And if you know any self-defence art, it’s cherry on the cake.

2. Dress according to the culture

I have always been a rebel about wearing clothes and have never stuck to the conventions of Indian society about my dressing. But while you are travelling, it is always wise to dress according to the culture of the place and not hurt the sentiments of the locals. That does no way mean that a dress invites a crime. I am totally against the notion. But I like to dress comfortably and according to the local culture. That doesn’t even mean wearing a kurta or a saree while you are hiking in the jungle. I prefer wearing t-shirts and tracks. I would suggest to wear anything that doesn’t grab attention. While travelling in a rainforest, I would not like to be in my LBD or stilettos, I would rather be in something that is comfortable for a hike and not seeking attention.

3. You will meet people who will worry for your safety

When we have a perception about something or someplace, we tend to think of the place like the way we have read. It’s better to ignore the perception, let go of your jitters and be on the road and experience. You will know how to avoid the nasty ones. And don’t you think we will meet jerks if we are living in the comfort of our city lives? You meet them at nightclubs, schools, colleges. Avoid them. This time, when I was staying at Ginger Hotel in Delhi, because I had to catch the early morning train, I was a bit worried to walk or to take a cab to the station alone before sunrise, though the New Delhi Railway Station is a 3 mins walk from the hotel. So, I asked the person at the reception to help me with a security guard who could give me company to walk to the station in the early hours of the morning. I am grateful to the employees at Ginger for being sensitive about the issue. On my return journey, my train was to reach the Old Delhi railway station at 4 o clock in the morning. The lady of the homestay, where I was staying, informed me that there is a McDonald’s outlet at Platform No 1 and asked me to wait there till there is daylight. This information was helpful and I did accordingly. People are nice to solo travellers, especially female travellers all over the world and in India people really worry about you and want you to be safe.

4. You will find ‘women-only’ everything

From the queues at bus depots, to seats at metro rails, you will find ‘women-only’ everything. You will find cabs driven by women to homestay run by women. When I booked the first class train compartment  and got up in the train from Kathgodam, I was worried to find the entire compartment empty. I panicked for a moment. I sat on my berth hoping that the cabin shouldn’t be filled with men. And thankfully, the cabin was reserved for three other women, solo travellers. Later, we discussed we all had shared the same worries. Happily, we made our night journey discussing everything and even reached safely.

5. People in India are friendly

Of travelling over the years, I have always found people in India to be friendly and caring. They would take you to your home and feed you with the humblest meal, but would not allow you to stay hungry. What we consider as over-peering neighbours at times, turns out to be the most life-saving people in the country. They will constantly remind you to be safe, not to be vulnerable to strangers and will always permit you to contact them for emergencies.

Leave your jitters at home, tie your shoe laces. Sitting at home, worrying over the perceived notion of the world would not lead to any experience. Work towards a better and safe place and walk fearlessly.

 

Itachuna Rajbari: A Weekend Getaway

Itachuna Rajbari, literally meaning brick and lime palace, was built in 1766 by the Kundu family who supposedly descended from the Bargis, the dreaded Maratha clan who invaded and looted Bengal time and again annually for a decade (1740s to 1750s). They were originally, “Kundaan” clan but since the time they settled, they embraced local culture and through word of mouth, it has become “Kundu”. In the present day, you can experience living in a heritage house.

A few steps from Kalyani across the river Ganges you will wade into the heritage Hooghly district. People from different places came and settled here. You will  find the elegeant monuments of the Portugese colonies in Bandel. Apart from that, you will find heritage of Dutch, French and Greeks. There are confluence of regional races & cultures too. Jains adored the place and even Pathans admired and left their traces here.

This heritage mansion is in thee village Itachuna, originally known as Bargi Danga. After the downfall of Mughal era, after the death of Aurangageb, Marathas became powerful. Many a times they used to attack Bengal,Bihar & Orissa. The erect watch-towers  from Singur to  Arra, Purulia witnessed the threat of Maratha warriors locally called Bargis centuries back.  Bargis used to come, loot and collect taxes. However, many of them never left Bengal and began to settle here embracing local culture. A sect entitled “Kundaan” settled in the remote village of Hooghly now known as Itachuna. They amassed  huge wealth and property by their wit and strength. Subsequently they became powerful zamidars/rajas of the locality. Over times they lost their original identity of Kundans, it turned to Bengali title Kundu.. They cultivated Bengali culture, Bengali cuisines, Bengali language and local deities. They became friend, guide and protector of local people here. They were pious and liberal. Their behaviour towards local people became a folklore even heard at the nook and corners of Itachuna. Still, people in the village put them on a pedestal.

The palace was made by ita (bricks) and lime (chun) and hence it was called Itachuna Rajbari. The majestic, splendid architecture and structure is intact  although it is about 250 years old. Currently, a part of it is being used as heritage-stay.
The Vishnu temple within the palace is  another attraction of the palace. Still now the deity is worshipped.
The caretaker of this place was guiding me to the artefacts kept for visitors. When I was exploring the huge property, its nooks and crannies and the rustic stairways at times I thought I was lost and couldn’t remember the pathways, but I was lost for a better reason, I was blissfully disconnected from the urban jungle and digital connectivity. The palace is a self-contained entity. There are rooms for royal families. There are space for amusement and dances. The visiting room has a magnificent outlook .
A night stay here will  certainly refresh your mind. If you spend seeing the village from the roof, you will stumble upon delightful oddities, when the afternoon gives way to dusk.

This place is just the perfect getaway if you are looking for a quiet, peaceful and scenic weekend. Away from everyday chaos this is the place to just be. The areas around the Rajbari is green and there are quite a few water bodies around it and one within it. It is a perfect place to rest, recuperate, and spend time enjoying nature, good food, and music! Yes, music of the flute variety! There is a person who comes in every morning and evening and he plays the flute. It was a lovely experience and somehow added to the ambience!

