Tag Archives: travel

Exploring the backwaters of Karnataka- Thonse

Although the places that I choose to write about may not stand a chance to be compared with the Sundarbans or the Pichavaram forests… None the less- The Arabian sea coast has its own share of beautiful places in terms of its mangrove creeks. And while Kerala is synonymous with its enchanting backwaters, Karnataka too has its fair share of backwater system which is still untouched and yet to be explored… Through my innumerous journeys in this coastal stretch, I don’t remember a time when I did not put my neck out to be tantalized by the view of the backwaters as I passed on those bridges that fall in between Mangalore and Udupi. So, this time I had set aside one weekend exclusively to explore these lesser known places of the west coast and mark myself in those remote places on the map-of-India.

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First things first- Having good connectivity, taking the public transport to reach these places has its own experience, the way I enjoyed my trip. But I strongly recommend having own vehicle to these places given the hassle of waiting for a ride, given the remoteness of the place and the joy of riding through such a beautiful stretch of road be best enjoyed on a two-wheeler only. That said, I had reached Udupi by an overnight bus and stayed at a hotel close to the Krishna temple. I freshened up and headed to the service bus stand located at a walkable distance to the hotel. Click here for more weekend trips from bengaluru

The entire district of Udupi is dotted by innumerous temples and churches and hence, I prefer not to make a mention of them in this post. There is no dearth of local buses to any place within the coastal belt of Karnataka and hence, I relied totally on them for my commutation. All set to explore Thonse, I boarded a bus that passed through Kallianpur village which was once part of the Vijayanagara empire. The ruins of an old laterite fort stands testimony to that era. My first stop was at Kemmannu. A short walk on a meandering road through coconut plantations took me to a serene system of backwater canals connected to river Swarna. A suspension bridge has been laid across the river and set in an idyllic location of mangrove creeks. The oarsman suggested to take a boat ride in the high tides either for sunrise or sunset and that the delta beach would look brilliant at that time. I got a ride in a country boat around several islets in the backwaters of river Swarna that was good opportunity for birding and a pleasant experience of sailing in the lap of nature.

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The entire district of Udupi is dotted by innumerous temples and churches and hence, I prefer not to make a mention of them in this post. There is no dearth of local buses to any place within the coastal belt of Karnataka and hence, I relied totally on them for my commutation. All set to explore Thonse, I boarded a bus that passed through Kallianpur village which was once part of the Vijayanagara empire. The ruins of an old laterite fort stands testimony to that era. My first stop was at Kemmannu. A short walk on a meandering road through coconut plantations took me to a serene system of backwater canals connected to river Swarna. A suspension bridge has been laid across the river and set in an idyllic location of mangrove creeks. The oarsman suggested to take a boat ride in the high tides either for sunrise or sunset and that the delta beach would look brilliant at that time. I got a ride in a country boat around several islets in the backwaters of river Swarna that was good opportunity for birding and a pleasant experience of sailing in the lap of nature.

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The suspension bridge at Kemmannu

From there, I took a walk back to the main road where the harbored boats beside a broken bridge caught my attention. There was something amusing happening down there at the canals. I felt as if I was unfortunately experiencing a bioluminescent spectacle in daylight. The sight was something I had never seen before. On a closer look, I realized that the canal was filled endlessly with jelly fishes of various colours and sizes. After spending some time there videographing the sight, I boarded the bus to my next destination- Kodi bengre.

This small fishing hamlet is located on a narrow strip of land mass, placed geographically between river Swarna and the Arabian sea. While your heart will surely skip a beat at the first sight of the vastness of the sea at Hoodi beach, a deviation to the right which narrows into the village offers an experiential ride right until the estuary at Bengre beach. The tip of land is a great place for sunset viewing and enjoying the silence with the waves.. The several shacks in the hamlet serves freshly caught sea food served spicy hot which is something not to be missed while you’re there!

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Then, I took a bus to the coast that we had deviated from at Hoodi beach. With a quick ride through country roads flanked with traditional sea facing mansions, we reached Malpe beach. This being a popular tourist place, it was bustling with activities including various water sports. We walked down to the fish market / port area, away from the crowd- and got a good sight of the setting sun. There is a dedicated ferry service from the jetty to the Saint Mary’s Island for those seeking for a day trip which I personally recommend for anyone who is visiting this coastal town. It’s a great place and there is enough information available all over the net to get there… If you are driving your own vehicle, then I recommend you to take the Pithrody route to reach back the Udupi town. This will complete your coastal stretch of Udupi giving you an experience of driving through yet another estuary and delta- that’s formed by river Udyavara and the Arabian sea.

