Ethical holiday: Village Ways, India
A new walking holiday in the Indian Himalayas is offering the chance to experience life in traditional mountain villages while exploring the foothills of the spectacular mountain range. From October, Village Ways is offering "village to village" walking holidays in the Kumaon region of the state of Uttaranchal, just south of the Tibetan border. You'll stay in renovated three-bedroom guesthouses, eat vegetarian food and be led by local guides through pine forests and mountain valleys beneath the towering 25,000ft Nanda Devi - known as "India's Everest".
Based in the terraced foothills of the Himalayas, the holidays are designed for people who prefer to look at mountains rather than climb them.
"It isn't trekking, it's walking ... a way of getting into the Himalayas without having to be supremely fit or rough it out" says Richard Hearn, co-founder of Village Ways and the former boss of specialist European walking company Inntravel. He says this kind of relaxed walking holiday in the Himalayas "will appeal to anyone who is happy going for long weekend walks in the Lake District".
The mountain villages are all at about 6,000ft - mere hillocks in Himalayan terms - and if you're happy swapping Kendal Mint Cake for spiced vegetable dahl, Hearn says it takes just a day to get used to the conditions. The circular walks are designed so that you can choose your itinerary based on your level of fitness - from a gentle ramble connecting as many as five mountain villages to longer hikes in the wooded Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary where there are leopards, barking deer and eagles.
The walks all start at the Khali Estate - a former colonial house, once visited by Ghandi and Nehru - and now a mountain hotel where you'll spend the first two nights acclimatising to the mountain air before walking over the hills to the villages. Walking groups are restricted to six people, and you're looked after by members of the village community who will carry your bags. The renovated stone guesthouses have traditional mud floors, wood stoves, and linen bed sheets and duvets. Village Ways has trained the villagers to run the enterprise and ensures they receive the income generated by the holidays.
A nine-night trip with Village Ways (villageways.com, 0091 5962 251048). costs from £597pp half-board, including rail transfer from Delhi on the Raniket Express, lunches or picnics on the walks, accommodation at village guesthouses plus two nights at the Khali Estate, but excluding international flights. Available October-June. Virgin Atlantic (virgin-atlantic.com:, 0870 3802007) flies Heathrow-Delhi from £446.10rtn inc tax. ·
From November, Colours of India (020-8343 3446, colours-of-india.co.uk) is also offering village-to-village walking tours in the Kumaon region where walkers will stay in homestays rather than guesthouses en route, as well as a night at the hilltop Kalmatia Sangam Himalayan Resort. A seven-night all-inclusive homestay holiday costs from £1,055pp, including flights and transfers.
Latest news: Villages Way launches new Indian Temples walking tour.