Meghalaya: Part 1

Day 1:  Delhi – Guwahati -Shillong

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26th Jan 2017, Republic Day: A day prior you receive a message from your airline please come at least 2 hours earlier because of the extra security measures put for the important day. 

So for an early morning flight, I had to start even earlier. It was a long weekend and a national day, there was a long queue at the airport counter, but it moved fast and after security check and I was in 1 hour before the take-off. My travel partner also reached on time with homemade breakfast saving precious bucks in buying expensive food at the airport. We were traveling in different flight landing to Guwahati.

The next leg of the journey was by self-driven car. Usually, I hitchhike on the local transport, finding the cheapest way to reach the place. This time I had an office colleague who was eager to drive among the hills. This added an extra cost to the trip but I was hoping to cover more ground.

I was hoping to buy some liquor stock for the trip at the duty-free shop at the airport but as it turns out it was a dry day meaning there will be no alcohol in all of India for 26th Jan. After boarding the aircraft announcement was made that the air space is being used for republic day airshow and the aircraft will remain grounded until further announcement! So much for the early security checks.

Finally, the aircraft took off after one and half hour delay, allowing to finish few more chapters in the book. I like flight and train journeys, you can read peacefully, bus rides can be too bumpy to concentrate.

I was told by my friends when flying to Guwahati from Delhi always take the left side window seat. I was not sure why then I saw the Himalayan ranges and the Brahmaputra river throw the window seat and it was magnificent. There is the horizon, a flat line, and then there is a snow-clad peak peeping through the cloud cover. If you look closely the horizontal line starts to look like a curve.    The blue horizon, white and fluffy clouds, snow-covered peaks made the whole flight experience very memorable and the delay in take-off was buried in these good memories.

After landing in Guwahati, the first feeling is of relief from chilly weather in Delhi. It was a warm and breezy atmosphere in Guwahati. We picked up our car and started towards Shillong. The drive to Shillong was around 3 hrs by car. The bus will take around 4 to 4.30 hrs. There are many roadside shops selling fruits and snacks. We decided to stop at one of the fruit stalls and bought a whole pineapple for Rs 50.  After the first bite, I knew, this was going to be a staple food for the trip. It was the best pineapple ever. Another noticeable change is the prominence of women in all the local businesses.

After reaching Shillong, we stayed in a home-stay turned into a guest house set up. All the interiors were wooden and it had very rustic feeling about it. The driver and I were tired and wanted to find some place selling liquor in the black market. Finally, we could get hold of a rum bottle for twice the price. That’s  the end of Day 1.

Highlights of the Day:

Day 2:  Shillong – Doble Decker Living Root Bridge (Nongriat)

The trek to Double Decker Living Root Bridges starts from the village called Tyrna. The drive from Shillong to Tyrna is beautiful. There was no rain, so the area was looking arid but I can imagine this will be heaven in monsoon. (Monsoon Epigram).  There are small but very quaint villages en route, very different than the mainland villages.You unconsciously start comparing the mainland vs this place and realize may the definition of development by our beloved leaders is utter rubbish.Everything seems so organic here. After asking directions for some time, we finally reached the village. Do not depend on the GPS for directions as it is unreliable in the region.

You unconsciously start comparing the main land vs this place and realize may the definition of development by our beloved leaders is utter rubbish.Everything seems so organic here. After asking directions for some time, we finally reached the village. Do not depend on the GPS for directions as it is unreliable in the region.

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There was no plan to stay in Nongriat for more than one night. After reaching Tyrna, you have to climb down around 3k stairs to the living root bridge. The sight of cobalt blue streams of water is really exciting and crossing them with wire bridges is an altogether different experience. Climbing down to the living bridge should not take more than 2 t o3 hrs but there are scenic places en route. After reaching there, I should have looked for homestay to rest for the night but in my boyish enthusiasm, I went straight to the double-decker bridges. It is one tick off the bucket list. There was not much rain, so the stream flowing below the living bridge was not the peak flow. The water is crystal clear and the small fish nibble at your feet, kind of natural pedicure spa. My travel companion also reached after some time there and we realized we should search for accommodation. There are limited places and on first come first serve basis. We finally convinced one homestay owner to accommodate us in one of his relative’s home. I will write in detail about this wonderful guy and his place in a separate piece.

The evening was quiet. We sat at the living root bridge for a long time. Other travelers at the guest house were interesting.  Talking over to people food and drinks was an excellent part of the stay. Next day we go to rainbow falls.

