I live in Goa and as much as I love the sun, sand and sea, I crave the mountains. There's a serenity, an inner quietness that you can find in the mountain air. This endemic changed something about the way I travel. I no longer plan my itineraries to the T. I create the basic structure - dates, flights and hotels. The rest I leave to the destinations.
This is my idea of slow travel. Of soaking in every moment of the journey - a journey onward and inward.
I took a 10-day trip across the Garhwal Tehri region of Uttarakhand. A quick background on Uttarakhand's topography. The state formerly known as Uttaranchal is divided into two regions. A large part of the north-west is Garhwal while the south-east forms the Kumaon region. In the past couple of years, the Kumaon region with its headquarters in Nainital has been a hot destination with boutique hotels like The Kumaon, Birdcage, Sitla Estate, Mary Budden Estate and such creating a chic travel environment for today's millennials. On the other hand, Garhwal Tehri has been popular for eons for its religious spots - Rishikesh, Haridwar and Uttarkashi. But this region is also gaining popularity for its spirituality, local cuisine and an underground culture of slow travel.
Heads Up: This whole trip is about walking and exploring without an agenda!
Our journey began in Haridwar. An easy 2-hour flight from Bombay to Dehradun (Direct) and an hour's drive, brought us to Amrit Bhawan, Haridwar. This design-forward, family-run, 8-room boutique hotel is centrally located and houses its very own private Ganga ghaat. Varun Bajaj not only owns the place but has also designed it, is a super warm and fun host. He also has the coolest recommendations.
Here's what we did:
Spent a ton of time in their common area which doubles up as a "reception" where guests can check in casually, a co-working space, dining area, reading room and the best place to meet new people.
Dig into their simple and local vegetarian menu. The Garhwali Thali is a must try paired with a local beverage called Manjoli - Similar to a chaas, made with rice water and a tempering of jakhia (wild mustard).
An easy evening snack of crisp Patode (Made with Taro leaves) and chai out by the swing.
Sattu parathas served with ratua (a vegan gourd raita with mustard), aloo chokha and bhune tamatar ki chutney.
Sit by the ghaat on the property and watch the Ganga flow. I spent hours sitting there with my Kindle.
Make sure to pick up some of the fabulous Aamra by NSK pickles.
Three experiences that made Haridwar memorable:
An evening street food walk through Har Ki Pauri. Prakash Lok Lassi, Kaanji Vada and Papdi Chaat at Jain Chaat Bhandar, Aloo Puri at Mohanji Puri Vale. You can check out the evening arti at the ghaat or head back for a private arti at Amrit Bhawan.
A morning street food walk through Kankhal market (the old part aka less touristy part of the city). Dal, Kulcha and Chole Pani (A super intriguing aquafaba kinda vibe) breakfast followed by a round of Aloo Chole.
An open jeep Safari through Rajaji National Park with naturalist Veeru Negi. If you're a tree lover and bird watcher like me, then I highly recommend this safari. The magic of nature at its best.
The Chandi Devi trek comes highly recommended. We missed the chance to do it, but hope to go back for it.
All the above experiences were arranged by Amrit Bhawan.
PS: On making your reservation, you will receive an email from Amrit Bhawan which is quite thorough and super helpful.
Room Rates: Starting at Rs 11000++
A 2-hour drive up winding roads and cloud cased mountains is the sleepy town of Devprayag. Devprayag is a destination popular for the Confluence - where the Alaknanda river and the Bhagirathi river meet to form the Ganga. Not too far away from this epic point is The Mandala House, tucked away in the hills. Enter this 5-room home designed in the hues of the landscape - earthy, soft and serene. The moment you set foot into the space, time slows down. You can sprawl in the living area, with sun pouring in from all directions or park yourself by the poolside and listen to the Alaknanda flow nearby.
A discreet staircase down from the living room opens up to a sunlit room with a stone carved bathtub in a relatively spacious bathroom. Get snug in the four-poster bed and enjoy the mountain view through the bay windows.
The key about staying at The Mandala is to own it, embrace it and surrender to it.
Here's what we did:
Walk down the to the Alaknanda and spend time listening to the river flow, soaking in the view and the incredulous variety of river pebbles of all sizes, shapes and colours.
A meditative experience at the yoga studio on the premise. This earthy shala welcomes you like a warm hug.
A 40-minute walk across the bridge and through the village to the Confluence. Make sure to take as many detours as you can to explore the by lanes studded with silent homes and inconspicuous artwork.
PS: The Mandala is in the true sense, a getaway. Embrace its quiet.
Room Rates: Starting at Rs 13500++
Cost of cab from Haridwar to Devprayag: Rs 3000.