In the evening I was provided a tour of the Rajbari and the areas around it.
To sum up, it was a great experience to spend a weekend indulging in history and gorging on delicious Bengali food.

The rooms are pretty good. The experience of staying in a house over 300 years old with so much of  history was quite something! At present, mud huts have been built near the waterbody and people can experience night stay even there. The mud hut are each named after different flowers.

The food was excellent. They served Bengali food and the menu is fixed. You can choose between veg and non-veg food. The spread was very good. If you want to taste authentic Bengali cuisine this could be the perfect place and setting to experience it. You get to experience eating on old traditional dinnerwares and feel royal.

If you live in Kolkata and don’t know where to go next weekend, try to visit Itachuna. For more details you can visit the website of the Itachuna Rajbari: http://www.itachunarajbari.com/

Do not visit Itachuna Rajbari if you are looking for hotel-like amenities and modern comforts.
Come visit if you want to meet characters lost in a time gone by in a sleepy little town that houses a mansion full of charm for those that seek it.

Have you ever stayed in an old mansion?

Best Markets in India

We live in a world, high on digitalization. Everything that is a necessary or a luxury, is a click or two away. Being offline is the new luxury. The idea to go to the market, to procure the essentials, seems from the historic age. I have noticed, these days, when after months, I go out to the market, I am grappled with some kind of discomfort. Still, the flea markets have an unadulterated charm and attract dozens of crowds. Watching people, to purchasing handmade trinkets, relishing the aroma of spices wafting into the air or the unruly racket of experienced hagglers, a flea market is an experience that will leave you with history and culture of the place.

I have travelled quite a bit within India and while travelling, I make sure to visit the flea markets, get into the skin of the place. From my observations, I have rounded up the best flea markets in India, for you.

Colaba Causeway, Mumbai

The one-stop-shop for everything, this is a shopper’s paradise.You will find clothing, second hand jewellery, handicrafts, books, souvenirs, bags, name it and you will find it. Tourists are attracted to this colourful bustling market and even the locals flock this place.

Chor Bazaar, Mumbai

You might think Chor Bazaar’s name to be derived from the fact that it’s a thieves’ market, that is absolutely not very different from the truth. Originally, the market was actually called Shor Bazaar, but that quickly got corrupted because the British pronounced it as ‘Chor.’ The name stuck, and India inherited the mispronunciation. The shopkeepers at the bazaar have been true to the reputation, though, and if your haggling skills are good you can find some of the best second hand antiquities and trinkets in abundance.

Laad Bazaar, Hyderabad

It is situated in an alley. Visually vivid, this place is famous for beautiful and colourful bangles, semi-precious stones, pearls and other jewellery.

Arpora Saturday Night Market, Goa

This is more of a carnival than a flea market. It is open only on Saturday nights and you will find clothes, handmade accessories, shoes, bags, home decor and a lot more. To add to it there is street food and live music. This is an experience that I highly recommend.

Sarojini Nagar, Delhi

You must experience shopping at this place once. With the best of available fashion in a bargainable price, this place will enchant you. I have bought the best of international brands clothes in less than half the price fro here.

Parry’s Corner, Chennai

A world of colours, this place is packed with people.  You can pick anything from books to clothes to everyday household items.  You need to daunt your way through the crowd.

Johari Bazaar, Jaipur

Johari Bazaar is a place where five hundred stores call it a home and it caters to every mood and every need. From jewels, gems, precious stones, to just traditional Rajasthani gold jewelry, the market is full of skilled artisans with generations of experience in the field, which helps them find the best match for you. To add to that, the other markets like Bapu Bazaar and Nehru Bazaar, are in the surrounding where you can find gorgeous garbs as well. You need to sip into the  lassi at and everything is a perfect equation.

Anjuna Flea Market, Goa

Every flea market has its own story and Anjuna’s is rather fascinating. There’s a story that the Anjuna Flea Market was started decades ago by a bunch of hippies who created handcrafted merchandise that helped them fund their stay in Goa. Today, the market only operates on Wednesdays and has the best merchandise from all around the country available at multifarious stalls that are set up by locals in the area. This flea market is complete with delicious street food and amazing live performances to go with the shopping.

Ima Market, Manipur

It  is one of the oldest markets in India, and even the spectacular one too. Ima Market, is run solely by thousands of women, making it Asia’s largest (and in all probability, one of a kind) all-women’s market. The self-dependent women sell everything from handicrafts to fish in a remarkable setting that is simply unheard of and hard to find elsewhere. In fact, its origins are said to date back to the 16th century, making it one of oldest women empowerment movements in the country.

Dilli Haat, Delhi

The word ‘haat‘ is used to describe a market in many parts of rural India. Dilli Haat, essentially, is a traditional rural market. Situated in the south of the chaotic capital, the ‘haat’ has been operational since 1994 and has various exclusive and exotic handicrafts on offer that showcase the talent of the many skilled artisans and the terrific detailing and intricacies with which they work. You can experience many cultural and musical performances while shopping in the market.

Chandni Chowk, Delhi

Built in the 17th century by Shah Jahan and designed by his daughter Jahan Ara, it remains one of India’s largest and busiest markets. You will find the most  freshly made Indian sweets, the taste of which will linger in your mouth, the Chowk is also famous for home decor items, various fabrics, junk jewelry, as well as electronics.

Sardar Market, Jodhpur

Situated a stone’s throw away from the famous Mehrangarh Fort, the panoply of the market will quickly have you under its spell. You will find mojris, handicrafts, textiles, bangles, and even unadulterated spices by and you can get them for a good deal, if you are good at bargaining.

Janpath Market, Delhi

Janpath is one of the most impressive flea markets. The name literally translates to the people’s path, and the kilometer-and-a-half stretch runs perpendicular to the Rajpath (the rulers’ path). The market is famous for its Kashmiri Pashmina Shawls, Kurtis, Himalayan and Tibetan products, as well as the many ebullient hawkers who sell a bunch of baubles and gimmicks.

