I thought I was yet to see a more picturesque landscape than the fruit season in Himachal Pradesh’s remote Kinnaur Valley. But a week-long stay in a mud hut within a fruit farm in Renh village, at the edge of the Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP), changed everything. The lush environs recreated the heady beauty of nature’s bounty at a more accessible distance from Delhi, especially during the rainy months, and the homey warmth of my Himachali hosts, along with meadow picnics and treks through sacred forests, made it a charming stay.
A shady orchard bower frames the backyard of this remote stay. Photo by: Paloma Dutta up an abruptly climbing kachcha road from Sainj town, a motorable stretch of eight kilometres, which opens up to a valley with rolling farmlands, ensconced by mountains. The last few hundred metres to the village had to be undertaken by foot. The lodging, known as Highgarden Hut, boasted absolute solitude placed inside the bower of a dense orchard; the bridle path leading to the hut from the host family’s house trailed under the weighty canopy of apples of the Golden and Royal variety, as well as some pear trees.
The hosts, Radha and Yograj, are hard-working farmers who live by the season and naturally follow a farm-to-table existence, only buying rice from the grocer in town. I serendipitously reached during their tomato and apple harvesting days, in mid-August, 2021, and helped pluck tomatoes in the slushy fields watched over by towering terrain. The apple-picking required more discretion and nimble-footedness while climbing trees, in which I could not wholly partake. Soon it will be time for them to gather firewood and enough food for the family and cattle to hibernate through the snowy winter, a time that Radha utilises to weave pattu, a local drape, on her loom.
During my time there I participated in local celebrations, including the visits of deities in palanquins to the village, who seem to come alive and make predictions through a spiritual medium—a common tradition in the Kullu Valley. Most of the predictions and promises were related to protection from COVID-19, at the time. I also ate fresh produce from the farm, snacking on ripened gourds growing in the backyard garden and local berries, like the medicinal Indian barberry. Radha cooked simple but delicious traditional dishes such as babru and siddu.
Radha and Yograj’s two children and their friends often showed me around the village, surrounded by trekking trails complemented by the backdrop of the GHNP. One particularly exciting day out was a trek to the sacred mountain lake, Pundrik Rishi. My trekking companions included my host, Radha, taking the day off from farming and domestic duties, Prabha, her recently married sister-in-law dressed in newlywed finery, and a motley bunch of children ranging from ages six to 12. My trekking shoes looked silly next to their chappal-clad feet. On the way I was made privy to several local legends—shown foot and hoof marks on primeval rock structures believed to have belonged to devtas and their rides—and customs such as tearing fern fronds from the side of the trail to offer to shrines that we crossed on the route. We paid homage to one such place on a detour through the hallowed landscape of the alpine Sarahan meadows near the Pundrik Rishi Temple, containing scores of trishuls and a few ram heads. Later that day we rested in meadows with wild grazing horses, munching on our picnic snacks of apples and wild berries plucked on the way.
My week in and around Renh village will stick with me like the sweet smell of fruit and roses that engulfed the hamlet. Looking back, even the simplest of details from my time in the Renh’s rarefied air hold special meaning. I remember meeting a solitary chowkidarni, who sat atop a hill all day to watch over the village farms, looking out for human and winged offenders, always welcoming company to pass the time. Her wise eyes had a contemplative stare, as crisp and clear as the mountain air.
This feature appeared in the print edition of National Geographic Traveller India January-February 2022.
Radha and Yograj Rana’s contact number for Highgarden Hut, Sainj, 98169 44725.
Rent/night: 1,200 (approx.)
Paloma Dutta works as an editor in a publishing house for her bread, butter and bus ticket (more often than not to the mountains). Travel makes her believe in serendipity, essential kindness of the human heart and the power of Bollywood to build instant friendships anywhere in the world.