the science and soul of an innocent world

The Search for Tranquility:
Retreat in the Himalayas

By Brook & Gaurav Bhagat

Mount Everest
Photo: Ryszard Pawłowski [GFDL or CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Are you disillusioned, disgruntled, disgusted or otherwise disappointed in this world? Or are you a fully awakened and enlightened Buddha with a lingering attachment for live music and banana lassis? Either way, listen closely, and book your plane ticket to the Himalayas, because you have just found directions to the light at the end of the tunnel-- or, to be exact, the Tranquility Retreat at the end of the blue dots.

The eight members of our traveling party ranged in age from 27 to 67, with my husband and I at the lower end; our mom (in-law) and our family friends were all over 50. The nature of our journey thus far in the Himalayas had been more like sightseeing than soul searching, and there was a bit of skepticism at first when we suggested a search for the Tranquility Retreat, mysteriously legendary among young travelers, for lunch. After telling them, however, that the owners of the guest house/restaurant are a French ex-patriot and her husband, an Indian farmer, the idea alone of the unusual combination and the dishes they might cook up together was enough to make their mouths water.

View of Almora, with soldiers of 3rd Gurkha Rifles, 1895

View of Almora, with soldiers of 3rd Gurkha Rifles, 1895

We had just visited Kesar Devi temple, about 10 kilometers away from the town of Almora, in the North Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. After an early morning breakfast, we had worked up an appetite on the short footpath that leads to the temple, and wandering around in the splendor of the mountains, taking in the views and snapping pictures.

We backtracked half a kilometer on the road leading up to Kesar Devi and found the homemade sign nailed slightly crookedly to a tree:


Follow the blue dots.


Kasar Devi temple

Photo courtesy of Tranquility Retreat

What could that mean? Then, sure enough, on the opposite side of the road, we spotted a palm-sized blue dot spray painted onto five rough stone stairs cut into the side of the mountain.

So we hiked up, over the hill, and then mostly down, into the steep valley. Although the Himalayan springtime (it was May) is cold at night and cool in the shade, the Indian sun still shone brightly, making us sweat as we followed the faint footpath. When it disappeared completely among the sun-cooked pine needles, we raised our heads and looked to the blue dots, painted sparingly on rocks and the bark of the tall, thin pine trees, for help; exactly where we began to feel lost, it seemed, there was a blue dot in sight to show us the way.

The older members of our party were more sensitive to the heat and their hunger than the serendipitous spray paint, saying, “How much farther?" “What time is it?" “Isn’t it too hot for this?" a few more “How much farther"’s and, finally, “We should go back."

My husband and I urged them on for a little further, just a little further, and then threw in the towel, unable to shepherd unwilling sheep. Our curiosity had been piqued, however, and we wanted to go on. We promised to give up if we lost the dots, and to meet them in an hour in any case, back at the roadside restaurants.

Tranquility Retreat

Photo courtesy of Tranquility Retreat

About 1/2 km further (1 km in all), nestled in the bottom of the valley, after a few sharp turns in the trail and another sign nailed to a tree, the blue dots fulfilled their prophecy: between two low buildings and two overflowing flower gardens laid a set of stone steps. We looked at each other, grinning with anticipation. This was it.

The first thing we noticed about the Tranquility Retreat, fittingly, was its silence: it was the middle of the afternoon, yet no one seemed to be around. We followed the steps past a single and then a double room, both of them empty and clean. They were not large, but simple and beautiful, like the gardens, the buildings, and the gentle energy surrounding us.

Then, around the corner, we found a screen door, and figured this must be the place. It swung open with a conspicuous squeak, and a young woman looked up from the stove at the far side of the room. She smiled, covered a pot, and walked slowly towards us. “So, we found it?"

“Yes, this is it," she laughed softly. “And I am Vindu. Do you want a room?" We explained that we only had time for lunch, and she explained that she was neither Armelle, the French woman, nor her Indian husband Kishan, but their sister, and handed us a menu.

Armelle and family

Photo courtesy of Tranquility Retreat

Tranquility offers homemade bread and other baked goods (like scones), homemade honey (they have their own apiary), and fresh cow milk daily, as well as vegetables plucked from their own organic garden. The menu consists of French, Continental, and Indian cuisine, all vegetarian. Prices are reasonable, ranging from Rs. 20 for fresh fruit lassis to meals like baked vegetables with tomato and herb soup for Rs. 50.

We looked slowly around the room as Vindu began preparing our food (and a saucer of milk for a small kitten). The walls and ceiling were decorated with maps and batik and tie-dye tapestries, giving it softness. A young woman with long blonde dreadlocks came in and joked with Vindu. She took a guitar from the corner of the room, seated herself on a cushion, and began to play.

Flyers were hung here and there, advertising various events and services from various people: biweekly Vipassana meditation group, other meditation classes, live music, yoga, Hindi language lessons, drum lessons, guitar lessons, and more. That a place so quiet, and so far away from everything but nature could be a central meeting place for so many people was amazing-- and another testament to the warmth and peace this place is named for.

After so much anticipation, it seemed as if time had stopped. It hadn’t, unfortunately, and my husband reminded me that we had to go soon. I felt rejuvenated, however, rather than disappointed as we finished our food and bid farewell to Vindu and the musician. We had discovered a real jewel of the Himalayas, and as we followed the blue dots back to reality, we began planning our vacation for next year, a vacation with a single destination: the Tranquility Retreat.

. . . . .

When You Go:

Round-trip air travel from SFO to New Delhi, India: US $1000+, as seen at US $1 = Rs. 55

Train from New Delhi to Kathgodam (nearest station to Almora {90 km}): Rs. 500-1000

Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam Ltd., Oak Park House, Mallital, Nainital

Phone No.: (05942) 236356, 236209, 235700
Fax No.: (05942) 236897


U.P. Roadways Bus to Almora, Uttaranchal: leaves at 6, 7, and 8a.m., Rs. 200

U.P. Roadways busses also connect from Almora to cities like Delhi and Dehra Dun. KMOU busses run to Nainital and Ranikhet.

Almora to Kesar Devi Temple and Tranquility Retreat roadside sign: by taxi or rented car, 18 km. (Taxis gather near the Hotel Shikkar at the town center).

Accommodation in Almora: Hotels

KMVN Tourist Bungalow, Rs. 150 for a dorm bed to Rs. 800 for a double and 1000 approximately for a quad.

A cottage in Tranquility Retreat

Photo courtesy of Tranquility Retreat

In Tranquility

Room and cottage rates: Daily and monthly rates are available. It is advisable to book a room one or even two months in advance if possible, especially in high season (May- July and November- February).

Phone +91-97585-12131 or email for reservations.

Related websites and travel agencies specializing in the Himalayas: Himalayan Treasures and travel phone: (USA) 1-800-223-1813

Exotic Tours (cultural tours):, phone: (Delhi) (11)2685-0823/8361

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