Finding Dhanachuli

first_imgA summer house transforms into a boutique resort on the hills of Dhanachuli, an unfrequented village that seduces you with an unhurried pace of life, moments of solitude and abundant sunshine. Text by Aditi SenGupta; photographs by Subhojit PaulLittle Miss Sunshine. The Hollywood drama from the last decade occupies a special place in my humble collection and is a surefire recipe for turning your mood from murderous to happy and even generous. But my mood is not dark as I stand on a white deck facing a valley dressed in various shades of green. It’s the sun, in fact, that brings to mind the laughter-filled movie and I quickly borrow the title (barring the word ‘little’ of course) for myself. I feel every bit of a Miss Sunshine as I enjoy the warmth of an early May morning up in the hills of Dhanachuli, a near unheard-of village near Mukteshwar. The sunshine spreads across the valley as smoothly as butter on a hot toast, allowing me an unparalleled view of the densely forested slopes and a glimpse of Himalayan peaks behind them.The geometry of the entire picture before my eyes fascinates me. At one level I find the hills. Small stone houses in the surrounding villages punctuate the heavy greenness, columns of smoke from their chimneys adding a vertical dimension of sorts. The vegetation, too, follows a pattern I find most intriguing. The arrangement of oak and cedar trees, not to forget the many varieties I don’t know the names of, reminds me of the Mexican wave. Stacked behind the hills–coming to the next level of natural geometry–are the majestic peaks, sporting signs of winter. The view of the peaks, notwithstanding the abundant sunshine, is sadly unclear. Through the haze, I manage a glimpse of the fabled Nanda Devi peak as well as the Panchachuli.I indulge my newfound interest in geometry with a tour of Te Aroha, a boutique resort in Dhanachuli that is less than two months old. It’s my home for the weekend and also the reason to drive into this village that most tourist maps of Uttarakhand don’t show. For those following the tried-and-tested circuits, the journey ends at Bhimtal, about 30 km below Dhanachuli.Only a few of those who drive up to Mukteshwar, the other well-known neighbour, make a detour to Dhanachuli. It was one such detour that led to the birth of Te Aroha, which means ‘a place of love’ in the language of Maoris. Sumant Batra’s summer house, built 12 years ago after he fell in love with the little village, is now a resort with 10 rooms and suites.I start from Level One. Going up a flight of wide wooden stairs, I am instantly attracted by the yellow roofing. The sloping roofs are arranged at different levels, giving, once again, a strange beauty to the planned haphazardness. My first stop is the reception, a wood-and-glass structure where everyone is greeted with a glass of rhododendron juice. Continuing the walk up to the resort, I stop to admire the little birdhouses at the landscaped gardens. The grass is just sprouting and several wild blooms have begun to make an appearance. A patch has been devoted to fruit trees, with the aim of wooing back the birds who flew away during the construction. And I am delighted to see the sparrow, a bird that I haven’t seen in the city for years now.The spacious lobby at Te Aroha transports you to the colonial era. A fireplace, piano, a cosy poker room on the side… everything put together runs high on nostalgia. On my way to the sunny, cheerful restaurant–a glasshouse with two trees in the middle–I get distracted by a door on the left. It reads “Three Steps Down”. Quite literally three steps down I go and find myself in the prettiest of suites. Hints of purple blend beautifully in the cosy bedroom with a white, very French-looking bed. Facing the bed is a French window that is almost twice my height. A tea table and a couple of chairs on the deck complete the picture of indolence. The other rooms and suites, too, are alluring but Three Steps Down bowls me three times over. Onward to the restaurant, I am drawn to a flight of stairs that goes down to a spacious room. There is nothing much here other than a low table and two benches one of which, interestingly, comes from the Parliament in Delhi. This is where I come for a glass or two of red wine in the evenings followed by sumptuous meals of Kumaoni Palak, Mutton Stew and Fowl Curry.The new wing of the summer house is one level higher, the best part of which is what the owner calls The Attic. It is what I would call a combo of a library and a recreation room. It is the kind of place where you can sit for hours and do just nothing. The Attic deserves at least one lazy afternoon but I have none to spare on this trip. Sunset beckons me to a hilltop behind Te Aroha and I prepare for the climb by getting my forty winks. The drama in the sky takes a backseat as a bevy of village lasses catch our attention. Each of them has stunning features and obliges my camera-wielding friend with smiles that could make any toothpaste company hunt them down for brand endorsements. I return with the promise of catching up with the girls next morning at the jungle. Bedtime comes early, simultaneously with thunder, lightning and rain. The temperature drop brings out the jacket and woollen socks. I literally climb to the bed, thanks to a footstool, and sink into a cocoon of quilts. Interestingly, I am in a room named Morning Sun–a complete mismatch for a night owl like me.A firm knock on the door at 5 a.m. and I jump out of bed to keep my date. Fit-as-fiddle Vinod leads the way as our group of four takes to a jungle path that villagers use for collecting firewood. The walk is simple and within 45 minutes we are out in the open. Sunlight filters through a canopy of tall, moss-laden trees and it becomes warm enough for me to get out of my heavy jacket. The village girls, however, are nowhere in sight. Ah well. It’s not the first time I have been stood up on a date.Hot poori bhaji for breakfast helps me banish regrets of the failed meeting to a corner of the mind. I spend the last two hours at Te Aroha lolling on the deck. I watch the hills change colour with the slow movement of the clouds. A ride through the congested towns of Uttar Pradesh is only a few minutes away but I am far from done with Dhanachuli. A trip to this small but once prosperous village (some say the name comes from the words ‘dhan’ as in wealth and ‘chulha’ or the hearth) is a lesson in getting everything out of nothing.advertisementadvertisementAt a glanceGetting there: The most convenient way to get to Dhanachuli from Delhi is to take an overnight train to Kathgodam, 90 minutes from the village. By road, Dhanachuli is 7-8 hours from Delhi. Start at the crack of dawn to avoid nightmarish traffic at Rampur.When to go: This is a year-round destination. The best mountain views, however, can be enjoyed in winter.Must doStay: Te Aroha, Dhanachuli Bend, District Nainital; tel: (05942) 214 377, (0) 87550 80735; www.tearoha.inEat: Kumaoni fare at the Te Aroha restaurant. Request the chef for mutton stew and rotis made from the locally grown atta.Shop: Apricot preserve and orange marmalade from NGO-run shops.See: Spend a day at Bhimtal, 30 km from below Dhanachuli.FYIOff to Mukteshwar: About 12 km from Dhanachuli is Mukteshwar, which is famous for its Shiva Temple. Set on the highest point in town, the temple is architecturally insignificant. What is interesting is a path at the base of the temple’s steps.  advertisementIt leads you to a rocky outcrop with some beautiful rock formations. It requires some nerve to climb up and peek over any of the ragged edges. If you manage to, however, you’d get a breathtaking view of the valley.Hot dealBreak away: For Rs. 17,900, get 2 nights’ stay at Te Aroha for 2 people. Offer includes all meals and free stay for children below 5 years of age. Valid till July 15.last_img

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