Through tamed land

Our retreat from Kausani marked an end to the main part of our trip. The smoke from forest fires drove us down to the lakes. They are a beautiful part of Kumaon, but they are not the Himalayas. We were all sad to leave. We passed briefly through a mixed pine oak forestland. This patchwork of dense groves of white oak (Quercus leucotrichophora) and open grasslands stabilized by long-leaf chir pine (Pinus roxburghii) is the most ecodiverse part of this region. Under other circumstances, we could have had wonderful walks in such terrain, looking at birds and insects. The white flowers of kainth (Pyrus pashia, wild Himalayan pear) dotted the slopes. We drove past these forests quickly.

After this there is a part of Kumaon which gets little attention from visitors. It is a lush farmland. If you look at satellite photos, you see a patch of green slopes between hills which mark this region. But these high eyes do not show you what a pleasant land it is. The winter crop was a garden of green through the broad valleys.

Even here we could see fires in the pines on many of the slopes. Columns of smoke rose in the distance, and the air was saturated with it. Ironic that this trip, which we had thought of as a way of getting out into the clean air of the Himalayas, had exposed us to more smoke than we would have breathed at home. The N95 masks saved us during the day, but the strange light in our photos still remind me of the air that we passed through. The wheat had already begun to ripen in some of the fields. The lush green was dotted with gold. Trees were deliberately planted along berms.

Most houses were on slopes, with the fields down on the valley. But there were a few houses right by the road. They were typical plains houses: single story, a flat concrete slab for the roof, held up by concrete columns, steps leading up to the terrace on the roof. Many houses had a vegetable garden near it. We drove by too fast to see what vegetables they grew. We passed banana trees, and mango, exotic to Kumaon. There was no sign of buransh or kainth. This was not the Kumaon of Corbett.

In a couple of hours the road quickly climbed out of the valley. We were approaching Raniket. It was time for tea.