Tag Archives: Trekking in India

Experiencing the warmth of Khasi hospitality in 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.

This post is part of my fortnight long road trip across North-east India, specifically covering parts of Meghalaya – Assam – Arunachal Pradesh I had tagged along with two other travelers and drove around the state of Meghalaya in a self-drive car hired at Shillong. The places visited in Meghalaya include Shillong – Smit – Cherrapunjee – Mawlynnong – Dawki – Ribhoi- Shillong.

Our Itinerary:

Day 1: Arrive from Shillong / Smit; Wahkabah waterfall, Arwah or Lumshynna caves, Nohkalikai waterfalls, seven sister / Nongsthiang falls (Night’s stay at a local homestay)
Day 2: Tyrna village, Nongriat trek (Double decker rootbridge & Rainbow falls), Mawsmai cave/Krem Phyllut, Ummunoi root bridge at Laitkynsew village (Night camping at Nohkalikai)
Day 3: Dianthlen waterfall trek, Sohra market, Ramakrishna mission, Mawkdok valley, Thangkharang park, Moktrop rock; journey towards Mawlynnong.

The Details:

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.

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A reservoir enroute to Cherrapunjee

As we approached Sohra, we stopped at several view points, Wahkabah waterfall being one among them. India’s longest cave and the most numbers of limestone caves in one place happens to be in Meghalaya and hence Meghalaya is a haven for cave explorers. Our first stop at Sohra was at the Arwah or Lumshynna caves. Relatively smaller compared to the other caves in the viscinity, but is tucked away in a gorgeous location overlooking the deep valley with the Nongsthiang waterfalls.

After a brief visit, we headed towards our next stop: Plunging down from a height of over 1100 feet, Nohkalikai is the highest waterfall in India. We trekked down the steps and a little beyond into the bushes and enjoyed the rare views of the waterfall away from the reaches of normal tourist. There is an option to camp at the Eco park, over the seven sister / Nongsthiang falls. But we decided against it as the place is filled with backpackers and would’ve been too clumsy for us, we were someone who wanted a peaceful place away from the crowd.

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The Nohkalikai falls

Pitching a tent in Sohra requires prior permission from 4 different authorities: the land owner, the Siam of the village, the local government body and the police. In search of a nice place to pitch our tents, we took help of one of a local Khasi friend. With the local connect, our quest to find a piece of land to pitch a tent ended up more like an exploration of Sohra. We could go to some of the untouched places and sunset views that was completely out-of-reach from typical travellers. We were taken to remote places like banks of a small river, a cliff off-a-small hillock, plains overlooking massive gorges, cement factory backyards among other places. With the sun-going down early in this part of the world, we had very little time in hand and insufficient preparation for the night’s camping.

We finally ended up staying with a Khasi family in a local homestay located amid a serene location. The stay however was the highlight of our day: the warm hospitality of the Khasis is something that will never let one regret their choice of stay. Our host at the homestay, accompanied us for dinner and for a drink as we got discussing everything from Khasi culture, ceremonies, politics, sports, tourism et all under the sky, a clear night’s sky. With no pollution in the atmosphere, my friend helped me to identify several constellations from the place that was brilliant for star gazing. It was an unforgettable night for us with the Khasi family.

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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 ‘Mr.Paradise’, who then arranged for our camping in the Nohkalikai village for the night. It was yet another wonderful night spent with new Khasi friends, as we enjoyed Khasi music, the enriching conversation with Paradise and his friends about the Khasi culture. We gained insights about their customs, religious practices, respect for people, nature’s love among many other things. It was a long night under the starry sky with only my friends, Paradise’s friends, myself and the campfire! Suddenly, while the last bit of the firewood was being lit and just before the night broke into dawn, the skies of Meghalaya had shown their power. It poured cats and dogs for the rest of the night, with thunder storm and lightning. We sheltered ourselves inside our tents while I continued to shiver with cold.

At dawn’s break on the following morning, the skies had seemed to have mellowed down and we stepped out of our tents only to be awed by the beautiful sun rising over India’s highest waterfall! Yeah, Meghalaya has been wonderful to us all this while and this was another new day in this ‘land of clouds’. While we had planned a short trek across the Dianthlen falls, the rain gods continued to lash throughout the day.
Cherrapunjee is the wettest part of the world. So, what’s the whole point if one doesn’t experience the rains here, right? We walked in the places around Dianthlen falls and enjoyed the rains for some wild fun but getting drenched till our bones.

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One of the suspension bridges on the way to Dianthlen falls

It was already noon and we couldn’t cover the other few places as planned in Cherrapunjee because of the poor visibility due to heavy rains. Anyway, speculating no possibilities for any improvement in the weather conditions, we decided to drive to our next destination- the Jaintia hills district.

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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:

Even then, goodbye dear Cherra, and your rain goodbye.
For my life is yonder, though my love is here.”

-Karavan, Stokholm, Sweden

Treading the living root bridges- Nongriat

As kids, we always imagined fairies with wings flying amidst colourful gardens, rope like creepers hanging across the forest thickets, rainbows emerging on the tranquil sky. Do you agree when I say this is how most of the animated movies depict fairy tales ? Nestled deep in the rich forests of Meghalaya; with NO exaggeration, that’s how I would describe this village called Nongriat!

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 pleasant drive through the breathtakingly beautiful valleys and naturally formed creepy high limestone walls brought us to a village called Tyrna in Cherrapunjee. That’s where the tarmac ends and our car had to be parked. Further, we trekked down to the Nongriat village: where the ‘Umshiang bridge’ or popularly called ‘the double decker root bridge’ exists. One needs to climb over 2500 steps each way, so that this piece of marvel can be seen at close quarters. Root bridges are created by inter-weaving the roots of the rubber tree by the tribal folks who live in the deep forests of Meghalaya for their local commute across the bloated rivers during monsoon. A bridge fit for usage can take a minimum of a couple of decades and it only gets stronger with age. There are several such living root bridges across Meghalaya and most of them continue to be untouched by the tourists due to their remoteness. We were here, to tread on some of the most popular living root-bridges of Meghalaya.

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The route to Tyrna village

Although, there is a well laid out path of stairs all the way, we thought it was wiser to have a localite who would enrich us with the facts and figures that we wouldn’t get to learn otherwise. At Tyrna, we met a Khasi villager from Nongriat who agreed upon to guide us through our trek. We passed through several sacred groves and areca farms belonging to the villagers. After decending about 1000 steps, a small deviation to the right indicated the way to Nongthymmai village. We took this deviation to reach the ‘Ritymmen root bridge’ a single bridge and another old one next to it which has taken its toll due to the negligence by the localites. Our hearts were jumping with joy at the first experience of treading on a living root bridge, that we had only read about until then… I decided to throw my shoes away for a while and enjoy the feeling of walking barefoot on the bridge.

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The Rythimmen bridge at Nongthymmai village

After spending some time, we decided to continue the trek and our new friend cum guide, continued to enlighten us about the rich traditions and culture of the Khasis. We stopped by for a quick breakfast at a straw hut selling 2-minute noodles and lemon tea. Further, a short climb of stairs continued only to be awestruck by the marvel of indigenous engineering: The double decker root bridge, the main motivation for us to trek this far. It was like fantasy out of a fairytale: creepers hanging across a little waterfall, fed by a pristine river in the middle of nowhere! It was tempting to get our feet wet as we watched a few tourists who had stayed in the Khasi homes around the root-bridge over the previous night and enjoying their swim in the cold waters. However, spending some time admiring this piece of absolute marvel, we decided to move ahead, towards our next mission: Rainbow falls!

