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◊ By Dr Supriya Mahajan Sardana, MD

 

  • Wild Brook Retreat (WBR) in Bukandi village, Uttarakhand, is an authentic eco lodge located on the fringes of Rajaji National Park
  • Brainchild of agricultural scientist-cum-geneticist-turned-eco conservationist, Manoj Kulshreshtha
  • Constructed with eco friendly materials and operated with minimal use of energy to maintain low carbon footprint
  • WBR is a birders’ paradise, with frequent sightings of Spotted Munia, Paradise Flycatcher, Common Iora, Pygmy Woodpecker, Indian Roller, Great Tit, Indian Grey Hornbill, Barbets, Sunbirds and many more
  • Mountain spring water is used for drinking and food is consciously sourced
  • In true eco lodge fashion, WBR has no boundary wall, merging seamlessly with nature


I wish we could wash from our
Hearts and our souls
The stains of the week away,
And let water and air by their magic make
Ourselves as pure as they
— Louisa May Alcott

In the hot and sultry month of July 2018, I came across two gems most unexpectedly. One of them, a poem by Louisa May Alcott, A Song from the Suds. The second is a beautiful jungle property called Wild Brook Retreat (WBR) tucked away in the Himalayan foothills (in Bukandi village), a visit to which had been on the cards for years but only materialised as an impromptu trip on that July weekend. What ensued was an experience steeped in untarnished Nature, as sublime as poetry itself.

Having not planned the trip, and thus, without any suitable train or bus reservations (the more economical mode of transport), my friend and I took a pricey yet comfortable cab ride to Haridwar in Uttarakhand. This was our rendezvous point—with Manoj Kulshreshtha, the man behind Wild Brook.

Kulshreshtha, an agricultural scientist-cum-geneticist, turned over his cushy university job years ago and chose to freelance as an eco-conservationist. Not only does he have an impressive repertoire of work in the field of conservation, but also he is an ardent birder and wildlife enthusiast. Setting up WBR in a remote location on the fringes of Rajaji National Park is his way of paying homage to Mother Nature and her denizens.

APPROACH TO WILD BROOK RETREAT

Situated at a short distance of 24 km from Haridwar, the location of WBR is so well chosen that this little gem remains hidden from casual day-trippers till date. Any walk-ins are politely turned down and bookings take place exclusively online. This approach has managed to preserve the sanctity of the place despite its close proximity to the National Capital Region.

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An unassuming metal signage stuck on a dead tree trunk (keep a lookout!), subtly hints at the existence of this haven. Photo by Dr Supriya Mahajan Sardana

The first 16 km till Kaudia village unravel on a tarred road along the picturesque Ganga Canal (Chilla). Enroute, we had a short stopover for a homemade breakfast at Woods – An Orchard Retreat, with the erstwhile prince of Raiwala, Avinash Vashishth and his graceful wife. The last 8 km of the trip are rough, traversing a riverbed terrain criss-crossing streams, which preferably should be covered on a locally hired jeep or an SUV.

True to its name, WBR has retreated from human interference as much as is practically possible, despite being so near civilisation. There are no garish signboards to declare its presence, rather an unassuming metal signage stuck on a dead tree trunk (keep a lookout!), subtly hints at the existence of this haven. As you arrive, you’re greeted by birds, bees and trees. Nestled on a gently sloping hillock surrounded by a plethora of vegetation, Wild Brook respects the lie of the land.

A TRUE ECO LODGE

The retreat endorses eco-friendly construction, with the use of weathered stones collected by local labour, minimising the use of concrete. The spacious and sturdy cottages, with their wide verandahs and stone walls, consciously sourced wood, beautiful artefacts and crisp bed linen bear testimony to the labour of love that is WBR.

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Nestled on a gently sloping hillock, surrounded by a plethora of vegetation, Wild Brook respects the lie of the land

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The spacious cottages, with their wide verandahs and stone walls, consciously sourced wood, beautiful artefacts and crisp linen bear testimony to the labour of love that is Wild Brook Retreat

The cottages have high ceilings, thatched tin roofs, thick walls and a fair share of windows, taking into consideration wind and Sun exposure, which keeps the ambient indoor temperature comfortable in all seasons. Despite the area’s unreliable power supply, with arrangements to harness solar energy, the retreat has been run so far with minimal use of energy—thereby, keeping its carbon footprint low.

In the soaring humidity levels of July, we slept soundly without an AC. In winters, water is heated on a deadwood fire. The owner has, so far, managed not to succumb to urban tourists’ demands for air conditioners and geysers. His vision is sustainability, both for the establishment and the environment. The drinking water served here comes from a mountain spring, filtered through a bed of sand. The food is well-cooked and the ingredients, if not entirely organic, are carefully chosen to be as safe and naturally farmed as possible. Although at the time of our visit, its own kitchen garden was not in action, attempt is made to buy local organic produce from villagers.

We had more than our fill of tree ripened seasonal fruits like mangoes and jamuns. WBR is a boon to the local economy, providing jobs for cooks, drivers and guides. Kulshreshtha also plans to work towards building a cooperative for the local women in the region.

So, by now you may have gotten the picture. Either you will fall in love with the earthy aura of the place or you will dismiss it for want of city comforts (then why leave home at all, if I may ask?).


Either you will fall in love with the earthy aura of the place or you will dismiss it for want of city comforts (then why leave home at all?)

WHAT TO DO AT WILD BROOK RETREAT

There is no rigorous selling of a readymade experience to anyone who is willing to cough up the desired amount. Rather you create your own! Our day was packed, in case you are wondering about ‘Things to see and do’. But, there was peace and tranquility amidst the doing.

Sambar deer’s alarm calls late at night give one the eerie feeling that a panther is on the prowl and near. Hill cows come grazing as there are no fences and no plans to erect any on the horizon. All are welcome, including wild elephants!

Mind you, life here revolves around food and hearth. Recreation and entertainment come along. In a span of less than 24 hours, we spied Spotted Munia, Paradise Flycatcher, Common Iora, Pygmy Woodpecker, Indian Roller, Great Tit, Indian Grey Hornbill, Barbets and Sunbirds, in this birders’ paradise.

Sambar deer’s alarm calls late at night give one the eerie feeling that a panther is on the prowl and near. Hill cows come grazing as there are no fences and no plans to erect any on the horizon. All are welcome, including wild elephants!

In fact, demonstrating to the world that it is possible to run an establishment, which blends so seamlessly and harmlessly with its surroundings is the raison d’être of WBR. Nearby, a confluence of two streams quenches a parched riverbed. Nature reveals itself in myriad forms—a rock with a human face, an alligator-shaped dead tree trunk, a stone-shaped birdie, new life emerging from between rocks, the bright red-black seeds of ratti (crab’s eye); and the delicate spiral of a fern, the filigree of a tree’s canopy.

Succulent wild mangoes bursting with nectar transported us to our childhoods, when fruit juice meant juice derived from real fruits, as opposed to what TV ads would have us believe nowadays about packaged products.

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A confluence of two streams quenches the parched riverbed near the retreat. Photo by Dr Supriya Mahajan Sardana

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The retreat’s natural, yet surreal rockpool contains cool healing waters of a mountain spring

VOLUNTEERING AT THE RETREAT

Wild Brook is also a place for shared experiential learning. Help with the organic garden, kitchen or the general upkeep, and work with and teach the locals. Leave the retreat with a sense of belonging and responsibility. It could be your home away from home in the hills!

The pristine water and air cleansed our hearts and souls. Wild Brook Retreat is a space where the three worlds of Heart, Head and Hands work in tandem

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Guests also have the option of volunteering to help with eco construction, teaching local village children and organic gardening

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6-min

‘DISSOLVE IN NATURE’: WBR has an apt catchphrase. Isn’t dissolution in the Universal Consciousness what we all seek? Nature or ‘prakruti’ is our window to Cosmic reunion. A glimpse of this dissolution was manifest as we soaked ourselves in WBR’s natural yet surreal rockpool filled with the cool healing waters of a mountain spring. Those blissful moments would wash away the heat and grime of any city-weary traveller.

The pristine water and air cleansed our hearts and souls as magically as wished in my now favourite poem. WBR is a space where the three worlds of Heart, Head and Hands work in tandem.

Louisa May Alcott would have been happy here just as we were.

CONTACT DETAILS 
Village Bukandi, Near Vindhya Vasini Temple (Via Chilla, Rajaji National Park, Rishikesh),
District Pauri, Uttarakhand
Email: wildbrook@gmail.com
Phone: +91 9314880887 / +91 9982907130 / +91 8107002924
Website: www.wildbrookretreat.com

 


The author is a dermatologist in Delhi NCR and is a proponent of natural living

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