You can compliment your beach trip with a visit to the Krishna temple and the seven Mathas that are associated with the temple administration. Top it up with delectable Udupi chaats and the famous Gadbad ice-cream that saw its origin in this coastal town.

Tracking the Big Five at Kaziranga

The monsoon has caused the mighty Brahmaputra to take a toll on the North-eastern part of India causing innumerable and irreplaceable losses. I saw this one particular photo of a floating carcass of the striped beast- the National animal of India in the newspaper this morning and I was taken back in time when I visited Kazhiranga last year, post monsoon. After a wonderful drive through the National highway from Guwahati, we reached Kazhiranga on a night lit with Diwali lamps all around. Kazhiranga national park is divided into four main areas: The Central range at Kohora, Western range at Bagori, Eastern range at Agaratoli and the Burapahar range at Ghorakhati. Here, the tourists can enjoy the elephant and jeep rides into the forest that are organized by either government or private parties. It is closed during monsoon and we were lucky that the Central zone at Kohora had just opened. We had a nice meal and settled down at one of the numerous resorts that exist on the boundary of the National park in the Kohora range. Meanwhile, our resort guys helped us to get tickets for a safari ride scheduled for early next morning.

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Enroute to the forest gates

We woke up the next morning and headed towards the gates where the elephant ride was supposed to commence. The drive itself was so refreshing… With the addictive smell of wet ground, Mud roads with green paddy fields dotted with bamboo huts here and there; Thick mist slowly clearing up with dew drops reflecting the rising sun- It was a wonderful drive all the way till the tourist tower inside the forest gates. Kazhiranga is synonymous with the one-horned rhinoceros. Even before we started our ride, we spotted rhino families all around the tower we were standing at. With about 2/3rd of the world’s population of these beauties found in just this area, it was no surprise that we began to spot them one after the other. We even found a few of them grazing by the roadside fields on our way back. With that we realized, that Kaziranga was something beyond rhinos. Our elephant had arrived, we sat atop and started our ride into the haze of the misty green grasslands of the Kazhiranga.

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The elephants marching into the forest

The elephants that we were sitting on were walking through dense thickets of elephant grass- The grass that was taller even for elephants to walk through. Slowly, the mahout started to point out and show us the animal sightings. First, it was a wild elephant with its calf. We were told that Rhino and elephant conflicts were common and that particular mother elephant was wounded just that morning in a bid to protect its new born calf. So, that meant we were not safe sitting on one either! We slowly moved out of tall grass to another area where a couple of rhinos were finishing their morning chores. It was very surprising for us to know that large rhino groups identify space where each rhino marks its own spot (making a private toilet space for itself) and does not let any other rhino enter the area. Wow! We slowly passed that place and spotted herds of swamp deer. World’s largest population of these herbivores too is concentrated in these forests. They are handsome animals. Just as we were photographing them, we saw a herd of Asiatic wild water buffaloes marching out of a slush pool. We had no idea that over 57% of the world’s water buffaloes too were accommodated in the woods here! Another surprise awaited us- Kazhiranga national park has the highest density of the Royal Bengal tigers in the world!!! Whoa!!!! That’s like……..!!! So we had checked off 4 out of the big 5 of the Kazhiranga before heading towards the exit gates- The One horned rhinos, Asiatic elephants, swamp deer and wild water buffaloes… We need real luck to find the last one- the elusive beast: The Royal Bengal tiger…

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Clockwise: The Single horned Rhino, Swamp deer, Wild water buffaloes and the Asiatic elephants

We realized that we still had time to make it for the morning batch of jeep ride. I strongly recommend to try both ways of exploring the woods- on elephant back and by a four wheel drive. Both are different experiences and the type of terrain and sightings are different. While an elephant will be able to take you through the tall grass, a 4-wheel will be able to enter deeper areas of the forest. So, we had a gypsy to take us in… Needless to mention- Herds and herds of rhinos greeted us all along our way. Wild boars, barking deer etc. were spotted in abundance. The highlight was however- the innumerable varieties of migratory birds that we spotted. Our driver mentioned several names, out of which only pelicans and spoon-billed storks were the prominent ones that I have managed to remember. At the end of the drive one way, the guards took us to a watch tower from where we could catch a very good view of hundreds of animals that come to drink water from the flowing river. It was a very calm and a serene place to spend a while with nature… What caught our curiosity was some random years mentioned on the wall of the watch tower. So, here is a picture that may give an idea of the monsoon fury and severity of floods that affect this area year after year. The tower itself is located at an elevation from the river. My friend in the below picture is a 6-footer. The water level of 2016 is marked above him… Can you imagine how impossible it is for the animals to escape out of the area??? It’s insane to think of…

