A casual walk in the villages of Kafura, Peora, Nolikan and Sonapani in Mukteshwar treated me with more surprises than I had anticipated. Out of these, I spent most time in Kafura. As I left Leela Orchards Home Stay, Sona Pani in Mukteshwar, within minutes I arrived at a cemented path way leading to the village. Thick forests of pine trees dotted the either side of the path way. A pair of birds, which I was unable to identify, sat atop a tall tree, filling the otherwise calm looking jungle with their shrill calls. The pathways were flooded with dry cones and dry leaves of pine trees. People from plains take these back home for decoration and other such frivolities. People from the village use the dry pine cones and leaves for bonfires and fuel for cooking.

Me amidst pine trees in Kafura village near Peora and Leela Orchards Sonapani Home-Stay, Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand


Extraction of resin from a pine tree. In Kafura village near Leela Orchards Sona Pani Home-Stay, Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand

A mysterious object on the fringes of the path-way caught my attention. It was an unpolished metallic cone, smooth from outside, coarse from inside. I picked it up, trying to understand its purpose. Nearby, I saw some cuts on a tree. “An assault by a black bear?” I asked myself. A bear has no sense of design. A bear can’t scratch a tree in faultless symmetry.  A bear won’t stick a cone under the cut, eh! Turned out, the cones were the collection bowls used to store the resin dripping from the cuts of the pine tree. The cone is not tied but inserted in the cuts, the resin binding it naturally to the tree. The resin thus collected is used in making adhesives like Fevikwik and paints. A cone typically fills up within 20-30 days. Sometimes acid is applied to the cuts to hasten the process. I picked up a discarded metallic cone from the ground as a souvenir. Perhaps, I will make it a pen holder or a tooth brush holder and remember my trip every-time I use it. I didn’t know that pine trees produced resin. Mostly the much romanticized pine trees are actually disliked by the locals.

One of the traditional house in Kafura Village near Peora and Leela Orchards Sonapani Home-Stay, Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand
Me lying on a bed of dry pine needles. On my way to Kafura near Peora and Leela Orchards Sonapani Home-Stay, Mukteshwar.


Moving a little ahead, I came across a bed of dry pine needles. These are slippery and can cause a fall during trekking and hikes. I made a pit stop and decided to lie down on the bed, close my eyes and put my olfactory and hearing senses to work. Expecting it to be itchy, I was surprised to feel its soft, smooth texture under my back. A brief rest later, I was greeted by a herd of goats. I sat down on a rock. A credulous calf came running to me and buried his/her nose in my palms, looking for roti.  The adult goats grazed at grass dispassionately.  “Roti maang raha hai.”, (The calf is asking for roti) the lady shepherd told me in her indecipherable speech. It was hard to communicate with her due to her speech impairment. Though verbal communication was irrelevant! The lady handed me over some roti. The adult goats abandoned their pretense and rushed towards me, competing with the calf for that small piece of cooked wheat paradise. I have never tasted grass, but I am sure roti tastes better than grass. What did they say….The Roti…err….grass is always greener on the other side.

Breaking a roti with goats with the lady shephard. On my way to village walk in Kafura. Near Peora and Leela Orchards Sonapani Home-Stay, Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand

The pine forests gave way to a clearing. The cemented path-way disappeared. The large open field was utilized well by a gang of boys playing cricket. I turned left and discovered visually delighting paths. Big sized white stones were half buried in mud, making it perhaps, useful in the season of monsoon. Sometimes, the path was accompanied by walls of stones placed above each other. My most favourite part was when it took a U shape. The white peach flowers, the lone traditional house in the distance, the local women sitting and chatting made it all the more atmospheric.

The U shaped path to Kafura Village. Near Peora and Leela Orchards, Sonapani Home-Stay, Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand


Bonding with local kids in Kafura Village near Peora and Leela Orchards Sonapani, Mukteshwar

‘Jai Shree Gorakhnath Devta’, the board at a temple read. The brown exterior of the temple was complemented by a riot of pink peach flowers. The flowers were in abundance and added drama to the already picturesque views. I am told, people from all over the village come here during jagar. Dagariye come and sing in the night. They convey people’s problems to Gods. Every village has their own.  While I was immersed in silently admiring the yellow and pink flowers, rows of houses atop a mountain in the distance, the sounds and smells of the place, three shy village kids were staring curiously at me.  They would hide and seek, giggle when our eyes locked, unaware that the backdrop of the lovely village, their home, is making them all the more charming. A casual walk in the villages of Kafura left me with more memories than I had anticipated.

