Arvind Hoon | Undefinable

Leti 360 :: Undefinable :: Off the Map

When I asked the team at Shakti Himalaya for some detail about Leti 360, in terms of location & what it has to offer, the explanations were somewhat puzzling. This sounded like a village retreat, with lots of nature walks & the promise of good food. Getting there also sounded somewhat arduous, given that apparently there is no motor-able road anywhere near this location.

Leti or Liti is situated in the Bageshwar District of Uttarkhand, deep in the Kumaon Hills in the shadow of the Nanda Devi range. Getting to Leti is somewhat of a pilgrimage, starting with a overnight train from Old Delhi Railway Station to Kathgodam (similar to Kalka only the trains don’t go beyond) followed by an 8 hour drive & another hours walk if not more.

If you are not in the hands of the Shakti Himalaya team, then chances are that you will not be greeted at 4.30 a.m. at Kathgodam station (February; it was freezing & pitch dark) by a friendly private guide (Pujan, from Kalimpong) offering me a selection of fine teas from the back of the well appointed Innova accompanied by dry fruit, not to mention the hot face towel proffered by Sonam the driver( from Ladakh). The pampering starts the moment you arrive.

As one sets off in the darkness uphill (recommend Stemetil MD if you are prone to motion sickness) winding ones way to the 1st pit stop (Almora) which is about 4 hours away, the fatigue of the overnighter (even if you are in a 1st sleeper) sets in. I slept in fits & starts but enough to be fresh on arrival at the Blue House at Almora for the first of the many wonderful breakfasts I was going to partake in the coming week.

The Blue House at Almora is the base camp for Shakti in Kumaon, from where all guests head out to the 4 locations of Jwalabanj, Deora, Kana & of course the jewel in the Kumaon crown, Leti. Approaches to each of these village homes is a combination of driving & walking, accompanied by private guides (some of whom speak up to 7 languages), though the preferred mode is perambulatory. A concept, alien to most.

For the purposes of this note I am going to skip day 1 to 3 of my trip to the Kumaon Hills & focus mostly on the ‘undefinable’ Leti 360, where I spent 3 most ‘undefinable’ days, of my life ( this is not hyperbole).

:: Base Camp :: Blue ::

The Blue House at Almora is the base camp for Shakti in Kumaon, from where all guests head out to the 4 locations of Jwalabanj, Deora, Kana & of course the jewel in the Kumaon crown, Leti. Approaches to each of these village homes is a combination of driving & walking, accompanied by private guides (some of whom speak up to 7 languages), though the preferred mode is perambulatory. A concept, alien to most.

For the purposes of this note I am going to skip day 1 to 3 of my trip to the Kumaon Hills & focus mostly on the ‘undefinable’ Leti 360, where I spent 3 most ‘undefinable’ days, of my life ( this is not hyperbole).

:: Perambulate ::
Moving on (3 days later) from the Blue House at Almora, was another daunting 4 to 5 hour drive to Liti village via Bageshwar (mid way ; approx 180 kms. from Kathgodam), where we pit stopped for lunch out of the back of the Innova, which produced a garden fresh salad with pecans, chicken satay, tortilla de patatas, a glass of white & coconut chocolate cookies for desert. Now that’s called hitting the spot.

:: Lunch at Bageshwar ::
Getting through Bageshwar town took a bit longer since ‘elections’ were around the corner & the ‘Uttaraini Mela’ was in progress. The countryside as we wound our way along the Pinder river (originating from the Pindari Glacier) , went from bright green paddy’s to deep ‘fir & conifer’. It was getting overcast (snow predicted at our final destination, Leti) and mood was becoming ‘undefinable’. A taste of things to come.

:: Off to school we go ::
What would normally be an hour’s walk from Liti village to Leti 360, took us about 2 hours since it had snowed the night before and Sonam refused to drive to the normal drop off point (would mean him getting stuck in the snow slush). Walking through the snow in the dark for two hours seemed like eternity & I wondered to myself (as must most guests to Leti), ” this had better be worth it”. They say it’s all about the journey & not the destination. Thus far, not true.

:: Getting dark ::
Just around the corner & another ‘gentle rise’ was a refrain, I had come to learn from most hill folks & it was ‘déjà vu’ all over again (Darjeeling & Kasauli). When we reached ‘Leti’, it was early evening, but ‘pitch dark’. I was told here at Leti we have no ‘electricity & as for your mobile phone ; use it as a paper weight’. Hmm. Fair enough. All this while I was gently sipping in the dining lounge what seemed like a ‘ginger & lemon’ cocktail (only hot). More nuts followed, only this time coated with honey.

