Once upon a time, this whole valley was covered with rhododendron forests that bloom red in March and majestic silver oaks. It was the refuge of saints, poets, and eccentrics. Swami Vivekandana lived and meditated there for several months; DH Lawrence spent two summers there; Rabindranath Tagore, Uday Shankar, dancer ZohraSehgal and sitarist Ravi Shankar also lived here in the 1930s and 1940s. Later,in the 1950s and early 1960s, this remarkable and remote place became a haven for beat poets such as Allen Ginsberg and future hippie guru Timothy Leary. The 1970s saw many celebrity visitors – including Cat Stevens, Bob Dylan and George Harrison.

But in the late seventies contractors from the UP plains, backed by greedy politicians, cut the entire forest to make plywood in their factories. The Govt replanted with pines, a useless tree, which does not allow anything to grow below and that drains the water tables. The idea was to sap the resin, which they do not even do today, as synthetic resin is cheaper and more resilient. Villagers, who had enough dead wood to pick-up, when the rhododendron forests were there, started illegally cutting the pines to cook and heat their houses (they still do today), landslides happened (big one last year) and there is a water shortage today.

Yet, like in Asterix, one small mountain remained untouched, preserved by the daughter of a wonderful Indo-Belgium couple who settled on top of the mountain in the 60’s. Today it’s the last real rhododendron and oak forest left in the entire district. There still roams the spirit of Lord Shiva

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