Visiting the Indian Himalayas in Raithal Village

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“Off the beaten path” may be a nonliteral term most of the time, but I think it hints at a real strategy for getting somewhere which feels as pristine and authentic as it looks. This post about traveling to the remote Indian village of Raithal in the Greater Himalayas scratches that “off-the-beaten-path” itch with an experience low on the luxury scale, but high on the adventure and immersion scales as a result.

Getting to Raithal Village

The house in the background of this photo is a 500 year old house that’s survived 3 earthquakes!

Raithal Village is truly remote. The closest “town” is a windy 25 minutes down the mountain with a few more shops than Raithal, but hardly much more. The closest city with an internationally compatible ATM, bus stop, grocery store, and shopping mall is Uttrakashi an hour and a half away, and the closest airport in Dehradun is ~7-8 hours away.

It’s not necessarily hard to get to Raithal Village, but it does take time. For the easiest option you can simply hire a private cab from Dehradun airport, costing somewhere in the range of $75-$90.

Or for the budget option, here’s what we did:

  • From Dehradun, go to Rishikesh first (a popular destination worth seeing anyway and a ~$12 cab ride from Dehradun airport).
  • Then catch a bus or shared cab from Rishikesh to Uttrakashi costing ~$7 per person. (Having tried both the bus and the shared cab, I prefer the shared cab which was just as cheap, and somehow magically faster (and far less terrifying.))
  • Then catch another cab from Uttrakashi up to Raithal Village (~$2 per person).
  • Once in the village, streets become cobble walkways so you have to hike the last 15 minutes or so up to where the Airbnbs are.

Staying in Raithal Village

View of our cottage at Raithal Retreat

We spent most of our Raithal Village visit in this charming little Cob-style Airbnb aptly named “Raithal Retreat”. It immediately became my new favorite Airbnb – the kind of place you can build your whole trip around.

The property is practically the northernmost in the village so you feel like you’ve got the mountain to yourself with the National Forest behind you and the village below. Right outside your front door are the snow-peaked mountains of the Greater Himalayas, mingling with the clouds with surreal enormity. After 10 nights, the view still felt unbelievable and I found myself understanding how these great forces of nature rise to spiritual significance in the East.

“Retreat” is the perfect word for this place. You can feel the layers of modern pretension peeling off of you as you tune your routines to the village around you. Even with impressively stable connectivity from my Airtel SIM card for work, I felt a mental re-set, drinking chai three times a day and hand-washing my clothing like the locals. Days full of simple things.

Eating in Raithal Village

Breakfast at Raithal Retreat

Raithal’s lack of tourism means there isn’t a real restaurant presence, but the self-sufficient, agricultural nature of the village also means that many folks are growing their own food, and there’s not much of a grocery store presence either. There are little corner-store style shops which have packaged snacks, bottled water, etc, but not much else.

Because of this, we mostly relied on our host Naveen for our meals and it also meant that our meals were almost entirely made from ingredients grown by Naveen’s family right down the hill. (As farm-to-table as it gets!)  Even the wheat for the chapati is grown on his family’s land down the hill, then separated form the chaff at his neighbors house before it’s taken back to his front porch to be dried and ground up for flour. Everyone in the village eats what they grow themselves, buying and selling from one another to make up for whatever their own gardens lack.

Watching the village provide for itself this way is part of the magic of this place.

Hiking in Raithal Village: Dayara Bugyal

Dayara Bugyal

There are lots of unofficial hikes you can go on simply striking out in any direction along little pathways created by the sheep and their shepherds. However, if you hike up into the National Forest too far, you’re basically on the Dayara Bugyal path – the most popular trek in the area which technically requires a permit and guide for visitors. The local shepherds have permission to live essentially nomadic lives on this land, camping in various spots as their sheep and goats graze. As you hike you’ll see them and other locals going about their work, carrying massive sacks of sticks or leaves bigger than their own bodies on their heads and shoulders – putting you to shame for your tiny hiking backpack.

“Dayara Bugyal” translates to “high altitude meadow” and that’s exactly what you’ll find at the end of this scenic trek, but somehow more epic and otherworldly…like something you’d see in a Star Wars movie.

