By the end of this day, I realise I’d been labouring under a massive delusion all this while. Ever since I first read about Thanedhar, I’ve imagined a place that’s primarily apple country. I’ve thought of this as mile upon mile of terraced land covered with orchards. The truth, I’m glad to say, is quite different. True, there are loads of apple orchards here—acres and acres of them, many covered with anti-hail netting right now, looking like mosquito nets stretched over the trees. But the woods, deep and dense and beautiful, are there too. They tower up into the sky, a hundred shades of green, the forest floor carpeted with a hundred different species of wildflowers, ferns and berries.
We begin our rendezvous with the woods around Thanedhar with a drive up to Hatu Peak, at 3,400 mt. Hatu Peak is home to a Hindu temple dedicated to the `Goddess of Hatu’: it’s a small, rather pretty shrine with a slate-tiled sloping roof. But what really mesmerizes us is Hatu Peak itself: wildflowers grow in a carpet of white, yellow and mauve all down the side of the mountain, down to where the trees grow. Awesome!
By the time we leave Hatu Peak, the clouds and mist are rolling in, obscuring everything.
We make our way down to the Narkanda-Thanedhar state highway, then continue towards Thanedhar. About 6 km further down the road, a branch road rises steeply to the right towards Tani Jubbal. We follow the road, and a few minutes later, we’re at the lake—or pond, whatever. It’s quite a disappointment (there’s nothing even remotely scenic about it), but we wander about a bit, photograph some wildflowers and admire the temple before getting into the car and driving off back to the Orchard Retreat.
During lunch, Prakash Thakur asks us what we intend to do after lunch. We’ve not really thought about it, we say—maybe a walk? At perhaps 3.30 or so. He nods. "Sounds good."
At 3.30, it’s drizzling a bit. Just scattered drops, but we guess our walk’s probably gone down the drain. The rain stops soon enough, though, and around 4.30, after we’ve had our tea, the manager at Orchard Retreat, Sharmaji (his surname’s Sharma; the ji tagged on to the end is an honorific), comes along, all togged up in a green suit. Directed by him, Tarun drives us about 3 kilometres uphill into the Saroga Forest. Here, we park the car beside the road and follow Sharmaji into the forest for an hour-long walk through the woods. It’s fun, not too tiring, and Sharmaji’s insights into local flora, fauna, customs and traditions, are very interesting indeed. He also tells us we’re lucky the weather cleared up and the rain stopped. Two consecutive days, just before we arrived, Prakash Thakur guided two groups of visitors on treks, and it poured. The groups, and Prakash, got drenched, and Prakash’s getting wet two days in a row has given him a high fever.
We get back to Orchard Retreat, and have just settled down to a cup of coffee when it starts raining again. And how it rains: there’s thunder, lightning, sheets of water pouring down—the works. And soon enough, the electricity goes kaput too. We’re left, for the rest of the evening and night, to the mercy of candles.