Monday Memories 8 – Chaubatia Gardens – A View From The Top

“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.


Travel Guide : Malana – A Village Lost In Time

I first went to the sleepy little hamlet of Malana at the age of thirteen. As part of Youth Hostels Association trekking programme we walked the 23km picturesque yet uneven and treacherous route from Jari to Malana (9,000ft). A landscape filled with intimidating gorges and steep rocky trails. From Malana we crossed over the 3600 meters beautiful Chanderkhani Pass to reach Nagar. It is the oldest village in Kullu district of Himachal Pradesh.

The virgin beauty of the place was mesmerizing and I felt like Alice in Wonderland. Malana’s beautiful inhabitants, it’s intricately carved and thatched colorful cluster of about 200 wooden houses, verdant fields dotted with bleating sheep and the legendary Malana Cream (the highest quality Hash in the world), all made it seem so romantic to my teenage mind.

The fabled Malana village is ethnically a tiny city-state in itself. Rocky glens, dense, rich and diverse Pine, Deodar and spruce, Golden Oak, and giant Kail forests, brooks and streams and vast acres of deep red Rhododendron and wild flowery bushes make this valley an enchanting place. The area is home to the brown bear and has many other species of wild animals.

The village gets its name from Malana River which originates from Malana Glacier in the Great Himalayan Range. Precipitous terrain and unique geographical location has helped the valley to keep its biodiversity. It is an isolated abode with no proper road system. The inhabitants of Malana do not interfere with the environment around them and make sure no one else does.

Its inhabitants claim to be the descendants of Alexander the Great and that’s why it is also known as “little Greece”. It is believed that Alexander’s army stopped here while retreating from North. The people here have distinct Roman features, fair skin, deep brown eyes, chiseled porcelain faces and normally wear rough cotton clothes.

“Telltale evidence of the people’s origins is found in the wooden carvings on the ancient temple walls. The carvings show soldiers wearing uniforms resembling those worn by Greek soldiers and people drinking wine from goblets. Ancient arms found in the village storehouse reveal straight-edged swords used by Greek soldiers. The traditional Indian swords are curved.”


(S.R. Saini, Treks and Passes of Himachal Himalaya; Progressive Publishers, 2005.)

Malana has unique worship rituals and autonomous self-sufficient administration of its own. The people of the vilage solve their disputes within their two houses, Lower House and Upper House. Visitors are not allowed to touch specific rocks and stones in the village as they are believed to be sacred and one has to pay a heavy penalty to the village head for breaking the rules. It is considered to be the oldest republic in the world. Their social structure is guided by a powerful deity “Jamblu Devta”. The Malana village council runs the entire administration through him.

They fiercely protect their unique cultural legacy and history and there is a strict code of conduct for the visitors. No one is allowed to venture anywhere apart from the demarcated pathways. Malanese shun any contact with the outsiders and if a local touches any tourist, he /she has to go through a purification system. They consider themselves superior to any other being and do not follow the Indian Constitution even though they are part of our country.

The Malanese people speak a very different dialect called “Kanashi” which seems to be a mixture of some Tibetan dialects and Sanskrit. It is a language only they understand. The place is completely lost in time and that’s one of the reasons it has been able to sustain their ancient lifestyle.

Hunting, burning or cutting of trees is prohibited and people earn their livelihood by cattle rearing and farming of rice and Hash. The village council holds a very important place in Malana’s social system. One can hardly find any traces of modernization here.

All the fables surrounding this mysterious village, its do’s and don’t and its controversial history, the drug mafia and the untouched pristine beauty makes Malana a place worth visiting.

The mossy forests of this area and the serene silent smoky existence of a unique tribe with strange customs and rituals, and a relaxed attitude towards life were so appealing that I wanted to renounce the world and settle there.

The only major activity is during the hash cultivation season. The beautiful alpine veil that covers the valley is a haven for trekkers and tourists seeking peace and tranquility or pure cosmic high of the soft smooth inhale of the Malana Cream which is known to be world’s second best Hash.

I have been twice to Malana and each time it has been an exhilarating experience. The lace has extreme climates due to its geographical locations so the best season to visit is summer (Early May – August). It is also the time for the summer festival and the best opportunity to savor the local culture.