As the world strides into the final stretch of 2023, there is an all-enveloping awareness of a world that is veering more and more towards a Planet and People First phenomenon, with the North Indian state of Uttrakhand, magnetized by the mighty Himalayas, truly evolving as New India’s most preferred Conscious Travel destination.
In the days of yore, the Kumaon region, Almora and its surroundings used to be a quiet, sleepy Himalayan outpost, blessed with magnificent Himalayan vistas and a trading hub. The eerie silence of the Himalayas and the pristine mountain environ has, for a long time, been luring writers, poets, and artists to rejuvenate themselves. It goes without saying that creative people find the Kumaon Himalayas (Almora and beyond) particularly conducive to creative pursuits and have found fulfillment here.
The mesmerizing charm of the Kumaon Himalayas is best summed up by an anonymous traveler thus,
Kumaon is so beautiful that there is nothing wrong in calling it, the staircase to heaven.
Shoba Mohan, founder of RARE India is of the opinion that,
In a regular world, be RARE! In Kumaon Himalayas, every moment is a potential for transformation and every encounter is an opportunity to dive deep into the heart of India’s Devbhumi.
(Abode of Gods)
Of late, the cultural diversity, aka the indigenous culture of the Kumaon region has touched the chord of today’s discerning traveler. Needless to say, a journey through the rugged Kumaoni mountain landscape is a stellar experience, an assault on your senses through culture, cuisine, history, heritage, and dance.
In a world reeling under global warming and climate crisis, the Indian state of Uttarakhand comes as a breath of fresh air. With the snow-capped high Himalayan peaks like Nanda Devi (7816m), Chaukhamba (7138m), Panchchuli (6904), and Trishul (7120m) standing like sentinels. The peace-loving people of Uttarakhand along with the state government’s nodal Tourism department have taken a vow to protect the state’s fragile Himalayan ecosystem through a series of eco-friendly measures like encouraging homestay options instead of the commercially profitable multi-storied apartment hotels, promoting immersive holidays with the stress on taking tourism to the villages and hamlets; the idea is to make tourism ecologically sensitive and thereby offer high-value experiences.
Uttarakhand government’s recent declaration to convert the Haldwani Zoo into a carbon-neutral zone has been much appreciated by environmentalists and the state was also the first one to come up with its climate change action plan. India’s first green energy-based solar panel plant in Rudrapur – Luminous Power Technologies, with an annual production capacity of 500 MW, is another feather in the cap of Uttarakhand. In the post-COVID world, visitors worldwide have unequivocally shown a preference towards visiting carbon-neutral destinations, where nature is pristine, the culture unscathed by modernity and distinctive cultural traits are well preserved.
No wonder, the Kumaon Himalayas (Almora & surroundings) blessed as it is with the majestic Himalayan peaks, is also the melting pot of tribal/indigenous people – Tharus, Bhutiyas, Jaunsaris, Buksas, and Rajiswhose – fascinating lifestyle, belief systems, cuisine, jewelry design, and folklore have all endeared themselves within the minds of today’s discerning travelers.
Embarking on a Tribal Tour of the Kumaon Himalayas could be life-changing and transformative. Out here, travel is slow. The essence is on immersion and engagement with the local folks. The roads are intimidating, yet, the natural vistas, flora, and fauna are just fabulous. Sometimes, you keep hiking for hours together with not a soul to be seen!
Each tribe is unique with its own set of belief systems in place. For Instance, the Tharus are matrilineal and women are the torchbearers of society. The colourful Jaunsaris on the other hand are one of the world’s last remaining Polyandric societies. The Bhotiyas are distinctive with their Tibeto-Mongoloid features and are expert weavers.
Having been born and raised in India’s North Eastern state of Assam, I grew up in the company of tribals – Nagas, Mizos, Bodos, Kacharis, Monpas and what have you! My good friend Chandan Koranga who hails from the bewitching hill station of Almora has been guiding visitors from affluent Western countries like the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, and Germany through his company – Him Valley Infra, and oh God! Most of his guests are repeat visitors to Kumaon, which speaks volumes about the region's astonishing beauty and surreal charm.