New Market, Kolkata

The New Market in Kolkata was constructed in 1874 simply because the British colonists refused to rub shoulders with the Indian populace at markets. The New Market has endured two major fires, regular flooding, and an exotic pet-trading business that was only uncovered and stopped in the mid-70s. It’s 2000 stalls sell everything from marble counters, saris, and crockery to Nahoum & Sons’ cakes that patrons have enjoyed for well over a century.

Jew Town, Cochin

India was home to many Jewish people who lived peacefully in the country for over two centuries. Post 1948, many chose to move to Israel, but the few who chose to stay in Cochin own a majority of the shops in this market called Jew Town. The last known surviving Jews in the area make a living by selling spices, perfumes, shawls, handcrafted products, jewelry, and other similar products from around the country.

 

Mawlynnong, The cleanest village that transformed my opinions 360 degrees about North-East


Till 2016, I considered of northeast India as poorer China, where people eat noodles and momo and lead an unhygienic lifestyle. My premonition grew from the pupils of north-east who comes down to study in urban centres, a considerable part of them living in Kolkata (that’s the closest metropolitan city to northeast India). If I wouldn’t have travelled to the north-east, which I wasn’t particularly eager upon, but ended up travelling alone, I would have never known about the jewelled beauty of our land. Now when I consider, I feel embarrassed about my subjective attitude and the way we treat north-east India as a detached body from the full country. Many other touristy places in India is not preserved well, and it doesn’t make me extremely honoured to claim, it’s often, we Indians who are culpable for causing dirt and transforming the place into a commercial hub. I was thinking the same for the North-East, but I was left dumbfounded and appalled. In my North-East trip, I explored Arunachal Pradesh which was a complete pleasure for the eyes and mind. But the place that left me to reevaluate my opinions, instilled me to explore more of real India and altered the traveller in me is Mawlynnong in Meghalaya. I was an Indian who was a touristy person and was more keen on travelling overseas. The charm of the place, the beauty of people and their drive to keep the place clean brought an upheaval in me. I commenced travelling the rural India to explore it and to understand the real country beyond cities, urbanization. This inspired me to encourage responsible travelling. A tourist transformed into a traveller. But yes this is not about me. This is about Mawlynnong, a village in East Khasi Hills district of the state of Meghalaya, India. It was awarded the “Cleanest Village in Asia” in 2003 and till date, it has retained the recognition of its award.

After spending few days in Shillong, I could not wait to reach and spend some time in this village, away from the urban jungle. I had heard a lot about the two-tier living root bridge but it takes 4 hours to trek down. My schedule was tight. I wasn’t informed, there was another single tier living root bridge at Mawlynnong. When I reached, the first thing I wanted to have breakfast. At a dead-end and there were two small huts. I was sipping water from a mineral water bottle. When I wound up, a boy turned and gently advised me of putting the bottle in a waste bin located near. I was dumbfounded by his attention and sensitivity. Then he escorted me inside the village. I walked on the cobbled road flanked with thatched Khasi huts and moved past the gardens adorned with colourful blooms. Not only is this the cleanest village but one of the prettiest that I have seen. To keep the village clean there is a bamboo basket outside every house. I was greeted warmly in the guest house made of bamboo. The best part was I was in a digital detoxification mode amidst the luxury of nature, there was no internet. After my lunch, I went out for a walk and hiked down to the most spectacular natural bridges made of roots of gigantic rubber tree. The roots make a pathway cross a stream. The hardy roots have grown to form a cantilevered and intertwined mesh helping villagers to commute. I was astounded to be face-to-face with one of the living root bridges. This place is also kept clean and I was in awe to see kids walking up and down removing fallen leaves and carrying water bottles for hikers. What took me 45 mins to hike up back to the village, took less than 30 mins for the kids. They guided me back to the village because it started raining. I realise it’s the simplicity and the warmth of the people that make Mawlynnong special. They were beaming with happiness while serving me early dinner of rice, dal, potato and red chillies.Cleanliness is a way of life here. All houses have functional washrooms, plastic bags are banned, smoking is prohibited. The rules are strictly followed and defaulters are charged heavily. The village gets its own manure which is converted from the garbage dug into a pit. People not only keep their houses clean, they step out to sweep roads and plant trees, which is a part of their lifestyle. I was surprised in a very pleasant way to know, here the children of the family get their mother’s surname and the wealth is passed down from the mother to the youngest daughter of the family. It’s a living example of women empowerment and the village has acquired 100 percent literacy rate.Since this village is on the India-Bangladesh border, we are able to view the landscapes of Bangladesh as well from the place. They have constructed an 85 feet high viewing tower, but what’s special is the tower is made of bamboo and you will be overwhelmed with breathtaking views.What we expect in an urban society, but fail to achieve, Mawlynnong has achieved it all. There is cleanliness and there is simplicity. It teaches you a way of life. It makes you think. It instils the urge in you to achieve what you dream of. The only thing that I left the place with is respect. The trip and the place lingered in my mind for days. If India is so beautiful and simple, the one that I have always craved for, I need to explore each and every part of it. This journey not only changed my mindset about North-East India but also as a person. I am not only in awe of the beauty of the place but I have become a traveller, travelling to the remotest corners of India, discovering it like never before. In my later posts, I will tell you stories about the unseen India, which is more than the crowded streets, the colourful markets and the Taj Mahal. And most importantly, the visit to this place, Mawlynnong, had given me the drive to promote responsible travelling in different parts of India. You may ask me what is responsible travelling, by responsible travelling I mean :

• Pack your bags with environmentally friendly things. Carry as little plastic as possible.
• Do not leave behind any non-biodegradable waste.
• What you wear has an impact – environmentally and culturally – dress ethically and appropriately.
• Respect the local culture and refrain from physical intimacy in public places.
• Carry a good water bottle. Purified drinking water is available at homestays and hotels for filling your bottles. Refrain from buying numerous plastic mineral water bottles.
• Local food is great. Try it as much as possible and avoid packaged food. Ask for modifications in the food according to your taste, instead of wasting it.
• Avoid excessive consumption of alcohol and refrain from drugs, especially in public places.
• Seek permission before photographing people, so their privacy is respected.
• Do not pluck any medicinal plants & flowers, and do not disturb the wildlife. It’s a broad concept. In my other stories, you will read about it more. The main concern of mine is zero-waste living and travelling.

