I am a hill person, I must have been born in the plains by mistake in this life. I am always happy to travel to the hills, even though it often means an early morning start for catching the Shatabdi Express train. My visit to The White Peaks at Gagar, Uttarakhand was no different. I got up at 4.00 am to catch the 6.00 am Kathgodam Shatabdi Express train. The White Peaks is a cozy cottage! It takes its name from the view of the White Peaks but I only got a glimpse of it as most of the time the weather was overcast. You can check out the rates here.
My plan was to sleep in the train after breakfast. But I was so busy chatting with Neeru and Gurjas (bloggers on the same trip) and a fellow passenger that none of us slept a wink! Travel is such an addictive topic. Due to avomine, I slept off in the car drive from Kathgodam to Gagar though. I woke up quite close to Gagar and I immediately noticed the Rhododendron blooms. Gagar is a small town a few kilometers before Ramgarh in Uttarakhand. If you want a peaceful holiday, it is the exact spot where you should stop.
Mohan, the caretaker, the cook and the ever smiling chap, greeted us at the road. We walked a short distance to arrive at the White Peaks Homestay. The territorial dogs (safely tied in their homes) went mad at the sight of the strangers!
Mohan asked if we would like a cup of tea? Even though it was lunch time I said yes to tea. The weather was awesome, my room looked cozy. Mohan reminds me strongly of my guide Sohan Singh Bisht, also from Uttarakhand. You can hardly ever find people with such perfect manners!
The White Peaks is actually a cottage with two rooms at the first floor and a cozy living area on the ground floor. My room was tastefully done. It had a comfortable double bed, a large collection of books, including back issues of National Geographic. It got ample sunlight and it had a view of the hills. My room did not have an attached bathroom. The bathroom was just outside my room. The other room had an attached bathroom, so the other bathroom is actually private. It was not a problem for me at all. The bathroom had plenty of hot water, just what you need in the hills!
There is a balcony between the two rooms which is ideal to sit and have tea/coffee. I noticed an ironing board in the common area on the top floor.
We spent most of our time in the balcony or in the living area of the cottage. The living room has a collection of beautiful curios and it has a real fireplace! The dining area is adjacent to it. The table can seat 4 comfortably. We saw a TV there but we never bothered to open it.
However most of my time was spent with a cup of tea or coffee, whatever took my fancy, on the terrace with a view of the mountains!
Mohan cooks some amazing food. He would ask you what you would like to eat and try to make it too. I immensely enjoyed the home cooked food, it was a luxury for me. All his dishes, be it daal, bhindi, bharta, rice, paneer were excellent. He would serve us hot chapattis and I was certainly overeating!
He made non-vegetarian food for Neeru and Gurjas and I think they liked it. But the best as the chai on the terrace with a cool wind and a wind chime tinkling away!
There is a small road going up, right next to the cottage. I asked Mohan where it would lead, he said it would go up to a small temple. I went on an evening walk on that beautiful road. The path is flanked by trees, a lot of them Rhododendrons. And they were in bloom. It was a joy to be among them and soak in their magnificence. I did reach a temple but it was not the temple!
I am no longer a late night person. If I can have it my way, I like to be fast asleep by 11.00 pm. And yet on both the nights Neeru, Gurjas and I sat chatting late into night! It is a blessing to have such fellow bloggers on a trips! Both have a background in film making and I learned a lot by observing and talking to them!
The White Peaks is a beautiful cottage in the hills. Gagar is one hour away from Kathgodam, hence it is easy to access. And yet it is amazingly peaceful and relaxing place. It would work for you if you are looking for a homely place to stay, away from the big cities. I liked the area so much that I actually want to buy a house there.
PS. I was invited by the White Peaks Homestay on this trip.
Chhavi and I visited Abbotsford Nainital in March, just before Holi. It is a beautiful cottage built in 1876. It came to the Prasada Family in 1903. The home is full of old family photographs and curios which kept me engrossed. But then I am running ahead of me. Let me start at the beginning.
We took the Kathgodam Shatabdi which leaves New Delhi Railway Station at 6.00 am. That means a 4.30 start from home! That left both Chhavi and me cranky. But we tolerated each-other well throughout the train journey. Then we had to take Avomine for our motion sickness and that made us even crankier!
The road trip from Kathgodam to Nainital was a breeze. But the kid was getting even more crankier by the minute and I don’t blame her. I was scared she would be too tired to enjoy anything after we reached. But I was wrong.
