Saturday, November 04, 2017

Meghalaya - The abode of the clouds, Scotland of the East.

Day 1 - reached Kaziranga after a 5 and a half hour drive from the Guwahati airport. It took us 2 hrs to fly to Guwahati fm Delhi. The road from Guwahati was a bypass and helped avoid city traffic and the ride was pleasurable. The roads were well maintained for most parts. We checked into Iora resort at Kaziranga and it was 7pm by the time we settled in. The resort had comfortable (luxurious rooms) and a lovely feel due to the well protected and cultivated green cover. While we walked to our room,there was distinct familiar fragrance in the air. It was Parijat in full bloom. In the dark I could barely see the tree but groped to gently pluck what looked like a flower in bloom and held it up to light up my sensorials. I felt victorious when I confirmed I had guessed right. 

Day 2- woke up at 5am to catch the 6am elephant safari to the Kaziranga national park. Had a better look around the resort in all its splendour. There were flowers blooming all around - marigolds, China rose in multiple hues, the anthurium, mussanda, sarcus Indica, Iora, the red powder puff, karveer, ratnagandhi, frangipani and fruit trees like the citrus, papaya, plantains - all laden with fruit waiting to ripen In the days ahead. We entered the Bagori sector at around 6.45am. . The sun was up by 5am, so it was quite high by the time the safari began. The stole kept the sun out of my eyes as I had decided not to carry the cap or the sunglasses atop the elephant. We got lucky and spotted rhinos,their calves, wild buffalo sunbathing, the elephant n its little one having a shower n what we later learnt was a hog deer. The forests house 4 types of deer - hog, som, sambhar and barking. There were babblers, mynahs, Eagles, sparrows, hosts of colourful butterflies. Unlike some of the other forests we have visited, we found the mahouts non conversant and had very little information to share with us. What we learnt most definitely was that the elephants are able reach the mushy swamps left behind by the recent floods and so we were able to get a close view if the animals. The jeep ride is more peripheral as it cannot access the swarms as easily. There were moments on the elephant that we thought we would slip off n falling into the mush. But of-course, our fears were unjustified. 
After a warm shower once back in our resort we had a sumptuous breakfast. Simple dosa which I can bet was far better than the ones I have had in its native lands (south India). The coconut chutney had the right amount of tender juicy sweetness which came out of being fresh fm the farms. Even the simple egg omelette was made to perfection, as instructed by sire, with the insides still soft n oozy. After a nice hot cups to pull me out of slumber mode, we proceeded to see the orchid botanical gardens, which to our chagrin was not more than 3kms from 
Iora. It's not the orchid flowering season (Mar-Apr) yet we saw a few and learnt about the 2 key varieties, the epiphytes and terrestrials. While the former grows in other plants it has aerial roots that extract their nutritional requirements from the air, while the latter requires soil. The orchids are not fragrant and thereby should find it difficult to attract insects for pollination but the Lord has blessed them with attractive colours n patterns that attract insects, Right after that we were introduced some interesting information about the 97 tribes of Assam. The looms and the weaves of the north east were amazing to watch. The silk- muga, eri and Pathi looms were also displayed. 
While the former is used in the cold due to its warm feel, eri is used during Bihu and Pathi during weddings. There were Assamese fishing tools, equipment and cultivation n storage equipment on display too.
Following this we visited the herb gardens where the guide explained the Medicinal properties of certain plants. We watched the Bihu n bamboo dance shows which run every few hours. It was a good experience. Much to our surprise our 9 yr old also watched the cultural program without a murmur.
On our way back to our resort, we visited a small wayside restaurant where we sampled some local dishes - the Assamese thaali, pork and bamboo curry and junior opted for clear chicken soup (familiar taste in an unfamiliar land). It was interesting to read about 3 different varieties of rice - brown, red and black ; red being the most nutritive but chewy n to be served with an assortment. This was doused down with some cold coffee n ice cream back at our resort. What took us by surprise is the hot day making a turn-around to thunder struck rainy one. No one can surprise us like nature does; well we deserve it after having abused it all these decades. 