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Entry bridge to Nongriat village

Nature’s best kept secrets are those which are untouched due to their remoteness. Rainbow waterfalls being one of those. The small number of tourists who make it till the double decker bridge seemed to have had disappeared there onwards. The tiring path ahead was going to be tiring, we were told. But, nothing comes easy.

I was doing this trip post monsoon (October to be precise) and that’s when the caterpillar larvae take wings! Like winged fairies, we were greeted and accompanied by butterflies of all colours, shapes and sizes all along the stretch from Umshiang bridge (the local name for the double-decker bridge) till the rainbow falls. We had to be extremely cautious while walking, clear the way for ourselves with a stick, lest accidentally step on these little winged beauties. The path was so full of butterflies, that it cannot be expressed with words and the joy can only be experienced. Truly, in every sense: I was Alice, walking in wonderland!

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Another root bridge enroute to Rainbow falls

It was a walk of nearly 2hours through the thickets of the sacred forests and crossing at least 5 other root bridges and a couple of metal rope bridges that were laid across the deep river that flowed down with its seductive clear blue waters. After the brisk climb, we had finally arrived at the place where a hidden jewel of nature unfolded itself, from amid the greens…

We stood there in AWE….. the green trees and bushes had opened up to display a canvas with milky white waters gracefully tumbling down into a pool of turquoise blue and a hundred fairies flying around us. A dozen spectrums added to this heavenly scenery! On a clear sunny day, there could be 50-100 spectrums around the waterfall, giving the place its name: Rainbow falls! We enjoyed a couple of hours in calm just by sitting beside the naturally formed swimming pool as we were the only people in this fairyland and restoring our lost bond with nature that was shared long ago.

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The Rainbow falls

As described by our guide, camping at the Mawsmai caves (2hours trek further) and climbing up the hill to be greeted by the Nohkalikai waterfalls, the highest waterfall in India would have been a complete story! Unfortunately, we hadn’t known much about the enchanting beauty of this trek before embarking on it and had no preparations now, to have it extended further. So now, it was well past afternoon and distance that required to be walked back was long. The sun sets early in this part of India and that meant that we had very less time of daylight left. During our return, we stopped by at another hut near the Umshiang bridge for a late lunch where we relished a simple Khasi meal of rice and bitter lime curry.

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A metal rope bridge near Rainbow falls

The walk back from there onwards was taxing and it is a very steep climb up the 2500 odd stairs.. I stopped several times at the little homes and stalls put up by the villagers on the way to keep myself hydrated with the local energy drinks and fruit juices. I cannot forget the way our guide cum friend Denzil kept motivating me to complete the stretch. He kept reducing the count of steps by hundreds so that I would climb faster with the intention of reaching the top ASAP. Finally, I was back at Tyrna, even while there was sufficient sunlight for us to drive back to Cherrapunjee.

A small deviation from Tyrna will lead one to ‘Ummunoi root bridge’ in the Laitkynsew village, one of the oldest bridges in the viscinity. It has been truly a very refreshing way to explore ‘the abode of the clouds- Meghalaya’.

Conclusion remarks:

  • For all trekking enthusiasts, a two day trek covering Laitkynsew, Nongriat, Mawsmai and Nohkalikai is highly recommended.
  • Although, we missed to trek up to the Nohkalikai falls, we made sure that we camped overnight at a spot facing this waterfall and caught the view of the sun rising over the Nohkalikai waterfalls!

A day out at the Khasi cultural centre- Smit

This post is part of my fortnight long road trip across North-east India, specifically covering parts of Meghalaya – Assam – Arunachal Pradesh I had planned to visit Shillong – Smit – Cherrapunjee – Mawlynnong – Dawki – Ribhoi- Shillong during my weeklong stay in Meghalaya.

I had decided to explore some places all by myself and Smit happens to be one of them. After seeing some spellbinding photos on the internet, I wanted to visit the Laitlum valley as well. Although there are public buses from Shillong to Smit, the connectivity further to Laitlum isn’t great. This is where one needs to have a travel arrangemtn of their own, or in my case: to hitch a ride to reach Laitlum. Since it was my first day in the state, I did not want to get too adventurous for being alone. That’s why, I hired a taxi from Police bazaar (in Shillong) to Laitlum.

This drive was very refreshing for me, whose mind was cluttered by all the madness of traffic, pollution and work tension back in the metropolis (Bengaluru). I was requesting my driver to stop the car after every other kilometer to capture the seducing beauty of the place with my not-so-good camera. The bamboo trees and terrace lands with potato farms, all added charm to the landscape that was very beautiful even otherwise. To add to the pleasure of the drive, I was having a good conversation with the driver as well. Althiugh I had hired a personal taxi, I did not mind to let a few locals into the car when the driver asked me if I could allow them. Given the remoteness of places and the scarce connectivity through transposration, I had absolutely no problem with offering a ride. The next thing I experienced was that there were atleast 50 passengers hopping on and off at every stretch for their ride. And would you know what was exciting for me? All locals who boarded the car used to get overly 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, but there isn’t much in this town apart from the Siam’s house. A road flanked with well groomed pine trees lead to the Khasi 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 when there will be large tribal congregations, like the Nongkrem festival for example. 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 asked for permission to photograph his little children.

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The Siam’s house at Smit

We then drove to Laitlum valley, located at about 5kms ahead of 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. Having been born and raised in a small town myself, 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 local 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 there 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 travel and 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 was located far down the valley 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 their daily commutation 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 contentment in 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 at the valley gate that had opened by that time. It was run by a lady who couldn’t understand what I was trying to communicate in English. 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 soon became friends and managed to communicate 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 had eaten before! 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 with which the meal was served to me.

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 new Khasi friend of mine!

Kublei Shiboon,
Hitha.

Tripping in Scotland of the east- Shillong

This post is part of my fortnight long backpacking across North-east India, specifically covering parts of Meghalaya – Assam – Arunachal Pradesh I had planned to visit Shillong – Smit – Cherrapunjee – Mawlynnong – Dawki – Ribhoi- Shillong during my weeklong stay in Meghalaya.

The planned solo trip started when I boarded the BLR- GAU bound flight to Guwahati. An argument over having to pay an additional Rs.50 per head for turning the A/C on for 1 passenger’s need in a shared taxi from Guwahati airport ended when the drive uphill pulled-off at Police Bazaar in Shillong at 3.00.p.m. While the streets were bustling with the weekenders finding their way out of the hill state, an acquaintance who had offered to let me stay at her place was waiting for my arrival. Thus started my weeklong backpacking trip at Meghalaya and my first day at the capital town, Shillong.

On my first ever solo trip, it being my first day in an unknown city and having very little time with daylight left (The sun sets early in the North-eastern part of India), I decided not to move too far from my friend’s house and eventually cause trouble to people in finding me. I dumped my luggage at the house and started to explore the city by foot.

My Itinerary for Shillong:

Day 1: Arrive at Shillong by 03.00.p.m., Walk around the residential lanes, Shopping at Police Bazaar
Day 2: Golf course, drive to the outskirts (Laitlung valley), local city tour, Elephant falls, Shillong peak & Sweet falls
Day 3: Proceed with the next day’s itinerary

The Details:

The first day went pretty well where I tagged along with another solo-traveler and together we were able to explore the markets, street food and have a fine conversation about travel & music- we kind of struck similar chords. We shopped for woolens, thermals and shoes at dirt cheap prices on the streets of police bazaar. We tasted a lot of local fruits and even picked up some ‘Bhoot Jhalokias, world’s spiciest chilly as mementoes to our relatives.

