Get Set and Well!
“Bedu Pako Bara Masa” goes the line of a folk song, translating to land of our Garhwal (hills), how absolutely beautiful it is. And there’s not a bit of exaggeration in it, for when you wake up to tea brewed with chamomile flowers while getting the first rays of sun on your Himalayan house’s front yard, eat chapati made from nutritious Mandua, drink Burans’ juice to quench your thirst, have jhangore-ki-kheer (barnyard millet rice pudding) for desert and then doze off with a view of a clear and starry sky, you are bound to have an experience of the real, and the rural, Uttarakhand. The state is famously known as the Land of Gods, but the reason fast is becoming the migration of people from villages to urban centres, leaving behind ghost villages and lands to the village shrines and deities. Commenting that these people do not care about preserving the cultural heritage of the state is an elitist view, when many villages still lack connectivity to healthcare and education, which they seek when they finally move away from their hilly abodes. Last year, a documentary titled Moti Bagh made it to the Oscars, highlighting the migration problem in the state along with xenophobia which the incoming Bihari and Nepali folks have to face. Keeping in mind the state of rural Uttarakhand, government and people alike have shifted their focus back to villages and promotion of rural tourism, which would help in reverse migration as well as save people from not getting intimidated in order to fit in with the world outside. Let’s dive into the real Uttarakhand waiting for you with their famous hospitality and warm nature on a cold hilly top.
Our quest for surreal simplicity first takes us to the village of Bigul, which has a rather interesting story associated with its name which dates back to the British rule. When their army used to visit the area to collect their dugna lagaan i.e. tax, they’d blow an instrument called Bugle/ Biguls to inform the surrounding villages. And thus this village nestled in the pine forests 32 km from Bageshwar, became a place of importance while simultaneously offering majestic views of peaks of Nanda Devi and Panchachuli. A must visit place here is the Dholinag (Shiva) temple. Nearest railway station is Kathgodam (212 km) and the nearest airport is at Pantnagar (238 km).
Next on the list is one village which is being developed by the state government itself as a model tourist village. Situated in the Mori block of Uttarkashi near the Govind National Park entrance, is the village of Jakhol. This village, with its traditional wooden houses and a backyard full of apple trees, has a good presence of schools, post office and medical centres. You can catch direct buses from Dehradun to Sankri and drop at a diversion just 3.5 km before the final destination. Nearest railway station and airport, both are present in Dehradun. The most interesting legend associated with it is the belief of the villagers that they’re ancestors of Kauravas, from the great Indian epic Mahabharata! And thus, lies the famous temple dedicated to Duryodhan, one of the Kauravas. If you’re also a trekking enthusiast, Jakhol acts as your base camp to the Jakhol-Devkyara trek, an absolute trekker’s delight where you can enjoy the view to Swargrohini, Bandarpunch and Black Peak.
You must have heard of the festival of Holi, where people play with colors and water. But have you witnessed a Holi of buttermilk and milk? If not, get ready to witness this in Dayara Bugyal, Uttarkashi, where nearby villages celebrate this butter festival called Anduri in the month of June. A Bugyal is an alpine meadow in higher elevation ranges; Dayara Bugyal at a height of 3048 mts is one such pasture land. Barsu is the last village before the trek to this bugyal and thus serves as the base camp. Gidara Bugyal is another trek you can start off from here. Descend 24 kms down this village and you’ll come across the beautiful Dodital lake amidst a blanket of Oak and Pine trees.
If there is a village which could be an idol for rural Uttarakhand in a manner which takes development and preservation hand in hand, it is the remote village of Kalap in upper Garhwal. Once untouched from the fast changing world which surrounds it, Kalap now is run and administered by a social enterprise Tons Trails, which is committed to eco-tourism development in the Tons valley. Nestled in the beautiful Bandarpunch range at a height of 7,800 ft, life for the locals is difficult nevertheless, but having adjusted to the simple routine affairs of village life, all they offer you is a roof of a traditional Garhwali architecture to sleep under, Pine and Deodar groves to roam around, legends and tales which associate the mythological epic Mahabharata’s Pandavas and Kauravas as their ancestors (there is a temple dedicated to Karna, the warrior), and a lifestyle to connect to the essence of your existence. If you happen to visit the village in January, you can also catch up with the Pandava Nritya musical which enacts the scenes from the epic. The profit they earn from ecotourism goes to the Kalap Trust, which funds the education and medical needs of the village. Isn’t the whole setup wholesome? Not until you also fill your belly with the yields of forest like wild mushrooms and Linguda(fern shoots)!
The list of destinations is endless; village of Doni, Sitlakhet, Taluka, Ransi, Martola, Makkumath, you name it, and it will be another beauty of an abode sitting amidst the alpine nature, engulfed in legends, myths and tales of yesteryears, ready to offer you Mandua or Bichoo Ghas(Himalayan Nettle) to eat, fresh Himalayan spring to drink, organic farming and animal rearing to engage in and local festivals to celebrate to the beats of Dhol-Damau and Masak Baja. After reading all the above, if you have finally made up your mind to visit the rural and have a change of lifestyle to unwind yourself, we have some cautionary words for you, for your own behaviour. You are visiting these villages to step out of your comfort zone and transcend into a simpler lifestyle; being rude, picky and demanding is the last thing everybody expects of you! Being over cautious about hygiene doesn’t work either, especially when locals go out of their way to provide you with modern amenities, which in retrospect derides them from the minimalist life they were supposed to offer. Either way, not a win for you. Surrender your ego and engage with the community, respect their traditions, celebrate their culture or do just nothing and sleep peacefully!