"Glory lies in the attempt to reach one's goal and not in reaching it " ~ Mahatma Gandhi


Emerald Trail, Kumaon, Uttarakhand

Romola Butalia visits a homestay at Jungaliyagaon near Naukuchiyatal and Bhimtal in Kumaon, Uttarakhand and vows to return again.

We were going to miss the 4 o'clock train to Kathgodam from old Delhi, my least favourite railway station. The vehicle had moved 5 and a half metres in 25 minutes, stuck in a traffic snarl at Daryagunj. The young cabbie was decisive. He suggested we walk to the other side of the jam and take an auto. He was not willing to take our indecision for an answer. So there we were heaving luggage through every conceivable class of vehicle criss-crossed without breathing space. I turned back to see a snow storm of feathers - Rajiv's new down jacket, to protect him from the Himalayan winter, was ripped through, caught in a maze of iron.

Our cabbie hailed an auto, bundled us into it, and we were racing to the station to reach at the nick of time. No train at the platform. The train was late by 3 hours - what's new, there? Mc Aloo Tikis and coke, and endless cups of coffee followed, as we whiled the time in reasonable comfort.

We called the cabbie, Abrar, organised by Emerald Trail to bring us to this virtually unknown destination, 10 kms beyond Bhimtal. We told Abrar it did not make sense for him to wait in the cold and drive an hour and more in the hills in the dead of a winter night. He said it made less sense for us to freeze at Kathgodam station.

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Emerald And so it transpired by acts of will definitely not our own, that we found ourselves at Kathgodam station at 3 am. Literally 7 people from the entire trainload at Delhi, disembarked here. Everyone knows you should take the Ranikhet Express if you can get tickets on it. Everyone also knows that if you have not got off earlier, get off at Haldwani, because there is little enough transport at Kathgodam at the best of times (ie tourist season when sharks multiply their rates manifold as the season progresses).

Despite the hour, we were met by a cheerful Abrar. Having quickly established our familiarity with Kumaon, we chatted through the 50 minute drive passing not a soul on the way. We were headed to Jungaliyagaon at 6,000 ft, 10 kms uphill from Bhimtal, turning towards Naukuchiyatal, thereafter taking the upper bifurcation on the road.

hens Dead tired, we fell into a deep sleep surrounded by a treasured silence and darkness, absent in cities. We woke to glorious blue Himalayan skies, a sliver of moon rapidly descending, and a suffused sunlight waiting to burst forth. We were greeted and accepted by the resident dog, Bushy, a handful of hens busily eating grain, two cows and a calf being taken from their shelter to graze. One of the cows had strayed from a nearby village, been injured in a car accident and left dying on the road. We were told that Sumith Dutta at whose homestay, Emerald Trail , we were residing, had brought the cow home, treated and tended it, and given it permanent shelter. That action had won him instant goodwill from the villagers. The corporate city dweller from Mumbai who had fallen in love with the Kumaon hills, like many before him, and many to come, had finally come 'home' to his village.

Dutta built his homestead at Jungaliyagaon, growing his own vegetables, setting up a waste water treatment for irrigation, using solar energy as much as possible, and now building tanks for rain water harvesting. He has recently introduced four guest rooms in a colonial style wooden cottage where people seeking a quiet break from city living can get back in touch with a simpler lifestyle.

cowThis is the Dutta home. It is comfortable, functional, with the personality of the Duttas visible through the books lining the shelves in the sitting room, in the small touches everywhere. Sumith himself is not here during our brief stay, but it is inevitable that we will meet him, sooner rather than later. We have already met him in the warmth and hospitality of his home, opened to strangers to be able to share his space.

In the morning we have a leisurely breakfast of alu paratha and dahi, which I recognise immediately as milk from a cow caringly tended. I met her with her calf as she was being led away along with the older cow who has been given a home. I chat with the villagers who are working on the farmstead. I realise that the small incident of the cow, an instinctive spontaneous gesture reveals the personality of the place and its owner - protecting a cow has always been part of our cultural tradition, inherent within it is the protection of a lifestyle, of Dharma itself. It speaks of oneness with the environment, with nature, with animals. Without slogans.

EmeraldWe go for a walk to see the nearby area chatting all the while with Lalit Mohan, who along with his wife, Deepa manage the place in the absence of the owners. I ask her what she is going to give us for lunch and am happy to have chana dal and freshly grown lai ki sabji. For dinner, there is the promise of mudgua ka roti and shishumna ka sag, a true-blue Kumaoni favourite. As I sit at the keyboard typing, with the sun warming my feet, the afternoon winds are still gentle, and in the background are the sounds of Kumaoni folksongs from a nearby wedding. The beat of the drum, the rhythm of the voices, the feel of the wind and sun, the quality of light are all familiar from an endless living in Kumaon.

As the afternoon progresses, the wind grows more insistent, and the winter sun loses warmth. Ah! Himalayan winters separate the tourist from the local. Those who enjoy the winters of Kumaon truly belong here. Many comfort-seeking locals have traded their life of ardour and simplicity, have sold their ancestral lands with little yield in product but a rich intangible dividend, to re-settle in the burgeoning city of Haldwani, with its cacophony of sounds. Kumaonis have given up their mother tongue for Hindi, the richness of their cultural heritage for a pan-Indian lifestyle. The villagers tell me all the land around has been bought up by city folk from the plains for their summer getaways.

Who will till the land here, who will worship the gods here, who will maintain the ancient traditions, who will preserve the fragile ecosystem in the Himalayas? City dwellers from the plains, will you destroy the abode of the gods, or will you walk gently where angels fear to tread? Golju, the revered deity of Kumaon, once king of the region, giver of justice, has no-one yet appealed to you for justice for this sacred earth? Nanda Devi, protector of her home, does your silence speak?

Emerald They tell me it will be a long cold winter.Evening settles quickly. The mountains are hidden in darkness. Silence descends. This is the hour of Lord Shiva. Incense, prayer and a change of mood permeates the atmosphere.

Everyone is indoors. The aroma of cooking fills the air. Household sounds dominate. Dinner is ready. The nettles they plucked in the early evening with pincers have been made into a delicacy. The local wheat has a delicious flavour. The salad is made from vegetables that have not been traded at a market place.

There is nothing 'spectacular' about Emerald Trail - its uniqueness is its authenticity, its realness in a world of simulation and artificiality, where we make believe that yachts can sail in the mirage ahead. Its charm Is that it is itself, it is not a creation to cater to your wants. Emerald Trail is about trying to find a sustainable lifestyle option without leaving too many footprints behind, it is a simple story of a home-coming, many of us in cities dream of. If you want to experience Kumaon as it is, this is a well recommended option. I do hope that in the time to come, too many compromises are not made, as most of us make of our dreams.

For further details and trip planning, contact:
Emerald Trail,
Jungaliagaon, Bhimtal 263136,
Dist Nainital, Uttarakhand
mobile: +91 9833949954
e-mail: emeraldtrail.bhimtal@gmail.com
Click here for : Emerald Trail

Photo Credit: Sumith Dutta

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Editor: Romola Butalia       (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.