While we were walking through the narrow residential lanes of the city, we learned about the architecture of the buildings here. Shillong falls under the red belt for earthquakes. Hence, the houses are constructed with light-weight roofs- usually a combination of hay and metal sheet. Also, the houses are usually constructed a few feet above the ground with insulating materials to keep them warm during the winters. Although, a few buildings seemed to have been constructed of concrete, I was told that the walls were mud smeared and if a hole was made with a slightly large nail, the sand from within would ooze out and eventually collapse the wall. This was to protect the people from earthquake & chilly winters together. Pork forms a major part of Khasi cuisine and that made us eat a lot of it (chops, barbequed, fried etc.) since pork goes into almost all dishes. All in all, my landing on the first day in the North-eastern India as a solo traveler went rather well without seeming so lost!

Day 2 can be broadly divided into 3 parts:

  1. Taxi ride to the outskirts (Smit & Laitlung valley)
  2. Walk around the city
  3. Taxi ride to the cantonment area (Shillong peak & Sweet falls)

An early morning walk down the road from my friend’s house lead to the Golf course- The largest, oldest, wettest and the toughest to play in Asia. Green pastures have been scientifically proven to have a soothing effect on human mind and it was nothing different to expect from this golf course. I walked back up to the Police Bazaar and hired a taxi thereon to Smit.

Part 1: Taxi ride to the outskirts (Smit & Laitlung valley)

The drive of 25kms was refreshing as I passed through potato farms and scenic Khasi villages on the way. After a small stopover, we drove to Laitlung valley- about 5kms further. The beauty of the valley with 360 degree greenery and fresh air cleansed my mind off half my worries and tension. The villagers I met on my way enriched me with the simplicity and content of life. After a good walk down and up 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 sat down with a few school kids who were excited to catch up for a conversation with a foreigner in English! I managed to get breakfast at one of the stalls where a simple plate of noodles was served with a heavy dose of warmth and humility. (Click here to read more on this visit to Laitlung valley)

Part 2: Local city tour

After reaching back to Shillong, I enquired with a few taxis to show me around local sightseeing places. For a backpacking budget that I had, the taxi charges seemed to be expensive. Hence, I decided to explore the city by foot with support from my best friend: Google maps. With a little bit of browsing, I listed down many places, all located within a radius of 5 kilometers. Depending on what one’s interest lies in, it is possible to find something for everyone in this little hillstation.

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The Ward’s lake at Shillong

Things to see in Shillong include:

• For the museum bums: Air force museum (at Upper Shillong), Forest museum (Inside Lady Hydari park), Rhino heritage museum, Zoological museum, Anthropological museum (at Mawsbuit/ahead of Happy Valley), Botanical museum, Arunachal museum, State museum, Don-Bosco centre of culture (At Mawlai).
• For the water & nature lovers: Shillong peak, the Wards lake, Bishop Beadon falls, Spread eagle falls (also called as Sati or Umkaliar falls), Crinoline falls and Elephant falls.
• For the spirituality seekers: There are a large number of Cathedrals and churches where you can attend the Sunday mass with hymns melodiously sung in the Khasi language.

Part 3: Taxi ride to the cantonment area (Shillong peak & Sweet falls)

By sunset time, I realized that I had done several rounds of the same roads and had checked off very few places. And that’s when I decided to take a taxi and visit the farthest of the city’s sightseeing landmark. I was heading towards the highest point of the hill station: Shillong peak. However, the road taken towards the peak was blocked by the Indian air-force staff due to security reasons. So, that’s when my driver offered an alternate plan for me to spend the remaining evening. I nodded to his idea and sat back as he drove through the ‘Happy Valley’ and the army cantonment area at Mawsbuit to show me the most beautiful of all places around Shillong: the Sweet falls.

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Sweet falls

Being tucked away from the city crowd and having limited access to people due to the army area, this place was very serene, clean and beautiful. However, apart from a couple of riders who had dropped over for a drink, the place seemed to be very secluded. Since this was my “first” solo backpacking trip, I wasn’t feeling great about being in a less-crowded place like this one. So, I went back to the taxi and decided to be driven back to the city area.

Just then, I had a surprise waiting for me inside my taxi. My driver fallen sick and seemed to be partially unconscious. He was struggling to respond when I tried to talk to him. I suspected that his sugar levels had dropped and quickly gave him some toffees from my bag. After letting him rest in the car for a while, he seemed to come back to normalcy (at least enough conscious to be able to drive the car out of the deserted area). He then dropped me back to the city and bid me farewell.

After a short shopping break at the Police bazaar market, I headed to MTDC (Meghalaya Tourism Development Corporation) office where I thought I would be able to plan my next day’s itinerary… and what happened next is history.!!

Closing Remarks:

• It’s a safe and a friendly city for the solo travelers.
• Time required for covering all places in the city- 1.5 days

Must dos:

  • For the music buffs: Attend the Shillong Weekender NH7 music festival
  • For the cultural buffs: Attend the Nongkrehm festival of the Khasi tribes at Smit
  • For the foodies: Try Khasi cuisine at the many restaurants and give it a try for street food post 6.00.p.m across the city.
  • For the shopaholics: lots of amazing winter wears, shoes and boots at dirt cheap prices across the city!

A mind numbing winter experience in Ladakh

So well, thank you for dropping by. This post is an elaborate impromptu itinerary we came up with when we were stranded in Leh, sometime before Ladakh became a separate Union territory. If you’d are interested in planning an itinerary, stick around this post. But, if you’re keen to know the fun story behind our plan going haywire, I recommend you to also read my brother/ co-traveller’s perspective. (Click here to read his story)

Stick around a little more, to know my side of the same story. Then tell me what you liked 🙂

Here’s mine!

What was supposed to be an once in a lifetime experience of trekking on a frozen river- ‘The chadar trek’, rather turned out to be a wonderful experience in its own way.. Thanks to a landslide on the Zanskar, a natural dam had been formed stocking up water for over 5 kms. If incase this natural dam collapsed due to the built up pressure, the stored water would wash away the nearby areas causing flash floods. Hence, citing safety reasons, the goverment had issued ‘section 144 – Shoot at sight’ to anyone attempting to go anywhere close to the river.

We decided to break away from the trek organiser and explore Ladakh on our own.. Oh yeah, before I forget to mention- None of our phones were working(No connectivity via phone or internet)- Thanks to all our pre-paid connections. Only postpaid connections work in this part of the country due to security reasons (given its proximity to disputed border areas). Thus started our lifetime experience of the mind-numbing winters in Ladakh.

Day 1: It was noon by the time our early morning flight took off from Delhi airport, thanks to bad weather conditions. Just 20minutes after take off, a small but prominent layer of cloud seemed to appear at the horizon.. But within no time, we realised that we were approaching the Himalayas. In just few minutes, the GPS indicated Shimla on the map in the TV infront of our seats. A never-ending stretch of deep gorges, ravines, formed the beautiful landscape below. Few minutes further up.. Yes..!!! we couldn’t contain our excitement of flying over the snow covered mighty Himalayan peaks, we were jumping for a spot at the windows taking turns.. It was the first time we were seeing snow! Click click click…. The cameras went on and on… It was as if we were in an enclosure which was floating up in heaven.. It was absolute FEAST to the senses.. all the way… till touch down🙂

You are flying over the Himalayas...
You are flying over the Himalayas…

Inspite of the glaring bright sun, it was 6 below zero degrees when our flight landed at Leh- one of the highest airstrips in the world. We took a cab to the hotel that we were informed by the trek organiser.

