A forest in flames and the tranquillity of Thandog

May 7, 20131 Comment

A glass of sweet ‘lassi’ (buttermilk) awaited me as I turned into the lane for King Uncle’s house and headed for the majestic palms that make his house stand out in an otherwise nondescript small-town locality. The car battery had given me a scare on the way and I was not sure whether I could safely turn off the engine. I didn’t want to ruin the ambitious adventure programme that I had chalked out for the day by getting stuck at his home. My pal appeared sporting a brand new pair of jeans and Woodland’s super tough, high-ankle, rubber-soled high-end trekking shoes. He was also carrying a Canadian made, high power, LED torch by FENIX. A lad appeared with numerous packets of food and fruit. Then there were several bottles of water, meticulously wrapped in sheets of newspapers! His precious SLR camera was slung safely across his shoulder in its cushioned bag. Then followed the lap top bag. We intended watching the Lawrence of Arabia on his laptop yet another time, later that night. And finally his Ray-bans to complete the fauji touch. I gulped down the lassi and we were on our way. I told him that the battery could go kaput anytime and he should be mentally prepared for a mid-course change in plans. He persuaded me to waste our precious five minutes to get the battery checked at a roadside shop rather than risk getting stranded on a deserted hill road. It proved to be a false alarm after all! The battery was good for another six months at least. We took it as a good omen and drove expectantly to our rendezvous point where an old acquaintance waited with the Enfield ‘Bullet’ motorcycle I was going to borrow for the day.

I chided my friend for not having heeded my warning on the afternoon sun and for failing to carry a hat to protect his head. He sweats a lot due to his rhino-type muscled physique and I was worried that he would ruin my peace by cribbing about the heat. It was harvest time and the wheat fields were a lovely golden. We crossed the Terminal Ballistic Research Laboratory of DRDO, a sprawling 5000 acre campus in the foothills of Morni. The King was suitably awed to hear that the scientists periodically rocked the entire area with powerful underground blasts. I thought of kidding him that it was actually a TOP SECRET nuclear weapon testing facility but then changed my mind. He was definitely not going to buy something that absurd. We drove north on the metalled road that runs parallel to the eastern boundary of TBRL towards the scenic foothills of Morni. I stopped on the way to click a Shrike.

Rufous-backed Shrike on the road to Belwali

Rufous-backed Shrike on the road to Belwali

The foothills of Morni are clothed under a multi-hued, dry deciduous scrub forest that is typical of the rocky Kandi belt of the lower Shivaliks. The soil is comprised of clay and gravel and is full of rocks and boulders that are brought down during the rains by the numerous rivulets (nadis and choes) that drain the Morni hills. The villages in the foothills are generally populated by the semi-nomadic Gujjar pastoralists who practice terraced-farming on a limited scale due to lack of availability of water during the dry season. The forest department has built numerous earthen dams across choes near the villages as well as at locations deep in the forests to augment the supply of water in the area by harvesting the rain water. Aasrewali forms the western-most flank of Morni’s kandi belt on the Southern side of the hill range. The Gujjars of Aasrewali converted to Muslim religion sometime in the past and are thought to be related to their Hindu brethren residing in adjoining villages to the east. A fine metalled road runs eastwards from Aasrewali and connects it to Belwali and Bunga. One has to take a detour and trace a tight ‘U’ to reach Baloti, a small hamlet to the north of Bunga. A wide and deeply furrowed, dry river- bed checks our further progress eastwards and one has to head south again till Dabkauri to reach a bridge for crossing the nadi. One then heads eastwards till Rattewali and turns back north again to reach Tibbi in the foothills. Sabilpur, Khetpurali, Tirlokpur and Bhood are some of the major villages lying further east.