Visitors from abroad who come in search of peace and solitude are provided high-quality accommodation in Chandan’s rugged Wood Villa cottages on a self-service basis. The Villas are located in the picture-perfect Dhamas village and are made of the finest blend of German Pine and English Wood. The village is close to Almora (32 km.) and the cottages are nicely tucked up at an elevation of 1424m/4672 feet above sea level. Wood Villas in Dhamas is quintessentially curated for Slow Travel/Conscious Travel. An eerie silence pervades the Villa landscape. All the windows and balconies offer 360-degree uninterrupted views of the stunning snow-covered Himalayan peaks.
In the cozy confines of the Wood Villas, the good old times resonate gracefully. As the red molten ball dips across the Himalayan vistas, it is time to huddle together beside the crackling fireplace, strum your guitar, and indulge in your favorite tipple. The all-pervading peace inside and the snowfall outside is nature’s invitation to you, reminding you yet again of these immortal words,
The very fact of snow is such an amazement.
Chandan Koranga’s untiring efforts to showcase not just the Kumaoni Himalayas, but, also the tribal diversity of the region are beginning to have a positive rub-off effect on the village folks, particularly Sitlakhet and Balsa Gaon. These picturesque villages receive a regular stream of visitors from abroad, which has metamorphosed into a precious bond of friendship. The splendid element of this unique friendship bond is that there are no superfluous demands imposed on the village communities. Discerning visitors appreciate the fact that the Kumaon Himalayas is earmarked for “Slow Tourism/Immersive Tourism” and they want the villages to retain their original, centuries-old charm. Although transportation and roads remain below par, there are no complaints; the cultural immersion into the Kumaoni folklore, legends, and traditions is far more important.
Indeed, what a joy it is to see local folks engaged in serving HNW guests from abroad, some of whom are millionaires in their own rights, partaking in the local food prepared so lovingly by the womenfolk, while the men are busy guiding visitors on the trek, hiking to remote hamlets and offering them every possible help en route.
With fulfillment writ large on his face, apart from overseeing the Wood Villa operations from his cozy mountain home in Almora and the wellbeing of the Wood Villa team, Chandan is focused on ensuring a No Nonsense approach when it comes to the question of preserving Kumaon’s fragile Himalayan eco-system and indigenous diversity. His steadfast commitment is evident in the niche brand - Wood Villa, steering the company through the depressing pandemic years with no loss of staff. Stellar stuff! Ain’t it?
According to Chandan, "Wood Villa units will offer breathtaking 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!"
He further adds, "Our client base is NRIs and high net worth individuals (HNI) who have shown tremendous interest in this unique project. These villas are available for leases for up to 3 years and are further renewable."
India's Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has been focusing on highlighting the North Indian state of Uttarakhand to the global community. The outside world is largely unaware of the region's stupendous diversity in terms of tourism and still carries the perception of Uttarakhand being a landlocked region and a difficult place to visit, which is absurd. The time is ripe to unravel this region in all its glory and change the narratives.
10 reasons to visit Uttarakhand
- Uttarakhand is India’s spiritual capital and is blessed with countless pilgrimage sites like Dev Haridwar, Rishikesh, Kedarnath, Gangotri, and Yamunotri.
- Rishikesh is considered to be the Yoga Capital of the world.
- The highest peak of India - Nanda Devi (7816m) is in Uttarakhand.
- Uttarakhand is home to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Valley of Flowers and Nanda Devi National Park.
- Lake District of India, Nainital is India’s very own Lake District.
- There are two famous mountaineering institutes which are in Uttarakhand - The Nehru Institute of Mountaineering situated in Uttarkashi and Pandit Nain Singh Surveyor Mountaineering Training Institute situated at an altitude of 2200 m in Munsiyari, Uttarakhand.
- The state is home to two of the most sacred rivers in Hinduism – the Ganges and the Yamuna. The origin of the Ganges is the holy mountain Gangotri, while the origin of the Yamuna is the holy lake Yamunotri. The two rivers originate from different parts of the state.
- Jim Corbett National Park of Nainital district is the oldest national park in India which was established in 1936 for the protection of the Royal Bengal Tiger. The park is situated at the foothills of the Himalayas in the Nainital district of Uttarakhand.
- The first Agriculture University of India, Govind Ballabh Pant University, which paved the way for the Green Revolution of India was established in 1960 in Pantnagar.
- Uttarakhand is geostrategically very important as it shares its international border with China in the northeast and Nepal in the southeast. The length of international border shares with China is 463 Km and that along Nepal is 303 Km. The total international border length of Uttarakhand is 766 Km.