The day went by just making an alternative plan for the trek that could not happen. Also, it was necessary to get acclimatized to a scary combo of High altitude + low temperature(It went upto -25deg on some days of our trip). So we just had to stay bummed to our rooms(without heaters..!!) and warmup ourselves 😛 We shopped for a lot of thermals in Leh market (we got cheap & good quality stuff..)

Day 2: It was the last day of the Gustor festival – the annual fair at the Spituk monastery– Enroute we visited the ‘Hall of fame‘- the war museum. We happened to be there at the right time when an Indian airforce carrier was about to land. With the Sham valley & other mountain ranges all around the airstrip, it called for the exact photo that had inspired me to visit Ladakh more than a year ago.. We later headed to the monastery where the day long festivities and mask dance was going on.. We walked up the stairs to the holy abode of Kali(which is open for public viewing only during Gustor festival) before we comforted ourselves by finding a seat amid the chaotic crowd that had assembled. After the event, we did a bit of souvenir shopping at the mela that was put up and a lot of binging on Ladakhi food. We took a cab to Shanti Stupa which is best for sunset viewing. After the sun was down, we took the stairs down which we were told was a shortcut to reach Leh town by foot.

Mask dance at the Gustor festival - the annual fair at the Spituk monastary
Mask dance at the Gustor festival – the annual fair at the Spituk monastery

Day 3: Drive through Changla pass(the 3rd highest pass in the world) at a nerve freezing temperature: Get a quick grab of food at Karu town. Here one needs to get the Inner Line Permit to proceed towards Pangong Tso- the controversial border between India & China. The lake was partially frozen- where we could drive over most part of it and experience the chadar partially 😛 If one has an extra day, they could head to Tso Moriri, a salt water lake and camp there overnight before returning to Leh. But, we took back the same route so we could cover the Shey Palace, Thikse monastery & got a glimpse of the Rancho school of the ‘3 Idiots’ fame. Hemis monastery- the wealthiest monastery in India remained unreachable by road since it was winter.

A milestone at the Pangong tso
A milestone at the Pangong tso

Day 4: It was a lonng day.. A wonderful drive on a roadless route which seemed to have been carved all out of ice and sprinkled with snow.. A small slip of tyre could get deadly as beautiful as the valley seemed to appear. We couldn’t ask for more when it began to snow just when we alighted at the end of the highest motorable road in the world- the Khardungla pass. Continue on the road that leads to the cold desert of Ladakh- The Nubra valley. With minimal vegetation, and sand dunes all around, you should not be missing out the ride on the Bactrian camels which are endemic to this region and is a critically endangered species. Visit the Diskit monastary- where a 32 feet statue of Maitreya Buddha looks upon Pakistan. Towards the end of the valley is the Siachen glacier- the highest battleground in the world and the glacier forms the source to the biggest irrigation system in the world-The Indus. Catch a good night’s sleep at a traditional homestay there and experience authentic Ladakhi hospitality.

View from a monastary
View from a monastery

Day 5: Start early cuz the day will be short with too many places to cover on a single stretch from Leh. We took the Kargil road- a drive through Sham valley. First stop was at Nimmoo where we filled our fasting tummies. The next quick stopover was at Pattar Sahib Gurudwara. The straight stretch of road looked as if it was peircing right through the horizon. We were driving through the magnetic hill. The road which is believed to have defied gravity where a car with ignition off and neutral gear moves uphill- against gravity..!! We were not quite convinced with our experience though, which made us agree to the scientific explanation of it being an optical illusion. We arrived at Chilling- The confluence of the Indus and Zanskar. The partially frozen stretch was intimidating to walk over.. But we were warned by a cop not to go near the banks.. all thanks to section 144 😛

The confluence of the Indus and the Zanskar
The confluence of the Indus and the Zanskar

We continued our journey through rustic Ladakhi villages, monasteries dotting the distant hillocks, frozen waterfalls, bare poplar trees, narrow truss bridges, army barracks, hot water springs, ice hockey fields, etc. We came across wild deers, yaks, pashmina sheep, wild horses and other fauna endemic to this high altitude region.. Likir monastery was beautiful with the Buddha statue smiling in between the snow clad mountains all around. Our last destination was Lamayuru monastery– The start point for many treks in this region.

Unfortunately, we did not have the luxury of a few more hours and safe conditions at the border to go further upto the Kargil border. We wanted to drive back through Drass valley- The coldest inhabited place in India and the second coldest in the world. Again, If I had an additional day in hand, I would have loved to get an inner line permit to spend a day at DhaHanu valley: home to the endangered community of the Dard people. I would love to go back ASAP atleast to document their customs, traditions, photograph their intricate jewellery and costumes before their numbers further deplete. Had I been blessed with a couple more days, I would want to do the Markha valley trek andand experience the tribal life in its raw & purest form.. And spot a snow leopard in its natural habitat at the Hemis national park- the largest national park in India and the highest national park in the world.

During winters, most of the town is shut for the season. The few places that are up, open after 11.00.a.m and close by 5~6.p.m. We missed out on some fine shopping of souvenirs, local handicrafts and dry fruits.. Probably, some form of connectivity of phone or internet could have helped us to cover more places and organise our trip in possibly a better way.. But, NO REGRETS..!! We’ve still done what most people don’t dare to- Experience the bitter winter of Ladakh. That’s all the time we had for.. We had to pack our bags with a super heavy heart to carry back home..

Day 6: It was a rare phenomenon that we had woken up with that day, early at 6.a.m. It was snowing in Leh. There usually is no snowfall at Leh town… But that day I guess the town had started to miss us… the sky was crying heavily.. We reached the airport by 07.30.a.m. The security measures are very stringent for those leaving Leh which easily needs about 2hrs. 2 rounds of passengers’ frisking and 2 rounds of baggage screening. And then, you have to individually identify your baggage until which it will not be loaded to the flight..!! Quite a strenuous task for the security personnel… While it is considered as a fun trip for the touristy people like us.. It’s a salute to the bravehearts : The Indian army.. Who bare all odds like extreme climatic conditions and unpredictable threats to their lives, strive day and night to ensure that we are safe.. The flight took off over the mountainthat said ‘Touch the sky with glory’.. in the true sense…

I will come back ASAP for more..

Julley Leh..!!

Mission accomplished- Kumara Parvatha

This trek was planned to celebrate the 1st anniversary of Sam’s farewell trek (Click here for details).. on the same day, exactly a year ago..

Let me get you going directly from where this trek to Kumara parvatha or KP peak is actually supposed to start. We reached Kukke Sri kshetra and checked into the lodge(a meagre 100Rs. Per day) run by the temple trust, freshened up and feasted on some sumptuous Mangalorean food for breakfast. Without wasting much time, we started the much hyped- one of the toughest treks in South India.. to the Kumara parvatha peak in the Pushpagiri wildlife zone.

The original plan was to start from the base by 7.00.a.m and camp at Bhatru mane. Then, leave Bhatru mane by 3.00.a.m the next morning and reach the peak to witness the sunrise, what is supposedly one of the best.

As planned, we entered the trekking trail.. It starts off with thick forest around and steep climbs uphill.. There was NO water sources along the way (We didn’t know that there was a perennial stream, with a small deviation after 2.5km) and a possibility of occasional encounters with elephants. We took frequent stops before taking a longer halt at Bhima’s rock. This stretch of 3km had oozed the fluid out of us..