Mawlynnong not only mesmerises you with its natural beauty but also in its endeavour to maintain one.I am sure, most European countries and other developed nations strive and achieve in doing so. But India is an overpopulated nation, still is behind in the race. But if you have a will there is a way. This place is the example for that. To those who fear of travelling to India because of its crowd, pollution and waste littering everywhere, we are working towards responsible travelling and if you want to visit the real India, life in its truest form, put your guards down and travel, I promise, you will want to visit again.

Off-beat Destinations in Himachal Pradesh: A home has a heartbeat

You cannot turn people into homes. This myth got busted while travelling to the off-beat destinations in Himachal Pradesh. I always thought people are rivers, ever changing, ever flowing. During my recent travel, I learnt homes do have a heartbeat.

  • Experience peace & tranquility while living in the lap of nature at Kotgarh

This little village is the perfect interlude from the city as well as the over crowded hill stations during the summers. Kotgarh is the heart of Himachal’s Apple Orchard Country, it is where the famous Samuel Stokes began the apple boom. It is about 70 Km ahead of the state capital, Shimla and about 15kms from Narkanda, which is famous for skiing during the winters. The further you move ahead of Shimla, you realize that you have left the tourists far behind and reached a peaceful region with astounding views all around. Surrounded by apple orchards, and the simplicity of village life, Apple Orchard Homestay at Kotgarh offers all the urban comforts that we city dwellers are accustomed yet maintaining its old world charm.

There are  tastefully done wooden cottages, each with a shared long balcony overlooking the apple orchards and a breathtaking view of the mountains. I had spent hours just sitting in the balcony and gazing into horizon. There is a suite with an attic and a room in the old house as well.

A common dining room below one of the wooden cottage rooms serves delicious meals cooked by the homestay helps in the supervision of Meenakshi.

Breakfasts are typically a hearty affair with a range of juices, paranthas, eggs, sandwiches, sausages/baked beans. One can also have puri- aloo etc on prior request.

Lunches are served on prior intimation as most travellers prefer to explore the region during the day and usually end up eating out.

Dinner is again a lavish affair and one non-vegetarian dish is served along with the usual Indian vegetarian food.

Bonfires are also arranged for groups to escape the evening chill.

One can choose to spend time hiking on short treks around the village or just live the village life. I spent time chatting with your hosts over tea, meeting the village folks and learning about their simple yet happy lives. The village of Kotgarh has quite a few heritage sites to visit, like the Oldest Missionary School, Heritage Church Building, Oldest Hospital, Oldest Apple Valley.

You may indulge yourself in the activities:

  1. Short treks
  2. Picnic in the scenic regions
  3. Trip/Trek to Hatu peak
  4. Plucking fruits (Seasonal)
  5. Bird watching
  6. Reading/ Writing/ Painting

 Minimal pesticides and chemicals are used in the apple orchards, vegetables used in meals are sourced from local growers/ neighbors. Rain water harvesting is practiced at the homestay. Garbage and waste is separated into bio degradable and non-biodegradable waste before disposal. Local people are employed at the orchard for the upkeep of the orchards as well as the homestay. Meenakshi, the hostess is also actively involved in promoting local produce like jams and pickles, dried apples etc. I bought a few to savor the taste of the mountains for a long time after my trip.

 

  • Recharge yourself at a quaint little village hidden in the mountains of Himachal

The Village homestay at Fagu, is a home to witness the traditional Himachali lifestyle, to taste the authentic delicacies and to take a break from your city life and enjoy with a splendid view of the Himalayas.

The homestay is divided into two parts, the traditional and the recently renovated one. The host family itself lives in the traditional house which is about 80 years old. The old house is attached to the newer renovated portion that houses travellers by a hallway lined up windows to let the sunlight in. There are three rooms for accommodating travellers. The interiors of the rooms are tastefully done by locally found wood and stone. The mud room has walls done up in mud and thereby providing breathing walls. The rooms are spacious with a row of windows to let the sunlight in. The homestay is abundant with milk, buttermilk, ghee and the likes thanks to the cows owned by the family. The hostess Ritu is an expert when it comes to traditional Himachali dishes like Siddu and Patanda. The local cuisine is served if one is willing to indulge in local delicacies. Otherwise, simple yet delicious vegetarian dishes are served. Depending on the season, self-grown vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower, peas, etc are served in the meals. The homestay is situated in the village of Cheog and is just on the outskirts of the forest that occupies most of the region. A scenic part-road part-dirt track of about 30 Kms in is the most exciting activity one can indulge in on cycles. Some other activities that one can consider while at the homestay are:

  • Visit Narkanda for Ice Skiing in winters.
  • Hill stations Kufri and Shimla are a short drive away.
  • Horse Riding on tracks in the nearby jungle.
  • Visit ancient temples of Tungish and Dharech.
  • Picnic in grasslands near the homestay.

It was an experience of a life time while staying at home Stay in Fagu. Wonderful property but more than anything else it was the generosity and hospitality of the host family that made the short vacation memorable.

Karam Singh, the host, is popularly known in the village “Highlander” The history behind the title takes you back in time when Karam Singh’s father and grand father took part in the freedom struggle. Because of his progressive farming techniques and efforts Karam Singh is a major contributor to the development of the area.

His son Sohan Singh Thakur is a social activist and an ex-Zila Parishad member.

Both father and son with the help of co-villagers have put the village on the world map as the largest contributor to the production of vegetable in Theog Tehsil.

The homestay rooms meant for travellers have been made from recycled or locally sourced stone and wood.

