“The animals have the right of way”
A signboard greeted us as we drove towards the famous Chaubatia Orchards 10 Km. from the town of Ranikhet. The gentle drizzle, the breeze carrying the scent of sweet pine on its back, the call of Blue Whistling Thrush was not something new to us but each trip on this long and winding road brought a new sense of adventure.
While Kid 1 studied at Birla Memorial School in Majhkhali , we visited Ranikhet at least two to three times a year and always explored places nearby. Most of the time our stay was complimentary at the Army mess located away from the hustle bustle of the main town.
Chaubatia Orchards have around 200 variety of fruits and flowers trees , some of them exotic and rare. The place also had the Government Apple Garden and The Fruit Research Center. Surrounded by silver oak, rhododendron, cypress, cedar, and pine forests this is one of the most beautiful spot in that entire area. One can trek or cycle through the quiet road leading to the orchards in the midst a serene silence sometimes broken by a bird call. We have been to Chaubatia in almost all seasons except deep winter and each time the experience is more exhilarating than the earlier.
On a clear day a panoramic 300 km wide view of the snow-clad peaks of Nanda Devi, Nilkanth, Nandaghunti, and Trishul can be seen at the horizon. One can sit there watching the gorgeous mountains from dusk to dawn and not tire of the sight. Chaubatia once had more than 36 variety of apples but due to lack of funds and mismanagement most of them are extinct now. The other fruit trees include peaches, plums, and apricots. In September – October the place becomes a paradise for bird watchers. One can find the Himalayan bulbul, Oriental whiteye Brown fronted woodpecker, Long tailed minivet and some other of the same species, Himalayan woodpecker, Black headed jay, Blue whistling thrush, White throated kingfisher, variety of tits, Owlets, finches, Red headed vultures, wagtails, Barbets and many other species.
Spread over the area of 265 acres the orchards look majestic during these seasons. We would often carry our picnic basket and relax there, taking in the scintillating beauty of the place. During our visits we met a local guide who took us on a tour of the orchards explaining about diversity of flora and fauna there. I saw a tree whose leaves smelled of five different spices. It is amazing how they have grafted various plants. There were many herbs and medicinal plants that I saw for the first time.
On one occasion we took a two and a half hour trek to Bhalu Dam which was constructed by a British Viceroy some 200 years ago to source water for the town.. The route to the dam is precarious and one has to be extra careful during rains but once you reach the spot the majestic sight of the mighty Himalayas in all their virgin glory is mind-blowing. It was a trek worth doing though the path was slippery and not maintained at all. Maybe that’s the reason few tourists venture in that area and the pristine beauty is retained even now. It had rained all morning and just as we returned to Chaubatia the sun made and appearance and with that a spectacular rainbow stretched itself lazily across the valley . An unforgettable sight with a backdrop of mountains draped in mysterious shimmer of haze. Spellbound we sat on the bounders watching the stairway to heaven as it slowly dissolved in the mist that enveloped the valley below. The raindrops precariously hung on pine leaves , each one a prism of nature’s magnificence .
There are so many memories attached to Ranikhet and Chaubatia Gardens. The laughter of children , the sharing of silence between friends, the conversations over hot tea and bhajias, the digging into ripe luscious fruits and soaking in the gorgeous view around. Priceless.
There were times when we would take small trails into the pine forest and immerse ourselves in the serenity that city life lacks. There i a certain energy that seeps through you when you interact with nature at a close level and it is healing in more than one ways. Maybe this is what one calls escape into nothingness. Where you are one with creation and nothing else matters. The entire 2,116 mts of chubatia ridge which along with the Ranikhet ridge makes the quaint town of Ranikhet has a scenic charm that can draw you like a magnet.
Sometimes the bells of ancient 8th century AD Jhooladevi temple of Goddess Durga would echo in the quietness of cool evening filling the nearby forest with a musical melody. Local people believe that Ma Durga fulfills the wishes if one prays at this temple with a pios heart. Once the wishes are fulfilled devotees tie bells there. One can view hundreds of beautiful bells hanging there. They believe the temple acts as a protective shield from wild animals. I am not a religious person but the aesthetic beauty of this ancient temple is worth seeing. There is a little tea stall a little ahead of the temple and we would often sit there at the side of the road watching the day merge into the night and the changing colors of the sky.
I watched many a sunsets with my son here and I guess every one of them was as spectacular as the other. Those trips to Ranikhet were always filled with mixed emotions. A joy of meeting and a pain of parting with a hope that made all the difference to living each day.
I have not been there since Adi came back to Delhi but my heart is still wandering in those forests and beautiful hills with a carpet of mossy green over them.
Someday I wish to take that route again and venture ahead to Mukteshwar and some other places high up. I always regretted not taking my camera during those journeys but I guess some of the best images are those that are in our hearts. No camera can capture their beauty.