T G Longstaff, an internationally acclaimed mountaineer, had once remarked – “After six visits to the snows, I still believe that Kumaon is the most beautiful country of all in the continent of Asia… Mountain and <g data-gr-id="73">alp</g>, birds and animals, butterflies and flowers all combine to make a sum of delight unsurpassed elsewhere”.
The impressive Kumaon hills with its magnificent ridges, snowy Himalayan peaks, gurgling mountain streams, shimmering mountain lakes and lush green valleys is where we headed for our annual Spiritual Retreat organised by Belur Math – the worldwide headquarters of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission. Apart from lay devotees, the tour comprised of a couple of monks from the Ramakrishna Order.
We departed from Kolkata by an early morning flight to Delhi and thereafter by coach all the way to the picture perfect hill station of Almora. The distance of approximately 380 <g data-gr-id="74">kms</g> was covered in eight hours and the drive was beautiful as we took the Hapur-Moradabad-Haldwani-Garampani-Almora route and the wayside beauty of the Kumaon Himalayas mesmerised us all. Our love affair with Kumaon began even before we could check-in at the splendid <g data-gr-id="75">Victorian style</g> Kalmatia Sangam Resort.
Swami Harirupananda, a well-traveled monk who accompanied us, had been a guest of this resort once and upon his recommendation, we decided to lay anchor at Kalmatia Sangam Resort for our week-long Spiritual Retreat. Since most of us hail from metropolitan India, we eagerly looked forward to this annual getaway for a week where apart from spiritual discourses, yoga and meditation, we also engaged ourselves in meaningful nature pursuits like trekking, angling, rafting, visiting rural hamlets, interacting with tribal folk, etc.
Given the nature of the holiday, which is <g data-gr-id="90">rejuvenation</g> of the body and mind, the choice of destination as well as the hotel or resort is of utmost significance. Here, it is not <g data-gr-id="88">luxury</g> that is demanded but an experience that is transcending and we found the Kalmatia Sangam Resort to be an ideal base to de-stress ourselves. The resort itself is ideally located in the undulating Kumaon hills and is run by Geeta and her German husband – Dieter Reeb, both of whom take a lot of pride in running this magnificent
property and extend their fabled hospitality to the jaded world traveller.
The best part of the resort is that no matter which room you check in, you are guaranteed <g data-gr-id="114">a breathtaking panoramic views</g> of the snow clad Himalayan peaks. The architecture is a fine blend of vernacular with that of the contemporary and the stately Cedar, Mimosa Cypress, Pine, Oak and Rhododendron trees surrounds the resort gracefully.
For us city dwellers, the faith that knit our lives together slowly unraveled with the intrusion of science. The paradigm shift in worldwide view over the past century has rendered God, if not dead, at least coolly marginalised. It is the “spiritual outlook” that gives meaning to life. It is the spiritual approach to life that recognises that our lives have <g data-gr-id="92">meaning</g> and that there <g data-gr-id="91">is</g> a purpose and a goal.
Here, in the very heart of the Kumaon hills, that ethereal ambience or the spiritual well-being and the characteristic features of rural Himalayas easily makes it an “Eden on Earth”.
There is quite a bit of history attached to the Kalmatia Sangam Resort and it owes its origin to an adventure loving British Army officer by the name of – Col. E.S. Jackson, who, in course of one of his inspired hill saunterings, stumbled upon this place of magical beauty, way back in the year 1867, and the <g data-gr-id="68">rest as they say</g> is history.Towards the latter part of the century, this charming hill estate was taken over by the then District Commissioner of Kumaon – Edward Thomas Chowdhury. Today, this magnificent Himalayan property is looked after by Chowdhury’s granddaughter Geeta, and her resilient German husband Dieter Reeb. The couple’s hard work and ingenuity have paid rich dividends and the Kalmatia Sangam Resort is the proud recipient of the – “New Face of Indian Adventure Travel Award – 2009”.
Once inside the resort, we knew we were in a very fortunate place and Swami Harirupananda revealed to us that this place of outstanding natural beauty has been blessed by the visit of great men and women like Swami Vivekananda, Anandamayee Ma, numerous Tibetan monks like Lama Angarika etc… In the present times, if one flips through the resort’s Guest Register, it has already become very popular with visitors from abroad who are absolutely delighted not only by the resort’s vantage position vis-à-vis the snow covered Himalayan peaks but also due to the easy access to the surrounding villages where the natives of Kumaon lead a fascinating lifestyle.
During an informal conversation with the resort’s owner – Dieter Reeb, we were informed about the resort’s single pointed determination to promote tourism that is sustainable in nature and true to their commitment, not a single tree had been felled during the construction of the resort, in spite of the manifold objections of the architect. What is more, in keeping with the principles of “Sustainable Tourism”, most of the staff that the resort presently employs had at one point of time also worked at the construction site.
Due to inadequate hill planning, Almora, like other hill stations of India is faced with a serious water crisis but thanks to the visionary approach by the resort’s management, they have, to a large extent, solved the water problem by setting up tanks with a capacity of approximately 1.2 million liters and I could see the message board in my room that made me aware of the significance of being economical with water use.
Kalmatia Resort is regarded as a pioneer in Uttarakhand when it comes to recycling of garbage. They actually have gone in for composting of organic waste and discourage the use of non-biodegradable waste.
After dinner, as I was about to switch off the lights after a day’s delightful outdoor <g data-gr-id="108">pursuits,</g> when I heard a shrieking noise from outside. At first I ignored it. But the noise persisted, which compelled me to venture out of my room. It must have been around 11 pm – too late by Kumaoni standards and from the adjoining room, I saw Swami Harirupananda coming out of his room with a flashlight. From his earlier visits to this resort, the Swami was certain it was the screech of a Leopard and given the fact that during his pre-monk days, he had served in the Simlipal National Park as a Ranger, I had no to doubt <g data-gr-id="79">about </g>the veracity of the Swami’s claims.
Soon enough, a wildlife drama of sorts was being enacted in the outer periphery of the resort. On a <g data-gr-id="103">bushy</g> strip, a Leopard was gazing at us with gleaming eyes. As the Swami’s flashlight fell on the Leopard, it began to scream even louder.
Meanwhile, most of the resort’s security staff had by now traced the Leopard. A section of the security staff were of the opinion that they had heard from the local village folks about a Leopard, who, after giving birth to a baby cub had to encounter the wrath of another Leopard as the pregnant Leopard had trespassed into the latter’s territory, resulting in a bitter brawl. Ultimately, the mother leopard had to retreat without the baby cub, which in a way was making her mad, leading to
frenetic searching on her part.
Early next morning, as we sipped piping hot tea at the lounge, one of the support staff of the resort who witnessed last night’s Leopard episode said that such encounters were quite normal in this part of the woods and that apart from Leopards, visitors often sighted Porcupines, Jackals, Wild Hares as well as Pine Martens. One thing that touched me very deeply was the simplicity of the Kumaoni folk and their fascinating rituals and traditions. This region of the Himalayas has sheltered fleeing populations not only from Central Asia but also from the Indo-Gangetic plains, as a result of which, this region has absorbed varied cultures, ethnicity, languages and religious beliefs. Much of its ancient customs and traditions that draws succor from the Vedas and Upanishads are still intact, courtesy the indomitable spirit of <g data-gr-id="256">these Kumaoni folk</g>.