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Record of the flood water level of the Bramhaputra

Although a little disappointed for not being able to spot a tiger, we were feeling content for having our long pending wish of visiting this heritage site come true! We then headed back to the resort for breakfast. The drive back on the highway was an extremely nice one which had gone unnoticed during the hurried drive through misty roads in the morning… Tea plantations flanked the roads on both sides. The famous Assam tea grows in flat lands and under shade, totally contrary to what I had seen and grown up with, in down South. We stopped by to sip on some hot brew and bought some procedded tea leaves for our caffeine addicts back home. A quick visit to the Orchid research centre was an interesting place to drop by too…

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The Assam tea estate

So, that was an eventful day at Kazhiranga with warm memories from the woods before heading to our next destination- Jorhat. If you wish to spend more time with nature, I recommend you all to explore all the 4 ranges of the national park. Don’t go by recommendations of people of which range to go in… Each area is distinct with different types of vegetation, landscape, flora and fauna concentrations.

A roadtrip in the coffee land- Karnataka

There’s a proverb in Kannada, “Hitlu gida maddalla” meaning ‘We don’t recognize the medicinal value of plant that’s lying in our backyard’. True to this, I have been traveling and writing about beautiful places from across the country.. And suddenly I felt that I had left out to explore places in my home state itself..!! We just wanted to have a rough theme before we hit the road. What was fitting well in the time available was the coffee tour!

Karnataka produces about 51% of India’s coffee and it is all on the southern stretch of the Malnad region. The coffee grown here is highly priced in the international market owing to its better flavor as it is grown under the shade. That’s it, my brother and I pulled out dad’s bike from our cellar and decided to hit the road for a long weekend covering the entire stretch of coffee belt in Karnataka. Unlike cars, we won’t have the luxury of having a spare wheel in a 2-wheeler. Inorder to get our 125CC, 4-stoke, single cylinder, 10 year old boy running smoothly, it was necessary to give him a fine pair of CEAT tyres that could sustain our long ride on different terrain. So finally, here we go.. Our road trip along the coffee belt on the western ghats.

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On a January weekend, we rode through the finely maintained NH- through Nelmangala and Kunigal. Our first coffee stop was to sip on some caffeine from the Hassan plantations. A simple hot cuppa at a petty shop before a deviation to Shettyhalli was all that we wanted. At a distance of about 20kms from Hassan, the Rosary church at Shettyhalli stood testimony to time and silently narrated a story of a painful past. This church emerges out when the water levels in river Hemavathi recede as if playing a game of hide and seek. We spent some time admiring this architectural beauty and trying to reconstruct it’s glorious past through our imagination. We left Hassan after a sumptuous lunch at a friend’s house located in the middle of a coffee estate.

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The Rosary church at Shettyhalli. Clicking credits: Samson Joseph

As we passed through the winding roads of Chickmagalur, we were reminded that the hillstation is the birthplace of Indian coffee. Bababudangiri range is the place where coffee was first brought to India and the plantations flourished. Mullayangiri, the highest peak in Karnataka is a hotspot among trekkers. Also, being the native of the famous chain- Café Coffee day, we couldn’t help but stop over for a cup of cappuccino.. After having our dose of caffeine, we continued on the road for our night’s stay at Sringeri.

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Enroute to Chickmagalur

Next day, we set out to explore the pilgrim town of Sringeri. The Sharadamba temple is one among the 4 main Mutts established by Sri.Adi Shankaracharya. The Vidhyashankara temple on the same premises is a beautiful structure built in a combination of Hoysala and Vijayanagara style of architecture. After a small ride, we stopped by at Sri Rushyashrungeshwara swamy temple in Kigga, locally called as the God of rains. The route to our next destination- Sirimane waterfalls was a pleasant one passing through thick jungle on either sides, once notoriously famous as a haven of dacoits. Narasimha Parvata and Meghebaile waterfalls are other places of interest for the forest bums. However, we decided to spend the remaining time whiling away on the banks of river Thunga feeding the school of fishes with puffed rice.

