Napoklu is a small town located in Madikeri Taluk, in the northern part of Kodagu district. I have spent several memorable holidays here, living a high energy childhood. There are several places of interests for tourists and local pilgrimage that are centered around Napoklu. Some of them are ‘Sri Makki Sastavų temple’, ‘Chelavara waterfalls’ etc. The ‘puttari festival’ is one of the best and the most elaborate one celebrated by the Kodava clan native to Napoklu.
If any of you find a tinge of madness in me, it is likely that it has been due to the influence of my cousin who hails from this town. He has been my closest friend as we both grew up together, roaming farms, fields and streams. On weekends when he didn’t come to our grandparents’ house in Madikeri, we would be roaming together, around the other places that are mentioned in this series of posts.
Although I have spoken about how I developed the awareness for conservation of wildlife in one of my earlier posts, but it is in Napoklu, that I originally imbibed the qualities of empathy for animals. Apart from the cattle, dogs and cats that I was surrounded with in Madikeri, my cousin had birds, fishes, tortoises, rabbits and poultry in his house. They shared a unique bond with him. While during the days, we caught dragonflies with aquarium nets, we chased fireflies at night and trapped them all together in empty glass jars to create a mini ecosystem of our own.
If you wonder how I know some names of celebrities from across the globe, it is because we followed them. I watched Formula-One, WWF, Tennis and Cricket without missing a single match or a tournament, because the TV remote would always be with this guy and I had no option. The craziest automobile geek I had ever known, much until I became an automobile engineer and met a few other geeks along the way, was this cousin alone. We traded ‘trump cards’ and fought each other over the ownership rights of the rarest WWF and Cricket cards. We still hold back some of these treasured collections and often reminisce those good days of innocent fun. These are the same things that trigger little momentous joy to me even today and that which helps me spread positive energy.
This is a small village in South Kodagu that is closer to Kerala borders than it is to Madikeri. This is where my maternal cousins originally hail from, and they went to school with me at some point while staying together at our maternal grandparents’ house. So, it was natural that I too would accompany them to their native village on several occasions when they went to their parent’s house at Theralu.
Apart from the expansive Tata tea estates and the Kerala borders some of the other popular landmarks that I enjoyed day tripping here were Irupu waterfalls, Mrithyunjaya temple and the Nagarhole National Park.
For all that I can remember from those visits were that there were people speaking and following different culture than I was familiar with. All the workers that worked in both my maternal and paternal hometowns were from the local tribal communities who spoke and ate quite same as what I did at home. But those working at my Uncle’s estate in Theralu spoke so many different languages. The larger group had almost created a mini-Assam in the site of their labourers quarters. They had built so many structures, equipment, tools out of bamboo (the most common site in all over Assam) and ate food that was made with ingredients that we in Kodagu didn’t know were edible until we saw them.
This is also where I was introduced to Tamil language and their movies. A large group of workers came to work in the farm at Theralu during the peak coffee harvest season and returned back to Tamil Nadu after the season ended. During evenings or on weekends, these workers often came to my cousins house to watch TV. Although I didn’t know their language and didn’t comprehend with most things they communicated, I picked up names of the stars whom they clapped hands in enjoyment or sounded a “Shhhhhh” to express disappointment while watching their favorite stars on the screen. In spite of not understanding a word of what the movie or tele-serial was about, it was an inevitable situation for me to sit and watch through whatever was being played 😀 Looking back at the days, those stars from the early 2000s are the only few whom I can associate with while talking about movies with a Tamilian!
With limited means of communication, the major exposure we had in this small hill-district was just limited to living in estates or serving the army. Here, I saw migrant workers coming from faraway places in search of ANY doable jobs, saved a portion of their limited income and sent it to their families back in their hometowns and still lived a life of modesty. I learnt that life was not all easy for people living in other parts of the earth. It always made me think and reflect how unequal and different life was for everyone. Theralu taught me lessons of gratitude for the life I am living!
Bastar region in Chhattisgarh is very popular for its Dussehra celebrations and people flock from far away to witness its tribal congregation during this time. Noting that Jagdalpur is the biggest city in Bastar, it is likely that it will be the central place for planning one’s stay and travel around this region. But, if one happens to be there for a very short stay and interested in exploring Bastar beyond its festivities, then here are some of my recommendations.
1. Caving at Madarkonta: There are so many massive limestone caves and cave systems in and around Jagdalpur and just a countable few of them have been promoted by the Chhattisgarh tourism board. Although these are also great places to visit, my caving experience at Madarkonta is one that stands apart. This cave is still inaccessible without a local guide and no tools or digging has been made to accommodate tourists. So, the entire caving experience here is still in its raw form, just the way it was found by the local men, many years ago. You need to duck down and walk barefoot, navigating your way through the hollow limestone chambers with torch light. (Barefoot because the locals believe that some deities reside inside the cave). Watch the entire video below:
2. A boat ride into the Chitrakoot waterfalls: Chhattisgarh is home to over a hundred amazing waterfalls. But the poster boy on all their tourism ads is the Chitrakoot. Also known as the Chitrakote waterfalls, it is referred to as India’s Niagara for a reason… During monsoon, river Indravati plummets down with all her might in a horseshoe shape, making it the widest waterfall in India. A ride in a country boat right into the waterfalls is an exhilarating experience! Watch the entire video below:
3. A sunrise visit to the Island temple at Dalpat Sagar lake: Although tourists can take a boat ride in the largest artificial lake of Chhattisgarh state all through the day, an experience that stands out is a ride during sunrise, to the temple located in the middle of this lake. I was told that an underground chamber connects the temple to the royal palace located in the city. This chamber is used by the members of the royal family and VIPs to participate in special ceremonies during Dussehra. On other days, if one is lucky to get access to a country boat for an early morning ride (even better if it is along with the temple priest), they can see the entrance of this chamber illuminated with oil torches while the priest makes his visit to offer the first prayers of the day.
