Tag Archives: Indian tribes

The coldest place with the warmest hospitality- Pfutsero

This post is part of my fortnight long backpacking in the north eastern state of Nagaland in India, specifically covering Dimapur- Kohima– Phek districts of the state during the Hornbill festival.

More often than always, the stories we carry back from our travel are about the people we meet and less about the places we see. Our definition of whether our trip is good or bad is defined by the way we are made to feel by the people we come across. My experience in Pfutsero too has been one of those, where the warmth of the people made me fall in love with Nagaland. All I knew about Pfutsero was that it is the largest town in Phek district, and it is the highest inhabited place in the state of Nagaland. High altitude also means that it is the coldest place in the entire state. Having very little information available on the internet only meant that the place is still off the radar of mainstream tourism. This is what got me inquisitive and itched me to visit Pfutsero which would give ample scope to explore and experience something so raw and unknown to the outside world.

From the day I arrived at Nagaland, I had started to talk to a lot of people to get information about getting from Kohima to Pfutseru. With lack of clear information and high cost of travel, I had almost dropped the plan until the end of my 10-day trip in the state. One last try at finding a cheaper travel to Pfutsero, landed me in a small grocery store at Kezekie taxi stand in Kohima. My friend and I realised that we were at the right place. The courteous owner of the store guided us with all the required information and got our seats booked in the shared taxi that plied from Kohima to Pfutsero the next morning.

My itinerary to explore Phek district:

Day 1: Leave from Kohima to Pfutsero (shared taxi), visit Glory peak (Frozen lake trek if time permits), explore Pfutsero town (Night’s stay at the tourist lodge)
Day 2: Chida lake/ Lowho, Lazami village (spirited stone), Kami village view point, return to Kohima.

Video of the view from Glory peak

The Details:

As instructed, we had reached Kezekie by 07.00.am. the following morning to be assured of a seat. But thanks to the traffic, it was 10.30.a.m. by the time we left Kohima. However, there was one ambiguity before leaving for Pfutsero- We hadn’t booked a hotel at Pfutsero for our stay yet. Despite several failed attempts of calling the mini-tourist lodge at Pfutsero, their phone continued to remain switched off. But my friend and I were up for some adventure and decided to travel without a confirmed stay, go there and find one.

Phek district is inhabited by the members of the Chakesang tribes in majority. With the friendliness of the grocery store owner, we had already started to feel the positive vibes of the place we were going to. She had given the contact information of her family who lives in Kezakeno, another village in Phek. She had not just shared the contact info, in fact forced us to stay with her family. We were feeling grateful and partially sorted in the eventuality of not finding a hotel at Pfutsero.

Day 1:

There were both good roads and no roads, all adding up to a patchy drive to Pfutsero. Apart from the mountainous roads that seemed charming outside, the people with whom we shared our drive made our trip indeed a memorable one. One of them helped us to contact the tourist lodge and confirmed our stay at Pfutsero even before we reached. I had clearly started to feel overwhelmed with the hospitality of the people in this part of the country where the locals wanted to make all visitors feel at home. Almost everyone whom we got talking to, was excited to invite us over for a meal with them. Finally, it was 02.00.p.m. when we reached Pfutsero and a cup of hot tea was what we relished at our co-passenger’s house before checking-in at the tourist lodge. A colourful garden welcomed us into her wooden house that was perched on the slope of the hill. Its windows opened out into a majestic view of the entire town and overlooked a lake surrounded by green lawn. The dreamy house seemed to be no less than out of a Bollywood flick. We soon bid her a warm goodbye and headed to the tourist lodge, freshened up and proceeded to the target destination, before the sun called it a day!

Glory peak is the highest point in Pfutsero. A short taxi ride of 3kms through an under-construction road, jaw-dropping view of the surrounding valleys and a climb on a watch tower got us to the top of the town. Mt. Saramati is the highest peak in Nagaland and Mt. Everest needs no introduction. On a clear, bright afternoon, both the mountains can be seen from Glory peak. Since, we had reached there before sunset, the distant mountains were partially hidden by the haze and hence we could get a clear view of only Mt. Saramati. Nevertheless, the 360deg view of verdant hills from the glory peak was something to die for.

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View from Glory peak, Pfutsero

For those who have an additional day at hand, a day hike to the frozen lake from the glory peak is highly recommended by the locals. We decided to explore the town a little bit, before it was dark. A hike down the peak was fun as the staircase leading to the town passed through thick forests, strange creepers and colourful butterflies. We spent time exploring the town until sunset. It seemed dusty with poor roads. Apart from a few local snacks, we couldn’t find anything interesting. However, there is one souvenir shop run by an NGO that supports local artisans. One can buy some traditional Chakesang tribal jewellery, textile and food products as souvenirs from here.

