A walk to remember!

August 1, 2013

It was 7:35 AM when the phone chimed softly on receiving an urgent SMS. “It’s raining cats and dogs. Please reconsider the trip!” It was the King, getting the nerves before the trip. The request was five minutes too late!! I had actually managed to start dot on time at 7:30 AM. Not that I would have been dissuaded from the trip had he managed to catch me in time. It was three months since I had last visited Morni. I had planned out interesting treks for the two-day sojourn in the hills. I had a brand new camera to try out. I had downloaded new music for the drive to Morni. I had to inspect the progress of the vetiver grass we had planted at Tikkar cottage as an experiment. And the hills always looked their best during the rains. I waited until I had crossed the Delhi border before I responded, ‘On my way, crossed Delhi!’ “He’s probably worried about wetting his Woodland shoes,” I chuckled to myself. The King likes no unnecessary hardship. He sees no fun in putting oneself through avoidable discomfort and makes no bones about it. And he hates the humid weather that makes him ooze sweat like a tap.
He maintained ‘SMS Silence’ after that until I reached his home. The car battery had given me a scare when I had restarted the car after a loo break on the way and I let the engine idle for some time before turning it off. I downed the extra-large glass of rich-lassi that has become a ritual for the start of all our adventure trips. The King appeared with his precious Swiss Army bag and numerous paper bags that carried the ‘grub’ and the fruit. We were all ready to move when I discovered that the battery had finally conked off. It was a strange coincidence that I had got the first whiff of trouble with the battery on our last trip together, some three months back. We had actually got the battery checked by a car mechanic that day. The battery had been behaving quite well since then but had curiously chosen the very same spot and a similar occasion to give trouble again. I had resigned myself to a wasted half-day when my friend appeared with a professional looking red and black jumper cable. He connected my Honda’s battery to that of his battle weary Alto and jump started my car with a shocking nonchalance. I had to grudgingly admit that I was impressed. ‘From where in heaven did you produce that cable so quickly?’ I demanded. ‘Oh! We had an old Fiat that gave frequent trouble with the battery,’ he told me in a matter-of-fact way. It had indeed rained heavily in his town and I drove carefully through the water-logged roads to reach the mechanic’s shop. The battery was declared ‘Brought dead on arrival!’ In less than ten minutes we had a brand new battery under the bonnet and were on our way to Morni.
‘Hills can be tricky in the rains,’ he said, sharing his anxiety. ‘Don’t want to get fuc*ed by a disaster like the one in Uttarakhand,’ he said. ‘Don’t you worry yourself about the rains,’ I comforted him. ‘It shall be beautiful weather in Morni and we shall have the time of our life.’ ‘How long a distance do you propose to make me walk today,’ he wanted to know. ‘Oh! Not much. Trust me, it shall be a walk to remember!’ I kidded him. He grumped about my being a f***ing sadist and we reached the spot where a driver waited to take over the wheel.
Our first destination was Burj, a village in the foothills of Morni on the Southern bank of Ghaggar. The village gets its name from the modest hunting lodge of the Patiala Rajahs that had been built atop a hill overlooking the Ghaggar to resemble a castle tower and now lay in ruins. We left our car on the road to Jallah and walked up the cemented path that led up the hill to the village and the tower (Burj). I spotted a colony of Baya Weaver nests on a palm tree near a seasonal nallah and I happily zoomed in with the 42X of my brand new Fuji HS50EXR.

Baya Weaver (Male), Burj, Morni foothills (July 2013)

Baya Weaver (Male), Burj, Morni foothills (July 2013)

We walked up to photograph the tower and the views of the Pinjore Doon to the north of Ghaggar. I could spy some interesting carved structures inside the Burj but am paranoid about snakes in the rainy season and decided not to risk venturing into the ruins.

Burj, the Hunting Lodge of Patiala Rajas

Burj, the Hunting Lodge of Patiala Rajas

Some vegetable with a curious mottled stem had been planted outside the Burj and I photographed it to identify it later. I clicked the water tank tower on the hills across the Ghaggar river at Chandi-Kotla village, where I had had the ‘dar-keh-aageh-jeet-hai’ experience on my last adventure with Musafir!
We now made our way back down the hill to check out the water harvesting dam that had I spotted during my Google-Earth exploration of the area prior to the trip. A track led to a stream of clear water running through a densely forested area with high mud cliffs on all sides. We followed the stream towards the dam and spotted clouds of Common Emigrants, Mormons and Yellow Orange-Tips mud-paddling by the side of the stream.

