CHANGE UNIVERSE: Magazine Jewels
Kumaon | HotelApril 1, 2010

Himalayan Homestay — Kumaon

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The Himalayan part of Uttar Pradesh was given statehood in 2000 and the stunning state of Uttarakhand (Uttaranchal) was born. Uttarakhand falls into two distinct regions that broadly divide the state in half: The Garwhal which includes the famous yoga and pilgrimage centre of Rishikesh in the west and the little known Kumaon region in the east.

The Kumaon contains some of the most stunning mountain scenery that we know of anywhere, from the perennially snow capped peaks of the Great Himalaya range in the north to the pretty hill stations ofAlmora and Nainital in the foothills and the stunning wilderness of Corbett National Park where the hills meet the Indo-gangetic plain in the south.

As one of the holiest Hindu pilgrimage sites in the Indian Himalayas, Baijnath is busy year round, but over the festival of Makar Sankanti, in mid January, all hell breaks loose when villagers from the surrounding valleys pour into town for the famous annual livestock fair.

Most considerable among the animals traded on the muddy market grounds here are the ponies brought in by the nomadic Bhotiyas, who pasture them on the grasslands of the Tibetan Plateau before leading them down to market in the winter.

One interesting way to explore the habitat in the region of Kumaon is to stay for some time as a part of a grassroots volunteer program called R.O.S.E (Rural Organization for Social Elevation). ROSE was set up as a development initiative to alleviate some of the hardships of rural life in the Kumaon region where around 75 per cent of people are landless farmers.

Paying guests of the program get to work on a range of community-inspired projects that funds raised by them beforehand along with bed-and-board money help to pay for. You will dig new latrines, plant trees and deliver smokeless wood-free stoves to the deforested villages.

You will also have the opportunity to pursue daily chores in the fields and at home like feeding the cattle, planting barley and potatoes and fixing roofs ahead of summer rains. Working alongside your hosts in this way leaves a vivid sense of how such small improvements might really make a real difference.

At the end  you can have a team of porters arranged by your hosts to assist your trek to the top of the Pinadri Glacier overlooked by some of the highest peaks in the entire Indian Himalaya.

If you decide to take  a well rewarded spunk, on a small plateau 8,000 feet above sea level, 360° Leti voted as the 10 top hotels in the world a jewel from the Shakti group, basks in spectacular panoramic views. Until recently just a collection of tents, the camp is now an ensemble of stone, glass, and wood structures that draw on solar power and mountain water.

Each of the four cottages, furnished with a spare yet pampering luxe, is sited for privacy and a knockout view that can also be enjoyed from a private terrace with a fire pit. During the chilly evenings, wood stoves warm the cottages, hot water bottles are tucked into the beds, and solar lanterns and candles are lit.

There is no internet or cell phone access, no TV or morning newspaper — only the occasional sound of bells, either from passing goats or a temple on a neighboring hilltop. But there is a well-chosen library in the lounge, and family-style meals are accompanied in the evening by fine wine.

A day hike brings you rare views of Nanda Devi, one of the world's highest mountains, or you can swim beneath a waterfall of pure Himalayan water. Much about Shakti 's group intention is to provide the traveler with the space to go, discover and fill in his or her own story.

And that, we know, is  not for everyone. The purpose is to take on an experience….softly… and help you to create memories that last forever.

Joelle's Tips:

The Source: Mark  Ellingham for the Rough Guides

Photo credits: 360 Leti courtesy of Shakti / peasants courtesy Shakti , ROSE and Anustup Lahiri / Kumaon landscape: Dave Sinclair. Animals: Ashit Desai

The Organization: ROSE Contact person: Jeevan Verma Postal address: Jeevan Verma R.O.S.E. Sunargaon, Kanda Bageshwar-263631 Uttarakhand, India E-mails: & Telephones: Office: +91-5963-241081 Mobile: +91-9412167186

The Luxe Group: Shakti / 360 Leti

To speak to one of the representatives in either India or the UK Tel: +91 124 456 3899 Mon – Fri: 0930 – 1900hrs IST (GMT + 5.5hrs) Tel: +44 203 151 5177 Mon – Fri: 0900 – 1900hrs GMT 903-904, Vatika City Point Sector 25, MG Road, Gurgaon 122002 India. Tel: +91 124 456 3899 Fax: +91 124 456 3801


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