The quest for true tranquility

June 21 / 2018

If human race ever advances so much that we manufacture feelings, pack them up in pretty bottles and sell them, peace and tranquility would probably be bestsellers. But that’s just wishful thinking. In reality, our search for peace and tranquility has been historically documented. And much of this quest has lead us back into the lap of nature more often than not. And yet, ironically, we’ve never been shy of destroying nature in the name of development. Our cities and increasingly rural areas too, are being stripped off of their green cover at an alarming rate; of course, we realise this and are taking measures to reverse the years of damage we have unleashed on the planet. But to relax and rejuvenate, we often retreat to areas untouched by man, to bask in their bountiful glory, reconnect with the earth, the crisp air, and the sky.
This need has given rise to a variety of nature retreats and resorts all over the world. Especially in India, hill stations are not only a great way to escape the hustle and bustle of unorganised urban life, but also an ideal way to beat the harsh heat, pollution and stresses of daily life. The higher altitudes, thick natural cover, lush greens, clear skies, lesser people… everything contributes to a holistic experience, even if for a short while. But more often than not, the so-called nature resorts are not so natural. Often, you are enclosed in concrete boxes with views opening into other concrete boxes. In such scenarios, the search for tranquility often translates to urban luxuries in a semi-natural setting.
And this is where The Kumaon differs. It is a small hotel in Uttarakhand, about 1600m above sea level. Named after the region, the hotel is located in the Kasar Devi village near Almora and enjoys scenic views of the mountain range it overlooks. At first look, the site looks like any other, indistinct terraced agricultural land seen all over the region. The access to the site is sort of a steep track, off the main road, to be walked through a narrow village. The programme of The Kumaon includes 10 rooms, lounge and dining facilities, library, spa and services. The rooms are designed in pairs, one atop the other, and are scattered across the site. In doing so, the architects successfully reduces the footprint and the visual bulk of the buildings. The lower rooms are built out of stones that have been quarried from nearby, while the upper rooms are built in fly ash and clad in bamboo, imparting a sense of lightness to the buildings.
The highlight is perhaps the main building which is located at the highest point of the site. This building houses the lounge, library, toilet and admin facilities. The first floor is placed diagonally above it, finished in a cantilevered steel structure which houses the dining space. It is oriented to maximize views of the Nanda Devi, India’s second highest peak. The roof of this space becomes a terrace for outdoor dining and other activities.
The materials used here are local – bamboo, pinewood, copper, and stone accessories – most made on site by local craftsmen. Taking advantage of Almora’s rich tradition of weaving, all woolen fabric for bedding and furnishing is custom designed and produced locally. The landscape is left undisturbed as much as possible, and at times used for privacy – for instance, a row of planted bamboo trees are used to cover the view of the rooms beyond and obscure the mountain views heightening the sense of expectation.
Here, the design very thoughtfully lets go of the desire and expectation to stand out, create a structure that dominates the landscape it sits within. Instead, it treads carefully, ever so slightly so as to not disturb the beauty and perfection of nature that already exists all around it. There is a rustic charm, simple yet elegant. The local materials and accessories highlight this aspect of the design more. So, for a change, at The Kumaon, when you seek a nature retreat, you get a nature retreat. The design is extremely sensitive to the environment, careful to not disturb the delicate balance between rusticity and comfort.
The visual impact is minimal, and highlights its surroundings as opposed to being at the centre of the limelight. Upholding local traditions, materials, and culture, The Kumaon is a significant attempt to frame the stunning views that the site overlooks, while not restricting the inhabitants to the ‘indoors’ where they are cut off from the surroundings and the environment that they so desperately seek.