When a friend told me that there was a hill station in the state of Haryana I couldn’t believe it. Even some friends from Haryana itself were ignorant about its existence.
Thinking of Haryana the image that comes to mind is of a predominantly agricultural province, with some highly industrialised and modern cities, glittering shopping malls and plush housing estates.
“But, indeed there is a hill station in Haryana”, my friend insisted. A quick “googling” proved him right. The tiny village of Morni located in a corner of the northern part of the state bordering Himachal Pradesh, where the Shivalik Range of the lower Himalayas rolls down in waves of receding heights till it merges with the plains lies Haryana’s only hill station.
At an elevation of a mere 3600 ft. Morni is hardly a hill station when one thinks of the famous ones in Himachal and Uttarakhand. However, we were fed up with the prolonged Delhi summer. There was no indication when the rains would come to give us some respite. Even a little drop from the height of 48 degrees Centigrade would be welcome.
Thus, when the hotel manager told me over the phone that it was raining at Morni and the weather was great, we wasted no more time, and were off to visit a poor cousin of Simla, Dalhousie or Dharamsala.
Our first halt was at Murthal. Murthal, in fact, is a much sought after place for Delhites who occasionally drive to this place for breakfast in one of the “five-star” dhabas. This was my first visit to the place, but found that our friends had not exaggerated a bit about the superb taste of the stuffed paranthas and cups of masala tea. Fully loaded, we hit the road under a grey sky.
The National Highways 44, 144 and 7 (in that order) which we took to reach our destination were wide and generally in good shape, except for some stretches where unexpected potholes would jolt the car violently. It indeed was a great way to ensure that we stuck to the speed limit.
Urbanisation has, unfortunately, spoilt the charm of driving on our highways. Gone are the days when the roads cut through vast green fields dotted with little villages. Now the roads pass through ugly semi-urban clusters, with a few occasional patches of greenery. It was only when we took highway 7 that we could see some stretches of cultivated fields and a hint of hills near the horizon.
The hills drew nearer and soon we were actually driving on a winding, mountain road. We had to negotiate some sharp turns and hair-pin bends, reminding me the drive to Lansdown from Kotdwar, but here the road was narrower and gradient was less steep. Terraced farms and little villages adorned the hills. The valley was deep and thickly wooded. The sky hung low, laden with monsoon clouds. It was a pleasant change from the dusty grey sky in Delhi and over the plains of Haryana.
Overlooking the valley, with the foothills of the Shivalik range rolling down from three sides, our small hotel was ideally located. Our “Valley View Room” gave an unhindered view of the dense, verdant expanse of the valley where numerous birds flew from branch to branch and bush to bush as if just for the fun of it.
When my wife declared that the TV in our room was not working, I was none too unhappy. This was it. A perfect break from the dumb TV and the obnoxious, vexing WhatsApp. The cellphone mercifully received too weak a signal.
After a no-frills lunch which was nevertheless very well prepared, we set out to explore our surroundings. The sky being overcast it was not too tiring to walk some two miles to the nearest little shop which sold most things one would need, and also doubled up as a tea shop. On the way we passed the Government polytechnic, a “marine institute”, a small temple and several hotels and guest houses with not a soul around them. It was not the season, nor was it a weekend.
What struck me was the silence of the place. Besides the occasional buzz of engines of some passing car, or of the bus plying between Morni and Panchkula, there was no noise at all. The Forest Department here seemed to be quite active. There were plenty of catchy signposts on roadside tree trunks, nudging the people to save trees and the environment. There also was a herb garden-cum-information centre which, at that hour, was closed. Here for the first time in my life I saw a Haritaki tree.
The Morni Fort is a very small structure on the top of a hillock. According to locals, it belonged to Morni, the queen who ruled over this place, no one knew when. However, this little fortification – if that is a suitable description of it – stands no comparison with the grand forts one sees elsewhere in India.
It, however, has a very thoughtfully set up permanent exhibition on various life forms and their importance for the environment, with life-size models, pictures, placards and panels.
The other ‘to be seen’ place at Morni is the Tikkar Tal (lake), a half an hour’s drive from our hotel. It has manicured lawns and facilities for boating. This place is of prime attraction for children, and for those who look for “things to see and do” wherever they go.
Morni, however, is not about doing or seeing things. Thankfully untouched by development and carefully protected by the forest department, this is one of the rare spots where one really comes close to nature, undisturbed by the holiday crowd and the selfie-mad narcissists.
The nicely-laid gardens – the Haritaki Vatika and the Amaltas Vatika among others – are places to take a leisurely stroll, or for just sitting under the canopy and soak in the absolutely fresh air, as the gentle breeze rustles through the foliage.
The expected rains did not come and the sky was now clear.
Watching the Bulbul flying in cute little waves from one tree to the other, and listening to the sweet melodies of other little birds from behind the bushes soothes down the frayed nerves of one “who has been long in city pent”.
As evening came, the shadows of the surrounding hills slowly enveloped the valley in darkness leaving a little glow in the horizon, a divine silence descended on Morni.
Little dots of light came up in the far away villages. The jingling of bells in some distant temple aroused an indescribable feeling in the mind. It was the ideal setting to delve into the inner crevices of one’s heart, forgetting everything else.
The cloud parted as we sat on the terrace in the darkness, and glittering stars lit up the sky. It was after decades that we saw fire-flies fleeting through the darkness – a rare sight these days even in villages.
We spent the next day to explore the lake, take a short walk in an artificial forest, having a nice breakfast in a small roadside eatery, and visiting the small local market.
The rains hit Morni in the evening. They came in torrents, lashing against the window panes and flooding the balcony. It was great to enjoy our tea with hot pakoras, and talk about the last trip to the Himalayas when the monsoon was in its last throes.
It rained through the night. We woke up in the morning to find that the rains had stopped, but the sky was still ominously dark, and a thick fog covered the roads.
A bulbul sat on a branch and flapped its wings to shake off the water. Little streams of water came down the hillside and flowed into the valley, which was also enveloped in low clouds. The rains caused minor landslides and uprooted some trees, but luckily these were not on the road we were to take.
As we bade goodbye to Morni, we prayed that the little treasure trove of nature survives the assault of fun-seekers and holiday-makers, and continue to provide solace to those who would like to break away from city life for some time to take refuge in the peaceful lap of mother nature.