The Tara trilogy – Morni hills find their way into fiction!

Mahtab Narsimhan, a Toronto based writer from India, has blended figures from Indian mythology with elements of pure fantasy to create a world of magic, intrigue and adventure around Tara and her kid brother Suraj who combat the forces of evil to save their village, Morni. The ‘Tara Trilogy’ is a series of three books- The Third Eye, The Silver Anklet and The Deadly Conch, a continuing tale of adventures of Tara and her companions. The story is set in Morni and the surrounding forest covered Shivalik hills with temples and secret passages.

Every visitor to the picturesque hills of Morni senses on the very first visit that mystery hangs heavy in the air. The thick scrub forests that change beautiful hues with the seasons warn the curious visitor not to venture too deep into them. These forests were once famous for the plentiful tigers.  Ahmad Shah Abdali, the Afghan marauder, camped at Pinjore for two days to hunt at Morni. The British game hunters followed a hundred years later and wrote the earliest accounts of the hills. The British Gazetteers  described the forests and the fascinating lakes of Morni. The sparkling twin lakes are believed to be the fabled ‘Lake of Death’ where the Pandav princes very nearly perished but for the profound wisdom of Yudhistar that saved the day. The lakes and the surrounding meadows are ensconced by the terraced hill slopes to form a virtual bowl. The lakes are separated by a small hill that rises sharply to end in a cliff. The lakes are believed to be connected by an underground passage that runs under the hill so that water level remains the same in the two lakes. The excavations of beautifully sculpted pillars and rock figurines at the ruins of a 10th Century temple on the bank of the lake serve to remind you that the waters are sacred and that a million untold tales lie buried in the depths of the serene waters. One is forced to wonder if a thousand years ago a victorious warrior chief stood atop the very same cliff, his sword raised  to the skies, his troops massed on the banks of the sacred lakes. Was it a flourishing temple town with annual festivities and animistic rituals.  Where the head priest would lead a procession of chanting monks in a parikrama of the lakes.  And the local chieftains would offer sacrifices at the ancient temple on the bank of the holy lake. The brave-hearts would participate in a deadly competition to swim across the underwater passage, the winner surviving to emerge in the other lake, the losers condemned to a watery grave, trapped forever in the tunnel of death?

If the lakes inspire stories, then so does the forlorn 17th Century stone fortress of the Meers that stands atop the highest hill, a silent witness to the turn of events over the last four centuries. It whispers the tale of the proud Rajput chief of Morni who defied his overlord, the Raja of Nahan, by refusing his daughter’s hand in marriage. Of his flight to the Delhi durbar and his daughter’s marriage to the crown prince Jahangir. Of the march of the imperial troops under Hakim General Qasim Khan, who chased the Nahan troops back to the Bursingh Deo Range and avenged the chief’s honour. One wonders about the fate of the simple hill girl who ended up in the Mughal Emperor’s harem. Its a story waiting to be written.

The fort is witness to the short and bloody battle between the hill Rajputs and the fearsome Gurkhas, some two hundred years later; as the latter chased the fleeing Raja after ousting him from Nahan. The Gurkha commander of Mornee, a royal from Pyuthan, performed ‘tantra’ and prayed to Lord Bhim for strength as he defied the British efforts to dislodge him!  What became of this believer of the Gurkha Empire after the surrender to the British General, Ochterlony. Did he die in ignominy in the Gurkha tradition that had little respect for the defeated generals? Or did he redeem himself on some battlefield?

The magic of these hills led a recent traveler to compare its terraced fields and stone houses to the ruins of the Inca Empire at Machu Pichu. The Morni hills have been waiting patiently all these years for their story to be told and Mahtab Narsimhan’s ‘Tara Trilogy’ may only be, just a beginning.