When I woke up in the morning, I wondered why I was covered by a thick blanket! Why should I wear a blanket in the scorching summer heat of Delhi? And then it dawned upon me that I was not in Delhi, but in Ranikhet. I walked outside. The soft morning sunlight fell on my face and the soft breeze touched affectionately. Or so I felt.
That moment of serenity was short lived as I made my way through the morning chaos. We had to get ready by nine and finish our breakfast as quickly as possible and leave for the day.
We rushed through the morning to follow our schedule. While we waited for our breakfast to arrive, I took another good look around the terrace and saw the things that I had not been able to see the night before. They were rows and rows of potted plants kept on the terrace. A gardener was watering the plants. I clicked some photographs of the flowers and went back to the restaurant. There was a small vase with a few wild daisies kept on our table. I presumed that they had been plucked from the garden in front of our cottage.
We started for Chaubatia at the designated time, around 9 o’clock.
Chaubatia was a forest trek only for 2 kilometres. We hired a guide who could help us steer forward. Ramanand Sharma was a local. He had been serving as a guide for the last five years. He was very well-informed and knew about all the trees, plants, their usage. But more interesting was his anecdotes about the forest with every step we took forward.
He told us about wild cats in the forest. I think though, that was just a story he cooked up to keep his audience entertained. Sadaf aapi was very scared at the possibility of wild animals paying us a surprise visit. Even a slightly unusual noise made her look around in fear, lest there be a dramatic pounce from some unexpected corner.
You might be thinking, only 2 kilometres of trek? On the hills that is quite a lot. We didn’t have much trouble though. Once you have climbed Triund Hill, (McLeod Gunj, Himachal Pradesh) this trek would seem very easy. It was quite fun. We saw many different herbs, tall trees casting mysterious shadows and clicked some great photographs. The forest was littered with dry leaves making it difficult for us to walk. We were constantly slipping on them but the guide walked ahead steadily. Years of walking in this forest must have taught him how to restore balance.
Finally we reached our destination. It was an apple orchard, stretched over several acres but we were allowed to see only a part of it. There were also water lilies, walnut trees, almond trees and weeping willows. The weeping willow is my mother’s favorite. “John Keats used to sit under a weeping willow to write”, she reminisced, as she recited a little portion from “Ode to the nightingale“, her favourite poem from the romantic poet’s collections. The poem is said to have been composed in the garden of the Spaniards Inn, Hampstead, London. Keats’ friend, Charles Armitage Brown, though claimed that the poem was written under a plum tree in the garden of poets’ house at Wentworth Place, also in Hampstead.
The nature around must have played such a significant role in triggering the poetic expressions of a genius! Hearing my mother reading from John Keats, I made a mental note to read his works once I was back.
Sadaf Aapi was much interested in some shiny rocks we had found on our way. Our guide informed that those rocks were used in the manufacturing of eye-shadows. We collected many of them, hoping that some time, somehow, we will manage to prepare homemade eye-shadows! Sadaf Aapi, as I mentioned before, is my mother’s cousin. So technically she is my aunt. But she feels more like an elder sister I never had. A resident of Delhi and graduate from Delhi University, she is a very pretty and vivacious person and we had a great company in her.
Near the apple orchards was a small cafe, where we had some fresh juice made from rhododendron flowers. We were sitting outside on a bench. Few people came up and sat on the bench beside us. They were talking about how boring the apple orchards were, how there was nothing special to be seen there! A child was crying very loudly and his mother tried to shut him up by threatening to throw him off the mountain if he made further noise. We were quite horrified by the final statement, thinking how a mother could threaten her child like that. They were also drinking some soft drink and munching chips. I was just wondering why someone should go for a soft drink when there was a wonder waiting in those rhododendron juice. I requested my mother to buy two bottles of the juice to be carried back home. I still have a little bit of it now. Every time I drink it, I am once again transported back to the lovely apple orchards where I had taken the first sip of this ambrosial drink.
As we were observing a weeping willow, I saw a furry structure on one of the hanging branches. I poked it thinking it was a butterfly cocoon. It turned out to be a very large caterpillar. I was horrified. Mummy and Sadaf Aapi had a good laugh at me as I stood numb and scared. On the way back we saw a pine tree which actually had pine oil dripping out of it. Photographs were clicked, immediately.
After arriving back to the starting point we bought some mulberries and then headed for the Bhoot Bangla. The name was interesting enough for us to expect a hand-shake with ghosts! But it turned out that there was no haunted house anywhere.
It was only an incredible view from the place where the Bhoot Bangla used to stand once upon a time. I was quite disappointed. It would have made for a fun story if I had really visited a haunted house.
Our next destination was the army museum. Spoils of many wars won by the Kumauni regiment were displayed there. The guide accompanying us was an entertaining old fellow. He knew a lot about the wars fought by the Kumauni regiment, considering that he had also once been a part of the army. My favorite artefact in the museum was ‘The belt of Thousand stitches’ which was a belt worn by Japanese samurais while going off to war. It was supposed to protect the beholder from any attacks. The belt was displayed proudly as a spoil of war, inspiring that no power in the world could stop the Indian army from winning their battles.
We went to the Mall Road again and shopped for some things we might need for the next day. We were warned that the next day was going to be a long one.
Photo Credit : Insha Faridoon