By Aarti Kapur Singh
Winter is a time when the chill in the air and the powdery snow seems to kindle warm romance in many of us who are denied the pleasures of natural beauty in the concrete jungles of the city. It is also a time when popular Himalayan destinations such as Shimla or Srinagar or Darjeeling become overtly crowded with the influx of the tourist who wants to enjoy the beauty of the mountains in winters. It becomes imperative then, to look for options where travellers, and not tourists, can soak up the winter sun and walk on snow.
For intrepid travellers who want to experience a true slice of life holiday in the Himalayas, booking a home-stay is a great option. The warm vibes of a home away from home, the scrumptious homely meals and personalised attention are a welcome change from the crowded commercialism of hotels.
Here are 5 home-stays to keep in mind when planning a holiday in the Himalayas.
Te Aroha, Dhanachuli, Uttarakhand
A few kilometres away from noisy Nainital, Dhanachuli is a quiet hamlet that is the microcosm of life in the Kumaon region and offers a viable option for any traveller wishing to enjoy the meditative silence of the Himalayas. Secluded, pristine, pure and just so charming, the best place to enjoy the vibe of Dhanachuli is at a place called Te Aroha (derived from the Māori name of Mount Te Aroha). In Maori language, ‘aroha’ translates to love. And Te Aroha is definitely a place to love. There is nothing commercially modern about the place, except for its luxuries. Te Aroha, a charming colonial-style summer house converted into a boutique getaway is full of knick knacks and experiences put together by the owners Asha & Sumant Batra.
When you wake up in the morning, you can witness the clouds and the son vying for their place in the sky and gradually the majestic Nanda Devi range is revealed as the daylight becomes clearer. You can trek around the village among the mountain trails surrounded by the rolling fields of rhododendrons and apples. Or you can drive for around 20 minutes to visit the nearest ‘tourist’ town – Mukteshwar (that has an ancient Shiva Temple, a heritage post office and a few shops that sell local Kumaoni handicrafts).
But there is enough to keep you busy within Te Aroha as well – whether you want to curl up next to a fireplace with a book from the on-site library, or challenge a partner to a game of chess or carrom in the Sports Room. Do not miss the Chitrashala – more a labour of love than a vintage museum – dedicated to old film posters, matchbox cases, books, lithographs and everything else a cinephile would love.
7 Pines, Kasauli, Himachal Pradesh
If you’re looking for the perfect spot for a romantic retreat, or considering a locale that is not too crowded, 7 Pines, an ‘English Retreat’ (as described on the website of Leisure Hotels, the group that owns it), is the best bet. It will win your heart at first sight.
This home away from home is a retreat secluded on top of a magnificent hill giving you a perfect setting for that calming yoga session or that greenery-absorbing nature walk. Right from the country cottage architecture, to the vintage-looking floral prints on the bed linen to the menu (apple crumbles, English Roast chicken and local pahadi cuisine are in-house specialities) and even the services provided by the staff (who will leave hot water bags in your rooms while you eat dinner at the in-house dining area) – the place is as English as it could get.
The quaint colonial touch given to the home-stay is very refreshing and will transport you into the timeless days of the Raj. While at the property, trekking, bonfires, scenic twilight during the sumptuous hi-tea can be enjoyed amidst live music by talented local artists. The in-house activity team is also very helpful in arranging several outdoor activities and also fun indoor games such as chess, ludo etc.
A stay at 7 Pines is a memorable and alluring experience, right in the heart of nature and romance of the past.
The White Peaks, Uttarakhand
The White Peaks in Gagar, Uttarakhand is a perfect holiday home will never let you miss home. A cozy fireplace, amazing collection of books in the two rooms, home-style food prepared by the in-house caretaker-cum-cook-cum-Man Friday are enough to make you feel at home. The perfect location – surrounded by dense silver oak forests and a commanding view of the Panchachuli range.
This charming private cottage, owned by Aparupa Ganguly is just so warm and cozy and intimate that it is a revelation. For those fond of yoga, a private balcony overlooks the valley is the ideal spot and for those seeking adventure, the walking trails in the surrounding forests are perfect.
But the best charm of the place is the food – all organic and locally-sourced – right from the pahadi dal to the kumaoni chicken and aloo-poori. The White Peaks can be a peaceful base camp for you to explore the more touristy parts of Kumaon – such as Ramgarh, Nainital, Mukteshwar, Pangot, Binsar and several others.
Spring is a particularly colourful season at The White Peaks with the cottage surrounded with bright red Rhododendron blooms, pink peach blooms and gorgeous apple blossoms. Do remember to carry a comfortable pair of walking shoes so that you can trek easily.
Yangsum Heritage Farm, Sikkim
This 45-acre Yangsum Heritage Farm in the picturesque state of Sikkim in western Sikkim is a less-widely known secret. Built in 1833, the home-stay was renovated in 1966, and still retains its heritage architectural style and also the local culture.
Tendup and Pema Tashi, owners of this charming farm-stay are a hospitable duo and will pamper you with delectable Sikkimese cuisine such as pork and chicken and a special vegetarian spread of fresh vegetables from the 100 percent organic farm.
Not just amazing fruits and vegetables, the owners also grow their own paddy, maize, rice and several amazing herbs. Even the local chhang is brewed at home and can be enjoyed in the wafting aroma of magnolias, pine, Himalayan alder that is brought in by the soothing breeze. A walk in the countryside offers stunning views of the mighty Khangchendzonga peaks. The five wood-panelled rooms are decorated with rustic and colourful handicraft and hand-woven linen. The birdhouse-shaped attic is just glorious!
The Homestay Taras, Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir
It is rare when those that have renounced the world will welcome you to stay in their homes. But The Homestay Taras, owned by the Dutch Foundation for Ladakhi Nuns, near a new convent for elderly nuns in Nyerma, allows you the luxury of this experience. On offer are six double rooms, with attached bathrooms – that also are a source of livelihood for the nuns who live in the nearby nunnery.
All meals are vegetarian, and yet delight the taste buds. As with almost all of Ladakh, the location is a USP and overlooks gorgeous Himalayan mountains, ruins of the ancient stupas that are several centuries old. A stay here is a revelation into the simple pleasures of Spartan life in Ladakh. Interactions with the nuns will help you understand the spirituality of Tibetan Buddhism.
Go explore the Himalayas for some inner peace!