The road we had taken hit the Aasrewali-Bunga road at Belwali, our rendezvous point. Baghera was waiting patiently in the shade of a bus shelter. He was our guide and comrade-in-arms for the day and was going to lead the ‘biking-expedition’. We were going to follow him on a sturdy Enfield Bullet Classic that sported the new fangled alloy wheels that have been recently added to the model. Baghera was driving an identical bike. I slipped into my leather-laced Woodland moccasins with the rugged outsole tread and strapped the camera to my belt. The Tommy shades followed for a dash of style!  I handed over my car keys. Kick-started the 350cc beast and the twinspark-engine thundered to life sending up my heart rate with its own deep throb. My friend kept the water bottles in the satchel and arranged his camera carefully as he settled on the pillion seat. The weather was beautiful and a cool breeze made the bright afternoon sun bearable. We were headed for the Dhak forest to the rear of Aasrewali. It was April and the trees would be in full bloom. I slipped the bike into the gear and followed Baghera at some distance. As we reached Aasrewali, we had to drive through a patch of slush created by an open drain. I asked the King to hold on for his dear life as I drove the bike through the tricky patch. The bike did not skid or slip despite my struggling with the gears. We then reached a sharp descent to the river bed. ‘What the f* * *!’ he swore loudly as the bike lurched dangerously on the incline due to my poor handling. As I regained my balance and my wits I bounced back with the final lines from the ‘Thriller’, ‘And though you fight to stay alive, your body starts to shiver …’ It was not particularly funny and did not make too much sense but I endlessly repeated this nonsensical line all through the two-day biking trip to make light of every dangerous skid and lurch that I scared my companion and myself with!

We drove along the kutcha track through the river bed for some distance. Baghera was surprised to find that I knew my way around the place. It was my third trip to Aasrewali. I had spotted leopard kills on my last trip on the banks of the forest dam. We turned right to climb up a rocky pathway onto a large level piece of land with numerous Dhak trees in full bloom. The profusions of red-orange flowers covering the bare branches of the deciduous beauty were indeed setting the forest aflame. The tree is not named the ‘Flame-of-the-Forest’ for nothing. An empty straw hut at the edge of the hill completed the artistic appeal of the colourful landscape. We clicked photographs to our hearts’ desire.

Dhak bloom at Aasrewali

Dhak bloom at Aasrewali

The hut at Aasrewali

The hut at Aasrewali

We now had the choice of checking out the water harvesting dam where I had discovered the remains of a wild boar and a sambar deer or to ride our way to Muwas that lay in the middle of the scrub forest in the foothills to the rear of Belwali. I wanted to explore a fresh destination and my friend was game for either of the plans so long as he rode pillion with Baghera. He was willing to risk his own neck but his camera was completely another story.

We rode back to Belwali and took the narrow dirt track leading to the rocky bed of the nadi that separates Aasrewali and Belwali villages. I had got a hang of the Classic by now and was enjoying the fresh breeze in my face and even the dust kicked up by Baghera’s motorbike. We crossed an impressive riverbank plantation of sissoo and eucalyptus trees.

Eucalyptus plantation along the river bank

Eucalyptus plantation along the river bank

The nadis emanating from the hills of Morni flow with terrible violence during the monsoons and cause heavy erosion along the banks as they hit the plains. The forest department is making an attempt to contain the further spread of the banks by planting trees on small ridges of rocky soil that have been created along the banks. The torrential flow is reduced to a negligible trickle in the winters and the bed completely dries up in the summers. Muwas lies upstream of Belwali along the bed of the nadi and the villagers use the narrow sandy strip that snakes up the bed amidst the rocks and boulders strewn all over. The village becomes inaccessible during the rains and one has to make one’s way on foot through the dense thorn forest to reach this remote village. We crossed a rock-paved well to reach a breathtaking landscape with a riot of red and orange of the Dhak blooms peppered all over the forests and the low-lying hills.

The rock paved well

The rock paved well

The ride to Muwas

The ride to Muwas

We crossed a mud cliff with parrots nesting in the numerous holes in the face of the cliff. I attempted a picture of the same but it was beyond the capability of my point-and-shoot camera.

Mud cliff with nesting holes of parrots

Mud cliff with nesting holes of parrots

We crossed an army of grey langurs who looked at us with curiosity.

Langurs on Dhak trees

Langurs on Dhak trees

We passed a beautiful solitary Dhak in the middle of the stream bed.

Dhak on the river bed

Dhak on the river bed

We stopped and clicked the dainty Mexican poppy, the ‘Satyanasi’ that caused the terrible dropsy epidemic in the 90s.

Mexican poppy-the terrible Satyanaasi!

Mexican poppy-the terrible Satyanaasi!