This off-beat destination will charm you endlessly.

 

  • Rejuvenate your senses at this hidden retreat in Dhauladhar Himalayas

The Lodge, Palampur is an eco-friendly home in the middle of a beautiful tea estate. You will love living with the hosts on a working tea estate, knowing about tea and eating delicious meals cooked from local and homegrown produce.

Wah Tea Estate has been part of the Prakash family since 1953. The previous owner, Sir Sikandar Hayat–Khan was the son of the Nawab of ‘Wah’, a town in Pakistan, from which the estate derives its name. The estate is one of the largest manufacturers of tea in the Kangra region. The teas are completely pesticide free, and carefully hand–plucked.
The Lodge came into existence when the owners decided to build themselves a home at the estate They were inspired by the local artisan’s craftsmanship with mud, wood and stone and decided to put their skill to use. The river stone and slate is hand chiseled and crafted to give it the feel of the local Kangra architecture. The bricks used to build the cottages are from the mud which was excavated when the foundation was being built. These bricks are all naturally dried in the sun. Even the white colour of the walls has been done with a natural formula, after extensive research on homes around the world.
The wood used at the lodge is originally from the Old Palampur Courthouse, which was demolished to be rebuilt a few years ago. Roof lining details, banisters from witness stands, and even whole doors and windows are originally from the Old Courthouse. Rest of the wood is pine and cedar from the Estate, in place of which multiple trees were planted.

Meals are an intimate affair at the Lodge. Almost everything served is grown organically in the kitchen garden or the green house which is a short walk into the tea estate from the Lodge. Get ready to bite into healthy as well as delicious meals from different cuisines. From local Himachali dham to continental baked chicken to a wholesome south Indian meal! And not to forget, never ending cups of tea originating from the estate was all around me! Guests can share any dietary requirements and the hosts strive to cater to guests preferences for all meals.

Palampur is at a distance of 250 Km from Chandigarh in the Kangra region of Himachal Pradesh and is famous for its tea plantations. One can see the Dhauladhar range of the Himalayas from here and enjoy a host of activities in and around it. Listed below are a few of the activities that one can indulge in this off-beat destination while staying at the lodge.

  1. Visit the tea factory
  2. Tea tasting session at the tea estate
  3. Paragliding at Bir-Billing
  4. Treks at Triund, Billing and Barot, with options for overnight tented stays
  5. Visit Andretta, a village world famous for pottery and Sobha Singh’s art gallery
  6. Try your hands at the potter’s wheel at Andretta
  7. Angling at Barot
  8. Picnic near the river
  9. Cycling tour of the Estate
  10. Cricket or badminton at The Lodge at Wah
  11. Board games at The Lodge at Wah

The Prakash’s are highly inclined towards eco-friendly practices both at the lodge as well as in the Tea Estate. The Lodge was built with the aim of providing a luxurious stay in the tea estate without harming the environment in any way. The villas at The Lodge are made of mud, slate and wood. The food prepared at the lodge is locally grown. Most ingredients are from the kitchen garden and the green house, both of which are completely organic.

The hosts also invest in cooperative farming, the tea estate workers have been given plots of land and seeds to grow their own produce. Only what is needed for The Lodge (less than 10% of what they grow) is requested from them, rest is for them to sell or use as they see fit. The Lodge has also provided for job opportunities for the locals. All the workers in the garden, kitchen and housekeeping are from the neighboring villages and have been trained on the job by the hosts and the manager, Nikita Patel.

To know about more experiences at these off-beat destinations, Stay Tuned!!

If you want to experience it yourself and plan your journey, visit http://pheritales.com/d-i-y-journeys/

 

P.S: Some information has been sourced from different websites on the internet.

 

 

 

 

Where Days are made of Sun, Sand and Sea

Sun kissed beaches lined up with white sand, turquoise shaded transparent sea water, minimal human intervention and activity, far ahead of any competition of what you call paradise.

Lakshadweep islands are a group of 36 coral islands. For all those who aren’t travelling by cruise, Agatti is basically the entry gate to Lakshadweep. The airport which is one of the smallest I’ve ever seen is one of the most charming you’ll ever see. At times, beauty lies in small things, doesn’t it? As the aircraft descends, you get a feeling that it will land on the water, so close is the beach from the strip of runway. You can see the waves breaking down and forming lagoons. It’s beautiful, to say the least. I wanted to sail on a cruise but I didn’t prefer taking one because then your itinerary is scheduled.

From Agatti, I took a speedboat ride to one of the other islands and chose the Kadmat Island as the destination solely because they have a diving school and my intention was to do just that. The more the hardship while travelling, the more beautiful the destination appears. The speedboat ride from Agatti to Kadmat was worse than any experience on the most convoluted roller coaster ever designed. It’s difficult to describe a journey where you are being tossed in every conceivable direction every minute. But I got there! Finally! I could sit there for ages looking at them and may be would free the anchor someday and let them sail away. The first sight of Kadmat was breath taking; I approached the island just prior to sunset. Clear turquoise, rather almost green, waters calmly embraced the pure white sands. Every few moments the waters came and hugged the sand with joy, only to depart with a pang of separation, but with the hope to be back to spend some time with the shore. As this game of hide and seek went on between the waves and the shore, I disembarked on what turned out to be the most picturesque jetty that I have seen in my lifetime.