4. A Gotul visit: I’ve already spoken about the significance about a Gotul in the tribal culture of Bastar in a separate post. This is a great way to get acquainted with the rich tribal culture through its traditions, music, dance and food, all at one common place.
5. A tour of the artisans villages: Wrought iron crafts, Dokra art, wooden crafts, stone sculpting, pottery, handloom, paintings, jewelry making- the list of indigenous art in this region is long and the region boasts of several artisans of National and International fame. Even a quick day tour of these hamlets is worth every little time of yours, while you are here!
Do you plan to make Chattisgarh your next destination? Or have you already been there before? What are your recommendations or queries? Let me know!
I have discussed with you all why I volunteered to become a ‘Trek leader on weekends’ and how much I enjoy doing it with ‘Plan the Unplanned’ (PTU). With Covid19 lockdowns and safety precautions that followed, break from my weekends with PTU has been longer than I had thought. Although I have been travelling with a closed group of friends and family since few months now, the fear of socializing with a bunch of unknown people had kept me away from PTU. Finally, this January, I decided to get out and lead a group of trekkers. The destination assigned for this weekend was Sultan Bathery in Wayanad district of Kerala. And the task was to find a hidden gem in the Aranamala hills. We were going to hike along a stream to see a waterfall.
Day 0: Leave Bangalore by night Day 1: Day hike to Aranamala waterfall, Visit sunset-point and night camping at Ambukutti hills Day 2: Watch sunrise, visit Edakkal caves and explore Wayanad. Return to Bangalore by night.
It is a very hazy memory from the cold dark January morning of sitting inside our bus at the Wayanad wildlife sanctuary’s Sultan Bathery check post. We had arrived much before 06.00.a.m., when the forest gates would open for public entry. Since we were not allowed to make any noise or get out of the bus in the forest area, we all decided to get some sleep until the gates opened. At first, I was woken up by the cries of peacocks that seemed to be somewhere very near to the bus and some distant elephant trumpet. But then, the darkness around and the exhaustion from the previous workday got me back to fall asleep. I was woken up again in a while, by a sound that was very contrasting and disturbing as compared to what I had heard before falling asleep the last time. This time, the loud deafening sounds were of honking buses and trucks that had congregated at the check post. I opened my eyes to see the dawn of the day with a red sun rising over a mist laden green paddy field from my window. The fresh dung just outside the bus gave me a momentary fright at the thought of having had an elephant walk right past us, in the dark. All said and done, the entry formalities at the inter-state border was sorted and we were at a hotel in a bit. We freshened up, had a nice Kerala breakfast and got ready for the long day ahead.
After arriving at Meppadi town, we met our local guide and shifted from our minibus to 4WD Jeeps. The initial stretch deceived me in thinking why a 4WD was needed to drive on a properly laid concrete road. Just then, the roads disappeared, and the real ride started… Although I was sitting in the rear end of the vehicle, I preferred not to sit on the seat and chose to hang on to the roof lest have all my joints and bones displaced. The long drive through the thick canopied forest trail culminated at the start point of our hike. We descended through the path that deviated from the main road towards a river. That’s the ‘Thollayiram Kandi’, our guide pointed out at a peak topped by the rolling clouds. “Kandi is a local unit of measurement”, he elaborated as we continued to walk. We walked through cardamom plantations and jumped over a few fallen tree trunks and creeping roots until we reached a stream.
From there onwards, the hike was mainly upstream. While enjoying the absolute music of the gurgling waters of the stream, the croaking frogs and the shrilling cicadas, we slipped down a few large rocks and fell into the shallow waters a couple of times. In spite of trying hard not to get our shoes wet, we ended up soaking them up and picking out occasional leeches from our feet. We realized that given our pace of hiking up, we would not be able to return on time with sufficient daylight. Hence from there onwards, our guide made his own path, through the thick forest. He walked ahead by cutting the thick bushes that came across, all by keeping the stream in sight. We did slip and tumble down the steep a couple of times though. But the hanging vines and lianas came to our rescue. And suddenly, our first view of the waterfall emerged. It was beautiful and the water pool looked crystal clear, tempting to step inside. Apart from our group, there was no one else.
As we got ready to step into the pool, “This is not the main waterfall. We need to walk further ahead”, said our guide. If this waterfall was so calm and beautiful, we wondered how the main waterfall would be like. We were excited! But our excitement sought energy 😛 We had to climb up the same rock, on one end of which the water plunged down. Quite a tricky climb but worth every inch of it! A short walk further from there waaaaasssss the hidden gem that we had come in search of. Now, don’t ask me the name of the waterfall, it is completely off the map and mobile network. So, there is NO way you will find it on google. To make it simple, you can call it the Aranamala waterfall, the waterfall in the Aranamala hills.
