February 28, 2021 9:40:53 am
AS A paraglider of BSF sporting a Tricolour on his back puts his feet on the ground, 12-year-old Mahesh along other children of Palasara village run towards him, as he lands on the lower slope opposite their village in the Morni block of Panchkula. They cheer and raise slogans of Jai Hind. The paraglider, Inspector Ajay Singh Adhana, from BSF Adventure School, Dehradun, is followed by three of his colleagues, who jump from a faraway Bhuri hill at a height of at least 4,000 ft, and land at Palasara village one by one.
The BSF team is in Morni for conducting the paragliding trial on the request of Shivalik Development Board (SDB), a government body working for development of Shivalik areas in Haryana. The trial is successful.
“It was during the six-month-long lockdown due to COVID-19 that we realised the potential of Morni. Thousands of people visited Morni from all over Haryana, especially from the National Capital Region (NCR) like Gurugaon, as the inter-state travel was banned. Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, the states with traditional tourist destinations, had closed their doors for the outsiders. Morni was the only option for the people of Haryana. We knew as two states will open up for outsiders at the end of the lockdown, there will be no major footfall in Morni. We wanted to introduce something unique, which can boost the economy of the local area,” says Mahesh Kumar Singla, vice-chairman of SDB. He is a retired IPS officer.
“We discussed various options and the idea of adventure tourism, especially paragliding, struck to my mind. Bir Billing model was already there. But there were various hurdles. We contacted BSF. The high-ups agreed to dispatch a team from its Dehradun-based Adventure School to Morni. A four-member team conducted a feasibility test along with two forest guards of the entire Morni area. Three to four hills with a height of around 4,000 ft were selected. Three- day-long successful trials were conducted from Bhuri hill to the lower place called Palasara village,” Singla says.
It was for the first time when a successful paragliding trial was held in Haryana. “The agriculture land, which was selected for the landing platform, has not been cultivated for the past two decades. Various reasons are responsible for it: authorised land mining in the lower areas surrounding Morni Hills triggered land erosion in upper parts, unavailability of adequate water resources and lack of interest in farming among youth. Unemployment among youth is an issue in this area,” says Pawan Kumar, sarpanch of Palasara.
Over a dozen stone crushers and screening plants are located on the banks of rivers near Raipurrani at the Morni foothills. Mining is allowed in this area. Sukhbir Rana of Palasara, a block committee member, Morni, says, “There was a time when we cultivated at least three crops every year. Chana (chickpea), arhar dal (split pigeon pea) and til (sesame) were our traditional crops besides the maze. Today, we only grow maze, which is a crop of three to four months. In the rest of the year, there is only grass, dry grass for cattle in this land. We were not aware of the state government plans, but I am sure this area has a huge potential in terms of tourism.”
Palasara has around 99 bighas of agricultural land, which lies unused for almost nine months in a year. Contrary to it, certain parts of Morni, especially upper areas, are productive. Maze, tomatoes, potatoes, peas, ginger, turmeric along with wheat and paddy are the traditional crops of this area.
BSF Inspector Ajay Singh Adhana, chief instructor (paragliding) at BSF Adventure School, Dehradun, says, “Paragliding is not an easy sport.
Not everyone can tie a paraglide, go up to the hill and jump. It needs preparation, training and perfect locations in terms of altitude, wind speed, direction and landing platform. Bir Billing was a small village when paragliding was introduced there. It was merely a cluster of houses. But paragliding and the concept of home stay put that area on the international map. Indeed, we cannot compare Morni with Bir Billing but paragliding in Morni is possible. Indeed, paragliding business is being operated at Billing by private companies, but instructors, guides, employees are all locals. Even several locals are trained paragliders. Without them, the sport is not possible. We will come again to conduct Tandem paragliding in the coming months.
The winds, wind speed and direction of wind in Morni hills were found perfect for this adventure sports at the low level.” In Solo paragliding, a trained paraglider can fly without any instructor. In Tandem paragliding, an untrained paraglider flies with an instructor.
Sanjeev Kumar, a forest guard attached with the BSF team, says, “It took us two days to identify four perfect locations for the jump. We scaled almost a dozen hills on foot for finding a perfect place to take the flight and land. Out of the four, the Bhuri hills situated at an altitude of around 4,000 ft was perfect. It was facing the stair style fields of Palasara village. The trials were successful.”
Morni Hills in Panchkula are spread over 52,000 acres of forest area touching the boundaries of Himachal Pradesh. It has 14 village panchyats locally known as Bhojs around it where around 110 small and big hamlets (dhanis) are situated.
It has two wildlife sanctuaries, one vulture breeding centre, one red jungle fowl/pheasant breeding centre.
Largely, people depend on cultivation, daily wages and in private jobs in Panchkula, Chandigarh, nearby industrial town of Baddi and Kala Amb in Himachal. A small section of people is also in government jobs. Besides, there are government high schools, a senior secondary school and a government polytechnic. A Junior Basic Teacher (JBT) training centre is there too.
A senior IFS officer with Haryana forest and wildlife department says, “Over the years, hundreds of mushrooming hotels, guest houses have come up in Morni. But in a true sense, there is hardly anything constructive in this area to attract visitors. This area has a huge potential but merely scenic beauty is not enough. For the engagement of people, we will have to promote and provide some activities. We have constructed nature trails and are in the process of developing treks, dedicated camping sites for the visitors. This will all benefit the local population. The lockdown was encashed by Morni. But more effort is required.”
Roshan Lal of Morni says, “Every weekend, hundreds of cyclists and motorcyclists come here. But their arrival does not benefit local people directly in the long term. Activities which engage visitors are required in this area.”
A Chandigarh resident, Vivek Bhandari, who operates an adventure agency, says, “The sole aim of the government behind these activities should be the benefit of local population. Nothing can happen without the involvement of local communities. Be it Uttarakhand, Rajasthan or Himachal, these areas were only developed to the international level with the involvement of local people.”
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