Himalayan Boutique Farmstays of India – Auks Farm

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.

Origin

‘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.

Location

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.

Connectivity

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.

About

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.

Rooms

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.

Dodo

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.

Growing Together

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.

Events

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.

General Response

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 hidden places and spaces. I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback on this blog.

Himalayan Nature Retreats of India – Tieedi Forest Garden

Origin

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.

Location

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.

About

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.

The ‘Earthy Dwelling’ at Tieedi Garden Forest

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.

Tieedi Projects

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.

The Tieedi team’s environmental awareness drive has been positively received in the recent time. They have successfully hosted experiential learning workshops at the local college and school campus hoping to make everyone understand the pressing need of our times for a better tomorrow.
* Godwin Modern School Workshop
* Little Angels School Workshop
* Salesian College Socio-Ecological Outreach Programme:

Connect with Tieedi Forest Garden

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.

General Response

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.

Holistic Himalayan Farmstays of India – Petrichor Farm

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.

Location

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.

Origin

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.

About

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.

General Reviews

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.

Contact

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.

Urban Himalayan Homestays in India – Weaving lives, one ‘reyso’ at a time!

This spore of an idea spins its own tale in a quiet semi-urban rural area; at the outskirts of the hill-town of Darjeeling!
REYSO (‘a strand’ of spun yarn or wool) first threaded its way into what it is today, as the brainchild of a young working mother who had a keen interest to pursue her passion for ‘knitting’ and ‘crochet’ along with few of her friends.

 

A motley gathering of local womenfolk would come together with dreams to create and sell regional handicraft and gradually formed a small-time cooperative society by the name of Adarsh Kala.  However, afflicted by the lack of economic resources and structural planning this little-known society failed to thrive as an independent body,  but what it did was succeed in sowing the seed of a noble idea. Little did they expect that this ‘seed’ would eventually take root and grow into a social campaign called ‘REYSO’ a few decades later with the joint effort of a small team of like-minded individuals.

 

With a conscious effort and sincere passion to bring about a much needed social initiative, REYSO was registered as a society in 2014 and it started off with a small store.  Every Saturday since then, this store welcomes an excited conglomerate of local women here. Most of them are unemployed womenfolk from around the area and also includes a few financially impaired Tea Garden workers.  For them, REYSO offers not only a much-needed source of additional income but also a meaningful way to spend an afternoon with friends and like-minded associates over a cup of ‘Chiya’ (tea), while they deliberate over a new stitch or pattern for their latest knitting venture.

 

You can visit https://www.facebook.com/reysohandmade/or take a quick peek into the delightful world of authentic REYSO products on Instagram @reyso.handcraft.  Every item ranging from a crochet Tea-cozy,  a bedspread or cushion cover comes along with a guarantee to add colour and warmth to your personal space. Every REYSO handicraft that you purchase adds just another ray of hope for many in this local community. So, head over to their store if you find yourself in these parts during your next Himalayan adventure. A mindful souvenir and a cup of Darjeeling tea may just be waiting for you at the REYSO store.
Now, what is fascinating about this enterprise is that it does not just end here. Realising the potential of the abundant local natural resources and the appeal of simple rustic lifestyle for a world traveller, REYSO  recently opened the doors of their boutique urban homestay to a heartwarming response.
Imagine a private natural haven just outside the bustling town of Darjeeling and yet not quite in the rural villages and tea gardens? The REYSO urban homestay promises an interesting mix of experiences.  It is a mere 10minute drive from the main town of Darjeeling where you can easily rent a local taxi after which it is a 5minute walk along indigenous narrow lanes and steps. The location is perfect for those who love to walk and seek to experience the actual, non-touristy lifestyle of Darjeeling
Garden and main courtyard at Reyso Urban Homestay
The main courtyard with its plethora of local flora greets you warmly as it leads you to the Homestay that has been tastefully renovated into a traveller’s dream-stay in the hills.
You can take your pick of the room options from the  ‘Attic Suite which comes along with an attached bathroom and a balcony garden.  The ‘Family Suite’ has two adjoining rooms with a twin set in the second room while the ‘Backpacker room’ is another option for the traveller. The Family Suite and the Backpacker room have private bathrooms but they are not attached.
There is no television in the rooms and this offers a purposeful ambience to relax and unwind in natural surroundings. For practical reasons, wifi is available upon request.
The lounge serves as a Dining room for the Homestay and is common for all guests.  All meals are cooked in the main kitchen and the produce are mostly organic, sourced from local farmers.  The food is vegetarian traditional Nepalese and prepared with a mix of local ground spices that have a distinct flavour of their own.
In tune with the inherent motive to contribute towards local livelihood and promote Responsible Tourism, a range of handmade products are showcased at the REYSO Homestore too https://www.facebook.com/reysohomestore/
And just in case the serene environment, refreshing greenery all around and clean organic food inside manages to call out the artisan or the creative diva in you, head over to the Homestay’s small ‘Art Studio’ that is replete with basic paraphernalia for some craftwork or painting.  A fine water colourist himself, the owner, Ujjawal Chettri and his Homestay team look forward to encouraging travellers who share a passion for art, craft and music. The place indeed is an ideal retreat for Artists, Musicians, Writers and Photographers any time of the year.
The Homestay is very exclusive and caters to those who appreciate the concept of natural, responsible tourism. They are yet to link up with Travel agents and portals as the initial reviews have been very positive with guests directly calling to book through word of mouth.
For quick snapshots and reviews of REYSO Urban homestay tune into @reyso.urbanhomestay on Instagram.
Stay tuned to Sketchywanderer for more vignettes of hidden places and spaces. I would love to hear your thoughts & feedback on this blog.

