October is a time of ‘homecoming’ and ‘reunions’. You can smell October in these parts of the Himalayan towns and villages. The familiar overcast begins to clear away with promises of bluer skies and blooms of ‘saipatri’ (marigold) lighten up happy patches and rows. A slight nip in the air whispers that winter is just around the corner and a warm sense of revelry quietly starts to stir.
The festive month of October in 2014 started off somewhat this way for the Subba family until the patriarch unexpectedly passed away. He had recently invested in a farmland and started the construction with dreams to develop the place and live his post-retirement days amidst the local farming community.
Committed to fulfil and realise her dear father’s wishes Sushmita decided to give up a long-standing career in New Delhi and joined her brother Ashish around a month later. They worked tirelessly to come up with a plan before the close of the year.
‘Auks Farm’ – a dream at a time, was borne in commemoration of their beloved father’s unspoken dream and his penchant for the great extinct bird by the same name. The Great Auks was a large flightless species of a penguin who eventually became extinct in the middle of the 19th century due to excessive hunting. AUKS Farm is a personal project of a family and a glowing tribute to the man and all those exquisite extinct birds that would never be seen again.
A quaint, non-touristy, Agro Tourism Farmstay, Auks Farm offers a homely experience in a comfortable farm-house set up. Definitely more than just a homestay or a bed-and-breakfast, the farm enriches your travel experience with their variety of offerings for every traveller visiting these parts of the Himalayas. Built with love, the name AUKS also stands as an acronym of the initials of the former family of four. This bunch of AUKS farmers joined by Bijaya, the sister-in-law opened up their ‘dream farm’ with two spacious rooms – Laughing Owl and Paradise Parrot in the cold winter of January 2015.
An open countryside nestled amidst soaring dark blue hills. Orange orchards and the wide variety of flora to greet you with an explosion of colours everywhere. As you breathe in the clean mountain air, distinctive sounds of a variety of birds reverberate. Butterflies flutter around fearlessly and all the while a consistent low hum; a deep and soulful chanting resonates all around. This is a different realm altogether. Auks Farm is located in a small and peaceful Eastern Himalayan village of Soreng at the outskirts of Darjeeling, West Bengal, India.
It comes as no surprise that such a serene environment would have inspired an old monastery that exists in the area and dates back to 111 years. This Monastery houses a museum displaying age-old manuscripts and artefacts from the 17th century and makes for an interesting agenda for a daytime itinerary.
The Farm can arrange transportation for guests travelling from Bagdogra airport (3 hours) or from New Jalpaiguri Railway station (2.5 hrs) to the town of Darjeeling. From here, there are two routes; via the bustling Teesta Bazaar or the scenic forests of Takdah. If you are travelling from Sikkim or Bhutan you only have the first option.
A variety of farm activities and regular workshops are infused into the daily itinerary to ensure that guests get a first-hand feel of a farm-life. Take a pick out of the popular activities and workshops at the Farm. You can learn a bit about traditional local cuisines & spices, dabble with the potter’s wheel, soak in the subtle fragrance of soap-making or surprise yourself with the local art of wine-making and Pickle-making to name a few. Auks Farm stands-out as an exclusive and comfortable ‘Boutique Farm stay’ experience in a non-hotel format.
The Farm offers uniquely charming room options. Local workers and natural resources have come together here to build upon a simple mantra of ’natural-sustainable; homely & warm’.
LAUGHING OWL is tastefully done-up in a Nepalese theme decor. An intricate ‘White Tara Studio’ artwork adorns its wall and the room boasts of a brilliant view of the sunrise. High bamboo ceiling with a skylight adds to the vibrant brightness of the room much like an exotic bird.
PARADISE PARROT sits adjacent to the Laughing Owl and is more suited to late risers and deep-sleepers with its calm & dim lighting.
DODO is an exclusive cottage built with indigenous materials and has been the guest’s favourite till date. It is perfect for a group of 4.
MOHO was built with the idea to create a marriage of modern styling and organic materials in a rustic theme. This cabin has an additional porch and a private Barbeque area which also serves as an ideal reading space during the day or a star-gazing arena at night. High ceilings made with pine and teakwood enhances the already stunning view of the countryside.
Besides the cottages, the Farm also offers Tents on request.
Food & Dining
Food is the main feature of this Farm as they prepare meals from their own organic garden. Both vegetarian and non-vegetarian fare is served for a wholesome farm to table experience. The menu is created after thoughtful conversations with the varied mix of travellers and regularly curated keeping every guest’s meal preference and palette in mind. Care is taken to dish out daily variations for long stay groups. Overall the cuisine is a merry amalgamation of traditional Nepalese thalis and Auks Farm specials.
