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.
The ideals of community service and a deep-seated regard for family tradition stirred early in the mind of this young boy, while still at school. It was no big surprise that the need to safeguard and promote local heritage came embedded in his DNA as we trace a lineage back to an erstwhile ancestor bestowed with the illustrious title of ‘Rai Sahib’ by the British Government back in 1941 for his generosity during dire times.
What was a searing spark gradually bloomed into a flickering flame as Kabir traversed remote regions and lesser known cities across the country through 2007 while in the employ of a reputed travel company. What struck him most during his travels was a stark realisation that the appeal rested in the fact that the local cultures were always given precedence to. These rural areas held on to their ethnic traditions in every facet of their daily lives giving the overall authentic character to the place itself.
That summer, Kabir returned to his hometown, Kalimpong a little wiser.
PaliGhar was thus borne out of an inherent need to preserve a family’s history, pay respect to the rich cultural flavours of their Nepali heritage while aiming to promote rural livelihood, protect local wildlife & provide education for the less privileged. With acres of ancestral lands to work with, the PaliGhar venture officially commenced in October 2015 and by January 2017 they opened their gates with a flourish.
Approximately 3 hours of uphill drive from Bagdogra Airport along typical winding narrow roads will bring you to the hill-town of Kalimpong in the Eastern Himalayan foothills of West Bengal. Once a critical part of the famous ’Silk Route’, Kalimpong is now another bustling town perched on a ridge above the river Teesta. If you push just a little further and brave an additional 30 mins drive beyond main Kalimpong town you will notice the terrain blending into verdant terraced paddy fields surrounded by dark blue hills. Gradually the fields open into a village called ‘Echhey’ – a panoramic open countryside stuck in time.
PaliGhar – An Experiential Farmstay beautifully merges into the picturesque backdrop, awaiting with its bounty of natural offerings from this side of the Himalayas.
Hawa Ghar overlooking the cottage at PaliGhar
A holistic experience in its purest form, PaliGhar offers a buffet of experiential travelling like no other with its range of authentic farm-life activities, quaint trekking trails along the Relli River and remote villages. Amusing sights & sounds greet you at every nook and corner with friendly villagers eager to share a cup of tea or a familiar tale.
Set against the scenic backdrop of a rural Himalayan countryside, this place celebrates local craftsmanship and the abundance of unique horticulture and floriculture found only in these parts of the region. Rustic and rural lifestyle merges in this world to occasionally spring up contemporary surprises like a hidden picnic spot, renowned floral nurseries and a glimpse into the nearby Himalayan Trust for Natural History of Art Institute.
PaliGhar offers travellers 02 guest cottages inspired by the traditional indigenous style of Himalayan architecture. Designed to complement the surroundings, the building style involves the use of all familiar natural materials available in the area and is constructed by workers from the community. While one of the cottages comprises 02 guest rooms, the second one comes along with an in-house kitchen and a common dining cum living space.
In keeping with the feel of a genuine Farm-life experience the PaliGhar kitchen dishes out authentic local Nepali cuisines sourced from their own organic kitchen garden.
Be prepared for your senses to be assailed with a heady mix of fragrant homegrown rice and a plethora of fresh seasonal produce lovingly prepared with traditional combinations of local spices.
While their Lunch and Dinner are simple set-menu-affairs offering homely Nepali food, they maintain a comfortable continental theme for Breakfast with few thoughtful options of local fare for the occasional guest request. For the eager culinary enthusiast, the PaliGhar kitchen is happy to demonstrate a detailed ethnic Nepali cooking routine and share a secret tip or two to take home.
The PaliGhar team have been pleasantly surprised with the turn-over of guests so far. It has been established that age is no bar when it comes to experiential adventures for the discerning traveller in search of unadulterated outdoors and nature. From single woman traveller to families & friends and elderly people, the guest list boasts of a delightfully mixed clientele stream. It is also interesting to note that many of these guests have arrived at the region and zeroed in on PaliGhar as a destination itself. The average stay for a guest at PaliGhar appears to be 04-05 nights, during which every activity in the farm is curated to suit the mood of the traveller. Guests leave PaliGhar with rejuvenated minds, wholesome bodies and refreshed souls to dive back directly into their busy lives.
It is heartwarming and a common sight here to find parents familiarising their children with the goodness of farm-life and encouraging them to participate in outdoor activities during their stay.
While a few local travel agents support this homegrown venture, it has mainly been ‘by word of mouth’ and traveller recommendations that have made PaliGhar the Farmstay Destination of choice in recent times.
Connect with PaliGhar
You can log into the PaliGhar Website for more details or tune into their Instagram handle @palighar and Facebook page for regular updates & enquiries. PaliGhar reservations may be reached via Air BNB, Booking.com or TripAdvisor.
In the recent past PaliGhar has also had its fair share of social coverage and has featured in a few prominent travel journos, each brimming with their own version of the delight in store at this place. Take a look :
Sometime in the middle of July, back in 2016, just when the heavy rain-laden clouds provided a brief respite from the lashing monsoons, a young couple fervently planted their first sapling at a family-owned patch of land in the Himalayan rain forest of 8th Mile, Gorabari.