We were staying in the Kings Room which is within the old building. It was a charming room. But more than anything Chhavi perked up at the sight of big open lawn where we had our lunch. It is an outdoor Cafe, Chica, which is open to public. Chhavi had a paratha in the car but I was surprised that she ate lunch as well. Then all the tiredness was forgotten! She was her jumping self again!
I did not anticipate the weather getting so chilly at the nights at Nainital in March. Our room had a blower which we used all night for the first night. I ended up buying a thick sweater and shoes for Chhavi the next day. They gave us hot water bags to put at out feet inside the quilt at night. Even Chhavi relished it to the core, for me it was sheer bliss!
The room had a TV too. Chhavi was happy that she could watch her cartoons! But nobody watched much TV.
Our room was huge, it got natural light throughout the day. It was done tastefully. It had an amazing arched roof! With a small and active child I am quite scared that she would break something! My room had only a few delicate things, like an ashtray, an attar bottle, a candle stand etc. But the main section on the ground floor was full of bric-a-bracs that required care! I have to say Chhavi managed not to break anything once again!
The bathroom has a shower, a bucket, Forest Essentials toiletries, hot water, all little things that made us comfortable.
Janhavi Prasada, a member of the family who owns Abbotsford, was there with us. Chhavi found a new companion, to whom she could talk non-stop. I had to tell her at times, “jaan maat lo tum unki!”
We took it easy on the first day. It was mainly about food, chai, soups and conversations! Which brings me to the next topic, food!
The food at Nainital is homely. And if you travel frequently, that is a blessing. The breakfast had roti, toast, omelette, excellent local jams, butter and tea. I am sure you will get coffee to you want it.
The lunch was Indian style with sabzi, daal, roti and chawal with farm fresh salad. One night we had continental food which both Chhavi and I like.
The second night was a feast for us. We had a bonfire outdoors, we had wine and we had local food with bhang ki chatni. It was a true feast!
There were baby carrots growing in their garden. It was a first for Chhavi, to see carrot getting dug out, and then being handed to her to wash and eat!
The flowers had just started to bloom. The poppies were such a source of cheer!
I was lucky that my stay coincided with the inaugural meeting of the Nainital Book Club. The first meeting was held at Abbotsford and the book they discussed was The Immortals of Meluha. I have not read it but I found the discussion quite engrossing. I wish them the very best for their future meetings.
We went on a hike, and Chhavi and I ventured into the city too, but that is the topic of a separate post!
Traveling with a child gives a different hue to a trip. Children will Abbotsford because they have huge open areas to run around though they have to be careful indoors.
If I were there alone, I would just laze around the homestay and do nothing, or write
PS. My stay at Abbotsford was sponsored by them.
I got the first glimpse of my room at Baan Chansamut Homestay in Rayong late in the evening. I was sold out on it immediately. I had a large and clean room to myself. Other than a double bed, there was a bed in the loft. The room was air-conditioned. The bathroom was small but absolutely clean! I loved the view from the large wooden deck the most. The deck of the house opened up to Prasae River!
Rayong is 3 hours away from Bangkok by car. I am told that it is a popular weekend destination with people from Bangkok but it is yet not firmly established on the backpacking trail!
I lugged my bag into the room and almost immediately got out on to the two tier boat of the family for a sunset dinner! The only trouble was there was no sunset once again, the clouds ruled.
They had a delicious spread of sea food which is a waste for me as I am a vegetarian. But in rice eating countries they always make something worthwhile for the odd vegetarian too. I had vegetable fried rice , omelet (I do eat eggs) and stir fried vegetables for me! It went down well with Chang Beer.
After coming back from the cruise in the dark we sat on the beautiful wooden deck of the homestay. The boat was moored next to it! There was a piano in the proch which all our Japanese friends could play. We had more beer and wonderful conversations. I went and sat on the reclining chairs for a while. The owner of the house didn’t speak English but I asked a friend to ask him if he would give me vegetarian food if I came on my own. He assured me via the friend that any guest would get vegetarian food if they so desired.
Even though the conversation was good I do not have the energy anymore to stay up late particularly if I know I have to get up early the next day. Our plan was to go to the market and then to the mangrove forest again early in the morning.
You had a choice to sleep in but I knew I would not. My room was the first in the row, right next to the deck but I did fall asleep in minutes even though I could hear my friends having a gala time outside.