That’s all folks, we’re off into the pool to enjoy our dip! But hey, it was not so easy…. The water was bloody cold, and I had cramps in my feet for the first few minutes. I meanwhile enjoyed my free fish-pedicure too, it sort of eased the cramps for me. And then with a dip, I was all set! A waterfall so secluded, a pool so clear and a feeling so divine, I couldn’t have asked for any better to make up for all the travels missed in nearly a year now. After spending some good time under the waterfall and with our soaking wet clothes on, we decided to return. It was already 03.30.p.m and hence decided to take an easy path instead of walking back through the same terrain of forest and the rocks. So, we were taken through a shorter but a beautiful path through cardamom plantation for our descent.
After a nice filling lunch at a campsite enroute, we boarded the jeeps back towards Meppadi. The original itinerary did include a short sunset ride, but the clouds didn’t seem to part for the entire day. From Meppadi, we reached the base of Ambukutti hills for the night. It took us yet another jeep ride to a homestay where we had our chai and conversations. And a fun time around the bonfire until dinner was served.
Post dinner, we carried our tents and sleeping bags up the hill and managed to pitch them atop. The winds were strong, and the rocky ground was tough. With the thick mist blinding all around and the instructions from our guide to not venture away from the tents, all that we could envisage was a deep valley below. The bonus of holding up in the cold until morning, u ask? ‘The view from the tent, of the sun rising above the clouds at 06.00a.m.’ But come morning, we had a surprise awaiting. There was so many clouds until 09.00.a.m that we got a glimpse of the sun for barely a few seconds. We walked up the hill a little further from our campsite, took in some clean air and good views of the range around. We then returned to pack our tents and freshen up for the day. Our breakfast and our ride back to Meppadi was awaiting us at the homestay.
That was my story about offbeat Wayanad with ‘Plan the Unplanned’, of leading a group of weekenders and enjoying my weekend, both at the same time.
Other Travel recommendations:
Edakkal caves are located at a walkable distance from the campsite at Ambukutti hills
You can visit Tirunelli temple and Irupu waterfalls by driving through Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary (Tholpetta) and Nagarhole National park.
Alternately, you can explore Sultan Bathery, visit the ancient Jain temple and Banasura sagar dam that offers a good view of the surrounding hills.
Aren’t honeybees good inspirers to travel? In a lifespan that’s as short as just a few days, they find a new place every day, explore a new flower every minute and taste new nectars on every flight! All this while still performing their assigned duties without having any complaints. Living a sweet life while being as busy as a bee!
It was curiosity that led me to learning about bee-keeping. This curiosity was a summation of multiple experiences accumulated through the years of childhood. I have been raised by my grandparents where honey has been an essential part of my life. We used it as a dip for breakfast and as a rice-mix for lunch, as an energy drink with hot water or even as a medicine with brandy or pepper corn. And yeah, stashes of several bottles went packed as souvenirs to guests who visited home and to friends who lived far away. You can call this honey with adjectives like pure, organic, handpicked, homemade, etc. ‘Coorg honey’ it was, after all!
Grandpa was personally enthusiastic about this particular hobby of his. I was often smitten with curiosity when he returned home with either a swollen face or with swollen hands. When I went nearer to him to check for his condition, he would only greet me with a warm smile and a piece of honeycomb dripping with fresh nectar. While at home, he would be busy with his bees in 75+ boxes that were kept around the house. It used to be a festival day for the family when drums of honey used to be extracted from his boxes all by himself. While at his favourite place- the Abbi estate, it was customary for him to have a daily look at this massive ‘Honey Tree’ as we called it, the single large tree where bee hives were formed annually. It was the family night out, an annual event that we all looked forward for. Honey tappers from a specific tribe called ‘Jenu Kurubas’ used to be called in, to climb the tree in pitch darkness on a no-moon night. The family camped in the darkness at midnight on the damp ground of the coffee estate with the rustling sound of the waterfalls in the background. While as a kid, I was amused with the spectacle of blue lights falling down from that tree, only as a grown up adult I realize the lights were indeed bees that were falling down after being smoked up in the process of honey tapping. And not to forget some odd days when he would pick out snakes from mud crevices that he had put his hands to collect honey from. And then there were days, when we made friends over a bottle of honey. These were customers who came to grandpa’s makeshift shop at Abbi falls with their unique ways of testing the quality of the honey sold there! Each customer, a unique character and every conversation, a story in itself.
For me, adding this new dimension to my travel stories was more of an emotional journey.. With the passing away of Granpa, the charm and life that his favourite place held too passed. The ‘Honey Tree’ eventually saw the ground leaving our family to buy honey from the market. Having relished the finest nectars from high tree trunks, deep mud crevices and those handpicked from the several bee boxes kept around the house, our family like all others are really not sure of the quality of those available in the market. That’s when this thought of setting up my own bee box struck me along with traveling in pursuit of knowledge sharing. These things led to me developing an interest about learning about honey bees and eventually respecting these tiny creatures more and more. I think being born in a community of nature worshippers gives me an instant connect with things that are natural and essential for our existence. Home is where primary and the most essential education starts and for me, Grandpa has been the main reason for one of the finest childhood lessons and home education I have picked up.