With a distinctive smoky wood-fire cooked flavour Auks Farm offers a range of delectable baked items and barbeque delights from its kitchen. Also known for their variety of salads, smoothies and slow cooked woodfire food, the style varies from homely Himalayan to tribal and refined world cuisine. You will either find Bijaya, Sushmita or their mother in the kitchen toiling happily along with a special ingredient called ‘love’.
The common dining room features a Library corner and the collection of books is surprisingly good here. The dining area is also used in between meals and during rainy days for sessions of board-games, a guitar jam-up or to simply unwind and listen to music.
HOLY SMOKE or the common Barbeque area is the heart of all evening entertainment with a welcome bonfire and music to taste.
BOZO, the picturesque Gazebo made with local bamboo is an exclusive area, perfect for a special dinner set up or a secluded group table.
THE POND is your answer for that sultry, solitary moment swinging in the hammock.
The Auks Farmers and the Farming community jointly work to overcome challenges of quality over quantity and the crucial need for organic & chemical-free agriculture.
In the past 3 years, Auks Farm has been actively involved in helping the local farmers learn from experienced woodworkers, Designers and Architects. The Farm also funds education for few of the local underprivileged children. With their humble endeavours being so well-received the Auks Farmers now look forward to having their own coffee in the coming years.
Auks Farm currently makes and sells various types of pickles and farm preserves, sundried tomatoes, dried herbs and flowers. They also make soaps for various skin types under the brand name – SumiSO – an Auks Farm Production.
An Art therapy camp – ‘Art in the Mountains’ (AIM) was held as an endeavour to create an environment that fosters self-awareness through any form of Art. The first event of AIM was held in 2016 in association with ‘Learn Something Different’ (LSD), a renowned pottery studio in Delhi. This camp is open to teachers, homemakers, entrepreneurs, professionals, and Artists alike and provides a much needed local activity reprieve; a rare phenomenon this side of the country. The overwhelming success of AIM has prompted the arrangement for the next one which is scheduled for December 2018.
Auks Farm also held its first pop up dinner event in Gurgaon this July. This was a thematic Himalayan Feast in association with Café Lungta and presented as ‘Table for 24’. This was a collaboration for a farm-to-table experience and showcase of the Himalayan cuisine. The Auks Farm specialities were served here along with the Dessert. Cafe Lungta prepared the dishes from their own menu and skilfully paired them up with the Auks Farm specialities to unravel a feast that was one-of-its-kind; a perfect fusion of Darjeeling and Nepali food cooking techniques.
Guests at the ’Table for 24’ got a chance to taste the Auks Farm pickles and take home brochures with details of the Farm. The event was a super success and led to an ongoing collaboration with the popular restaurant ‘MOMO I am’ in Kolkata. You can pick up Auks Farm pickles or preserves from any of the four outlets if you are in Kolkotta next. A similar event has been scheduled in December. This time around the meal pairing would be done with any other similar authentic restaurant.
Just a month post its opening Auks Farm started receiving guests. One of the first guests was a Canadian writer and over the past few years, Auks Farm is proud to have hosted various International writers, filmmakers, movie producers, literary professors and artists. Lady Sorrel Bentinck of Scotland recalls fond memories of her stay at the Farm and has talked about it in the UK Sunday Times. Few University students from Warton School Pennsylvania followed by medical students from Cardiff University have included Auks Farm as one of their Indian experiences during their Culture Experience tours. The Farm is thrilled to have hosted more than 200 satisfied groups in a span of just three years and looks forward to welcoming many more.
Read what travellers have to say about Auks Farm on TripAdvisor. You can follow them for regular stories, events and updates on their Facebook page Auks Farm – A Dream at a Time and their Instagram handle @auksfarm. Auks Farm is registered on Air BNB for bookings and can also be booked through Himani Himalaya Treks and Tours. For more information on Auks Farm, you can visit their website www.auksfarm.com
The Auks Farmers agree that it is indeed a great feeling when guests actually send their family members and friends after they experience the Farm. This, they say is the best response!’
Thank you for reading!
Stay tuned to Sketchywanderer for more vignettes of lesser-known places and spaces. I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback on this blog.
Can you recall the musky, earthy fragrance that fills the air instantaneously after the first rains of the season? Or perhaps remember that fleeting sense of deep bonding of the soul with the surroundings as you see the first drops of rain touch the soil? Well, ‘Petrichor’ defines just that and now promises even more.
For the world-weary traveller in search of a deeper connection or a meaningful reprieve, Petrichor is the inexcusable next stop if your trails lead you towards this part of your next Himalayan adventure. Nestled in the forest of Gorubathan, just an hour’s drive from Siliguri (additional 30 mins Bagdogra airport) in West Bengal there awaits a rural experience like none other.
