Every stone in Kumaon has a story. It speaks of the fierce spirit of the Kumaoni people during India’s freedom struggle. It carries the whiff of tea gardens that once flourished on this land. It looks humbly upon mighty Himalayan peaks that sit in the distance. This is the story of some such stones, stones that were erected by Sumant Batra back in the nineties, stones that became my abode for a weekend this July.
His love affair with travel started while he was still a child, and much like anyone who’s travelled in Kumaon, he was captivated by the charm of the lower Himalayas of Uttarakhand. In his late twenties, he fell in love with the small, obscure village of Dhanachuli. There were terraced valleys here, verdant mountain slopes covered with apple orchards, forests of pine and rhododendron, gushing rivers, small streams and waterfalls, and no development or tourism infrastructure to speak of. The locals were friendly, nay, full of warmth, and the food was delicious. Who wouldn’t fall in love?
Not very rich but very much in love, he took it a step further than you or I would. He bought a piece of land on a hilltop in Dhanachuli, found an architect, built a summer home – Te Aroha, “a place of love”, named after Mount Te Aroha in New Zealand.
Under the yellow rooftops in this place of love, we peeped inside room after room. “The Long House”, true to its name, stretched in shades of peach, with a rustic fireplace in one corner, and a bathroom whose grandeur resembled something of a doll house. “Three Steps Down” literally sat three steps down in cheerful colors, with huge glass panels overlooking the mountains. But it was “The Attic”, with an old wooden staircase leading up from the bedroom, to an attic with wooden floors and glass windows that immediately felt like home for the next three days.
I sat for hours in my attic, watching the clouds descend to kiss the mountains that stretched before us, then descend further into the valley below to reveal the most stunning Himalayan sunsets I’ve ever witnessed. Forget writing, I was inspired to pen poetry.
Little touches were everywhere. Wooden decks. Antique beds and armchairs sourced from all over India. A small library with a wide range of books and a green scooter! Quirky collections of matchboxes, miniature sewing machines and audio cassettes. Carved old wooden doors. A poker room with glass panels. A bird house (without birds) dangling on the terrace. Curious animal-shaped vases.
We treated ourselves to juicy apples and pears that grew all over the lands of Te Aroha and in the valleys beyond, and reveled in blood-red rhododendron juice. On our last day, when we requested the kitchen staff for a traditional Kumaoni meal, there was an unmissable glow in their eyes and a wide smile on their faces. It’s true, this is where Te Aroha, the place of love, belongs. And though born and brought up in the lower Garhwal region of Uttarakhand, it is in Kumaon that my soul belongs.
Te Aroha hotel is located in the village of Dhanachuli. Take the Kathgodam Shatabdi from Delhi to Kathgodam, from where Te Aroha is two hours by car. Room prices range from INR 6,500 – 10,500 for two. The monsoon season is an excellent time to visit, for stunning views like on my trip in July. Find out more on Te Aroha’s website and Facebook page.
Would you like to visit Te Aroha in Dhanachuli?
*Note: Our trip was sponsored by Te Aroha. It was easy to fall in love!