If you are searching the internet for resorts in Almora or resorts near Ranikhet in Kumaon, or even hotels in Uttarakhand, you would probably land up to the Nayalap page as we did. It is a beautiful property with luxury tents in Shitlakhet, Uttarakhand. All the tents face the Himalaya.
Bathed in glorious sunlight reflected by the Himalayan peaks Trishul and Nanda Devi is a quaint little hill village Shitlakhet. Located in the Almora district, Shitlakhet is about 35 km from Almora town. Shitlakhet is roughly 370 km from Delhi. At a height of approximately 1900 m (6236 ft), it is virtually in the lap of the Himalaya. So peace and tranquillity are guaranteed.
When we were doing our little pre-travel research, we felt Shitlakhet, fit the bill. It promised views of the Kumaon Range of the Himalayas. In fact, we could see Trisul, Nanda Devi and Chaukhamba peaks from our rooms. Nayalap, our destination, was part of a small village that had been abandoned by the villagers. It was now like a ghost village and we could smell a story. The place also had some treks, churches and sites that were apparently hidden gems of Uttarakhand. So while our bucket list wasn’t busy, there was some activity to pursue. The prospect of being one with the easy way of Kumaoni life with some dosage of physical as well as touristy activity, and to top that, an abundance of nature Shitlakhet seemed like a hidden gem of Uttarakhand.
Nayalap – Glamping in Uttarakhand
Nayalap in Shitlakhet, Almora, was a revelation. It is based on the concept of camping – turned on its head. This is the hearth of Tanuja who is a daughter of the mountains and Anindya who has made mountains his home now. They have developed the surrounding areas of Shitlakhet as resorts. Aided by an excellent team of most friendly staff, they made this place home for us for 4 days or so. But, as we would gradually learn, Tanuja and Anindya aimed for a much larger project that just providing lodging, food and comfort to travellers.
How to reach Shitlakhet / Nayalap
The nearest railway station to is Kathgodam and we took the early morning Kathgodam Shatabdi from New Delhi Railway Station that reached us in about 5 hours. Thereafter, it was a drive for about 3 and a half hours in a local taxi. But then Shitlakhet is roughly 370 km from Delhi and the roads to this place are in great conditioning. It should take about 10 hours if you are driving without long breaks.
The closest airport Pantnagar is approximately 110 km and may take 4 hours drive from Nayalap.
We were aware that accommodation in Nayalap was in tents. But when we entered our tent, our jaws dropped. Not only was it aesthetically pleasing in earthy tones but had every comfort we could think of. There were twin beds, a clothes horse, a dining table with chairs and a sofa. The floor was covered with locally woven bamboo mats and white sheep wool blankets, again locally procured, looked stylish and were very warm. The furniture was local pine wood and looked understated and elegant. The bathroom had a grout and stone wall and looked very glam! The right word for these kinds of properties is “glamping”, a portmanteau combination of “glamour” and “camping”. And when it overlooked an array of Himalayan ranges, our luxurious experience literally attained new heights.
Mind you, there is no television here, or anywhere in Nayalap. But when the windows open to the star-studded dark blue night sky, who needs gadgets?
Our tent at Nayalap opened to the stately Himalayas – all white because of the recent winter. We could see a panorama of mountains, which we guessed were Trishul and Nanda Devi from our tent window. All Kumaon peaks in between including Trishul, Nanda Devi range and Panchchuli range were clearly visible from here. We do not have words to express our awe.
The food here deserves special mention. The dining area was in the open and was surrounded by mountains and trees. The meals were ordinarily served here or in the tents on request. They would have bonfires at night and then we ate alfresco sitting around the toasty surrounding.
The food was the special home-cooked style and they moderated the seasoning and spices as per our taste. The elaborate fare during each meal was carefully curated with a combination of North Indian and Kumaoni dishes. We were already aware of madwa (millet) ke roti and bhatt (black soybean) ki churkani, a lentil dish. This time we had a different bhatt dish – bhatt ka dukka, a salted porridge. We also tried some other very interesting Kumaoni dishes like sana hua nimbu (a local lime relish), aloo ke gutke (mildly seasoned potato had as a snack), jaala (a very light soupy khichdi made of rice and curd), sev (a dry semolina dessert) and our most memorable madwa ki halwa (millet pudding). Thinking of the slightly gooey mildly sweet halwa is making us salivate all over again. This is a must-try at Nayalap. Oh, we are also missing the fresh fruit smoothies that were served during breakfast. It was a different flavour each morning and we would keep guessing what fruit had been used that day.
