It was in March this year that we decided to sojourn for a couple of days at the Himalayan Village. Sonapani. Against the backdrop of the increasing pollution, traffic and pressures in a bustling metropolis like Delhi, a weekend getaway for rejuvenation becomes almost imperative! Thus, to beat the rush, loosely packing our rack sacks, we took off, heading towards this implicitly divine Himalayan retreat.
Sonapani – Truly “HEAVEN on EARTH”
Situated on top of a ridge, at a height of 2000 metres above mean sea level, overlooking Almora, and with a magnificent 175-degree view of the Himalayas, is the Himalayan village Sonapani. Geographically, Sonapani is located in the district of Nainital (Uttarakhand) and is very close to Almora, the nearest popular hill destination being Mukteshwar, only eight kilometres away.
The Himalayan Village Sonapani is flanked by pine forests on the right and rhododendron & oak forests to its left, and in between, are these twelve beautiful homely red brick cottages, connected by stone pathways and separated by vegetable gardens & flower beds. This property, collectively owned by Aashish and Navin, is spread over 20 acres of land. The estate hosts orchards of apricot, apple, plum and peach trees. The proud owners actively involve themselves with organic farming, growing a variety of vegetables and pulses, with plans afoot to introduce cultivation of medicinal and aromatic plants as well.
We boarded the Ranikhet Express from the Old Delhi Railway Station at quarter to eleven at night, reaching Kathgodam early, the following morning. Kathgodam is located at the foothills and it is from here that we began our hill journey.. We covered around sixty nine kilometres of winding roads by road, driving through Bhimtal, Bhowali, Ramgarh and Nathuakhan to reach village Satoli. In Satoli, the driver parked the vehicle at Mr. Govind Ram’s house, from where it is about a half hour walk to the estate. The almost flat walk via the village road, through forests, orchards, fields and make shift huts, was extremely pleasing. We didn’t need to bother about the luggage, as it was wheeled on a cart. And for kids who can’t walk that long, there’s even a complimentary pony service!
At the heart of the Himalayan village Sonapani is an old natural spring. According to ancient mythology, its water is believed to have medicinal properties. And it is this very quality which has given this place its name – Sonapani, ‘sona’ in Hindi meaning ‘gold’ and ‘pani’ meaning water.
The story of the establishment of the estate dates back to the days of the British Raj, when some British army officers from a nearby cantonment, while crossing the ridge, stopped to drink water from this particular spring. They liked the water so much, that through the second half of the nineteenth century and early 20th century, water from this natural spring was supplied to the British officers of the nearest army garrison (Almora) on ponies and horses.
One of these officers was Captain Kushal Singh Burathoki, an enterprising soldier of the third queen Alexandra’s own Gurkha rifles. On retirement, when the British offered him property of his choice for his post retirement days, he opted for this piece of land. In the middle of practically no where, it was indeed the charm of this water and nature’s brilliant verdant display of its beauty that drew Captain Burathoki towards this land. He named it the ‘Sonapani Estate’.
The house he built now serves as Aashish’s office and staff quarters.