Albert Einstein said, “The Earth will come to an end in just 4 days if there be NO honeybees on this planet.” Honeybees are such an important part of our very own existence on this planet, Save them! Get in touch with an expert before you get that beehive removed from your concrete dwelling. Alternatively, get in touch with me for I would be more than willing to give a talk for awareness in your community. I signed up for a workshop to learn this art of bee-farming, and a certification came as a bonus. I did my course with ‘HoneyDay Bee farms’ who are thorough professionals and extremely knowledgeable in the field. They work with farmers right from the installation to extraction to marketing thus assuring you a 100% purity in their products. Go try them out!
India has intrigued the world with its history, geography and culture- each individually dating back to several ages ago. I have been no different from the rest of the world. The LostLander has begun to embrace her landings after getting lost at random places in her incredible country. The more she is exploring her country, the more she has been discovering about its descendance and getting mind blown with new discoveries each time.
“The history of India’s physical geography is older than that of its civilization or even that of the human race. The subcontinent has been a distinct geological entity for millions of years. Therefore, to understand India, we must go back to the very beginning.”
The fact that it is called as a subcontinent is associated to a larger theory of it being separated out of a supercontinent called ‘Rodinia’ and drifting apart from Africa, Antarctica and then Madagascar before it struck with the Asian continent. No, I’m not time traveling that far for now! It was just to put an exclamation to how amazing this country’s geography has evolved to be and what the natural bounty as we called it, has to offer in this beautiful country to an explorer… To take my article forward and with no biases, I divide the geography of this subcontinent into North and the South, just by drawing an imaginary line passing through its center, Seoni in Madhya Pradesh. Here is a humble attempt to take my readers through some of the beautiful destinations I have been to enjoy the natural marvels of Southern India. They are in random order and listed as and when I recollected them. For more details, you need to read my individual posts on them by clicking on their respective tags!
1. Kurusudai islands: Nestled off the coast of Rameswaram in the Gulf of Mannar, it is the only place in the world where the oldest and the last surviving living fossil is found in the world.
2. The table tops of Maharashtra: Be it the beautifully painted pink valleys of the Khas plateau, valleys of Matheran, Mahabaleshwar or any place thought of for a scenic drive for the Mumbaikars- have all formed out of large volcanic eruptions as the subcontinent merged with Asia. Not just that, these geographical features were strategically used by Shivaji to stop the invasion by the Mughals and hence called the Deccan traps.
3. Limestone caves of Andhra Pradesh: Belum caves, a part of a larger cave complex in the Erramalai region is the largest and longest cave system that is open to public. Similarly, the Borra caves is the deepest in the country. The speleothem formations are worth a visit which have formed due to continuous flowing of water over a thousand years, easily dating back to the Archaean age.
4. Gandikota: People call it as the ‘Grand Canyon of India. It is a beautiful gorge formed by the Pennar river as it squeezes from between the rock formation that has played witness to several kingdoms in history.
5. Eastern Ghats: Although I use a very generic term that specifies an entire region, they are older and mineral rich than their popular counterparts on the western side. All, again a resultant of several tectonic activities in the event of formation of the Indian mass.
6. Dhanushkodi: This abandoned town has more than just history of a cyclone. The revered ‘RamaSethu’ or the Adam’s bridge was formerly considered to be the largest Tombolo in the world and is believed to have formed due to the drifting of India and the Lankan land masses several thousand years ago..
Well… If all these have been the outcomes of several tectonic activities of the earth over a million years, there are yet several other amazing things that nature has to offer in the Southern peninsula.
7. Have you been to Wayanad in Northern Kerala? There is a heart shaped lake after a good climb up the Chembra peak in the western Ghats. It’s the nature’s way of telling ‘I Love You’!
8. Heard of the Barren island? It is the only active volcano in India, with the most recent eruption being in 2017. The sea area around it is considered to be one of the best dive sites in the world!
9. And then there is Baratang islands- It is the only mud volcano in India, situated in the Andaman group of islands.
11. Cruised through the canals of Kuttanad? Mostly popular among the honeymooners and families alike for its backwaters and houseboats, what many don’t know about this region is that it is the only region in the world where paddy farming is done below sea level.
12. How about a boat ride in the Mangrove forests of the Bay of Bengal? The Sundarbans and Pichavaram forests are the first and the second largest mangrove marshlands in the world. A world heritage site that they are, an extremely important part of the ecology.
13. What happens when a meteor hits the earth? A massive crater is formed giving form to Lonar lake in Maharashtra. This Geo-heritage monument saline soda lake is the only high velocity impact crater lake on earth.
14. Seen the waterfalls of the Deccan plateau? Be it the Chitrakoot falls in Chhattisgarh, Gokak falls in Karnataka, Athirapally in Kerala or Hogeynakal in Tamil Nadu… They’re all so good they can give a good competition to the Niagara!
15. Heard of the Sentinelese tribesmen in the Andaman sea? They’ve long avoided contact with the outside world and their gene pool is believed to be one of the crucial links to early man and the evolution of mankind on the planet.
