Visit any state in India, and bits and pieces of its culture reveal themselves to the discerning traveller – be it through the architecture, the food, the style of dress, the festivals and the like. But in Uttarakhand, the intricacies that make up its cultural fabric are hidden from plain sight. Thousands of tourists flock to the Yoga Centres of Rishikesh, to the ancient city of Haridwar and to hill-stations of Nainital, Mussorie and Dehradun. Adventure and photography lovers head to the wildlife sanctuary of Jim Corbett….
But ask any of them whether they’ve tried Kumaoni or Garhwal cuisines – simple, incredible food from the 2 distinct regions of Uttarakhand. Or if they’ve noticed the way the architecture differs from other mountainous Indian states, been mesmerized by a vibrant cultural performance or even listened to some of the melodious music of the land – and not a lot of people will say that they have.
THE PAHADI ORGANIC
Ranjeet Rawat and his son, Chetan Rawat, a NIFTian-turned-hotelier are changing that through The Pahadi Organic. Behind its intricate stone and wood façade, this motel wishes to further a unique concept – #PakkaPahadi (truly of the mountains) – to give guests an immersive experience into the Uttarakhand way of life.
Every detail has been purposefully and painstakingly put into place at this 14 acre property, as you’ll see as I pour out my experience in words. To give you an idea of the depth of commitment to the cause, Chetan introduced me to a craftsman, who was sitting at the back of the property, bent over a wooden pillar that he was hand-carving for The Pahadi Organic. Having been employed at this budget hotel in Uttarakhand for the last 3 years, he explained how the profession is slowly dying away, how his son wouldn’t join his trade because the nature of the work demands being bent over a piece of wood all day resulting in diminishing eyesight… as well as how he dedicates 15 days to carving a single pillar or arch to be erected at the property.
So if you thought that a trip to the Pahadi Organic would be just another visit to the mountains where you can indulge in cups of tea, smoke joints and set off on the occasional trek – you’ll be surprised! Your trip will be action-packed, educational, fun for the whole family, and downright delicious!
Travelling by your own vehicle is the best way to get to The Pahadi Organic. Located a little over an hours’ distance away from Jim Corbett in Ramnagar, the drive to Totam is an easy one. The solitary winding road is well paved, promising a smooth, painless journey until the very parking zone of the motel itself. The change in landscape from Corbett gets more apparent with every gently turn – and the dense forest slowly opens up to pillowy clouds, sunshine-golden valleys and expansive hills.
Ensure you inform The Pahadi Organic on your time of arrival – you’ll be greeted with something that will refresh the mind and body of even the weariest traveller among you. Chholiya– also called Sword Dance – is a traditional dance originating a thousand years ago from the Kumaon Region of Uttarakhand. Get your camera out to capture the traditionally-dressed men dancing in a circle to greet you, wielding swords and shields, playing the dhol and percussions, blowing shell-horns and putting a smile on your face!
Wooden from top to toe, my room at the Pahadi Organic was compact and comfortable. A soft double bed occupied most of the space, and a little table and chair at the side served as a dining table for when I ordered room service. A TV, Tea-Coffee maker and free WiFi are the utilities you can expect to have. The washroom is located in the bedroom itself, separated by frosted glass. Toiletries and towels are provided and 24-hour hot water supply is available. Step onto the cool balcony to enjoy the chilly evening weather, or to let your cold hands feel the mellow warmth of the sun – it’s the best place to enjoy the privacy and admire the view.
All rooms open out into a common lounge area from where, a steep, sloped ramp leads you downstairs – either outside or to the restaurant.
The Pahadi Organic takes the term ‘farm fresh’ seriously and not only grows all their own vegetables, but harvests them as per the food order of the customer. So Pro Tip, if you’re someone who gets HANGRY like I do, order your meal before your tummy rumbles because the staff promptly makes their way to one of their several farms at the back of the property and plucks the veggies that you’ll be tucking into shortly – no quick fixes here!
Those who know me well know that I’m always excited to sample local cuisine. Every meal I sat down to eat had me staring in wonder at food I had never seen before and flavours that surprised my palate.
On our first morning, the staff packed us a breakfast of Chhou (chapati made of red rice flour), cucumber raita, gaderi ki sabji (taro vegetable) and lauki ki sabji (bottle gourd vegetable). Given my 2-day long journey to the Pahadi Organic, I’d have loved to sleep in and have breakfast at noon, but the ice-cold spray from the gushing waterfall woke me up and how! With my feet dipped into the rocky pool, I enjoyed a serene breakfast and felt like I was in one of those TLC travel shows! I mean, breakfast at a waterfall, you guys!
Back at the hotel, the staff kept tabs on what we ordered for lunch so that they could suggest something radically different for dinner – their attempts to make us try out as many of the local dishes as possible – I could tell, they were really proud of their cuisine! Over 3 days, I probably tried out half of their very extensive menu. Snacks like Patyud (Batter fried colocasia leaves) were sampled during tea time, crispy and salty – quite a different kind of ‘bhajiya,’ I must say.
Evenings up in the hills are pretty chilly, so we bundled up in our jackets and made our way to the bonfire once the stars began to appear in the sky. Huddled around the fire, we ate roasted potatoes and kele ke gutke (diced raw bananas tempered in spices). It was here at the bonfire that I was presented with some Bhutuwa – boiled goat intestines (yikes!) tempered with cumin and onion – a delicacy in these parts. Would you try it? Of course, I did – and it tasted a lot like calamari!
