“The best things in life are the people we love, the places we have been and the memories we make along the way”; If that be so, the North Indian state of Uttarakhand, popularly referred to as “Devbhumi” or the abode of Gods is indeed at the forefront, positioning itself as “New India’s” ultimate Wellness Tourism hotspot.
Uttarakhand Chief Minister Shri Pushkar Singh Dhami’s recent trip to UK to attract investors was an outright hit and MOUs worth Rs.12,500 crores were signed. The resurgence of India at the competitive global business landscape is very palpable and has a lot to do with the sustained campaigns like Atmanirvar Bharat, Transforming India, Make in India etc...by dint of which smaller states like Uttarakhand too are able to carve a niche for themselves and create positive imprints on the minds of global investors.
The gung-ho mood of Chief Minister Dhami finds a reflection in his press conference - "There are almost no incidents of labour dissatisfaction in the industries operating in the state of Uttarakhand. The loss of human labour in industries due to labour dissatisfaction is the lowest in India. This is the reason why the tagline of the Global Investors Summit-2023 in the state has been made "Peace to Prosperity”. He further stated that along with “Ease-of-doing business”, there is also “Peace-of-doing business” in Uttarakhand.
The state's snowy peaks, surreal landscape and century’s old cultural traditions have been luring travellers galore to this speck of paradise. Uttarakhand is not just Rishikesh, Nainital, Mussorie or the iconic Jim Corbett National Park. The Government of Uttarakhand has prioritized the accelerated development of new tourist destinations like Binsar, Brahmatal Lake, Chamba, Chopta, Dhanaulti, Dodital to name just a few. Uttarakhand’s topography is challenging, with the mountainous state of Himachal Pradesh to the Northwest, Tibet to the Northeast, Nepal in the Southeast and the state of Uttar Pradesh in the South. Both the Greater Himalayas and the Lesser Himalayan zones fall in Uttarakhand. It isn’t surprising that some of India’s highest peaks like Nanda Devi (7817m) and Badrinath (7138 m) too are located in Uttarakhand.
Given the stunning Himalayan vistas that encircle the state and the picturesque setting, the Government of Uttarakhand is focussed in developing the concept of “Homestay” as well as “Chalets/Log Huts” in the higher reaches of the Himalayas – Almora, Ranikhet and beyond.
Legendary Nepalese Mountaineer – Ang Tshering Lama who has summitted Mt.Everest multiple times is of the opinion that Uttarakhand’s landscape, particularly the high Himalayan Zone is a lot similar to the Austrian Alps. According to Ang Tshering – “Uttarakhand Himalayas have lured mountaineers and hikers for centuries together, much like the Austrian Alps, for the discerning travellers to relish the surreal vistas of Uttarakhand’s great Himalayan outback".
Austria’s rugged and exclusive Alpine environment has with time evolved marvellously with the quintessential agenda of harnessing the local vernacular architectural grandeur of Old Austria with that of the New. Many of the hüttens in Austria employ local carpenters to create outstanding mountain huts that have become the cynosure of mountain aficionados worldwide.
Drawing inspiration from the Austrian/European Alpine log huts and chalets, Uttarakhand has been on the radar of hoteliers for some time now and with a pro-active government offering incentives to investors, there has never been a better time for investments in the state’s burgeoning hospitality landscape.
Out of sheer curiosity, I was flipping through works of renowned Swiss architect Annemarie Pestalozzi, who in her research work entitled – “The Vernacular Architecture of Kumaon”, rather coherently depicted the surreal beauty of Uttarakhand’s Almora region thus –
We visited the area between Almora and Champawat, with its deep river valleys and the countless small terraced fields on the steep mountain slopes, with the Deodar woods on the higher sections. On many days we enjoyed a splendid view of the majestic snow peaks in the direction of Tibet. As I got to know the region and its people better, I discovered many similarities between Kumaon and certain mountain regions of my own country Switzerland.
The state government’s focus to promote “Homestay Tourism” in the High Himalayan Zone is having a positive rub-off effect or “Multiplier Effect” on the villages and Himalayan hamlets of Uttarakhand - curbing the instinct of migration to urban areas and generating enough revenues for villagers who have opted to transform their homes into homestays.