What India has to offer is abundant! And these are only a few places that I have been to in the southern India. Do you have any recommendations? Have I missed out on anything? I would LOVE to know… Please drop n your suggestions, recommendations, feedback in the comments section below 😊
It is needless to elaborate on the names Tirumala and Tirupathi! Famous as the richest temple in the world, the seat of Swamy Venkateshwara- the lord of seven hills. What goes beyond just this RICH temple is its geographical location. For someone who has been there and used the 11km long stairs to get to the top, I’m sure he must have enjoyed the multiple pit stops and deviations off the course to see the ‘Papavinasanam’ and ‘Akasha Ganga’ waterfalls enroute. And then there is the magnificent Silathoranam, the natural arch bridge formed due to volcanic erosions several million years ago… As if these pit stops weren’t enough, one is bound to get enchanted by the stunning view of the entire range of hills surrounding the temple with the Nagari quartzite formations… Ever since I had been there, exploring these hills has always been on my bucket-list… And when I chanced upon an opportunity to do it over a weekend, I jumped in with excitement. Taking cue from a random couch-surfing meet-up, we had decided to hit the roads to explore the hill ranges of Eastern Ghats. So on a Saturday morning, we started from Bangalore before sunrise to see the highest waterfall in the state of Andhra Pradesh, nestled in the Venkateshwara National Park. While I slept for most of the way, I was awakened to a blurred view of a fiery-red sunrise seen through the dew-laden window glass of our car, cruising through misty roads with hazy paddy fields around. We stopped by at one of the several restaurants on the way for a nice south-Indian breakfast and coffee.
With good asphalted road all the way, we arrived at the forest check-post at Talakona. While our friend was getting the required permits / entry tickets into the national park, we got chatting with a fruit vendor who let us try the variety of fruits in his cane basket which all tasted as sweet as nectar. He then told us that he could be our guide (at a small cost) and show us some offbeat corners of the forest. We agreed upon the idea and promised to buy more fruits from him on our return to make up for his business. We then reached the eco-lodge, managed by the forest department and ordered for food which would be kept ready by the time we returned from our trek from the woods. We then drove up, till the Siddeshwara Swamy temple and parked our vehicle near the foothills of the waterfalls. Our guide took us off the course from there on through stone-laid stairs that seemed like we were walking into oblivion in the jungle that is notoriously famous for red-sandalwood smugglers and the elusive beasts- the Royal Bengal tigers. Our first stop was at this view point from where most of the green and brown stretch of alternating forest and quartzite was seen. After a short climb thereon, our guide made us cross a stream of water and took us to the edge of the rocky path. The stream now seemed like it was jumping down in a mad rush from the cliff we were standing upon, and we could hear the screaming of several tourists down beneath. That’s when our guide burst the bubble for us- We were standing right on top of the highest waterfall of the state. It was a nerve wracking experience to stand atop there and watch the water gush down under our feet and have a post-monsoon gorgeous view of the green ranges.
We were then guided through a canopy of lush green trees and hanging branches along the flowing water, at the end of where our feet stopped! Stopped in amusement… Amusement at what our eyes were seeing… A thick moss laden semi-circular rocky wall due to the flowing water over ages across whom several creepers hung and the water dropped down with all grace. This entire set-up of nature reflected in the mirror-like crystal clear water of the pond formed beneath where the golden fishes were enjoying their undisturbed swim. The rocks inside the pool made it appear rather shallow and was enticing us for a quick swim! With absolutely nobody else in the place- No exaggeration, it felt like we had found our long lost connection with nature right there! All unprepared for a swim, we put our legs into the freezing cold water to get a nice fish pedicure that de-stressed the city souls in us!
After getting our natural fish pedicure done, we headed back towards the base of the Talakona waterfall. But, it was a different route this time… It was a beautiful path with a canopy of trees, a deep gorge to our left and the massive rocky caves to our right accompanied by an eerie silence of the jungle… At the end was another waterfall. It was one of the levels of this multi-tiered waterfall which we had to cross through. For a look from the distance, we could not gauge the level of difficulty until we actually got on the rocky path to cross it. While each one of us mocked and took fun in laughing at why the other person couldn’t cross it with ease, we dreaded our own feat of the waterfall-crossing when we slipped, slid and even glided across the super slippery rock over which the algae had settled making it an armed to the teeth adventure. We had a friend who slid and landed right at the edge of the cliff, just an inch further would have taken him rolling down the multiple tiers of the highest waterfall of the state 😛 All said and done, with we being drenched to our bones, our jaws chattering with cold and an unexplainable feeling of accomplishment, we had reached the last part of our hike.
We then walked down to get a good look of the mighty Talakona waterfall from its base right-up, to understand where we had just arrived from… We then drove to the eco-lodge to dry ourselves, get some food and to call it a wrap for an eventful day that we concluded at twilight!
I could not express better than these lines picked up from a website, “If the Raindrops elevate your mood, clouds stir your senses and rainbow brings out childlike pleasure in you, then don’t hold yourself back. We are taking you to the abode of clouds-Meghalaya; where rain weaves a magical spell, spellbinding beauty haunts your senses and you witness nature at its best. Witness the monsoon magic, majestic waterfalls, live root bridges and more…” and one can go to no better place than Sohra fondly called Cherrapunjee to experience all of that Meghalaya has to offer in a small place.