The track rose and fell and twisted and turned as it passed through that rugged untouched thorn-country. The Enfield was negotiating the bumps and the loose sand with ease lent by its phenomenal balance and its lion heart. I felt that one could easily try this track on horseback and imagined myself as the John Wayne of the 60s riding effortlessly on a powerful steed through the land of the blood-thirsty Comanche Indians, the rifle slung along the saddle. I have fantasized fighting the Chambal dacoits as a 13 year old to keep myself amused as I cycled back home alone from school under the blazing afternoon sun on the deserted road that led to my village. I would race my horse up and down through the treacherous ravines and would shoot down as a matter of routine, the scores of bandits who pursued me, before finishing the daily 5 KM ride back home. Some things never do change!

We reached Muwas a rather forlorn hamlet atop a small hill.

Muwas

Muwas

We parked are motorbikes near an impressive banyan. The aerial roots had fashioned themselves into a regular secondary tree trunk.

Banyan at Muwas

Banyan at Muwas

The King produced the bottles from the satchel and we gladly guzzled the cool water.  “How does the water feel?” he demanded triumphantly. “Good,” I responded. “I meant is it not cool despite being in the sun for all this while?” he asked in irritation. “Oh! Yes. It’s amazing!” I said, opening my eyes wide for additional emphasis. “It’s an old fauji trick,” he told me gleefully,” you fill cold water in a normal plastic bottle and wrap it inside a newspaper. It will stay cool for a very long time.” He loves these little Tom Sawyer type tricks, my friend.

We made our way after Baghera as he walked with confident long strides up the mud embankment that forms a water harvesting dam across a choe. We reached the top to see the beautiful untouched lake with the hills in the backdrop.

Muwas dam

Muwas dam

It was quite similar to the water harvesting dam I had visited earlier this year at Aasrewali. We spotted a lone red-wattled lapwing (teteeri) flapping around aimlessly over the lake. We also spotted a bunch of butterflies, the Common Mormons, paddling in a dung pile near the bank.

Common Mormons at Muwas Dam

Common Mormons at Muwas Dam

We scampered down to get a close shot. My friend managed a phenomenal close up while I got a Painted-lady and an orange dragonfly.

The Painted-Lady, Muwas Dam

The Painted-Lady, Muwas Dam

Orange Dragonfly at Muwas Dam, Morni hills

Orange Dragonfly at Muwas Dam, Morni hills

Baghera had been busy hunting for something as he walked up and down the embankment. I was contemplating crossing over to the far side of the lake to hunt for leopard pug marks when he called out to get our attention. He had found what he was looking for. The brown speckled eggs of the lapwing that lay completely unprotected on the open ground. The red-wattled lapwing, as we learnt, lays its eggs in the open ground and banks upon the natural camouflage due to the resemblance to rocks for their protection.

Natural camouflage of the eggs of the Red-wattled Lapwing

Natural camouflage of the eggs of the Red-wattled Lapwing

We made our way back to the motorbikes and rode back to Belwali where our car was parked. We drank to our fill from the bottles lying in the car and opened the food packets to discover loads of delicious homemade sandwiches. The sandwiches were passed around and we chatted in the shade of a tree as we munched on them and planned our next move.

Riders in the Sky

Riders in the Sky

On many an occasion in the past, I have stood atop the cliff at Mandhna, gazing at the thick forest that clothes the valley below, the small hamlets and the numerous choes. I have always wondered about the people who live in those quaint hill houses with sloping thatched roofs and who work the pretty terraced fields that lie hidden in the forest. As a child I loved an Enid Blyton story from her earliest (and finest) adventure series where the ‘adventurous-four’ visit Baronia, an idyllic mountain kingdom, with its majestic Killimooin castle and the magnificent royal guards in impressive blue and silver crested uniforms. The children befriend a blind shepherd-boy who plays the flute to his goats and are drawn to the mysterious and completely inaccessible valley that lies hidden amongst the towering Killimooin mountains of Baronia. The children eventually discover a secret tunnel-passage to this thickly wooded valley that takes them to the heart of the forest where they come upon a cleverly concealed village with numerous thatched huts set around a large blue lake. It’s the hideout of a secret robber cult (something like the thugs of the 19th century India) who have hidden in the valley for centuries and wear wolf tails as a lucky charm! The valley seen from the Mandhna cliff reminds me of the valley of the Killimooin-of-my-imagination. The same inaccessibility and the same irresistible charm of an untold story waiting to be discovered.

