Cliff hangers

Light faded as we completed the climb to Naneghat. The monsoon clouds had gathered again. The pass was too narrow for a motorable road. We parked, and I took some of the slippery steps down. There were intriguing caves ahead, but with The Family’s back strain, I wasn’t going to risk them. The pass had narrowed to about two meters across, the high cliffs above me almost seeming to meet. In this bad light I looked at the wet cliff walls and noticed a tapestry of orchids!

Orchids could be the most numerous family of plants on earth, both in population, and the number of species. In fact, the number of species is twice that of birds. So I find it difficult to identify them. I just figured that with three petals, one elongated into a leaf, and with roots which only tap into the cliff lightly, this couldn’t be anything but a member of the family Orchidaceae. It’ll be great if you can help with the ID.

The next thing that I saw on the cliff walls were snails: many of them. There are even more species of snails than there are orchids, perhaps 50% more in numbers. Of course, when there are so many species, it is hard to count precisely. In any case, I’m worse at identifying snails than orchids (that is not to overstate my ability with orchids). There was so much variety of plants and mosses on this cliff that I was not at all surprised by the number of snails. They were all the same species, so if you can help me identify one, you’ve given a name to all of them.

After all this, I was happy to see a small flower which I was able to identify with some help and effort: the common Begonia (Begonia crenata). These are common in this kind of sheltered mossy rocks with plenty of water. Under such conditions it is hard to get good photos. Although it is dark, a flash would create terrible reflections. I didn’t have a good reflector at hand (even my clothes were dark). All in all, I’m happy with the photos I got. The close up shows a female flower; the five petals are not the same size. In the other bunch (the one in which the mosquito obligingly sat to gave a scale) you can see a few of the strange two-petalled male flowers.

Do you really want to know?

What lies over the hill? That’s a question that keeps us going, isn’t it? But sometimes what’s on this side of the hill is so beautiful that you don’t want to budge. Perpetual youth is the curse of never being curious about what lies over the hill. The rest of us, we love the view here, but we want to plow on and check out the view from the top as well.

Outside the small town of Ghoti on the Mumbai-Nashik road

Sometimes you get a glimpse of it from down at the bottom. Looks like someone’s made a good place for a selfie or two, a share on social media. This climb will be worthwhile, you think as you set off.

Naneghat, the view across the pass

At other times you reach the top, exhausted. To your dismay you find that it’s not the end of the road. There’s the steep downhill bit. It looks quite scary, and the path is wet. Do you really want to do it? Are the distant plains quite as nice as they look from up here?

Crossing Malshej ghat in Maharashtra

Sometimes you wish that someone had made a keyhole in that mountain, so that you can spy on the other side without needing to climb. It does happen, you know! These hills are full of tunnels.

Monsoon waterfall at the top of Malshej ghat

But sometimes,the other side just falls on you. There’s no way you want that. You roll up the windows quickly and get away from it fast, before all that falling stuff drowns you, or washes you down the hillside. Driving in the Sahyadris during the monsoon will give you all these new perspectives on aging and geology. What you make of these lessons is up to you.