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.

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