The dropping Pfutsero temperature had started to numb our fingers and we decided to head back to the lodge. The lodge is situated on top of a hill and the setting sun looked glorious from the corridor. After wearing my thermals and gloves, I decided to take a stroll around the lodge. It is located adjacent to defence property and that gave me a sense of confidence to venture alone after dark. All the people from the neighbourhood were busy in decorating a nearby church for Christmas. They got me talking to them and eventually I joined them in their chore of setting up the wreaths and light bulbs. It was a fun evening until I decided to head back for the warmth of my room. The lodge was a HUGE property, but we were only two girls staying there that night. Although it was a little scary at the first thought to be the only guests, we were soon occupied in long conversation with the caretaker family of the property living in the same building, later to be joined by the owners. The conversation covered a range of topics and ran into the night. Given the lesser crowd of the cliched tourists, company of comforting hosts and warm conversations, we couldn’t have asked for a safer and a better place to be!

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Top: Sunset view from Tourist lodge corridor, Pfutsero; Below: Sunrise view from Tourist lodge room, Pfutsero

Day 2:

The comfort of the heater, cosy blankets and carpeted floors let us sleep like logs, unaware of the freezing sub-zero Pfutsero temperature outside. We were woken up by the alarm next morning, only to be mind-blown by the view of the rising sun over the clouds from our balcony. We packed up and prepared to leave as that was our last day in Nagaland and we had to make it to Dimapur for the night’s train. Meanwhile, we had booked a personal taxi for our return, since we wanted to explore Kezakeno on our way back.

The first stop was at- Chida lake. Locally called as Lowho, this off-road destination is a favourite hangout among the locals who come here for games like fishing and boating. Some enjoy a trekking trail from glory peak to Chida along the Kapamedzu range as well. There is a Border Security Force camp at Chida and hence, it is also referred as Chida Post at times. Since we had reached very early, we were the only tourists there and the place looked absolutely calm and serene.

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Lowho lake at Chida, Kezakeno

From there, we headed to Lazami village. This tiny village is of very high historical importance as it is the site from where the various Naga tribes are believed to have migrated to different parts of the state. A veteran from the village was excited to narrate the legend of Tsotawo, the spirited stone in the village. We were warmly invited by almost every person in this village into their house. We finally settled down at a little traditional house for breakfast and a large cup of tea. We carried back love in the form of guavas and local walnuts given by our hosts from this village. Seeing so much affection in these hills was a wonderful feeling that cannot be expressed, for which a city soul in me would want to come back again.

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The spirit stone

While continuing our journey from there, we did have a stop at Kami village view point to admire the terraced paddy fields of Lekhromi village, the view looked magnificent under the oblique rays of the early sun.

Making our way through the maddening traffic jam of Kohima is for another story to be written about, some other day! Thus, ended our 2 days of amazement and overwhelming hospitality in the Land of the Chakesang Nagas- Phek district.

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Terraced farms at Lekhromi village, Phek

Fact file:

Must eats:

  • Pfutsero is famous for its organic farming and terrace cultivation. We bought fruits (some known and some new) from the local shops that we could eat once we were back in our room.
  • One would find a lot of bakeries in the town selling local cookies and muffins. Sticky rice cake, banana cake and banana chips are few of the things I recommend.
  • Getting around:
  • Daily shared taxis ply between Kohima and Pfutsero. There are limited seats and the taxis leave immediately when filled. The taxi leaves Pfutsero around 6.00.a.m to Kohima and the same returns to Pfutsero on the same day on a first-cum-first serve basis. So, if one is not early enough to get a seat, he will have to hire a full taxi for him/herself or stay back until the next morning to share it. A one-way shared taxi seat costs 300Rs. Per head and a personal taxi would cost 5-6000rs. irrespective of whether it is a 1 or a 2-way journey.
  • Within Pfutsero, most places are at walkable distances. But internal taxis are available for local commute. Talk to one of the shopkeepers in the town and they must be able to help in finding one.
  • Stay:
  • A very well-maintained tourist lodge and a government run mini lodge are available at a very affordable price.
  • There are a few homestays available for a more local experience.

Visiting Asia’s first green village- Khonoma

This post is part of my fortnight long backpacking in the north eastern state of Nagaland in India, specifically covering Dimapur- Kohima- Phek districts of the state during the Hornbill festival.

Before planning my visit to Nagaland, I had followed a few bloggers who had posted encaptivating photos of what they called the ‘Greenest village in India’. My friend and I had our stay booked at a homestay in this little-known village and were supposed to head there on the first day of our arrival in Nagaland. It was past noon by the time our shared taxi from Dimapur reached Kohima and the temperature had started to drop. Khonoma village, our destination was 20kms away and we stood on the highway, clueless about how we were supposed to get there. The connectivity through public transportation across Nagaland is something that needs the attention of the authorities. Meanwhile, without being able to find an honest taxi driver among all those who were quoting higher than what I had read about, we had started to feel stranded.

