Almora -KALMATIA SANGAM
THE ENCHANTMENTS OF KUMAON
Location Surrounded by mixed deciduous forests and terraced farmlands, Kalmatia Sangam Resort is situated on a hilly ridge just outside the district capital, Almora
Distances 7 km NE of Almora, 92 km NE of Kathgodam, 358 km NE of
Route from Delhi NH24 to Rampur via Hapur, Gajraula and Moradabad; NH87 to Tanda Modh via Bilaspur and Rudrapur; forest road to Haldwani; NH87 to Ranibagh via Kathgodam; state road to Bhowali via Bhimtal; NH87 to Almora via Khairna and Sualbari; Upper Kasar Devi Road to Kalmatia Sangam
BY ANITA ROY
For the romantically inclined, there are few inclines more romantic than those of Kala Mat, a little hill to the north of Almora. The rich black soil, for which the hill was named, nourishes wildflowers, deodar and pine trees, and from its scented slopes the view across the undulating hills to the silent majesty of the Himalayan peaks is simply stunning. To Geeta Reeb, granddaughter of the Kalimat Estate's original owner (the then District Commissioner of Kumaon) and her German husband, Dieter, this was the ideal site to build a dream resort: a marriage of East and West, a harmonious fusion of man and nature, a place where guests could enjoy a happy balance of blessed seclusion and rejuvenating company. They named it Kalmatia Sangam.
To create a resort which feels simple and luxurious simultaneously is no mean feat. Part of the magic lies in the placement of the guest cottages. Instead of cramming in as many rooms as possible, the ten cottages dotted around the grounds luxuriate in their own space, linked by winding stone pathways. The Reebs are particularly proud that during its construction, not a single tree was felled; and it certainly feels as though you are wending your way through some enchanted forest as you are led to your room.
Our cottage - named, like the rest, after local bird species - was called Himalayan Magpie. The interior was a warm and welcoming combination of wood and stone, with superb views from the windows, and an old-fashioned wood-burning stove in one corner. We lounged in the beautiful cottage, drank in the soothing sight of the valley and distant hills, watched the birds and butterflies. As the sun set behind the hills, the gathering darkness outside made the interiors that much more cosy, and we discovered that the best place to be was the little mezzanine floor constructed above the bed, reachable only by a wooden ladder: your own personal hayloft, a secret lover's nest, hidden from view. We ordered tea and snacks, and clambered back up, where we read by candlelight as dusk gathered to night, as the star-sprinkled sky vied with the lights of Almora.
It was a bit of a wrench to come down and get ready for dinner, but - thanks to the wonderful cooks of Kalmatia Sangam - it was a decision we certainly did not regret. The food throughout our stay was simply delicious. There's no question that the Reeb's commitment to organic farming and local produce paid rich dividends: you could almost taste the dew on the herbs, crushed to garnish the salad, and if taste is any indication of how happy a creature was during its life, the chicken that went to making my karma was a bird to be envied.
Whilst gifted in many other ways, my partner is not the world's greatest masseur. So it was with a sigh of contentment that I surrendered myself to the fingers of Dr Annie Del'Bove, the resident therapist. In the rather fairytale- like setting of her treatment room - set a little way away in the forest - it wasn't hard to feel the tensions of city life unravel and dissipate. Muscles relaxed under the firm pressure of her experienced hands, and the mind settled and stilled, wafted to a semi-slumber on a cloud of essential oils. An hour later, and I emerged feeling extraordinarily relaxed and energised - like I imagine a stringed instrument feels, tuned and freshly polished - and it was all I could do not to bound, gazelle-like, down the slopes and into my waiting lover's arms. He, meanwhile, had been attending a yoga and meditation session - so it was a couple positively radiating physical, spiritual and mental well-being that set off later that day to walk through the many pathways that crisscross these hills, through the peaceful countryside. The concept of the 'village trek' is one close to Dieter Reeb's heart. He saw not only how much his guests got out of their walks through the countryside, but how proud and pleased were his staff - local young men who had been trained up to work at the resort - who acted as guides. "They were so happy to show the guests their villages, their farms, the wildlife, the birds of their home. You could see how proud they were to share their knowledge of life here. And, of course, our being here should help the local economy: we should be giving something back, and not simply taking."
