Patlidun, a unique village/resort in the mountains of Kumaon, shows the way to do good and make profit too.
Patlidun is a Kumaoni village sitting atop a ridge overlooking a narrow forested valley, hence the name (‘Patli’ for narrow, ‘Dun’ for valley). The village is 33 km. from Ramnagar, the rail head for Corbett National Park. Not every visitor to the National park manages a timely online permit for entry, and not every visitor is necessarily looking for the elusive Royal Bengal Tiger. For many, it is enough to be away from the rat race for some fleeting hours, to breathe the fresh air. Some crave being away from it all, including mobile signals, to recharge personal batteries.
A host of resorts cater to people seeking quick solace. There is, however, a breed of connoisseurs who seek that something extra—the intangible that is the difference between being there, or being the also-rans.
Neeraj Aggarwal, born and brought up in Ramnagar, the rail and road head to Corbett National Park, felt this need to go that extra mile and make travellers to his region want to return over and over again. He was moved by this spirit to create a real Kumaoni jungle experience just outside the protected forest.
He knew he needed to create jobs for his fellow locals, where they would proudly deploy their natural instincts of hospitality and handicrafts. His idea created entrepreneurs from the men and women of the village, bringing prosperity to a virtually unapproachable place.
A visit to Patlidun brought up the seven mantras of success that make the retreat click the way it does. Here is the treasured recipe, known to many, yet understood by few!
That’s so obvious. But wait. The Ramnagar to Mohan road is to resorts like the Las Vegas strip is to casinos. All resorts have their entry on the road, and a tail that slithers down to the river Kosi. Enter Patlidun to relish the difference. Well, not yet. First drop your car at the resort base parking at Mohan, get into an open 4WD, and say goodbye to roads and mobile signals as the jeep negotiates sharp turns on a narrow, near-vertical, rocky, and sometimes treacherous path, made even more exciting by the rivulets sculpted out by the last rains.
Copy and paste a collage of all ideas. Create a row of neat-looking slanting roof cottages. Lay out the greens bordered by exotic plants, interspersed with play zones and a strategically placed swimming pool for maximum visibility. Isn’t that luxury? Well, no.
Enter Patlidun and you are in a Kumaoni Raja’s home. Rough wood gates, doorway arches painted in bright tones, red oxide flooring, wooden stairs, railings and furniture from driftwood and unpolished planks, roofs from recycled slate, high ceilings from reclaimed logs from demolished rural homes, no lawns, and no visible swimming pool.
Each cottage has its own private backyard pool, strategically placed for maximum privacy. Lay out on poolside mattress benches, or better still, cosy up on a woven rope bed.
Sleep on a four-post antique double bed, or crawl into mosquito netting under the stars on the roof.
Simple pleasures, yet these make all the difference.
Welcome smiles all around (real ones borne of simplicity). Sharing anecdotes, yet giving space to be. The naturalists double up as hosts, welcoming guests as if to their home. It is their home. They have grown up in these forests. They know every herb, every tree, and the smell of a tiger and a tusker. Walking the woods with them is like being with Kipling in Kanha.
Tambolas are passe. Treks, bird watching, safari drives, and nature walks are in. Guides with local knowledge can make an extraordinary experience out of an ordinary walk in the woods. Learn to follow a paradise flycatcher to a tree with honey bee hives. Spy fresh elephant dung to know which way to look for the solitary tusker that sauntered by. Follow a langur’s gaze for a hint of that elusive tiger. Find herbs that forest denizens know, for cures to afflictions. There is so much to learn for eager learners with willing guides, so much to awaken and enthrall the naturally inquisitive mind.
At Patlidun, wild bush and shrubs grow with abandon. No manicured water-guzzling lawns here. The raw beauty of nature finds its place. Strategic trenches and depressions catch rain water to seep in. Plastics are a no-no. Sustainable building techniques ensure that electricity consumption is minimal. Used water and waste are recycled. It is so natural that elephants continue to pass through the property as if it was still part of the forest.
A great Chef adds to gastronomic delight when appetites are enhanced after a calorie-consuming trek. Pickles are made in-house from herbal ingredients gathered on-site. Every dish is crafted to perfection, with love. The same stuff, done differently and tastefully. The food is designed to be healthy, enticing, and sure to bring in repeat visits.
When Neeraj started building his forest retreat, he wanted to bring economic opportunity to his village. Arrival of the tourist rupee has resulted in Patlidun women forming a cooperative enterprise. Several locals found employment at the resort, the women found customers for their beautiful bags and lip smacking pickles, travelers found an experience they love, and Neeraj is happy. What he was told was a gamble has paid off.
Find out more about Patlidun, and make reservations, on the resort’s website.