Valley of Flowers:Go whenever you can, its beautiful !

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There is dilemma regarding travelling to far off places in off season. The best time to visit the valley  of flowers is monsoon when it comes alive with myriad shades. After September the valley starts preparing for harsh winters and slowly dry vegetation takes over. We went in October and that too two days prior to closing of the valley of flowers. I was skeptical about what would welcome us in the valley. When I reached the valley, the first glimpse was breath taking.I thank the weather Gods for dry weather , sunshine and the clear blue skies. It was looking like a painting  with an overwhelming sweet smell.  from a distance, the surface was looking like a carpet  with patches of green, red and yellow. The snow clad mountains provide a splendid backdrop The numerous water streams originating from the glaciers, form water falls or merge together to form roaring water bodies coming down the slope. The spring water is sweet, refreshing  and cold enough to numb limbs. The trek to the valley has something new to offer at every moment.There is sharp temperature drop in the shadowy regions and in the sunshine you sweat. It was fascinating to see the bhoj patra trees whose bark was used as paper in ancient times. I was told don’t waste your time going in the off season, sometimes it’s better not to listen as long as one takes safety precautions.

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VoF

The trek to the valley starts from the base village Ghangharia which can be reached by trekking 15 Kms by foot from Govindghat. It is uphill climb but the trail is well laid out. It is advisable to start early morning and the whole trek can take between 4 to 6 hours depending on the weather and persons physical fitness. Ghangharia has basic lodging facilities and satellite phone connectivity. In monsoon season, the place is always wet and humid. September is a better time when the rains start to recede. This is also the base camp for hem kund sahib trek and most of the infrastructure in the village is developed as a result of it.  Many pilgrims use ponies to reach ghangharia but this has resulted in filth all over the trekking path. The valley of flowers trek is pristine but can’t say the same about Govindghat to Ghangharia. You can reach Ghangharia same day if you start early from Rishikesh. Use mix of bus / taxi to reduce cost.

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There are two treks from Ghangharia , Hemkund and VoF. Do not try to do both the treks same day. For VoF, it is advisable to start as early as possible and reach valley without taking breaks. This will give you more time to spend in the valley. You can do the mandatory photo sessions while coming back. Carry some food with you to the VoF as nothing is available in the valley . You are not allowed to camp inside the valley and need to return the same day. The Rs 150 ticket issued for the valley is valid for three days. The entry to the valley closes around 11 am. Try to tag along with a group for safety purposes. The weather is cold in this regions with frequent  rains so better carry appropriate clothing.

There are other places of interest nearby. Badrinath temple has special place in Indian mythology. The temple has added attraction of hot water spring. It was very relaxing to take  a dip in the hot water pond.  Mana village is the last village on the Indian border. Its an interesting place and good place to buy hand knitted woolen garments. One can also visit Karnprayag, Devprayag while traveling to Govindghat.

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Sea, Sea Food and Serenity : Konkan & Goa in Monsoon

Goa is all about Sea, sun-soaked  beaches and bohemian crowd but the monsoon clouds change the mood completely. The monsoon transforms the barren land into lush green fields in the hinterlands of Konkan. The dark clouds hovering over the sea bring continuous showers. The sea is rough and a bit scary.

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The window never stops being green

Konkan railway is the best way to travel in Monsoon. Book a ticket in the sleeper class, start at night from Mumbai and wake up to the myriad shades of green and grey in the morning. Take a sip of hot ginger tea and enjoy the view from train window. The view was so good, I did not get bored of looking out of train window from Ratnagiri to Sawantwadi. The weather is chilly (comparatively, when you are coming from the dust and June heat in Gurgaon) and the slight drizzle coming from the window is refreshing. The atmosphere and the experience is very soothing. After Sawantwadi, the next leg of the journey is via bus. The journey does not take more than couple of hours.

The best part of Monsoon is you can enjoy the off season discounts and stay near the beach at dirt cheap prices. The sea is rough and the lifeguards have tough time keeping the over enthusiastic few from doing something reckless. The best way to enjoy is to find a nice shack, buy a bottle of feni , order some nice fish fry and may be read for a while. You can spend the whole afternoon just sitting in the shack and watching the waves in the rough sea. The dark clouds meet the sea at the horizon and its a grand view. It usually starts raining in the late afternoon. You can spare one day to roam around on the bike in the rain and one day to visit the waterfalls.

