Uttarakhand has long been a paradise for travellers. After all, how can one resist the colonial-era hill stations, idyllic rural hamlets and lush green valleys that dot the expanse of this Himalayan state? At the foot of the Kumaon hills sits the village of Mukteshwar. It might have remained a bit off the tourist radar but that has only helped retain its pristine charm, which is seldom found in destinations thronged by visitors.
As you make your way towards the higher altitudes from the Kathgodam railway station — sal and sagon trees line the roads with majestic valley views. It’s quite a ‘healing’ sight. As I went through the curvy roads, my destination was jüSTa Mukteshwar Retreat & Spa which was hosting its fifth edition of Chitrashaala — their residency art programme which promotes a mutually enriching exchange of ideas between artists from diverse socio-cultural backgrounds, held from February 3-10, 2023.
Spread over two-acre of land, the property has 32 rooms across different levels and is located about 7,500 feet above sea level. Architecturally stunning yet completely in tune with its natural surroundings, you would mistake the resort for a local home. It’s a striking property painted in the brightest yellow, green and white amidst the spectacular Kumaon hills. And on a clear day, after a two-hour drive from Kathgodam when I arrived there, I paid my respects to Nanda Devi, Trishul, Panchchuli and the entire Garhwal range — from my balcony itself.
The chirping of birds greets you as you enter jüSTa Mukteshwar, you can see flowers blooming and hear the gentle rustling of pines. Even the bracing cold air was refreshing enough. The moment I checked into my room, it felt like a sanctuary of peace and tranquillity. Yes, you can find all the modern amenities that a luxury resort provides — spacious room, a king-sized bed, study table, dresser, free Wi-Fi, coffee maker, LED television and more.
But it’s the other features that make the stay a spot of calm. The room has a refined, understated luxury with a muted colour scheme, mellow lighting arrangements and lovely views of the pristine valley and snow-capped mountains. The floor-to-ceiling windows and balcony offer an extension to let the outside peek into the inside and inhale the crisp mountain air. The warm and hospitable staff also adds to the memorable experience.
My eyes adjust in the morning to see the majestic jagged faces of Nanda Devi, Trishul, and Panchachuli peaks soaking up the golden rays of the sun while a blue magpie swooshes among the trees. It's the perfect way to start the day soaking up all the brightness. As I drink my chai in the morning, I take in the view of the mountains. That's exactly how my days used to be during my stay at jüSTa Mukteshwar, soaking in peace and serenity.
The resort is an experiential enclave perfectly poised to explore the myriad splendour of the Kumaon hills while experiencing the authentic flavours of local tradition and culture. Savoury local cuisine is served in the kitchen — like millet flatbread, gehet dal, pahadi chicken — the delectables are intentionally made simple.
In addition to being delicious, the resemblance to ghar ka khaana (homemade food) is what makes it stand out. It was a hearty meal and I couldn't stop at one bite. I had really tucked into their locally grown rice, a variety of pulses and vegetable curries, topped with a delectable khatta mutton stew (slow-cooked meat in a thick, tangy gravy) and a refreshing pahadi raita that completed the spectacle. If you are interested in trying the local fare, check with the chef and you can sample an authentic meal from the region — that is wholesome and healthy. The local touches to the menu will not disappoint you.
Out and about
It’s the location of jüSTa Mukteshwar that serves as a repository of tranquillity. You see, the resort is perched on a hilltop with only a few rustic rural settlements in a radius of a few kilometres. This invites you to explore the unadulterated nature and the best way to do it is through a walking trail.
This trail was led by their in-house guide Ramesh, a warm and accommodating person and fabulous at spotting birds. Just a 10-minute downhill walk from the property greets you to be immersed in the lap of dense greenery. You feel calmed by the pines and old oaks on the way, the gently rolling landscape covered in flat ferns, and the fresh mountain air. A symphony in the air and the trees' seeming ability to swing, dance, and sing with the wind added to the trail's allure. All of these only provided the much-needed refreshment and encouragement to keep walking.
I noticed how the locals live and how really content they seemed with their lives as I frequently stopped to rest and enjoy the breathtaking environment. I seemed to be sharing the trek with all manner of animals — goats, chickens, and dogs and every now and then, you could spot several bird species native to this region — from white-capped redstart, magpie, white-fronted woodpecker and more.
However, if you are interested in more than guided nature trails, a day’s tour to the local sightseeing hubs like Mukteshwar temple and Chauli ki Jali is recommended.
In a nutshell, if you are just looking for a quiet, reticent holiday where you can laze overlooking the mountains and clouds scudding across the sky, creating myriad patterns on the emerald valley below, this jüSTa property stands out.