Waiting out the pandemic in the mountains is a bliss in many ways. A mountain walk is one such simple pleasure that awaits you. The rain and the sun play constant hide and seek in the hills. You take a walk whenever the sun appears to be winning for some time at least.
As you make your escape from the house, seeking solitude; you hear the door to the house open behind you. The two-house dogs Fia and Poe, decide to accompany you for your sunset walk. Your attempts to send them back in a loud voice shouting ‘go back’, become the trigger for a little charade. Poe pretends to go back, while you walk up the slope, but runs up behind you, the moment you turn your back. You give in accepting their cheerful company, even though you know that this may mean many more doggy interludes on the way. Dogs in the mountains ain’t ever on a leash, they tread the slopes with a sense of proprietary that comes naturally to the ‘mountain born’, allowing you to partake a bit of that in their company.
Further up the slope, the neighbour’s dog Bobby, jumps off the little high corner.
He gives Poe a little bit of football high shoulder greeting and joins your trotting duo.
So, you set off for a walk with three dogs, when you were looking for that bit of solitude! As you near the main road, you have a multitude of trail options, the left seems inviting. You set off downhill at a good pace, with the three dogs in tow, you feel like a respectable pack leader, with momentarily obsequious followers.
The valley to the right is a deep green pine forest, with white clouds wafting through the valley like leisurely cotton dreams. The dark mountains form a solid edgy backdrop, their sharp lines etched, showing up above the white clouds in patches. The city eye takes in this rejuvenating shot of green, brown, white and dark grey contrasting palette of colours. You continue your walk with your own coloured pack of Poe the adventure seeker, Fia the old follower and Bobby with his shiny black mane. Together you tread the gleaming rain-washed black road with a white line. As you stroll down the hill, you pick up pace. The dogs sniff the trail and mark territory, with little squirts by raising their leg in some sort of a sequence. The clouds now waft from the valley on to the road and form a beautiful web ,with light streaking through them; the road acquires a mysterious air with clouds shrouding the path ahead. The three dogs run ahead, and the walk becomes a single file and you get the feeling of being led by them through the mist.
The mystery spell is broken by the loud honking of a lorry behind; the dogs run ahead and spot a small herd of mountain goats. Poe the scout starts to chase the goats, down towards the green valley. Young Bobby chases the other half up towards the mountain, the goats cleverly perch themselves on the narrow rock ledge there. Bobby barks up at them and tries to climb up the mountain himself. Fia looks at their antics with wisdom of an old dog, who knows the predestined outcome of such a chase. The lorry driver slows down to give the dogs, goats and you a miss and shouts out something inaudible in the commotion. The lorry speeds off again and Bobby and Poe give up the chase, realizing they are little match for the nimble footed mountain goats.
As you walk further and approach a beautiful stone laid pahadi home, their dogs run up to guard their territory. There is a fierce exchange of barks until their owner shouts at them in Kumaoni. You continue further, the sky has started to turn a deep orange, the sun has set and left behind shades of pink in the sky. You turn around and start walking up the slope, the dogs run ahead now impatient to get home. The amber sky with the green valley below and the white clouds reconvene to form a new pattern every few minutes. You take out your mobile camera and try to capture that moment, while you know in your heart the picture will never do this natural spectacle any justice. As you walk around the bend, you see two men seated on a motorcycle, with the engine switched off, rolling the bike down the slope enjoying the free roll of the motion. They are carrying a goat on their bike and some grass, while talking to each other in a loud tone and you catch snatches of a conversation between two friends so much at ease. It makes you wish you had such a friend too.
Fia, Poe and Bobby run ahead picking up scents and sending the birds around in a flurry, twilight has fallen, the crickets start singing in a chorus. The mountains now appear black and friendly as lights come on in mountain homes on the hill side. The mountain appears domesticated, the lights give it eyes in the center and the lower lights outline its shoulders. You near the end of your walk, your own home lights appear to beckon you home, inviting you to go inside and greet your fellow co-workers at the quiet place.
(Deepika Bhatia wrote this as a guest at the Quiet Place, a workation destination in Uttarakhand. )
Working from Mountains at a Workation in, say, Uttarakhand? It brings to mind fantastic views, cool weather and snow-capped peaks – your work turns into pure joy. But if you’re working remotely, such beauty can be fragile. All it takes is a bad wi-fi connection or a power failure, and your dream Uttarakhand Workation can turn into a disaster.
As a Himalayan Migrant for 6+ years (we moved to Satkhol Village near Mukteshwar in March 2015, waaay before the current fad), I have spent much time working remotely.
Initially, I worked as a consultant with deadlines and teams to manage. Then I worked as an entrepreneur setting up my own boutique training business powered mainly by the internet. I started this blog and won a writing award. Since Covid arrived, I have also been conducting workshops and training programs over zoom.
My wife, a clinical psychologist, does all her counselling sessions over skype and zoom. The internet has enabled our employment while living in the mountains for over six years.
Oh, and I think Himachal is overhyped, while Uttarakhand – especially Kumaun (Nainital and north of it) – is a hidden gem. So, I am assuming your workation is in Uttarakhand. I’ll keep repeating that. Please don’t let it bug you 😊.
