Sitlakhet the hidden gem of Almora
Sitlakhet is a quaint holiday spot away from the hustle and bustle of the cities.
Situated in the district of Almora, Sitlakhet is a lesser-known tourist destination located about 24 km from the Queen’s Meadow, Ranikhet. Proudly sitting at an elevation of 1900 meters on the kaleidoscopic Syahi Devi hills, Sitlakhet is one of the best places to explore in the Kumaon Himalayas. From this off beat hill station, one can savour a panoramic view of Chaukhamba mountain range.
The mesmerizing view of the sun-kissed hills, rich flora-fauna and the cool breeze carrying away the scent of the rosy rhododendrons makes Sitlakhet an ideal retreat.
Bestowed with ethereal natural beauty, Sitlakhet is also famous for adventures.
I was not aware of this hidden gem in Kumaon region till 2008. Like any tourist, I knew about Nainital, Ranikhet and Almora. At that time, I was staying in a home stay at Nainital called Home away from Home, owned by a retired army colonel.
We had taken one room with kitchen and a balcony offering panoramic view of the lake and mountains beyond it. For all this accommodation, colonel was charging us just two hundred rupees per day. And to top it, it was brand new accommodation.
Only negative point about this home stay was that you had to clinba steep climb of about hundred meters to reach your room. But another plus point about the Homs stay was that it was pet friendly and our dog Naughty, a German dachshund, loved it. He would sit in the balcony and make sure monkeys stayed away from our place. Our home stay was located on the road starting from mall and going upto Nainital zoo.
If you did not want to follow the road, steep stars went up from our place to zoo, which was popular as High Altitude zoo. There was a lovely trail from our place to Snow View point, which me and my wife, Uma loved to follow. Otherwise our regular trail for evening walk started near the zoo and went through the forest ,right upto main Nainital roa . It took us more than an hour to cover this trail with several animals crossing your way and you could hear birds chirping all the way.
One day we were sitting in the balcony of our home stay when colonel said Segon sahib, I can see that you two love hills and forests. I would suggest you such a place for visit and I am sure you would love it. I got interested. He said This is a private property of my cousin situated right In the middle of forest. There was a camping site where he had pitched up tents to introduce youth to tracking and adventure activities. There were two wooden cabins for instructors. He said since no camping activity was on at that time, we could stay in one of cabins to explore the forest.
There were several wild animals in the area including three tigers. The place offered too much excitement, fun and adventure. The colonel said I would speak to my cousin and persuade him to take you. Normally he did not entertain any guests. Fortunately, his cousin agreed with a condition that there will be no choice in food. Only fixed home made food would be served. We hired a driver and next day, we were in Sitlakhet.
We fell in love with the place at first sight. Our cabin was in the middle of deep forest and fruit orchards. There was no shop or habitation nearby. One had to live with mother nature at her best here. We got wonderful view of the snow clad lofty Himalayans.
In such wilderness, the valley around us had cultivation of medicinal herbs and hybrid vegetation. One of the instructors at the camping site presented us a wooden stick, made from a single branch of tree, special to the area. All this land and property was owned by the cousin of colonel. His nephew was just back from USA where he had a plum job. He was IIT graduate and was disillusioned with America. During a chance meeting, he said uncle, I have made up my mind to serve my own country. I am starting plantation of medicinal herbal plants and exotic flowers here. The land and climate is ideal here. We agreed with him.
One night, our landlord rang us up on mobile and said, just to caution you, there is a tiger just fifty yards from your cabin. Perhaps it has got scent of your dog. Keep the dog inside cabin. He said I am going out with my rifle in search of tiger. And naughty was getting restless. Perhaps he too had smelled the tiger. Nothing happened and tiger went away.
Once tiger was spotted under the bridge near our cabin drinking water in the local stream. One of the workers working in the fields narrated one in Incident when a tiger jumped on back of a mule, took it to edge of hill with his teeth buried in its neck and threw the mule down the hill with a jerk. Tiger went down the hill and carried away its prey.
Another incident that really saddened our heart was a huge jungle fire in the area. The fire was started by some careless youth. Most touching scene was a small child deer, fawn coming out of blazing fire to save its life. Luckily family of landlord spotted fawn and took it in custody. We were invited to have a look at it. I still remember, my wife carrying it in her lap and fawn looking scared.
Monkey menace was real problem in the area. Monkeys in large numbers would raid the area destroying crops. To cop with the problem, landlord had posted in the area a gunman who would fire at one monkey and others would runaway.
Our dog, Naughty, a German dachshund. He loved long walks in the woods, along with us.
Main landmark of the area was Syahi Devi temple. It was situated atop a hill. You had to climb more than hundred stairs to reach the top. People come from far off places to pray to Devi ma to fulfil their wishes. I used to go for a walk every day visiting temple first and than following other side of temple taking zigzag route completing full circle. Even track from our place to Sitlakhet market was about three kilometres one way. It was a small market offering daily necessities. At the far end of market was Himachal Tourism guest house.
Sitlakhet is full of lush green pristine surroundings with dense forests. There is a serene and settled majesty to woodland scenery that enters into the soul and delights and elevates it, and fills it with noble inclinations. If you’ve ever walked a mile into a virgin forest, you know, like a deep forest where trees have been uncut, the energy is totally different from the shopping mall. I love to go deep into forest to lose my mind and find my soul.
But than, we are so used to living in concrete jungles that we have almost sold our soul to the devil. A place like Sitlakhet rejuvenates and refreshes you . When we walk into a grove of trees or under an open sky the magic of nature takes over and the heaviness of life lifts a little. I love being in the woods, when I can just walk barefoot in the grass and just sit down and breathe. I love that so much. But than, as Robert Frost says, the woods are lovely deep and green, but I have promises to keep and miles to go, before I sleep. We visited this heavenly place twice. Both times, we lived here for about a month. Both the times, landlord was gracious enough to charge us token money of just five thousand rupees for a month with food.
Uttarakhand is divided into 2 regions , Garhwal and Kumaon . Both the regions are equally beautiful and are surrounded by the majestic mountain peaks of Bhagirathi, Chowkhamba, Pindari, Sahastrataal, Milam, Nanda Devi, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Jogin Group and many more. Sitlakhet is part of Kumaon,