This post is part of my fortnight long road trip across North-east India, specifically covering parts of Meghalaya – Assam – Arunachal Pradesh I had tagged along with two other travelers and drove around the state of Meghalaya in a self-drive car hired at Shillong. The places visited in Meghalaya include Shillong – Smit – Cherrapunjee – Mawlynnong – Dawki – Ribhoi- Shillong.
Day 1: Arrive from Shillong / Smit; Wahkabah waterfall, Arwah or Lumshynna caves, Nohkalikai waterfalls, seven sister / Nongsthiang falls (Night’s stay at a local homestay) Day 2: Tyrna village, Nongriat trek (Double decker rootbridge & Rainbow falls), Mawsmai cave/Krem Phyllut, Ummunoi root bridge at Laitkynsew village (Night camping at Nohkalikai) Day 3: Dianthlen waterfall trek, Sohra market, Ramakrishna mission, Mawkdok valley, Thangkharang park, Moktrop rock; journey towards Mawlynnong.
Like most tourists, we started our day early from Shillong via Smit. To differ from the rest, we had a self-drive car at our disposal so that we had the liberty to stop whenever and wherever we wanted. The drive route was mostly untouched and its rustic charm kept us excited all through as this route is less treaden by the tourists. Pine plantations, lesser explored waterfalls nestled away from the main road, well groomed vegetable farms, hay shacks were a common thing for us while we had stopped atleast 100 times for photos.
As we approached Sohra, we stopped at several view points, Wahkabah waterfall being one among them. India’s longest cave and the most numbers of limestone caves in one place happens to be in Meghalaya and hence Meghalaya is a haven for cave explorers. Our first stop at Sohra was at the Arwah or Lumshynna caves. Relatively smaller compared to the other caves in the viscinity, but is tucked away in a gorgeous location overlooking the deep valley with the Nongsthiang waterfalls.
After a brief visit, we headed towards our next stop: Plunging down from a height of over 1100 feet, Nohkalikai is the highest waterfall in India. We trekked down the steps and a little beyond into the bushes and enjoyed the rare views of the waterfall away from the reaches of normal tourist. There is an option to camp at the Eco park, over the seven sister / Nongsthiang falls. But we decided against it as the place is filled with backpackers and would’ve been too clumsy for us, we were someone who wanted a peaceful place away from the crowd.
Pitching a tent in Sohra requires prior permission from 4 different authorities: the land owner, the Siam of the village, the local government body and the police. In search of a nice place to pitch our tents, we took help of one of a local Khasi friend. With the local connect, our quest to find a piece of land to pitch a tent ended up more like an exploration of Sohra. We could go to some of the untouched places and sunset views that was completely out-of-reach from typical travellers. We were taken to remote places like banks of a small river, a cliff off-a-small hillock, plains overlooking massive gorges, cement factory backyards among other places. With the sun-going down early in this part of the world, we had very little time in hand and insufficient preparation for the night’s camping.
We finally ended up staying with a Khasi family in a local homestay located amid a serene location. The stay however was the highlight of our day: the warm hospitality of the Khasis is something that will never let one regret their choice of stay. Our host at the homestay, accompanied us for dinner and for a drink as we got discussing everything from Khasi culture, ceremonies, politics, sports, tourism et all under the sky, a clear night’s sky. With no pollution in the atmosphere, my friend helped me to identify several constellations from the place that was brilliant for star gazing. It was an unforgettable night for us with the Khasi family.
Next day, we drove to places around Cherrapunjee including the villages of Tyrna, Nongriat, Mawsmai cave/Krem Phyllut, Laitsynkew to explore the living root bridges which was an activity from dawn to dusk! We got in touch with a local guide ‘Mr.Paradise’, who then arranged for our camping in the Nohkalikai village for the night. It was yet another wonderful night spent with new Khasi friends, as we enjoyed Khasi music, the enriching conversation with Paradise and his friends about the Khasi culture. We gained insights about their customs, religious practices, respect for people, nature’s love among many other things. It was a long night under the starry sky with only my friends, Paradise’s friends, myself and the campfire! Suddenly, while the last bit of the firewood was being lit and just before the night broke into dawn, the skies of Meghalaya had shown their power. It poured cats and dogs for the rest of the night, with thunder storm and lightning. We sheltered ourselves inside our tents while I continued to shiver with cold.
At dawn’s break on the following morning, the skies had seemed to have mellowed down and we stepped out of our tents only to be awed by the beautiful sun rising over India’s highest waterfall! Yeah, Meghalaya has been wonderful to us all this while and this was another new day in this ‘land of clouds’. While we had planned a short trek across the Dianthlen falls, the rain gods continued to lash throughout the day. Cherrapunjee is the wettest part of the world. So, what’s the whole point if one doesn’t experience the rains here, right? We walked in the places around Dianthlen falls and enjoyed the rains for some wild fun but getting drenched till our bones.
It was already noon and we couldn’t cover the other few places as planned in Cherrapunjee because of the poor visibility due to heavy rains. Anyway, speculating no possibilities for any improvement in the weather conditions, we decided to drive to our next destination- the Jaintia hills district.
