A walk in the clouds: The perfect welcome from Mukteshwar mountains

Nature’s artistry inspires and awes in the mountains of Mukteshwar, the venue of a recent art residency

Published: 26th March 2023 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 24th March 2023 11:32 AM   |  A+A-

The Shivalik peaks shakes off its mist blanket and shows itself in ice-capped glory.

The Shivalik peaks shakes off its mist blanket and shows itself in ice-capped glory.

Express News Service

Roughly between 7 and 10 every morning, the trinity of holy Shivalik peaks shakes off its mist blanket and shows itself in ice-capped glory. From right to left, Nanda Devi, Nanda Kot and Trishul glint golden in the morning sun, looming over Kumaon as if to remind its residents that they are under the mountains’ watchful gaze. In Mukteshwar, the mountains are covered in forests of oak, the ground beneath the trees littered with perfectly formed acorns.

The pines rise like spindly towers, their bright green needles glistening against an impossibly blue sky. And between all the green are splotches of deep blood red. The rhododendron is in full bloom. The flowering trees appear in the higher reaches on the drive up from Kathgodam, as if welcoming visitors to springtime in Kumaon.

The buransh, as it is locally known, is the state tree of Uttarakhand, and the flower is prized. It blooms from February to April, and its petals are dried, crushed, bottled and brewed. Supermarket shelves are full of rhododendron squash and juice vendors dispense beverages freshly made from flowers.

It is the perfect welcome to guests at the jüSTa Mukteshwar Retreat & Spa. This year, 49 artists from around the world gathered here in the heart of the lower Himalayas last month for a roving art residency, Chitrashaala, an initiative of the jüSTa hotel brand that in its fifth edition had chose Mukteshwar as its destination.

Mithu Joardar at work; Artists in the mountain-facing studio

The residency aims to bring together both veteran and upcoming artists from different cultures. “The ratio is roughly two-thirds to one-third, in favour of established artists,” says art critic and festival curator Anirudh Chari, adding, “Apart from giving the artists a platform to interact with other cultures, the residency also gives upcoming artists access to more established names in the profession.”

The purpose of an art residency is multifold: to inspire, to form connections, and to provide an unhindered space to create. Mukteshwar, with all of nature’s bounty in its fold, ticks all the boxes.
Village settlements are spread across terrace farms, where fruit trees are the crop of choice. There is walnut and apricot, not yet in season, and plum trees awash in delicate white blossoms. Tiny bulbs of the wild kafal berry are just beginning to appear, and citrus trees hang heavy with malta oranges and glorious lemons.

On long mountain walks, there are many fascinating sights—laughing thrushes in the trees and swallows flying in tight circles in the sky, a yellow-crowned woodpecker hard at work and bulbuls making 
a ruckus. At Chauli ki Jaali, a popular scenic lookout point, jagged-edged rocks poke out from a cliff-top over endless valleys carpeted in green. Far above, eagles soar majestically against a brilliant blue sky. It is impossible not to feel comforted, rejuvenated and inspired.

For the artists, the mountains are both muse and main character, reflected either realistically or figuratively in the works they create. “There is no theme provided to the artists,” says Chari, who encourages them to create as they see fit.

For Debashish Dutta, a returning participant from Baroda, the setting was a boon. “We took off every morning to explore the nearby streams and forests,” he says. It inspired him to come up with 
a stunning landscape in shades of purple and green.

Early in the mornings, artists would return from walks with hands full of pinecones and wildflowers in their hair—gifts from the mountains that eventually translated into strokes on canvas. It was fascinating to see varied approaches and uniquely personal styles play out on canvas. Artist Mithu Joardar from Mumbai retained the constant theme of her work—‘hair’—and tied it in to the mountains to create 
a haunting piece on canvas.

The finished works produced at the Chitrashaala are varied and inspiring, showcasing the mountains of course, but also stories of nature, people, and the divine splashed across canvases. These works will be displayed at jüSTa properties across India, so guests can share space with art and nature.

In off-the-grid locales like this, slow, deliberate living is the real luxury. Mukteshwar is a truly rejuvenating destination where one can drink flowers and savour the sun on the face. And even on the coldest night, it’s worth stepping outdoors to marvel at a glorious full moon through a powerful telescope, taking in every contour and crater on the surface of this glittering silver orb.

India Matters


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