Anindya is also working on a continental menu, and we may visit Nayalap just to sample how pizzas and pasta taste when prepared with local organic produce.
The guys here were comparable to Santa’s elves. You don’t hear them – but every request complied to the T. Given that we Nayalap is located atop a hill, adjacent to an abandoned village, providing the level of service they delivered is anything but easy!
Tanuja and Anindya seemed flexible when it came to pricing. They have all sorts of packages for big parties, small groups, families and couples, yoga retreat, office off-sites and workations. So, it would make sense to discuss your requirement with them and they could work out a special deal.
Read till the end to save yourself 15% while booking at Nayalap
Things to do at Shitlakhet
Nayalap organises a long list of activities for their guests with an aim to soak them in Himalayan goodness as well as orient them with the rich historical and cultural heritage of the surroundings. Even though we stayed for a longish 4 days, we just could try out some very few of what they had to offer. We requested Tanuja and Anindya to plan the itinerary for us. We are so glad we did that; otherwise we would have been rather lost!
Nayalap is more than your off-beat mountain resort and we were intrigued when we came to know about their long-term goals. To give a brief background, Nayalap is in the centre of some ghost-villages where the villagers have en masse abandoned the village and migrated to cities and towns for opportunities. During a village walk in the vicinity, we saw their beautiful houses with intricately carved doorframes and window panes all bearing a heavy silence. Nayalap is trying to work out a reverse migration exercise by which the villagers find sufficient employment locally and settle back in their beautiful family homes in the Himalaya. In fact, the name Nayalap is the Sanskrit word “palayan”, meaning escape, spelt in reverse. More power to the Nayalap team and their initiative!
Also read: Beautiful Indian Villages In The Hills
When we were told Almora was an hour’s drive from Shitlakhet, we couldn’t hide our excitement! We had passed Almora a few times and the next morning our host Tanuja from Nayalap took us for a walk in the markets of Almora. It was Sunday and the uncrowded streets led us to a late nineteenth-century stone church that was so well-maintained that it seemed like merely a decade old! Do visit the Budden Memorial Methodist Church for a colonial feel on the mountains. We then walked to the ancient Nanda Devi Temple and it was so enchanting that we have made a singular post as well as video!
The Tripura Sundari Temple close by was relatively simple but had a marked sense of divinity. Walking through the main market we also saw vintage spectacular mansions. Tanuja filled us that Almora traditionally was the richest market in this region and attracted traders from all over the country. The affluent trading community built beautiful houses with exquisite stone carvings for their residence. Many of these buildings fell in disuse and were pulled down and the plots were replaced with modern rectangular construction. But the few that are there still stood tall and were worth a dekko. We also saw the house where Swami Vivekananda had put up in Almora.
We had heard stories about the legendary natural beauty of Ranikhet. However, it was only during our trip to Ranikhet from Nayalap, Shitlakhet, that we were present to its unparallel colonial heritage. During the course of the Ranikhet walking trail, we came across three gorgeous churches within a span of few kilometres. The churches were built by the British in the 19th century for their injured or unwell soldiers who were sent to Ranikhet for recovery. All the churches stood tall against the clear mountain sky and their great condition filled us with awe.
Among the churches, St. Peter’s Church and Narnia Church were repurposed by the Indian Army as weaving and knitting centres providing employment to war widows and army widows. St. Bonaventure Catholic Church was however still used for worship. We went inside this church and went all the way up to the bell tower, where the bell tolled for Sunday service and on special occasions. The church was beautiful inside and all the dark-red pine wood furniture was reflective of the grandeur of that era. The beautifully carved pews had curious little holes. These holes were made for soldiers to stow their guns while praying. Gun-slots in a place of prayer and peace – what an oxymoron we thought! We ended our trail with coffee at the gorgeous Ranikhet Club. Built for British officers, the vintage look and feel of the club still oozed the colonial charm. Along with our hosts Tanuja and Anindya, we had coffee here. It was a wet afternoon and rain tried to play a spoilsport. But we love rain in the hills so no complaint!