The view from my #SoulWindow is PICTURE POSTCARD PERFECT!

The picturesque temple in Kafura Village. Near Peora and Leela Orchards Sonapani, Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand.


  • How to Reach Kafura near Leela Orchards Sonapani Homestay, Uttarakhand?
  • Where to stay in Kafura, Mukteshwar near Leela Orchards Sonapani Homestay, Uttarakhand?
  • When to visit Kafura, Mukteshwar near Leela Orchards Sonapani Homestay, Uttarakhand?
  • Why is Sonapani called as Sonapani (meaning Gold Water)

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Discover the former homes of Tagore and Mahadevi Verma near Aamari Resorts

The entry point to Kafura Village. Near Peora and Leela Orchards Sonapani Home-Stay, Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand.

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Sursingdhar : A truly offbeat escape with Himalayan Eco Lodge near Delhi !

I am always running from pillar to post in my travel. Since this year, I am trying to train myself to slow down. My trip to Sursingdhar turned out to be slow travel thanks to my parents who prefer it that way.


I am new in Delhi and was looking for a great weekend break with family, away from the chaotic megapolis. I asked many friends for suggestions. All of them suggested nice places near Delhi but with a warning that since it’s June, so expect a lot of ‘beer and tikka’ crowd in almost all the popular hill station destinations near Delhi.

My mother watching the sublime sunrise from the balcony! In Silence!

I wanted a respite from the cruel Delhi heat and the crowds. Then suddenly, my mind raced back to a blog I read by Manjulika on Sursingdhar many moons ago. I remember, after reading her blog, I dreamt of going to that quaint little village, sitting in my tiny apartment in Mumbai. It was not an easy task from Mumbai but from Delhi it seemed cushy. An 8 hour comfortable drive on the smooth roads was what was promised to me.

The lyrical sun rise from the balcony of Himalayan Eco Lodge

I zeroed in on Sursingdhar and it exceeded my expectation. As our cab neared the Himalayan Eco Lodge (at an elevation of 7000 plus feets), I was delighted to discover its remoteness. The resort is built right in the middle of a nondescript village. We had booked the first floor cottage facing the valley. This is the best you can get here.

Parents at Himalayan Eco Lodge

It was a delight beyond words to watch the villagers pass by in slow motion, the many exotic birds filling the only pine tree opposite our balcony, the sun rising poetically from behind the hills. I have been told that on clearer days, one can see snow capped mountains, especially the Nanda Devi. We didn’t get to see that due to mist but we didn’t mind. Our loss was compensated with an unhindered look of a rare rainbow, lining the sky. An excited me woke up my parents to savor the miracles of nature.

The rainbow we saw from our balcony in Himalayan Eco Lodge

The balcony was my favourite place. I would not want to leave the place and spend long hours, doing nothing but just staring romantically at the many species of exotic birds, mountains, villages, mountain dogs, tress laden with local fruits like ‘pahadi seb’ (Apple), chulu, peach etc. In complete silence I gazed at them.

Snacks in the balcony!

My silence was punctuated only by chirps of a bird and the ‘thak thak’ sound by a woodpecker who could not stay at one spot for more than a second. Like an obsessed lover, I followed the movement of the woodpecker on the pine tree opposite the balcony. The gorgeous bird would play hide and seek with me as if enticing me to ‘Catch me if you can’. Soon the tree was full of many woodpeckers. Till this day, I had not seen so many at a time.


My obsession was killed by a staff member who showed up with flask full of tea, pakoris (fritters) and cookies. It was a perfect snack to indulge in, since it started drizzling lightly. As we sipped the tea, cool breeze caressed our faces gently, bringing with them the scent of the pine trees that surrounded the resort.

Snacks in the balcony!


Post the tea break, me and my parents decided to take a walk in the beautifully landscaped garden and the village beneath. I was told that the owner is a lover of plants and gardening, especially the many flowers.

Picture above : Flowers and chulu fruit

There is no way you can ignore the riot of colors dotting the Himalayan Eco Lodge at Sursingdhar. Red/ purple/ yellow/ pink/ white/ blue colored flowers almost blinded us with their unbridled beauty. Even our balcony was inundated with flowering plants. Did I forget to mention that pots filled with flowers hung above our head as we chatted over tea in the balcony.


