Amidst nature you tend to rise early—always. I cautioned Tukai, “Don’t delay going to sleep like home. Morning will be different here.” “Don’t worry, I know,” Tukai replied with his characteristic confidence. True—daylight hours are valuable here. Once night drops its shroud in a forest, you won’t have much to do. Better take to bed early and rise at dawn. You would then be able to listen to the morning songs of nature as well as use all the hours of the day enjoying outdoors before turning in at evening. After dark you would be outdoors in a forest only under exceptional circumstances.
Action taken was as planned—dinner was served before 9 and by 9.30 we were filled up, satiated. The amount and variety of dishes offered by Abhijitda were both phenomenal. A bit of after dinner companionship and then we were in our big room.
The problem was the bigness of the room. Twice we had to change our beds to be more comfortable. The room was large and long. It was all dark outside—and inside too. We wanted to be near each other. That night I felt again—how valuable just enough space for one is.
In spite of the unaccustomed surroundings and the deep darkness, sleep didn’t delay much—we were tired.
Morning we woke up fresh. Coming out into the open was like starting a new life. I always feel like this on the first morning of each of my getaway trips to pure nature. The sun shone bright and the garden was aflutter with many birds chirping. Abhijitda had done the garden with great care and love. Soon he joined us with a smiling face and warm “Good morning, how was the sleep?”
He showed us the garden. The garden was small but colorful and bright with many varieties of flowers and plants. When I praised it he disclosed, “My wife takes care of the garden, you should give credit to her.” That’s what I thought—Abhijitda should be too busy looking after the guests.
We took an unhurried tasty and filling breakfast hosted graciously by Abhijitda. Breakfast over-—it was time to start for Koina. Morning would be spent on Koina followed by open air lunch in the forest. If time permitted, the second sister river Karo could be enjoyed also. That was the plan.
Suresh, the right hand man of Abhijitda would accompany us in a hired Bolero jeep. He would provide us safe passage as well as act as a guide. Having spent many years here he was totally at home in these forests. Abhijitda assured us, “With Suresh accompanying you there is nothing to fear. Roam freely and enjoy. The only limits would be—you can go inside the forest up to a point and not beyond—under any circumstances. Suresh will guide you.” Heart filled with quiet joy and a pleasurable lightness we boarded the jeep and took up our seats. The engine rumbled and the wheels started rolling—towards the forests, away from civilization.
Manoharpur was a small town. Soon we were out of inhabited area. Ground both sides was undulating and rocky. Trees appeared at random without any order or design—some bent crookedly, a few straighter but thin. These are malnourished, I decided—too little water in the area due to long periods of deforestation and consequent soil erosion. As we moved further afield, a semblance of a forest appeared on both sides of the road.
The forest wasn’t deep. The trees were young, not very tall with narrow trunks—these were thin young trees. Tall old Sal trees were cut away long back. Being end of winter and undergrowth sparse, visibility was good but the air hung heavy with red brown dust. These areas are very dry and the soil rich in iron.
Dusty Sal forest
Some stretches, the road had an inch deep reddish brown dust that covered the leaves of the trees as well. The dusty air created a slight brown haze. We could even smell the dust. We didn’t mind it at all though.
While the jeep rumbled on the uneven road, clouds of dust followed us in its wake. Opening the windows? No way—in an instant we would be fully covered with dust. Soon the dusty patch was over and the jeep moved smoothly on to better surface.
In this kind of ride in a near-empty jeep I always like to look all around, time to time shifting my position to feel the whole environment through which we are moving.
The sky was clear—not a speck of cloud in sight. It was March, winter just gone and summer not yet in. This is one of the best times to go into a forest without much physical discomfort. For those who are keen to see animals, May would be the right time in these parts of the world. It would be summer then, very hot, undergrowth nearly dried away and thirsty animals coming out in the open in search of water holes.
I am never after watching animals in a forest. To me, being inside the forest is enough. All around me should be trees, no human habitation around and ground a little rocky. If I get a river in addition, it would make me wanting nothing else. This promised to be such a place.
It didn’t take long to reach our first halt. The jeep stopped just before the bridge on Koina. We got down eagerly. Walking on the forest bed has great satisfaction. The jeep ride was only a way to reach this point. We would be on foot now. Suresh also got down. He would accompany us for a while.
On the left of the road we spotted a track winding its way up hugging the hill side. The path was wide and the slope gentle. After a short rise the track moved straight. Rising up to the path I stopped to have a look at the bridge.
Bridge over river Koina
At my feet carpet of dry leaves covered the ground. The road coming from the right went on to the small bridge and beyond. After Koina we would take that road. As I now looked around, amidst the pervasive brown a fresh green caught my eyes.
Fresh green and dry brown forest colors
Tukai called, “Come on.” I turned towards him and went forward. On the forest path covered with dry leaves we walked leisurely.
There was no hurry anywhere in our horizon, no target to achieve, no mandated destination to reach. If we liked a place we would spend as much time there as we wanted. That is the way to roam. We left our targets in the city we called our home.
After walking a while the view ahead stopped me. I stood with Suresh at the edge of the drop to the river. On the left the hills rose high from the river bed. Given time we could have gone up those gentle sloped hills. There must be narrow tracks through the trees to the top. There is no harm in imagining—no?
Hills rising from river
As I looked closer, the rows of healthy evergreen trees lining up the ridge came into clear view. Higher up, the brown had given way to green. I felt happy.
Green back hills
We decided to turn back as going along this forest path was not on our agenda. Walking on the river bed held more attraction for us.
On the way back we looked for a clear view to the right—the small bridge on river Koina and then the hills cradling the river. We found such a clearing. The bridge spanned diagonally, looking longer than it actually was.
Further to the right, upstream Koina looked absolutely still on the surface. It looked like a pond totally calm. This is what happens when storm of emotions passes over and all energies of mind spent—only one scenario—one can imagine others.
Calm river Koina
But when I looked closer I found the ripples that broke over small rocks on its bed. From a distance you tend to miss finer details.
Subtle flow of river water
Koina was a small river carrying not much of water now, though its bed was wide enough to be called a river and not a stream. These are inland rivers, with little water during winter and summer but transformed into angry ferocious fast moving water bodies when rains would come. The muddy waters would roar through the rocks on the river bed creating curling vortex and no way could you cross the river then except across the bridge. But now it was a quiet little beauty waiting for us to wade in. A refrain came to my mind—women are like rivers. Somewhere, some other time I heard it.
Beyond the calm Koina hills rose. Down below at the road level, color was brown and only occasionally green. But the hill slope had many varieties of trees. Some were deep green; some were with young fresh green leaves. Our eyes feasted on the colors soft and soothing. Pointing towards the faded white bunches swaying on the tip of some branches of tall Sal trees Suresh explained, “Those are the Sal flowers. Now is the flowering time.” Ah, it is never too late to learn things that would stay with me.
Forest colors soft and soothing
In keeping with its sweet name, Koina looked also slim and sweet perfectly at home amidst these multi-colored hilly forests. The Sal flowers nearby formed a tapestry as my eyes touched the faintly rippling waters through them.
River ripples through tapestry of Sal flowers
We went down towards the road. Now to the river bed and with it we would remain for quite a while. The left side of the river was the choice as it looked more attractive.
River Koina beckoning
It always surprises me how a scene changes when I look at it more closely. Far view has one dimension and near view another. A bit closer, Koina looked very attractive.
And closer still mind wanted to touch the water—sitting on the stones, water flowing by.
Come, touch me
It was time to go down to it—nature on its own, without any will except expressing itself and sustain. Waiting was over.