Day 3 - this was our day to head to Shillong. There was a conference for medical practitioners at our resort at Iora and we were greeted to a wide spread of breakfast items. The morning was beautiful as I had rained the previous day. Every leaf and flower seemed to be smiling at us. After a sumptuous breakfast of freshly plucked fruits, omlette(must be from the hens egg. Can't be sure though as the locals eat ducks n pigeons with equal relish),  sausage, butter garlic sautéed potatoes, idli/dosa and some nice hot coffee, we loaded our bags and proceeded to Shillong. The drive was lovely as the roads and weather were supportive. It took us 6hrs of non stop travel to get to Meghalay's capital. It reminded us of Ooty especially the main bazaar area where roads are extremely narrow and the traffic terrible between 2-5pm with everyone having to use the same narrow lanes for work or pleasure. We dropped by Cafe Dylan for some sizzling noodles and penne in pesto. The place was very interestingly done up with quotes, pics, memorabilia of rock icon Bob Dylan. The dessert was far better than the food...with the overloaded sizzling chocolate brown cementing what we had just gorged on. The place is just over a year old and patronised by Lou Majaw, an old timer Dylan fan who holds a rock event here in May. Our night halt here was a quaint cottage done up in wood. It was called the Russet cottage(Nongthymmai). Run by a lady in her early 50s with her teen son, it was an Air BnB find. It kept us warm and cozy through the night. It could accommodate just 3 of us. Junior loved their scruffy dog, puppy and cat. We had dinner out at Cafe Shillong. Not too bad. Although there was live music that night at Cloud 9, we wanted to crash early as we had to set out for Mawlynong.

Day 4 - after a quick breakfast at Russet, we set out at 8am to Nartiang monoliths, Krangshuri falls (recommended), Dawki river (had seen some pics of how clear the waters were but was disappointed by the frothy unclear waters) These places are strictly avoidable on weekends. Our lunch was at a shack close-by. Glorified Maggi! A thought that crossed my mind - there may have been famine here when Maggi was taken off the shelves. The scene at Dawki was appalling. There were so many people fishing. Not trawlers. Single men/ women fishing for dinner? The huge boulders on either side of the river made a beautiful scene. They made the visit worth it. We hit the roads again and reached Arecca cottage, Mawlynong by about 6.30 pm. The sun sets by 5pm here and rises by 5am. This place has just two cottages. Although the place is lovely, they do not have a kitchen. So limited food supplies. This was not informed earlier to us. They obliged us with dinner that night, but the next day got off to a bad start.

Day 5- Now, Mawlynong is clean and beautiful alright but since we landed there on a weekend so none of the restaurants (ha-la)(including Arecca) were serving breakfast. For me, this was a tipping point. I can survive all day if and only if I get my healthy breakfast in time. A fruit, some oats or cereal or egg are just fine. But 'nothing' except chai biscuit  is a strict no no. Like Pari suggested we visited the Mawlynong village early on at 7.30am. There were no tourists around that early. After 9am on a weekend you will find scores of tourists from West Bengal and Assam throng the place. It loses its charm after the early morning hours. There are over 10-12 home stay options in this tiny village. The tiny by lanes are concretised for easy maintenance and are lined by beautiful flowering plants. There is a small church too. We proceeded to the Living root bridge at Mawlynong (empty stomach, much to my disgust). It takes nmt 45 mins for going down and coming back up. By 11am, some ha-las and tea n lunch places opened up. We opted for some Maggi. (Yes again!) We then checked out from Mmawlynong and headed to Mawphlang. It took over 3 hrs to get there. The journey was beautiful with the clouds floating in and out of our car. It was chilly. It had been raining for the past 2 days. Our next destination was  the farm stay run by Jim Allen and his family. Cozy cottages but since he is self sufficient in terms of power (has his own 2 wind mills n solar energy generators), hot water was difficult to come by. Day 5 was clearly not my day! The farm animals were some hens and a well trained yr old German shepherd. Junior had a good time with him, Caesar.