Mud puddling butterflies, Choe bank at Burj, Morni foothills

Mud puddling butterflies, Choe bank at Burj, Morni foothills

I spotted a solitary Lemon Pansy.

Lemon Pansy Buttterfly, Forest at Burj, Morni foothills, July

Lemon Pansy Buttterfly, Forest at Burj, Morni foothills, July

We photographed a small sparrow-sized bird that was bathing in the stream to beat the heat, completely unmindful of us.

Bathing beauty!

Bathing beauty!

We walked through thick undergrowth and crossed a meadow where a couple of village ladies sat by their grazing goats. They looked at us with curiosity while their scraggly dog barked angrily at my unfamiliar hat. Both of us were carrying lathis and he maintained a respectable distance. We trudged up the steep mud embankment of the dam and we clicked the reservoir that lay beyond.

Water Harvesting Dam, Burj, Morni foothills

Water Harvesting Dam, Burj, Morni foothills

There were no birds to be seen and the King lay down on the grass to give his aching back a break.

Taking a break

Taking a break

He was already sweating profusely and this was just the teaser trek! I had reminded him a million times in the preceding week to buy a cloth hat but he had paid no heed to my advice. He is pretty mule-headed, my friend the King. We kicked ourselves for having left the water-bottles in the car. I persuaded him to start back for the car as we were getting late for the ‘Walk to Remember’! We stopped to click a tree with curious thorny dark seed pods. We finally reached the car and after taking deep swigs from our water bottles, drove east along the Jallah road towards Bharal our next destination.
Bharal is a small hamlet on a hill along a nallah that drains the thickly forested hills to the south of the Ghaggar. A masonry dam has been built across the nallah but has failed to create a reservoir due to frequent breaches in the wall. A narrow kutcha path crosses the nallah at the foot of the Bharal hillock and climbs onto the hills to the west. As per my ‘research’ on Google Earth, the path would skirt the terraced fields of Chandi-ka-vas village to its north and would turn left to head south along the ridge of the hill that overlooked the nallah and the thickly forested hill side and valley below. We would get amazing views of the forest and the dam as we trekked up the slope to reach the commanding height of Jansu. We would picnic on the terraced slopes of Jansu and hopefully click some beautiful panoramic photographs of the forested hills and Ghaggar plains to the north and possibly even the Pinjore dun that lay beyond. I was also secretly hoping to spot some wildlife on the way, although the monsoon season is not exactly the best time for a sighting. We would then descend to reach the Guga Marhi temple on the outskirts of Mandhana where the driver would be waiting with our car. As per my measurements with the Goggle Earth path measurement tools, it would be a modest trek of 2 KM at 10% gradient.
We parked in the shade of a tree at Bharal and prepared ourselves for the walk. I packed the sandwiches and water bottle into the Nike schoolbag that I had borrowed from my daughter. I slung my camera bag securely across my shoulder, pocket the Swiss knife, donned my hat and goggles, picked up my stout lathi and was ready for the adventure. The King was sweating still and had decided to sulk. ‘How far do we have to walk?’ he asked with a scowl, letting me feel his resentment. ‘Not much,’ I said cheerfully and produced the printouts of the route that I had marked out on the Google Earth map. He was shocked to realize that I had no clue about the route and was going to rely on some fuc*ing printouts to guide us through the hills and the forests in peak monsoon season! His skepticism was making me edgy and I asked the driver to wait for 15 minutes before he drove off towards the rendezvous point up in the hills, just for safe measure. I was secretly worried that we might find the path completely obscured by the heavy undergrowth of the monsoon season and might have to call off the trek. We crossed the nallah and climbed up the narrow path pushing through the Congress grass and Lantana bushes that crowded its edges. I advised my friend to beat the ground with the lathi as we walked through the bush to scare off any snake that might be sunning itself somewhere inside the dense growth. Things were not looking too good just then and I could see the King checking his watch. He was obviously making up his mind whether to proceed further or to head back to our car while there was still time.
To my luck we met some school girls walking back home from school. They wished us politely in the beautiful tradition of the hills. ‘Does this path lead to Jhakhri?’ I asked one of them to reassure myself. She nodded enthusiastically. A short climb later we reached a large terraced area with lush green fields of paddy and maize. I was relieved to note that we were on course. My friend got visibly cheered up to discover that we were not heading for some wild-goose-chase and that we were still fairly close to habitation. He could depend upon my maps after all!