When to go The resort is open all year round. October to end-March are the best months for viewing the Himalayan range. In winter (late December to late January), there is the chance of snow, but generally not too deep or long- lasting, and day-time temperatures remain a pleasant 15-20 degrees, though nights are chilly. Peak season, May- June, coincides with school holidays and the hottest weather in the plains, so it's advisable to book early. Monsoons in the hills have a charm of their own, and the roads to and around Almora are kept in an excellent state of repair: there is a chance of delay due to landslides, but you are unlikely to be held up for more than an hour or two at the most
Kalimat Estate, Post Box 002, Almora
Tel: 05962-233625, 231572
How to book By email, as they respond usually very quickly, but do remember to leave your contact number when you write to them. Their website provides details of the resort, including photos of the cottages, so you can view them beforehand and request your preference
STD code 05962
Air Nearest airport: Pantnagar (120 km/ 4 hrs). Flights from
Rail Nearest railhead: Kathgodam (92 km/3 hrs). The overnight Ranikhet Express from Old Delhi Railway Station reaches Kathgodam early morning. Taxi fares same as from airport. The quality of the vehicle - and the driver - is not assured. Alternately, request Kalmatia for pick-up and drop at the time of booking. Their charges: small car Rs 1,200, Sumo Rs 1,500, Qualis Rs 2,200
Road The journey by road from
With these considerations in mind, the Reebs started to take small groups out on 'village treks' lasting two, three or four days. "Once you get away from the road, your entire experience changes. It is like stepping back a hundred years. The people are so friendly here, so warm and so welcoming." Although the terrain is not too demanding, it rises and falls from 5,575 ft to around 8,000 ft at the highest point. Each night is spent in a village house that has been adapted and modernised sufficiently to ensure the guests' comfort but not so that the whole experience loses its rustic charm.
But if this gentle exercise seems too strenuous, and you just want to snuggle up with your love, there's no better place to do it than at Kalmatia Sangam Resort: a perfect 'sangam' (confluence) of natural beauty and civilised luxury, of peace, privacy and togetherness.
ABOUT KALMATIA SANGAM
Kalmatia Sangam is a fusion - in every sense of the word. It takes its name from kala (black) mai' (soil), referring to the unusual black earth of this particular hill, and sangam (confluence), referring to the harmonious blend of different traditions. The name perfectly reflects the marriage of East and West embodied by the owners, Geeta Reeb, granddaughter of the estate's original owner and then District Commissioner of Kumaon, and Dieter Reeb, her German husband. Geeta and Dieter's vision for the resort was as a place that would blend in with the surroundings, both human and natural. Their concern for the environment, and for the well being of the local Kumaoni people informs every aspect of the resort's management. They are as proud of the fact that during construction - which took around 31/2 years to complete - not a single tree was felled, as they are of their staff, all local villagers who have been trained and integrated into every aspect of running the resort, from the kitchens, to waiting, to maintenance and upkeep.
Rainwater harvesting, composting and recycling, and sourcing local produce, are all vital ways in which the resort seeks to minimize any environ- mental impact it has on the local flora and fauna. The latest exciting development is to offer guests a three-day village walk, in which they are taken by a local guide along the footpaths and forests and stay in specially adapted houses in villages nearby, for a unique, first-hand experience of Kumaoni culture and hospitality.