Day 6- tnx to Valerie, Allen's wife we had some yummy French toast with cinnamon n some pancakes. The coffee too was fresh and strong. We proceeded to Mawlyngbna from here. Out by 8.15am and after some winding roads, not so smooth roads, terrible harsh sun, reached a place which seemed like it was in the middle of nowhere. By now every muscle in my body screamed for help and so me & junior hung on at Traveller's hut while the bold and adventurous proceeded for some water sports. He said it was enjoyable. I only knew one thing, if I did not reach civilisation quickly I would break down. I was running a temperature too, feeling nauseous and needed a hot shower for my aching muscles. We opted to change our itinerary a bit and checked into Ry Kinjhai a day earlier. It took us 3 1/2 hrs to get to this place from Mawlynbna.

Day 7 & 8 - decadent life with Khasi massage, beautiful views of the sunrise around the Umiam lake at Ri Kynjhai - land of serene environs. This was in Shillong around 15 km away from the city and the shor sharaba. The place is beautifully done up and kept. It belongs to a gentleman who is a khasi + bengali and married to a Mizo. The rooster which is a symbol of the Khasis who did not convert to Christianity but chose to practise penganism, is oft seen in the premise. The stay was to say the least luxurious and comfortable. The aching muscles after 6 days of continuous travel got some well deserved rest :)

Now in the lap of luxury in the serene environs, I thank God for all that we have. Life in the hills is tough. There is poor connectivity. Maruti alto 800 are popular private taxis, akin to the kaali peeli in Mumbai. Just one little difference. They can 'shove' over 10+adults into one and then ply over 2+ hrs on winding roads. 
The common folk around the state are simple, content people. They manage with their cows,hens and backyard squash, pumpkin, bottle gourd, pork, for a meal. Potatoes, radish, cabbage, bamboo, papaya, plantains, oranges, lemon, a citrus fruit a little smaller than the football, pears grow in plenty. When passing from one town to the other, we noticed many butcherie with freshly cut pigs. Even the kiranawala between towns only stock bare essentials. 

Do visit Meghalay before the hills are completely quarried and non existent, before the traffic stops moving completely and the adulterated fuel reaches unbearable proportions.

Places to stay - Iora resort (Assam)Russet home stay, Areca cottage, Maple Pine Farmstay at Mawphlang, Ri Kinjhai (Meghalaya)
Places to visit - Kaziranga national park, The Orchid Biodiversity Park at Durgapur, (both in Assam) Living root bridges at Mawlynong, The Sacred forest ie Nartiang, the cleanest village at Mawlynong, Water adventure activities at Mawlyngbna (Meghalaya)....this one is middle of nowhere. The roads to this place are too windy and rough patches.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

In the lovely world of animals...

My eyes were wrested open by a loud sound. I woke up with a start, only to realise that there was no real need for alarm. The sound was only the loud chatter by my teeth. Landing in a place - a forest reserve with cottages quaintly done up with mangalore roof tiles, terracota interiors and the ceiling almost 15 ft high, temperatures varying between 17deg to 6deg, when the temperatures, as we were misinformed were only 13deg. This is what you get!
Sadly we only had jackets packed in and had opted for what we termed 'light' packing. No woolens, no warmers...oo la la! Adventurous aren't we ;) The previous evening had been equally exciting with the jeep safari...and the trails we followed.

I glanced at my watch, it was only 5.30 am, peeped out of the window - could see nothing. I reminded myself that the previous night the moon was barely a crescent, so unlikely to light up much. P and T were sleeping soundly comfortably ensconced in thick warm blankets (although I thought the blankets were grossly inadequate).

