Takeaway

A stitch in time

Shikha Tripathi | Updated on September 18, 2020 Published on September 17, 2020

One house, many stories: Set in the forests of Anglia, Thikana is an easy five-hour drive from Delhi NCR   -  SHIKHA TRIPATHI

A boutique homestay in the Doon foothills is ready to welcome the new normal and voluntourism

* Set in the lush reserve forest of Anglia, it’s hard to imagine this haven in the Himalayan foothills is a mere 8km from the thriving hub of Dehradun

* The story of Ankuri, a non-profit organisation, has its origins in a humble knitting programme from two decades ago

* When leisure tourism seems a faraway dream, Ankuri is ready to offer an alternative: Voluntourism

A staid wall of green meets the eye when I step onto my balcony; the bamboo screen dissolves seamlessly into the forest beyond. It’s early, though not by mountain standards. Far below, on the winding path, village women are on their way to work, having wrapped up morning duties at home. With spools of crimson reds and royal blues, they will knit jumpers, hats and mufflers, and a refreshing chapter in their lives.

Set in the lush reserve forest of Anglia, it’s hard to imagine this haven in the Himalayan foothills is a mere 8km from the thriving hub of Dehradun. The birdsong and quietude here belie its proximity to Uttarakhand’s capital, and it is easy to slip into a state of inertia. As much as I’d like to do nothing, there is somebody I am scheduled to meet. A short stroll down the bamboo, fir and foliage-lined path leads me to the old-world dining room of the boutique homestay I am in. A satiating breakfast of scrambled eggs, parathas and coffee later, I join the feisty owner and Ankuri founder Rachna Dushyant Singh for a walk down to her centre.

Come together: Local women, under the guidance of Rachna Dushyant Singh (centre), run a community knitting programme   -  IMAGE COURTESY: ANKURI

 

The story of Ankuri, a non-profit organisation, has its origins in a humble knitting programme from two decades ago. The idea behind the programme was the empowerment of the women who lived around Singh’s ancestral land — a place that she now calls Thikana (‘address’ in Hindi). From the budding stages of a village programme, Singh and her team of volunteers gave Ankuri the shape of a registered outfit in 2004. The very next year saw Ankuri at the Dastkar, the annual crafts fair and exhibition in Delhi. Fabindia, the leading chain for ethnic clothes, accessories and furnishings, became its first client.

It was a turning point in the lives of women who’d had little interaction with the world outside theirs. Quality control, managing timelines, order delivery and other attributes of a professional work environment are now part of their routine. And the bursaries that followed have helped them replace firewood hearths with cooking gas connections, enrol their daughters in school and also visit their maternal homes with their own money. The literacy centre in the village, also set up by Ankuri, is not around any longer, but the women remained focused on work and livelihood. And now, when leisure tourism seems a faraway dream, Ankuri is ready to offer an alternative: Voluntourism.

One of Singh’s key reasons for opening up her ancestral home to tourists is to encourage exposure to the growing concept of volunteer travel — especially women who can exchange experiences with other working women, albeit from different worlds. While she earlier ran it as a homestay that was limited primarily to exchange students and some volunteers, the new reality of Covid-19 persuaded a rethink. Singh is now ready to welcome people keen on longer stays, allowing them to unwind in the Doon foothills and also volunteer at Ankuri — all from the safety and comfort of the working unit on the property premises.

Singh and I wander around the unit where young Indian designers are supervising the work of local women, who greet us with confident hellos. Singh’s bold nose pin and her calm and authoritative voice stand out as I watch her interact with the team. It’s quite obvious why this former teacher of linguistics and travel industry professional has also excelled in the role of a feminist torchbearer. When I compliment her on her work, Singh replies with a smile: “If someone says they are good at working with people, it means nothing if that commitment is limited to only commanding... and not working as a team.”

I walk back with Singh up a path that meanders across the five-odd acres of the estate, which overlooks the forest and the valley below. I hear her talk about restarting the literacy centre, sprucing up the garden, adding more to the artefact-dotted common spaces; one can tell she is brimming with ideas and energy.

As much as I try to focus, it’s that time of the day when words sink to the bottom and the desire to quietly watch a mountain evening go by, rises to the surface. I retire to my room, where I can’t get enough of the stillness that filters in through glass windows and spills onto the vintage four-poster bed. Probably, this affinity is because it’s my first getaway after five long months in lockdown. But, in equal parts, it’s also because somewhere it has planted a seed of new thought that befits our altered lives.

Shikha Tripathi is a writer based in Uttarakhand

In a bubble
  • The Tree of Life Dehradun Foothills opens to guests on September 23, 2020; (www.treeofliferesorts.com; starting ₹5,500 plus taxes for double occupancy with breakfast).
  • Longer voluntourism and workation stay offers are also available.
  • Anglia is a five-hour drive from Delhi NCR.

Follow us on Telegram, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Linkedin. You can also download our Android App or IOS App.

Published on September 17, 2020
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor