Back from her long road trip to Kumaon Himalayas, former journalist and avid traveller Aditi writes a guest post for The Weekend Artist and shares, how her initial disappointment with the accommodation in a tiny Himalayan hamlet became a memorable stay after living the life of local villagers with Neelam and her family
Guest blog by: Aaditi Jathar Lakade
A FORMER garden department official working with the Uttarakhand government used his knowledge to transform a barren hillock in Chaukori village into a Kaaphal orchard, an organic garden complete with six cows for dairy needs, and domesticated bee colonies for organic honey. His eldest son opened this property for homestay, while his mother, Neelam aunty — the only woman in the family — dished out home cooked food for the visitors. Kaaphal Hill, the village homestay gave us a glimpse of the life in Kumaon hills, the cuisine, and left us wondering whether we are too meek to adopt the life in the hills. It was only later that we realised that this was indeed our window to the Kumaon life
Chaukori (Kumaon Himalayas)
We found Kaaphal Hill homestay on Airbnb. Tarun, the eldest son in the family takes the bookings and coordinates with the tourists. We travelled from Kausani to Chaukori in our self-drive ZoomCar — Honda Jazz. As we were coordinating with Tarun for directions, he was waiting for us near the closest landmark — Udiyari bend and the newly placed sign for Kaaphal Hill. The car had to be parked halfway through the hillock. After that, he helped us with the heaviest bags to climb the other half of the hillock to reach our room.
Let me be honest -we were absolutely disappointed with the room we saw. A simple plywood structure with four rooms — one shared WC and bathroom. The plywood had nails sticking out at some places. The bed sheet and pillow covers were kept on the mattress for us. A couple of paintings by Tarun hung on the plywood failed to uplift our mood. The wide windows overlooking the Nanda Devi peaks also provided little solace at that moment.
After about an hour, we settled down.We had already had our lunch on the way to Kaaphal Hill and were trying to put our daughter Ovee to sleep. It was hot inside, no fan, and as we opened the windows, bees started flying in. But Ovee was too tired and she fell asleep while we were busy driving away the bees. We even contemplated on reducing our stay from two nights to one night and moving on to our next destination. However, as our anxiety cooled off, we decided to stay put.
At night, we went to their dining hall for our dinner. Neelam aunty had made chawli bhaji and madua (nachani) rotis followed by rice. We learnt that they grind their own atta with a domestic grinder. It was a typical home-made dinner over chit-chat. “Gudiya, sukha khayegi, sukhi reh jayegi (If you eat dry food, you would remain weak)” –Neelam aunty kept telling Ovee. Ovee was a little unhappy and restless in the limited light, but she is a good girl and did not throw tantrums knowing that we would be going to our room soon after dinner. We had Tarun’s younger brother and their father for company. The younger brother is a pre-primary teacher in Kausani. We requested Tarun to give us a tour of the property the next day after breakfast to which he agreed.
After breakfast the next day, we were waiting for Tarun to turn up, but his brother told us that he was busy and would not be able to give us a tour. Instead, he asked us to treat ourselves with Kaaphals from the orchard. And we spent a couple of hours doing just that. While we were busy plucking, uncle took the cows for grazing at the top of the hillock. In the afternoon, we came down for lunch, which was not yet prepared. We saw Neelam aunty cleaning the cow-shed and I decided to help her in cooking. She went to the front garden, plucked some chawli and washed it. I chopped it using a wooden plank and a knife. “Aapne bhi khana banana chahiye. Usmein bhi pyaar hota hai (You must cook, it spreads love),” Neelam aunty said when I told her I can’t cook and that I have a maid to do it for us.
Meanwhile, she started making bhakri at the chulha. While chit-chatting, she told me how she would never leave her village life for the city. “Sheher ke kisse sune hai. Hum toh yehi thik hai (We have heard the tales from cities, but we are better off here),” she said making the bhakris. After the bhakris were done, she used the heat to roast some seeds for chutney. And while she cleared the kitchen and laid the table, I managed to partially grind these seeds with some mint leaves and a dash of lemon.
It was a delayed, but by far the most delicious lunch we had. We had started falling for the place.
The official tour
In the evening, uncle started showing us the orchard and the garden along with the bee colonies he had established. He had brought the bees from the jungle and put them in one of the colonies and started increasing the colonies as the bees started growing in number. “I told my children it is not easy to go to the city and build your own life. Aasan thodi hai yeh sab karna (It is not easy to do that). Do whatever you want, but do it here,” uncle said.
We had to leave early on the day of our checkout and we told Neelam aunty that we would have breakfast on the way. However, she had already cooked. “Gudiya ko hum bhookha nahi jane denge (We won’t let the little one go hungry),” she said as we happily ate our breakfast.
We love the diversity in India. And this drives me and Tejas to learn, try, and be a part of the locals wherever we go. We honestly believe that our diverse experiences have a major role to play in our thought process. As long as we can, Ovee will always be a part of our experiences hoping that it stirs something positive within her as well. Most of these experiences are a learning for us. Learning from people who seem ordinary initially. But as someone has said, we meet no ordinary people in our life…If we give them a chance, everyone has something extraordinary to offer.
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