Monday, January 20, 2020

Majuli day 1 (April 2018)

Boat Ride to Majuli
Somewhere on the internet once read the need for a vacation within a vacation. I know it sounds oxymoron but trust me when you are on the road for some time you need a day or two just doing nothing. Majuli was supposed to a magical place for us.

As we drove back west from Sivsagar we took the diversion to Nematighat, the boat embarkation point (ferry ghat) to go to Majuli. In recent times Majuli has lost its size due to many floods but it still holds the record for the largest river island.

We thought the drive from the highway to the ferry point would be quick, but it was a long one. The last 2 KM we drove on the bank of the river Brahmaputra and it was fine white sand all over. Even though we were not driving at very fast speed there was a sand storm on our back. As we approached the ferry we queued up for the cars to be placed on the next boat. Now, these are small boats which carry passengers, bikes and cars. But space for a car is limited and if the boat is even smaller it could be only 2 cars at a time.

Simple Rice Plate
Lucky for us the car in front of us broke down, they were trying their best to put that car. But Pamela smartly managed the situation and said if they are having so much tough time putting the car on the boat how they will get it out on the other side? Now putting up the car on the boat is not easy, we deftly drove the car down the slushy, scary-steep incline and stopped at the edge of a makeshift jetty on the river and there two wooden planks, almost as narrow as the tires, between the jetty and a country boat. But those guys were extra helpful as they realized we are a tourist. The cars are parked next to each other barely a few inches gap between them and it seems it is a norm to keep the car door unlocked.

At Deka Chang -  Relaxing
The seating space was very packed as well many travelers were on the top of the roof which provides better ventilation, but it was noon and we opted out of it. The boat ride is about an hour plus and there was an intermediate stop before Majuli. Once we landed in Majuli and got our car out we waited for the other cars and local taxi/tempos and we started towards our hotel.

Majuli welcomes us with its rustic beauty. There are only a few major roads that connect within the island. We stopped at Ural restaurant we found along the road and simple rice plate in the Assamese style.

Our stay was at Deka Chang, the place is supposed to be one of the best ones in Majuli. It even gets featured in the Priyanka Chopra’s promo video of Assam tourism. We got ourselves a very big room which was not needed. But it was due to the fact some government official was staying while he was on official vacation. This stay of the official caused us very poor service. And we were disappointed and cursing ourselves for choosing this property.

In the evening we visited the nearby temple (Satra). This Satra is very special as it runs by family members. It is called Garamur Satra.

Satras are Vaishnav temple and they are very special to Assam’s history and culture. Just to highlight few facts about Majuli
  • The first newspaper of Assam was published here.
  • Sankaradeva established the first Satra here.
  • Here you will find the largest tribal community of Assam the Misings.
  • Even though there all religious people stay on this island there is no mosque. It is just to show respect and great community living.

After observing the evening prayer at the Satra we had dinner at the same place where we had lunch and called it a day.

    Saturday, January 04, 2020

    Sivasagar - Unexplored Ahom Kingdom's finest

    When I was planning this long trip to Assam I always wanted to drive all the way up to Dibrugarh where I studied till class 5. Later, in the final planning stage realized it was too long of a drive. Covering Guwahati, Shillong & Dibrugarh was getting too much in one trip so saved it for a later day. Sivasagar remained in the itinerary for a night stay with a condition if we finish Gibbon-Hollongapar and still have time to explore the ancient capital of the Ahom kingdom. 

    As we had good sightings in the morning at Hollongapar we decided to move on and explore the Sivasagar area. The hotel Mr. