Even though Himachal Pradesh is my favourite state, and I have spent considerable time (days, weeks and months) slow travelling across almost all parts of it; I have never actually lived there. I’ve spent a week or two weeks or more in the same place multiple times, but they have all been at homestays and not independent living. So, when the choice for our first ever ‘renting a cottage’ experience turned out to be in the state of Uttarakhand, it raised a lot of eyebrows – ours included!
We had spent most of the anxious post-March months at home in Jaipur; only heading out to Delhi and Himachal for around 4 weeks in September-October. Most of our travels otherwise were around Jaipur in the form of staycations and drives. It had started to feel boring being back in Jaipur and once Diwali celebrations were over, we started making plans in our head to leave for the mountains. The ‘where’ seemed like a sacrilegious question, and was left alone for the time being.
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In December, when we learnt that there was no compulsory negative Covid test report required for entering Uttarakhand, it felt pre-ordained that we head to Dehradun to stay at our friends’ home there. Further, detailed enquiries meant the information that folks arriving from Delhi were being made to undergo a compulsory Covid Test at the border. Since we were not keen at all on getting a Covid test done, we decided to hire a cab directly from Jaipur to Dehradun and made sure it was a RJ number.
We spent a nice two weeks in Dehradun and on a random whim ended up staying a couple of days in Landour when we went for breakfast to Hathipaon, near Mussoorie. After breakfast, it was just decided to hike up via the jungle path to Landour and since we had covered almost 16 kilometres, it only seemed prudent to end up staying in Landour! The weather was very cold and temperatures were in the negative but we loved the walks galore and it felt as if we were ready to travel in the old style (of course with precautions).
It was a memorable Christmas feast in Dehradun and we were 7 of us travelling in 2 cars from Dehradun to Kasar Devi, next day. We had decided to take the long but beautiful winding route from Garhwal to Kumaon – the Karnaprayag-Gwaldam to Kasar Devi route. The biggest challenge was to figure out a safe place to stay on the road, and accordingly we left at about 8 am from Dehradun. It was decided to stay at one secluded place on the way to Gauchar.
It was a forgettable night stay to say the least but we left very early for our final destination Kasar Devi in Kumaon and luck started smiling on us. As we crossed Karnaprayag and were on the Gwaldam-Almora road, it was still quite early in the morning and for the first time in our lives (seemingly) we took a u-turn to end up at a dhaba eatery that we only noticed after going ahead.
The dhaba eatery turned out to be just the perfect spot with a flowing river and served freshly made incredibly tasty paranthas with veggies and dall. It felt as if our trip was already off to a great start. We met an internet acquaintance who was kind enough to give us chai with a grand view of Mt. Trishul. I was excited to see the fabulous looking bamboo baskets when our car crossed Gwaldam Bazaar and made a mental note to buy them if we were in Gwaldam again.
We drove and drove and passed different parts of Kumaon and were in Kasar Devi at around 330 pm. Since it was intended as a week long stay, I had decided that accommodation was best at a secluded place and I had in mind exactly the place that fulfilled the requirements. We were in the jungle and the place of stay wasn’t exactly luxurious but had an element of rustic beauty to it. There was a fireplace in every room to keep the cold at bay.
We enjoyed our aimless walks in the jungle and our evenings with the fireplace. It was fun to wake up to a view of the Himalayan peaks somedays as we practised yoga and meditation on the terrace. When it was time to go back, we realised we were mentally prepared to just continue living here and told our Dehradun and Delhi friends the same. The weather was cloudy and continued being so as everyone else except us left on 2nd January 2021.
There were a lot of factors involved in the shifting to the mountains. On our travels, we had always wondered what it would be like to live in one place. Now that ‘work from anywhere’ is a reality and it is possible to live this life, if we didn’t try it now, there might never be a better time to do it. We have not really decided how long we will live here, but it is just an experiment to see how it feels to actually live in the mountains.
We were hoping to be shifted to a warmer cottage on the 2nd but that didn’t happen and on a cold and gloomy day we decided to get dropped to Almora with our friends who were headed to Ranikhet. It was meant as a quick stop to buy the necessary stuff that we would need to start living. Almora Bazaar is closed on Sunday and that necessitated our going on a Saturday because we didn’t want to leave our shopping for essentials for too late.