Kasar Devi trail
Kasar Devi is a village in Almora that is eponymous to the Kasar Devi temple perched atop the mountain. Legend has it that Devi Durga had slain the demon brothers Shumbha and Nishumbha at this spot and the impression of a lion on a rock-face marks the presence of the Goddess. Some years ago, a shrine was built around this rock face and a marble statue was placed about 15 years ago.
Also read: Temples of Almora in Uttarakhand
Swami Vivekananda had visited and spent some days in Almora in the year 1890. He trekked up to Kasar Devi summit and had meditated here. However, proper roads connect this temple now and one has to walk up the last bit, a flight of 50 steps or so unless you want to trek the whole distance for sheer adventure and wanderlust.
We had no plans and it was sheer luck and courtesy of our host Tanuja of Nayalap that she drove us here. But Kasar Devi has some strong pull. We are told that as per NASA, it is one of the strongest magnetic fields on earth. Cool looking cafes dot this zone now and maybe we shall come back again to Kasar Devi for a standalone trip.
Incidentally, Tanuja took us a little further, on an edgy path, to show us some rock inscriptions in Brahmi script. That was a super-duper bonus on this tour!
Do you remember going for picnics in days of yore? We were reminded one afternoon during our trip when we had a picnic lunch on a riverside in Shitlakhet, Almora, Uttarakhand. The mountain river setting, the smoother boulders acting as the table, the pine trees around us and the sound of flowing water as background music – it was like travelling through time and space. The food was not simple convenient stuff like fruits or sandwiches but a curated lunch menu including delicacies from Kumaoni cuisine. BIG thank you, Nayalap team, for creating this lifetime memory for us.
On our way to Ranikhet, we stopped at Umang. This is an NGO that works with local skills in weaving, knitting as well as making pickles, jams and condiments. The knitwear was very pleasing to the eyes, and Bedabrata bought a muffler that he immediately wrapped around his shoulder, not because of fashion, but, as usual, he was feeling cold. The kiwi jam and plum chutney here were spoon-licking tasty and this is what we shopped for family and friends. Since then, our folks are blessing us during breakfast every morning
We have written extensively about our love for the Uttarakhand sweet fudge Bal Mithai, crudely translated – Child’s Sweet. We are not allowed to return back home without Bal Mithai. Almora is apparently is the sweet spot for Bal Mithai and Tanuja, our host from Nayalap, recommended the sweet shop Khim Singh Mohan Singh Rautela. This place was crowded and we had to wait a while for our order. But when we came and tasted the melt in the mouth sweets, it was all very worthwhile. Incidentally, there is one version that is bereft of sugar balls and is just the khoa part. This is a misnomer “chocolate” because it looks like that. Some chappies, including Sundeep, prefer this over the sugar topped version.
Also read: Food that we would not mind travelling for
We also tried their Singori (Khoa sweet wrapped in a leaf) which was also out of the world but it lasts for only two days so we didn’t get it packed for home but it was one of the most delicious Singori we have ever had.
Nayalap’s local items for sale
Nayalap is coming up with a physical as well as an online store for selling local craft and weaves such as baskets, floor mats, sheep wool blankets (we want this!) and traditional copperware from Almora. It is their effort towards providing a market for the local crafts sector. We are told they would also sell packaged pickles and condiments. This is the most promising we felt.
We also did a lot of reading, talking, chatting with our hosts, bonding with other travellers at the resort and generally having a good time.
On that note, Team Nayalap has been very kind to extend a 15% discount to all who book after reading about them on Delhi-Fun-Dos. You can use the code DELHIFUNDOS15 to redeem the offer.
If you want to unwind, and just take a break from city life, Nayalap is the ideal idyllic spot. We couldn’t find anything negative to say about them..and we shall be returning again to Nayalap. We still need to finish the Siyahi Devi trek from Nayalap, Shitlakhet.