The Delhi-based tour guide showcases the cultural side of a historical place
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OT: Why did you set up base in Uttarkashi?
Anil Kuriyal: I grew up in Garhwal as my parents are from Uttarkashi. I love the outdoors and I always thought I’d come back to live in the hills when I retire. But a year out of college, after working for a while at a friend’s wildlife camp in Madhya Pradesh, I packed my bags and came home to start my retirement a little earlier than planned. That was in the year 2000.
OT: What led to Kuflon Basics?
Anil Kuriyal: Well, I was certain I didn’t want to live in the plains. There was also the small question of earning a livelihood. It took me a couple of years to find this estate, eleven kilometres outside the town of Uttarkashi. In those days, there was nothing here. I pitched a tent and lived on the land for a year with no telephone or electricity! I hosted my first guest in 2004, in a tent. The rooms only came along in 2005.
OT: Why did you decide to call it Kuflon Basics?
Anil Kuriyal: Kuflon is the name of our village. You can only get here on foot as the estate is hidden away in a dense patch of bamboo and rhododendron off the main road above the Assi Ganga river. As this was going to double as my home, the idea was not to create an elaborate lodge, but a place that ensured the basic needs were met — a clean room, wholesome food and good company. Of course, since we started, our list of ‘basic needs’ has grown considerably — it now includes electricity, cellphone coverage and an internet connection!
We’re at the edge of the forest with plenty of short hikes to do. Just ten minutes away is a natural pool where no one goes. Besides, we’re at the base of the Dodi Tal trek. This area is great for birding too. My favourite is the paradise flycatcher — we have just one visitor and I wait for it to arrive every March. Also, the Assi Ganga nearby is full of brown trout, so I host a lot of professional anglers. One requires a permit from the Uttarkashi Forest Department, issued strictly for catch and release. We also crimp the barbs on the hooks to ensure minimal damage to the fish. For beginners, there are two- to three-hour-long angling sessions.
OT: What were (and are) your challenges?
Anil Kuriyal: During the first phase of construction, the entire estate was flattened. Locals from villages nearby came to watch and offer suggestions about what I should do with the land. Some wanted me to paint the rocks and boulders, others said it was ideal for a village temple! Since we were in the middle of nowhere, it was also hard to get masons to work here full time. Also, I didn’t have an architect and designed as I went along — a wall here, a room there — which meant progress was slow. Finally, getting materials up was a challenge as there was no connecting road. It’s still a challenge, and one of the reasons we’re working towards self-sustainability — the kitchen garden is a step in that direction.
OT: What else keeps you busy?
Anil Kuriyal: Living away from civilisation makes one into something of a serial hobbyist. Initially, I had a telescope, which I wasn’t too happy with. I’m now replacing it with a spotting scope, which along with my old sky charts and SkyView app, should make for some great stargazing. Another pet interest is my weather station, a device I installed last year, which records temperature, rainfall and humidity. I download the data, meticulously enter it in my logbook and put it on display for my guests. I have accurate records for every single day since last May! I’ve also started a herb garden, alongside my fruit and vegetable patch. My biggest problem used to be the langurs, who regularly uprooted my broccoli and lettuce. I’m planning to protect my new kyaris with chicken mesh. Currently, I’m struggling with Uttarkashi’s heavy rainfall, which isn’t good for my oregano, basil and parsley.
OT: What next?
Anil Kuriyal: The Assi Ganga floods each monsoon and last year’s floods affected the fish stocks badly. The loss was compounded by local run-of-the-river hydro projects, which don’t return the stipulated water flow to the river. Along with some dedicated anglers, I plan to monitor the river flow, report to concerned departments and advise hydro engineers on better channel design; it will hopefully help rejuvenate the riverine habitat.
Anil Kuriyal, Proprietor, Kuflon Basics, Village Kuflon, Sangamchatti Road, Uttarkashi 9412004217, www.kuflonbasics.com
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