If you are not in a mood for adventure yet would like to spend some time alone with your maker, the short walk to the Mandhana cliff-top is an ideal choice. While driving towards Mandhana along the major district road to Nahan you cannot possibly miss the prominent sign post of the Green Park Resort some 18 KM from the tri-junction on NH-72 (Morni T-Point). The road curves along the hill that overlooks the Mandhana valley from the west and that forms an impressive mud-cliff to the South offering a clear view of the narrow valley below with its thick forests and the numerous seasonal nallahs that flow to the south west.
The walk to Mandhana cliff top
View of Mandhana cliff from East
A small clearing by the road-side serves as the parking lot for the ‘resort’ and a kutcha track rises from the road by the side of a large banyan tree and a small water-harvesting pond and leads to the gate of the modest garden-restaurant.
The track by the banyan
Pond by the banyan
The path continues southwards and one can see beautiful landscape to the north-east. There are a variety of shrubs and trees all along the eastern-slope and the entire area is very rich in bird life. The tramp has photographed the Flame-back, the Tree-pie, the Fan-tail, the Indian Robin, the Magpie-Robin and the Common Kestrel while walking along this track.
Tree Pie feeding on Banyan fig
Lesser Flameback excavating a banyan at mandana
White-browed Fantail Flycatcher at Mandhana
Common Kestrel in flight, Mandana
The view of Sireh-ka-Vas with the rolling plains and northern hills in the backdrop looks spectacular.
View of Sire-ka-Vas, Mandhna, Bhoj Matour
The picturesque walk
The Squirrel-tail bush is one of the exotic Himalayan bushes to be seen along the track.
The path rises to climb onto the raised Southern rim of the hill that ends abruptly in a sheer drop of several hundred feet. One can see the wooded valley below and the picturesque Kadiyani village with its beautiful terraced fields.
View of forested valley and terraced fields from Mandhana cliff-top
Kadiyani from the cliff top at Mandhna
A small white temple atop the hill adds to the calm of the place.
Temple on Mandhana hill-top
The southern edge of the cliff is covered with grass that turns a colourful red in winters.
The red grass
There were ‘Chhatris’ or Cement Gazebos built at the spot by the Government to mark the ‘view-point’ but were rightly removed some years back.
Panormic view of the landscape from Mandhana cliff-top
The spot is generally breezy and if you are all alone the solitude and the end-of-the-world feel can spook you out at times.
Solitude of the cliff-top
Grey-Francolins nest in the thorny beri bushes that cover the hill top. The Tramp spotted leopard pugmarks leading to the small water harvesting pond, though the ‘find’ has been disputed by an informed reader!
The road from Morni to Tikkar tal is a level drive for some 2 kilometres from the fort until one reaches the sharp bend around the Gajan ridge. The road then descends sharply against the face of the rocky-cliff and offers an awe-inspiring view of the sparkling lakes and the vast plains that stretch into the distant horizon. About half-a-kilometre from the bend a narrow dirt track meets the road on the right. The track runs parallel to the metalled road in the reverse direction for some distance. This is the forest track that leads to Rasoon, a hamlet under Bhoj Balag. The track continues further till Deora, another hamlet of Balag.
About a hundred yards or so from the road, lies Rock View, a modest cottage-hotel. The red and white cottage with its sloping roofs and garden terraces, looks breath-taking against the rocky backdrop of the Gajan cliff that rises sharply to form a natural vertical wall of rock.
Rock View, Rasoon, Bhoj Balag, Morni hills
The lawn to the front of the hotel offers an unbroken view of the Bhim Tal. One can also see the meandering hill road leading to the picturesque valley below. The beautiful terraced hills ensconcing the sparkling lakes and the green meadows and the uninterrupted view of the vast plains beyond the ‘bowl’ make this hotel an ideal starting point for the trek. The budget hotel offers rooms starting at Rs. 700 for a night. The facilities are basic but neat. The clean, oil-free home-made food and warm hospitality sets the place apart from the other small resorts of Morni. The author likes to describe the place as ‘The Forest Guard’ as it seems to be guarding the pathway to the enchanted wood that lies beyond. The environmentally conscious owners have planted a number of fruit-bearing trees on the terraces. The forest track is lined with silver oaks till some distance from the hotel.
A moderately-fit, forty-plus trekker takes around two-hours to complete the 4.5 km long trek. It is advisable to carry drinking water as the climb gets arduous in parts and one can feel fairly winded after some time. A water-bottle that can be slung over the back is ideal. A walking stick or cane definitely provides comfort when one encounters the quieter parts in the midst of the chir pines. There have been frequent leopard sightings on this lonely track. The leopard is not known to have molested any human, thus far. The local stray dogs, however, maintain a sharp look out for the spotted cat as they serve as its favourite meal second only to the langur!
A young trekker armed with a stout staff
A dog on the trek route, cross-bred with a Golden Jackal?
The narrow hill-track invariably gets damaged during rains but gets repaired every year under the MNREGA scheme, which has proved to be a boon to the locals.
The track to Deorah after repairs
The track skirts a hill that rises to its left (christened the ‘Rasoon Hill’). As the sun sets behind the hill, the sky gets painted in colourful hues. A narrow cemented track leads to the houses built near the hill-top. The upper parts of the hill are terraced and corn and mustard is grown by the locals.