It was a cloudy and gloomy day and felt very smoggy. We got dropped off on the Ranikhet road around 3.5 kms from the Almora Bazaar and got a ride in a camper after walking for a bit. The camper dropped us close to a set of stairs from where we reached Almora market after huffing and puffing for about 15 minutes! On the way, I realised that I had forgotten my mask and the first thing that we did after reaching the market was to buy a mask!
We figured that it made sense to buy some basic supplies and rations like oil etc since we were planning to ‘live’ here. If I’ve forgotten to mention it earlier, our cottage came with a kitchenette and there was a gas and the required utensils too. We also asked the owner to start giving us 1/2 litre daily milk that came straight from their cows that someone owned in the extended family.
Vishal Mega Mart
Whenever we showed anyone in Almora our list of things to buy, they would invariably ask us to go to Vishal Mega Mart. Even though we were keen on buying stuff from the usual small shops in the bazaar, we figured it was easier to go to Vishal Mega Mart and buy the things we need in one place. Plus they had some massive discount scheme going on! We finished our shopping for masalas, rice, cups at around 3 pm and were super tired and hungry as well. I could only buy an upper warmer at the Neva shop since they had no lower in my size!
We bought towels to be used as a table cover and a curtain from one of many khadi shops in Almora Bazaar. Also bought a bottle of Morpheus XO brandy for 900 Rupees since I was told that it is a nice remedy to be used in small quantities as medicine to combat the cold.
We must have looked rather funny with the bulky looking bags but still decided to have a late lunch rather than rushing to our home in Kasar Devi and being hungry. It was a simple meal of bhatt ki churkani and mandua roti at Joshju’s Restaurant in Almora and we were glad to speak to the owner, Siddharth. We requested him to ask one of his staff guys to book the 2 front seats for us in the shared sumo because it might possibly be the last sumo of the day to Kasar Devi.
While roaming in the heritage area of the Johari Bazaar, we had come across a utensil shop and picked some antique stuff in brass from him. The owner was a middle aged uncle and remarked that his kids had started a small venture in the lockdown, Almora Rasoi. He gave a packet of the tea masala made by Almora Rasoi for 30 Rupees for us to try it out. I spotted Almora Rasoi’s signboard near the shared taxi stand and met one of the young owners. He told me that everything they made was in desi ghee and I tried the makkhan bada and it really turned out to be amazing.
Almora is quite warm and when we get back it felt frighteningly cold in the cottage. We light a fire in the evening itself and make hot chocolate from the homemade mix that we had bought from Prakash Ji’s shop in Landour. We feel satisfied and accomplished having done most of our required shopping. We figured that we could make a list once we shifted to our actual cottage.
Woke up to a drizzle. It has been raining since morning, not too much but enough to make it very cold and seemingly impossible to get out of bed. We have breakfast at our host’s home at 9 am and go back to our room. There is no chance of yoga on the terrace. It stops raining for a bit and we venture out to see the clouds in the forest that we are.
We light a fire at about 11 am and declare that it is a day to chill and relax and that we should celebrate our having gone to the market a day earlier. It is a cozy bed and I’m able to concentrate on reading a book after what seems like a long time. At about 1240 pm, we feel very sleepy but decide to not get too lazy and make lunch.
Lunch is sautéed whole french beans, carrots, and capsicum. It turns out to be super yummy and I am so happy with myself. We have received our first container of the fresh cow milk in the morning and the cold day means we make a round of hot chocolate. It turns out to be an epic lunch idea, especially in this Ruskin Bond – kind of weather!
To let go of our lethargy, we decide to go for a walk in the woods but have to opt against it as it starts raining as soon as we step out. We finally go to the terrace for network and stand in the sheltered part and download a movie or two! I also put out some social media updates.
It is surreal to notice the clouds and mist float around the trees in the near and far distance and how the mountains have been invisible for the last 3-4 days. I almost wonder if visitors to Kasar Devi feel what the fuss is all about if they come for a 2-3 day visit and don’t get a view of the mountains.
The day ends early and it is dark when we get back to our cottage at about 530 pm. There has been no electricity all day and we are lucky that the cottage has a single charging point that works on an inverter. At 7 pm, we go for dinner. Amazing food menu – mushroom tomato soup, dall, vegetables, chapati and rice. We chat up with our host about the possibility of snowfall next day if it continues raining. We continue the fire post dinner and sleep early because it will be cottage shifting day tomorrow!
