One of the most iconic spring-in-Mussoorie sights for many of us is a rhododendron tree in bloom. Two years ago when I visited Woodstock, the display of red flowering trees was tremendous and that’s when I took this picture.
Last week I saw the first blooms of this spring. I’ve heard that the blossoms are not as numerous as they used to be. As Ruth Unrau wrote in her book Hill Station Teacher, Woodstock staff and parents often made jelly from the rhododendron petals. I was along on “The Great Rhododendron Hike” that she tells about in Chapter 10. The purpose was to pick enough blossoms to make a good amount of jelly. Each of us brought a pillowcase to carry them in. Here is some of her descriptive text:
“…[We] reserved a dak bungalow, coolies, Diana Biswas, and sleeping bags. Ten of us, all women, started out Friday after tea, knowing that we had to make the eleven miles to Nali before dark to set up camp… Someone offered the information that bears were known to inhabit the area and asked what we would do if we met one. They thought I would be the first snatched off since I was at the end of the line, but I thought the bear would laugh himself to death when he saw Diana leading the group in her camouflage hat and hiking boots… After finally crawling into my sleeping bag…I was uncomfortable and cold on that concrete verandah. The night was very long… We were disappointed [on the way back] that we could find so few flowers because the local villagers had picked all those within reach… I harvested two cups of juice.”
Thanks to Ruth for permission to quote and for writing up many of my memories, too!