Traveling through the lush green forest of rhododendron, mesmerizing view of the Himalayas and the chilly winter breeze, the route to the hidden gem of the homestay in the Garhwal region, Chamba block of the Tehri District is the one worth taking. As if the mind and soul are still, the best expression for the moment you reach the Saur Cottages is “Eleutheromania” (an intense and irresistible desire of freedom).
With the first step toward the Saur Cottages, the feeling of neglect and the dying heritage of the Garhwal village just seeped into the mind and the body. Our visit was a short one, but it was fernweh (the feeling of being homesick for a place you’ve never been to) at first sight.
The Due North Saur Cottage is a recently restored Pahari house of the days gone by of the 1930s and had been built entirely in locally available stones and pinewood, which is the traditional architecture of the Saur Village. Due to the migration of the locales for better opportunities the village had lost the lively and the authentic feel to it and began to get rustic; until DueNorth took up the challenging task of promoting Saur village as a premium homestay village to the tourist venturing in search of authentic and in search of unknown.
This initiative of the DueNorth provided us with a matchless vacation, which was unique and enthralling. Enjoying the rejuvenating services by the local surroundings and the host community, this is a trip that would always retain a special corner in my heart and soul. The property has been designed & furnished with all the modern amenities to meet the needs of the discerning travelers while preserving the local heritage and culture.
DueNorth is a Dehradun based enterprise promoted by a group of a conscious individual, with the sole objective of promoting rural development and creating sustainable livelihood, opportunities for the rural communities through tourism. We were welcomed by our host Mr. Deepak Ramola who is the spearheaded leader of the initiative and looks diligently after hosting the guests. We were given a thorough look through the property with the information of the various initiatives that have made this into a successful idea which had worked also for the local community by benefiting them directly or indirectly.
Even though the wind was biting and frost but the host were warm and the welcome even warmer to make us feel at ease. The bonfire and the rustic feeling of the old ages rejuvenated the body and soul. It would be really difficult to ever compile a complete feeling of the place in words but I would try my best to provide as much information as possible here for travelers to know and plan the visit and learn about the impact of the initiative.
This project is the idea conceived by Mr. Sushil Ramola, a social entrepreneur working for the development of the villages which had been abandoned and to set up lifelong employability for the local people. A chemical engineer with over 30+ years of experience in leading and performance-driven business organizations. He is the co-founder, currently MD and CEO of B-ABLE (BASIX Academy for Building Lifelong Employability Ltd.); with the partnership with NSDC, the mission statement is to provide skills and meaningful livelihood opportunities to 1 million less educated and under-skilled youth. It has over 85 skill development centers and has already trained about 30,000 youths.
His vision to change the abandoned villages into an eco-tourist spot and expose it to the traveler by sharing the beauty of the Garhwal region and sharing the taste of the Himalayas. With the apple and apricot orchards to be added in the region, he plans to add other such villages and promote it for the tourism. His initiative has been a boon to the region and the local people by promoting the local craftwork and setting up employability options for the people in the long run.
About the Property: The Saur Cottages has got the root feeling of the rural area or the village of the hilly area. The village is connected to the Rishikesh-Chamba-Mussorie State highway through a 10 km road. Located at an altitude of 5600 feet, in the Kanatal region, Saur is a serene authentic Garhwali village surrounded by the mesmerizing Himalayan landscapes with vast expenses of terrace fields in front and streams on either side. The morning hike to the streams is a must-try, as the cold yet refreshing water which is as fresh as it can get, will boost the body from the morning lazy routine to the energetic lifestyle of the village. The warm sunshine and the gentle breeze was bliss and pulled us in trance.
Climate: As is normal in case of the hills, the day was cloudy and since we visited for New Year the nights were cold. According to Mr. Ramola, generally, the days are sunny and nights are cooler with temperature ranging from 26° in summers to 2.3° during winters. Even with the temperature dropping to the low at night, the rooms were fitted with room heater and ample quilts, and hot water bag we were warm and cozy all over the night.
Food & Cuisines: The nutritiously sumptuous foods were prepared by the local staff with the authentic taste of the Himalayas but the modern cuisines were also the best in quality. The staff has been trained in modern cuisines and services. The various ingredients are locally grown and are completely organic. This was an opportunity for us to enjoy the taste of the freshly cooked local and modern cuisine which were grown in the terrace fields and were a treat to our taste buds.
Activities: We had a local guided tour of the village the next morning and were provided various options for the activities to interest us. Some options that the village has to offer are Trekking/nature walk, Architectural & Cultural Walks, Farming, Photography, and Bird Watching. The local handicrafts are also a treat to the eyes. Walking through the village we came across the various artworks which are the collaboration of DueNorth with Project FUEL, and have been crowned has Wise Wall Project. This unique project has documented the life lessons and stories of the Saur villages and has been brought to life through paintings of the walls of the entire village. As informed by Mr. Deepak, most of the artwork has been created by several volunteers and members of the organizations, who have painted beautiful and vibrant patterns and portraits. This art initiative was aimed to highlight the issue of migration of the village, which had converted the whole village into a desolate place and turned it into a deserted village.
Project FUEL conducts life skills workshops to educated people through theatre, storytelling and spoken word poetry. The Wise Wall Project transforms the villages into living classrooms, turns the walls onto blackboards and canvases that uncover striking yet simple life learning. The project aims to ignite a moment of transforming the long-forgotten villages into open-air galleries, exhibiting human wisdom to see and benefit from.
Community Engagement: The initiative has been a boon for the local households and provides employment to the local people. The locals retain the ownership of their land and also act as the caretaker of the services provided to the guests. They have got crafts for display and the local community has learned new ways to boost the economic growth of the region. The people from the local area have got handicrafts made from pine needle and the workshop for doll making is also a nice venture. The local ladies have learned the art of crafting using the dried pine needles. We got to experience the various handicraft projects like earrings, mats, table mats, etc made by the women of the region. The craft helps the women to add to the economic growth of the village.
How to Reach: The DueNorth Saur Cottages are easily accessible through road and other modes of transport. The railway and airway options take us only till Dehradun from were depending upon railway or airway, road travel option can be opted for. The route for the same goes from Dehradun-Mussorie-Dhanulti-Chamba or the alternate option is from Rishikesh-Chamba-Kanatal.
Located at approximately 110 km the route from Dehradun to Chamba via Rishikesh can be covered in less than 4 hours depending upon the traffic conditions. Another option is to take the route from Dehradun –Mussorie-Dhanolti which is approximately 100kms and can be traveled in around 3-4 hours depending upon traffic conditions.
P.S. The most beautiful moment of our journey was from the staring till the end when the weather decided to bestow a gentle shower of snow to bid us goodbye from the village. The snowfall through minute was a really remarkable view, as we traveled back from the village, every moment was filled with memories of the stay and the hope for the next visit.
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