The concept of building Villas with wood as the primary material is the new buzz. Although, wooden villas are commonplace in US, Canada and most of Europe, it hasn’t been as popular in India, due largely to the climatic conditions (tropical), prohibitive forestry laws and outdated sawmills; in spite of being blessed with century’s old rich legacy of wooden craftsmanship that were patronised by the Maharajas of yore.
However, this is an exciting time for India as a nation – third largest economy by purchasing power parity and a USD 3.5 Trillion economy with Travel & Tourism industry alone generating US$ 178 billion. With India becoming a global powerhouse, the nation’s tourism landscape too has kept pace with globally acceptable tourism guidelines/yardsticks.
The paradigm change of perceptions viz-a-viz Uttarakhand’s tourism landscape, through the introduction of high-end/luxurious Wooden Chalets & Villas is a remarkable phenomenon. The phased manner of developing such plush wooden chalets on incredibly high mountain tops deserves kudos.
The new breed of ecologically conscious real estate chalet & wood villa developers are the real game changers for Uttarakhand’s long term tourism prosperity. They are combining time honoured craftsmanship with contemporary innovations and thereby delivering properties that are not just robust but stunning to look at from outside. You literally experience this déjà-vu feeling – “India has arrived on the world stage!”
A visit to the lesser known, yet gorgeous Himalayan hamlet of Dhamas (32 Kms. from Almora) could be an eye opener. Out here at an elevation of 1424m/4672feet, a silent revolution is on; courtesy, the untiring efforts of a native Koranga family, whose forefathers had left behind landed properties on some of the most vantage positions.
Chandan Koranga, a fiercely proud ‘Millennial’ Kumaoni of the Koranga family has rather resolutely been implementing his dream project – “Wood Villas”, which is nearing completion. Once complete, this prestigious one-of-a-kind wooden villa project, made out of the finest variety of English Wood and German Pine, will be a pioneering wooden architectural marvel in the state’s competitive tourism landscape.
Having weathered the rough and tumble of the new-age entrepreneurship, the never-say-die Kumaoni that Chandan is, he is highly optimistic that “Wood Villas” will carve a niche for itself as one of Uttarakhand’s most preferred Chalet / Villa accommodation.
According to Chandan:
Wood Villa units will offer breath-taking views of the full range of Himalayan peaks. The architectural finesse is every bit European and each independent villa is wholly constructed out of wood, a rarity in the Indian context! Our client base is NRIs and high net worth individuals (HNI) who have shown tremendous interest on this unique project. These villas are available for leases for up to 3 years and further renewable.
The importance that Uttarakhand is given by Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself is crystal clear, with the state hosting as many as three G20 meetings. The third G20 meeting on Infrastructure Working Group (IWG) concluded on June 28th 2023 in Rishikesh – the Yoga Capital of the World. Distinguished delegates from G20 countries savoured the spiritual essence of Uttarakhand and had first-hand experience of the state’s varied cultural offerings.
No wonder, there is an air of expectancy in Uttarakhand and the changing mindset of the people finds reflection in new-age entrepreneurs like Chandan Koranga and others of his ilk, who are working hard to position Uttarakhand as India’s next big tourism destination. In fact, Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami has gone one step ahead and coined the tagline –“Peace of Doing Business” rather than the oft-quoted “Ease of Doing Business” while addressing an august gathering of industrialists in UK.
Any new venture that is aimed at bringing about a paradigm change in perceptions, particularly on the hospitality landscape, has its share of hindrances and mental blockages. It all depends on how focussed one is towards realizing the ultimate goal. Thanks to the state government’s unwavering support and friendly disposition towards Wood Villa entrepreneurs, Uttarakhand’s hilltops are on the verge of showcasing the beauty of the Himalayas in all its grandeur.
Wooden Villas and Chalets offer an aesthetic charm which is timeless. They radiate harmony and are remarkably sustainable. In fact, occupants of wooden houses have a lower carbon footprint than occupants of non-wooden ones. And, here is hoping that Uttarakhand Tourism will be a beacon of hope in India’s pursuit towards becoming a “Net Zero” country.