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The Vidhyashankara temple at Sringeri

We started early the following day as we had a long route to cover and the BEST stretch of our roadtrip. We arrived early at the Kalaseshwara temple and enjoyed the serenity and oneness with nature that Kalasa town had to offer. The Breakfast served at the Annapurna temple happens to be one of the best prasadams and there was no way we were going to miss it. So we had to speed our way towards Horanadu, before the food counter closed. We then had to do a small off-roading which took us to a place of Ultra Calm- Javali in Mudigere Taluk, the birthplace of river Hemavathi.

After a refreshing break, we headed towards the next coffee hotspot. It had been an awesome ride so far and time to get our caffeine fix. We parked our bike at one of the stalls put up with a bare table and a stove serving banana fritters and our dose of Sakleshpur coffee. We then climbed up the stairs to reach the beautifully located and strategically built armoury of Tippu Sultan- Manjarabad fort. It is a multi-walled star shaped fortress and worth photographing for an aerial view. Having Shiradi ghat and Bisle ghat in the viscinity, the view from the fort is amazing!

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The Manjarabad fort

The ride has been brilliant so far and we stopped by for a picture of this solo tree standing in a serene place.

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As we continued to enjoy our ride further, god decided to add in a tinge of adventure. We lost our way and we missed a deviation.. So that’s when our CEAT tyres were put into real test. We were scared of having lost our way and running on low battery on our mobile phones. So, the video pretty much sums up our offroading tryst. However, we were fortunate to reach the main road that ran parallel to our wrong road. Astonishingly, we later got to know that the official name of that road was ‘Kundu-Rasthe’ which literally means ‘Pot-hole road’ in Kannada.

The sun was already setting and we were the last and the only people in the middle of no-where, walking down the stairs towards Mallalli waterfalls. The place was drop-dead deserted by the time we reached there. We hurriedly clicked some photographs and rode for a short coffee break at the last part of our coffee trip, entrance to Coorg or Kodagu district. Interestingly, we passed through several small towns named after the days of the week when the weekly shandy is held. Shukravarapete, ShanivaraSanthe and Somwarpet were among them.

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The Mallalli falls

So it was past 07.00.p.m. when we finally reached our ancestral home at Madikeri town. And there was no better way to be greeted at home and end the long trip than having a sinful brew of Bella kaapi of Coorg. That said, our ride on the coffee belt had come to an end.. We rode on excellent national highways, state highways and stretches with no roads.. I must mention that coffee kept us awake and the tyres kept us on track and it was a wonderful experience.

Summary: It is not an expensive car / bike you need for a wonderful trip. An efficient engine and a pair of reliable tyres is all that is required if you have a zeal to conquer the roads.. Bring it on and enjoy the ride!

‘I’m chronicling my road trip adventure for CEAT Tyres in association with BlogAdda.’

Request to all riding & driving enthusiasts:

I myself work for an automobile manufacturer and my roles include attending to quality issues of seats & airbags. I have seen tests performed on dummys for evaluation. Trust me, it is insane to imagine the impact of not wearing seat belts.

1 .Seat belts alone can reduces the risk by 60% in case of a collision. In most cars, the airbags don’t deploy unless the seatbelts are worn as they are inter-connected for the electrical system to identify the seat occupancy. So buckle up and ensure all your co-passengers too have!

2. Helmets on the other hand reduce fatal accidents by upto 60% avoiding severe head injuries. So, please invest on a quality assured helmet and strap it properly for your own safety and DO NOT look out for any cash savings by picking the one’s sold on roadside.

You may be a safe rider/driver. But you don’t know that stranger on the road.. Remember, someone is waiting back at home for your return. Please follow safety rules for their happiness. This is the least you can do!

My hotel nightmares in India.

The long list of places I’ve travelled to and stayed at have given me a new insight to life and a new outlook at seeing life through.. The journeys have been enriching and the stays have added a new dimension to the travel. From five-star luxury to shoe-string budget hostels- I’ve stayed there all. While the pleasant ones were many, there is its own share of hopelessly aweful places. So here are a few ghastly and horrendous stays I have opted for during the course of my Indian discovery.