The best way to explore this region is on foot, and the resort provides guides for walking tours of the region, tailored to suit your constitution and your time constraints. One such walk, which lasts between four and six hrs, will take you through cedar forests, down a gorge, to a beautiful waterfall and splash pool. Packed lunches are provided,
ACCOMMODATION AT KALMATIA
Kalmatia Sangam Himalaya Resort (Tel: 05962-233625; Tariff: Rs 6,300-10,000) has 10 cottages, each of which can accommodate two to four guests. Each of the cottages is constructed in local stone, with charming wooden interior furnishings, corrugated red roofs, and are a fusion of British colonial-style 'dak' bungalows with typical Kumaoni touches. Each room has a wood-burning stove in the corner for winter heating, and all have scenic views - from the windows and the private terraces of the surrounding countryside. Of the 10 cottages, nine are on the northern side of the ridge, with views across the valleys to the far Himalayan peaks. One, the Scarlet and the route takes you to quaint local temples and in and through the delightful Kumaoni villages that are dotted around the slopes. The emphasis is on interacting with the local villagers, at work in the fields or in their own homes. In particular, take out some time to visit the
Minivet, faces south, ensuring sunshine all day, with particularly beautiful views of the sunset and the twinkling lights of Almora below at night.
The largest cottage - a stand-alone, two-storey structure on an outcrop - is appropriately called Eagle's Nest, and has a wide viewing terrace along the length of the upper floor for spectacular views. The resort has been planned such that even in the cottages where two rooms are adjoined (of which there are three), you can enjoy a sense of seclusion and privacy. All are equipped with hot and cold running water in the en suite bathrooms, and in some there is a small mezzanine floor with an extra bed, which you can reach only by climbing up a quaint wooden ladder inside. The resort is ideally suited for couples in search of a peaceful and romantic hideaway, for whom the lack of TV and Internet will be a positive pleasure.
Packages These range from 2N/3D to 7N/8D, priced from Rs 9,600-13,800 and Rs 38,000-42,000 (per couple) respectively
MEALS AT KALMATIA
The Sangam restaurant forms the 'heart' of the resort. With its tiled floors, high ceiling and stained glass skylights, it is the perfect setting for a romantic dinner for two. Dining outside on the terrace is particularly delightful, surrounded by the fresh mountain air and sound of birdsong.
The chefs at Kalmatia Sangam are local Kumaonis with extensive training in Western and Indian cuisine. The Italian lunch we had, with home-made pasta and seasoned with fresh herbs, was superb; as was the Indian dinner with lemon rice, creamy raita and excellent chicken curry. The desserts were divine and the home-made vanilla ice-cream was quite simply the best I've ever tasted.
In keeping with their philosophy of high quality and sustaining the local economy, most of the ingredients used in the food preparation are either home- made -- the pasta, bread, jams and preserves -- or locally (and largely organically) grown -- the salads, herbs and seasonal vegetables. If the proof of the pudding is in the eating, we needed no further convincing.
Meal charges Breakfast Rs 350, 3-course lunch Rs 600, 3-course dinner Rs 800. There's a 121/2 per cent VAT on food and 12 ½ per cent tax on all bottled beverages
Panchachuli Women Weavers was born in 1998 as a result of the dream of a handful of village women from Almora. With the help of Dena Kaye (daughter of the legendary screen actor/ entertainer Danny Kaye), this dream has resulted in a highly successful cooperative of around 800 local women who produce and sell handwoven shawls, rugs and fabrics using traditional looms and designs. Their products use Pashrnina, wild silk (tussar), alia (fibre from the giant Himalayan nettle plant), and lambswool. You can visit the main production centre at Pataldevi Industrial Estate, Alrnora, to see the weavers in action, and their products can be purchased here, or at the shops at Kasar Devi and on the
Organic products such as cosmetics, soaps, food items and locally produced apricot oil are sold in a number of shops in the area under the brand name SOS Organics. The prices range between Rs 65 for soaps and Rs 195 for creams, to Rs 800 for vegetable-dye stoles, Rs 2,000-5,000 for nettle stoles or oak-silk fabrics and Rs 14,000 for Pashmina blankets.