 A view from Bhima's rock
A view from Bhima’s rock

Once this 3kms stretch was covered, we got our first view of Kukke town.. The thick canopy of forests made way to the grasslands after walking 1km further from there.. It was well past noon and the sun shined at its hottest.. We were running out of water already.. We started to wonder if Bhatru mane really existed and literally pulled ourselves to reach there. Or rather say, we pushed ourselves to walk the small distance that seemed never ending.. Finally… we were overjoyed at the first glimpse of Bhatru mane…

The first glance of Bhatru mane
The first glance of Bhatru mane

We ran down to his nestle amid a small piece of green land.. I find NO words to express the joy of finding water.. That too, clear and cold water from the stream that ran through his farm.. We had a simple, yet the tastiest lunch served by Bhatru and rested under the shades of his arecanut farm..

We then made a small change in the plan and decided to continue the trek until it was dark. We feared the pace at which we were climbing up and did not want to return late on the following day.. We halted at a view point along the way for some photographs, before reaching the forest checkpost. We continued our hike up after registering our names at the forest office.. We stopped again at yet another view point.. The sun was coming down by the time we reached kal-mantapa and hence we decided to pitch our tent near the stream that ran by..

The sunset from our tent

The sunset from our tent

I don’t remember which sane person in the group chose the place.. I agree that we got a place which became every other trekker’s envy.. The place was for sure, a top rated spot for sunset viewing.. But we girls, who stayed inside the tent know what we went through that night.. The tent was pitched on a slope, on the edge of a rocky cliff which seemed like the place where the earth ended.. It was soon dark and we ate the little food that we had carried and hit the bed (Read hit the rocks)..

The boys comforted themselves in their sleeping bags and threw the poor girls inside the tent.. The entire night went by like this: ‘Our respective backpacks were used as pillows inside our tent. We all would slide down with our bags inside the tent.. again we would push back everything and move up.. Slide down.. Slide up.. Phew..!!’ And a while into midnight.. The intensity of the wind also increased.. The cover of the tent started to fly.. We hoped for it to be 3.00.a.m soon so that we all could start our ascend.. But another surprise was awaiting us.. Madhu heard the cracking sound of the tent support and scared all the girls inside to vacate the tent. We carried our luggage from inside and jumped out of the tent, one by one.. The last girl just came out and the tent crashed down to a flat.. The guys woke up and one of them attempted to slowly remove the pegs.. One peg was removed and then… The tent flew.. away from our reach.. off the cliff.. down the valley.. We had borrowed the tent, on hire.

Everyone woke up and sat wondering why this had to happen. It was still dark at 4.00.a.m. and with the wind that continued to blow ruthlessly, our ascend to the peak seemed impossible.. We stayed back until sunrise 😦 We decided to compromise on one of the main agenda of our trek- Watching the sunrise at KP peak.

After there was dawn,one of the boys dared to go down the cliff. He had a thrilling feat with adventure and managed to bring back the tent that had settled on a boulder in the middle of a water body, down below in the valley.. More than getting excited about finding the tent, we were all celebrating his safe return.. It was around 7.00.a.m by the time we started our ascent.

Inspite of missing the sunrise, the views post that period were equally spectacular, all along the way. The climb was pretty smooth. It was around 11.00.a.m. by the time we reached the first peak/ false peak- Shesha parvatha.

Post sunrise

The view from the base of Shesha Parvatha

After just a few photo moments, we decided to continue our journey.. We descended the steep rock and waded through super cool, thick jungles.. And then, climbed up another steep rock. This rockclimbing with bare hands and legs reminded me of our monkey ancestors.!! A small walk further up took us to the actual end of the earth. Right there, we had conquered our destination- Kumara Parvatha..!!

Shiva temple atop Pushpagiri hill

Shiva temple atop Kumara parvatha

Thanking the diety with a small bow in the temple on the peak, we set our return journey.. Getting down the rocky slope of KP seemed tricky with one of my friends ending up with torn trousers when he decided to sit and slide down on his butt 😉

The descend from Shesha Psrvatha was no easy task either. The loose gravel all along the trail made walking difficult without slipping. It was 4.00.p.m by the time we reached Bhatru mane.. We realised that we had covered only half the distance and had very less time left with sunlight.. We had to complete the remaining distance before it got dark because that was the toughest stretch with thick forests and wild animals. We had a quick lunch at Bhatru mane and got some rest in fast forward mode and started our descend by 5.00.p.m..

We knew we had very less time in hand and a LONG way to go.. We all walked as fast as we could. Our legs had given up already.. I was preparing my mind to stay back in the forest and make a feast of myself to some wild animal at night.. I ran down the slope at times.. My knees seemed like they would part away from my thighs.. We saw the sun coming down.. We continued to walk fast.. We saw the sun going down the horizon.. We paced up.. Suddenly we all halted.. There was pin drop silence.. We realised that some wild animal(mostly elephant) was somewhere around.. It took us a few minutes to feel the sound move away from us.. Then, we resumed our walk. We saw the bright day fade into darkness and every shade in this process. The toughest and the last stretch was almost coming to an end.. We had FINALLY reached the KP gate… And the last ray of light too waned into darkness.. Thus came an end to the KP trek- a mission….. accomplished..!!

We all then freshened up at the same lodge and did a quick visit to the Kukke temple before hitting the roads on our return journey.

NOTE: The above story is written based on my trek back in 2013 when there was no restriction on camping in the entire trail. As on 2019, camping is allowed only around the forest checkpost and Bhatru mane. So, it is wiser to plan the distance, hiking time and camping accordingly.

Must do things/ Highlights of Kumara parvatha trek:

  • Bhatru mane is the ONLY place you will find food and it is an experience in itself to get your turn in the queue to have your meal served. The same basic rice and sambar is served for all 3 meals and nobody complains. Not tasty, but finding food after a long day is LUXURY here. Bhatru has a fixed time for serving food and very punctual. The crowd is huge especially on weekends and the wait for your meal can take longer if you dont have your own plate.
  • The sunset from the view point enroute forest checkpost or Kal-Mantapa
  • To watch the Sunrise from Kumara parvatha is like going to a different world. Try to make it there in time.
  • The sky is in its clearest form and star gazing at night is a whole different experience. You see so many stars, bright and clear that it feels as if the sky has moved closer to earth. We got lucky as it was also a night of a meteor shower, so we saw many shooting stars.
  • Drinking water from the stream felt like nectar. So clean and tasty. You can fill your bottles at 4 places along the way. First after 3kms, near the Bhimas rock. Second, at Bhatru mane. Third, at the forest checkpost. Fourth, at a stream just before kal-mantapa.

Tiger Census Part 1- The Chase

Tiger Census is a week long quadrennial event conducted all over India at the same time. A total of 5,00,000 sq.kms area – 17 states- 40,000 forest beats to be covered with 2000 personnel pulled in to count an estimated 1700 tigers nationwide. The event was scheduled from 16-Dec-13 to 23-Dec-13. With 2 days of training, the census will be done in 2 parts. The 1st 3days will mainly concentrate on tracking the carnivore population(including tigers, leopards etc) through critical carnivore trails and the next 3 days will be through specified transact lines identified to count the herbivores and evaluate the healthiness of the carnivore habitat.

