Delhi to Satoli: Warm encounters
As we savoured our alfresco breakfast, we felt a stab of nostalgia; an acute awareness of what we city dwellers have lost.
We were in the charming village of Satoli, an hour’s drive from Mukteshwar in the Kumaon hills, and the luxe One Partridge Hill was our vacation rental for a three-day weekend getaway. We could have stayed there forever, listening to sundry bird calls and gazing at lush valleys cradling marshmallow clouds even as the mountains marched across the horizon like a stone army on the move; every heave and thrust etched against a powder-blue sky. The vistas looked like they had been plucked from a plush coffee-table book with photographs air-brushed and photoshopped to sock you between the eyes.
However, the landscape that we gazed at on both mornings as we sipped tea on the sit-out adjacent to our room, was not a one-dimensional photograph. It was a sensual assault. The crisp fragrant air, pressing silence and drop-dead gorgeous views made us wish that we too (like other Satoli residents) had the courage to give up our stressed-out existence in the city and head for the hills to live a sustainable existence, growing fruits and vegetables.
We spent the two days in Satoli revelling in forest walks, picnics by the river, and paying obeisance at simple hilltop shrines to Gorakhnath, the presiding deity of the hills. Nature embraced us and whispered her secrets—sharing her abundance as we walked along forest trails shaded by oak and pine. Along the way we plucked wild berries and sucked their sweetness; stopped at an isolated village home where a grandmother told us about her life and how the family consumed whatever it grew—like wheat, vegetables and fruits from their orchards.
Satoli is a place for warm encounters because it’s a small village of a few hundred souls and most people know each other. The most memorable was an encounter with Manvendra, a young barefoot volunteer from Rajasthan whom we met on one of our forest walks. The young man with chocolate-boy good looks was carrying a bag of compost for organic farming. A former Greenpeace volunteer, Manvendra works for a local NGO called Alaap whose main aim is reforestation and preservation of local culture. “We go into the old forest to collect seeds to experiment with new reforestation techniques,” he supplied the information keenly.
Our walk with him ended at a British dak bungalow embedded in a dense copse. The Britishers had built dak bungalows every 16 miles so that officers could rest, administer their territories and settle local disputes. As we sat in the hospitable shade of a large horse chestnut tree whose flowers reminded us of white candyfloss, a local told us about the porcupine that regularly waddles up to it to nibble on the nuts.
At dusk, in our sit-out at One Partridge Hill, we gazed at the grey bowl of a sky as it emptied its contents on our scenic habitat atop a hill. Unseasonal rains lashed Satoli on both evenings and thunder and lightning ricocheted across the hills. The resident flying squirrel that glides from one pine tree to the next did not turn up on either evening.
On the last day, we woke up to rain-washed skies, with nature in a beneficent mood—the flowers in the two-level garden sprayed the air with their perfume and the laughing thrush whistled a happy tune. As we drove back to Delhi, the pines stretched to the heavens as though in prayer, and nature was giving and generous once again.
Weekend Vacations offers suggestions on getaways that allow for short breaks from metros. The authors tweet from @GustaspJeroo.