Fields at Chandi-ka-vas

Fields at Chandi-ka-vas

A light breeze made him forget the humid heat for the moment and we walked westwards on the path along the edge of the fields. As per my map we were to turn left at some point but I could not spot any obvious turning. We could spot the houses of Chandi-ka-vas to our right and we continued along the path for want of an option. We then spotted a solitary house in the fields and I asked the King to cross-check from its inhabitants whether we were indeed on the right path. ‘Ask for Jakhri,’ I advised him as he knocked the outer gate with his lathi. A boy appeared from inside and asked us to head on further along the same path until we reached a choe. We were then to turn left until we reached the Jal Ghar and to continue till we got to Ghati. It was not clear whether Ghati was the name of a dhani or he meant it in the sense of a valley. The boy had a peculiar hoarse voice and it was difficult to comprehend his excited directions. His father had also emerged in the meantime but he stood silently and let his son give the directions. We waved our thanks and walked on till we reached the thorn fence that walled in the fields. We now entered the forest area and trudged on in search of the choe. I did not, however, like our general direction of movement. My maps could not have gone that wrong. We should have turned left long back and as per my gut feel we had come too far west. We had still not reached the choe when I spotted a narrow path that led up the hill to head back east. ‘Let’s take this path,’ I suggested. My friend was not too sure and he wanted us to stick to our little guide’s directions rather than trust my black and white Google printouts. We were still debating on what course to follow when we heard the boy shrieking in his raspy voice behind us. He had decided to follow the shehari babus and ensure that we didn’t get lost. We waved back gratefully and headed in the direction he wanted us to follow. We finally reached the rocky bed of the choe. Little did we realize that our enthusiastic friend had us properly fuc*ed. Not that it was his fault. We had asked the way to Jakhri and he had only made sure that we took the path that got us there. Only we were not to go to Jakhri at all. I had made the blunder of mixing up the names of Jansu and Jakhri, both of which are dhanis of Mandhana, but are kilometres apart. But we were not to know this until after we had finished the trek and were happy for now to be ‘On Track!’
A narrow stream of clear water ran through the rocky bed of the nallah. It was clearly one of the many seasonal rivulets that drain the Morni hills into the Ghaggar River. These nallahs appear very tame for the most part but can quickly swell in size once it starts raining. A nallah flowing in full spate during the monsoons can be scary and one can actually hear its roar till quite some distance. It was bright and sunny for now and the gentle trickle looked anything but threatening. We sat down on a large rock by the side of the brook and munched on the cheese sandwiches. It was hot and I drank from my water canteen quite liberally. The King, however, was reluctant to use up his share of water too fast and was clearly saving it up for the literal and figurative ‘rainy day’. For if it did rain we would be forced to flee from the nallah bed to the safety of a higher ground in the forest and would be most definitely lost!
A large rusted water supply pipe ran along the choe and we could expect to reach a water boosting station (Jal Ghar) as promised by the kid if we followed the choe. The nallah was cutting through steep clay hillsides and the banks were covered with dense undergrowth. We were thus forced to stick to the bed and walk over loose rocks and boulders for most part. This made the climb doubly tiring and I knew that I had got us into a spot.

The rocky trek route

The rocky trek route

We were completely boxed in by the cliffs of mud on both sides.

The narrow passage

The narrow passage

There was no wildlife to be seen. No birds. No landscape. Absolutely nothing. It was a dull torturous walk up the hill and we had to be careful not to sprain an ankle on one of the treacherous rocks. To make matters worse I had forgotten to change into my rubber-soled Jungle Boots that I had been carrying for the trek. I did manage to click a damselfly and a glossy millipede to add to my collection of ‘wildlife’ pictures. I also spotted a dull coloured tadpole-like fish in a puddle.

