After 3 years, I’m finally back in Himachal! In addition to sourcing new products for aana jaana, I had a number of personal goals for this trip: catch up with old friends; remember how to speak Hindi semi-competently; eat as much pahadi cuisine as I can cram in my mouth; and do at least one trek.
So when I found out it was rhododendron season, I took the opportunity to work on all 4 of those goals. “Chalo Langha!” I suggested a trek up to a spot favored by locals for collecting the blossoms which are used to make a tangy chutney. It took a while to coordinate, between Holi festivities and people’s work schedules. But I finally laced up my hiking boots one morning and set off for Langha with my friend Arundathi.
To be clear: what was, for me, a “trek,” accomplished with much huffing and puffing, is for locals a fairly regular jaunt to collect basic supplies. Women go into the jungle almost daily to cut branches for firewood, collect fodder for livestock, and forage for vegetables and medicinal herbs. There’s also a temple at Langha, and people go up to visit with the baba who lives there. So when we stopped to say hi to some folks in a village along the way, they decided to grab some sacks and ropes and come along with us for the day.
As treks go, Langha is a pretty easy one. But I was still relieved when we reached the sign letting us know we had just 2 kilometers left to go. We’d been spying a few rhododendron trees here and there as we climbed, but it was really something when we reached our destination. I eventually gave up on trying to get a photo that would convey just how glorious this forest is during bloom. Here are a few anyway:
While we ate a picnic lunch and visited with the baba, thunder rumbled in the distance. I thought our priority would be to get off the mountainside before the weather turned, but nope: it was serious foraging time. Our local companions were determined to come home with a full sack of flowers. Sumna and Sapna went into high gear, climbing into trees to toss flowers down even as the rain turned to hail. Sumna found a patch of stinging nettles (another great chutney!) and filled up a reused shopping bag. Sapna scrounged some branches that were still dry enough to use as firewood, and bundled them onto Sumna’s back. Trekking downhill is a lot easier on the lungs than the uphill, so we chatted and laughed along the way. Sumna posed with her tote bag full of nettles and announced that she had gone shopping. “Yeh asli shopping hai! (This is real shopping!)” I concurred. Even the cow got a few leafy branches brought back as a snack. We made it back to Sumna and Sapna’s house, damp and tired, and warmed up in front of the fire before continuing on our way.
Thanks to Arundathi, Sumna, and Sapna for making this a terrific trek! As I write this, my time in Himachal is coming to a close. I’m so grateful to be here, reconnecting with old friends and making new ones. Let’s hope I can return in fewer than 3 years next time. But whenever it is, I’ll be ready to lace up my boots and set off to find whatever the forest has to offer.
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