Editor’s note: You may have heard the saying ‘the journey is the destination’, but some travellers actually put that philosophy into practice. Presenting, #FTravellers — on-the-road (or air/sea) dispatches from travel enthusiasts on long journeys.
The travellers we're now featuring are Ambika Vishwanath and Hoshner Reporter of The reDiscovery Project. Ambika and Hoshner are doing an in-depth journey through Uttarakhand, and will be sharing their travel journals on Firstpost.
Text by Ambika Vishwanath | Photos by Hoshner Reporter
When we started out in 2015, the first major leg of the rediscovery project was around southern India, where in a bit of a mad rush we travelled across all five states over 76 days. It was foolhardy and we have realised that not only do places need time, but so do we. Being on the road for such a long stretch on a small budget gets tiring and we now keep our journeys shorter, delve deeper and pause when needed. We admire the ones who find the energy (and money!) to keep going.
After our trek up to Deoria lake — a day as perfect as could be — we found ourselves at a crossroads: Should we continue through the Garhwal region, or head home to recalibrate and gather ourselves to travel the rest another time? As always we were torn and finally, after much debate, decided to travel to two more places: the Goat Village, a responsible tourism initiative in Raithal village, and the lovely hill station of Landour, both of which promised to be vastly different aspects of the same region, and call it a day.
But as the best laid plans never usually work out, the lack of network meant we couldn’t reach the folks at the Goat Village, so from Sari, we headed south to Landour via a night in Tehri, famous for its stunning lake and somewhat contentious dam. Landour was a world in itself, quaint and quiet, with a certain charm that one finds in old colonial towns across the country. Just a few kilometres north of but a world away from chaotic Mussoorie, Landour is a wonderful august blend of the modern and the historic with trendy cafés and posh boutique hotels sitting alongside charming wood-and-stone homes, old churches, gas lamps and curlicues, all set among thick cedar forests. The town, despite the day-trippers eating momos at char dukaan or sampling dessert at the bakehouse, reminded me of my grandfather, an ex-army man who still likes to dress for dinner and make calls on the landline yet reminds me to check on Google about the traffic and the best route before setting out from home.
We’d be lying if we didn’t admit that after weeks of dal, roti, sabzi we gorged on pasta and cheesecake, croissants and chilli pork like never before. We found ourselves a cute little homestay near Sister's Bazaar in Landour (details on request), spent hours alternating our time between the trendy Landor Bakehouse, homely Doma’s restaurant and vibrant Mudcup Café, and chatting with the residents about the town’s colourful and illustrious history. Landor doesn’t have any public transport and a taxi up from Mussoorie bazaar costs upwards of Rs 400 for a 15-minute ride, so we walked everywhere, which also made eating all those desserts feel rather guilt-free!
During one of our walks, we stumbled upon the Mussoorie Heritage Centre, a treasure trove of information, stories, legends and visual chronicle of the city and the region. Surbhi, who is on an admirable mission to preserve and showcase the art and architecture and fast dying history of Mussoorie, is a fantastic person to chat with and we whiled away hours furrowing through the heritage centre and antique store next door, run by her father Vinod Kumar, a Mussoorie institution. Her home, above the shop, was also an antique in itself, and originally belonged to the Garhwali wife of an Englishman, Wilson. The infamous ‘pahari’ Wilson was locally known as the 'Raja of Harsil' and my interest was piqued. The Bakehouse in Sister’s Bazaar, along with fabulous desserts, pastry and bread, also stocks books by local authors — Indian and international — and I bought the Raja of Harsil by Hutchinson. Full of exploits and the rather impossible-sounding anecdotes of ‘pahari’ Wilson, the book was great and I was determined to visit Harsil. But before Harsil was The Goat Village and after a week in Landor, we headed back up north to Uttarkashi.
Six hours and four changes later, we tumbled out of the Sumo at a sign that said ‘Love all, hate no one’, and an arrow pointing to The Goat Village. An apt sign — we trudged up a half kilometre to our own little cottage set amid a massive green meadow with nothing else around for miles except the sounds of cow bells and the roar of the Bhagirathi river far below. Conceptualised by The Green People, the three goat villages across the Garhwal region of Uttarakhand work towards employment and income generation from sustainable tourism practices and providing an impetus to agricultural practices, all which lead to stemming the migration tide. The one we were at in Raithal was run by two women, Priyanka and Shobini, who in their own words have reached a new level of confidence through this experience.
While we were there, Shobini was off to complete a mounteneering course at NIM to guide guests around the region. We repeatedly heard during our travels through the state about the lack of employment opportunities, about villages that were emptying out, and it is initiatives like this, or the one in Sarmoli and many others, home-grown and inclusive, that are truly changing the future of the next generation.
Set on the path to the famous Dayara Bugyal, a trek we unfortunately couldn’t do due to inclement weather, the Goat Village at Dayara is a place that inspires. From the mountains and the bounty of nature all around, to the heavy rain that stormed, to the sweet smell of the earth, and the women that trudge up the hillside every day to look after the cattle always with a smile and kind word, it is the place to create, to invent or simply to seek out something new. We ate greens that were growing wild and grains that one had never heard of.
In those last few days in Uttarakhand, we filled our bellies with local food and soaked in all the natural beauty, beholden to the many sublime places we have travelled through on our six-week sojourn and the inspiring people who work tirelessly to keep the beauty alive. There is no doubt we will return.
We never did make it to Harsil, but as I finished the book in Dayara, not far from the village where ‘pahari’ Wilson had once lived, I am determined to retrace the steps of this mad Englishman from the early 19th century who married a local and became a ‘king’. But that’s a journey for another time.
Read more from this series here.
Writer Ambika Vishwanath and photographer Hoshner Reporter are the team behind The reDiscovery Project. Follow their journey here.
Updated Date: Jul 20, 2018 16:32 PM