1. It being a pleasant season in the holy town of Rameshwaram, we had checked into a decent non-AC lodge at noon. After freshening up, we went out for sightseeing and returned to our room post dinner. We unpacked all our girly goods and let most of our wet lingerie strewn out for drying. It was around mid-night and I was just about to fall asleep and my friend Madhu screamed out loud. HECK! I jumped out asking what had happened. She switched the light on and started to pick up 1,2,3.. Bedbugs! She was allergic to them and the rashes had spread across her body. We spoke to the hotel manager and he arranged for an alternate room which he claimed would be good due to A/C facility. While we moved in our luggage and shut the doors, my friend lifted the bed to just reconfirm that everything was alright. Alas! More bedbugs were partying around the hemline.. We ran to the reception and asked them to give a permanent solution. They somehow managed to arrange a room in a nearby hotel after having themselves confirmed the room quality. So the next thing we were found doing was- Two girls walking the empty streets of Rameshwaram at well past midnight with half zipped backpacks, untied shoes in our feet, wet lingerie hanging out of the luggage, random plastic bags on both hands and anxious faces searching for a place to spend the night.. It was almost dawn by the time we settled down in the alternate accommodation provided.

2. We can’t blame anyone for this one- there was nothing else for us to expect while being stranded in the middle of a winter trek and the night temperature at 25 below zero!! We were at Leh town in Ladakh. No plumbing would work in that part of the world in that season for obvious reasons. We found ourselves in a homestay where we had to fetch water to do our daily chores. We had to break through the frozen layer of ice just so, that we could get half a bucket of hot (warm) water from the bottom of the same drum placed on fire. The bathroom waste was collected in containers which would overflow now and then making us want to throw-up very often.

3. The overly broken plumbing of the Chidambaram lodge is something that tops the list. It was a place that changed my mind to cutting-short my week long trip on just the 2nd day and making me want to go back home ASAP.. As if the stench from the nearby gutter, the smell of alcohol from the adjacent rooms and the super dirty bed covers weren’t enough, the washroom was moss covered and the faucet rusted as if it would break if operated… And to top it all, We stepped on someone’s barf that was spewed up on the stairs.. YUCK!! This has really given me strong reasons to have apprehensions towards online hotel booking based on guest reviews..

4. This one was a highly recommended budget stay option at Panchgani. It used to be a school hostel until being converted to a hotel which has hosted several movie shoots in the past. After hearing positive reviews, we two girls were surprised to find that the property seemed rather deserted when we arrived there. We were the only guests and that too on a weekend.. Although the room seemed decent for the tariff quoted, we still had some apprehensions for being the only people and our safety.. Just when we were in the process of decision making, both our eyes were caught by some strange thing just a little outside our hostel room.. Some white fur like stuff hung out of a large boiler sort of an equipment. We kind of panicked and asked the warden what that was. He told us it was a water boiler and the hard water had deposited along with some insulating material on the top. It definitely looked strange and scary. We did feel that it was a dog inside the boiler and it was their long furry tail hanging out of the barrel.. If it was our imagination, it is so not possible that both of us had the same thought.. We stared at each other and rushed out of the place without any further discussion..

5. So after a nightmare-ish pursuit of an accommodation, we finally checked into a hotel that evening at Panchgani. Everything was fine until my friend came out running from the bathroom. When asked what happened, she anxiously pointed out at the bucket placed under a running tap with a blood red liquid! The bucket was half full already with what seemed like blood.. I ran down to the reception and they came upstairs to check for facts from our bathroom :p They realized that it was rust particles from the overhead metal tank and pipes due to hardwater being constantly heated. We were somehow convinced with the explanation given, but I had no courage to continue to bathe in that water. However, to our rescue the water from other taps seemed to have a normal colour and we completed our basic chores…!!

Summary:

Do not suggest hotels, places and dishes/food to anybody. The choices and preferences vary from each person based on their character, mood, budget etc. Avoid being blamed later!

Experiencing the warmth of Khasi hospitality in the wettest place on earth- Cherrapunjee

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.

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.

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A reservoir enroute to Cherrapunjee

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.

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The Nohkalikai falls

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 who wanted a peaceful place away from the crowd. In search of a nice place to pitch our tents, we took help of one of our Khasi friend, but the search ended up more like an exploration of Sohra with untouched places and sunset views. This exploration took us 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. 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. With very little time left in hand and insufficient preparation for the camping, we 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 will never let one regret their choice of stay. The host accompanied us for dinner and for a drink while we were discussing everything from Khasi culture, ceremonies, politics, sports, tourism et all under the sky- the 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.