My wife and I now also run our own Uttarakhand workation homestay in the Kumaon Himalayas. It is called the Quiet Place. I’ve travelled the Himalayas extensively, and we chose Kumaon as our home because it is as easily accessible and has better views and greenery right from the foothills. Moreover, a Shatabdi train from Delhi brings you within 70 km of our place.
We’ve had much experience “workationing” – both as remote workers ourselves, and with our guests. We wanted to share what we’ve learnt.
Asking these eleven questions before you put your money down may save you some serious heartburn. And help you keep your job.
Connectivity : Wi-Fi + phone
The first and foremost element of your Uttarakhand workation is connectivity. You can deal with everything, but not a patchy connection. For this, asking the host for a speed-test screen-shot is not a bad idea. If the host takes offence and says you have to trust them, ditch it. Like they say, “Trust is nice, control is better”.
You would much rather be 100% certain of what you’ll get. For example, we have a 50 MBPS Fibre-optic line coming into our place, but we still promise only 95% uptime. One zoom call with 49 participants takes upto 4 MBPS, so in theory we can host 12 Zoom calls in parallel. In theory. But we don’t promise 100% uptime because we are in the mountains. Stuff goes wrong. Trees fall and pull down cables. Technical faults happen. And repairing these can take time.
What do you do in such instances? Ensure there is backup. For example, on most of our property, Jio provides data good enough for zoom calls. So, if your work is mission critical (i.e., you have to be online at specific times otherwise your company loses millions of dollars, and you lose your job) don’t come. Stay in the city where the connectivity is better. At least, don’t come to our place. We can only promise so much.
However, if your work is doable with a decent connection + a backup, by all means make it here. We had the VP – HR of a major bank stay with us for 10 weeks while she worked full time and she survived.
Electricity & Power Backup
Okay, so you found a place with great connectivity, but what is the power situation? Does the power fail often? That not only means your connection itself may fail, but also that you can only work as long as your device battery lasts. If your laptop / dongle / phone battery is low, then the work time remaining maybe just minutes.
The longest power outages we’ve seen are 3 days, but that was once in the past six years. One-day outages, however, are common. In that scenario, the devices may go out, and it may become impossible to work. I used to ration the battery on my laptop to be able to check email once a day.
That is a grim, worst case scenario. And this is why we got a solar inverter. A regular inverter lasts 3-4 hours and needs power supply to get recharged. A solar inverter can get recharged from the sun, so that at least devices and modems continue to work during daylight hours. Of course, you need good sunlight, but that is mostly not a problem.
If your Uttarakhand Workation host has a generator, that beats a solar inverter. We don’t have a generator yet, but we’re considering getting one. If the generator can run even 2-3 times a day, that will be enough to ensure your devices can be juiced up and work well.
Cost of your Uttarakhand Workation
Cost varies, obviously. You can get a very basic room, some with access to a common kitchen/attached kitchenette, for as low as 15k a month. The food cost would be extra but cheap. Such a place may have limited/no connectivity, but can definitely have it’s own charm. If you’re living with village folk – and if they are nice (mostly true, especially in Kumaon) – there is much to learn from them, and the simplicity of their life can be an inspiration. However, finding such places can be a challenge as they tend to be obscure and the hosts are not very tech savvy.
At the other end, the super-rich can afford to stay at “Ananda in the Himalayas” for a month and not flinch. But for the happy medium, keeping a budget of between 50k to a lakh for a month is realistic. When you consider a workation, remember to read the fine-print because you don’t want the taxes or the food cost to be a rude shock at the end of your stay.
I recommend that you try not to skimp, and get a place which is responsive and has help at hand. Cutting corners and then getting stuck or letting your work suffer would be a bad idea. You would much rather be in a place where you enjoy your stay and your work. Good reviews should help you pick a good place.
Distance & Access of your Himalayan home-office
Number four after connectivity, power and cost is the question of Distance and access. Finding a place which you can easily travel to and from can be a factor in many professions. If you can get called back to your office at short notice, then you should look at co-working spaces close by. If you will have 2-3 days notice for your travel, then you can choose something further afield.
Access is another issue. Some places are bang on the road while others maybe a 5-10 minute walk down or up from the nearest roadhead.
At our place, for example, one has to walk downhill for about 150 yards on a mountain path. The rooms are also spread out, and some are away from the dining lounge and so there is some walking around involved. The recommended footwear is sneakers, not high heels. That may not work for everyone.
In terms of travel, from Delhi we’re easy to reach. If you’re coming in from Bombay or Bangalore, then you may have to plan for upto 12 hours of travel (two flights + a four hour cab ride) or longer, if you take the train from Delhi. For how to reach us, click here.
The space and people at your Uttarakhand Workation
You didn’t travel all this way just to sit in a dark room and work, did you? Look for a place which has a lot of open sitouts (ideally with plug points). Hammocks would be a bonus. Also check if the wi-fi reaches everywhere.