As we entered the village just outside the resort, we had our eyes peeled. Just interacting with the locals, observing the local lifestyle and mountain houses, plucking the fruits from the trees are some of the simpler joys of life we savored here. One of the villagers, a charming lady, invited us over to her house for tea. We unfortunately could not go as my mother is understandably not fit enough to climb the steep paths.


Post a session of carrom at the lawn facing the valley, we huddled around the bonfire in the garden. We as a family, bonded over conversation laced with sweet nothings over the bonfire

New Tehri Town as seen from our balcony

The meals served to us were simple yet delicious, healthy and light on tummy. We were delighted when we were served local village food from Uttarakhand after sampling familiar food for past few days. I am mentioning those with a rough recipe (Not tried at home yet)


  • Kali Daal Ka Chausa: (Pic 1) It was so delicious, I ended up having 3 bowls of this lentil based dish. Black Urad Daal is ground coarse and raw and then roasted with ghee (Clarified Indian Butter). Spices, tomato, onion, garlic and water are added to it gradually and simmered until done.
  • Palak ki Kapli: (Pic 2) It’s a spinach stew which is nothing but roughly chopped spinach cooked with onion, tomato and water.
  • Plum Chutney: (Pic 3) Plum fruits are available in abundance here. It’s a spicy sauce made with plums, sugar, spices and chillies.
  • Bathue ka paratha: (Pic 3) It’s a local saag (Green leafy vegetable) which is mixed with the dough alongwith spices and turned into delicious breads to be had with plum chutney and pickles etc.
Our cozy room at Himalayan Eco Lodge!

The next day, the ever smiling manager Kuldeep at Himalayan Eco Lodge suggested me a 1 hour trek around the village. I lapped up at the opportunity. The trek is decent and a mix of pucca road and dirt tracks through the village. It’s an easy trek through pine and deodar forests.

Me during the trek!

En route I saw local temples, got birds eye view of the village, exotic birds, even a scared fox, cute Himalayan kids waving at me and villagers going about their work. I also saw trees laden with local fruits like pahadi seb (apple), aadu, pomegranate, Malta etc. The weather was pleasant, what with breezy winds and a light drizzle punctuating the experience.

Temple en route the trek!

Ever since I have been back from Everest Base Camp trek, I had been craving to do a 1 day trek! You would be wondering why one day. Because I wanted to test my fitness level! Post EBC, I had gained a lot of weight (From 75 kgs to 100 kgs) because I ate like mad after shifting to Delhi and my bodily movement was restricted to basics such as fetching a glass of water ‘all by myself’.

Trek tracks!

During the trek, I realized that I was momentarily breathless in just an hour long trek. I used to jump on such trails earlier. I was embarrassed that the guide could hear my huffs and puffs…. But then I thought what the heck, its ok. He would think of me as ‘just another fat, spoilt brat from Delhi’. And I have no patience left to explain my ‘Fit to Fat’ story to one and all. Anyways, it was an alarming day for me. During the trek I promised myself to commit to a strict fitness regime as soon as possible and get back to my original shape and weight.

Did the kid like me? He’s emoticoning so not sure!
The temple at the end of the trek!


  • Tehri dam : Once a bustling town, it is now submerged in water due to the dam project. One can see some of the remains of the town including a palace peeping from the water. Today it has become the hub for water sports. It is half an hour away.
My father trying Jet Skiing at Tehri dam!
  • New Tehri Town/Chamba: Great for shopping for local jams, pickles, chutneys, Rhododendron and malta squash. It is 20 minutes away.
Rhododendron and Malta squash!
  • Kanatal/Dhanaulti : A quick ride on smooth roads will take you there. However, the climate and weather and landscapes are quite similar to Sursingdhar. So you can skip this one if you want a peaceful vacation in silence.
At Eco Park in Dhanaulti!
  • Mussoorie and Landour : Just ahead of Kanatal are these combo of popular and offbeat destinations.
Maggi at Dhanaulti!
  • Haridwar and Rishikesh: Just 3 hours away, the twin spiritual towns are a great excursion, especially in winters.
In Rishikesh, against ram Jhoola on their wedding anniversary!


March, April, May: Busy months.

June and July : The occupancy is lower than other times.

December, January and Mid feb : Expect light snowfall.

Himalayan Eco Lodge, Sursingdhar!


It’s a great deal for Rs. 5600 on double occupancy including buffet style breakfast, lunch and dinner. Why it is a steal deal is because your meals are sorted and most of the activities are centered around the resort. You don’t really need to go anywhere.