Borne out of an inherently shared desire ‘to care for the planet’, it was sometime back in 2013 that the founding members, Siddharth & Sweta found themselves in possession of a vacant plot of land at Sweta’s mother’s ancestral property.
Drawn inexplicably to the unused site they immediately recognised the dire need to nurture, maintain and develop what they had in hand. So began a rambling journey as they tried to make sense of the land and its resources, armed only with a familiar dose of reasonable doubt, worldly logic, childlike curiosity and the random tutorials on Youtube. They soon realised that just playing with the soil and observing the natural rhythm was not enough. What they needed was a formal plan and this is exactly what they set about doing to qualify for a certification as Permaculture Designers.
With the certification now in place, Petrichor gradually came into being as a community starting with small-scale local farmers who were invited to collaborate and work, encouraging them to share resources and their best practices. The resultant produce and eventually the profits were enough to motivate this already existing agrarian locality.
Petrichor now stands as a vibrant testimony to a deeply driven desire to restore, nurture and establish a self-sustaining eco-system. The ‘Petrichor’ experience begins with its exclusive accommodation options :
Sadhana – The endearingly restored Nepali Heritage home.
Abundance – A lovingly constructed ‘Natural Hut’
Simplicity – A unique Hut made exclusively with reclaimed materials.
Sattva – The Volunteer’s Dormitory.
The Old Granary – A picturesque old storage space now fitted into a low budget accommodation for a frequently visiting volunteer or an independent traveller.
There are Tents available on request should you prefer a custom-made rustic campsite affair.
It is interesting to note that while the content of this blog was being collated, the Petrichor community along with few volunteers was busy building a unique ‘Cob House’ as yet another accommodation option in the near future.
The ‘Sunset Terrace’ deserves a special mention here. While this is yet another typical structure built with natural local resources, this space was specially designed to capture the breathtaking view of the sunset. The open-air arena is the perfect inspiration for small yoga sessions during the divine hours of dusk & dawn and also serves as a lounge or an outdoor movie theatre. A cosy Reading room with a Library section and a finely tuned Guitar awaits for a quiet afternoon.
Meals at Petrichor’s Cafe Glow is organically Vegan, Vegetarian and Raw. Cafe Glow itself is not confined to any singular space and guests can celebrate the blessing of food in its purest form anywhere in this property. A regular meal which is a form of indigenous wholesome cooking of the native plants with local spices in a traditional Nepalese style is prepared here. This style is now termed as Slow Food and comprises what we call The Petrichor Plate – a truly authentic Farm-To-Table experience.
You can also pre-order a special 4-course meal for a unique Plant-Based Cuisine experience that is patented by the Petrichor Kitchen as being stylised and contemporary while being greatly inspired by nature.
Not just your regular Homestay or a Farm-stay in an authentic rural landscape, Petrichor extends much more beyond the concept of food and lodging for a traveller with its underlying relentless campaign to promote itself as a sustainability education centre or a working permaculture farm.
Your Himalayan adventure is guaranteed to enter a parallel dimension if not the next level as you become a part of a community working in harmony with local farmers of the region to build a healthy alternative lifestyle as they strive to live sustainably and responsibly with each other.
Petrichor offers a personal opportunity to rediscover nature’s bounty and unravel the secrets of the earth in its vast splendour. An ideal way to experience a slice of unadulterated rustic bliss as you learn and get a hands-on experience about building sustainable structures with natural resources or delve into the hidden rural recipes of food fermentation, herbalism, soap-making, bee-farming or simply enrich your stay by learning a little more about permaculture designing. The ‘slow food’ cooking process in the rustic wood fire kitchens is an experience that stands apart by itself.
Both Sweta & Siddharth modestly refrain from taking ownership of the idea behind Petrichor and are quick to point out that they are but stakeholders of the community. They claim that all workers, volunteers and even guests are ultimately the ones who benefit from the returns of the Petrichor experience.
This alternate destination has been receiving encouraging reviews so far. Having hosted quite a fair number of international tourists who have been smitten by the simple beauty of the hospitable community and have stayed on as volunteers. Petrichor Farms – A Sustainable Living Education Centre (as they prefer to be known as) looks forward to opening their doors to share the joy of simple living with even more travellers and adventure seekers.
Visit Petrichor as they regularly keep their followers abreast with their latest programmes and events through their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/PetrichorFarms/ and their Instagram Handle @petrichorfarmkitchenstudio
While their website is currently under construction there has been considerable coverage and traveller’s talk all over the internet especially on Tripadvisor about this hidden destination. Petrichor is also listed on Airbnb for Bookings and can be looked up in Volunteer World as well.
Thank you for reading! Stay tuned to Sketchywanderer for more vignettes of hidden places and spaces. I would love to hear your thoughts & feedback on this blog.