While the warmth of the very hospitable Khasis has still left me in awe and amusement, I’d like to end this note here with these lines:
“Even then, goodbye dear Cherra, and your rain goodbye. For my life is yonder, though my love is here.”
This is a pick from old memories of exactly a year ago, in August 2013. My mother was away in Belagavi for a month-long business trip and I had decided to catch up with her over the weekend. We then got together, and explored the places around Belgaum, fondly called Belagavi. This time, it was only a day trip around Belgaum with a quick visit to the widest waterfall in my state, the Niagara of Karnataka.
Our Itinerary: Friday: Overnight journey from Bangalore to Belgaum Saturday: Explore Gokak (waterfalls, hanging bridge & Tarakeshwara temple), Godchinmalki waterfalls, Savadatti Yellamma temple)- Return to Bangalore by night journey.
I boarded the bus to Belgaum from Bangalore and my mom was there to receive me when I alighted there the next morning… We freshened up at the place where mom was put up and then headed straight to Gokak. The little town known for its cotton mill, is also famous for the nature’s treat- the mighty Niagara of Karnataka. The bubbling, roaring and crashing waters of the Ghataprabha river creates steady patterns here with endless rhythm while it leaps down from 52meters between two tall, craggy cliffs to form the Gokak falls.
The century old hanging bridge, the only mode for the textile workers to cross the river allows the public to enjoy the breathtaking vista of the waterfall as the gushing water plummets down. The presence of turbines dating back to 1885 stands testimony to the electricity generation station established here which still provides power source for the cotton mill across the street. The 11th century Shiva temple dedicated to Lord Mahalingeshwara (Locally known as Tarakeshwara temple), built in the Kalyani Chalukyan style, faces the cotton mill and flanks one side of the gorge.
Meanwhile, I called a friend of mine who hails from Belagavi district to enquire about other places that we could visit around his hometown. He guided us to a small village named Godchinmalki where river Markandeya cascades down amid a scenic backdrop forming another beautiful waterfall called by the same name. Mom and I walked down for 2kms through rolling green pastures, fields of maize and banana plantation to reach this waterfall that plummets down in 2 tiers. Once we reached the place, it was a thorough treat to our senses to watch the waterfalls racing ferociously through the deep gorge.
On our way back, we took a little longer route from where we got a complete view of river Markandeya snaking through the greens. A 9kms long underground canal carries water from the river across which can be seen emerging out of the hill from this viewpoint. The snaking roads with beautiful views of the valley was a wonderful drive to the city.
After all the waterfall hopping was done, it was time for some temple visit. We headed to Saundatti a.k.a. Savadatti. This place was the capital of the Ratta / Rastrakuta dynasty from 820, until it was shifted to Belgaum in 1230. There is a fort here also called the Parasgad fort. But the most famous is the Renukadevi temple located atop the Yellamma gudda. This is an important place for devout followers of Goddess Shakthi and also for the devadasis- or the servants of god. We had a good darshan during the evening pooja time.
With that, it was a quick wrap for a short weekend and time for me to head back to Bangalore for another long and boring work week ahead…
Must eat while at Belagavi/ Belgaum:
Karadantu at Gokak– it is a sweet made with dry fruits rolled into balls with jaggery.
My friends and I had heard sufficiently about the rich wildlife of the region surrounding Pollachi, its beautiful sceneries and perfectly trimmed tea estates. Valparai is a lesser known hill station in the Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary (earlier known as Annamalai Wildlife Sanctuary). Kollywood stars and burnt out urbanites frequent this place to de-stress themselves and savor a slice of nature. Here, as one ambles past mud walled, thatched roof dwellings, granaries of farmers and tea estates fringed plateau, don’t be surprised if you happen to hear someone screaming ‘start camera’, ‘action’. This is a hot spot for movie makers with over 1500 movies and commercials having been shot here. And we too got lucky when we happened to visit the sets and share our homestay with the crew of the movie- ‘Madras cafe’ during this trip of ours.
A weekend itinerary was primarily planned by one of my friends and a few must-see items were pushed into the plan by me. Since this place falls on the border of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, we decided to make it a three states’ drive including Karnataka. Accordingly, five of us started from Bangalore on a Friday night. Since it is also a bio-diversity hotspot, I had listed 5 animals on my ‘to-spot’ list while at Valparai. Valparai is the end destination after driving through 32 hairpin bends. Being a hill station, Valparai weather is specifically delightful with a cool climate throughout the year. It is usually the road leading to Valparai that is enjoyable with scenic vistas and photo-points. I had enlisted them with day 1 in the Tamil Nadu side of the sanctuary and then spending the second day on the Kerala side of the forested land.
Day 0: Leave from Bangalore by night (Own car) Day 1: Reach Pollachi before sunrise. Backwaters of the Aliyar dam, monkey falls, Loam’s viewpoint, Carver Marsh viewpoint, Congreve falls, Vinayagar temple, Birla falls, Balaji temple, Iraichalparai falls, Nallamudi Pooncholai viewpoint, ChinnarKallar hanging bridge trek, Sholaiyar backwaters (night stay at a homestay in Chalakudy) Day 2: Athirapally falls, Vazachal falls and return to Bengaluru via Ooty.
