A rainy day relaxes and soothes our souls. And if you are at an altitude where clouds hang over the mountains, thickening mists envelop the trees, and melodious birds drift you away in the aroma of their song, you have experienced nothing less than ecstasy.
We experienced one such ecstatic moment while hiking to the Panorama Point in Matheran. It is just the onset of the monsoon. The Sahyadris is beginning to transform its landscape from semi-arid to vibrant green. There is a change in the activities of nature. After a sweltering summer season, the anticipation of rain is one of the top-most wishes. And we wished for a showery and peaceful day in communion with nature.
Did we say peaceful?
As soon as we reached Dasturi Naka – the entrance to Matheran, there was a lot of mayhem. Coolies, cab drivers, hoteliers & horse owners were moving around the tourists, whispering about their services. The parking lot was all messed up. Vehicles look confused about where to halt. Whistles and horns blew and kept blowing as far as we could hear. A maddening rush at the ticket counter indicated a heavy footfall on this tiny hill station.
But we had made a smarter choice.
Weekends are always crowded in monsoon. And no real nature lover would like to visit on this day, and even if he has to, he will find his way far from the madding crowd. And our decision to hike to Panorama was a prudent and rewarding one.
At a height of 2433 feet, Panorama point is the highest point on the northern side of the Matheran range. Unlike other view points in Matheran, this one is less visited as it is around 5 kms from the main market. Being an automobile free hill station, the only option to reach here is on foot or horse riding. And horse owners usually do not promote this point as tourists are not willing to give a fair price for bringing them afar.
On a clear day, it gives a panoramic view of the Sahyadri hills and deep gorges from all three sides. But today, the clouds were floating in different directions over the hills, making it impossible to soak in any views. But that did not deter us from enjoying this misty voyage.
No sooner had we entered the trail leaving the parking gate behind, the crispness of the misty mountain air made us feel fresh. We kept walking with the mist in front of us.
A Hindi poet, Sahir Ludhianvi, had once penned a song –
‘Sansar ki har shay ka, itna hi fasana hai,
Ek dhund se aana hai, ek dhund mein jaana hai’
The mist is symbolized philosophically summarizing life in just two lines.
‘Every being in this world has only one story,
appearing from one mist and disappearing in another‘
I could relate to the song as we stood soaking in the deep silence of the forest and watched the mist form and disappear. I kept humming the song as we kept gaining height. My singing was interrupted by a lyrical whistling tune. At first it was just a single note high-pitched whistle. Then it stopped. I continued to sing my song. I was interrupted again. It gave a sharp whistle and turned it into a full grown melody. And within no time the forest chorused with melodious whistling calls.
Fondly known as ‘The Whistling Schoolboy’ – This is a Malabar Whistling Thrush – a bird widely spread on the Sahyadri hills and Matheran range. It was difficult to sight as it kept itself to rocky areas. But listening to its gracefully slow and pleasing melody felt like someone was playing a flute in the forest.
It started raining. Drop by drop, the rain took over the hills, and everything looked refreshed, green, and full of life.
Who doesn’t get excited with the pitter-patter of the season’s first rains?
It is not only you and me, but look around, and you will see many plant and animal species sharing this joy with you.
A yellow mushroom popped its head out from a small gap in between a paver block. Out of nowhere, the exiled freshwater crabs came out of their burrows, sensing the rain, and ran in all directions. Lurking in the bushes, the greater coucal resonated the forest with its coop..coop..coop call. Fluffing their feathers, the bulbuls sat cozily on a dense group of thickets. A pair of common langurs did not like our presence and tried their best to shoo us away.
Monsoons are also breeding time for many bird species. Even though we did not see many species, their calls and songs were a good indication of their presence. We did not meet a single human on this trail. But we never felt alone in the company of nature.
Walking and observing the nature around us, we reached the top of the Panorama point, which had covered itself in the blanket of mist. On the top is a small park and a fountain, probably built long ago. But now the trees have grown surrounding the park, which provides a good place for recreation while enjoying the panoramic views during the summer season.
Beyond this park is the end of the cliff from where you get to see the enchanting views. But today was not that day. The clouds wandered all over the hills and few of them settled in the valleys. The sky looked like a bowl of dark water. The rain continued its downpour with gusty winds.
Dancing in the rains, on a terrain hilly
Soaked all the way, but so carefree.
Singing and laughing, hearts full of glee
Forever, roaming the roads, you and me
We sat on a rock. No words spoken. Eyes closed. Thoughts came and passed like floating clouds. Completely drenched, we felt like the water washed away all our worries, fears, and dismay of life. Time passed so leisurely that we did not even realize it had stopped raining. So wet we were that we could still feel the wind in our bones.
A bird preening its feathers sat on a railing in front of us. I couldn’t recognize it due to the mist. Just then, the clouds started moving. And for a few minutes, nature opened its window and displayed its panoramic view from west to east. From small mountain ranges of Chanderi and Peb fort below to Gadeshwar lake and Dudhani village in the west. And winding roads of the Matheran ghat road to Ulhas river and Neral town in the east.
The bird was still sitting. I was trying to observe its features when it gave a whistle. The same lyrical whistle that had interrupted my singing. We were overjoyed to see him. Yes, it was Malabar Whistling Thrush.
A little movement and he flew right above our head with his glistening bluish-black plumage clearly visible. And as he flew, he sang his soulful melody and was soon joined by his whistling schoolmates, and they all sang in the park behind.
We are thankful to the person who built this fountain and the park. Because it is not just a park, but a school of whistling thrushes. And to imagine these hills without the whistling thrush is like a song fading away from the hills.
– Clement & Steffe