SITLA ESTATE & BINSAR RETREAT
Oh, The Himalayas. They’ve been on my list for a while now and in December, this dream of mine came true! A 10-day trip for adventurous souls ready to get out of their comfort zones, and trust nature, culture and people.
I first started this trip with two days in New Delhi. My second time in a year in this beautifully chaotic city. The perfect definition of the yin and the yang. Darkness and light. Constant (extremely loud) honking and spiritual bliss. Men that stare at you to a point where you begin to analyze your safety (especially if you have strong Eastern physical traits like I do) and also the kindred spirits. The humans with invisible wings. Those souls that understand your vulnerability and try to protect it. Our tuk tuk driver was one of them. “I go with you so they don’t touch or bother you. I take care of you”, he said. I smiled. He then made sure my bag was closed, phone and wallet secure, and said “you like spices?” and I replied “Yaas. Let’s go get me some turmeric!”. The Chandni Chowk spice market is probably my favorite place in Old Delhi. The closer you get to it, the more intense the scents of the spices. Cinnamon, cardamon, cloves. Powerful, delicious, uplifting. As you begin to breathe in the hints of each- letting them take over your body completely- you soon discover that peppercorn, chili and paprika have the opposite effect. They itch! You’ll sneeze, cough, laugh, smile, cough again, cry a little while laughing hysterically, and sneeze five more times. In between of it all, you’ll also connect with your inner Chef and will buy every spice that calls your attention and resonates with recipes you adore. And don’t even get me started on the Sarees! After our visit to the spice market, our tuk tuk driver took us to a Saree store where I was dressed- from head to toe- for a wedding I don’t have (I told them I was marrying my soul...No, not mate...just soul!), and -of course- I couldn’t say no to the Saree! Green and silver and red. The right amount of sparkle and completely handmade. One of a kind!
Other sustainable and fairtrade stores I visited during this short stay were FabIndia and Tatsat, and restaurant with yummy vegan options: Big Fat Sandwich.
From Delhi we drove for over 10hrs to our first eco-friendly hotel in the Himalayan mountain range: Sitla Estate. The first morning, I woke up at 5.30am to see the sunrise and what my eyes devoured was absolutely indescribable. I picked up a rose from the ground, prepared myself a hot cacao, lit on my palo santo, meditated, and had my morning conversation with the angels and energies that have been guiding my day to day. It felt like a dream. How I went from being a greedy and frustrated human in the private banking world to reaching The Himalayas and connecting with the songs dozens of birds sung next to me. It’s been a long, risky, conscious, beautiful and soul-expanding journey for which I’ll be forever grateful!
We spent 3 nights at Sitla and I slept in the cutest, comfiest, and warmest room. Even though the temperatures were in the 20s-30s, the fireplace in my room kept it warm enough. The energy at the hotel felt also different. Lighter. Purer. Stronger. Something only created by the sacredness and pureness of The Himalayas.
During the day we visited different NGOs around the Himalayan range, where we got to learn all about natural beauty practices, fairtrade and sustainable fashion, weaving techniques, and the health and education system. “Aarohi” and "Umang" were two of those NGOs. "Aaron" provides educational and medical support to over 7000 Himalayan souls every year! They also make natural body oils from apricot seeds, and soaps from the herbs they grow, harvest and dry locally. The revenues support a medical bus that drives around local villages every month seeing and aiding 600+ people. This school-bus-transformed-into-a-clinic carries an entire hospital! X-rays, sonograms, gyno, lab... And "Umang" works with hundreds of women giving them opportunities to make a fair, respectful and higher living through hand-weaving, hand knitting, fruit picking, and grain harvesting. Proof that change can take place when we believe, do something about injustices, and get out of our comfort zones to make it happen.
On our fourth day, we traveled for another 4hrs to reach a forest sanctuary closer to The Himalayas! The eco retreat we stayed at was in the middle of a mesmerizing Nature Reserve: “Binsar Rainforest Retreat”. This 11-room green paradise runs on solar energy and uses water collected from the rain. And their menu, you may wonder? Vegan and vegetarian only, of course! No meat here since the entire purpose of this eco-friendly retreat is to protect nature and its inhabitants. Breakfasts were my favorite! Vegan millet pancakes topped with bananas, pomegranates, and quinoa pops.
Throughout our stay at Binsar, we visited one last NGO: Panchachuli. This organization educates and empowers women by giving them jobs and fair salaries instead of aid or free money. They help them make something out of themselves and the traditional techniques that have been passed on to them from generation to generation. Hand-weaving and hand-knitting. During the few hours we were there, I saw them weave one-of-a-kind scarfs that can take one day to a month to make! Here’s where we come in as consumers. We need to make the connection. To people. To nature and, especially, to the hands that make each product we wear. As consumers we always go for the cheap prices without analyzing the time, dedication and sweat that goes into each product. Instead, we need to start supporting slow fashion, beautiful handmade products, higher wages, and happy and healthy workers. The Himalayas is all about that and I got to discover it thanks to a lovely soul, Esha.
Things to know:
-If you are thinking of traveling to The Himalayas from the Indian side, be ready. It's not an easy trip. Roads are bumpy and dark, bathrooms are scarce and distances are very long. Take lots of snacks with you and a good playlist.
-If you stay at Sitla, ask for the rooms with the view. They are new, have huge glass windows and look at the mountains. You'll wake up with that view every morning. I stayed at their old little one bed room/cottage for two nights and tried the big new rooms for one night. Preference? I LOVED the view from the new rooms but the old tiny room has its own magic.
-If you stay at Binsar Rainforest Retreat, ask for the cottage or the big room with a balcony. The views there are also to die for! Lastly, even though this hotel has REALLY hot water running through its bathrooms' pipes, expect to shower with buckets. It's part of this retreat's eco-friendly charm! I filled one in half every morning and washed my body with a towel and soap. Temperatures were in the 20s too so that was all my body could handle.
-Both hotels have vegan and vegetarian options.
-No wifi at Binsar (your chance to disconnect, people!) and great wifi at Sitla.
-Temperatures are very low in winter! Take lots of layers and warm clothes, hiking boots, sneakers, jackets. I didn't (Miami girl...) and regreted it!