Among my favourite dishes at The Pahadi Organic was Makke Ka Chila (a light crepe-like roti made with crushed corn, onions and tomatoes.) I’m not kidding when I say that I wish I could eat it every day – it’s SOOO tasty! We had it paired with Shishun ka saag (stinging nettle leaves) and palak ka saag (spinach). While both those green mashes below look the same, the difference in taste is apparent.
Madue ki Roti, inky black, thick and a tad crispy, made of finger millet, has a slightly sweet taste was my go-to bread. On one of our dinners, I savoured it with bhatt ki chudkani (black soybean curry) and mutton surua (a finger-licking-good mutton dish)
I can’t tell you how much I loved Madue ki baadi – a dessert made of finger millet, coconut, milk and dry fruits! What a knock-out dessert! While it doesn’t look too indulgent, and it isn’t sweet at all, the sticky-crispy texture and taste made it addictive. I didn’t quite take to another dessert, though – Lapsi (mixture of rice flour with milk and sugar) – I guess its an acquired taste.
#PakkaPahadi THINGS TO DO AT THE PAHADI ORGANIC
Adventure Sports – Burma Bridge, Monkey Rope, Bungy Trampoline, Wall Climbing, Repelling, Ziplining, Paragliding, Paintball, Swings and a toy train for kids… phew! The peaceful hill-side hotel near Jim Corbett has something to thrill those looking for an adrenaline rush. While I didn’t have the time to try everything out, I got into the driver’s seat of a mean-looking ATV and hurtled (read – cautiously crawled) my way down some rocky terrain. For an inexperienced driver like myself, driving this powerful machine really had my heart thumping!
Visit Kholyon Village – A short walk down the road and a little bit of trekking down a gentle slope will bring you to this village straight out of a movie. I struck gold and happened to be at The Pahadi Organic during an auspicious day for the community – a new idol of Lord Hanuman was about to make its way to the village temple at the far end of the village via a colourful procession beginning from the road.
The sounds of drums, the sight of women in colourful saris with brass pots decorated with marigold flowers on their heads, and everyone gathered on the road to accompany the idol, placed on a shoulder-casket, looked so beautifully Indian. The villagers, thrilled to see outsiders so interested in the happenings of their village, were welcoming in their own little way! We walked with tiny tots in slippers too big for their feet and elders leaning on walking sticks, down to the village to watch the festivities unfold before our eyes, like it was our own private screening!
I noticed how there were two flag bearers, one in the front of the procession, holding a white flag – and one at the back, holding a red flag. Chetan informed us that this was a wedding custom – when the white flag is held in the front, it symbolizes that it is a peaceful procession heading to the house of the bride and is not to be attacked. On returning, the red flag in the front symbolizes that a bride is among the gathering. How interesting, right!?
On our way back, we stopped outside a house somewhere in the middle of the village to rest, sitting quietly, to soak up our surroundings – tiny, one-room homes, a few other apparently richer homes with ornate wooden window frames and picket fences… I spotted pumpkins growing on vines and lemons dangling from the trees, caught the empty stares of giant buffaloes, and breathed in the scent of sweet-smelling hay…
And then, another series of wonderful things happened – the village head whose house we happened to be sitting outside climbed up the guava tree behind us and plucked the choicest fruit to offer us with spicy turmeric-salt! The simplicity of the gesture was touching – so much to learn from these people!
Set Off On A Gorgeous Trail – You know me, I’m not a happy camper when I have to trek, but you also know I have major ‘Fear of Missing Out’ Syndrome. So yes, I went on YET another trek, this one at 5 am and it-was-marvellous! We piled into the car, drove for quite a while and stopped at an almost imperceptible slope off the road. A relatively easy trail upwards through a forest opened up to the most astonishing view! Open-mouthed, we stepped on to a rocky patch and slowly spun in circles, as if we’d entered a portal into another country, or perhaps into another world!
Blue mountains in the distance, the sunshine striking the sides of golden grass almost as tall as I, causing them to glimmer, mauve wildflowers bowing against the wind… was this even real? I inched my way closer to the edge. Slipping here meant tumbling down into the verdant valley below, and apart from a river snaking through the valley, there was nothing in sight – no man, no car, no house. The staff at Pahadi Organic who accompanied us, carried a flask of tea and cups – so we plopped ourselves on the grass to drink it in – the warmth of the cup feeling blissful in the crisp, cool weather, and watch Mother Nature show off in front of our eyes. This million dollar view in this secluded spot was all ours, for free!
SO I’M SAYING…
These days, I feel that the “Guest is God” philosophy is taken a tad too far and hotels pander to all sorts of guests demands. But what’s the point of a holiday if it is experienced at the same pace as your life back home? How can regional or village-based tourism survive if the experience is diluted to suit urban tastes?
Travelers willing to step out of their comfort zones and those willing experiencing a open up to a host of new things, live within a community and imbibe their way of life – you will definitely leave The Pahadi Organic far richer than you arrived.
If you made it to the end of my lengthy blog post, I really, really hope you go off the beaten track and treat yourself to a stay here. Follow The Pahadi Organic on Instagram and Facebook to get yourself a dose of the simple life, until then. And you can catch me @thatgoangirl on Instagram and Facebook, too!
Note – I was a guest at The Pahadi Organic, however, views, as always, are my own.