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The village settlements around our homestay

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 Paradise who then arranged for our camping in the Nohkalikai village for the night. It was yet another wonderful night amid the Khasis while we enjoyed Khasi music, the enriching conversation with Paradise and his friends on their customs, religious practices, respect for people, nature’s love- Phewwww 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 n 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.

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One of the suspension bridges on the way to Dianthlen falls

At dawn’s break, 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 through the day. And what’s the whole point if one doesn’t experience the rains in the wettest part of the world- Cherrapunjee that is..? We walked in the places around Dianthlen falls and were drenched till the bone and enjoyed the rains for some wild reason…. 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. Had there been some more time in daylight, I would’ve loved to explore the Sohra market, Ramakrishna mission, Mawkdok valley, Thangkharang park, Moktrop rock in the remaining half a day’s time. Anyway, owing to any possibility in improvement in the weather conditions, we decided to drive to our next destination- the Jaintia hills district.

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The rain fed roads of Cherrapunjee

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 published in Karavan, Stokholm, Sweden:
“Even then, goodbye dear Cherra, and your rain goodbye.
For my life is yonder, though my love is here.”

A walk in God’s own garden- Mawlynnong

Gandhiji once said, “The Soul of India is in its villages”. Sometimes, It is not about the place.. It is about the people that brings you closer.. And that’s precisely my take on this little quaint village called Mawlynnong.. After a refreshing drive through some breathtaking views and best roads of India, we had alighted at ‘God’s Own garden’ nestled deep in the East Khasi hills of Meghalaya. Although it is being largely promoted by the Meghalaya Tourism Department(MTD) as Asia’s cleanest village after being awarded so by the ‘Discover India Magazine’ in 2003, I feel it holds a different charm in it with the warmest people I have met so far!

Tourists flock to this place in large numbers just because they have heard about it in MTD handouts. These senseless creatures litter the place extensively with chocolate wrappers, chips sachets etc. all strewn around this supposedly cleanest village they have come to see.. But, the humble villagers watch on with a smile and pick up these wastes themselves and put them in the cane trash bins places visibly infront of every household in the village, thus keeping up to its reputation of being clean!

I walked around the laid back lanes of the village in exploring the old church, the floating stone and the water shed maintained by the villagers. The flowers lining the fences of each household added myriad hues to the green village and grey of the cloudy sky.. I climbed up the skywalk laid up with bamboo and cane that threw up a nice view overlooking the plains of Bangladesh.

Finally, I settled down at a locally run restaurant for a cup of chai to beat the chills of the cloudy weather. I caught up on a conversation with a pretty Khasi lady draped in her Asiangyake (the traditional dress of the Khasi women also called Dhara). While she helped me to memorise a few words in her dialect, I learnt about the Khasi culture and customs. Being a matrilineal society, women are respected and are given the preference to choose her husband-to-be. It is considered a bad omen, if a man proposes to a woman. While she was attending to other customers at the restaurant, I called out for ‘Oikong’ (Khasi alternative for addressing ‘Didi’ in other parts of northern India) to help me with some Soh (Khasi for fruit). “Ohhhh” A voice filled with humility came in response… She then sat down with me and prepared a plate of pineapple seasoned with flakes of the ‘Bhut Jholokias’ and salt. It was one of the best snack I had in years!

I then walked down to the playground where the kids were playing. They seemed excited to meet me, talk in English and pose for a few candid photos. It was a warm and a very pleasant evening for me… There is nothing in particular in this village to see or do.. Yet, the nomad in me strongly intended to stay there for an extra day. There are homestays that are available where the warmth of the Khasi hospitality can be experienced.

I would recommend an early morning walk to Riwai village that helps you avoid the chaotic tourists who flock in later during the day. At a distance of about 1km before Mawlynnong, is the most easily accessible living root bridge and hence, a lot of visitors throng down. So after a nice walk, savouring a nice Khasi breakfast and lemon tea, it was time to pack bags to head out to my next destination- Dawki: the last village of Meghalaya on the Indian border!

Request to tourists:
Please remember that the sole reason that you are at Mawlynnong is to see how ‘Asia’s cleanest village’ looks like. How on earth will you ever feel like littering such a place? Do you want to see if you can take off the ‘Cleanest’ tag from the place? Or do you want to just prove that you are only an uncultured educated rich person who could afford enough money to tour the North-east India? Ask yourself… Be sensible and responsible!