Our hearts are beating wildly in anticipation of shifting to a permanent cottage today. I am feeling wonderful after a good night’s sleep and the day begins nicely inhaling the fresh aroma of petrichor once we open the cottage door! The weather appears to be shifting between cloudy and sunny and it is fun to notice the small battle that the sun finally triumphs in! It is not raining anymore and we decide to not wait forever for the shifting of the cottage and go out for a walk and do our work.
Tara General Store, Papersali
We set out after breakfast to head to Tara General Store in Papersali to buy eggs and other basic supplies that we were unable to buy in Almora Bazaar. Tara General Store is like an all purpose hub in the region; as everyone gets their Amazon deliveries and other necessary stuff delivered there. There are also other shops nearby and it makes for a nice walk once you are familiar with the jungle paths.
It is a great day for a walk because the jungle has all kinds of pleasant smells today as the sun is shining brightly now after the spell of rain. The view of the Himalayas is clear and we wonder how the mountains decide to reveal themselves once the weekend tourists are gone.
We buy a tray of eggs at Tara General Store and are surprised to know that there is hardly any stock in the usually burgeoning shop. We cannot even find brown bread or atta maggi (not that we actually eat both of them) and even the vegetables don’t look fresh at all. I am happily surprised to see nice looking local avocados being sold for Rs. 30 per piece.
Tara Ji tells us that since there are hardly any long-term tourists staying in Kasar Devi right now, he has decided to take it slow for the time being. There’s another shop selling boutique stuff owned by a brother of Tara Ji, and that uncle tells us of a jungle path to reach our cottages! We thank him for the same and tell him we always want to avoid taking the road.
We have a peek around the other shops too and are able to buy a nailcutter and a locally made bamboo basket. It is around noon and we take the jungle path to go back; and come across pretty looking homes. Some of these homes are homestays too and there are a few cuddly looking dogs barking at us strangers!
We spot many malta trees (local oranges) and the stark orange colour is especially pleasing to the eyes. It is around 1 pm when we get back to our new ‘home’. The cottage hasn’t been emptied yet and we make a quick lunch.
We go up to the terrace for better network and to enjoy some sun. Our host tells us that the cottage is empty now (finally) and that it is being cleaned. We are excited to hear that and after a quick bath start packing our stuff in different bags so that we can shift quickly. We finally start shifting our bags at about 4 pm once the room is cleaned and the floors have been wiped clean.
We have also got our leftover wood in two lots. We unpack and arrange our stuff in the shelf. Once the basic stuff has been done, I make tea and it is a super happy feeling to drink in the new transparent cups!
This cottage already feels much warmer than the previous cottage! It has wooden flooring. We think that we might not even need to light a fire here. We setup the kitchen and put the fridge to good use by switching it off and storing rice and different dals in it.
It is time to test the internet speed and figure the best way of working here. This cottage opens to a small terrace where there are 2 chairs and a table. It is pretty cold outside and we will be able to sit outside according to the timing of the sunshine.
It is a lovely feeling to have shifted here in daylight because otherwise it might have just felt very gloomy to have moved here in the dark. We decide to give a load of clothes to wash the next day. Have dinner at 7 pm and thank our host for giving us a warm cottage! Since internet speed is manageable here, we watch a movie after dinner and call it an early night.
We come across the Hilans outlet while checking other shops after Tara General Store. Buy bhatt ki dall, red rice and local mandua biscuits from there. These are all local foods of Uttarakhand and have immense health benefits in addition to providing warmth in the winter months. The prices at Hilans are a bit higher than the market but the quality is better too as the grains are sorted and there are less chances of stones in the pulses.
It is our first morning in the new cottage. The alarm is set for 715 am but it feels very cold in the morning and I end up snoozing the alarm. I finally wake up 15 minutes later and see clouds in the sky after pulling the curtains. A round of nicely made tea and we are up and running with the new life.
We go to the bigger terrace at about 815 am and practise yoga and meditation. The view of the Himalayan peaks is absolutely clear and we give our clothes for a wash as we head for breakfast. It is oats porridge, milk and fruits for breakfast. It is indeed a very cold morning and the temperature is easily in the negative as we start work at about 930 am.
The sun comes at around 10 am on our terrace and we scramble to put the chairs and shift our position with the sunshine! At lunchtime, make rice and light stir-fry onions, tomatoes, spring onions, beans, capsicum and mix in rice. It turns out super yummy. I call it a case of beginner’s luck! We are pleased with how life is turning out here and sit and eat outside in the sun. The sunshine continues till around 2 pm and we decide to go for a walk in the jungle post that.