The drive from Devprayag to Mussoorie is long and winding. It takes about 5 hours and The Mandala will be happy to organise a taxi for you. The drive is breath taking (Literally! As it usually is as you go higher up). Make sure to make a mandatory stop at a local shop for momos and Maggi. We were checking in to the Everest Base Camp which is situated in the middle of a 23-acre park. To get to EBC, you need a property-issued pass that lets your car through the park barricade. EBC is a 2-tent Glamping site with a cozy cafe, manicured lawns, hammocks swinging into the woods and clouds passing through you. We checked in to the The Surveyor and for the first two nights were the only ones occupying the whole park. The cafe is open to non-residential guests until 7pm after which the place is all yours.
Here's what we did:
A lunch picnic set up by the lovely folks who manage the place. Make sure to say a big hello to Shraddha! We ate, drank and watched a variety of birds hang out in the overhead trees. I'd like to believe that they were there to enjoy our company over eyeing our food.
A game of archery or croquet?
A trek up to the George Everest Peak. I recommend you get there at least an hour before the sun decides to set. It's a 40-minute walk up but it took us longer simply cause we stopped every 10 minutes to breathe in the view (or actually to just breath). It gets pretty crowded at the top, so walk to the back of the peak, perch yourself on a rock and watch the clouds play their tricks.
A day down at the overtly touristy Mall Road. This is about 15 minutes by car and EBC can organise one for you. We got off at the Clock Tower and walked in the opposite direction from Mall Road towards the Savoy and further down towards the end of the hill before heading back to Mall Road, famished! Lunch at the oh-so-popular Kalsang for some momos and thukpa followed by Ras Malai at Inder's Bengali Sweet shop. The market is closed on Tuesdays so we missed out on trying some of the popular bakeries.
Dinner at the EBC cafe with live music by a couple of local musicians who would absolutely love for you to sing with them. It's your chance to make the Indian Idol in you shine. The dinner is setup around a bonfire with a live BBQ.
The entire park is yours and you can walk through bushes and brambles to explore it. A word of advice here! There are plenty of tiny leeches in the swampy areas of the park so make sure you've booted up and are ready to give them a knocking if need be.
PS: The tents are super comfortable and you can request for a heater if you're someone like me who freezes with the thought of being in the mountains.
Room Rates: Rs 14000++
There was no way I was going back without a night in Landour, a sleepy town 20-minutes north of Mussoorie. No construction has been permitted since 1994 leaving this town untouched by garish hotels and towers. We checked into the most popular and super kitsch Doma's Inn which is adjoining the one and only Ruskin Bond's home.
Here's what we did:
We walked up the steep slope to Char Dukaan popular for it's little street food shops. I could spend hours here over steaming cups of chai, watching people come and go and eves dropping on conversations of all kinds of travellers.
Further up is Rokeby Manor, a colonial style boutique hotel and home to Emily's cafe - the perfect spot for an English breakfast.
Walk up another 10-minutes to the Landour Bakehouse (Owned by the same folks at Rokeby Manor) for an afternoon of tea, scones and crepes. It's hard to not eat everything they have so set aside the whole afternoon for this indulgence.
Adjoining the Bakehouse is A.Prakash & Co., a general store in Sisters Bazaar that sells their own cheese, jams and peanut butter. Just the kind of shopping you want to do.
Walk past Lal Tibba (A touristy spot to soak in the view of the valley) and explore the area around the mountain where you'll see picturesque homes and trees with signs that will make you stop in your tracks.
A home-made ginger ale (One of the best I've had!) with a sunset view from the sit-out at Paprika Restro and Cafe.
Room Rates: Rs 3000++
ONE LAST STOP
Before heading back to the Dehradun Airport, we made a lunch pitstop at the The Himalayan Rasoi in Dehradun. Yojana who runs this dining experience at her home is a delight! She cooked us a home-style Gadhwali feast with fresh seasonal produce, local delicacies and a variety of traditional recipes. An experience I'd highly recommend. This needs to be booked 48 hours in advance and is priced at Rs 1900 per head.
Bhaang Chicken, Chapchapa Mutton jhol, Pahadi panchmel Dal, Arbi ke patte ki kaphuli, Kheere ki jhwoli, Chainsoo, Pindaloo gutke, Hari Bhujji( palak ki), Turai Bhujji, Pahadi kakdi ka chauk wala Raita with Til ki chutney, Bhangjeere ki chutney, Mooli aur rai ke Patton ki Ramodi, Lal Bhaat, Sunta( lobia) ke swaaley ( kachori), Mandue ki Roti and Mandue ka halwa.
PS: Make sure you skip breakfast cause this is a feast in its truest sense.
This itinerary is pretty extensive. You can also explore any one destination on it's own but give it at least 3-4 nights so that you can disconnect from your everyday life and sink into the mountains.
All the better looking photos have been taken by my partner in crime Joy Manavath.