Outdoor workplaces are a delight to have, especially when the weather is good. However, they shouldn’t have ten people crowding around and taking calls. You want silence and few people, not crowds and noise. You want a place which is low on people, and spread out. A busy “hotel style” place with rooms opening into a corridor isn’t fun. You might as well be in a city.
A place away from the road, which is spread out with lots of work-spaces (even if shared) and which has plug points and wi-fi in these common areas is ideal.
Having learnt from experience, we also request our guests to take calls from their rooms or from places where they won’t intrude. That way our guests don’t impose their decibels on each other. When you’re not on the phone, by all means hang out in the common areas.
So, when considering your workation, ask your potential host how big and / or crowded the space is, and if the rooms are spread out, or all crowded in one place.
Also, make sure the work from Mountains destination in not in the middle of a town or a market. That again will mean crowds, traffic and honking – exactly the things you’re trying to escape. You ideally want to be in a place away from too many people, but with easy access to daily amenities or a small market.
We had one guest who was really fond of Polo (the mint, not the game). Fortunately, our neighbourhood store (300 m walk from our place) is well stocked and caters to many urban migrants in the surrounding villages. So, she found not just Polo, but Mentos, Fuse, Bournville and much more.
Food at your Uttarakhand Workation
If you’re going to be living in your “Workation Uttarakhand” destination for weeks if not months, you don’t want to be eating restaurant style food 24 X 7. Some workations may come with a kitchen. If you’re fond of cooking – perfect. Just make sure getting provisions is easy.
If you would rather not have to deal with cooking, look for a place which offers food. Make sure you read the reviews of the food. If people talk about enough quality and variety that you can eat it everyday, you should be good.
Weather and Gear
If your Uttarakhand workation is at an altitude of less than 6000 ft above sea level, it could get warm. You will probably need fans in the afternoons between April and September. Check the weather with your host, and also the altitude of the specific place.
If your workation is low altitude, make sure they have fans / ACs. Alternatively, time your Uttarakhand Workation for a cooler time.
The Quiet place is at 6500 ft above sea level, and we don’t need fans. However, the converse is that it can get quite chilly in the winters. The sun shines bright here during daylight hours, and for the rest we have a lounge which is heated by a wood burning Bukhari (room heater). We also provide guests hot water bags in their beds at night. However, if you’re not used to cold weather, it can take some getting used to and you may want to avoid peak winter at our place.
Whenever and wherever you travel, check ahead about the weather and plan for contingencies (things getting wet, a shoe giving way). Also looking up local resources is not a bad idea. We tell everyone to look at the Mukteshwar climate map on wikipedia to get an idea of what to expect at our place. Mukteshwar is higher than our village and so is a couple of degrees colder, but it is still a good proxy, and gives viistors an idea of the range of temperature and rain to expect.
The company at your work from mountain destination
This is an often an ignored element of Work from Mountain destinations. It may sound very romantic to rent a place and be on your own every night. By the fourth night you’ll be talking to yourself.
In your ideal work from mountains destination – your dream Uttarakhand workation – you’ll want someone more than a caretaker to talk to. You want the option of having a conversation with someone like-minded. If the hosts are people with whom you can have a conversation, that is always nice. If not, then maybe having a few other fellow Himalayan co-workers would be nice.
The easiest solution could be or take the company along: travel with a friend.
A Work Desk
I know this maybe a little old world for some, but there is something to be said for a work desk, even if it is a small one. Sure, a dining table can be a substitute, but only if you’re the only one using it.
If it doesn’t matter, ignore this point. But if it does, then make sure there is a table and chair handy.
Covid Safety when working from mountain
Safety with respect to Covid cannot be taken for granted, and is not negotiable anymore. Both Uttarakhand and Himachal have seen a large number of cases and casualties. One cannot assume anyplace is safe. The basics of wearing masks, washing hands, and ensuring there are no crowds is critical to your own safety. If your Uttarakhand workation host insists on you getting tested before arrival, consider that a good sign.
Many such places don’t even have a hospital for miles around. To be safe – especially if you’re vulnerable and have co-morbidities – check the distance from the nearest decent healthcare centre.
The Aarohi healthcare centre is 5 km from our place. They can handle basic emergencies. They are professional (mostly ex-military) and provide good advice and basic medication. They have all of 3 beds, but don’t have ventilators (they have concentrators), and cannot test for Covid. For that the nearest places are Almora (30km) or Haldwani (70km). I, of course, would trust my life with the folks at Aarohi, as shared in this blog.
Personal Safety – especially for single women
The mountains are safe in general – even for single women (read this blog from 2016). However, it is better to be in a place which has a reputation for women having visited and stayed alone multiple times. Again, reviews should tell you. Also, it is important what kind of people share the co-working space with you. Having a lady host on the premises, or a history of many single female visitors is a good sign.
When evaluating a place for your Uttarakhand Workation based on reviews, remember they can be gamed. It is not very common, but we’ve seen in happen. So don’t just go by ratings – read the reviews in depth. You can usually tell fake reviews quite easily because they lack in detail or specifics, and tend to be repetitive.
With all these tips, we hope you can plan a good and successful work from mountains experience. If you would consider staying with us, please do call me at 97176-15666, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our website is at www.quietplace.in .