A VACATION AT LEELA ORCHARDS HOME STAY AT SONAPANI, MUKTESHWAR is a perfect weekend break from Delhi, Noida and Gurgaon. It was such a great last minute decision to stop at this lovely home-stay in Mukteshwar. On recommendation by a friend I stayed here for 2 days clubbed with a satisfying trip to Nainital and Ramgarh. It was drizzling when I reached. (I visited in 1st week of March.) The next day it was a pleasant sunny weather.
Unfortunately I have stayed in only few home stays despite having traveling to more than 150 destinations since 2008. My lovely experience at Leela Orchards is pushing me into trying more home stays in future. This wonderful property, which overlooks Himalayan range is managed by the cheerful Manvendra Singh Barathokey and his mother. It was such a memorable evening sitting with the family, sipping tea and talking about many interesting topics as bonfire warmed us. I learnt so much after this interaction. He educated me about the interesting details of local lifestyle and the centuries old temples in the vicinity.
ACTIVITIES AT LEELA ORCHARDS HOME STAY, SONAPANI, MUKTESHWAR:
The LEELA ORCHARDS HOME STAY makes you lazy. The nice weather, breath taking views right from the balcony of the room and the cozy rooms make you want to just sit and laze around. On the other hand, there are so many interesting things to do near the property that you will end up extracting yourself from the cozy bed. I spent much of the time exploring the pretty villages Peora, Nolikan and Kafura. The path to these villages was gorgeous. It was easy up and down hike lined with pine trees and white, pink and red flowers of fruits. I went in the month of March and in every direction I set my eyes there was a riot of color since it’s the flowering season. I also walked in the jungle area behind the home stay and met a brave spunky lady who lives all alone in the middle of the jungle.
If you choose you can cook your own food at “Heere ki khan” using firewood and chulha (Traditional mud oven). Nature walk, birdwatching is also recommended here. You don’t even need to go anywhere. Just keep your eyes peeled and you will see exotic birds right outside your room. I was amazed to see a flock of gorgeous White Crested Laughing Thrush. Himalayan Spangle, Wild cock, Grey Headed Canary Flycatcher, Blue Capped Redstart, Himalayan Bulbul, Green Backed Tit, Black headed Jay, Barn Swallow are some of the other birds I spotted.
One can also visit NGO Chirag and NGO Aarohi in Peora village. If you are fit, I would recommend an 8 kms long trek from Leela Orchards Sonapani to Mukteshwar temple. Visit to ancient Kapeelshwar Temple on river bed side is also a must. It is near a primary school. You can donate money and books to the school, if you wish. Within 40 kms of range, you can visit Jageshwar Temple, Chitai Temple, Sun Temple (In Almora), Kasar Devi Temple and Binsar.
THE ROOMS AT LEELA ORCHARDS HOME STAY, SONAPANI, MUKTESHWAR:
The rooms are large and cozy. True to its genre, the rooms exude a home like warmth. I told them it is like staying at a relative’s house. The wood paneling was soothing to the eyes. There are a total of 4 rooms in the home stay. 2 rooms are on the first floor while 2 rooms are in the ground floor. I stayed in the ground floor. The moment I entered the room, I took a pause in the drawing room before rushing to see the bed room. The drawing room delights with its thoughtfully done up furniture placement. 3 large windows overlooked the verdant valley and the distant mountains of Almora and others. Cushioned seats lined the windows. I would fold my legs on the couch, pull a blanket, slurp on my Maggi Noodles and hot tea while enjoying the misty views from the comfort of my room. It sure felt like home, though in an exotic location. At other times, I would sit by the window and read one of the many travel magazines so thoughtfully kept by the owners on a writing table nearby.
The attached bedroom is large. The bed is King Size and is cozy. It has large windows and wood paneling. The charging points are next to the table. There is no dearth of cupboards and almirahs in the drawing room as well as the bedroom. When I entered the door of the attached bathroom, I was dumbfounded for 2 minutes. It was so huge that I was comparing its size to my first flat in Mumbai (I stayed in Mumbai from 2008 to 2015). Manvendra told me the same, “Travelers from Mumbai often tell me my entire flat is the size of this washroom.”
When I checked out the upper rooms, I found them equally good if a bit smaller. The drawing room disappeared. The size of room and washroom was a bit smaller. But it’s still great for 2-3 people. (Extra beds are available). The washroom has a back door about which Manvendra told me, “Guests love to open this door while brushing their teeth and shaving. It offers them views of the mountains.” The reduced indoor space is compensated with even more grander views of the valley below. There is ample space in the large terrace and I am sure it serves as a perfect private space for families and friends. I also took the stairs to the rooftop in the night. Almora city was all lit. The lights made the city look like a giant glittery fish. As if the construction on hills was done to make it look like a fish.