Damselfly at Chandi choe, Morni hills

Damselfly at Chandi choe, Morni hills

Millipede, Chandi choe, Morni hills

Millipede, Chandi choe, Morni hills

The freshwater fish

The freshwater fish

A local village woman and her cross-eyed husband crossed us on our way up and I tried to confirm the route from the man. He didn’t seem too interested in giving directions and vaguely agreed to our plan of following the choe till we reached Jakhri. ‘How far are we from the main road?’ asked my friend hopefully, seeking to reassure himself regarding our situation. ‘Kaafi door hai, samay lag jayegah (it’s quite far, will take you time),’ answered the man morosely as he rudely broke the conversation to continue with his journey. Our destination wasn’t anywhere close if we were to believe this man. The King looked worried. ‘He was probably a half-wit,’ I said to discount the man’s estimate of the distance we had to cover. I went on to discuss my hypothesis that the people of Morni would be at a greater risk to suffer from genetic disorders as they had been inter-marrying within a small population for past innumerable generations. It did not, however, interest my pal who resolved to be even more careful with his water supply. ‘Ha! Ha! This is not the Arizona desert and we are not after McKenna’s Gold!’ I kidded him. ‘No fun in dying of dehydration in this heat and carrying your entire water supply intact till the top,’ I advised him on a more serious note. But nothing would make him change his mind. As per him, we were clearly lost and were going to spend the night in the wild until we got washed away in a flash flood! End of the story!! He is not an optimist, my friend the King.
We crossed a baoli, where a natural stream had been harnessed by a stone masonry enclosure and made to flow through a pipe to enable the locals to fill their pitchers with ease.

The baoli

The baoli

My friend washed his face and head to cool his overheated ‘radiator’. I advised him to not risk drinking from the source as there is always the risk of eColi contamination these days. Human shit seems to travel far!
A cloud had appeared over the sky and I scanned the steep hill sides on either side for possible escape routes were it to suddenly start raining. ‘Hope you won’t be doing anything crazy!’ were the parting words of my wife and I was beginning to get this bad feeling that our trip was bordering on just that. ‘I may be crazy but it keeps me from going insane!’ I said out loud, suddenly remembering this quote that I had heard someplace. The remark amused the King for some reason and he laughed out loud with sudden good cheer. I pointed to a yellow painted sign on a cemented ‘bundh’ for checking upstream erosion that declared that we were walking up the ‘Chandi’ choe. ‘This is not a fuc*ing choe, it’s a beh** choe!’ he said dryly, venting his ire at the pointless trek and the friend who had got him into one yet again!!

Chandi Choe, Morni hills

Chandi Choe, Morni hills

We reached the water boosting station which was locked much to my friend’s disappointment who was hoping to drink to his fill once we reached the promised Jal Ghar.

Goats near Water Boosting Station, Chandi Choe, Morni Hills.

Goats near Water Boosting Station, Chandi Choe, Morni Hills.

A dull-witted youth was grazing his goats near the building and he belied all our attempts to get any meaningful directions out of him. He seemed a bit soft in the head and I returned to my earlier discussion of dangers of in-breeding.
We were panting and exhausted by the time we reached a well with a cemented roof.

The well

The well

We now crossed some thatched huts and learnt that we were near Mandhana. A couple of youths directed us towards a path that left the choe and went up the hill side. I spotted some Harar trees and stopped the click its fruit that is an important ingredient for Ayurveda medicines.

Harar leaves, Mandhana, Morni hills

Harar tree, Mandhana, Morni hills

We now reached a cemented track and after a back-breaking effort reached Mandhana. We asked a man for directions to reach the main road and he offered to lead us there. He was warm and friendly and was at a loss to understand why we had walked all the way up from Bharal along the choe when we had a car to drive up to Mandhana. He confirmed my fear that we had missed the shorter and direct route to Jansu. I covered up my mix up with the names for the moment and followed the man through the fields until we reached the main road to Morni. He led us to a village grocery store by the roadside and we were happy to find that it had chilled bottles of Sprite! We settled down with a bottle each on the doorstep and enjoyed their light-hearted banter. Our friend had come to the shop to exchange some shoe he had purchased earlier. The shopkeeper seemed to know him well and allowed him to rummage through the groceries stacked in piles all over the shop floor to find something of interest. They discussed the sky-rocketing rates of vegetables and the magical super-glue mouse trap with which the shopkeeper had caught as many as six mice in a day! We thanked our guide and trudged wearily down the road to the point where our car was parked. The driver was peering anxiously into the forested hills below the road and did not hear us approach. It had been four hours since he had dropped us at Bharal. ‘Probably deciding what would be a good time to send out the search parties!’ I thought wryly. He was very relieved to see us. I dropped my load into the car including the half-full water bottle of my friend. ‘See it was so stupid to not drink that water,’ I pointed out. ‘You should have trusted me to get you out of the forest,’ I said. ‘I would have gotten out any which way,’ he said most confidently, ‘God walks with me!!’

