We’re feeling a little sad that we didn’t get to see the Himachal State Museum, but it can’t be helped, really. The museum opens only at 10, and unless we leave Shimla but 10, we won’t be in Thanedhar in time for lunch—and we’re supposed to have lunch at the Orchard Retreat in Thanedhar. Never mind; we’ll see the museum the next time we come to Shimla.
The road to Thanedhar is about 80 km. The first 65 or so km, to the erstwhile ski resort town of Narkanda, is along National Highway 22, a fairly good, wide road (though currently being repaired in parts after recent landslides). The road goes through Kufri, also once an important ski resort; both Kufri and Narkanda have now been eclipsed by Auli, in neighbouring Uttaranchal. Kufri’s only about an hour or so from Shimla, and so is still very popular with tourists who come here for a daytrip. Not to ski, of course in this weather, but to gush over the stunning views and maybe go for a picnic.
All along the way, we see carloads of tourists stopping beside the road and taking photos. At one place, the local travel and tourism trade has done its bit to ensnare experience-hungry tourists. Someone’s selling snacks; a couple of people have set up telescopes beside the road and for a small amount, give you a spiel on the important sites you can see through the telescope in the valley below. One guy even has two depressed-looking yaks, duly saddled and fitted up, in tow.
The landscape is pretty; very pretty indeed, with forests of deodar marching right up the hillside. There are large bushes of wild roses, covered with fragile white blossoms, and bushes of what looks like gorse, with bright yellow flowers. Other wildflowers abound too—thistles, with their bright purple-magenta heads and prickly grey-green leaves; pink wild roses, wild strawberries, the white flowers profuse, the deep red berries hidden away beneath the leaves. There are other flowers too, brick red and magenta, mauve and bright yellow, white and pale blue. It’s stunning, and I end up begging Tarun to stop the car every now and then just so I can get out and photograph just one more wildflower. Soon enough, I’m vowing to myself that I’ll take pictures of every species I come across.
By the time we get to Matiana, the woods have dwindled; instead, we’ve begun to see orchards—mainly apple, but also cherry and plum and (I think) peach. The fruit, except for the cherries, is not yet anywhere close to mature, and this far away, sitting in a car on the highway, I can’t really distinguish one fruit for the other.
Just after Narkanda begins the 15 km stretch to Thanedhar. This is a state road, and proportionately narrow and secluded. The road surface, fortunately, is pretty good. But we end up not making very good time—mainly because we’re awestruck by the landscape. I’m oohing and aahing all the time, and Tarun, who doesn’t want to miss out on any of the beauty around, decides he must pull up now and then and gawp too. It’s lovely, really: mile upon mile of deep green mountainside, covered in a mixed forest of pine, deodar, spruce, and silver fir, with the occasional horse chestnut or rhododendron. It’s so exquisite that I’m tempted to take a photograph every time we come around a bend in the road.
We finally reach the Banjara Camps’ Orchard Retreat just before 2. We make our way down to the lovely little hotel, which is set amidst apple orchards. A leisurely lunch is followed by a brief nap, then tea on the lawn. After a relaxing stroll through the gardens, we move off to the library for a game of chess (Tarun wins, as usual; I’m no good at this) and some books. Later in the evening, we chat with the owner of the Orchard Retreat while sitting around a bonfire. Dinner is followed by a little bit of gazing out across the hills, watching the lights of Thanedhar and Kotgarh, a sprinkle of stars on black velvet. Pretty!