HOW DID SONA PANI GET ITS NAME? THE FAMILY HAS AN INTERESTING TALE TO TELL:
Leela Orchard Sonapani has an old natural spring in the middle of the property. The area is named Sona Pani (Literal meaning: Gold water) because of the perceived medicinal properties of the natural spring water. The folklore has it that during the British Raj era, some British army officers from a cantonment nearby tasted the water while crossing the ridge. Impressed with the quality of the water, during much of the second half of the 19th century and early 20th century, ponies and horses were employed to supply the water from this natural spring to the British officers of the nearest army garrison which was Almora.
Captain Kushal Singh Barathokey was one of those officers. He was a much feted soldier of the 3rd Queen Alexandria’s Gurkha rifles. Upon his retirement, the British asked him to select land of his choice. Of all the land Captain Barathokey chose this particular land and christened it ‘Sonapani Estate’. The subsequent generations took care of the land. Manvendra sure is a deserving inheritor of the land.
The dining room of Leela Orchards Sonapani is decorated with the many hats collected from India and other countries. It is the part of the collection of Manvendra’s father. The home-stay was a vision of Manvendra’s father. He may not be around but his legacy lives through the property.
THE FOOD AT LEELA ORCHARDS HOME STAY, SONAPANI, MUKTESHWAR:
Me along-with Manvendra, his mother and his cute cat sat together next to a bonfire in the
night. We talked for hours, losing track of time. Manvendra is the go to person if you want to learn about the local culture. Despite his young age, he had answers to all my questions. We sat at the canopied open area just outside the kitchen and the dining hall. The family, staff and the pet cat stay in this part of the resort. The conversations were followed by a delicious home cooked dinner including hot maduwe ki roti, smeared with ghee (Clarified butter) and jaggery. On the next day, I demanded to eat more local meals. I was served delicious bhat ki dal, mixed green leaves saag, home-made pickles, fruit chutney (I over ate) and badi in a mildly spicy curry. It was a very satisfying meal which left me begging for more. There is a large kitchen garden near the home-stay where the family grows vegetables, fruits and more. You feel the difference in the food since it is all organic. It’s enriching experiences such as these which keep me motivated to travel. The warmth of the family has made this trip special.
RESPONSIBLE TOURISM AT LEELA ORCHARDS HOME STAY, SONAPANI, MUKTESHWAR:
The home-stay promotes treks, long walks and communing with nature, none of which makes you guilty of adding carbon footprints. I was also delighted to see bottles of filtered water and not mineral water bottles which generate plastic. All the food that you eat is pesticide food and organic. Little initiatives like these go a long way in creating a better planet. I request that if you go there, please pack all the plastic which you generated and bring it back to the city and dispose. I myself collected all the chips and wafers packets which I brought along and stashed them in my bag. It is always good to clean your own mess.
HOW TO REACH LEELA ORCHARDS HOME STAY, SONAPANI, MUKTESHWAR:
- I reached Bhatelia via bus (Rs.35) from Malla Ramgarh Bazar area. I started at 11:30 a.m. and reached 12:15 p.m. Just a little ahead of Bhatelia is Mukteshwar main market. Plenty of shared cars were available at Bhatelia.
- I booked a reserved taxi to the home-stay on the spot for Rs. 500. If you take right just ahead of Mukteshwar Market, a check post of IVRI campus (Vet College) appears. As you drive from Bhatelia, you will arrive Sitla after 9 kms. The home-stay is 5 kms from Sitla. The Leela Orchards, Sonapani is 30 minutes away from Bhatelia by cab.
- Landmark: Ask for Satkhol Himalayan Ashram anyone. There is a main gate to the ashram. After entering the gate, If you take the road on right hand side, you will reach the home-stay after 2 kms. It is the last construction in this direction. You can drive upto the home-stay. The roads are great through most of the journey except the last 2 kms. Tip: Public transport is available from the road outside the Ashram. The frequency is low. On return, I waited for the 2 p.m. direct bus to Bhowali which took me 2 hrs. From Bhowali, I took shared cab to Nainital and then to New Delhi. Bhowali to Nainital is 20 minutes and costs Rs.20 in shared cab. Nainital to New Delhi via Govt bus starts at 9 p.m. from Nainital bus stand and reaches 6 a.m. at Anand Vihar, New Delhi.
Alternatively, book a reserved taxi from Nainital/Haldwani/Almora/Kathgodam/Ramgarh. The home-stay also arranges pre booked taxi on demand.
WHAT IS THE COST OF ROOM AT LEELA ORCHARDS HOME STAY, SONAPANI, MUKTESHWAR:
The pricing is reasonable and affordable since the tariff is inclusive of bed tea, breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, all taxes for 2 pax. This makes it ideal for couples, family, friends and corporate trips. If you go dutch with a friend it is an even more economical option since the cost is split into two. It can’t get more affordable than this.
The view from my #SoulWindow is full of warmth!
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