I later figured out that we had walked for over 5 KM from Bharal, most of it uphill, as we followed the rocky meandering choe, more than twice the intended distance.

The route we followed

The route we followed

We dropped the driver at the Mandhana bus stop and headed wearily for the Tikkar Cottage. The bath restored our spirits for a while. We had recovered enough at least, to open a bottle of chilled wine and savoured it with the fruit salad that my friend had laid out with the flair of an Italian chef. He had thrown in some ultra-large jamuns to the usual spread of sliced fruit. The inverter battery of the cottage had died out completely and I asked the caretaker to arrange a candle. But then I had no real cause for worry. The King had bought two-more FENIX torches to take the total tally up to three! He was carrying all three and happily demonstrated their different features and capabilities as sleep overtook us. It was a measure of our exhaustion that we left the wine bottle unfinished that night!
It was early to bed and early to rise for us that day. By the time the Scribe’s old jalopy rolled-into Tikkar Cottage’s grassy drive-way, we were all rested and raring to go. At least I was. I had certainly not made the 300 KM back-breaking journey only to waste a holiday in recovering from a minor misadventure!
The Scribe came bounding up the stairs with a new found zing. The morning sun gleamed softly on his sporty white tee-shirt. The ink-blue, straight line jeans looked brand new. Actually, so did my pal. He had recently done a ‘Bhaag-Milkha-Bhaag’ on himself and had been doggedly pursuing a fitness regime for past several months despite his taxing work hours. So here he was, Scribe 2.0, smiling cheerfully, as he announced himself in his new athletic Avatar.
It was now an overwhelming two-to-one and the King agreed to a ‘short’ trek. It was going to be a trip to Thalapur, a tiny hamlet of Bhoj Balag that occupies a hill that overlooks the ‘Valley of Tikkar’ with its twin lakes, green meadows and paddy fields. A hill adjacent to the Thalapur was the site of a near calamitous landslide in 2010 that had wiped out the newly constructed tourist huts of the Haryana tourism complex on the Tikkar tal bank. I have ‘identified’ the hill for some future soil conservation intervention with vetiver grass and I planned to take a closer look. We took the road to the lakes and stopped short of a hair-pin bend some 2 KM from the Badah tal. I had identified the exact spot while surveying the area on Google Earth! The Scribe parked the old lady on the road berm, tenderly placing a rock under her tyre to prevent an accidental roll-off. I am often reminded of Humphrey Bogart’s famous love affair with his rusty old tub, the African Queen, on seeing the Scribe getting sentimental about his Station Wagon, which is clearly well past her prime.
A rather wide dirt track descended along the hill side from near the point we had parked. The path crossed a seasonal nallah as it led to a small cluster of scattered stone houses that comprise Thalapur. A small masonry dam has been built across the nallah to create a modest reservoir that provides water for irrigating the surrounding terraced fields. It was paddy season and we could spot a farmer slosh through the knee deep mud after his oxen as he ploughed his fields.

Water Harvesting Dam, Thalapur

Water Harvesting Dam, Thalapur

Farmer ploughing paddy fields at Thalapur, Morni hills

Farmer ploughing paddy fields at Thalapur, Morni hills

The weather was pleasant and we ambled along happily under the shade of the hill, enjoying the freshness of the lush thick vegetation that is so typical of the Monsoon season. The King had not yet forgiven me for having hauled him up that rocky bed under killing heat on a parched throat the previous day and got back at me by drawing avoidable attention to an embarrassing bout of flatulence! The earthy humour can hurt when one is at the receiving end!!
We left the shaded hill path and descended a series of terraces of fallow fields to reach the very edge of the cliff. The spot offered an excellent view of the twin lakes with the intervening forested hill.

Twin lakes from Thalapur

Twin lakes from Thalapur

One could clearly make out the Lakeside Cafe on the bank of Badah tal, the dome of the adjacent Thakur dwar temple and the demoniac facade of the ‘House-of-Horrors’ at the Adventure Park.