:: Dinners ready ::
The 1st night at Leti, commenced with a gourmet dinner (7.30 pm) , prefixed by a couple of whisky shots. It was pitch dark and I knew not what sights to expect next morning. Given that I was in the sack (made from Pashmina) by 9 p.m. , I wagered to be up at the crack of dawn to have a ‘look see’.

It was bitterly cold outside but the inside the ‘cottage’ (drywall construction) was warm as toast, illuminated by a ‘cast iron stove’ and a few solar lanterns ; including the ‘toilet facilities which are ‘ensuite’. I noticed the brass plumbing later.

:: Toasted ::

:: Brass plumbing to boot ::
I was hoping to get a clear day next morning & so I did. When I surfaced at dawn, the vista that unfolded, cannot be described.

:: Breathe ::
In a word , ‘undefinable’. Here is a 280 degree view of what unfolded before my eyes, as the sun rose over the valley below (Ram Ganga) and cast its gentle glow on the Nanda Devi range.

:: 280 degrees of 360 ::
Leti consists of 4 drywall constructed cottages (local stone walls, with double glazed glass & canvas tops) each boasting to provide unique views, from the Nanda Devi range, Ram Ganga & the Leti Village, as seen from your ‘Pashmina’ appointed beds. Each in a separate corner of the ‘compound’ , which is actually a plateau, with a 360 degree view.

:: Nanda Devi ::

:: Morning Delight ::

Now, apart from soaking up the views & the unique environment, what is there to do. Well in the words of George Costanza of Seinfeld, ‘Nothing’! For those seeking some local shopping & maybe some form of entertainment (remember there is no electricity or mobile connectivity), this is not for you. This is the place for ‘nothing’.

:: Gaze at Nanda Devi from your Pashmina bed ::

:: Azure ::

:: Fire inside :: Ice Outside ::
I be facetious. Here is what you can do. For starters take your pick from a selection of board games that include, noughts & crosses, Ludo, Snakes & Ladders, Chess & Backgammon. Not a gamer? (no X-box here), then maybe you will find some stimulation in the mini library here .Lapierre, Rushdie, Rinpoche, Forster are there to give you company.

:: Noughts & Crosses with Salman Rushdie ::
The village walks in and around Leti are the staple for those so inclined including heading down to the Ram Ganga for a dip. I did go ‘walkies’ but could not venture to the river. It snowed 2 of the 3 days I was there. Heavenly.

:: It’s snowing ::
One of the afternoons, when the sun was out nice & bright, we played cricket (it’s a daily feature here after lunch), with a ball made from socks (double glazed walls, remember?). Cricket with Nanda Devi in the backdrop. Go figure.

:: Yorkers ::

:: The place for nothing ::
What does form a key ingredient at Leti ( I love a bad pun) to keep ‘occupied’ is food ( & drink).

:: Juice up ::
For starters, rhododendron juice every time you step back into the Leti compound from a walk, bed tea (or the special Leti Coffee brew) with freshly baked ‘banana cake’ . There is a genuine wood fire oven churning out complex carbohydrate delights 24 x 7.

:: Carbs ::
Chef Yeshi or should one say Chief Yeshi (ex Monk & Trekking Chef) churns out gastronomic delights from breakfast to dinner & all the empty spaces between those time slots. Apart from the ‘local granola chunks’ what deserves a special mention is , ‘ Eggs Florentine’, no less. My breakfast on Day 2.

:: Eggs Florentine ::
Breakfast & Lunch weather permitting, can be had on the lawns of Leti plateau overlooking the Ram Ganga. Dinner is normally held in the ‘lounge’, by candlelight (next to the blazing fireplace). When you ask for a Bailey’s Irish Cream, you get a 200 ml measure. I need not suffix this with a superlative.

:: Lunch with a view ::
Chef Yeshi & his team dish out ‘cookery lessons’ to the guests. From basic and simple daily fare, to cuisine fit for Kings. Sometimes, he learns from them too. I wanted something light. He rustled up a light yet wholesome, ‘upma’. Soft yet crunchy.

:: The Kettle ::
What was fascinating was the simplicity of his kitchen (natural light from all sides including the skylight) and his ingredients & cooking utensils. I have not seen a ‘kettle’ in action for decades.

:: Yeshi & Co ::

:: Yeshi prepping for Upma ::
I could go on and on about Leti yet not really be able to communicate what it’s all about. Hopefully some of the pictures shared here, will tell their own story. Leti is off the map (it’s difficult to Google). Its isolated with just a handful of souls floating around.

:: Twilight delight ::

:: Beach chairs in the snow::
It is an assault on all the senses particularly for the eyes, nose & tongue. The assault on the ‘ears’ is the kicker. When you are alone, the sounds of silence kick in. You really can hear the sounds of silence. Go figure why ‘meditation’ was discovered in the mountains.

Schtum.

Plissee nach Maß