The Secret Valley

The Secret Valley

Kadiyani Valley- as seen from the cliff at Mandhna

Kadiyani Valley- as seen from the cliff at Mandhna

I enquired about this valley from Baghera.  The valley lies in a deep wedge formed beyond Mandhna, as the range bends northwards in a wide arc only to continue its journey eastwards towards the Tikkar lakes. Baghera informed me that we would have to make our way to Tibbi and from there to Khetpurali that lay at the mouth of the valley from where it was a bike ride on the metalled road to Dudhgarh. Thereafter we would follow a track through a river bed to reach Kadiyani, a small remote hamlet that lay deep in the forest atop a small level hill.

We switched back to the car and drove till Bunga, clicking a Black-winged Kite on the way.

Black-winged Kite, Aasrewali-Bunga Road

Black-winged Kite, Aasrewali-Bunga Road

We then made our way to Tibbi through Dabkauri and Rattewali. I spotted an old British-style rest house tucked away behind a thick grove of trees and I vowed to find out more about it on some future trip. From Tibbi we took the road heading north-east to Khetpurali. I made a mental note to check out Sabilpur that lay to the north-west of the mid-point between Khetpurali and Tibbi, on my next trip. The road ended abruptly at an under-construction bridge at Khetpurali and we again switched back to the Enfield. Khetpurali is a fairly historic village and the fossils excavated from this site by the British Canal Engineer-turned paleontologist Sir Proby Thomas Cautley, some 200 years ago, found their way to the London Natural History Museum and many 19th century universities that received the fossils as gifts. It’s an ordinary looking Gujjar village today. We took the road that wound up the hill to the rear of the village. We were on yet another scenic drive and we thundered along the beautiful winding road to reach a large level plain and the Gujjar village of Dudhgarh. A fairly large village that shares its panchayat with the hamlet of Kadiyani.

Baghera’s motorcycle had developed a flat tire and we stopped by the side of the road. He politely refused my feeble offer for organizing help. He spoke to someone on the phone and enquired from us if we proposed to continue our journey northwards deeper into the valley. ‘Let’s drag your motorbike to some safe location,’ I suggested. A motorbike parked in the middle of nowhere is an open invitation to theft. ‘Oh! Please don’t be worried about my bike. Nobody will touch it in this area,’ he said mildly. ‘Wow! What confidence!!’ I wondered. It was decided that Baghera would now drive my motorbike as the King and I cramped on the pillion seat behind him! My friend cribbed about not finding a footrest for his precious Woodlands, worried that he would scrape his shoe somewhere.

The metalled road ended on the northern edge of the Dudhgarh plain and Baghera put the bike through a near suicidal descent through a thick layer of loose powdery clay along a track that went down along the side of a hill to the bed of the nadi that flows past Dudhgarh and Khetpurali. The ride towards Kadiyani along the dry river bed was interesting but not quite as scenic as the ride to Muwas earlier that day. Just short of Kadiyani, Baghera veered off onto the bed of a smaller choe that flowed from the north-east to join the main nadi that we had been following thus far. The King was silently mouthing expletives to keep himself calm as the bike groaned under our collective weight and as we made our way up the bed of the rivulet that rose sharply to the east. The Enfield people make their bikes like nobody else. We made it! We reached a large earthen embankment where a brand new water harvesting dam was in the final stages of construction. One more watering hole would be available to the wildlife after the rains.

Water harvesting dam being constructed at Kadiyani

Water harvesting dam being constructed at Kadiyani

We made our way up the embankment wearily. The day’s adventures were beginning to take their toll. The workers had built themselves a straw hut under a dhak tree for seeking respite from the afternoon sun.

Straw hut at Muwas dam

Straw hut at Muwas dam

The sun was beginning to go down. We decided to give Kadiyani a go by as it  required us to trek up the rocky bed of the nadi to reach the dhani that lay hidden atop a small hill overlooking the nadi below. We learnt from the locals that it was far easier to access Kadiyani from Mandhna and that a hill track descended to the valley from near the Guga Marhi temple on the outskirts of Mandhna. So the Secret Valley’s exploration would have to wait for another day! I did stop on the way back to check out some of the terraced fields atop a sharp slope. I was greeted by a friendly, middle aged man who answered my queries about the geography. No, he had not seen the leopard though he could hear it calling in the forest. Yes, the neelgais and the wild boars wreaked havoc on the crops. No, the gorals and the barking deer never bothered him. They were too shy. No, the upcoming dam would be of no use to the villagers as there were no fields downstream of the dam. I asked for his permission to click the picturesque fields. His wife, kid and dog looked at me out of curiosity. I refused his polite invitation for a cup of tea and resisted the temptation to click his artistic one room hut made of stone with a lovely thatched roof. It was his home and his wife was in the frame!

