Published: November 4th 2006October 28th 2006
After a rather sleepless night, I caught the Sahoo bus to Chaminu and was met by the side of the road - luckily the bus conductor knew where I was going! One of the guides helped me carry my bags up to the Orchard Hut (1325m)- 30mins uphill before breakfast! I arrived flushed but wide awake and it was just as I had hoped, an elegant timber and mud house perched on the side of the mountain, with an open balcony, colourful garden, hammocks, swimming pool and amazing views looking over the village below and green Saal Valley - a perfect spot.
I was welcomed in the traditional pahadi style; a red dot was placed on my forehead, mountain cap, mouth freshener (a combination of coconut, cardomon seeds and various other unidentifiable substances… umm on reflection maybe that’s why I was so happy!) and a quick puja (prayer). Preparations began, I was poorly equipped having opted to bring moisturizer, toner and cleanser rather than a sleeping bag, but luckily I could borrow and one, and a jumper, beanie and hiking stick. We sat down to a hearty breakfast, which included paratha and local honey - heaven and
then set off. My guide, who carried the lion’s share, was Nitin’s ‘cousin’ - a fair-haired Indian called Suneel.
Our plan was to hike (11km) to the Himalayan Ridgemoor Cottage at Rulpuli (2225m); aka the trekking hut. We made it within the time, boy was I pleased I’d kept up the gym, although I am definitely more of a tortoise than a hare. We walked up through little villages, avoiding the mules, cows and goats, past terraced farmland full of maize, coriander plants, mustard seeds and mutt (!) - never did find out what that was, past apple, plum and lemon orchards, the odd satellite dish, past little kids rushing out to say Namaste, or breaking into fits of giggles whilst I watched them doing PE - as if running up and down mountains wasn’t enough and finally through pine forests - a welcomed shade from the sun. It was a blue blue sky with high wispy clouds, the air was fresh and only the smelly cowpats tainted the air. Sounds really carry to and you could hear the chatter of local women before you saw them walking along with huge baskets on their backs, knitting away or shepherds
herding their goats.
Every now and then we stopped to admire the view, made even more colourful as the rooftops were covered in yellow or red maize drying out in the sun, vivid red and yellow birds fluttering around and decorated temples in the middle of no-where. A final push, a steep climb and we reached the top - the forest cleared revealing a gently rolling green meadow, with a Pun-jal mountain range as a backdrop - the peaks covered in snow; I felt like an Indian Heidi.
We unpacked our stuff - Suneels' was like a tardis and I set of to explore the surroundings, watching the little shepherd girl playing in the meadow, doing roly poly’s down the side until the sun set turning the sky a vibrant orange and pink. Then I heard the welcome call ‘Ms Lorna’ - my tomato soup was ready.
Without the cloud cover, the temperature soon dropped and we moved into the kitchen to sit by the wood fire and start cooking. No packet soup and rice on this trek - we had a feast and I learnt how to cook chipatis. After my week or so alone, it
was a nice change to have company and Suneels’ English was good enough to discuss the area, marriage, work, life, families, travel, shepherds, but not quite politics.
A perfect day finished off with hot chocolate, as I lay snuggled under a heap of blankets, sleeping bag and all my clothes gazing at the night sky - so many stars.
We set of to climb the Badi Jhamwar peak (3000m - 11km in all) along a muddy rocky path, clambering over roots and trees, the companionable silence broken by my sneezing and the odd gasp as I clung to the mountain side to avoid the steep drops. The 360 degrees view from the peak was fabulous and I spent a lovely afternoon on the meadow sunbathing, surrounded by the snowy Pun-jal and Dhauradhar mountain ranges.
All to soon it was time to go and we made our way back down the mountain via an even steeper path, I ignored Suneels calls to run down, as I felt sure I would end up on my derrière. As we stopped off at a traditional shepherd's hut and I stood amongst the goats with their funny slanty eyes
I recalled telling the nurse as I had my innoculations that I was not planning to be around livestock in the middle of no-where! The huts are really well organized with an area inside for the animals, a kitchen and place for them to sleep, they are used by both the Muslim (gujgar) and Hindu (gaddi) nomadic shepherds as they migrate down slope with the onset of winter. It’s a pity other parts of the world aren’t so good at sharing!
We also passed by a farmer’s house to watch a young girl working on a hand loom and I had a go, but it’s a lot harder than it looks - especially with instructions in Urdu/ Hindi.
As the sunset we started preparing supper - I had full charge of the chapattis, but then as we sat back to watch our food bubble away it suddenly dawned on me that Suneel was whispering ‘sweet Hindu nothings’ - call it intuition! so I pulled out my mobile and started showing him how it could play music - the gadget distraction technique - he soon cooled down as I talked him through my music collection (The Diamond has not
made it to Chamba!) and we were back to being friends and swapping cooking receipes.
We returned to Orchard Hut via a different route, sliding down the narrow mountain paths, hop skipping down the terraced fields - it’s ingenious alongside the edge of the terraces (some about 2m high), the farmers have inlaid steps - so civilized. Even still my legs were soon like jelly. I think three days of walking was staring to catch up on me and I was so pleased to see the Hut as we emerged from the bushes and I headed straight to the pool to cool my aching feet.
Later in the afternoon, I was joined by a Canadian couple who had just completed a five day trek and we spent a pleasant evening sharing our experiences - although they scared the life out of me with stories of tape worms. I decided to head straight to the chemist on my return to Delhi.
I really hadn't wanted to come down the mountain and rejoin the mayhem of India. I was enjoying the peace and quiet and time to myself, so I opten to say an
extra day at the Hut - perfect.
I spent the time relaxing in the hammock - we really should have more in the UK, reading and rummaging through the owners wife's jewellery collection - The headdresses and baloos (nose jewellery) were so ornate and intricately made - but I'm not sure my nose would be able to stand the weight! All the Indian women no matter where - up in the mountains, roadworkers, in the posh shops of Delhi are never without thier jewels. In fact I think often the poorer a lady looks the more jewellery she is wearing.
Unfortunately a rather noisy family arrived from Mumbai - very nice though, so I spent the evening looking through the owners photo collection and was surprised to see some UK celebrities - apparently the had used the hut for a channel 4 reality show "Celebrities detox' about two years ago - I remember flicking past it (the detox part wasn't pleasant) and thinking how much I would like to go to India. Funny how life works out.
There are more photos below