There are many tourist attractions in Goa , but for me it was more about food. After living in north India for nearly three years , getting a good fish preparation has been next to impossible. Goa , rather the whole Konkan belt, is heaven for fish and meat lovers. The preparations are spicy but not too hot. The coconut adds the extra something to the dish. The Sol Kadhi prepared from Kokam fruit compliments the cuisine. Apart from Goan cuisine, there are plenty of restaurants serving other cuisines and they are equally good. The highlight of the trip was fish plate in restaurant named ‘Konkani ‘ in Madgaon. The whole meal cost was less than 300 but it was one of the best meals I had. There is another restaurant called ‘Wok and Roll’ near Aguada fort. This restaurant serves good South Asian flavors. There are many other restaurants and bakeries which serve good food.

I had missed out on the Monsoon for last three years in Delhi. This was indeed a good break. This trip can be better described in flavors of Goan fish curry, feni, and beautifully isolated beaches. I loved the Monsoon in Goa and will be going back again during the touristy season.

Sarnath . Varanasi : Second Visit

Last visit, had missed opportunity to visit sarnath. This time first visited Sarnath , before going to Varanasi. The place is easily accessible by shared transport from Varanasi. The place is much quieter and clean. This the place where Gautam Buddha is believed to have given his first lecture after enlightenment.

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It’s a beautiful place, and it was drizzling. So it was an awesome experience to see the monument. The site was explored in the 19 th century by British.

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The place is famous in Buddhist pilgrimage route in India. You can see people meditate and follow Buddhist rituals.

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It’s an occasion of Mahashivratri and Varanasi is in festive mood. Too much crowd though. Loud music played, disturbs the peace along the bank , but I guess that’s what happens when people get over excited.

Still there are quiet roof top café you can go and relax. The view is also great from these café.
I guess, there are still more trips to Varanasi. Will keep updating.

Jaipur: Its colorful

I had a chance to visit Jaipur on the way back from Bharatpur. The city is well connected by high speed road network and rail network to Delhi. The city has new and old parts. The old Jaipur is worth visiting. The places I visited include Amer Fort, Hawa Mahal, Jal Mahal. There is a lot more explore but time is always a constraint.

The first place was Amer Fort in the evening:

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The fort is well maintained and has light-sound show in the evening , telling stories about the history of the fort. I did not catch any of the shows due to time constraints but heard they are OK.

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In the late evening , after Amer Fort , visited a lot of local food stalls trying local dishes near Hawa Mahal and Sindhi Colony Bus Stand. One can go to Amer Fort by taking public bus service from Hawa Mehal. Its cheapest mode to reach and does not take long time as well.

The next Day First stop was Jal Mahal:

The road is same as that for Amer Fort. The place looks splendid in the morning.

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The weather was pleasant, so it was not tiring to cover the complete circumference of the lake.  Sad part is the lake is not well maintained. You can see drainage  water and plastic on the shore. Tourists also don’t seem to bother too much about littering in the vicinity of the lake.

The hawa mehal has a beautiful architecture and looks grand from outside.
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There are lot of shops for street shopping near hawa mehal. If you can bargain, there are good deals on local items.
The place is famous onion Kachori and Rawat Kachori store near Sindhi bus stand is quite famous.
There are many more places to explore for next visit.

Varanasi : Chaotic , Peaceful, Dirty, Beautiful, Colourful.. It’s addictive

The city of Varanasi also known as Kashi or Banaras is one of the oldest cities in history of human civilization. The city has its own way of life. The old city has narrow lanes and traffic that moves at snails pace with open drainages. Not the best first impression. But once you reach the river side everything changes. The Ghats are connected to each other and can be traversed on foot. There are amazing scenes during the morning and evening rituals. The Ganga arti in the evening is captivating and the synchronized performance by priests is the essence of the whole ritual. The lighting and sound effects combined with the cool breeze along Ganges make the whole experience unforgettable. The best view is from a boats anchored along the river side.

 

Local food is  good. The morning Kachori Sabzi breakfast is worth trying. Lassi and sweets are also good. Banaras is also famous for silk sarees.  Visiting Weaver household can be a different experience. The whole process can take up to four days to a month for completion.

I stayed in a hostel, so had a chance to interact with different people. It was an enriching experience to talk to people on poverty in India to crisis in the middle East. Different cultures have different views.

The place needs time to explore. There are historical places like Sarnath and Gaya nearby. Will be going again soon. This time hopefully with friends.