Part 1: Tamil Nadu
During the night journey, I had dozed away on the rear seat of the car. When I opened my eyes to the misty morning dawn, our car was greeted by beautiful countryside with tree-lined roads, emerald fields of paddy, whispering palms and coconut plantations in the backdrop of the towering Western Ghats. We had reached Pollachi in Tamil Nadu. We waited near Aliyar park until 06.00.a.m. for the forest check post to open.
a. We registered our entry into the wildlife sanctuary there and proceeded on our journey. Our drive further towards Valparai, was an ascent along the winding road by the backwaters of the Aliyar irrigation dam.
b. Four kilometers further from the forest check post, we reached the monkey falls. The waterfall is aptly named due to the many troublesome monkeys here. One even entered our car and happily carried away a bag full of fruits from the rear seat. Our drive continued…
c. Just as we approached the 9th curve (the Loam’s viewpoint), we were greeted by this gentleman who was calmly grazing on the edge of the steep rocks. We scored off the first member on our list of top 5 wildlife to see- ‘The Nilgiri Tahr’.
d. Continuing our drive, we stopped at Carver Marsh viewpoint adjoining the Kavarkal estate. On a clear day, we were told that one can see the Sholayar reservoir (2nd deepest dam in Asia) from there.
e. We then cruised past the Tiger valley from where we caught a good view of the upper Aliyar reservoir.
f. We covered Congreve falls (located in the Nadumalai estate), Vinayagar temple (Jayashree estate) & Birla falls along the way up. We got good view of the Manopally forest and the grass hills of the sanctuary.
g. Ox-bow lakes situated inside the protected area is supposedly the highlight of this region for those who can manage to get permission from the forest authorities. We failed at it since we didn’t have insufficient information on the channels for the permits.
h. We visited the Balaji temple and the nearby Iraichalparai falls along way.
Just along our way, it was time to score off no.2: groups of ‘Lion tailed Macaque’ were walking all over the road and around. Even before we realized, we had reached the hilltop.
i. We stopped by and trekked through the tea estates to reach the ‘Seen god shrine’ at the Nallamudi Pooncholai viewpoint. An old man, who claims to have seen god, blessed us with some prayers and turned out to be an encyclopedia of knowledge about the local culture and history. He explained to us about the various tribal settlements in these hills… pointing out at colonies, he would tell- Kadars, Muthuvars and Malai Malasars. They are estimated to have 190 households in 8 settlements in the sanctuary.
While we walked towards our car, the women picking tea shoots warned us not to proceed further. She pointed at a herd of 8-9 elephants feasting around at a distance, thus scoring off no.3 on my list.
j. We then drove to ChinnarKallar for the hanging bridge trek. In spite of driving all the way, we refrained from shelling out 250 Rs. per head just for the entry which sounded to us more like a bribe at the forest check post. This place is among the highest rainfall receiving areas in India. No doubt that the Valparai weather is pleasant all through the year and is an upcoming weekend destination among the urban crowd of the nearby metro cities.
We put our car in reverse and just then… no.4: Thegiant flying squirrel (a young one and wasn’t flying though) crossed our road. We were excited…!!
k. After covering places in the Tamil Nadu part of the sanctuary, we headed towards the Kerala border. We saw a calm stretch of the Koolangal river and decided to spend some time there. We could not compel ourselves from not taking a sip of its crystal-clear waters.
And right there. we saw this little creature on no.5: ‘The common map butterfly’
Part 2: Kerala
We registered at the border check post and prepared to enter the Kerala land. Thick rainforests on both sides accompanied us all the way till our destination. We happened to drive through what I think is one of the dangerous roads I have been through. With the Sholaiyar backwaters on one side and a valley on the other side, only one vehicle can pass at a time. Beautiful views for most of the stretch kept us in an awe. Tunnels have been bored through the mountains to supply water to Parambikulam reserve from the Nirar dam.
We reached Athirapally reserve just after sunset. We got a quick glance of the beautiful waters cascading down to join the Chalakudy river. It was soon dark, and we checked into Maria cottage (a local homestay) where we were made us feel at home and served some sumptuous Mallu food.
Next morning, we walked past the palm plantations to reach the Chalakudy river to freshen up. This place is frequented by elephants at all times, but we did not care. We enjoyed the clear but rapids of the water there. We took a refreshing dip before returning to our homestay. We checked out of the place after having a good filling Malayalee breakfast.
Post this, we went back to the Athirapally waterfalls. We walked down to the base of the waterfalls and spent good time there. We had to then continue our drive, as our target was to reach Bangalore by night. After a quick stop at the Vazachal waterfalls (it is more like water flowing down a steep rock than a waterfall), we decided to say goodbye to Kerala.
Part 3: Karnataka
The original plan was to drive through the route covering Ooty-Bandipur-Mysore to reach Bangalore. But, since we were behind schedule, we could not reach Bandipur before the forest gates closed (the forest gates are open only between 06.00a.m. to 06.p.m.). So, we decided to drive back through the curvy stretch of Pollachi road again.
We further drove through Udumalpet which happens to be one of the windiest places in Southern India. Thousands of windmills dot the stretch on either side which is a sight to behold. It was dark in no time and we had to zip ASAP to reach our offices on the following morning.