Sunkiya is a small village in the hills of Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand, India. I stayed in a Home-stay run by the Sarpanch, Beena and her husband, Pooran. They call it 'Farmer's Home-stay' and it is right in the middle of their fruit orchard. Hence fresh apples on my table daily. Did you know that if apples are fully red, they are artificially prepared. An organic apple straight from the tree would be green on one side and red on the other for it turns red where the sun's rays hit it!
Unlike what one thinks about villages in India, this seems quite evolved. They have solar power at places, they harvest rain water and also...for revenue, pack it in tanks and sell it. Their girls study and of course boys too. There is a dignity in their bearing that comes from people who are self sufficient. They can suss you out in seconds, whether you are a respectful traveler or 'city type'. If latter, they will ignore you. If former, you will get a smile. They do not proliferate. My hosts have 3 kids, all studying and getting ready to be self sufficient. This village is also free from 'open toilets'. I didn't dare to use a hill while walking around!
There are lots of things you can do at this home-stay. Sit in the comfortable veranda and watch the clouds collide with the hills, the shadows play on the trees, listen to the birds and the wind-chime and watch Beena go about her day. My favourite was to lounge in the veranda as I tapped on my laptop for I was on a writers' retreat. This was ideal for me. Off season, no one else around, peace, warm food and caring hosts. And a thermos full of herbal tea for me 24 hours a day. You can go to the shop uphill and have Jalebi and tea while looking out at the green hills and feel amused at the curious looks that the villagers give you. You can take plenty of walk trails around that lead somewhere or the other. You can do a long hike that leads you to a temple. Or, of course, Pooran can drive you anywhere for sigh seeing. Sunkiya is only green and green wherever you go and wherever you look.
Farmer's home-stay is for the writer, the poet or for a group of friends or family looking for quality time together. Their rooms upstairs have privacy, a common bath and lots of space to just be. Oh and no TV. On Airtel I got good internet connection. Power supply usually is good unless there is a fault. But your work does not stop for Pooran or his son would run to a friend's house and get your phone charged! Beena is the sarpanch and both of them, being natives, know the place in and out. They chat with you if you want or leave you alone if that is what you prefer. You can have meals with them or on your on, upstairs. They have rooms as a part of their section also which you can rent if you wish to experience rural life in its fruition. You then share their kitchen and bathrooms. Everything is clean and hygienic. Vegetables and fruits that you eat comes from their organic farm. They also have a campsite where they host school kids on trips with their teachers.
In Mukteshwar, outsiders can buy only 1.5 naalee of land. Otherwise it has to stay with the villagers and stay green. But this is India right?! Builders have found a way around it and have started the destruction that they carry wherever they go. Dynamiting trees off the mountains, boring till 300 m deep to get water and building roads which will bring city dwellers to this peaceful place who will probably play loud music, drink liquor and turn this very safe place to a not so safe place. That is what the cynic in me has concluded! Villagers sell the land for they need money for daughter's wedding (of course) or kids' education. The irony of villages in India strikes me always. Beautiful landscape and ugly political will. In a way I am happy that politicians are apathetic for it makes the villagers self sufficient and resilient. And with them at the helm, nature is protected.
Pooran told me the sad story of the organic food that we would die for in the city. Fruits in his orchard are dropping and dying for companies with fake organic certificate sell fruits at a lower rate in the market. Since he does not make enough to hire someone to help him, his fruits mostly rot and die as he can not match the rates. He can not give them to anyone for in his village everyone has orchards! He and his wife are too busy to do something. His kids want to study. Further, the seeds that they buy are hybrid. These yield vegetables with no seeds and hence for re-cropping he has to buy the seeds again. Hence he loses out while the MNCs win. He says that Sunkiya has mostly everything. The only need is health care for them to be completely sufficient. They have to go to Haldwani for medical care. Doctors who visit Sunkiya charge a lot and also coax them to visit Haldwani for treatment in order to add patients to their list. Is there a model of rural medical care anyone knows about? Flying ambulances or bikes? Can you help?
As I drive back to Kathgodam, I do that with a prayer in my heart "Oh Sunkiya, I hope the greens that healed my rattled nervous system with stay on as they are now. I hope that you do not get mixed up with the browns brought in by the greed of the city dwellers. I am grateful for a chance to just sit and watch the play of sunlight on your green hills and the clouds play with the leaves of your swaying trees. Stay safe...we need you!"