The public can participate based on an online application and selection procedure. It is purely voluntary wherein, 1 volunteer will be accompanied by 2 forest guards and allocated a specific beat inorder to spot the mighty one with the stripes..!! The forest department would provide bare minimum logistics (read it food) However, beddings need to be carried by the volunteers themselves 🙂

So all said and done, I was shortlisted as a volunteer for Kallahalla Wildlife Range in the Nagarhole Tiger Reserve. Last minute preparations, arguments with folks for permission, hunt for a notary for getting the indemnity bond attested.. I was all done and all set for the LONG week ahead 🙂

Day 1: After getting misguided by google maps a couple of times, I had arrived at the forest office in Kallahalla by noon. After the enrollment formalities were done, there was a small briefing for the volunteers about the do’s and don’ts in the forest. We were not in a luxury campsite, we had to remember and be alert always. We were then directed to the camp to grab some rest before the hectic week ahead 🙂

The camp itself was in the middle of the national park that boasts of the highest density of tigers in India. The shelter we had to look upto during our next few days was an old abandoned 3 BHK house which once served as a forest staff quarters. Now, there laid only the walls and a thatched roof with no doors, no electricity and no phone connectivity. We would have the privilege of being greeted by wild animals at our door step every morning and reptiles creeping in to the living room every now and then. We did not have to be surprised even if one fine morning, the tiger himself waved a ‘Hai’ at us while sitting on the porch.. The only things that we had with us to protect ourselves were our sleeping bags, camouflage clothing, trekking boots, torches and some insect repellents. That evening, we opted to sit out in the open, under the clear starry sky until the biting cold of the December night froze us. It was just a day past full moon 🙂

Day 2: We all assembled by 6.00.a.m in front of our camp where I was introduced to Mr.Swamy & Chikkanna. They were the guards who would accompany me through the due days ahead. Chikkanna was a ‘Kaadu Kuruba’ tribal person. He could recognize the forest with just it’s sounds and smell. He knew every grain and twig in the forest. Swamy was a Bachelor’s in Biology. Chikkanna’s role was to manage the team with the survival skills for the deep jungle and help identify things with their local names. Swamy would then document everything with the local and their scientific names. And me? I was a general public, getting aware of various aspects of forestry and the habitat census procedure itself.

Mr.Swamy saved the camp as the reference point in his GPS and the three of us marched towards our beat. We stopped by every now and then to make a note of the different animal scats that we found along our way. Also, the forest grass cover, vegetation, commercial trees, medicinal plants, herbs, shrubs, every thing were recorded. The scat samples that we collected in small sachets included those of wild cat, barking deer, rabbits, sambars, spotted deers, bears etc. along with that of the tiger as well.. Further ahead, as we marched a few kilometres into the thicket, we reached a small bit of moist land. We spotted aleast a dozen of jungle fowls around there. We walked around the place and noted fresh pug marks of a tiger mother & a cub who had just dropped by, to quench their thirst. We proceeded further and the sight I encountered next needs a special mention. Atleast 50 parakeets emerged out of a small bush when I walked by. It was truly Awesome 🙂 I cursed myself several times for not being able to identify the innumerable bird species I came across all the way. We saw a tree-full of langurs, Malabar giant squirrels and sambars. We encountered a pack of wild dogs(dholes) who surely were upto a well laid strategy. However, the day soon ended without any major direct sighting of the tiger.

Day 3: Another day, filled with anxiety began at 6.00.a.m. We were greeted at the entrance of the transact line by some wild hogs. The 2km stretch of the transact was covered without any sightings apart from elephant dung all the way. Further downhill, we saw fresh tiger scat and I had already started to crib about having missed a glimpse of the striped beast by a few minutes 😦 Peacocks, barking deers peeked into our way at times. We then grabbed some wild berries from one of the trees along our way. We consumed it only after it was okayed as ‘Safe for consumption’ by Chikkanna.

When we continued our walk further, Chikkanna stopped us suddenly and asked us to stay still for a while. He pointed- “Elephant..!!” He concentrated on the sound and again said- “There are 2..!!” Within moments, we heard the thumping sound of the elephants moving towards us.. 100mts.. 50mts.. 10 mts.. SHIT.. We saw them both right there.. “RUN…”Chikkanna commanded.!! The three of us just ran… and the elephant mother & calf duo followed us… We ran.. they ran.. We ran further. “TREE..” Chikkanna pointed. And we three climbed and reached the top of the tree within seconds. (It is unbeleivable how you end up doing things that you have never done before, when it is for life.. I had never climbed a tree before. Atleast not one this high..!!) The duo continued towards us. Swamy grabbed a few crackers from his bag and lit them one by one. After bursting 5-6 crackers, the elephant duo decided to spare us. Although petrified a little bit at my first near death adventure, I descended the tree and continued our walk further.

We passed by something that looked like a tiger’s den with few bones stranded here and there. We reached Kiggere- the tropical moist deciduous part of the forest. It is a grassland, where we saw herds of spotted deers grazing all around. We rested there for a while and feasted on the fruits that we had collected along our way. The second leg of the day continued here on, towards Kebbekatte.

Climbers, creepers, bushes, thorns- we waded them all.. and suddenly pug marks appeared from nowhere. “The tiger has just walked down to the watering hole-200mts down the line(Kebbekatte), we might be lucky“- Chikku said. “Shh..” followed an alarming sound. “It’s a tusker.!! He is close..” We looked around and couldn’t find any trees this time. We real7sed that we were stranded between an elephant chase. Swamy reached out to his supervisor over the walkie-talkie to inform him of our status. He was informed that we were stuck midway and it was not possible for help to reach us from either ends of the beat. Without an option, Swamy lit a couple of crackers this time. And, we were all releived for getting lucky again, for the 2nd time.. We then walked towards Kebbekatte. It was an unfortunate day for us as we had just scared the tiger away which was spotted by the other beat who had arrived there before us.

Day 4: My heart kept thumping a little harder than usual. I felt a bit nervous while I was heading towards the jungle. My fingers were crossed all the way hoping to have no more adventures. I felt it was okay even if I did not spot a tiger, but wanted to reach back alive and kicking. I kept walking blindly behind Chikkanna who lead Swamy and me. We had to literally find our way out of the bushes which had overgrown all of us, blinding our way further. We could not even see if a tiger sat by, snarling at us. I heaved a sigh of releif when I got the 1st glance of the Kiggere grassland. the 1st part of the beat was accomplished, peacefully..!! Chikkanna moved into the bushes to answer the nature’s call. And so did Swamy, behind another one. I was trying to pacify my thumping heart standing all alone in the meadow. Tigers are mostly spotted in open grasslands, I had read. Then, on hearing the trumpet of an elephant, Chikkanna emerged out of the bush. He signaled Swamy to join us asap. He explained to us that the tusker was calling for a fight and is moving towards Baalekatte(our route further). We walked ahead slowly along the same route. Suddenly, Swamy pointed out to our right and screamed- “Run Run… its a Herd.. Herd..

It took few seconds for Chikkanna & me to believe our eyes. We had forgotten to look out in other directions while we were concentrating on the lone tusker. About 10-12 gigantic pachyderms were marching towards us, at a distance of barely 20mts from us… We three started to run… Chikkanna shouted- “The tusker & the herd, both are heading towards Baalekere, let us run towards Doddkere“. We three ran..

Tadan…. Another tusker stood right infront of us…. We three were surrounded by these pachyderms from 3 sides.. Chikkanna and Swamy ran.. I followed them.. While the two were running much ahead of me, I got entangled in between a thick bunch of creepers. “F**K… This is it..!!” I thought. But, I saw god in disguise running towards me with a dagger in his hand and free me out of the tangle. It was Chikkanna. After running for a distance, he had turned back to check on me. On noticing that I wasn’t there, he had come back.