The next morning after coming back from our excursions (which is the topic of a separate post) we sat down at the deck again to have breakfast. The owners have two lovely dogs but then I am terrified of them. The smaller of the two was cute, he would drag a soft toy all around! And yet I was afraid!
My breakfast was rice soup. My guide, Kob, told me to use the condiments garlic, sauce and veggies to create a flavor. I was truly struggling at the beginning as I did not garnish my soup well. I could also empathize with Chhavi (my daughter) and her struggles the food! But gradually I got the hang of it. And I finished off the whole bowl!
After breakfast, it was time to say good bye to Baan Chansamut Homestay in Rayong and head to Chanthaburi. I so wish to go back to Rayong and spend more time exploring the place!
PS. I was invited by TAT to attend TBEX Asia 2015. Rayong was the part of the post conference FAM trip.
Sitting by the fire in the kitchen I tell my hosts, I can’t remember when it was last I didn’t eat anything out of a packet for so many days in a row! Kareri is a sleepy little village in Kangra, Himachal Pradesh. I was incredibly lucky to do a homestay at Kareri Village. It was cold in January but people in the hills know how to keep warm in these freezing months.
The original idea was to trek up to the Kareri Lake but due to a lot of snow on the route, the trek was abandoned immediately. I simply stayed at home and took walks around the village when the weather permitted it. It rained on one day, it snowed on another, on other two days I felt too lazy. So, in reality I did only one day hike around the village.
Mostly I sat by the fire in the kitchen and read Agatha Christie novels on Nook, finishing on an average one in a day! As Seshadri and Chhavi have stayed here before, the matter of my identity was simple. If anyone asked who I was, the standard reply was Chhavi ki Mummy (Chhavi’s mom)!
The day I arrived due to the avomine induced drowsiness, I went to sleep and refused to go out even for a walk in the evening. Kareri has phone connectivity. My host’s (Kamlesh and Family) home is slightly downhill, But we used to go up to what I christened ‘internet hill’ where I would get high speed internet connection but it was not reliable. But as it is Himachal Pradesh, electricity supply is like dream. There is no shortage of water as well! Only schools, roads and hospitals come by with a little more difficulty. There is a kaccha road to the village now. I was able to take a vehicle both ways.
I would wake up leisurely everyday and run to the kitchen to get get some hot water to brush my teeth. They do have a gas connection but they cook on wood as well. A big pot of water would almost always be on the wood fire. The chores of the day done, I would sit by the fire and wait for a cup of tea. Soon it would be time for breakfast. After that if it was a sunny day I would sit out and read a book, if not I would do the same by the fire. Thus at slow pace the life would go on.
There were numerous birds that could vie for my attention along with the book. The mustard flowers were in bloom, painting the village pretty. If the weather was good I would go out for a walk in the evening but the view of the hills eluded me till the last morning. When I was leaving, it was of course blue skies!
The family consists of three brothers- Ravi, Kamlesh and Suresh and one sister Anu. Chhavi is a great fan of Anu. I met Ravi, Kamlesh, Anu and their parents. Both Ravi and Suresh work in the tourism industry with Suresh currently working in Goa. Ravi is living in McLeod Ganj though his wife Vandana lives at Kareri. Kamlesh looks after the home, horses, mules and fields. Their parents also live in the same two storied house which has at least 10 rooms! Auntie can still lift so much load and carry it to the fields! They treated me like a princess! So, the next time you see a person handling mules, remember they live in 10 bedroom homes!
As my holidays drew to an end I realized that I didn’t spend a single rupee (other than paying at the end of my stay) as I could see no shops in the village! I was told there was a shop but as it was winters, the supplies were low! It was an amazing experience where two things stood out, I never ate anything out of a packet and I never went to a shop for six days!
If you wish to do a homestay at Kareri village with Kamlesh and Family you could call Kamlesh at +919736246820 or Ravi at +919805934718 They usually charge 750 rupees per person per night which includes food as well.
The nearest big town is Dharamshala. I took a taxi from Dharamshala to Kareri which cost me 1500 rupees. I had to walk a bit from the road head to the house. There is public transport up to a village called Gera.
As I was new to the region and as I was thinking of trekking, I went with my long time trekking guide Sohan Singh Bisht (his number is +919410365281). However, if I go to the village again I am confident of going alone now.