(Make sure to coordinate with your guide or host I’d say at least 2 days before you hike since they have to file a permit for you for the specific day you intend to hike – this should be around $10-$20 per person, depending on your guide’s rates, which can vary quite a bit.)

Raithal Village Summary and Photos

Raithal Village is one of those destinations travelers dream of where you can witness a way of life totally authentic to itself, too remote to be inundated by a deluge of international tourists and the Starbucks knock-offs we leave in our wake. The culture feels both vulnerable and invincible at the same time. Locals talk of a highway coming soon, and a brand new hotel which I can hardly resent as a tourist, though I occasionally allow that paradox. For the moment though, it’s a living postcard of Himalayan life and a unique view of India.

We stayed 20 nights in Raithal and I could have easily stayed longer.

This is the view we enjoyed every evening outside of our cottage.
View from our cottage at Raithal Retreat
The rhododendrons bloom in March/April. And that’s the whole Raithal Village in view below.
These cows were our neighbors at Raithal Retreat.
This is what most of the “roads” throughout Raithal look like.
Wheat is grown all over the town – I think they rotate to potatoes after the wheat is done.
The locals store and dry the hay by draping it over the limbs of trees, keeping it off the ground.
Raithal’s temple is small but very ornate with all kinds of interesting wooden carvings.
Many locals use mules to haul things up and down the steep road. Baby goats approve.
The Dayara Bugyal trail has a cobble stone path most of the way up.
Halfway up the Dayara Bugyal trail there’s a tiny little camping area and chai spot made from sticks and logs.
This is the chai spot’s “storefront”.
The Dayara Bugyal meadow.
There’s a nearly 360 view of mountains from the Dayara Bugyal, but in the spring they do so many planned burnings in forest meadows that the air is almost too smoky to see the peaks. The meadow is beautiful in its own right though, so the hike is worth it with or without clear view.

Our Airbnb host Naveen has 15 years of experience in tourism, mostly from leading tours and treks all around India. If you prefer the idea of traveling India with a guide, feel free to comment on this post for more details about contacting him. He also has a few popular tours listed as Airbnb Experiences in the Airbnb profile I linked above.
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Ajay rana

Hi iam ajay rana and raithal is my village and
Its to wonderful blog about raithal and dayara bugyal.

Navin Atal

The chai spot is called Gui Bugyal, and the tea we had was prepared with a wild root, and it imparted a wonderful flavor to the tea. The cowsheds are also serving the purpose of protection against rain hail and thunderstorms.

DaveS

Great post. We see so much about the tried and true destinations, and there’s nothing wrong with those, but anyone should try to do something really different at least some of the time.

Varun

Raithal is so remote that I live in the Indian Himalayas and haven’t heard of it. Well done.

Anjali Swami

Hi Caroline! It’s a nice blog about Raithal. As you mentioned that you would like to know more of Indian Himalayas, I hope you must have read about Gartangali bridge in Hersil valley leading to Nelong Valley. I think you would like to explore Nelong valley in future travel to India and I would like to read more of your blogs. Thank you.

sometomorrow

Neat write up!
Had once been on a similar remote rental, I think the place was Kausani.Nainital & Ranikhet are fantastic spots to explore, if you do visit Kausani.
And if you’d like a complete change of scenery of the Himalayas, Leh-Ladakh is postcard material!

bluecat

Great post. Please…more of these!

So, my questions are “How did you ever find this village?” IOW, where did you read about it or hear about it” Then : “Did you commit to your length of stay ahead of time? If so, why that length?”

So the questions are less about the specific place and more about your travel style…

Bluecat

Very cool. I have to say that you guys got lucky, as it was a gamble that the spot was good.
Always Amazed to hear how others travel—I would’ve been bored after a few days. Good for you, though!

LarryInNYC

Always nice to see a travel article! What’s the elevation at Raithal and on the Trek up to the meadow? Did you camp enroute?

Amit

Fantastic post to remind us of the simpler things in life.

Seth

I love this! Amidst all the wonderful posts about points and miles, it’s great to have an occasional write-up about a unique place.