Hidden Getaways of Kerala – The Lantern Stay

Lantern Stay

This cabin in the woods at Lantern Stay takes me back to an unforgettable weekend in the rains of June 2017.

It was one of those last minute rustled up affairs at the end of another insufferable work week. The main deciding factor was the non-optional inclusion of a highly energetic 5yr old in our midst and the need to have him safely contained and happily entertained during this short stay.  So it was a no-brainer that a road trip to the hills of Wayanad was a safer bet as opposed to a scenic house-boat adventure through the lush plains. It was later revealed that the husband was already sold on the choice of our destination when he chanced upon a short video clip of the place soundly tuned to the familiar background of Alan Walker’s ‘Faded’.

Getting out of Bangalore city onto the highway perhaps took us more time than the actual journey itself.  But once we were out, it was a pleasant drive filled with interesting conversations and repeated rounds of Jolly Rancher Lollypops.  I remember a blur of sunflower fields through the highways;  quiet stretches through the forest areas and wide slopes of tea gardens as we reached nearer to the destination by the fading lights of the day.

The management insisted on us ditching our ride at a marked parking area and offered their beaten land rovers for the off-road stretch just a few distance from the resort.  But mavericks that we were; we took our Truck and trudged along the 5-6 km ride uphill, through hidden trails, over gushing waterfalls and steep inclines leading to this hidden resort.  Surely not for the faint-hearted.

The resort itself was literally nestled inside a deep gorge with tall trees and steep dark hills all around. It rained intermittently through the weekend while a river ran noisily somewhere below taking the entire scene to a different level of surrealness.

Our cabins were spaced apart to offer just the right amount of privacy in the still and serene ambience all around. And with no network and TV we found ourselves literally off the grid and pleasantly refreshed.  Homely meals with local cuisine was served in the main dining hall. What caught us by surprise was the ‘spa’ cabin which offered Ayurvedic massages along with a rustic contraption to top off the treatment and serve as a private sauna.

Even though it was slightly cold and generally wet all around we could not resist exploring the area and as usual, I got the entire package with a leech attack and a caterpillar incident.

Endless conversations, mugs of black instant coffee and lungs filled with fresh air.

Landmarks of Darjeeling – Capital Hall & Clock Tower

Perhaps the best days of my early childhood were those Friday evenings when the entire family would get ready for the evening show at Capital Hall. This was the early 1980’s when there was a choice of two cinema halls for the avid moviegoers in this small hill-town. The Rink Cinema (now developed into the Big Bazar / Inox complex) was almost always the second choice to the Capital Hall with its option of a Balcony section.

As a young child, I clearly remember the grille design of the front porch entrance to this grand building, the smell of fresh pop-corn that was uniquely different with its pungent mustard flavour, the crackle of fresh local potato ‘chips’ and the general waft of smoke & mint in the air.

This prominent landmark and colonial heritage since 1917 met a sad turn of events when a fire broke out in 1996 bringing down the dreams of many in its smouldering flames.  Since then, the building has mostly stayed closed and was briefly occupied by the CRPF during the recent political upheaval.

If you are in Darjeeling you will not miss this grand structure on your way up to Ladenla Road, leading to Nehru Road and the Mall. The Capital Hall is one of the few Colonial Buildings that lends its appeal to Darjeeling’s old-world charm.  Its present state is a woeful sight as it stands gravely in lack of care and maintenance.

My sketch is a tribute to this prominent landmark and the memory of what it stood for.
Pencils, Pen, Cretacolor Hard Pastels & Camlin Charcoal on Fabriano A4.