One can spy the local kids watching you with curiosity, smiling at your fancy trekking gear.
Kids at Rasoon curious of the urban trekkers
The track rises and then descends sharply as one crosses the fields to one’s left. One crosses a line of Chimbal (Elephant Ear Fig) trees. The langurs can be seen feeding on the ripe, red-fig. Tun (Indian Mahogany), Chal, Sein, Simbal (Silk-Cotton), Kikkar, Pula, Khair, Gular (Cluster Fig), Jinghan, Beda, Ber (Indian Jujube), Banyan, Peepal, Mahua and Chir pine, are some of the other trees that can be spotted on the trek. The Camel-foot Creeper (Maljhan) can be seen overwhelming the smaller trees. Lantana is full of bulbuls and warblers and can become impenetrable during the monsoons. The Rock-view hotel can organize a local who can identify the naturally occurring trees and explain their uses.
Chimbal (Elephant Ear Fig)
The birders should carry a camera as a wide variety of birds can be spotted on the trek. The author has spotted bulbuls, lesser-flame back, warblers, rock chat, blue-whistling thrush (in winters), small bee-eaters, verditer fly-catcher, shikra, shrikes, tree-pies and the oriental-magpie robin.
Lesser Flameback, Rasoon. Bhoj Balag, Morni hills
One reaches a natural-spring that is made to flow through a large-concrete tank, the village ‘baoli’. Ladies can be seen washing their clothes at this ‘ghat’. Locals use this natural watering hole for meeting the drinking water needs of their cattle. The water overflowing from the tank runs into the terraced fields along the hill slope.
Baoli at Rasoon
A giant mango tree arches over the baoli. The author photographed a peculiar fleshy ant nest stuck to the higher branches of this tree. The Morni forest throws up many such surprises owing to the rich variety in natural vegetation and the fauna.
Carton nest of wasps at Rasoon, Morni hills
One can spot a newly installed observation tower of the forest department atop the hill that feeds the perennial spring.
Forest fire observation tower, Rasoon, Bhoj Balag, Morni hills
The terraced fields of Rasoon lie on the slope below the track to the left. The scenery complete with the quaint ‘machans’ and square houses built of stone look picture perfect.
Terraced fields of Rasoon, Morni hills
Nature photography at Rasoon, Morni hills
The route then continues southwards along the hill side on a gentle ascent to reach the edge from where it turns right and wraps around the hill to head north. The forest track cuts of the extreme edge of the hill, a raised mound that overlooks the plains below. It is covered with chir pines and some thorny scrub and is not very hospitable. A large pit has been dug by the side of the track, somewhat crudely, for harvesting the rain water. The school of Deorah village that lies across the hill is visible from this point.
Deorah School, Morni hills
The pathway then reveals itself as a long, never-ending arch that breaks mid-way at a tri-junction. The track continues descending beyond the T-point, as it heads towards Deora. From the tri-junction one instead takes a right and the track begins climbing sharply. One crosses another natural spring with a small stone arch built at the watering hole. Cattle from Deora can be seen invariably grazing near this water source.
Baoli at tri- junction of tracks to Balag, Rasoonand Deorah
One then crosses a bridge over a seasonal rivulet built by the Shivalik Development Agency under water-shed development programme. To the right there is a dense cover of chir-pines and the quietness can be disconcerting if you are trekking alone and have some imagination!
Chir Pine Hill, Bhoj Balag
The climb continues at the same sharp gradient for a kilometre or so till one reaches the metalled road to the tal.
The steep climb to the main road
One then retraces the path along the metalled-road till Rock View.
An interesting detour involves turning left on the dirt path to Gajan village. One crosses, The Pioneer, one of the earliest cottages in Morni.
The Pioneer, Gajan
The cottage is in a state of disrepair and looks deserted but affords an exceptional view of the ‘Valley of Tikkar’ with its sparkling twin-lakes. The owner has planted a number of teak trees on the ridge. A pine covered hill marks the highest point of the ridge that is visible from Sherla that lies across the wide chasm separating the two ridges.
View of Valley of Tikkar and the twin tals from Gajan
With a good pair of binoculars one can make out distances as far as Chandigarh. The track crosses a small village pond that is fed by the rain water and ends in the terraced fields of Gajan village. On off-shoot of the track bends sharply to the right and descends to reach the road near the turn for Rasoon.
Pond at Gajan
Yet another interesting detour upon reaching the metalled road is to make your way up to the Chandrawal Kunj Resort atop the chir-pine covered hill to the left. The resort is built on leveled piece of land alongside a natural pond, with green hill-tops forming the backdrop to the South and East. The huts are brightly painted and the owners have planted a wide variety of trees including the silver-oak and the deodar inside the resort.
Chandrawal Kunj Resort
One can frequently spot the Red-billed Blue Magpie hunting for frogs at the pond.
Red-billed Blue Magpie at Chandrawal pond
The trek is of moderate length and difficulty and tests your stamina without being impossible. A hot cup of tea with pakoras at Rock View after the trek, while one watches the sun set completes the out-door experience.