While living in cities one often forgets what it feels like to wake up in the lap of nature. Wrapped in a blanket of fresh pine-scented air, surrounded by layers of exotic blooms overlooking snow-capped Himayalas, one gets to discover the true joys of nothingness in the company of nature. Shitlakhet, an offbeat but truly wonderful village in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand, is one such destination that offers magical views of the complete range of the Garhwal and Kumaon Himalayan peaks and is famous among nature lovers for its abundant flora and fauna.
The village of Shitlakhet is a lesser-known destination among tourists and is located 30 km ahead of Ranikhet at an altitude of 7000 feet (approx 1900 meters) above the sea level in the Almora district. This small town is famous for its panoramic view of some of the tallest peaks in the world like Nanda Devi mountain range, Chaukhamba peaks and the Western range of the Nepal mountain tops. One of the most interesting tourist attractions in this region is the Syahidevi hill, which is covered with a lush layer of untouched coniferous forests sprinkled with cedars, oak, pine, rhododendrons and sal trees. For miles and miles, the green cover on the hill weaves a sense of mystic with the dewy grass floors and clouds floating around.
A walk across the village
It is said that during the Raj era, the British officers developed a knee liking for this small town and the Syahidevi Estate was developed and established as the recreational center for high ranking officials. This remote but strategic location was developed as a self-sustaining economic model, where locals generated their own electricity, grow their food and source clean water from a natural spring water supply system. The mineral-rich water from the springs not just supplies for the estate area but also fulfills the requirement of the distant town of Almora through a well-laid pipeline. Some of the significant structures like a European styled bungalow with a ballroom, a castle-inspired mansion on the hilltop and cottages around the village can still be found scattered around the estate.
At the estate, tourists are usually seen walking into the forest, trekking to the Syahi Devi Temple, hiking or cycling around the ruins of the old British houses and exploring the local Kumaoni villages. One of the popular homestays in this estate is the Anant Rasa by Aamod cottages, where tourists come to enjoy the traditional Kumaon food and culture. The property is spread across eight acres amidst thick reserve forest, and one can find mushroom hunters, bird watchers and botanists from all over the world visiting this place throughout the year to discover and study the rare varieties of plants and animals.
Those who especially visit the mountains for wildlife photography and bird watching are introduced to the Himalayan and migratory birds by a resident guide on nature walks and tours across the region. A lot of people also visit here for adventure sports, camping and snow sports during winters. There are multiple small and big temples around the area, and one can also check out the beautiful Bhimtal lake, golf course in Ranikhet and some beautiful sunset points near the village.
While those who are fond of organic herbs, vegetables, poultry, and homegrown dairy items can walk across the village to meet the neighbouring farmers and enjoy a day of farm to fork experience by picking fresh pumpkins, tomatoes, strawberries, and apples that are grown in the village. Some of the best homemade dishes in the region can be tried at the local kitchens or homestays, where one can savour the simple, non-spicy yet flavourful dishes from the Kumaon cuisine.
A few of the must-try items on your holiday should be the local lenticels like Bhatt ki Dal Ke Dubke (made of grinded black soybean), raagi ki roti, bhang ki chutney (made of hemp leaves), kadi pakora, Kumaoni raita (made of grinded mustard, cucumber and yoghurt) and kheer (sweet dish made of grainy rice). One can also buy local delicacies like jams, squash, and preserves made of apricots, plums, and apples as tasty takeaways or pick some unique pickles preparations like mutton and chicken aachars on the way back.
How to reach
The journey to Shitlakhet from Ranikhet is a scenic drive uphill and the best way to reach the hilltop. If you are travelling from Delhi via road, it’s a long eight to ten-hour drive where you will cross some beautiful hill stations like Nainital, Bhimtal and Ranikhet covering a distance of approximately 350 km. While the nearest railway station is located at Kathgodam about 110 km and the nearest airport, Pantnagar Civil Aerodrome is located about 147 km from Shitlakhet. While packing for this beautiful destination, don’t forget to carry enough woolens and warm clothes as this hill station remains cold throughout the year and gets snowfall in winters.