Best rooms: Ask for room number 2,3,4 which face the snow capped mountains. You can see Gangotri, Kedarnath, Badrinath and Nanda Devi from here!


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Me during the aarti at Har Ki Paudi, Haridwar!


ShopArt ArtShop 2 : A Village Turned Into An Open Air Art Gallery

Labour of love :


“Work done for the sake of one’s own enjoyment or of benefit to others rather than for material rewards”

Glimpse of SA/AS  1  (Pic by Frank Schlichtmann)

Imagine walking through a village on a hill in Himachal Pradesh where the many works of art are vying for your attention as soon as you walk into the village. Imagine finding yourself in a village where the local village folks are jamming with western musicians (Jajj, Yayy!)  with their humble flutes; the dolled up local women of all ages sashaying on the ramp in all their sartorial glory (their traditional dress) and jewelleries; the local village kids busy in making their own short movies, the works. Come May-June and the little known sleepy village of Gunehr will turn into an unprecedented art festival which the villagers lovingly call ‘mela’.

Villagers and travelers admiring arts and live performances from SA/AS 1. Yes, its a ‘mela’ with a difference! (Pic : Frank Schlichtmann) 

But it was not always so hunky dory with the villagers. What Frank has done for the village (and the adversities he faced) somehow reminds me of the Hindi movie ‘Swades’. Frank convinced the shop owners to allow him to use their empty shops so that the artists can use the space to come up with original works of conceptual arts in their month long paid residency. Most of the shops in the village remain empty throughout the year and bite dust. There is no real economy in the village but the locals build these in the hope of a more vibrant economy in the future. After all, the obscure Gunehr sits next to the popular Mc Leodganj and Bir Billing! (Thankfully it is still free from all the touristy traps.)

Frank in one of his many moods in a mini art gallery in his home

Over the time, the reluctant villagers warmed up to the idea, allowed the use of their shops and even enthusiastically participated in the arts festival. Initially they were skeptical and curious about the many artists inundating their village with arts. Gradually, the ice broke and now they even assist the artists in their creative process. The festival could have alienated the villagers or made them feel like an outsider in their own land. Worse still, it could have turned the village into a tourist circus. The triumph of the project is that none of this happened and hopefully will not.

Frank with art displays from SA/AS 1

As the second edition of Shop Art, SA/AS 2 (SA/AS 1 happened in 2013), is just round the corner, the villagers are excited for it. Shop Art/ Art Shop (SA/AS) was born out of sheer love for the arts, the village and its people. It’s commendable how Shop Art / Art Shop is helping the artists and the local economy in a sustainable and responsible manner. The extra ordinary story of how a person can change the perception of the locals single handedly, treat them as equals and involves them in art without spoiling their culture and heritage is inspiring.

Frank simplifying SA/AS for us with all his admirable passion at his home office.

SA/AS aims for the below mentioned agendas:

  • To bridge the divide between urban/rural/global and traditional/contemporary.
  • It also hopes to revive the almost forgotten indigenous arts of the region. No wonder, the art works which will be on display will reflect local elements and influence.
  • The non profit month long event aims at promoting arts, artists and provide a livelihood to the locals sustainably.
  • In India, art is a perceived as a prerogative of elite and intellectuals. SA/AS breaks the conventions, makes art (and artists) accessible and inclusive.
  • The festival keeps the whole process of art making transparent and engaging. The villagers see the artists working diligently on their art and even participating willingly.
  • To develop the village through contemporary arts and vice the versa! Win-win!
  • To revive the economy of the once prosperous Gunehr (It was an important hub buzzing with economic activities in ancient days) in a sustainable and responsible manner.
  • Fusion of local cuisine with contemporary elements.
Frank with art displays from SA/AS 1

SA/AS is the labour of love of Frank Schlichtmann. Half German, half Indian (Bengali), his purpose to host SA/AS is to turn it into a permanent arts event for Indian artists, presenting their works to the world. Frank, who moved to Gunehr from Germany 8 years ago, does not want it to become a tourist circus (rightly so) but encourages discerning travelers.  Who would have thought his migration would result in a unique concept of contemporary art fair in a remote village. Guess, he thought, the blessed valley, which is already bestowed with ‘divine’ art in all directions (Mountains, flowers, birds, rivers, stream, the works!)  could do with some more art.