We finally managed to get a taxi and the courteous driver ensured our ride on the roadless path was comfortable and entertaining. On our request, the best Nagamese songs from his playlist were streamed and he made humble efforts to explain the meaning of each song and its relevance in Naga culture. It was a long ride considering that we took over an hour to cover the short distance. In Nagaland, each district is inhabited by a particular Tribe in majority and each village represents a particular clan within the tribe. Every tribe has its own language and surprisingly, each village has its own dialect which another clan might struggle to understand. ‘Khonoma is inhabited by the Kuthotsu clan of the Angami Tribe’, we were told.

A village tour of Khonoma

On reaching Khonoma, we registered our entry at the tourism office from where we took directions to our homestay. As a first impression, it felt like it was just another settlement on the hills, something similar to my hometown. But as I began to walk towards the homestay along the narrow lanes and past the tourism office- a new world started to unfold. The entire village is built on a slope, overlooking the paddy fields. The slope makes it a requirement to climb winding stairs to get from one house to another, from one street to another. As you do this, you will not just pass by umpteen number of morungs but also walk through gardens full of colourful flowers and traditional Angami Naga gates. All this, while you are being mind-blown by the gorgeous view of the never-ending terraced fields of paddy and vegetables. If not the same, I bet this is far better and untouched than the terraced farms of Bali that has flooded the Instagram feeds. The guava trees around every corner of the village and the widely covered creepers of the Chayote squash added a vibrant hue of green to the entire valley. The extremely warm and obliging villagers allowed me to pluck a few guavas that tasted like nectar. Those were definitely the best guavas I had in my life till date. We then walked down the streets to our homestay, a cozy simple house that stood overlooking the terraced fields. Since we had little time before sunset (The sun sets by 04.00.p.m.), we dropped our luggage, freshened up quickly and ventured out to explore the village and make the most of the daylight.

Naga Heritage museum at Khonoma

As we strolled around the lanes, we were intrigued by the several morungs and the traditional Angami houses that we passed by. Morungs are Naga structures that are comparable to Gurukuls of olden days. The elders of the village would pass on their knowledge about life skills and tradition to the younger generations here, usually in the evenings after finishing their day’s chores. Although the Morung system is slowly passing into oblivion in modern days, Khonoma is one of the few places where these structures are conserved in their entirety. Every Morung and house had animal skulls (ranging from one to hundreds in number) hanging around their roofs and walls. We were quite fascinated with the collection that ranged from Mithuns and mountains goats to boars and other cattle. As we stood there, watching a few women who were busy with their job of de-husking paddy with a large pestle and stone, we were greeted by them with warm smiles to have a cup of tea in their house. I instantly accepted their invitation, jumping into the idea of seeing how a traditional Angami Naga house looked like inside.

The different skulls inside a traditional Naga house

Basic mud-smeared walls with knitted bamboo doors and their wooden roofs adorned with hundreds of skulls all around. “These skulls are prized possessions that represent the heroics of our ancestors. The Nagas are primarily hunters and our forefathers saved up the skulls of all their kills. The larger the collection, higher was his societal stature until the government brought a ban on hunting. Given the history of Nagas being head-hunters before the coming of missionaries, don’t be surprised if you bump into human skulls in some of the remote villages elsewhere”, explained a member of that house. Although the other members in that family couldn’t speak English or Hindi, they continued to smile at us for as long as we were there. However, communication is never a problem in Nagaland with almost 90% being proficient in either English or Hindi.

We visited the Naga heritage museum and then walked up to a small hill where the church stands at a vantage point, outside the village entrance, overlooking the entire hill range. From there, we walked back to the village and climbed up a few stairs to reach the highest point of the village. The setting sun let the hills in the background cast their shadow on the undulating green paddy terrace. The view of the range of hills and the entire village from there was a sight to behold for which, we had lost our senses and not to the dropping temperatures that had started to numb our skin 😃 After the sun had called it a day behind the hills, we munched on some local snacks like sticky rice roti, pakora at a café at the village entrance. We grabbed a few packets of Puffed sticky rice and Naga chilli smeared channa from a small shop before heading to the homestay. We hurried up to warm ourselves in the comfort of our homestay’s kitchen where firewood was setup to cook the night’s supper. Sips of hot tea and long conversations with our Angami host and other guests culminated with a delicious Angami meal that comprised of boiled vegetables and steamed rice with vegetable stew- all grown organically in our host’s backyard. The country chicken curry was a bonus for the non-vegetarian in me 😊

The plan for the next morning was to catch the sunrise from the paddy fields by walking along the stream that flowed down the valley. However, the freezing temperature made it impossible for us to get out of our cozy layers of blankets. The plan that had to follow our breakfast was a visit to Dzuleke, a quaint little village located 10kms away. It consists of merely 32 houses and the residents are also from Kuthotsu clan who decided to move out from Khonoma to a more secluded place when the land on the outskirts were open for new settlements. Today, it is supposed to be one of the prettiest villages that is promoted by the state’s tourism board and accessible only by foot or one’s own vehicle. Since a one-way ride was costing us 1500Rs., we dropped our plan of a day trip to Dzuleke.

