I’ve been sorting my stack of hill books, and browsing—an unavoidable aspect of sorting—through those old favourites, The Snow Leopard and The Valley of Flowers. The first few pages of a book by Frank Smythe mentions the town where I live: “On June 1st I arrived at Ranikhet from Naini Tal...”
My copy of The Valley of Flowers was annotated in the margins by its previous reader, a half-Hungarian woman who spent the last years of her life in Ranikhet. Her notes have little to do with Smythe’s thoughts on solitude, freedom, nature or his contemplative prose. “Remember to take napkins for cleaning dishes,” says a scribble next to a paragraph about the cook wiping dishes on his shirt. Mosquito nets and ration lists are marked up, as are places where swathes of primulas and gentians had been sighted. I noticed that both Peter Matthiessen and Frank Smythe, during their walks in Nepal, came upon bushes of kilmora, a wild berry that is all over Ranikhet in the hot months. The writers call it by its Latin name, Berberis aristata.