As we are about to leave, I see a message from The Farmhaus saying that our freshly baked atta bread is ready. We are supposed to pick it up from their house which is about 25 minutes walk from our place! It is the best part of life here and as simple as it gets when you walk through a dense pine and mixed jungle to pick up freshly baked bread! We are amazed to see their blue and white house with 2 cute dogs and the aroma is tantalising. We are given mandua cookies to taste and love them!
On the way back, we lose our way and wander around in the jungle for a bit. It turns out we were on the right way and finally make it back to the cottage at about 330 pm. We have decided to make sure that we go for a walk in the jungle everyday; otherwise whats the fun of living in the middle of nature.
After working for some time, it is time for chai and I marvel at the view of the snow clad Himalayas from the glass window – Mt. Trishul, Nanda Devi, Chaukhamba are among the prominent peaks visible from here. It is a majestic sunset and I see the peaks light up in different hues of orange and pink and then funnily enough I see the clouds roll in.
Dinner time is fixed at 7 pm and we relish the food laid out on the table. There is yummy tomato soup, avocado salad, dall, vegetable, chapati and rice. We chat with our host, spiritual chants playing in the background. The weather seems to be changing and the electricity goes. Thankfully we have a solar powered light in our room and we light up a fire in the fireplace to make it feel cosier. The wind is rushing through when we are about to sleep and it begins raining.
It is fun to hear the pleasing sound of raindrops on our tin roof. It rains all night and there is a big downpour when the alarm for 715 sounds. I pull the curtains hoping to see a whiteout! It is still sort of dark and the surroundings are cloudy and misty. I feel like I’m in a Ruskin Bond movie! The rain finally stops after some time. There is a spider in the room and our host helps with it!
There is no electricity but thankfully everything is charged. The rain returns after breakfast. It feels bitterly cold in the absence of sun. I wonder if it continues raining, then maybe it might snow in the night. Lunch is omelette and bread and the bread turns out to be totally amazing. Invite our host for evening tea, he’s here at 430 and it is a lovely time! The electricity finally comes just in time and we put all our devices for charging lest there be another power cut!
I use the locally made gloves while typing on the laptop. I’ve sourced them and other local woollen products for my arts and crafts platform Indilocal. Otherwise it feels too cold and the teeth chatter. We decide to light up the fire everyday post-dinner only; since its not safe to leave the fire on while we are not in the cottage. I am trying to complete a blogpost and decide to work post-dinner too. That is one of the biggest challenges of a freelance life, since you have no boss – it becomes difficult to decide how much work to do.
The weekend comes and like villagers we dress up and are super excited to go to Almora Bazaar for our weekly shopping of groceries! I also have to ship some orders for Indilocal. I wanted to find out a proper shop to buy local produce and I am able to locate it in the old Almora market. We buy local garlic, gahat ki dall and other herbs and spices. Tibetan ladies sell jambu and gandrayani and we buy small quantities to be used in food.
Now that we have completed almost 2 months of living in Kasar Devi, let me compile some highlights from the memories :
- Seeing a deer in the forest. A curious deer came by and stood still as we blended in the surroundings of the jungle. It skipped, jumped and disappeared. The joy of seeing a deer in the wild is simply inexplicable.
- Simple joys – Sitting in the sunshine, watching a flower bloom, drinking fresh cow milk, of being in nature, breathing fresh air, waking up to the chirping of birds, yoga and meditation, making flower vases with nature’s bounty, dewdrops on leaves, watching the Himalayan peaks.
- Learning to cook Kumaoni food – bhatt ki dal, red rice, gahat ki dall, jhangora, jambu masala.
- Learnt how to light a fire – with a fireplace in the cottage and winter in its full force, it was essential to keep a fire going in the evening to feel cosy and warm!
- Working from anywhere – Courtesy of a cotton dhurrie, we have worked from different places in different forests depending on our need for sunshine. We just need to find a nice flat land to spread the dhurrie.
- Working with the local women folk around villages of Almora and shipping hand made and hand knitted woollen products across India through @Indilocal
- Become a part of the community – Now, wherever we go in the nearby regions, most locals know us and share conversations with us.
- Watch winter transform the forest in spring. From leafless trees to seeing fresh shoots appear everyday.
- Endless walks in the forest, with dogs for company. Appreciating the urban pleasures whenever we go to Almora Bazaar to buy groceries.
And thats how life is in Kasar Devi.