Nowadays on a holiday like this one, I prefer getting up before the sun rises. I did that on the first day morning and saw an enthralling sunrise with is orange-red reflection making the ocean look as if on fire. The increasing warmth of the sun in the background and some wonderful dry branches on the shore made for some amazing pictures. After breakfast, on our first morning, I was all set for our first dive of the trip. Pure enticing waters and a promise of colourful marine life were enough motivation for me to overcome the little fear that had settled in as I had not dived for about 18 months. The oxygen tanks, the buoyancy control device and the amazing divers all set with their dive watches tuned for another dive made us more restless as we took our boat ride 45 minutes into the ocean. My instructor Shamsuddin, rattled all the instructions I was supposed to follow without considering how nervous I was. Reminded me of the time when I was teaching a tough skill procedure to some of my team members in Accenture, and how narrow my tolerance was for their fear. When you are geared up and in water, there comes a command from the dive master to go down. At that point, I deflated the life jacket and allowed my weight to take me down. The descend requires you to adapt your breathing style and keep equalising the increasing pressure on your ear drums. Once the first few seconds pass, you open your eyes to the surrounding. The first glimpses are of all the little things that live under water. The fish are colourful, to say the least. Several are named after animals, so you have the leopard fish, the tiger fish etc, but what took our breath away was the large turtles that gracefully swam past us, as if to show us that big can be beautiful too.

On some of our dives, we saw spiky lobsters, the spikes of which resembled my childhood hairstyle. The schools of fish too seemed to be busy going about their daily business. I have still not understood why they swim a few feet one way and then turn back to return to the point of origin. I feel they play out the choreographed dance steps from time to time. In one of those silent moments under water I looked up to the sky from the ocean floor and I saw the fish shimmering in the rays of the subdued filtered out the sun. Even the sun does not like to be harsh on these underwater creatures. At that point, everything seemed to be in slow motion. You know your time under water is limited to the amount of oxygen in your tank and those few minutes you want to see as much as you can and more than that try your best to remember everything you see.

On the last dive, we went to this dive site called “The Wall”. It was a dive in which I started on the mountain peak under water that had a steep 20 feet fall into the valley. It was great to be under water but at the top of the mountain at the same time, falling down into the valley full of beautiful creatures. Buoyancy control is the name of the game under water. You have to strike a balance between floating up and sinking further down, almost like how we do it in real life on land. You don’t let your failures take you down and the success to make you rise up so much that your feet don’t touch the ground.

Good friends can share a lot of silence with each other very comfortably. I made few friends while diving for those few days. There were few travellers from Portugal and Mexico. When we came up from our dives generally for a few minutes no one talked after the pleasantries are exchanged. Each one got lost into reminiscent images of the beauty witnessed underwater.

My thoughts usually get more philosophical and these are the times I question the reason of my existence, the purpose of my life. The answer is usually very harsh as my inner voice tells me that in this big universe I am too small to take myself so seriously. I think my purpose now is to ‘just be’ and travel as much as I can to see the natural designs that are attributed to be of divine origin.

Kayaking into the glorious colourful sunset was an activity I have never done before. In Kadmat, the evening invited us to spend the time rowing towards the setting sun that only looked humble as it got ready to be engulfed by the water. It surprises me every time how the harsh beating sun can be humbled by the passage of the day, a quality many of us humans should learn. We had our snorkels with us, so we took a dip into the water to observe some superficial corals with their rich marine inhabitants. The bright pink colours of the live corals were, fortunately, better than the grayscale corals I had seen at Andamans. I was surprised to see so much beauty just a few feet under water. The fish must be finding us humans so colourless, with our shapes really funny and sounds that we make while breathing must be a pain to their ears. I saw some of the fish looking condescendingly at me, just the way I would look at an intruding stranger in my world.

So our days went by, from waking up before sunrise to see the hope of a new day unfold in front of our eyes, taking our morning dives and being impressed with all that we saw, to having some great simple local seafood for lunch (and during dinner we ate the fish we caught) with a relaxing afternoon nap and then as the universe gets energised to call it a day, we sat on the beach with some warm conversations and saw the beautiful sunset scenes orchestrated in front of our eyes. As the darkness of the night took over we laid there on the beach and looked at the stars in the busy sky, trying to make sense of the subtle messages we receive from them.

On our last morning, we went on a tour to see the Kadmat Island. The tour was over in 2 hours. We found the North end of the island rocky with the smallest lighthouse on the shore I have ever seen. It was almost as if the light house was in hiding, trying to prevent people in the sea from finding Kadmat. The highlight of the tour was the wonderful hospitality we received at the house of the tour operator with some local sweet dishes and a special item called coconut apple.

At the far end from where I was, I saw some of my friends talk to each other and a few minutes later as the sun bid us the last goodbye for the trip, I saw them get up to leave; as they did that, they left their soul there. I did the same and walked back to my room to pack up, the next morning will see us depart from Kadmat and arrive at the cacophony of the mundane, materialistic city life. I still feel great reaching home, I know I will rest and travel soon again.

 

 

 

The North-East India changed my patriotism

Before March 2016, I haven’t been to any part of North-East India. I was with a premonition that it’s more or less like a poorer China, where people use imported products, eat noodles and momos, has an unhygienic lifestyle. I was completely judgemental. Now, when I think, I am embarrassed by myself and my hypocrisy. If I wouldn’t have taken this trip, I would not have experienced, what I now call, the best part of India. This was completely a life-changing experience for me. Though I always travelled, you can say, this is what literally pushed me to explore travelling.

In March 2016, I was supposed to take a family vacation to Arunachal Pradesh. I was reluctant in the beginning, given my narrow judgment about the place. But my family insisted and I agreed. I was in a pathetic state of mind, due to personal setbacks. I wasn’t much interested in the planning of the trip. The only contribution of mine was going to Arunachal Bhawan and getting the Inner Line Permit and permit to visit Bum La Pass.  As Arunachal Pradesh falls under restricted area, official permission is required to enter the state. There are two kinds of official permits prescribed by Government for entering into any area within Arunachal Pradesh. They are:

  • Inner Line Permit (ILP) and
  • Protected Area Permit (PAP)

The Inner Line Permits are required by Indians other than natives of Arunachal Pradesh for entering into any place in Arunachal Pradesh. All the foreigners are required have the Protection Area Permit or PAP for entering into Arunachal Pradesh.

Later, due to unavoidable circumstances, my family could not make it, but now, I wanted to escape from my situation and I wanted to take the holiday. Everyone warned me of the road conditions, the weather conditions and health hazards I might face at a high altitude. I could not have listened to anything because all I knew was, I wanted to breathe under a new sky, I needed some fresh air. I insisted and took a leap of faith.