There is one NST bus (Nagaland State Transport) that connects Khonoma to Kohima every morning. But the state is largely shut on a Sunday and it is an important note to consider if you are planning your travel/stay in Nagaland. After the day got a bit warmer, we packed our bags and headed out in a personal taxi to our next destination- Naga heritage village at Kisama, the main arena of the Hornbill festival.

Meanwhile, some interesting things I found in this village:

  1. Large bird feathers are made into a garland and hung high around the farms. “It is just for decoration purpose”, I was told on asking what it signified.
  2. There a large stone erected which signifies the previous rift between the Nagas and the Indians on the mainland (It is quite an interesting read how the Nagas fought the Indian army)

Stone Pulling Ceremony with the Angami Nagas

Stone pulling Ceremony is an annual traditional event held across the Angami villages to commemorate a certain important day. It takes place in one village per year on a rotational basis. So that way, it takes about 5 to 10 years by the time this ceremony reoccurs in a particular village. This event is usually timed around the Hornbill festival as there will be people from across Nagaland and outside visiting Kohima (The region where the Angami tribe is a majority).

The stone referred here is a large monolith that weighs several tons and the size and shape is not fixed. It is at the villagers’ liberty to pick the monolith they want to use for the occasion and can be either quarried from the village itself or bought from somewhere else depending on the resources. The large stone slab is then placed on a sled that is made of tree trunks and pulled using thick entwined vines from the forest. Thousands of Angami Naga men pull the large monolith over a few kilometers to finally errect it upright, engrave the details of the event and mark the day.

This year, the stone pulling ceremony was held at Mima village. It was organised to commemorate the 75th anniversary of christianity in the village. The monolith was symbolized for forgiveness, friendship and peace to the enmities that the village had with various villages before the coming of the gospel to Mima village.

The typical stone pulling ceremony (Click here to watch the complete video) is solemnised by the pastor from the village’s church with recitals from the Angami bible before the start. It is then followed by firing a round of shots from the muzzle loaded guns in the air. The captain stands on the slab and shouts Angami cheers through a loudspeaker to motivate the pullers. While all the strong and younger men folk of the village join hands to pull the stone, The eldest two men of the clan walk, leading the tribe. The women get dressed in their traditional attire and walk with a khophi (an utility basket woven with bamboo or cane) hung on their back and they stay around as a mark of support to the pullers. A few of these women carry cotton in containers made of dried bottle guard and walk ahead of the pullers as a part of the tradition. And yet, the remaining women go around distributing gruel made of ‘Job’s tears or Chinese pearl barley’ to all the passersby and the participants from their traditional Aluminium pots. It is served in bamboo cups that are carried in the baskets hung around their foreheads. The gruel provides an instant boost of carbohydrates for the toiling men in the hot sun.

In a Christian majority state, the tribal traditions are still thriving. It was a different experience watching the entire village dressed in their ethnic best and gathering to pull the stone uphill from the starting point to its destination. I somehow drew parallels with the chariot pulling tradition of the Puri Jagannath and several other temples of South India.

Isn’t it true that we all somehow follow the same way of life, only with different names for our faith and the process we follow to achieve it?

Taking travel inspiration from busy bees

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!

Land of dinosaurs, ghost lights and human civilization- Dholavira

How does it feel to wake up one day and find yourself to be walking in the pages of history? Having studied all my life about how great a country we live in, where every grain of soil is soaked in rich history- To me, it seemed like I was driving out there in fantasy land. Among the many theories associated with ‘How my country got its name’, it is likely that the place I was heading too has its tales related distantly. India, the land in which the Indus river flows. This region is where the largest recorded human civilization took place in the face of the earth, over 5000 years ago- the Indus valley civilization. With over 1800 sites of Bronze age identified worldwide, I was going to Dholavira, the grandest of all the sites. As if it wasn’t reason enough for me to get excited, this region is an island formed by one of the largest salt marshes in the world, the Rann of Kutch! In the midst of it, exists a fossil site that dates back to the age of dinosaurs!

Just a whiz after Rapat village on the mainland, the ‘Khadir Bet’ island appears rather suddenly! I’m quite sure that anyone who is going there for the first time, cannot proceed without stopping here to just sync the coordination between their eyes and the brain! All you see will be a home straight black road, piercing right through the horizon, flanked by an endless stretch of white that confuses the mind to figure out how the blue sky and the brown land disappeared! As in our case, it was noon and the blazing sun was right atop making it difficult for us to open our eyes to see while the glistening white sand looked same as the colour of the sky. I’m not exaggerating when I say that my sight and thoughts had lost coordination for a few minutes before I spotted some puddles of coloured water here and there, in an otherwise clear white desert of salt. These puddles are nothing but salt water from this inland sea marsh that is yet to evaporate and the colouration is due to factors like the effect of temperature and the concentration of the mineral content in them. My friend and I sat there in thoughtlessness for a while until it struck us that we had a long day ahead!

