Kumaon: Walk with the Gods in the Foothills of Northern India

A local responsible tourism group takes spirited travelers on an inner journey in the great outdoors.

For a truly uplifting and ethereal experience, Kumaon village located in the Uttarakhand state of Northern India is where travelers can literally take a walk along the road less traveled. Uttarakhand, known by locals as “abode of the gods,” is divided into two distinct regions: Garwhal, made famous for the many yoga retreats and the pilgrimage city of Rishikesh; and Kumaon, Garwhal’s lesser-known, distinctively Hindu neighbor. Off the tourist map, Shakti’s Kumaon is the perfect destination for culture-rich Hindu experiences in the midst of some of the most stunning mountain scenery in the world.

Shakti was founded by Jamshyd Sethna, one of India’s leading travel professionals who fell in love with the Himalaya region as a young boy. Having worked in India’s luxury travel business for over two decades, he recognized that an increasing number of travelers were seeking something beyond five-star luxury and a tour of the great monuments – searching for something simpler, which would take them off the well-trodden paths and closer to India’s landscape, people and living cultures. There are two sister locations to Shakti Kumaon – Shakti Sikkim and Shakti Ladakh, often referred to as ‘little Tibet’ because it is geographically, anthropologically and culturally part of Tibet. Itineraries between the destinations are tailored to suit individual travelers needs and interests.

From the snow-capped peaks of the Great Himalaya Range to the breathtaking Almora and Nainital hills, Shakti guests can enjoy daily private, guided walks, rafting and horse-riding, suitable for all ages and fitness levels, while drinking in spectacular views of India’s epic landscapes. Walk past picturesque terraced fields, view the twin peaks of Nanda Devi, India’s second tallest mountain, and interact with locals on your way between villages while enjoying picnics complete with tables and chairs in orchards of walnuts, apples, and apricots. Nights are spent in tented camps or traditional village houses that have been slightly retouched to include Western creature comforts. Travelers will return from Kumaon with stories of visits to ancient temples, the extraordinary warmth of locals, and an understanding of a more spiritual way of life free of modern technology.

For the pièce de résistance, why not extend your Kumaon experience with a three-night stay at the stylish Shatki 360˚Leti, a magnificent four-cabin mountain retreat perched at an impressive 8,000 feet where complete serenity rejuvenates the soul and imagination reawakens the mind. The freestanding guest cabins made of limestone, wood and glass by local masons using age-old building techniques are tucked into the terrace hilltop and completely private. Each one includes grass terraces with sunken outdoor fire pits and a virtual 360-degree view of the majestic mountains and the valley, all visible from the comfort of your bed. Pashmina blankets, fluffy duvets, indoor wood fires, writing tables and solar heated showers are all part of the creature comforts provided. There is also the main house with a cozy lounge, open fireplace and common dining area. Gourmet meals are prepared with fresh ingredients from the organic kitchen garden by the in-house Tibetan chef, Yeshi (a mountaineer and ex- monk), including a choice of foreign wines, single malts and blends from Scotland. Tibetan and Indian cooking lessons are also available upon request, as well as yoga and meditation.

Travelers should note that 360º Leti is very remote and can only be accessed after a two-hour trek from the nearest road head, which adds to the experience. No need to bring your Blackberry here as there is no electricity or Internet connectivity, so you can truly journey “off the grid” and commune with nature in God’s humble abode.

Season: Both Shakti Kumaon and Shakti 360˚Leti are open from October 1, 2011 – April 30, 2012

Rates: A four-day, three-night Shakti Kumaon village experience is US$1,307 per person, based on two or three adults, and includes accommodation in three village houses, meals and beverages, all activities, accompanying English-speaking guide, porters, car at disposal, all taxes, and round-trip transfer between Kathgodam train station or Pantnagar airport and village houses.

For a three-night, four-day package at 360˚ Leti rates start at $1,916 per adult, based on two traveling on a twin/double share basis. Rates include accommodation in a private cottage, all meals and beverages, activities, English-speaking guide, porters, car at disposal, all taxes, and round-trip transfer between Shakti Kumaon village experience and Shakti 360˚ Leti. (Gola cottage has the best views, but all are superb really.)

For more information visit Shakti Himalaya or book through I-escape.com.

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