Goodbye city lights, hello hills

We have a lot of things to blame Covid for but for some many profound answers, we have the pandemic to thank too.

When Marie Fredriksson of Roxette sang ‘Listen to your heart’ in 1988, she probably didn’t know that 33 years later most of the world wouldn’t just be listening to the song but also maybe really listening to their hearts as well. And that probably explains the traffic on many of those Himalayan homestays groups on social media advertising breathtaking photos of the life we all want to live, of organic farming and flowing pristine rivers, of mountain goats and meadows, of sloped roof cottages and hydrangeas and of the coffee mugs and rum evenings while “working from home”.

We have a lot of things to blame Covid for but for some many profound answers, we have the pandemic to thank too. Quitting the city life and making that dream come true is surely on top of the list.

Navdeep Singh Nagi, a locomotive expert working with the metro until a year back, can vouch for it. Recounting his journey to the hills, he says, “Today when I look back and go through my city life pictures, I feel proud of having taken such a huge step. My wife Gurleen and I got married amidst the lockdown so that we could move to the hills with the blessings of our families. We rented a room in the Joginder Nagar Valley, and along with a few friends started a community service named ‘ Project Pag Dandi’ a cultural exchange program through travel, co-living, eco-tourism and cultural learning. Under this community, we built a campsite named ‘EarthVyasha’ in Badi village near Bir, which gives you the experience of living in the wild away from the rush of life.”

But Navdeep’s idea of making a home in the mountains was still pending. “One day I was strolling around nearby village Machhkehar when I saw a house under construction. I asked the owner if they were planning to give it on rent and she said they would rent it only to a family. I knew it right there it was for me. We moved in and named this place “Arezustay” as it was our dream house.” Now Arezustay is also a homestay.

Such is the lure of the hills that Tripoto (a social travel platform where people share travel stories, and experiences) actually runs a course on how one can start a homestay venture. From the cost of setting up and running the homestay, understanding capital and operating expenses, familiarization with legal rules and regulations in India, renovating and remodelling, team building, setting up rooms and kitchen, going local for services, marketing on Instagram, targeting customers to networking with other operators, all this is taught by a homestay specialist.

For Saumya Kulshrestha, a communications specialist, it was the Delhi frustration, which was the driving force behind her decision to move to the Himalayas and run a homestay. “I left for Bir after the first wave of Covid and came here looking for some peace away from the hustle-bustle of the city. Life in Delhi, with lockdown and associated stresses, was full of anxiety. I could feel the stress in my body and mind. Staying in Bir took away much of that. I was going on frequent walks, making my own food, helping around with cleaning and all at much more economical rates than those in the city. It seemed like a very livable life. And I wanted to share this life with those close to me. That’s when the idea of a homestay was born, and I found the most perfectly perched mountain house to start my homestay experiment. We decided to call it Sang-e-Meel, meaning a milestone. We also have a cow in our house, whose routine is also an interesting and integral part of the stay experience. I wanted a giant library in my home, so I went ahead and brought close to 500 books from Delhi. Our guests loved it. “

Moving on your own can have its own emotional burden and the journey can be a mixed bag. As Saumya says, “Mountain life is romanticized, but it has its own challenges. It is important to not bring your city lifestyle here. Mountains are fragile. Resources are limited. And waste management is nowhere close to what it is in the city. The homestay made me realize all this and I became much more mindful of how I was living.”

The new mountain dwellers say they don’t see themselves returning to the city even after the pandemic is over.

Maybe we all need to hear Roxette croon again
Listen to your heart when he’s calling for you
Listen to your heart, there’s nothing else you can do
I don’t know where you’re going, and I don’t know why
But listen to your heart before you tell him goodbye

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