Though I had a minimum expectation of some wonder, I took the flight to Guwahati and then hopped into the pre-booked cab from there to head to Bomdila. Bomdila is located in the northwestern part of the state of Arunachal Pradesh. It is set amongst the mighty Himalayas at an altitude of 2,530 m above sea level. When I reached Bomdila it was six in the evening and it was very cold. Nothing could be seen around and I wasn’t even curious. I got into my room at the circuit house and wanted to sleep after a tiring road journey. It was chill, piercing my bones. Blankets and heater weren’t enough to keep me warm. Moreover, the dogs were barking the whole night. I didn’t manage a good sleep. I already decided that the journey ahead was going to be pathetic like the state of my mind.

Next morning when I woke up to some nice fog laced with sweet sunshine, my mood changed. I was pleasantly surprised to see the small town adorned with colourful flowers at every household. The smiling faces of the people touched my heart. It was like the magic hour, where everything transformed for the better and I was then looking forward to the journey.

Feeling the fresh air, whirling up around my face and hair, we headed towards Tawang, the mountain town in Asia and the smallest of the 16 administrative districts in Arunachal Pradesh. As our car, criss-crossed through winding hills, I kept humming my old favourite song,

“Almost heaven,…

Blue Ridge Mountains

Shenandoah River,

Life is old there

Older than the trees

Younger than the mountains

Blowing like the breeze

Take me home, country roads”

And I knew, I was struck by pixie dust.

There were hardly another car or people on the road because there was no civilization on the way and the season for the tourists was yet to start. When I reached Tawang, it was already dark. The caretaker at the circuit house informed that it had snowed last night. The weather was better and colder than normal. The best part was it was not raining.

Next morning was lit by gorgeous sunshine, could see the mountains clad in fog and the peaks shining with glitters of sun rays. I had never experienced a better weather. ‘You are fortunate. It’s a cold day but a bright one.’ Exclaimed the care taker. He insisted to pack my lunch for the day and when I refused he said ‘You won’t find anything up there.’ I keep myself stocked with dry food so I did not worry. We headed toward Bum La Pass. Roads were free, the only place we had to stop was to show the permit. The best part was, Kalikacharan, the person who was driving me around is a shy person, did not speak much unless asked. It allowed me to soak in the beauty of nature and my thoughts. As the rugged hills changed into snow covered mountains, I was enthralled like a child seeing a black forest cake in front of me. All I could see was frozen lakes and snow clad mountains. My mind was cart-wheeling with joy. I was missing my family and was disheartened for the experience they were missing. There was nothing on the way apart from army camps. I have been to other mountain towns, but this place is unbelievably beautiful. Untouched, pristine and paradise on earth it is. Bumla Pass is one of the four official border meeting posts between India and China and about 40 km from Tawang. It’s at 15,200 ft above sea level. It boasts of an army regiment at the highest altitude in the world. I was filled with pride. When I reached there, the army officers welcomed me with a lot of care. They briefed us about the history, the stories of the place, the wars, and the memorials that make it memorable. They even treated me to some hot paranthas and tea. I used their washroom. I mention this here because I was surprised that the water in the commode was frozen. At such critical conditions, our army officers fight not only with enemies but basic needs, to ensure that we Indians are safe. Respect was the only thing that I was filled with. I could not thank them enough for giving me company. I was heading back to Tawang filled with pride and humbleness. On the way, road construction work was taking place. We had to wait two hours, to move the car, but to my astonishment, I wasn’t restless and anxious. I felt evolved as a human and I could spend hours by the lakes and sitting on the rocks, looking at the bare mountains. I wanted to stock my eyes and memories with as much of nature’s bounty, as much I could.

I reached Tawang by four in the afternoon. I went around the town. I was seeing North-East India in a new light.  The town is kept so clean, no litter and waste, that I was embarrassed about my mindset. Next day, while heading back to Bomdila, the rugged hills transformed into a wonderland. It was Christmas in March. It was snowing. On my way back, we stopped at Sela Pass. At an elevation of 4170 m, windy, enjoying the landscape there is once in a lifetime experience.Blue water lakes surrounded by snow mountains and echoing tales of legends and patriotism, this place romances you with a charm unseen. It’s truly said, “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” I wanted things in my life to change and it changed me and my perceptions for better. This trip showed me a new world, an India that made me proud, it has made me tolerant as a person and it has pushed me more into travelling, travelling more of India.

After Tawang, I visited Meghalaya, which amazed me, but you have to wait for another day to hear about the wonders there.

Responsible Travelling

We all love to travel, but how many of us (Indians) are responsible travellers?? Many of us, litter at places, mess up the stays where we put up at, expect the host to be at our service round the clock. Everything is not the duty of the Government. As citizens, we are equally responsible for the development of our country. Every little thing contributes to a beautiful and developed nation. Wherever you go, please be a responsible traveller. And by being a responsible traveller, I mean:


• Pack your bags with environmentally friendly things. Carry as little plastic as possible.


• Do not leave behind any non-biodegradable waste.


• What you wear has an impact – environmentally and culturally – dress ethically and appropriately.


• Respect the local culture and refrain from physical intimacy in public places.


• Carry a good water bottle. Purified drinking water is available at homestays and hotels for filling your bottles. Refrain from buying numerous plastic mineral water bottles.

• Local food is great. Try it as much as possible and avoid packaged food. Ask for modifications in the food according to your taste, instead of wasting it.


• Avoid excessive consumption of alcohol and refrain from drugs, especially in public places.


• Seek permission before photographing people, so their privacy is respected.


• Do not pluck any medicinal plants & flowers, and do not disturb the wildlife.

I have been drinking water from waterfalls and rivers, and no I do not fall sick. It’s the most natural source of water that can be found.