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The colourful puddles of salt water

After stopping by for a Kutchi meal with ‘Bajra ki Rotla’ (Millet roti) with gud (Jaggery) and side dishes that were local delicacies, we passed through several small hamlets to reach our first destination. We were bereaved the luxury of time so that we could explore these individual hamlets. Each one of these settlements represent a different tribal group with their own identity of food, culture, costume, art and even the way their Bhungas (Huts) are designed. I would have loved to spend time walking through them all and learning some bits of techniques to sew the famed Kutchi embroidery too. Anyway, let us talk about the nicer things we did with whatever time we had. So, one-and-half-hour was indeed scarce, to walk through history when a guide took us around the site of Dholavira explaining us about the early, mature and the late Harappas. It can run into pages if I write about the details and hence, I cut a long post short at the end of my walk at the north gate. That’s where a 10-letter signboard is mysteriously laid. These are the only letters discovered from the inscriptions of that era and are still beyond the ability of modern man to be deciphered.

Above: One of the remains of a bronze age Bhunga at Dholavira; Bottom: an wooden board marked with the 10mystic letters at the North gate

It was a 10kms drive further towards the Indo-Pak border area to walk in to yet another era. It was a jump back in time from the bronze age to the era when dinosaurs walked around on this planet. The trees of the time can be found here which resemble huge boulders now in their fossilized form. A short walk down from there lead us to the salt desert and that’s when a sense of massiveness of this earth hit me. A tiny dot on the planet that I am, I felt surrounded by an endless stretch of white. Only at a farther end appeared a small hill, ‘Kala Dungar’- the highest point in the Rann.

We had contacted a private resort in the region who had arranged for an off-road drive, into the Banni grasslands. A 45minutes bumpy drive on the dusty road cutting through the desert was an experience in itself, while being driven to a place that is known to be the only surviving habitat of the Cheetah in India. We were lucky to see a lot of native residents of this reserved forest including herds of Asiatic Wild Ass, Chinkara, blackbucks, Nilghais, wild boars and even a desert fox. Short grass and bushy trees were a different feature in a landscape that was surrounded by barrenness of the salt flats. These grasslands are also famed for the mysterious phenomenon of light called as the ‘Chir Batti’ or the ghost lights. These moving lights occur at night and are believed to misguide people into the vast marshland if they are followed. Although still a mystery, these lights could be components of methane in combination with other colouring elements, easily flammable in the presence of small amounts of heat and oxygen, if needs a scientific approach to answer.

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A herd of Asiatic Wild Ass grazing at the Banni grassland

With the setting sun, came down the temperature as well. With ourselves being covered in white dry dust from head to toe and no thermals with us, the return was a chilling cold drive sitting in the open back of the four-wheeler. But that was the last thing that bothered us, as we watched the golden sun melt into molten red lava merging with white desert before being engulfed into the darkness of the night. Needless to say, watching the setting sun there was ethereal!

Staying back in Dholavira and watching the night pass over the desert and break into dawn is highly recommended. However, we were short of time and had to return to Bhuj the same night. The night’s drive back through the causeway was no less than amazing. We were just 2 days away from the full moon’s night and the moon was almost full (:P). While the rising moon reflected on the salt crystals infront of me, the clear dark sky away from the moon made way for the twinkling stars. So, that was an experience of a lifetime to watch the glittering salt below me on one side of the road and the glittering stars above me on the other side of the road. As our mouths began to chatter with the cold of the night, it was a silent good bye to this mysterious island of Khadir Bhet!

Summary: It is beyond my abilities to put together ‘one word’ to describe a place that has pieces of everything from all ages of evolution of not just humans, but this planet itself. It is a place that has the power to gives you a sense of emptiness of your existence and teach the magnitude of life. Go there, experience it!

Natural wonders of South India – My favourites

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.”

-Sanjeev Sanyal

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.

10. Have you seen the Purple hills? Where do you think the Nilgiri hills in the western Ghats derive their name from? They’re so called because these green verdant hills are painted blue/purple (Neela in Hindi) by the Neelakurinji flowers, something that blooms only once in twelve years. The latest mass-blossoming being in 2018.

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 😊

Hiking up Assam’s highest point- Hapeo peak

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 places in a self-drive car hired at Guwahati. We had arrived at Haflong, the only hill station in the state of Assam following a mis-adventurous trip. (Click here to know the details)

This trek to the highest point in Assam happened by chance, as a backup after the original plan for the day had failed. We were told that the hill isn’t yet popular in a typical tourist’s circuit. Apart from the local tribal folk who like to party atop the hill, hardly 4 to 5 trekkers come here from outside the district and the state to climb this hill each year. Having said that, we wanted to reach Hapeo peak, the highest point in the state of Assam for sunrise. However, due to the clouds that had hovered that morning, we decided to snooze for a little longer before going ahead with the plan.

