Satoli, curry for the soul

Satoli? The name didn’t really ring a bell when a friend suggested we go there…. Mukteshwar, the hill station that lies in its vicinity did…But not too keen to visit the latter we decided DSC_0188.JPGon Satoli — a small village tucked away in the hills of Kumaon.

It was a comfortable drive past Ghaziabad, beating the morning hour rush and then moving past several sleepy little towns like Rampur, Haldwani — each having a charm of their own…

And when the serpentine road into the hills started, the air turned clear and crisp… And blissfully cool. And we knew we’d made the right choice — at least we were giving our city lungs some respite from the polluted air they are forced to inhale all the time.

DSC_0204.JPG

And then a steep little climb that the driver of our car, Lalit, manouvred with aplomb, takes us to our destination — One Partridge Hill — that we zeroed in on after having heard much about it from some friends who’re keen travellers.

A beautiful cottage, we say as we get off giving our tired limbs a break — after all, driving for almost nine hours at a stretch with just one break in between for some great paranthas at a roadside dhaba was no mean feat. But then, with a brand new road that had recently being laid in these parts, the pot-holes and stony stretches gone — the journey was fairly smooth…  DSC_0115.JPG

DSC_0191.JPG

Intrigued by the name of this cottage, we check with the host Shivendra Kundra and he smiles, “Well, when I first came to take a look at this site, one partridge was flitting around. As it flew towards a tree I knew that this winged creature had given me the name of my new home.”

Walk up two short flights and a little haven opens up — no, this is no exgaggeration — for the well-combed gardens with the most amazing varieties of exotic flowers and plants here are a sight for sore eyes.. .

dscn1203.jpgThese are just a handful of the variety that are being lovingly grown here.

Walk in and you realize that the ‘bird’ theme — well, the partridge has been the inspiration behind this cottage’s name, after all — springs from every corner — be it the artifacts, the linen and there’s even a stretch on the floor — a tiled area in the main hall that, in its execution, takes inspiration from a cathedral in Italy.

DSCN1231.JPG

It was just great sitting around at the cottage… In fact, we kept a day aside for just that — or rather the rain decided that for us… It was difficult initially, as with most cityfolk, to just sit around doing nothing but we soon got used to it — and managed to keep away from our laptops and social networking sites. And that sure was quite a feat!

Each of the rooms, we see, has its own theme and a quaint, old-world charm, besides sit-outs that stare at the Himalayan ranges and lush forests right opposite. It was great to ‘catch’ not just the vistas of the valley that seem to change hues every hour of the day, but also the clouds as they wafted past and, sometimes, even enveloped us into their folds as we sat outside enjoying a hot cuppa.

And then suddenly, as a bit of a sun peeps through the clouds, we spot a rainbow — such a delight that was as we share notes on when we had last seen one… Too far back to even remember…

Spotted a rainbow.JPG

Although Satoli has many tourist spots around it, we decide to drive down to Mukteshwar…

Going along a road that snakes its way past vistas that are straight out of a picture postcard, we reach the sacred abode of Lord Shiva in Mukteshwar. Housing a white marble Shivalinga with a copper yoni, the temple is believed to be over 350 years old and stands atop a hillock 2,312 metres above the sea level. Needless to say, it offers great views of the valleys around.

DSCN1173.JPG

We walk around in the surrounding vicinity and come across many interesting buildings including a post office that goes back to 1905,  a ‘human hospital’ and some charming homes of people — that facades of which have been beautified with flowers grown in pots and pans, old dabbas, etc…

 

Keen to visit the local NGO, Aarohi, that’s barely a 10 minute walk away from One Partridge Hill, we go collecting pines along the way and speaking to some of the locals. There’s a group that was felling an old tree, and it sure seemed quite a task. It took them almost three days to bring it down in bits and pieces.

Suddenly, we spot a monkey busy admiring itself in the mirror of a motorcycle as the owner of the bike stood watching it from a distance. Lalit, the caretaker of OPH who was accompanying us, tells us about how monkeys have become quite a menace in these parts.

According to another bystander, these simians were brought here  by some “kind-hearted souls” thinking they’d be happy in the jungles. Whether or not they are is debatable but the people staying here are far from happy, because as we are told, “these monkeys are such a nuisance — they ruin our plants, break flower pots, pluck fruits off trees and run off with our clothes when we put them out to dry….we have to be on our guard all the time and chase them away with sticks”. So, some guidelines are followed by all, and children are particularly told not to make eye contact with them or eat food in the open, for, doing so just invites trouble.

DSCN1155.JPG

And sitting in the Aarohi office, we learn of the amazing work it is doing — not just offering employment to the locals to create organic products that are then sold in the cities but also by offering medical services to people around. It also has its own ambulance that goes to the neighboring villages giving help to the sick and needy.

We visit the local school, a neat little building, that is actually a Hindi medium school but we come across some young teachers speaking to the children in English. As I stood outside talking to some foreign students who were here on an exchange programme, my friend Piyali went in and met some of the students inside. It was lunch-time, but instead of just jumping up to open their tiffin-boxes, they stood in line near the tap and waited for their teacher to help them wash their hands. And only after a prayer of thanks to the Lord was said, did they get down to the business of eating… Piyali sure was impressed.

And as she was walking out some kids ran after her saying they wanted to sing for her…And we sure were charmed by the Kumaoni song they presented…

School girls sing for us.JPG

The group of foreign students I mentioned earlier are here on an education exchange programme. I spoke to 17-year-old Ryan Rodriguez from Chicago who is working on a project to study public health in community development. Satoli, he says, is a fascinating place — “and so different from the world we are used to”, he smiles. Also part of his group is Aspen Blair from Colorado who wants to work on international health when she grows up. Dressed in salwar-kameez that she picked up from Delhi, she says, “These are so comfortable — I have three more of these. And when I go back, I will pick up some more,” she laughs. And before they bid India adieu, the group will be visiting the Taj. “That’s something we’re looking forward to,” they say in unison.

Ryan and Aspen, students from the US, here for a project.JPG

The other highlight of our trip to Satoli was the drive towards the River Kosi. Pointing towards a hair-pin bend, Lalit tells us that it was here just last evening that a car being driven by some local lads had gone down. “Fortunately, no lives were lost but one person’s hand and another man’s ribs were broken,” he says. And no, it wasn’t because of the rains but the accident happened because they were high in and on spirit!! “Surya ast, Kumaon mast,” Lalit adds as we all have a hearty laugh.

We enjoyed the vistas of the pretty river but from a distance since it wasn’t safe to walk down the slippery, stony path leading to it. Only the sure-footed goats should be left to do this in such weather, we are advised — and we are more than happy to pay heed to it.

All set to leave the next morning, we ask the gardener to show us the place that he so lovingly tends to. Other than the rain-water harvesting wherein water is collected underground with the help of long chains in huge tanks at different points in the house…Water harvesting.JPG

…we also visit the polyhouse that sits in the rear part of the house. “When the weather turns extremely cold, we grow many veggies in it as the temperature inside is several degrees higher in here,” he says.

DSCN1233.JPG

The polyhouse at One Partridge Hill.JPG There’s quite a variety that’s grown here — from cucumber, brinjals and cabbage to capsicum, cauliflower, broccoli, spinach and lettuce…

And when it’s time to leave, we say our personal adieu to Tara — the beautiful goddess that sits outside OPH…

DSCN1240.JPG …and hope She will call us back again — for a bigger slice of Satoli…

 

Author: purnima sharma

After over two decades in mainstream journalism and a travel magazine before that, it was time to move on... And so, here's HeartnSole, a platform that's about people and places... just about anything that touches the heart...

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s