Me with a very friendly local woman from Gunehr

I have been to many places in past 5 years, but I am emotionally attached to Gunehr in a way like I have never been before.  Maybe because it was the first time I have delved so deeply in local people’s lives. Maybe because I am inspired by all the good work being done by Frank and his team in this little hamlet no one really knows about. Maybe because, Gunehr looks like a place I would like to retire to, one day!

A group of gaddi women of Gunehr. Gaddis rear sheep.

I proposed the hashtag #ArtValley for the event. Frank liked the idea and has already started using it on social media. You can follow #ArtValley #ShopArtArtShop #4TablesProject on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to learn more and for updates.

I urge all to book your tickets now and be a part of this magical fair this May and June. The last week, however, is the best time to be here.

After the three week residency, the last week will be buzzing with activities and the village will turn into open air art gallery. Be ready for live music concerts, performances, art installations, live shows, film screenings, podium discussions etc.

Here is a glimpse of what to expect at SA/AS 2:

  • The Jazz-Nati MusicShop
  • The Gaddi Fashion Shop
  • The Miniature Painting-Graffiti Interface
  • The “One Rupee Cinema goes to Bollywood” FilmShop
  • The Terracotta on the Wall Installation
  • The Film-Installation ArtShop
  • From the Sky
  • The Pahari-Contemporary FoodShop

FUND RAISING : If you are inclined to contribute to this worthy cause you can help raise the funds using the link below. The link is also packed with more information on what SA/AS is all about. You can also forward the link to someone you know who might be interested. SA/AS 1 was sponsored by Frank himself, you can help make the event self sustainable by donating.


In Frank’s words :

“There are great possibilities for corporate sponsoring. The event, though in a village, is not an event with only local appeal.

Firstly, the kind of arts we are presenting itself is contemporary and cosmopolitan and has a global appeal. Associating with SA AS is ‘modern’, ‘innovative’, ‘futuristic’.

Secondly, the event draws in a mixture of local, city and international crowd.

Thirdly, it is ‘live’ on the internet.

And fourthly, it will go on tour of the cities and international venues in 2017. On each and every of these levels, sponsors names will be mentioned. This is a great exposure for sponsors for very little investment! ”

What kind of sponsors?

“Sponsors can be any company that has a ‘matching element’ with us: for example paints, cements etc goes well with the miniature-graffity project. Or how about ‘travel/adventure’ brands: cars, SUVs, motorbikes (the theme is: a bunch of hip artists travel to a little village to work on an innovative project). We can also think of logistics brands: internet and phones, airlines, computers and tablets (theme: without the help of such partners, an innovative event of this magnitude cannot take place in such a remote village).

The potential for sponsors are enormous because there are not many events like these that work on so many different levels and reach such a diverse section of people.”



Yes, it’s always difficult to say goodbyes!

When:  14th May to 14th June, 2016, perfect timing to escape the heat of the plains.

How to reach: Take a train upto Pathankot from Delhi. Reach early morning and book a cab (Rs. 3000 one way, negotiable) to Gunehr or do it in a shoestring budget by taking the Mandi bound bus from Pathankot. Get down at Bir Road.

Money : Get enough cash. ATMs are few and far between.

Where to stay:  Frank’s earthy boutique hotel will not be available for booking during the event. One can choose from many homestays in the area. Look up in Google.

Take a virtual tour :  Can’t make it in person? Take a virtual tour of the entire process online, Link soon.


We enjoying wood fired pizzas by Frank in his home!

Make the most of it:

  • When done with the festival, you can also explore the pristine village, valleys, rivers etc. The drive also offers views of the dhauladhaar range, enveloped in snow.(Let me remind you, this is also the backdrop of the event)
  • Tibetan refugee colony is 10 minutes ride away. Visit monasteries, walk on the traffic free roads, indulge in great tasting and reasonably priced Tibetan food.
  • Of course, paragliding in Bir (We saw hailstorm live)
  • A quick trip to Baijnath temple, Mc Leodganj and Palampur can also be clubbed.
  • Talk to Frank, he has many interesting stories to tell.

I went along with 4 other travel bloggers, Manjulika, Parnashree and Dipanshu. Click on their names to read their side of the story. It was the first time we travelled together and it turned out to be great fun. I will miss those leisurely walks in the village,mingling with locals, almost missing the train twice, chatting till 3 a.m. in train, sleeping for just an hour and still feeling fresh (The mountain air does it!) the next day.

Our trip was organized by #TCGB_Trips led by eminent travel writers Alka Kaushik and Puneetinder Kaur Sidhu.

The ancient Baijnath Temple nearby is a must visit!