A day out at the Khasi cultural centre- Smit

There are public buses from Shillong to Smit, but one needs to hitch a ride further to Laitlum. Since it was my first day in the state, I did not want to experiment. I hired a taxi from Police bazaar to Laitlum after a good bargain. After arriving from the metropolis with all the madness of traffic, pollution and work tension cluttering my mind- this drive was refreshing. I stopped the car at almost every kilometer to capture the beauty of the place with my not-so-good camera. The bamboo trees and terrace lands with potato farms all yet added charm to the otherwise beautiful scenery. To add to the pleasure of the drive, I was having a good conversation with the driver and there were atleast 50 passengers hopping on and off at every stretch and all getting excited about meeting a foreigner (Yeah… That’s what they called me!).

Smit is an old rustic town and the cultural centre of the East Khasi hills. A road flanked with well groomed pine trees lead to the Raja’s palace. The Raja or the head of the clan is called ‘Siam’ and he lives in the same premises. However, the wooden palace is used only on special occasions- those like Nongkrem festival etc. where there will be tribal congregations. This typical Khasi styled wooden house is said to have been constructed with zero iron nails and only wood for all joints. Although I met the Siam, he did not seem to be a photo friendly person when I seeked permission to photograph his little children. There isn’t much in this town apart from this house.

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The Siam’s house at Smit

After a small stopover, we drove to Laitlum valley- about 5kms further from Smit. It was an offbeat drive through the rarest stretches of countryside. We passed by a lot of school kids who were on their way to school. Few were happy waving at me while a few were busy pranking at their pals as they walked. It was a flashback of typical childhood days in a rural setup. There were a couple of school teachers in my backseat, chatting happily with me and patiently waiting in the car while I would get down to take photos. Overall, it was a very pleasant drive until we reached the Laitlum gate. While the driver wanted to sit back in the car, he asked me to enjoy the view and return.

I was the only person amid the green scintillating valley until I walked down and saw 2 boys cleaning the pristine place. They had already parked aside 4-5 sacks full of waste. When I spoke to them, they told me that they came here every morning before leaving for school to pick up plastics left behind by the previous day’s tourists. While it was a heartfelt respect for these boys for doing their bit to save earth without having any expectations of monetary gain, it was a subtle slap on my face because I too represented the tourists who unmindfully damage the same earth in the name of enjoyment.

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The Laitlum valley

I walked down to the cliff and stood in amazement at the beauty that the place beheld. While I was standing on the brink on a large flat rock, it felt like I was the only person in the whole wide beautiful world. The gentle winds kissed my cheeks and the chirping bird was a welcome guest. There were several waterfalls flowing down the valley gracefully at a distance… Then there were a few villagers who appeared to be popping out of the deep valley beneath. They seemed to be friendly and told me that their village lied down there and they had to climb up each time to meet their basic life requirements, trade their farm products etc. There is a cable car made of bamboo which will be dropped down and pulled up for old people and goods but it is by foot most of the time. I grew curious and my feet dragged me down the stones that were laid on the path to the village. The beauty of the 360 degree greenery and the fresh air had already cleansed my mind off half my worries and tension by the time I clocked the distance to the village. There is a small stream, a church and a few huts in this little fairy tale village nestled deep down the valley. And the villagers I met on my way enriched me with the simplicity and content of life. After a good walk down the beautiful valley of Mawkeynrew, my tummy had started to call out for me. I savoured the plantains offered to me by the villagers and unwillingly decided to climb back.

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The bamboo cable car and the village below

Once I reached the top, I finally sat down at a small hut like stall that had opened by the time at the valley gate. Her little son helped me with a cup of lemon tea in English before running to school. The lady there could not understand anything other than Khasi language and I didn’t know that. In spite of the language barrier, we both became friends who communicated with hand signs. She cooked maggi noodles and Jadoh with chicken curry for breakfast while I was eagerly waiting for my first Khasi meal. Jadoh is a traditional Khasi meal where rice is cooked with chicken blood instead of water. It was one of the most relishing and sumptuous maggi noodles I have ever had..! What made the meal so special was not that I found it in a No-man’s land or at an extremely low price. It was something that I would travel back again all the way for the humility and dollops of warmth the meal was served with.

She cut a pomello fruit and mixed it with chilly powder and packed it for my road.. With a heart full of gratitude, I bid goodbye to this Khasi friend of mine!

Kublei Shiboon,
Hitha.