There are totally 13 native tribes in Dima Hasao district of Assam state and each tribe has its own village. A local NGO called spectrum is working towards the empowerment of the local tribal communities through promotion of tourism in the district. They helped us in getting this event organized. We were driven in their 4WD vehicle from Haflong to a village called N.Liekung. N.Liekung village belonged to the Kuki tribes and the required permits from the village head was arranged by Spectrum. A local guide was assigned to take us through this off-beat wilderness to scale the highest point in Assam. I would like to present my trek in essentially three parts.

Part 1: The Ascent

After a small stop in front of the holy Cross at the prayer area of the Kukis, we began our ascent towards the peak. For the three of us, all seasoned trekkers doing this trip together, the climb to Hapeo peak wasn’t a very difficult one as compared to what we had done back in the Southern India. But what made it seem difficult was the high grass that had grown tall enough to cover the entire stretch. Since the trek is not frequented with people, the grass on the path is not worn out as much as in the popular trekking trails. Hence, the way up was something through which we had to FIND the trekking trail. Based on the ease of finding the trail, I would split the trail into three portions:

  • A well traceable path with steps laid. However, at some places, the stairs have been lost amid the thickets. We had to cut the grass and bushes in order to find our way. The stretch was full of high grass with occasionally placed animal traps which our guide who walked ahead, would carefully move aside and make way for us.
  • This was the only flat area with some grassland vegetation for a stretch of around 500mts.This was the only place apart from the highway, from where we could actually see the peak that we were apparently scaling up!
  • The last part passes through thick jungle, with a canopy of trees that allowed very less sunlight to penetrate. Varieties of innocent looking wild mushrooms had bloomed at several patches, but we were warned not to pick any of them as they could actually be lethal with allergens or venom. We were accompanied by strange sounds and cries of migratory birds around.
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The only grassland in Hapeo trek

As we climbed up while chatting up with our Kuki guide, he enlightened us with their tribal customs, culture and showed us a few videos on his phone of their traditional dances, festivals ceremonies and the like. Our guide jokingly told us how his fellow folks are named in the tribe. The names may not mean anything and just anything random that sounds nice goes as a name. He was thus randomly called after a ‘Song that was Sung’ (I’m sorry, I don’t want to give out his name). But the tradition is, that the maternal grandfather selects a name for the granddaughter and the paternal grandmother picks a name for the grandson and vice-versa. It is a patrilineal system of inheritance.

Part 2: Reaching the Top

Suddenly, the darkness of the jungle had turned into snow white of the clouds. Before we could realise, we had reached the top already and we had barely taken us two hours. We were told that one could see the entire district of Dima Hasao from up there. But, we were greeted with thick fog and clouds upon arrival. We spent some time soaking in nature’s beauty and waited for the clouds to clear so that we could catch a glimpse of the beautiful view.

For the benefit of potential trekkers, there is just one small shelter with a bench atop the hill and nothing apart from yourself there! Our guide mentioned to us about a patch of land measuring about 2×2 feet, right behind the bench where a natural and strong magnetic force is believed to exist, due to which none of the mobile phones work in that spot. Yes, we tested the phenomenon too. Although all our phones had FULL network, we were unable to place any calls. But none of us had any scientific reasoning for what he told.

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A view of Dima Hasao district from Hapeo peak

In the next fifteen minutes, the clouds had slowly started to clear. We spotted the railway bridge at Lumding onto the right side of the horizon. This rail line is the longest and highest in the Silchar route. Our guide pointed towards another hill onto our left, through which the longest railway tunnel (around 3.5kms long) in the North-east passes. The Silchar-Lumding railway route has been featured in several tourism websites and has been one of the scenic stretches in the country. As the weather slowly worsened and began to drizzle, we decided to start our descent.

Part 3: The Descent

When we had just started to climb down and we received a call from the NGO. We were told to return to the base of the hill ASAP as an alert for a cyclone had been issued by the meterological department and heavy rains were expected in this region in the next few hours. But, it had started to pour cats and dogs within no time. The fastest pace we could catch was by rolling down the hill. With all the rain, thick grass covered path and steep gradient, just a steady walk itself was a struggle as we descended on the slippery trail. There was nothing enroute to take shelter from the rain. But, waiting at any place made no sense because the pounding rains would continue for the entire day or even two. It made more sense to simply continue to walk down as we were already drenched till our bones.

We were back at the base by 11.00.a.m. and thus ended our trek to the highest point in the state of Assam. We were invited over to our guide’s house to dry ourselves up and have a cup of hot tea. We thanked him much and bid adieu with a warm heart to this lesser known corner of the world!

Gateway to the abode of clouds- RiBhoi

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 visiting Shillong – Smit – Cherrapunjee – Mawlynnong – Dawki – Ribhoi- Shillong.