Lakeside Cafe from Thalapur hill, Morni hills

Lakeside Cafe from Thalapur hill, Morni hills

We could also make out the numerous hamlets of scattered houses on the hills to the south of the lakes- the Chhota Tikkar, Dabor and Darda. The sun was beginning to hurt and we started making our way back to the pathway to get back into the shade. Just then a quaint little man clad in a white kurtah-pyjama appeared on top of a terrace above us. His oversized white moustache was twirled proudly at the ends and did appear a little dramatic if not comical against his the wiry build. He was Amar Chand, a tough little man, who smiled at us benevolently and signalled us to join him at his modest stone home. We made our way up the sharp slope crossing his paddy fields that were being watered by a rubber pipe that drew water from a large water harvesting pit located on the ground above. The pit had been dug up to harness the rain water run-off and was full to the brim. The pipe was obviously employing a siphon action to draw water over the raised embankment around the pit.

Rain water harvesting tank at Thalapur

Rain water harvesting tank at Thalapur

The old man’s ingenuity in setting-up an effective rain-fed irrigation system was quite impressive. He proudly told us how he had hewn the blocks of stone for building his home from the rocks and boulders retrieved from his fields. The Scribe commented upon the low carbon footprint lifestyle of the simple hill folks. Nothing fascinates the Scribe as much as austere living and he hates wastage of any sort.
We were sweaty and hot by the time we reached our host and he happily invited us to rest inside the cool cob interiors of his home. The King gratefully stretched his back on the rope charpoy and recovered under the direct blast of cool air from a large pedestal fan that seemed to be the only piece of furniture in the room. ‘Yeh shehari babu hain, pehli baar gaon aayeh hain,’ I informed my host pointing to the King, who glared back in response but chose not to contradict me. The home was simple and bare but everything was spic and span. We gladly gulped down the water served by the hostess and politely refused the offer for tea. After a while, we accompanied our host on a round of his fields and the area around. He rued the damage caused to the crops every night by the wild boars and the sambar stags. A heavily wooded hill across a nallah was the home to the sambar hordes in the vicinity and he tried to spot one of those ‘pests’ for his urban visitors. It was the same hill that had experienced landslides on its southern slopes in 2010. One could clearly see the badly-eroded portion from Amar Chand’s fields and the challenge involved in any attempt at reclamation was apparent.

Tikkar tal from Thalapur

Tikkar tal from Thalapur

Amar Chand was amused at our enthusiasm for the lakes and the surrounding landscape and decided to oblige us by spinning-off some yarn about a massive earthquake in the ancient, forgotten times that had created those bottomless lakes. ‘Jo toot jayen Morni keh tal, toh rurh jayen Dilli keh mall,’ he proclaimed cheerfully. He then warmed up further to the subject and embarked upon a long incoherent tale of a Mor Dhwaj Raja and a Raja Barat who threw hapless villagers into dark dungeons! I interrupted his flights of fancy and asked him whether he would be willing to experiment by planting a Vetiver hedge around his terraced fields for conserving soil and water. He immediately looked interested and asked me numerous questions about the grass, its height, the spread of roots, palatability for the cattle etc. He agreed tentatively to experiment and plant the vetiver slips in the monsoon season of 2014.

Comrades in arms

Comrades in arms

I was excited at the prospect of getting my first ‘convert’ to the cause of vetiver and accompanied my friends happily as we made our way back to Scribe’s wagon.

‘One actually asks for only the first three pegs. After the third, it’s the whisky in you that demands the fourth!’ This is one of Scribe’s pet theories about human behaviour. Or should we say drunken behaviour. And he invariably repeats it after the third!! One can easily extend the applicability of this theory to thirst for adventure (read escape from monotony). Once you have done three exciting treks in the space of 24 hours, you just can’t stop. You are now driven to seek more. It was already two past noon and I had a 300 KM distance to cover on my drive back home. We were hungry as it was beyond the usual lunch hour. Logically, we should have called it a day and I should have headed back home. Yet we decided to drive down to the lakes to try and meet the one who could easily be Morni’s most interesting inhabitant. A man, whose relentless journey through life has taken him in and out of jobs, interests and countries. He has studied the Tibetan religion. Is fluent in Portuguese. Has reported on the warring factions from within the crumbling Russia. Has authored a book. Has grown strawberries. Now owns a Cafe. Has plans to bring some ‘real’ adventure to Morni’s Adventure Park. And all for a lark!!
He was not home and the care taker directed us to the Adventure Park further down the road. We caught him reading peaceably in the lawn next to the park’s mushroom shaped ticket window. He was visibly pleased to see the Scribe.
At first appearance he strikes you as a modern day throwback to the Vedic-era sage. The same deep creases on the broad, thoughtful forehead. The same mane of soft white covering the head and the sunburnt face. The lean, athletic frame. The calm that is bred out of years of unrest. Of searching. Of following dreams without fear of the unknown. A remarkable looking man who is straightforward and unaffected in his thought and ways. Morni had definitely got its Hemingway.
He was warm and welcoming and took us around the park, discussing his plans for the future. His tan-black German shepherd followed him everywhere like a shadow. It was a large, terraced campus and his plans to give the park some real character of adventure seemed promising.

