Deep in Uttarakhand's Pithoragarh district lies the picturesque village of Sarmoli, which was recently awarded the prestigious title of India's best tourism village. This idyllic hamlet, perched in the Munsiyari region, with the majestic Panchachuli peaks as its backdrop, has been a shining example of sustainable and eco-friendly tourism in a region that has seen its share of challenges.
In a landscape dotted with ghost villages, Sarmoli stands out as a thriving community, a testament to the resilience and determination of its residents. Here, the concept of green tourism has not only taken root but flourished. At the heart of this transformation is the village's unique homestay program. The Union Tourism Ministry recognised this remarkable achievement by awarding Sarmoli village with the honour of being India's best tourism village. Malika Virdi, the Sarpanch of Sarmoli Van Panchayat, was honoured with a gold medal and a citation during a ceremony at the Bharat Mandapam Auditorium in New Delhi.
Around 50 families in Sarmoli are directly involved in the homestay tourism initiative. Additionally, over 30 other families contribute to the village's tourism ecosystem, including taxi drivers, tourist guides, and local shopkeepers selling indigenous artefacts and agricultural produce. Since its inception in 2016, the homestay program in Sarmoli has welcomed approximately 700 tourists, fostering enriching cultural exchanges and unforgettable experiences. This tourism endeavour has connected travellers with the village's authentic charm and generated a substantial revenue of more than INR 50 lakh to date.
Malika Virdi, a mountaineer who moved to the village in 1992, started the homestay program in collaboration with the women of the Sarmoli Jayanti Van Panchayat. The Himalayan Ark Homestay programme started through their joint initiative in 2004. Pushpa Sumtiyal, who lives with her family in the village, runs a homestay via the Himalayan Ark programme and offers guests home-cooked meals with fresh produce from her farm.
Through these homestay programmes, travellers are given a total immersive Kumaoni experience wherein they are involved in farming, cooking, helping their hosts collect firewood and managing their cattle. Go on nature walks through the village and follow trails through the snowy woods while shepherding cattle along slender slopes. For nature lovers, there is a plethora of flora and fauna to study, and the guides usually name the trees you would pass by on walks.
If you are visiting Sarmoli, go for a relaxed time without filling your itinerary too much with plans.
Himal Kalasutra festival: This is a local festival that the villagers celebrate in the middle of May. This week-long affair attracts a lot of tourists, and there is a 20 km long marathon along an 8000 feet altitude that everyone takes part in.
Khaliya Top Trek: One of the most popular treks that you can go on from Sarmoli is the Khaliya Top Trek, which has the most stunning views. Located at an altitude of 3,500 metres above the sea and abounding in various flora and fauna, this trek is a refreshing outdoor adventure you can embark on.
Mesar Kund: Mesar Kund or Maheswari Kund is a stunning lake in Sarmoli. Perched at 2,450 metres, you have to trek for about 1.5 km to reach the top, and it takes around 45 minutes to an hour to finish the journey. You can have a picnic, explore the area, and make a day out of it.
If you're staying in one of the homestays in Sarmoli, you will for sure get a chance to savour the pahadi delicacies. Do not miss mandua ki roti (finger millet bread), timur ka saag (Himalayan herb mix) and bhang ki chutney (wild hemp dip). The delicious Kumaoni spread is something you will be feasting on while staying at a homestay in the village.
Sarmoli's pleasant weather makes it ideal for visiting throughout the year. Avoid the monsoon months of July and August, as there are usually chances of landslides and road blockages.
The village is located in Munsiyari, in the district of Pithoragarh and can be reached via road or air. Pantnagar Airport is the nearest, with regular flights to and from Delhi and other major cities. You can take a car or shared taxi from Haldwani, approximately 280 km from the village. There are also local buses plying the route, and the nearest railway station is Kathgodam.