Odysseus Returns To “Ithaca’: journey home to a forest in India

Call of the Wild:

My personal journey to the stunning emerald forests outside of Mussoorie in Uttarkhand, India, came a few years ago when I felt called to leave my life in Denmark.  The year was 2017 and a move to the himalayan regions  seemed urgent and compelling beyond reason.

The circumstances involved were quite tragic on a personal level. Both my parents had passed away and the forest they had lived in for forty years was in danger of being sold to a real-estate consortium. Mussoorie was a world away from Denmark and I had little idea of what I could do or how effective I could be in the circumstances.

The ‘common sense’ advice I got from friends and family was to agree to sell my parents’ forest estate and return to Denmark. After all, I had lived outside of India for most of my life and I was quite out of touch with the Indian subcontinent – especially navigating issues around property. However,  a series of mysterious dreams about a forest vibrating with green energy and my resulting intuition about these dream-images indicated otherwise.

Little did I know that my decision not to sell  and to move to a remote forest in the himalayan belt  to live in it would lead to an astonishing journey filled with adventures and discoveries – something I could never have imagined possible before.

Love Letters in a Forest Home:

I came home one fateful day in 2017 to a childhood forest home in Mussoorie. It had been forty years since I had left India as a rebellious teenager.

The drive through the tall iron gates and ancient locks up a long driveway seemed haunting – as if I was entering ancient and sacred grounds. The forest was a silent presence but I had an uncanny sense of being watched from every tree and hill side.

My parents home was empty when I entered the door – an echoing space of silent ghosts and distant memories.

I spent the first days of my new life in this empty forest home sitting on the wooden floors and reading my parents letters to each other. There were hundreds of personal letters written from places as remote as Ladakh and Kashmir to southern India and from a time that seemed vanished into air – 1967 to 1980. They revealed the secret life of two people and how they later came about buying a forest paradise and moving there. Their love and passion for each other seemed undeniable – each letter was saturated with pure feeling but this was inseparable from a shared passion for himalayan wilderness spaces and for the mountains of this region. Some letters revealed dreams of setting up a life together away from the madding crowds and in forests. They wrote about a life they could lead without restrictions and compulsions of a consumer society – just being with the land at last.

Daily Log Book Records of Forty Years in the Forest : 1977-2016

Also in my parents’ modest cabin home, I found log books with scrupulously maintained records of their daily conservation and planting work in the forest. These entries showed a world of pioneers – a couple forging a painstaking relationship with trees, plants, flowers and wildlife in conditions that can only be described as harsh and unrelenting.

It was obvious theirs was a life was filled with daily challenges – no electricity at first, no roads to the forest and only leopards and deer for neighbors. My mother’s entries were particularly enthralling notwithstanding their precision in cataloging trees daily planted or grafted, minerals added in specific quantities to the soil and chemical formulas as elixirs for plants.

One entry from December 1980 stands out. It seems that winter, my father had to be away from the forest on important work. My mother stayed alone in their little forest cabin. It was a hard season with deep snow on the ground. Nonetheless, she and the gardener worked long hours by a nearby stream tending to trees. She writes:

‘It is pitch dark and I am writing with the lamplight. The snow is piled to the windows and the wind strong tonight. I hope the leopard and her cubs have been able to eat – there are hardly deer around. I am concerned about the potash and zinc formula we need as mineral for the trees – the exact proportions are needed. Tomorrow, we will tend to all the peach and apricot trees and hope they make it through the winter.’