Himalaya Mountains range with red rhododendron flowers in foreground
Himalaya Mountains range with red rhododendron flowers in foregroundShutterstock

Blooming Escapes: The Hidden Himalayan Paradise Of Rhododendrons

Add some flower power to elevate your next excursion to the Himalayas. Chance upon white rhododendrons twinning with milky waterfalls and legendary temples with scarlet blooms

The redness of a cooling sherbet and the sweetness of jam with slivers of the petals were the earliest memories of the seasonal scarlet bloom that heralds the passing of winter and hints at spring to come in the upper reaches of the mountains. It was only recently one discovered that the rhododendron blooms not only in varied hues, but has many genera and is to be found strung along the length of the Himalayas as well.

In Kumaon’s heights, the lesser-known Namik glacier trek provides a dramatic backdrop to the alpine meadows dotted with rhododendrons. A day hike to Triund in Himachal is a veritable walk under a canopied burgundy buranshgali. In Arunachal, beyond Mechuka, rare pinks pop up to brighten deep dark woods.

Being Rhododendron Eaters

The landscape of the route to Namik Glacier
The landscape of the route to Namik GlacierJoshi Shashank/Shutterstock

Trekking deep in the folds of Kumaon's mountains literally at the feet the Nanda Devi massif to the leaser known Namik glacier a few days after Holi, we had climbed near vertical steps, crossed what looked like a bear’s cave with remnants of a long digested meal to reach the tiny and picturesque namesake hamlet perched high in a V below the glacier. Step fields in green surrounded traditional houses of wood and stone. A flight of snow pigeons swooped above us we pitched camp on a meadow above the village. The next morning we began our ascent into the snow line on a bridle path.

Rhododendrons in multiple colours accompany your treks in the Himalayas
Rhododendrons in multiple colours accompany your treks in the HimalayasSom Moulick/Shutterstock

A red rhododendron leaning onto the path was the first to pop up and it reminded me of the crazy desire I have always had to eat one. If I could not be the proverbial lotus-eater, I could be a literal rhododendron-eater at least! It was bland with a mild bitter aftertaste. As we trudged further up we came upon a sloping meadow with a smattering of melting snow, scattered mossy oaks, and sunshine yellow and scarlet-red rhododendrons. The first and perhaps only time I laid eyes on yellow-coloured buransh (as they are known in Uttarakhand and Himachal). The sole spots of warm colour under a dour grey sky that soon packed up even more till we were walking in silently falling snow.

Beneath The Blooms Of Buranshgali

Rhododendron in bloom on the trail to Triund
Rhododendron in bloom on the trail to Triund Anastasia Lokhova/Shutterstock

Off for a day hike to Triund high above Dharamsala, I met my guide above the village of Dharamkot. When asked how long it took him to do the trip he replied, “Three hours.” The spry young fellow was told that we would keep an easy pace. He did not want to end up carrying me down although it was supposed to be the easiest day trek. Triund is in a saddle perched high with the Kangra Valley at its feet on one side and a wall of the chiselled snow-bound ethereal Dhauladhar range on the other. We set off under a canopy of rhododendrons, the blooms aglow in the dappled sunlight on slightly stunted trees. Fluttering Tibetan flags strung along the path sent colourful prayers with the wind.

The trees thinned out and the vistas below vied for attention with the snow-clad peaks peeking from above. It was a photographer’s dream frame- under an azure sky lofty snow peaks provided a solid white backdrop to dark leaves and pops of bright red blooms catching the gentle breeze. Taking a much-needed tea break and breather at the mid-way point one gazed at the grassy knoll below where ponies grazed amid trees which looked like giant bouquets of burgundy from above.

Mechuka’s Match Made In Heaven

In the lap of the inner Himalayas, in April while the valley floor is a dull golden brown and the mountains around still wear a mantle of snow, Mechuka looks like the last Shangri-la. Technicoloured tiny houses, prayer flags whipped by the wind and peacefully grazing ponies dot the countryside. We take a drive beyond the town into snow-covered deodar forests, past one of the oldest monastery in Arunachal looking benignly down at the town. The valley narrows and at the confluence of the Yargyup Chhu and a stream shaded by rhododendrons we cross a bridge festooned with fluttering prayer flags. A gurudwara lies on one side of the road and a Tibetan temple on the other. Sacred to two religions, there is a strange energy to the place. A rhododendron rooted on a giant boulder blooms a scarlet red and the tiny temple twinning with the flowers abuts the rock. Inside the temple, the stone bears clear indentions of Gurunanak or Padmasambhav’s back. Depending on whose version one believes one of them sat under it to meditate.

A rickety moss-covered staircase leads to the stream. One’s luck is supposedly portended by the colour of pebbles one picks from a milky pool by the stream. After a mixed bag, we head on towards Lemang, the last motorable place on the border here. Under sheer rock faces and against the dark deodar trees pale pink rhododendrons pop up, the exotic giant petals denoting a genus endemic to this little area. Bunches of white rhododendrons stand sentinels to milky waterfalls that disappear into depths unseen. The flowers add a flash of cheer to the slightly foreboding forest.

The Information

Namik Trek: The trekking season starts around the end of March and is organized by Wildrift Adventures. It is a seven-day trek.

Triund Hike: It takes about three hours to climb from Dharamkot village above Dharamsala. Dharamkot and McLeodgunj have accommodation to suit all budgets.

Numerous operators organise day and overnight treks.

Mechuka Valley: Mechuka is accessible from Pasighat in Arunachal. It takes two days to reach there by road or a bi-weekly 55-minute helicopter ride via Aalo (subject to weather conditions). Staying options include a few homestays and small hotels.

Inner line permits are required and are available online. An ITBP camp en route to Lemang regulates vehicles going there.

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