 

 

Sarmoli, Paradise at backdrop of Panchachuli

Everything was in the itinerary, places booked, yet I had my inhibitions before travelling to Sarmoli.  I had not seen photographs of the place we were going to put up at. I had read so much about it, I booked it but honestly, there were ifs and buts running across my mind.

A fine morning, I hopped in a cab from Almora. My agony increased, as I started throwing up during the whole journey that particular day. I started remembering my first journey in a bus from Delhi to Jaipur where I had thrown up innumerable times. Everything put together was giving me goose bumps. A long journey it was, through winding roads, crisscrossing mountains, the eroded boulders speaking of lives washed down. I made several calls and tried checking the internet results, as much as possible, before reaching the place. I called Basantiji, our host, from Birthi Falls, a 2 hours drive from Munsyari. The falls cascading through the mountains wanted me to rest and look at it for hours. But, I had miles to travel, before I could rest.

Finally, when I reached Munsyari, and went ahead a kilometre, to Sarmoli, nestled in the backdrop of Panchachuli peaks, and above the fierce Gori Ganga river, I was tired. And I was worried because our host, Basantiji and Raju Ji’s home was an uphill way from the main road. But all the agony and tiredness whisked away, when I found Rajuji, with other people from the village, waiting at the foothills, to welcome me and carry my luggage till the abode. They helped me to walk up, amidst their farms. Everything was put to ease when I met Basantiji, full of smile. Somehow, everything fell into place and my mind into rest. The next few days, I spent relaxing, waking up to the sunrise at Panchachuli peaks, leisurely walks around the village, playing with the kids, the pets, listening to stories, meeting women from the village, small treks and enjoying the local cuisine.

I am sure, many of you know about Sarmoli homestay, but I must tell you, Malika Virdi, who has helped the village women with a nature based and community owned tourism enterprise and made the people out there realise the importance of livelihood & ecology is enthusiastic and warm. I could not meet her last time, but whenever we have spoken over the phone, it has filled me with amiability. She has brought a change in the way local people view forests, wildlife, helped them reconnect with their own place and instilled pride and interest of their village within them. She works with women for economic independence and lobbies for ecological and social rights. Local people consider her nothing less than a super power and I absolutely agree with them.

There are many activities, regional cuisine fair, treks, marathons, workshops happening with contributions of volunteers, which has given the youth and women in the village, a livelihood and a channel to manifest the history and richness of their area and tribe. It’s a learning experience for both the villagers and the visitors.

I met Shivya Nath at Hawalbagh, and would have loved to hang around with her at Sarmoli, given even she was there, conducting smartphone photography workshop. But while hiking to Mesar Kund, I lost my way, which I always do.

I think, I will need another few posts to tell you about losing the way on the hike to Mesar Kund, Gori Ganga River at Madkote, where I spent an entire day, enjoying the hot springs, and my other activities at Munsyari. For now, let me get back to the village and the villagers in this one.

This homestay programme had been started by Malika Virdi, to ensure a livelihood and economic independence for the women in the village. The people of the village who are a part of this enterprise has either converted one room of their home as a traveller’s abode, or Malika Virdi has arranged to get them loans, to build an extension of their house, for visitors. The rooms are furnished with basic amenities and clean white linens. It’s an experience, to stay with the villagers and share a meal with them over conversations. You can do your bit of exploring around or give back to the village, by helping them with their daily chores at home or at their farm. So, if you want to see the real India, this place is unfiltered, real rural India, providing you with a comfortable stay, and memories worth cherishing.

I spent one morning at the women’s Sangathan (self-help group), where they spend knitting woollens, and packing dried vegetables and sell these for an earning. Conversation with them was like a new lease of life. At such a remote place, they are lobbying for their rights, trying to meet their basic needs and still always wearing a smile. I loved my leisurely days at Sarmoli, hearing from them about legends and stories. We all love the snow capped mountains in photographs but how it affects their crops, the leopard attacks, to hear it was heart-wrenching. Basantiji and Rajuji ever smiling, shared tales of events occurring in the village for their development, glued me to stories of their cows, mules, regional food. I cherished the stories over homemade millet rotis, kumaoni kappa (locally grown leafy greens), malka dal (masoor/lentil), homemade ghee, pickles, millet halwa(sweet dish). Basantiji even packed lunch for me, when I went out during the day. It was all seasoned with unadulterated love.

It was an unwinding time completely. Each time I was amazed, by the smile on faces of every person out there. The 91-year-old grandfather, without his teeth, smiled and waved at me and asked me to join him for a cup of salted tea and many stories. The lady of another village house, Binaji, was cooking on an earthen stove, invited me to join her and told me how she made the rhododendron juice and about their upcoming village programme. The uncle talking of his sons, studying away in another hill station and proudness beaming from his eyes, showed his oats plants. The little Lakshya, took me up through the trail, to the small pond near his house and we played with tadpoles. The pets Kalu and Cuto at their place, followed us around, everywhere. Everyone has their own battles, they strive to meet their daily needs, always with an alarm in the heart, that a natural calamity may wash away their abode and small farms, next minute; yet they never run out of their smile and keen enjoyment of living. I do not fathom, where do they get their optimism from. Seeing them, and rewinding it in my memory, every now and then, I am grateful for the life I have. This journey has taught me, taught me things that schools don’t teach you; taught me humanity. I learnt this Himalayan village is a paradise on earth, not only for the beauty nature offers but for the people who make you believe that humanity exists. and it exists even today.

The day I left, Rajuji accompanied me till my car, Basantiji, waved at me till the time our eyes could see each other. As I left early, she packed breakfast for me as well. In cities, where do we get such self-less love?? I do not know if I have evolved, but I have been touched, immensely that I want to go back there sooner. Now, at any point, I go through a spider-web crisis, I pause, think of my time in Sarmoli, the people, their lives and I know which road to travel.

I long to go back to this place, to give back to the community which has given me a lot of wisdom and love.

Over to you, is there any place you would like to go back someday?