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Hi Everyone, I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Sheena Thakur, the founder of Blue Sheep Thirthan, a beautiful homestay in Thirthan Valley. Located in the Kullu district of Himachal Pradesh, Tirthan Valley derives its name from the Tirthan river. The pristine river originates from the icy cold glacial springs of Hanskund. Thirthan Valley is often considered to be Himachal’s best kept secret. Blue Sheep, Thirthan is a small and cozy homestay that offers incredible views of the mountains from all the rooms, activites like trekking or exploring the villages or just lazing in the pine forests that surround the property. Blue Sheep, Thirthan also provides nutritious home cooked meals.
When we first saw you on Instagram, your stories spoke about how you and Adi run the Blue Sheep,Thirthan together. Could you tell us a little more about you and Adi?
Sheena: So Adi and I met in our university where he was my junior in Masters course of Sociology in the Centre for Study of Social Systems, JNU. He is a half Spanish half Malayali born to a Spanish painter Gayatri Gamuz and poet Ananda Felix Skaria from Kerala. They live in a place called Tiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu with his younger brothers in their farm. He has lived and studied all over the world and now is the mastermind behind designing and running our business in The Blue Sheep, Thirthan.
You talk quite fondly about your grandparents and parents who grew up in Himachal and dedicate a lot of posts to them.
Sheena: I come from a family of shepherds and farmers from upper regions of Seraj of which Tirthan valley is also a small part. My village is called Thachadhar and my mother’s family is also from a village nearby called Teel. My father is an environmental activist and my mother a retired English school teacher. My grandfather on my father’s side was a shepherd and the Kaardaar of our village deity, Bhamasi. In our local religion which is a mixture of paganistic animism and ancestor worship, a Kaardar is a sort of manager of the deity. He used to travel far and wide in the meadows with his sheep and his children to help in the journey and we grew up hearing several stories from their journeys from him and our aunts. My grandmother was an exceptionally hard working farmer and since my grandfather was the only brother who had a wife, she worked the entire land by herself. Women are primarily the farmers in the mountains while men mostly engage in some heavy work once in a while, festivals related to the deity and drinking and gambling obviously. My mother’s father was a small farmer who also happened to be the Kardaar of his deity, Shangchul, and was very adamant to provide education to his ten children. While my father’s family mostly rely on farming, my mother’s family is highly educated due to my grandfather’s obsession with education.
You have a beautiful post about how grass is greener on the other side. Many people dream about living in the mountains? What are your learnings from living in the mountains and running Blue Sheep, Thirthan and what advice would you give to anyone reading this blog?
Sheena: Having grown up in a simple family in the Himalayas I can say for sure that life is not always as romantic and easy as is depicted in social media where everyone is certain that they want to move to the mountains and all their worries will be gone. It’s a daily struggle to survive if one is living here permanently, especially when you have a land to tend to and a farm, which is again what a lot of people think they want to have in the mountains. Our summers are spent working in the farm and harvesting and packing the fruits, monsoons are spent relentlessly fighting against the rain and the constantly fixing the breaking steps/terraces of the land else all the soil from your land will be lost to the lower steps or completely eroded and you’ll be living in a landslide situation! Autumns are spent gathering firewood and grass for the winter for the cattle; surviving a mountain winter is a task in itself when every morning you wake up the water is frozen in the pipes and electricity wires and poles keep breaking due to the snow!
Basically what I mean to say is that we all think life will be great if we this could happen or that could happen but life is hard everywhere. One should not look for peace somewhere else but in our own mind and your own life. I say this because i grew up here in these conditions and always dreamt of how amazing life must be in the city, back in those days instead of social media TV showed us the cool city life. The shiny shopping malls, film theaters, cars, fashion made us think that life will be amazing in the city but once we did leave for the city from our conservative, simple and boring villages and spent a few years we realised that life is the same everywhere, full of struggle and problems that we need to face instead of running away.
People living in the mountains are happy because they have accepted the problems that they face all year round, work hard to make their life better everyday and help others in return for help. This can be achieved anywhere in the world and there is no magic potion one can drink to achieve it but only work hard and being helpful to others can make our lives better.
Could you tell us about Blue Sheep, Thirthan, the family home that you converted into a homestay ?
Sheena: My mother retired from her job in 2018 and my father is an activist who doesn’t work for money hence they wanted to convert our house into a home-stay so that they could retire in peace. Halfway through the project they realised they couldn’t do it alone and asked for our help, after our initial reluctance we decided to help them finish it and run it until they could manage it on their own which could be anywhere from three to five years. This was a special project for all of us since it involved building on and renovating the house me and my younger brother Robin grew up in. My old room is now part of the cafe space and so is our library and our living room! each part of the house and the garden have been an important part of our lives and all the trees in our orchard have grown up with us and now provide us fruits all year round.
What made you decide to leave the city and go back to the mountains?
Sheena: I am an avid traveller and trekker myself and am absolutely in love with the mountains. My dream has always been to travel to all the mountains around the world and the fact that after years of travellig in Himachal I haven’t been able to see all the valleys yet, it will surely take a lifetime!
I believe in order to truly experience a place we have to get to know the culture and the locals of the region. Without that we end up being just another tourist with no connection and understanding of the place that leads to a mindless consumption of a geographical location. Instead of staying at a hotel one should try to opt for a homestay run by a local family, the smaller the better, so that along with getting the traditional experience you also contribute to the local economy. The experience that a Manipuri family home will provide you when you travel to Manipur cannot be replicated or exchanged for even the fanciest five star resort in the same place.
Apart from that I really believe that in today’s age of social media driven travel we are consuming travel as a product without trying to connect to anywhere or anyone. One should look for meaningful cultural experiences in such places and those can only be provided while staying with a local family. Travel creates a huge ecological footprint and we should try our best to reduce it as much as we can by trying to make a conscious choice by maybe not ordering four packets of Maggi which will produce so much plastic but to opt for a simple yet delicious traditional meal of Siddus.
How does someone get in touch with you to stay at Blue Sheep, Thirthan?
To visit us you can either book you stay in The Blue Sheep Tirthan through booking.com, AirBnb and Hostel World. You can also book your stay directly through me by messaging me on my instagram handle @thebluesheeptirthan for better deals. We have private rooms, family rooms as well as a six bed dormitory for backpackers. Our puppy Tandoori Momo, kitten Xena, Adi and I will be your host during your stay and will make you feel right at home with delicious home cooked meals and organic fruits from our orchard.