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Unsung Heroes : Sunder

In June 2016 we took a trekking trip with an adventure outfit called Outdoers run and managed by an extraordinary young man – Sunder, who is from a small village called Gaunap in the Himalayas. Outdoers organizes wholesome, meaningful and experiential camping trips and family treks in offbeat locations in the Himalayas and forces our lazy city bodies to be outdoors and outdo ourselves ☺On this particular trek, we were a group of 7 kids Aged between 6-10 years) and 7 adults.Without a doubt the most beautiful part of our trek was our stay at Gaunap. A three km downhill trek takes you down to the little picturesque village of Gaunap. We were to stay at a quaint homestay - "Idyllic Haven" where we were greeted warmly by the owner Sunder and his family and given glasses of cool Rhododendron Juice - made from the flowers that grow wild in the surrounding forest. The village consists of 8 families - all related to each other and is not connected to the electricity grid. Which meant we relied on moonlight and our little wind up torches besides the candles and a couple of solar charged lamps in the dining area. There was ripe fruit on the apricot trees and the lovely smell of food being cooked on the wood fire - it was a piece of heaven....The food was like what I had never have tasted before - poppy seed chutney, local green soya bean curry, ragi rotis, tender jackfruit, fresh divine mint relish and the most amazing lapsi made from flour and rhododendron jelly, the invigoratingly fragrant lemon herbina tea - and the list goes on...Cooked on the traditional wood fire on the mud chulha by the family at the homestay, the food simply tasted extraordinary.Picking and popping in wild red and orange raspberries from the trees and then even some gorgeous mountain blueberries was an experience that the kids will surely never forget...drinking water straight out of a small stream flowing down over moss covered rocks, we forgot all about those pricey personal purifier bottles that we were carrying....If I had to chose one place to go back to - it would undoubtedly be Gaunap - truly a blissful retreat - away from the noise and pollution of the big city, protected by the beautiful pines and whispering winds....

Bucking the trend of rural youth fleeing to cities in search of greener pastures is this unsung hero, Sunder Singh Bora, belonging to a tiny Himalayan hamlet Gaunap, in the heart of Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary near Almora in Uttarakhand. This young man is not completely unknown to the outside world. His fame as a bird watching guide and naturalist has spread to all corners of the country and even abroad. He has immense knowledge of the flora and fauna of the region and knows the forest like the back of his hand. People who have heard about his skills call him from far-off places and engage his services as a nature guide.

Gaunap is but a tiny hamlet and all of 10 families live in it. Completely devoid of modern trappings (Gaunap is not even connected by road or the electricity grid and you would have to walk 3km downhill on a trekking trail from Binsar), this hidden gem sitting far away from the madding crowds has an abundance of natural beauty. Sunder grew up in this village, soaking in the sights and imbibing an understanding of nature in a way that city folks cannot fathom. He had never been to the plains and seen a black-topped road until he was 16! Like most rural youth he too went to the nearest big town for a college education and thereafter in search of a job to various big cities of India. It didn’t take him long to figure out that his heart belonged to his village. “I like to wake up to the chirping of birds and not to the blaring horns of vehicles” he says. He adds, “After visiting Delhi and other cities I have realized the true value of unpolluted air, the panoramic view of the mountains and the crystal clear water from our village spring that we had always taken for granted”.

To eke out a living, Sunder has set up a home-stay in his village. Aptly named Idyllic Haven, the home-stay is meant for city folks to experience a slice of the peaceful, uncomplicated life in a small village in the Himalayas. Visitors from India and abroad have commented that the visit to the village and the home-stay was an experience of a life-time. Sunder has also established an adventure outfit called Outdoers that organizes wholesome, meaningful and experiential camping trips and family treks in offbeat locations in the Himalayas (www.outdoers.in)

Talking to Sunder, one realizes that he is not devoid of ambition; only his ambitions are not the run of the mill ones. He wants to channel a part of the profits earned through his ventures to establish an NGO that sets up bio-gas systems and smokeless chulhas at subsidized rates. “Most women in our region suffer from poor eyesight by the time they enter their forties and this is due to the heavy smoke that emanates from traditional firewood stoves. They toil every day to gather firewood. This also degrades the forest.” he says. He is convinced that bio-gas and fuel-efficient chulhas are solutions to these problems. Sunder is also working on setting up an organic farming collective that will grow medicinal and aromatic plants and market them.

All of 27 years, Sunder is already a role-model to the youth in the region. They seek his advice on rural tourism projects and career options in rural areas. His brother who has been working in the software industry for a few years is returning to the village to join him in his venture.

Sunder can be reached at idyllic.haven@gmail.com

Sunder - Owner, Idyllic Haven Homestay, Gaunap and Manager,  Outdoers Treks

The Idyllic Haven Homestay at Gaunap Village

Kids Playing Cricket at the Homestay

Ripe Apricots under the tree at the homestay

Idyllic Haven Homestay, Gaunap

Local Food Idyllic Haven Homestay

Wild Red Mountain Berries Gaunap