A long winding highway up the hill from Guwahati leads to Meghalaya: Abode of the clouds. And up there, one will be greeted by blue waters of a calm lake flanking the road on the right with no sign boards indicating the arrival at Ri Bhoi district. With no major landmark to explore for a typical tourist, this small distrct is full of fables and legends. If you’re someone interested in fairy tales, I highly recommend you to take a local person with you and follow my trail.

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The Umiam lake from NH40

The Umiam Lake or Barapani has been gracefully present there in a serene backdrop of green hills of the state. There is no passerby who doesn’t stop for at least a minute to capture the beauty of this place! This is a man-made lake formed due to the construction of a reservoir across the Umiam river. Today, this reservoir is one of the main sources of potable water to Shillong. For people looking for a leisure trip, one can go for boat rides in the clear waters of the lake. It is also called as the ‘water of tears’ named after a legend which talks about two sisters who were travelling to heaven. It is beleived that one of the sisters slipped from the hills and died, the other sister cried out of grief and her tears are said to have trickled down and formed the lake!

We had read about this place called ‘Lum Sohpetbneng’ close to Umiam and asked our driver if he could take us there. Although he himself had never been there earlier, he readily agreed to take us there. ‘Lum Sohpetbneng’ is a sacred grove of pine trees where a golden ladder is believed to have existed which connected Heaven and Earth. Although there is a motorable road, the place looked eerily deserted with absolutely NO ONE until the peak. We kind of got lost with several deviations in the route but since we were in the middle of the forest, we decided to reach the destination before we gave up. We wanted to know how the ladder looked like that connected God and Man. Finally, we arrived there… Only a dilapidated structure what appeared like some prayer hall and an under-construction structure was there, which our driver told us was a place where an annual fair is held with a large congregation of Hindus.

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An epitaph at Lum Sohpetbneng

A few steps away from the concrete structure, our driver took us to a neglected patch of land under an old withering tree. He pointed at a rock and told us, “See, these massive footprints here? It is of the humans who tried to climb heaven. Back in the days, humans used to be massive in size. One day, God realized that heaven was getting full and so he cut-off the ladder which laid right here, where this tree is now growing.” Although the shape of a feet with heels and toes were demarked clearly in the footprints, it is interesting to know how we grow up with fables without understanding the scientific logic behind.

There isn’t much to do on the peak apart from a good view of the Umiam Lake on one side and the Jaintia hills, Shillong airport, the Asian highway on the other. We drove back to Shillong.

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A view of Umiam lake from Lum Sohpetbneng

I personally would not recommend this trip if you are on a packed schedule. But if you are an explorer, interested in studying religion and culture, I would advise you to go there with a person familiar and knowledgeable about the place. A deviation from Umiam Lake can help one to explore the Diengiei Peak, where a crater formed by an extinct volcano exists. Dwarksuid is yet another place we gave a miss on the Umroi Bhoilymbong road where a rocky lake exists and is believed to be ‘Devil’s doorway’ because of the dark colored rocks surrounding the lake.

Closing remarks: Being the first scenic spot while entering Meghalaya through NH40, Umiam Lake is a good stop-over to watch the sunset and chill with friends on the banks. There, you can flip your arms open and let Meghalaya breathe some life into you before you head over for a wonderful trip ahead!

The enchanting Andamans.. Part 1

<07-Apr-13>

Words are not enough and pages needed are endless to write about this trip.. The much awaited, dreamt of and anticipated vacation was finally here.. For reasons galore, only Mom & I ended up going..

There are so many first time experiences that makes this trip so special..

* My first stinct with scuba diving happened here

* Feeding the fishes 15 mts down under water- Sea walk

* One of the best sunset views- off a ships’ deck- right in front of the navigator

* Spotting over 30 members of the Jarawas: A rare occult for many tourists 🙂

* A hospital visit and a tetanus shot right at the start of a vacation

* Snorkeling in a protected area like a marine national park

* A visit to the site where India’s only active volcano exists

* Getting surrounded by flying fishes making me live filmy moments from the ‘Life of Pi’

* A camera breakdown on the first day of the trip and no back-up

* A roll down the stairway and hurting both the knees to trek a deep jungle

* A cancelled flight and an extra day at the airport

* Every day had a unique experience to unfold. (Read detailed itinerary here)

I cannot make justice, but will sum up the entire trip with as less words as possible.. “White sand, Blue sea, crystal clear waters, lashing waves, spotting the flying fishes, sunset from the ship’s deck, diverse deep sea, ever mesmerising beaches, if ever I had a choice to choose my death, I’d love to get washed away by the waves right there.. @ the Andaman sea.”

Sunset point - Chidiyatapu
Sunset point – Chidiyatapu

An easy guide to the Andamans..

This should be an easy guide to anyone who wants to visit the Andamans.. I would say: please don’t plan your trip if it is not atleast a week’s holiday you are aiming at..