The monsters were close, we continued to run.. I again tripped over a snake that crossed my leg.. I leaped over and continued to run. Meanwhile, Swamy had lit a few crackers and planted them along the way. Out of 6 odd something crackers, only one bursted. The sound was good enough to shoo the tuskers away.. We continued to run and reached the safe confines of a tree trunk on the otherside of Kebbekatte lake.

After a short while, we met the group from the other beat and headed towards Sulekere along with them. This was the last option we had, to catch a glimpse of the striped monster. We waited there for a long while hoping for him to come there to drink some water. We saw bisons and other animals walking in there, but hard luck- we could not spot a TIGER 😦

And thus ended our tryst with the wild.. The pug marks were all accounted which will be matched with the camera images captured by NCTA and a compiled report will be out in a few months’ time 🙂

Whether it was my chase of the ‘Tiger trail’ or if it was ‘Me getting chased for being in the elephant trail’, I don’t know. But what I’m certain was ‘The Chase’ was over..

Well wait, did I say the chase ended? No wait, our adventure followed us all the way to Bangalore and stayed with me for atleast another month. You’d be excited to know…. Click here to read Part TWO!

A farewell trek to Madhugiri

That’s what we call bidding farewell in style…

One of our friends was moving out of India and we thought it was good idea to send him off on a happy note; with something that he likes doing and something that he will cherish. With that, my group of friends hosted him for a dinner and then planned a trek to Madhugiri. Madhugiri is Asia’s second highest monolithic hill and has the ruins of an old fort at the top.

After a dinner party on a Friday night, we started to drive towards NH-4 in 2 cars and 2 bikes at 1.00.a.m. With a smooth highway road and bumpy country sides, we reached the guest house at the foothill of Madhugiri by around 4.00.a.m. The initial plan was to reach the peak for sunrise. But, on reaching the guesthouse, we were advised by the caretaker to start the hike after sunrise. There were recent cases of hikers attacked by bears reported on the hills. We waited in anticipation until sunrise.

From the foothills of Madhugiri - A view from our guest house
From the foothills of Madhugiri – A view from our guest house

It was 7.00.a.m by the time we started our ascent after a coffee break at a petty shop in front of the fort entrance. The start of the trek made me feel like it was going to be an easy climb. A well laid flight of concrete stairs took us to about 1/5 th of the total climb of the hill. However, the climb started to get tricky further from there. The hill seemed a little steep, the concrete stairs were replaced by steps carved out of the rock itself. With this stretch, we covered 2/5th of the total distance.

The Madhugiri fort entrance
The Madhugiri fort entrance

The steps disappeared in the next stretch. There was only a rod fixed firmly to the monolith with some barbed wire and the hill had become a little steeper. This was covering 3/5th of the ascent.

A view of the Madhugiri town after climbing the flight of stairs
A view of the Madhugiri town after climbing the flight of stairs

And then the steps disappeared. There was only a rod fixed firmly to the monolith with some barbed wire and the hill had become a little more steeper. This was covering 3/5th of the ascent.

Somewhere in between, an old and ruined wall emerged out. This added to the climbing woes which gave us only limited space to place our footsteps and less grip to place our hand. And then, we had to jump across a crack in the monolith to get to the other side was the steep valley. Once we reached the other side, every structure that was man made suddenly disappeared. It was just one super steep hill stretching into the sky. we had to literally use all four limbs to scale this 4/5th of the hill.

Fort Madhugiri
Fort Madhugiri

And finally, there emerged the first glimpse of the Madhugiri fort- gritty, yet seemingly elegant. This was built by Raja Heere Gowda who owed allegiance to the Vijayanagara kings, which was later reinforced by Hyder Ali. It is believed that this fort was a comfortable hideout for many freedom fighters during the Independence struggle. Beehives on the ramparts of the fort were the only means of sustenance for them and that is said to have given the place its name – Madhu(honey)- Giri(hill).

We walked across the structure in its dilapidated form, where the view on the other side was a treat to our eyes and feast for our tired souls. Our joy knew no bounds when we found a puddle of rainwater, which tasted no less than nectar from a beehive.

A puddle of water atop the hills
A puddle of water atop the hills

We spent some time atop and started our descent so that we could reach the base before the scorching sun made his way. The descent was a rather difficult, with me losing my grip every now and then and having nothing to hold onto. I had to sit and slide down inch by inch at most places. And finally, Bang at 12.00. noon, we had reached the base…

Overall, it was an awesome trek and the last one with our friend.

Cheers..!!

P.S.: photo credits to Sam (I’d left my camera in the safe confines of my home)

Re-visiting the Happy Valley – Makalidurga

I had already been there before.. I knew what to expect (Click here to read more) and so had declined repeated requests for my participation in the trip.

Even then, the second visit to Makalidurga happened. I was forcibly dragged out of bed on a cozy Sunday morning. I was supposed to be the guide to the first timers so that they could hike up the hill.

I knew the way to reach Makalidurga- but could not guide them any further to the exact spot from where they could get the photo of the train crossing which they wanted.. Considering it was around 11.00.a.m, the sun had already reached a good position to suck the fluid in us..

Alighting @ the Happy valley : Makalidurga railway station
Alighting @ the Happy valley : Makalidurga railway station

We had left home without breakfast hoping that we could have something on our way and pick up some water bottles.. Hard luck..!! We could find neither!!

The Makalidurga railway crossing
The Makalidurga railway crossing

All of us reached a railway track finally.. And randomly climbed a hillock, climbed further up.. We continued to climb hoping to find some shade to sit and wait till our catch of the day appeared… But again, no luck- no water, no food, no shade. We randomly stopped on a considerably flat area without being able to proceed further under the ruthlessly shining sun and waited for the train..

After about half an hour, the smoke from the engine chimney appeared near the horizon.. We all got excited.. As it neared, the engine emerged from behind a bush, then a bogie.. Before our cameras reached their position, we saw the end of the train 😥 It was a small train with just 1 engine and 4 bogies…

So, we continued our wait.. After a while again we found some smoke at the horizon. So, this time we hoped that our tiring wait would end soon and we could get that perfect internet photo of a blue passenger train passing across the frame… Hard luck once again- It was indeed a super long train with over 55 bogies: But, it was a goods loco and not the one that we had waited for and moreover its colour did not match the background 😥

This meant that we still had to wait. We were restless… We decided to walk further up hoping to find some shade atleast..!! And we did find a small tree (or rather a bush). Something that was better than nothing, we thought. All the five of us squeezed into that small patch of shade and continued to wait….

After a while, we heard the hooting of a train at a distance… This time, we couldn’t see any smoke rising up… The sound became louder and louder but still- there were no signs of the train. But, we knew for sure that the source was somewhere closeby. And suddenly, a Nizamuddin-Yeswantpur bound passenger train came buzzing into our visibility. We all took our cameras out and started clicking… The train was really long and it stretched beyond the 2 ends of the frame. Yet, this was not the photo we wanted. The train was actually in the opposite direction. So, even if the engine is very much in the frame, it appears like it is gone beyond 😥 But, anyway it seemed like we could not hope for anything further because we were all dehydrated.. So, we had to be contended with what we got and return back to pavilion 😦

The Nizammuddin-Yeswantpur passenger
Our prized catch- The Nizammuddin-Yeswantpur passenger

The railway trek to Dudhsagar

If you have read my previous 2 posts- The railway adventure and Do’s & don’ts for a monsoon trek, then you’re sure to have had an insight to the adventure part of my trip to Dudhsagar waterfalls. This post is more on the trip and the sightseeing part of the story. I elaborate on the beautiful vistas that we came across as passed tunnel after tunnel, walking along a railway track, in the middle of a National park and finally seeing the beautiful Dudhsagar waterfalls.