Fields at Kadiyani

Fields at Kadiyani

We rode back to Dudhgarh, stopping to click a unique clay formation carved by wind and water erosion over the ages. A langur posed against the twin mud ‘pagodas’ sculpted by the hand of God!

The fascinating mud pagodas near Dudhgarh, Morni

The fascinating mud pagodas near Dudhgarh, Morni

I was relieved to notice that Baghera’s bullet was standing parked safely exactly where we had left it. As Baghera strode confidently to his bike and started the engine with his characteristic nonchalance it gradually dawned on me that the tire puncture had been miraculously fixed. The hand of God was everywhere in this fairy tale land!  A tire-repair mechanic had come to this back-of-the-beyond location with his gear, fixed the tire and left while we were busy checking out the dam at Kadiyani. All in response to a single phone call! No further directions sought, no further directions given!! The man does not cease to amaze me.

We went past Khetpurali and crossed the river to its east and made our way to yet, another water harvesting dam and lake at Dullopur, that lies midway between Khetpurali and Tirlokpur. I made a fool of myself making a video of a ‘jackal’ sitting on the far side of the lake, motioning my comrades to keep out of the frame, with the superior air of a Nat-Geo expert. A reader had recently disputed the authenticity of my find of a leopard pug mark and I moved closer to reconfirm my subject. It was a common village mongrel with all the pretensions of a genuinely wild jackal!

Dam at Dullopur

Dam at Dullopur

The ride to Tirlokpur was beautiful. My friend had decided to trust my driving for the last leg of the journey. The evening breeze and the serene green fields in the backdrop of the blue hills looked heavenly. We reached Bhood for taking the road to Morni through Bhood-Paonta-Plasra. We thanked Baghera for the fabulous outing, returned the bike and headed for Morni.

We stopped at the shops on the tri-junction near the Morni fort where the road from Tirlokpur meets the main Morni road. I picked up some cigarettes for my pal. He has quit smoking but likes to enjoy a puff once in a while, especially when we finish our day’s adventures at Morni. We finally reached Tikkar Cottage after sunset, fatigued and happy. The drive from Delhi and the daylong biking through the challenging terrain had not done my ageing back muscles any good. We were covered with a fine layer of sticky clay. A hot cup of tea followed by a long relaxing bath and we were ready to open the Chardonnay. The King prepared a lovely spread of cut fruit and green salad. We finished the wine, laughing at the same age old jokes. My friend fished out his magic torch and dazzled the far off hillside with the amazing turbo-mode beam of that deceptively small torch. It was an expensive toy. ‘Why on earth did you buy it?’ I wanted to know. He just shrugged. Some things that you just need to have. ‘Bachpan keh shauk,’ as the Doc would put it.

We were ready to dose off as we had the usual dal-chaval. The body was sore with the exertion but the spirit was elated. We congratulated ourselves for our stamina and our undiminished zest for life and decided to call it a day.

I woke up to the sound of my friend dusting his shoes. He had decided to sacrifice his vest and was busy making the tough shoe leather shine again. ‘The clay won’t go and your shoes are finished,’ I kidded him. ‘Oh yes it will,’ he replied confidently, ‘ I had coated the leather with a thin layer of oil the night before!’ The pink rose bush was in bloom.

Rose bloom at Tikkar Cottage

Rose bloom at Tikkar Cottage

The chilli tree was covered in white. The resplendent bougainvillea was impressive as ever.

Bloom of the Chillih tree at Tikkar Cottage

Bloom of the Chillih tree at Tikkar Cottage

Bougainvillea at Tikkar Cottage

Bougainvillea at Tikkar Cottage

 

We had a leisurely breakfast and were off again. This time on the battle weary Thunderbird, which retains all of its original thunder and none of the BHP!! We drove to the shops near the fort for a tank up. We then crossed the Morni town onto the Badyal road until we reached the turn for Sherla. The Thunderbird groaned painfully as we climbed the steep track to reach the Sherla village. The German lady’s cottage was covered with flowers of all hues and I told my friend about the visit I had paid to that gutsy old lady. The adjoining fields were painted a lovely pink by Malora, an attractive pink-flowered broom shrub.

