I had been roaming pretty much everywhere in the higher reaches of Uttarakhand. It was sheer delight coming across pretty windows and doors embellished with intricate carvings in remote towns. Houses in the mountains have traditionally been constructed from mud and stone because of easy availability of the same.
I kept asking people about traditional houses wherever I went. There was modernisation all around and concrete houses had seemingly replaced all old dwellings.
In the vicinity of Almora, someone spoke of ‘Kumati ki Bakhli’ and looked away into the horizon – as if it was a dream. They said its the biggest Bakhlee (Traditional Community house, also – Bakholi) in all of Kumaon and I knew I had to go and see it.
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There was a refreshing smell in the dense pine forest that the road passed through. I was dropped close to the village and was supposed to walk thereafter. A small path went downhill, it was eerily silent at 1 in the afternoon. Pine resin was being collected in small cones that were attached to the trees. The aroma was sweet and intoxicating.
And then just after a turn, I spotted it. A house that seemed never ending with a beautiful view of the valley in front. So much history, heritage, culture and architecture all in one.
As soon as I reached, an old man offered me tea. Instead, I asked them to show me the house. An entire generation poured out their nostalgia when it was known that among the 25 families that can live in this humongous structure, only 14-15 were residing there. In the golden days of yore, they said over 125 people lived together in the Bakhli.
Families practised terrace farming and grew vegetables, potatoes, grains among other fruits that grew naturally. Wheat threshing was in process. There were hardly any youngsters around, upon asking – the elders informed me that the younger generation is moving to well built concrete homes that offer more materialistic comforts and that just the poor ones were left behind to live here.
The entire structure had a single roof that was approx. 300 feet long. All the homes were identically designed and comprised of a living room cum kitchen, and one bedroom. The basement was hollow and cattle were kept along with fodder. The elders had originally designed this ‘Bakhli’ so that the entire community could be together in times of distress and help one another.
Water was aplenty with a natural source in the form of a stream that came from the mountains. A sort of temple had been constructed nearby and women washed clothes while little children played. When it was time to leave, children were returning from school and skipped through the fields to arrive at this timeless structure.
With increasing prosperity, only time will tell how the biggest and perhaps the oldest traditional structure in Kumaon, Uttarakhand survives.
Kumati ki Bakhli lies near Kafura and Peora village on the Sitla – Mukteshwar road in Kumaon, Uttarakhand. The locals claim it to be at least 200 years old. It was originally built with mud and stone.
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