I tried to get back to sleep, occasionally peeping out of my blanket to look out for the sun. 6.15am - and God said,"let there be light" (thank God!!!). I walked towards the little verandah attached to our cottage. Here I heard a strange pitter patter. I couldn't see any rain drops, the ground was dry, the ant hill few metres from our cottage was calm undisturbed ....and what then was the pitter patter I wondered, only to realiise that it was the gentle fall of the dew from the tall trees. The grass was wet, the atmosphere misty and damp. One could only spot a fuzzy light from the opposite cottage and no more. The birds gave their clarion call to remind us of the nature trail which was due in a few minutes.

At dot 6.30am we were out with the 'Naturalist' on a nature trail. Wrapped up in our jackets (remember, that's all we had!) we gathered some very interesting facts and some I share here -
  • An ant hill contains high salt content, contributed by the ant's saliva. That is the reason most animals - deer, elephants etc...lick it/ eat it to partake salt from it. This helps maintain the salt balance in their bodies
  • Wasp hive has colonies which look like these.
  • Law of the jungle - the deer and monkey are good friends. The minute they spot danger in any form, they send warning signals to each other and the other animals in the jungle. A monkey is usually the first to spot trouble as it is usually higher up and gets a bird's eye view.
  • Crocodile bark tree looks like this
  • Spiders attack their preys in three ways - they spin a web and wait for the insect to fall prey, they see the insect and then spin a web around it and third they chase the insect & then kill it.
  • Lichens, a parasitic growth on trees often destroy the tree by depriving them of nutrition ...nature!!! wonder ! wonder!

  • Some of these very parasites (which look leaf like) are used in dye preparations, and are sold by tribals to urbanites
Interesting ain't it? By 7.30am we were done with the nature trail and waited eagerly at the river banks for the Coracle ride. The river looked right out of a dream sequence - misty, calm, green. The Coracle is a round boat which is made of bamboo. Coal tar and some water proofing material, make sure it stays together. While on the coracle, we could hear bird cries and saw many early risers - Indian Heron, Cormorant, Drongo (with a long tail and light black), colorful little birds that looked like love birds, kingfisher. The forest around had old trees, some of which leaned towards the river, precariously, almost forming an avenue. There was a variety of flora lining the rivers. Mango, Jamun, wild chickoo. We were told, wild chickoos are green but very sweet. The birds are so fond of it, that they get to it before us :) The boat man who was cheerful was so taken in by our enthusiasm that he decided to give us a carousel ride in the coracle. Whoa! my head is still spinning. The lil girl ofcourse had a groovy time

Once back, we had a good spread for breakfast and proceeded to the Elephant camp - the agenda was to bathe (or watch) the elephants , feed them (raagi, watermelon, coconut) and then the elephant ride.

If you have been wondering how we ever got there in the first place, here is how it began. It was on the morning of 25th December 2011 that we had set out for Bangalore. We knew we had little time and lots to do. As we landed in Bangalore in the wee morning hours, we did not waste any time. We hit the roads to Mysore. The roads were to be frank, disappointing. There is no express way yet, only lots of road construction which lowers ones speed substantially. After a stop over at a typical South Indian eatery with mouth watering sumptuous food, we reached Mysore in time for lunch. Ginger had been shortlisted as the most eco option to stay for the night.

The mysore zoo, palace were the main attraction. After having travelled quite a bit within the country, I can be proud to belong to Karnatak, specially after I visited the Mysore zoo. It is so well maintained - clean environs, lots of space, well constructed spaces for the animals, healthy happy animals!!! As we found out later the Mysore zoo is owned and run by a private trust. It belonged to the Maharaja of Mysore and had animals which were received by him as gifts or ones he found when he went hunting. The variety of animals is vast - which I am sure no other zoo in this country can boast of. The animals are adopted and looked after with funds provided by the sponsor. Each enclosure displays details about not just the animal but the parent (sponsor) who is funding its welfare.