Day1:

10.20.a.m- Depart from Chennai; 12.45.p.m- Check-in @ Port Blair

2.45.p.m- Quick walk through the Science Centre and proceed to Corbyn’s Cove beach

4.00.p.m- Leave for the Cellular jail. Walk around the historic memorial of brave martyrs- the backbone for Indian freedom movement

6.00.p.m- Sound & music show at the Cellular jail

07.30.p.m – A brisk walk through the Gandhi park

08.00.p.m- Water scooter ride @ Rajiv Gandhi sports complex, a speedy walk through the Traffic police park in the same premises

Day 2:

8.30.a.m- Board the ferry @Rajiv Gandhi sports complex jetty for 3 island tour with a seven harbour view

10.30.a.m- Alight for delight @ Ross island– the place of erstwhile British settlement which is now a live museum.

11.30.a.m- Off to Viper island with the gallows of imprisonment established before the cellular jail.

12.30.p.m- Arrive at North Bay island– go snorkelling, walk upto the light house and go SEA WALKING..!!

05.00.p.m- Reach Port Blair

06.00.p.m- Freshen up and leave for shopping at Aberdeen bazaar– the local market.

 Day 3:

08.30.a.m- Arrive at Phoenix bay jetty

09.00.a.m- Aboard Makruzz(a Catamaran) to Havelock islands

11.00.a.m- Off to Radhanagar beach– Asia’s no.7 best beach.

12.00.p.m- Catch the ferry to Elephanta beach: one of the best dive sites in Andamans and home to world’s only snorkeling elephant- Rajan 🙂

02.00.p.m- Begin the explorations deep in the beds of the sea- SCUBA DIVING

04.00.p.m- Onboard Baratang- the government ferry from Havelock

Day 4:

07.30.a.m- Leave the confines of our nest for the day’s work- We’ve got lots to explore

09.00.a.m- Registration for the convoy at the forest checkpost. This is a must for anyone travelling on the Grand Trunk road through the Jarawa tribal reserve. Jarawas are one of the aboriginal tribal group out of the 6 tribes inhabiting in the island groups.

11.30.a.m- Aboard the govt. ferry at Middle Strait

11.45.a.m- Alight at Baratang island

12.00.p.m- Cruising on a motor boat through one of the best mangrove creeks I have ever been to.

12.30.p.m- End of the jungle trek- reaching the destiny. One of the 46 limestone caves in the Islands. A spellbinding experience..!!

1.00.p.m- An 8kms flight(read it jeep ride) to see the mud volcano

02.00.p.m- Back at Baratang jetty, ferry ride back to Middle strait.

06.00.p.m- Walk around Port Blair.

Day 5: 

07.30.a.m- Sippighat horticultural farm visit.

08.00.am.- A quick turn-up at Wandoor beach

08.30.a.m- Walk around the Mahatma Gandhi museum

09.00.a.m- Off for a ride- An un-expressible journey to the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park

11.00.a.m.- Glass bottom boat ride, sun-bathing & SNORKELING  in the crystal clear waters of Jolly Buoy island

01.00.p.m- A spicy walk through the Mongluton rubber & spices plantation. ‘Coconut Malai Sharbat’ is a must try drink there.

03.30.p.m- A super drive through a very different part of the Andamans- took us to ChidiyaTapu. We were the last people for the day to get entry into the mini zoo there.

04.00.p.m- I’m on one of the best beaches hitherto- backwaters of the tsunami affected area.. We did not even realise that we had walked over a kilometer deep into the sea- and the water level had not risen beyond our ankles.

04.30.p.m- Exploring the Chidiyatapu hills. An AMAZING place for the landscape photographers

05.00.p.m.- Sunset point – by far the BEST sunset I have witnessed on a seashore.

06.30.p.m- We are at Sagarika– the govt. emporium for shopping for souvenirs

Day 6:

09.00.a.m- Chawtham island– Asia’s biggest timber saw mill and forest museum

10.15.a.m- Samudrika– A museum maintained by the Indian Navy

11.00.a.m- Anthropological museum visit

12.00.p.m- Check out and arrive at Veer Savarkar airport.

Andamans from the air
Andamans from the air

This is the maximum number of places anyone could squeeze into the list for a Sunday to Sunday trip.. The islands has so much to explore that only a month long vacation can do justice 🙂 I’d suggest you take a 2hr motor boat ride from Havelock to South button island- the smallest national park in India for scuba diving known for its shallow waters Tropical coral reefs. You could add Mt. Harriet, Niel island, Cinque island, Barren island, Diglipur, Mayabunder, Rangat, Ross & smith island, Saddle peak etc. among the important places of Andamans. However, a trip to Nicobar islands has to be planned separately as it is special in its own way..

Words of caution:
1. Please adhere to your time schedule strictly because every ferry ride, every museum, every zoo runs/remains open only on a specified time frame. 
2. The city remains awake only between 8.00.a.m and 08.00.p.m. Plan your entertainment well to keep yourself occupied.
3. If you are planning to eat out or take a coffee walk, it has to be before 7.00.p.m. All shops shut down after that.