FOR ALL THINGS GOOD, India has been my second home. Yet, since 1997 for some inexplicable reason, other than a brief visit to Corbett National Park, I had never visited Uttarakhand until this past May.
Now, I simply can’t fathom why. Every time is a good time to visit the mountains. The thought of sitting outside a quirky homestay in Nainital in May, having drinks and snacks around a fire, sleeping under a duvet is bliss at any time but particularly after suffering the 40C+ temperatures which May in Delhi specialises in. It is no wonder that I extended my stay and pleasantly discovered more treasures.
One of the treasures tucked away is Ananta Dunagiri. Peace, tranquillity, serenity – three words that I usually do not associate with myself I found myself repeating on having reached this retreat. There is a wonderful spirituality about the place that envelopes you immediately.
This remote, litter- free and car- horn free destination was bought as a personal retreat for the owner but then some friends visited and fell in love with the remoteness of the destination and asked if they could revisit with some friends, who told some other friends and so the place developed, organically and overtime, in the unhurried vein which the atmosphere of the destination dictates.
There are 4 rooms in the main house and 5 more cottages have been added, all are spacious and simple yet elegant, each with a wood burning stove and spacious stone built bathrooms with modern amenities.
In the evening, I climbed the hill behind the property to the simple Sukh Devi temple, where lives the local priest. After being privy to the myriad of sunset colours, I settled down in front of a fire whilst he made me chai and we communicated with sign language and smiles, occasionally lapsing into a companionable ‘silence’ or rather, moments free of gesticulating.
One can be taken in by the atmosphere of this place and spend days in a state of suspended animation. There is the local Dunagiri temple, a short walk away and where one can receive a blessing from the local priest ( after climbing 350 steps) or enjoy walks with stunning mountains views and happen across rural, village life.
This is also an ideal place for yoga groups.
From there, a four hour drive, on what is quite honestly one of the most pristine and beautiful roads I have experiences in India, with no traffic (and therefore no horns!) and no litter, just beautiful forests and mountain views, brought me to the lake-side resort of Nainital and the cosy colonial homestay at Abbotsford.
This house dates back to 1867, the décor is eclectic, the pictures on the walls tell tales of a history untold and the threadbare carpets and scattered sofas give the place the air of a slightly faded country home.
The house has recently been renovated to its original specification, with the addition of modern bathrooms. It has large rooms with high ceilings and thick walls to protect against the cold winters and warm summers so that even in May, there was no need for fans or air conditioning.
To emulate an English country home, the dining room is lit up in deep red and gold with traditional old English furniture and textured walls and the lounges are replete with artefacts.
The meals are a delight with either Indian or continental cuisine to suit your palete and can be taken in the dining room or al fresco on the terrace. The breakfasts are deliciously healthy and will definitely set you up for the day, whether the activity you choose for the day is sailing on the lake in Nainital or trekking up to China Peak for stunning vistas over the area.
This is an ideal retreat for writers, a place to plan themed weekends for birding, walking or cooking or to simply relax in a corner with a good book. And as a treat, they are pet- friendly too.