Here are some details:
Adopt Zoo Animals and involve in conservation efforts
Conservator of Forests & Executive Director
Shri Chamarajendra Zoological Gardens
Indiranagar, Mysore : 570010
Phone : 0821 2520302/2440752
email ;
website :
Our lil girl was super excited to see the giraffes, zebras, kangaroos, cheetahs, leopards. Some of the others which were also housed at the zoo - tigers - both Indian and Bengal, Elephants - both Asian and African, monkeys, chimpanzee, gorilllas, orangutan, baboon, variety of reptiles and birds, alligators, crocs, bears, hyena, deer, antelope, neel gai, black buck, bison (or the wild buffaloes), rhino, hippos, wolf, wallaby,lemur, tapir and more!!!

Sample this....

Elegant Giraffes

Naughty Elephant

We visited the zoo twice - the day we reached (but in the late afternoon) and then the following morning. The morning hours allowed us to explore the place and take some lovely pictures. There was little crowd and it felt like we were at our own private zoo!!! ;)
After we had explored and had enough of the zoo we moved on to Dubare - the elephant camp. And our experience there I have already narrated at the beginning of this post. On our way back we visited he Bailakupe monasty - sad to say it was not a patch on the ones in Ladakh. My guess is that no modern structure can have the charm of the old traditional one. This one was sparkling and had vibrant colours, huge idols, but it did not very as breathtaking as the Hemis, Thiksey. It is the simple beauty of a monastry among the mountains, with little civilization, lot of mystery and charm. I know if I don't contain myself, what you get will be yet another post on Ladakh 2005.

This was a short holiday, like most holidays for us have been. It was enjoyable, as always! - and definitely so for our little girl.

Credit for the pictures goes entirely to Parijat

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Mumbai weekend getaway : Hideout

I guess you have changed your plans said mom over the phone. I looked out, I could barely see the roads from home. It was pouring really hard. I told her I will try and talk Pari out of our plans to spend the weekend at Vikramgadh, our friend Hemant's farmstay called Hideout.

Seriously, I would have chickened out, had I been the key decision maker on this occasion; but T's excitement and Pari's determination did not allow me to. After a quick breakfast, we attempted to travel light. The plans were to spend Saturday there, and drive back by Sunday afternoon. We packed in a few fruits and some biscuits just in case....

Once the drive began, we realised that the rains were not in any way deceptive. They were there to stay. I was grossly uncomfortable, as my mind kept moving back and forth the pages of the daily newsprint - roads caved in, tree falls, potholes galore....yada yada yada. And each time, I attempted to think aloud, Pari reminded me that I need to have a slightly more positive bent of mind.

We drove past the Mumbai- Ahmedabad expressway. I unfortunately don't have a kind word for this highway. It is terribly maintained, no respite from traffic. The containers and tankers slant precariously while attempting to dodge the potholes. After spending ~3 hours on the Mumbai roads, we turned left at the Fountain hotel. Now we were on to better meandering roads, surrounded by lush greens, the rains beating at our window panes, the clouds rolling over the hill tops, and a constant pitter patter on the roof of our car.

The green patch under the trees was not visible on our way back coz of water logging

Closer to the destination, there was another stretch of ~20 kms which was as bad, but the natural beauty around, made the journey passable. Unlike what I had imagined, it was not the kind of farm which had level fields. The owners had purchased a teak cultivation few decades back. Hemant informed us that they had used what he called 'Ahimsa farming'. Barring a few, most trees and plants, had been brought in by the birds and bees. It's a friendly ecosystem, he informed us. When birds and insects realise they can survive in an ecosystem unhindered, without trouble, they frequent such spots and are responsible for seed dispersal and pollination.

Enroute to the waterfalls

Ever since we landed there, we only witnessed rain and more rain. We weathered it to explore Hemant's cultivated lands. We were excited to see teak, 24 species of bananas, Italian lime which in a typical season bears ~1500 fruit per tree. Pineapples, chickoo, jowar, lady's finger, amaranth, bamboo, papaya.... There is also a vegetable patch which was recently planted when a group of school children came in for an educational tour.