Machaan at Adventure Park, Morni

Machaan at Adventure Park, Morni

The park had some beautiful flowers and I tested the macro feature of my new camera on a dainty pink Rain-lily. I also clicked a not so pretty picture of frogs mating in a pool!!

Rain Lilies at Adventure Park, Morni

Rain Lilies at Adventure Park, Morni

Frogs at Adventure Park,Morni hills

Frogs at Adventure Park, Morni hills

Amongst the planned future adventure activities was the short walk to the waterfall, that is formed by the stream that falls over a drop of about hundred feet from the cliff at Thalapur to the rocky pool below and thereafter disappears into the Bada tal. I had never noticed the waterfall before and was surprised to learn that it was a perennial though the flow declined in the dry season. We could make out the fall from a distance and I requested him to lead us to the same. The King was exasperated at this sudden development. He protested and grumbled at our plan of making him trek through the heat yet again, but relented like a good friend, as always.
The path to the waterfall led through the fields on the banks of the Bada tal. We crossed a massive Mango tree that would easily be several hundred years old. We then hit the rocky bed of the nallah that led to the pool created by the waterfall. The rocks were large and slippery and we followed our guide cautiously.

A road less travelled- the way to waterfall

A road less travelled- the way to waterfall

We could not, however, match his confident pace and he soon disappeared somewhere in the distance ahead of us, his dog staying faithfully at his heel. I missed the opportunity to click a monstrous sized black and white dragonfly spotted by the Scribe. I did manage to click a smaller navy blue one.

The dragonfly on way to the waterfall

The dragonfly on way to the waterfall

We eventually reached the waterfall to find the Sage waiting patiently at its foot with his dog.

The waterfall

We needed to clamber up a large boulder to reach the small muddy pool at the foot of the fall. The King chose to save himself this final trouble and clicked the three of us and the dog with the fall as the backdrop. I had to climb onto yet another tricky rock to get a clear shot of the waterfall, largely to oblige my friends. The flip side of wearing a Nat-Geo style jungle-hat is that it raises expectations of people regarding your willingness to risk breaking your neck for the sake of a good picture!

Waterfall over Thalapur cliff, Morni hills

Waterfall over Thalapur cliff, Morni hills

The Sage was not happy with the dam we had seen earlier in the day at Thalapur as it reduced the grandeur of the fall by restricting the flow of the stream.
We were late and we made a quick return journey to the park. We thanked our friend and he promised to take us on an interesting trek to a new location on our next visit. We drove back to the Tikkar Cottage and after a quick meal I started with the King for the long drive back home. I had to turn up the volume of the car stereo to drown the King’s angry grumbles on having discovered the sun burns on his baby-pink cheeks! He never could see any incongruity between his bulging biceps and his concern for a clear complexion!

Filed in: Morni Diaries

About the Author ()

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

Comments (5)

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  1. Vinod Malhotra says:

    Good, you write well

  2. Vijay Arora says:

    Hi

    Can you pls confirm me you started track from which place and trekked how much KM. Planning a trip to Morni and staying at Tikar tall, want to trek next day morning for 7-8 Hrs

  3. Vijay Arora says:

    Hi

    Can you pls confirm me you started trek from which place and trekked how much KM. Planning a trip to Morni and staying at Tikar tall, want to trek next day morning for 7-8 Hrs.

    Can you pls suggest on the same.

    • Mornee Tramp says:

      Hi
      If u r staying at Tikkar tal, you should trek upto Thalapur and follow the route to Gajhan and hit the Morni-Tikkar Tal road. You can then do the second trek that starts at Rock view hotel at Rasoon, if your stamina allows.
      You can easily see a resting point /gazebo up on the hill to the rear of the Tikkar tal resort. Ask for the route to this point. Then follow the path up the hill to the north. You will skirt Thalapur to reach Gajhan.
      The other trek starts from near Gajhan and I have discussed the route in detail in d post on the trek from Rasoon.
      The undergrowth shall make the going tough in this season.
      Hope you have a good time.

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