17 of us boarded ‘MAS-Vasco express’ from ‘YPR’ on a Friday night and alighted at ‘Castle rock station’ on the following morning at 9.15.a.m. ‘Castle Rock’ is cute little station that divides the village into two- on one side is the railway colony, school, hospital, offices etc. and on the other side is the town(if at all it is called so) with basic amenities like a grocery store and a few petty shops. Since we were travelling in monsoon, the station was all green and a treat to all the eyes that had just landed from a concrete city.

With no facilities available anywhere around the station and even the basic offices closed on a weekend, we all freshened up in the washroom of the railway station itself. This is a point from where our railway trek starts. It is less of a trek and more of a walk along the railway track, all the way to our destination: The Dudhsagar waterfalls. But like they say, its is the journey more than the destination that matters, the entire stretch of this trail is what makes the trip all the more special.

We couldn’t and just couldn’t ignore the gazillion scenic spots that we come across for which we had to stop after every minute or 5 minutes of the walk for a photo. The Castle rock railway station itself was so good looking. This green moss laden station is located in the midst of the Braganza Ghats, in the heart of a National park. Take for example, this ART (Accident Relief Train) parked by the side of the tracks. It is adding so much colour to a photospot.

@Castle rock station- in the midst of the Braganza GhatsART a.ka. Accident Relief Train is parked by the side
@Castle rock station- in the midst of the Braganza Ghats
ART a.ka. Accident Relief Train is parked by the side

We continued to walk in the direction of Dudhsagar, but were unable to ignore the numerous waterfalls we encountered on our way. We stopped every time for photos. We had to walk through a total of 11 railway tunnels before reaching the main waterfalls. The first one can be approached by crossing a girder bridge laid over a scenic view of the valley.

The 2nd tunnel is the longest-at 624m. and the most beautiful one. It resembles an entrance of a Castle.

After crossing tunnel no.3, we walked slightly off the track, into the woods to see another large waterfall. Then came another waterfall, plunging down inside a vault kind of a structure built into the cliff.

Top: The vault by the trackside; Below: The waterfall within the vault

The 4th tunnel is special. After crossing this tunnel, we would be setting foot in another state altogether. This tunnel marks the border between Karnataka and Goa.

Top: The first tunnel on the Goa side of the land; Below: The location marked where the actual Goa territory starts

After a long walk from there, we crossed tunnel no.5. While still navigating our way with torchlights on the tracks, inside the tunnel, we heard the hooting of a train approaching us from behind. There wasn’t much time for us to get out and hence, we all decided to get down from the track and stick as close as possible to the wall of the tunnel to stay safe. When the goods train arrived, we literally held onto our dear lives. It was dark inside the tunnel and no place to move.

Run for life..!!
Clockwise from top left: A train passing over the girder bridge before tunnel no.1; Exit of tunnel no.2; Light between tunnel no.6&7; A train inside tunnel no.5

The 6th and the 7th tunnels came together. The 7th one was nothing more than a small arch. Then we walked through tunnel no. 8, 9 and 10.

The 10th one was long and dark. And with exiting it, we saw Light at the end of darkness.. We had arrived at the ‘Dudhsagar station’. This is a de-func station and hence, neither the trains stops nor any tickets are issued for passengers who board from here. However, some lucky visitors manage to get a stop here but, they take a risk with a ticket-less travel. But, this is where we all realized that we were all tired by walking along the tracks. But, the fact that our destination was nearby gave us energy.

The DDS station
The DDS station

Then, we proceeded towards the 11th tunnel…. When we were exiting it, we were all hooting and clapping in joy. That’s because we all got our first glance of our destination. The mighty Dudhsagar: “Ocean of Milk”. The feeling was inexplainable. It was a great sense of contentment after a long tiring walk that was alllllll worth it..!! There was now a sudden spike in our energy levels and we all hurried towards the waterfalls. We dumped all our luggage right there, in front of the waterfall and crashed down in awe. As we were basking in the glory of the waterfalls, it had started to get dark. We looked out for space to unpack our luggage and our tents.

Top: The first glimpse of Dudhsagar waterfall out of tunnel 11; Below: Different views of the Dudhsagar waterfall

The only shelter (a small roofed structure) available to pitch a tent was already occupied by a large group who had arrived before us. We had no choice but to camp in the open, just by the side of the railway tracks. We put up a small campfire sort of a thing so that we had enough light to see each other’s face. But mind you, we were in the middle of a monsoon season in the western Ghats. The rain gods who had been kind on us during the entire hike were now playing spoilt sport. The campfire was put off too soon and we managed the rest of the night with our torches.

It poured cats and dogs the whole night.. The roaring noise of the waterfalls in the backdrop and the loud hooting sound of the train that passed atleast once in every half an hour, the tent pitched right next to the track with the waterfalls on the other side, it was indeed a night to remember..!!

Next morning, we all rose with the sun and spent some peaceful time in watching the water gushing down violently. Apart from freshening up last at Castle rock, it was already 2 days & 2 nights since we had last seen a decent restroom or a bathroom. We looked around to find a little place where we could finish off our stuff in peace. A small waterfall nestled deep inside the woods is what we found instead. All the girls in our group jumped into the water while the guys kept a watch for any trespassers 😉

Mythology says that the “DevaKannikas or the Apsaras are often seen bathing in the midst of the woods, before sunrise.. and if one is lucky, he can see them walk by in wet clothes” to think of it from a strangers’ perspective, I guess the scene that morning must have been something similar to that. We couldn’t find a place near the waterfall where we could change into dry clothes. Hence, we all wore our jackets over wet clothes and walked 1.5kms towards our tents. On the way, we came across tens of trekkers who desperately stared at us.. I understand the natural human instinct to drool at divine looking girls who are walking wet after getting all soaked in pristine water. Nobody could help the sight.!!

The waterfall where we took our morning shower at Dudhsagar

We were told that the passenger train would cross the waterfalls by 9.15.a.m. This meant that we had to be at the view point by that time to get that perfect internet photo..!! It took us to cross the 2 more tunnels to reach the viewpoint. After reaching there and waiting for a few minutes, we finally got the wallpaper worthy photo that we wanted.

Finally.. We got what we wanted..!!
Finally.. We got what we wanted..!!

After a long photo session of the large group that we were and before the crowd who had just arrived in that passenger train would spoil the peace, we headed back to our tents.. We had a round of heavy brunch (carried from home) and slowly packed up. The initial plan was to walk the track all the way to Kulem, but owing to the cruel sun and the tiring walking experience on the tracks on the previous day, we decided to wait to find a train ride, either to Kulem or Castle rock. We missed the goods’ train to Kulem by a few minutes and so, we had to wait at the Dudhsagar station for the passenger train going towards Castle Rock.And with that.. Curtains down to our trip to DDS falls..!!!

Update as on Year 2019:
• Trekking on the tracks in prohibited as it passes through a National park. There is a risk of a human-animal conflict.
• If you wish to visit the Dudhsagar waterfalls, you can sign up with one of the organisers based out of Londa in Karnataka or Kulem in Goa. They can take you through an authorized trail or a 4WD ride to a nearest point can be arranged.