Pink broom at Sherla

Pink broom at Sherla

We rode through the village and had stopped to photograph an upcoming Forest fire Research Institute when I saw a fascinating piece of cloth, the purest of all whites, go floating past me through the air to disappear into the scrub that surrounds the Sherla Tal. It was the paradise bird and you have to experience one to understand why it has been named so. I tried hunting for the bird for sometime but it was nowhere to be found. We then rode down and took the turn at Bhimwar towards Thandog. We stopped briefly to photograph the Badyal village that could be seen below us and the road to Kalua-Bhood in Himachal as it wound down the hill to reach the nadi that formed Haryana’s border with Himachal.

Badiyal road from Bhimwar-Thandog road

Badiyal road from Bhimwar-Thandog road

The road to Thandog was in a state of disrepair and I drove at a cautious speed. I had never been to this major Rajput village of Morni that is famous for its pine groves. We spotted Thandog’s brightly painted senior secondary school from a distance. We thundered into that unusually lively hill village sporting our rather conspicuous helmets and the locals looked at us with curiosity. As we asked for directions to the Himachal border we were approached by a relatively important looking man who requested us to partake in a community meal (langar) that was being organized inside the school premises. Some kids were seated on jute mats and they chattered with excitement as they were served their meals. We were not clear whether the meal was part of some religious celebrations though the atmosphere did appear festive. I politely refused the invitation and we made our way towards Rui, a village on the Himachal border. King was unhappy with my unilateral decision to refuse the meal. He found it impolite. He is also superstitious in such matters. “You would have gone down with gastroenteritis by the evening,” I said lamely, trying to defend my decision. He looked unconvinced but chose not to argue any further. We made our way down the tricky road from Thandog layered with loose gravel and stones from the ongoing road widening and metalling work. We left this road to turn right for the hill track that led to Rui. We were now in thick forest under the shade of majestic chir pines. The temperature dropped significantly and I realized that we were certainly in one of the most beautiful locations in Morni. The track was covered with a mat of pine needles and the area smelt of the pines as they whistled with the breeze. We crossed numerous picnic spots and suddenly came upon two cottages in the middle of the dense forest. The cottages bore a deserted look and we decided against committing trespass to satisfy our curiosity about the owner.

Forest lodge on the road to Kohlan

Forest lodge on the road to Kohlan

Some cute looking village kids crossed us as they walked towards Thandog and wished us politely. The mothers followed at a distance and avoided looking our way. The hills were resonating with the calls of the jungle fowls and I made a video of the place. I was lucky to capture a yellow-billed blue magpie.

Presently a man appeared on a motorbike. He was heading for Rui and stopped on seeing us. He enquired about the purpose of our visit. He was from Sarahan and cribbed about the lack of development in the hills in Haryana, ‘They don’t let you cut trees to build roads. Kohlan doesn’t even have electricity in this age! This area was unlucky to have fallen under Haryana. The adjoining villages of Himachal are much better off.’ He volunteered to lead us till Rui which was a good 15 KM from the spot. I had to drive back to Delhi the same day and we decided to head for Kohlan instead.

The drive to Kohlan through the chir pine forest was a beautiful experience. Kohlan is a small hamlet under the Thandog panchayat and the village had lovely semi-circular terraced fields.

Terraced fields at Kohlan

Terraced fields at Kohlan

I could spot the white and violet flowers of the kachnar trees that were growing wild in the area. The last part of the village track that led up a hill had been freshly cemented and I tried to make the steep climb by putting the bike on full-throttle. The engine screamed and groaned and just when we thought that we would make it safely to the top it suddenly died out! The Thunderbird rolled backwards dangerously and I tried to restore my control with desperation. My friend had hopped-off in a jiffy and applied his full horse power to halt the backward roll of that 180 KG monster. He is a tough guy, the King, my friend. We were saved broken-necks by his quick action and we dragged the bike to a level green patch. The village seemed deserted and we walked around the place clicking photographs. I clicked the Kachnar trees and the Subabul (Lead tree) that was growing wild in the area.

Kachnar tree at Kohlan

Kachnar tree at Kohlan

Subabul at Kohlan

A house in Kohlan

A house in Kohlan

A lady finally appeared at a door. We wished her politely and told her that we meant no harm. She was amused at my clicking the Kachnar flower and told us that they made a vegetable from the flower. Her husband emerged from the house and agreed to lead us to the Solar-powered plant that had been set up in the village some years ago but had fallen into a state of disrepair after the expiry of the annual maintenance contract. The solar panels seemed to be in a fine state though the battery bank looked old and damaged.

