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      December 2010 > Utter-a-where?


Utterakhand, IndiaDon’t be surprised if, as happened to me, your friends' interested expressions quickly turn blank when you tell them that you’re going on a trip to Uttarakhand in Northern India. Utter-a-where? It doesn’t help, perhaps, that the state has recently changed its name from Uttaranchal, but then I doubt whether many of you - or your friends - had heard of that either.

It’s certainly not a well-visited part of the country (by tourists, that is – though its own population is significantly greater than that of Scotland!). And therein lies its appeal – the true ‘off the beaten track’ experience that so many of us crave.

Of course, it should be easy for me to wax lyrical about just how good the whole experience is, and not just because it’s my job!

Village Ways guesthouse, Northern IndiaHowever, once there, I soon discovered that is difficult to think of suitable and unique superlatives to describe each day. In the village guesthouse guestbooks - which naturally you read prior to making your own entry - you spot a couple of patterns: firstly, everyone has more than a few good words to say about the villagers, the villages, the guides, the wildlife, the scenery, the food…the list goes on; secondly, each subsequent entry strives to expand on the vocabulary already used in the previous entries! This in itself is sufficiently eloquent evidence, without me trying to add my tuppence worth, to persuade anyone why they should follow in our footsteps. So if I’m not going to describe all of the elements which make this such a unique, inspiring and refreshing encounter, what am I going to write about?

Initially, there was the wonderful realization that this was a truly remote, rural and rare experience. While many of the locals are now quite accustomed to seeing ‘westerners’ strolling through their villages and towns, there are often some tell-tale stares that let you know you’re still a rarity in the area. If you care to look out for them, you’ll also realize that there are almost no other tourists. Excluding other 'Village Ways' and Inntravel customers, I recall seeing a total of only four ‘white’ faces from the moment we arrived at Kathgodam to the time we arrived at Corbett.

Local guides, Utterakhand, IndiaBut when you start talking to the guides and villagers, you quickly realize that they’re as keen on development as anywhere else. Schools in remote villages have had computers for a number of years; road access is penetrating deeper into the valleys and reaching more remote hamlets much to the delight of the inhabitants; while many of the younger generation have aspirations for careers that they’re simply not going to find in the villages. No-one should begrudge them this desire to improve their standards of living and life prospects, even if it means that, in the long term, it erodes many of the reasons why tourists want to visit. At least, the 'Village Ways' project has improved life for those who still live in these remote places, and has even encouraged some villagers to return there.

Thankfully, by its very nature, a project such as this cannot get too big and so, for the time being, it will continue to provide benefits for the villages and their inhabitants without flooding the region with the ‘wrong kind’ of tourism, in particular, in Binsar where development will be almost non-existent for as long as it retains its 'protected park' status. It would be a bland statement to say that it can’t go on forever, because nothing does; but I had plenty of quiet moments during my trip to Northern India to reflect on the fact there must be so many similar experiences around the world, all of which will (sadly) disappear in time.

Northern India

Posted: 09/12/2010 14:16:29 by | with 2 comments
Filed under: gastronomy, India, nature, walking

Carolyn Abbott
Last March I was one of the first American visitors to the Villages. My friend and I booked to celebrate my 70th birthday. The trip was beyond my wildest expectations for beauty, tranquility,and receptiveness of the people to a Westerner. The food was prepared with care and generosity. The guides were beyond compare for caring and sharing information on the valleys we hiked. I wept as I left because of the love and sincerity I had experienced of the people of the Villages. Inntravel has created a trip of my dreams-come-true for a travel experience.
19/12/2010 17:25:39

Janice gwilliam
I would agree with every thing Peter says, just to add to the modernity, our guide's family had a 55 channel digital TV. It was also the first holiday that I have taken where I felt I was actually doing something useful for other people as well as for me!
19/12/2010 11:41:43

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