Named after the region it’s located in, The Kumaon is a new kind of peace amongst the mountains, valleys, forests and lakes.
By: Tejashee Kashyap
Posted on: January 10, 2023
LF Says: ★★★★★
The cantilevered dining hall of The Kumaon.
The hills have never failed to be an idyllic haven for those looking to escape the tireless demands of modern life. Sal and sagon trees line the winding roads in the mountains, offering majestic valley views that take your breath away; may I use the term 'healing' instead? If you wish to find solace in the foothills of the Himalayas and get away from it all, then do yourself a favour and nestle yourself in an almost secret retreat.
Some 1,600m above sea level stands a boutique eco-tourism resort, The Kumaon, in the hilltop village of Kasar Devi, Uttaranchal. Architecturally stunning yet completely in tune with its natural surroundings, you would mistake it to be a local home. And on a clear day when I arrived at The Kumaon, the world’s tallest mountain chain stood visible to me, some 300km away – pay your respects to Nanda Devi, Trishul, Panchchuli and the entire Garhwal range.
From the main road, The Kumaon greets you at the end of a narrow road, only accessible by walking. And as you walk towards your haven, you can hear the birds chirping, see the flowers blooming and feel the gentle rustling of the pines. The bracing cold air was very refreshing, I could feel my lungs being cleared of the putrid air I inhale all the time in Delhi.
But for the remainder of this article, I will refer to the resort as home because the word ‘resort’ somehow feels too 'luxurious'. The property still manages to feel just like a home, but with a better view.
A perfectly sited address in the mountains
To arrive at the hotel, you have to take steep paths that branch off from the single main road of Kasar Devi. After 10 hours of travel from Delhi, I stretch my knees to now make my way down a modest, slanting path. Each downward step towards the hotel, my curiosity, and my expectations starts to get markedly high. The trail curves into an expansive walled enclosure, delightfully teasing the abode's design, a trail of twinkling lights leading towards it now.
Camouflaged in the ochre landscape, The Kumaon revealed itself as a pleasant surprise. There, I was greeted by Abhinav, the General Manager who I’ll quickly learn is warm and accommodating. I take my load off in the lounge’s library sporting a wall of tasteful travel titles. Tempted to curl up in the reading nook with a good book right then and there, I eventually stir myself out of that thought and usher myself to the lounge’s balcony-like space that shows-off the Nanda Devi peak and the majestic surrounding ranges. As Abhinav and I settle into an engaging conversation about how the rest of the days will go, he says, "Let me know how you like the morning view," knowing how captivating it would be.
As I leave for my balcony chalet which was again a refreshing two-minute walk from the lobby along an illuminated stone trail with wild lavender flowers and tall grass on either side, I take a glance around the immersive space. There is perhaps no more striking design feature than the top half of the retreat, which cantilevers out to provide panoramic views of the Himalayas from 1600 meters above sea level. The upper level, which houses the dining room, features bamboo walls and rotating glass walls to maximize views of the forests, terraces and mountain peaks. Located on the highest point of the site, the main building houses a lounge, library, dining room, outdoor dining terrace, and administrative facilities. The hill abode looks like the perfect relaxing space for enjoying family time and soaking up the peace and quiet under a pitch-black starry sky.
Into the chalet
The Kumaon has 10 chalets that are named after villages in the Kumaoni vicinity. But each chalet and every space of the hotel offers incredible views of the mighty Nanda Devi, Trishul and more snow-covered ranges, thanks to the floor-to-ceiling windows, an extension of its efforts to let the outside peek into the inside and inhale the crisp mountain air.
One of the chalets at The Kumaon.
The first words that came to my mind upon entering my chalet were earthy and rustic. The chalet was a sensorial delight with a clear view of the hills and a small bay window with a seat, making for a cosy corner. The room was warm with contemporary, wooden cupboards and doors seamlessly camouflaging the storage spaces and the door to the washroom. But that’s not all. The bed is made of cement and the heated mattress makes you want to tuck in all day. The massive bathroom also has a plant bed near the shower area. A Kumaoni bukhari, the traditional wood heater to keep the suite warm and toasty, was also fitted in. With earthiness as a leitmotif, the decor elements of the property are made up of traditional copperware and fabric sourced from tweed mills in Almora. An earthy colour palette of white, brown, and beige are the themes of the room and the spacious balcony. Quite an intelligently designed space!
A look around your chalet room will confirm that it’s a minimalist haven and a champion of mindful design. Sri-Lankan architects, Pradeep Kodikara and Jineshi Samaraweera, of Colombo-based Zowa Architects, were hired to design the site. Their aesthetic draws from the works of Geoffrey Bawa, the architect who pioneered ‘tropical modernism’.
Come sunrise the next day, I blink awake to the jagged visages of Nanda Devi, Trishul, and Panchachuli standing majestically while basking in the first golden rays of the Sun. The long tail feathers of Yellow-billed Blue Magpies swoosh through the trees, while woodpeckers beat their beaks in a trill-like drill. The brightness is all-powerful and beautiful to soak in and start the day. I drink in the mountains with my morning chai and jump around the path happily as I make my way towards the dining hall for breakfast. That's exactly how my days were during my stay at The Kumaon, filled with life and joy.
Interior of the chalet at The Kumaon.
Local Kumaon delights
The star of The Kumaon is for all to enjoy: a cantilevered dining area with a floor-to-ceiling glass view of the mountains. I savoured my meals in the open dining area, overlooking the parallel mountainscape.
Decidedly simple in construction and experience, the kitchen serves savoury local cuisine. Every dish is compliant with the Kumaoni palate, which is still heavily undiscovered. Almost everybody you meet at the property is a local.
It’s not every day that you are served millet flatbread, gehet dal, pahadi chicken, Kumaoni raita, or forest-foraged black tea in a luxurious location like The Kumaon. And that’s how you know why the delectables are intentionally made simple. Besides being finger-licking good, it’s the resemblance of the comfort of ghar ka khaana (homemade food) that stands out the most. As I indulged in a guilty pleasure, I couldn't stop at one bite. It was probably the most chappatis I ate during a vacation. After every meal, I was full to bursting and could feel my body slide into a happy food-induced coma.
It is not uncommon for The Kumaon to draw visitors of all kinds - couples from nearby ranges who come for a weekend, bikers who are travelling through India, avid trekkers, library dwellers or those who enjoy staying cosy next to the handmade bhukari with a view. Respect for the land and local culture is an overarching theme for this boutique property. They’re even selective about guests. Those who are looking for loud music and entertainment, are politely informed that no such activities are encouraged here, in this quiet corner of the Himalayan foothills.
With numerous wellness retreats springing up across the country, The Kumaon, with its rustic simplicity stands out. The warm and hospitable team makes the stay even more memorable. Keeping personalised experiences and warm hospitality at the centre of everything at the Kumaon, the team led by Abhinav ensures a comfortable stay with a personal touch.
Views from the Dining Hall at The Kumaon.
As I bid farewell to the warm staff, smiling and waving at me until I turn the corner, I am filled with regret. I would recommend at least double the time if you are planning on coming here for a weekend getaway, so you can enjoy and absorb everything while skipping and hopping along the trails of Kumaon. Taking my last glance at Kasar Devi, I realised how a once unknown place can make you feel at home, with a promise to return to them soon.
LF Says: ★★★★★Coordinates: Village Gadholi, Kasar Devi, Almora, Uttarakhand