Solar panels at Kohlan, Morni

Solar panels at Kohlan, Morni

As we looked around we noticed that the villagers of Kohlan hung their hay on tree branches to keep it dry.

Straw heaps at Kohlan

Straw heaps at Kohlan

I spotted a fascinating Indian Coral tree and clicked its brilliant red flowers.

Indian Coral tree, Kohlan

Indian Coral tree, Kohlan

Then there was the ‘Samma’ tree with curious light yellow-green flowers hanging from the branches with leaf-like petals arranged around a central axis, much like a bottle-brush. I later discovered that it was the Mauwa tree that is found in the Himalayas upto a height of 2000 metres. Kohlan also had the attractive pink, broom-shrub that we had spotted earlier at Sherla. I spied a tiny blue flower growing wild and I promptly clicked it to add to my collection for the website, much to the surprise of our ‘guide’. I impressed him by identifying the fruit of the Chimbal tree that is eaten by man and the langur alike! I was happy to spot a couple of sparrows that are today endangered in the cities but continue to flourish in the hills.

Sparrows at Kohlan

Sparrows at Kohlan

Jadwar flower?

Jadwar flower?

 

The tree with curious hanging flowers

Mauwa tree in bloom at Kohlan

Chimbal fruit

Chimbal fruit

I enquired about the working of MNREGA and the man voiced his dissatisfaction with the long delays in receiving the wages. Kohlan is an all-out Rajput village. The people have been living here for generations and live-off the meagre produce of their terraced fields as well as whatever wage employment they can manage in that area. We could not help noticing, however, that most of the houses in this rather remote ‘frontier’ village of Haryana were of surprisingly good quality. We followed the man back to his house and he invited us for tea. His wife called out from the kitchen and asked us to stay for dinner! I accepted a glass of water and politely refused the invitation for food. ‘How do you know that this water won’t give you a bad stomach?’ my friend wanted to know. He was still upset about my having refused the langar at Thandog and was making his resentment felt. The question was asked within the earshot of our host and I motioned my friend to not to persist with his query as I feared that the host would comprehend and feel offended. We spent some time on the terrace of the house and marvelled at the natural beauty of the place.

The terrace

The terrace

We were getting late and having thanked our hosts and having promised to return soon we made our way back to Tikkar Cottage. My friend prepared a phone video of the hill ride from Kohlan to Thandog. We stopped near Chhooyi, just short of Morni to photograph a hamlet on the southern slope of the Badyal road. I also clicked the Post Office, Bank and Primary Health Centre at Morni for my website! We finally reached Tikkar Cottage and hastily headed back home. I took the road through Jallah and stopped at the Nature Camp of Haryana Forest Department at Thapli. It is a beautiful facility overlooking the Ghaggar river and the heavily wooded Pinjore Dun that lies beyond. A large thatched restaurant-like structure occupies the large level area.

Dining area, Nature Camp Thapli

Dining area, Nature Camp Thapli

A more modern looking building has been added recently.

Nature Camp at Thapli

Nature Camp at Thapli

One can see a number of quaint looking Swiss tents spread all over the fenced campus, each tent being hidden within a pocket of trees and its own patch of wilderness.

Swiss tents at Thapli

Swiss tents at Thapli

The facility has the potential of taking the adventure-hungry residents of Chandigarh area by a storm if it were to be run by a professional outfit like the Banjara Group or Inme that organizes outdoor camping for school kids. There was nobody available to answer our queries and we continued with our return journey. I drove non-stop to Delhi with only a small detour to drop my friend on the way. It was 11 PM by the time I reached back home and I had been driving my car or riding the Enfields or trekking through forests for 19 of the 38 hours I had spent on the overnight trip!

 

P.S.

The route we followed

The route we followed

 

Filed in: Morni Diaries

About the Author ()

An environmental enthusiast who loves tramping through the hills in search of the picturesque.

Comments (1)

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  1. sreekala says:

    Good evening Sir
    I see your website . You can do the wonderful job about Morni hills. I really like it. Because the way of Morni hills its difficult to ordinary people. We also planning to live Morni hills . Its natural environment is there. We are in Dharampur beed.

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