Mariellen Ward is an award-winning professional travel writer based in Toronto and Delhi.
She is a journalist by profession and has written for leading Canadian and international newspapers, magazines and online sites. Her passion is travel in India, the underlying theme of her writing is “meaningful adventure travel” and she is also an advocate of women’s solo travel.
Though Canadian by birth, she considers India to be her muse and her “soul culture.” She recently visited Kosi Valley Retreat and here’s what she says about her visit!
Here’s how to access and enjoy the spectacular Himalayan region of India
CAN YOU IMAGINE walking and trekking among the Himalayas, the mightiest mountain range on earth? Fascinating and daunting, wreathed in religious mythology and mountaineering lore, the Himalayas are without a doubt one of the most spiritually exciting, wildly adventurous, spectacularly beautiful and deeply serene places on earth.
While mountaineers and the spiritually inclined have long been drawn to the Himalayas, you do not have to be an athlete or an ascetic to enjoy being among these mighty massifs. I was invited by Walk to the Himalayas (WTH) to stay at their Kosi Valley Retreat in Simkholi, in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand, and experience adventure among the Himalayas. I found it exciting, vigorous, relaxing and accessible.
Shivraj, the resident guide at Kosi Valley Retreat, picked me up at Kathgodam train station and escorted me to Simkholi. It was a long drive along twisting and narrow mountain roads, with sometimes a sheer drop only inches away. Up and up we went, into the foothills of the Himalayas, known here as the Sivaliks. Finally, around one curve, I saw the famous white peaks in the distance and had my first glimpse of Nanda Devi, known to be beautiful from any angle, like the goddess she is. This mountain is Kumaon’s highest peak, at 7,756 metres, and also one of the most mystical.
When we arrived at Kosi Valley Retreat, it was love at first sight. The website describes it as being surrounded by, “towering ancient trees, enchanting chorus of forest birds, mystical flowing river and dense forest.” And it is.
Kosi Valley Retreat is a lodge made of stone and wood, with stylish rooms, set on serene grounds in a pleasant valley. It is clean and comfortable, without being stiflingly luxurious. The food is delicious and healthy, the staff extremely friendly and helpful and best of all, it’s immersed in the peace and beauty of nature.
Kosi Valley Retreatis owned and run by Siddhartha and Latika of Walk to the Himalayas (WTH), an outdoor adventure company that specializes in trekking and outdoor adventure in the Himalayas. And that’s what makes a stay at Kosi Valley so special
and rewarding. Not only are three meals a day included, but a wide variety of activities that introduce visitors to the beauty of the Himalayas.
On my first morning at Kosi Valley Retreat, I woke up to the sound of birds and sat in the morning sun on my balcony overlooking the Kosi River and the forest until it was time for a jungle walk. With Shivraj, we walked through the forest and spotted two magpies, an owl, several eagles, three people from the village leading oxen over extremely narrow rocky ledges, a waterfall and some scorpion plants.
Shivraj explained that scorpion plants cause an intense feeling, like an electrical shock, and village people use them to treat muscle and joint pain. I touched one very lightly with my finger and it tingled in a peculiar way for many hours.
Back at the lodge, I ate a hearty and healthy breakfast of rhododendron juice (a local specialty), masala omelette, poha (spiced, flattened rice) and fruit. Every meal at Kosi Valley was fresh, filling and delicious, sourced largely from local ingredients. Chef Himmat Singh is from a nearby Kumaon village and knows how to cook local specialties, like a distinctive dal (lentils) dish that is loaded with flavour.
Every day, Shivraj and I set out for adventures, and came back for delicious meals. I explored the local temples, walked along the banks of the river, climbed a mountain to watch the sunset, cycled the rolling road and went for a walk through the nearby villages. We were invited for tea at one village home by the woman of the house, and met a sprightly 85-year-old lady named Parvati.
Hill people in India are known for being honest, hard-working and friendly. Generally, people travel with a higher degree of trust and safety in the hills than anywhere else. The people I met in Simkholi and the nearby villages seem to fit this profile. They work hard and smile easily. In fact, I heard that handsome cricketer M.S. Dhoni is from Kumaon, and sure enough, I saw a lot of people who look a bit like him.
I loved this peaceful valley, alive with prosperous villages, friendly people, bountiful crops, a clean river, rolling mountains, chattering birds and crisp, fresh air. I began to think of it as a “Golden Valley,” almost idyllic, and astonishingly clean. In the valley, it reminded me of Ireland, and in the mountains, of Switzerland.
While at Kosi Valley Retreat, I felt my being open up to the atmosphere of Kumaon. I breathed the exhilarating, earthy scent of fresh mountain air, redolent of pine needles, distant snow, glacial streams. I listened to the sounds of Himalayan birds and the Kosi River as it tumbled over rocks and boulders. I felt the peaceful vibrations and basked in the serenity of the natural environment. I walked among the hills, forests, fields and villages. It was a blissful week and I felt completely refreshed by the end of it.
There is crystal clarity to the air and a mystical quality to the atmosphere of the Himalayas that is uplifting and peaceful at the same time. No wonder so many sages, babas, yogis and sadhus have been drawn here. In fact, this region is known as the Dev Bhoomi, land of the gods. The region is also extremely bio-diverse, rich in flora and fauna, with many pristine forested areas filled with birds and mammals. You can experience the power of nature here, in all its glory.
Kosi Valley Retreat and the Walk to the Himalayas activities and itineraries are designed to capture the spirit of this special place. They make a region of the world — that might be daunting to some — accessible and available. If you have ever dreamed of seeing the mighty Himalayas and walking among the deodar trees, listening to the songs of the distinctive birds, and breathing the pine-scented air, contact the wonderful people at Walk to the Himalayas. They made it happen for me, and they can do the same for you. You may never be the same.
Thanks so much to Siddhartha, Latika, Shivraj, Himmat, Kundan, Deeraj, Indrani and everyone at Kosi Valley Retreat for hosting me and taking care of me.