Well-accomplished in their own respective fields, this urban couple had just taken a life-changing decision to give up their steady corporate careers of over 2 decades and move on to pursue a venture of their own. The immediate past six months had sped by in a blurry haze of intense soul-searching for them. Determined that they were, they had set out to seek their true-calling aboard a mutual passion for trekking and mountaineering.
And so, it was during one of those focussed trekking episodes that they had found themselves volunteering at a farm in Uttarkhand; learning about the wonders of Permaculture Farming. Turns out, much more than just a discovery, it was a revelation of their heartfelt longing to work with Nature and live in harmony with the bounty it had to offer. The regenerative and self-sustaining concept of Permaculture struck a deep chord with Aashna and Utsow and they wasted no time moving into a shutdown family-owned factory set up at the foothills of Darjeeling. Soon after they completed their Permaculture Design Certification under the tutelage of Rico Zook, a luminary and respected figure in the field of Permaculture, in April 2016. Two months down, Tieedi project had taken root.
If your next Himalayan sojourn takes you to these parts, it is hard to miss the bustling little market of 8th Mile after a somewhat tumultuous drive of about 2 &1/2 hours from Bagdogra airport. This stretch of the national highway (NH 55) is an interesting junction of former local farmers who have given up their traditional agrarian way of life to move closer to the highway enamoured by the consumerist market economy. Small roadside motels and restaurants have sprung up and they offer popular local cuisine and a selection of indigenous fruits and vegetables, hoping to entice passing vehicles. Discreet off-road trails lead away towards the rural villages and further beyond into the forest. One such trail stands out conspicuously with its long line of bamboo fencing and leads into a different world altogether along with the promise of an unforgettable experience.
Tieedi Forest Garden – a permaculture farm lies in the forest of Gorabari off 8th Mile, near the sleepy town of Sonada in Darjeeling district.
The Tieedi project originally was an endeavour to focus on planting trees and revive the misty rainforests but an unprecedented discovery pushed it off the edge and shaped it into what it is today. As they set out to clear the undergrowth to plant the trees the founding party were overwhelmed with the amount of ‘non-biodegradable waste & general garbage’ stifling the area. It remains a shocking fact that ‘Tieedi’ workers have till date unearthed about 2800 sacks of plastic that had accumulated over time.
Taking the challenge of the state of the terrain in stride, the founders have indeed come a long way into making what ’Tieedi Garden Forest ’is known for today – a first of its kind ’nature resort’ in Darjeeling replete with a natural eco-system that organically sustains the daily needs without hurting the environment. This inherent drive has given birth to their ‘Earthy Dwelling’ – a mud-hut for travellers which stands as a true prototype of its kind.
Besides the awe-inspiring ingenuity with which the ‘Earthy Dwelling’ has been constructed and maintained, this place comes along with its own fare of local gourmet delights. Take a peek into Dine on a Farm to get a taste of what lies waiting in the Tieedi Garden Forest. Authentic farm-to-the-table meal options for visitors and guests comprising of food that is either grown naturally in their gardens; foraged from the forest or sourced from the local organic farmer friends.
So, if they are not already busy with reforesting, growing their own food and experimenting with naturally made construction projects you will find the Tieedi team actively involved in seeking new solutions. They are on the constant look-out to work with the local community and government bodies to find even more sustainable ways to develop the locality without destroying the surrounding natural resources. The burgeoning problem of waste management in the hills of Darjeeling is their major campaign. One of the projects related to this is #Save8MileKhola which is committed to save one of the last perennial mountain rivers in Darjeeling, a beautiful natural spring that bursts forth from the deep dark forests of Senchal Wildlife Reserve (the real mineral water!) and has been bearing the brunt of the underside of an upcoming township in the 8 Mile market area. The project is dedicated to create awareness and encourage composting of all organic waste of the 8 Mile settlement area instead of letting them get dumped in the river.
For more details on rates and rentals for Tieedi Garden Forest please visit: Tieedi Dwelling. Find out what guests, visitors and travellers are saying about Tieedi Garden Forest on AirBnB Listings, TripAdvisor & Facebook. You can also tune into their Instagram handle @tieedi_forest-garden to get a personal feel of the place as Aashna & Utsow take you through their latest updates with mindful captures and poignant stories behind each of them. Volunteers can reach out to the Tieedi Volunteering Program to lend a hand or share their innovative thoughts on permaculture.
When asked about the response so far Aashna & Utsow spontaneously say that it has been an ‘overwhelming one’. They did not quite expect people to react as positively to the idea & the experience of staying in minimalist accommodations. They had definitely hoped for a few like-minded individuals to understand and appreciate the concept but the last couple of years have made them realise that almost everybody has this gnawing craving deep within. That ever-present and glowing urge to reconnect with Nature and live the way we were always meant to. Tieedi Forest Garden is not just another option for a rustic travel experience in a natural setting but also a consistent source of inspiration teaching us ways to live in harmony with the surroundings. A potent dose of rural goodness naturally packaged for a mindful appeal.
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.