Well before I arrived at Atali Ganga, its owner, Vaibhav Kala, a true-blue Garhwali boy, sent me an email outlining a rigorous sanitisation plan and other measures in place to keep guests safe and corona-free. Also, there were detailed instructions on how to navigate the maze that is the Uttarakhand COVID E-Pass regime. Applying for the e-pass—currently essential for travel into the hill state—is no mean task. The e-mail said: “We will arrange a temperature check, and disinfecting of luggage upon arrival, and have sanitised toilets ready for use on arrival. Our common areas at the lobby, conference, café, poolside, evening sit-out, etc are planned to keep physical distancing in mind. Unless you are in each other’s bubble or know each other’s travel/ quarantine history, it’s best practice to maintain that. We have hand sanitising available at all common areas, these are hands free so please use them before opening doors.” And so on...
While it signalled the new normal, it was also reassuring. Vaibhav—who has also run Aquaterra Adventures since 1995, leading trekking and rafting holidays across India as well as some outstanding outbound trips—has approached the problem logically and figured out workable solutions. Right from the moment we drove into the property , we could see it wasn’t mere lip service. There was a non-touch thermal scanner in the lobby, as well as an automatic sanitiser dispenser. We were served welcome drinks in glasses that were UV-sanitised under our noses. Once we were adjudged asymptomatic, we went off to our rooms.
This was my first thought: Atali Ganga is built for social distancing. The accommodation is all in cottages, set at different levels and well apart.
The interiors are quietly stylish, and I enjoyed my nice sitout, from where I saw a barking deer steal up to the mango tree early in the morning. Under current rules, unless you have a COVID-19 negative test report (RT-PCR), Uttarakhand won’t allow you to head out of your hotel before a week. Not a problem at Atali Ganga, where there’s much to do and lots of elbow room. The property, named after the local village, was conceived as an activity-oriented space, and there’s a climbing wall as well as a large activity area towards the top complete with a giant swing. But it’s also great for unwinding and doing nothing at all. Workcations too (the Wi-Fi is great in the public areas and, if you ask nicely, they’ll lend you their dongle for the night). Currently, housekeeping is on request, and the sumptuous buffet meals in the restaurant are ladled out only by staff in gloves and face shields.
Some things, thankfully, the pandemic hasn’t changed. We are social creatures after all. In the evenings, there were engrossing conversations under the stars. And, to the tinkling of glasses, new friendships were forged.
There was a stunning view of the Ganga from the property and we gazed wistfully at the river. Wistfully enough for the village pradhan of Atali to allow us to go down to the river one morning, where we picnicked on the pristine white sands (of course, leaving them in the same state) and bravely stood in the water and shivered. Even the hike down to the river, through pristine forest and past a waterfall, was divine. And we tried our best to stay six feet apart. It was a lovely way to round off a long weekend after a long, long time.