On a cool January morning, my workstation is teleported to a beautiful valley in the Himalayas. There’s a gushing stream to the left, snow-powdered peaks in front, and bushes of wild blossoms beyond the windows to my right. This floral perfume blends with the smell of wet earth. After two years of being unable to take a break, this working vacation seems to be the answer to my prayers.
I am in a circular hut in Rakkar village, in Himachal Pradesh’s Kangra Valley. It has a mud floor, smooth slate-stone walls, and eight or nine bustling workstations, one of which I’m sitting at. This unique combination of traditional building materials and modern technology is the headquarters of Ghoomakad and Infinity Hackspace. It is a social venture that offers homestays and trekking services, as well as well-connected workspaces for professionals who wish to take their desk to the mountains. Ghoomakad arranges for visitors to stay in homes around the village. About 75 per cent of the proceeds from the homestays go back to the local host families.
The central hut is a community pivot where visitors can work, participate in group projects, or attend presentations. During the day, I witness a multitude of activities here: collaborations with NGOs working towards garbage segregation, a live webcast from Germany about computing, brainstorming sessions with locals about organic farming, and sustainable infrastructure. When I step out for a break, the awe-evoking Dhauladhar range with a fresh coat of snow reassures me that I am still in the midst of the Himalayas I love.
The farmers’ openness and progressive thinking leaves me impressed. The simple, practical solutions that Rakkar residents find to complex problems encourage me to think outside the box. The beautiful surroundings make me more efficient as well.
Mohinder Sharma, who co-founded Ghoomakad with Jubin Mehta and Ayush Ghai, is one of the people I meet during my two-day stay. He is seated on his veranda with a cup of pahadi chai, soaking in the winter sun. He tells me that Ghoomakad started with a desire to build homes with traditional and natural construction materials. “I wanted to offer travellers an authentic Himachali experience in a manner that is ecologically responsible and sensitive to the local community,” he says.
The better part of my stay is spent catching up on all the walking that I miss during my city existence. I walk from the village to the market, head to a jam session at a friend’s home, and cross the brooks to reach The Ballu, a 100-year-old house that has been converted into a heritage homestay.
I cross mountains to learn something new at the Andretta pottery school near Palampur and walk across winding paths to share home-brewed apricot wine with Brigadier Sandhu, a part-time storyteller and full-time host at Navek-La, a majestic country home on the outskirts of Dharamsala. I meander through fields of marigold to partake in lively conversations with Tibetan activist and poet Tenzin Tsundue. These are memories that the wanderer in me—the ghoomakad—will always treasure.
Appeared in the June 2014 issue as “Work, Travel, Wander”. Updated in November 2016.
Ghoomakad is located in Rakkar village in Sidhbari district, Kangra Valley, Himachal Pradesh, 8 km southeast of Dharamsala. It is 14 km/30 mins from the nearest airport at Kangra, and 60 km/1.5 hours from the nearest railway station at Pathankot (98822 26638; www.ghoomakad.com; ₹800 per night, including meals and Wi-Fi).