With the host
There were cashew plants too. An interesting learning was, freshly sprouted cashew plants (around 3-4 weeks old) when cooked taste like chicken liver. Ah! how does vegetarian liver sound?! While we walked into the thickets, we saw snails, earthworms, frogs, millipedes and loads of mushrooms, toadstools. The plantains offer a fibre which the family uses to make banana fibre bags and other products which they then sell to a leading store in India.

We also saw a tribal home made with jowar plant - woven together and then plastered with mud. The life of such a house is ~2 yrs, after which they need to rebuild it. You can see one such in the pic below.

Outside a tribal home
At Hideout they raise cows to provide manure. This helps them to regenerate the soil that is lost due to erosion. There were 2 wells on the lands.

Gau pooja - these cows are not milked to avoid weakening them

Another interesting quip, if a tube well runs dry, just dig a well next to it and it then flourishes. These are some of the learnings that our host has had over the last few decades of working closely on his land.

There is a resident artist, Dom, who is a jack of all trades. He is talented and has a sense of humor. He took a yoga session for us the next morning, he cooks - he's training to cook health food, he designs homes and he also helps entertain guests. He's trained in Italy at glass blowing and is a product designer for the stores viz Bombay store, Fab India etc..

Dom- seeks his inspiration

Our host has also tied up with a few spirited youngsters, who drop in on weekends and entertain guests, with games, dance, clay & other art/ craft workshop or even accompanying them to interesting spots like the waterfalls, nature trails.

At the waterfall, in spate

The kitchen is an open kitchen with an adjoining dining area. There is a dining table for those who like to have a sit down meal, and the more flexible of us could opt to swing while we had our tea or rock ourselves to sleep after one.

Gas-lanterns help conserve electricity

Only healthy foods served here, incl lime shots :)

Wooden chula used for cooking

The meals were served on time and were healthy and tasty. I simply loved the herbal decoction which had a blend of basil, ginger and lime with jaggery syrup. Piping hot, it went very well with the cold damp weather outside. T loved the corn soup with a hint of lemon basil. It had a zing to it. Oh! did I mention the lemon preserve. It was simply yummy.

Lanterns line the path to the individual mud houses

Attempting to play some music with the quaint instrument

We spent the night at the mud house, it is made completely with mud and bricks, and has NO windows. The windows are replaced by some eco friendly jute fibres bordering which is some printed silk. The roof top has mangalore tiles, suited to the rainy weather. Our 4 poster wooden beds were covered with net to make sure we did not get bitten by any insects/ bugs. We urbanites are extra cautious. While we lay with our eyes open on our beds it was pitch dark, with the sound of the rain on the roof top, the leaves and the little puddles; we evidenced a light display. No, nothing man made!!! simple yet beautiful. Only God could have created something as beautiful as that. There were glow worms doing a jig for us :) It was a delight to watch them. What we found exciting was that inspite of not having windows we did not have any intruders - wildbeests, insects/ bugs in our rooms. All we had for company were the natural sounds - the crickets, the pitter patter, lady bugs...oh! to go wild again.

Lil T had a friendly pet (dog) Tuffy for company, a rope ladder to learn her tricks, lil Ayaana who's full of beans.

A few kms away we visited some village folk who raised fowls, rabbits and some cattle. We were surprised to see a fawn colored calf, heavily guarded by the elders (buffalos). We always thought buffaloes were a dark shade of grey- black, not fawn or brown.

It was afternoon the next day, and the rains did not seem to be in any hurry to exit. The dam closeby had overflowed, and the the waters were now on the roads making it impossible for us to drive past. All we could do was wait for the Rain Gods to be kind to us. It was 3:30 pm the next day, and Hemant too had to get back to Mumbai. We decided to leave the farm together. His being a heavier vehicle made it past the overflooded roads, but we were sceptical. He waited at the other end for us, giving us directions and asking us to be patient. He said, given time, as the rain was now a gentle drizzle, we could hope for the waters to recede a bit. Thank God! we managed to get past the floods, with careful manoevering by P.

It was a fun weekend; which lil T termed FUN but too SHORT.
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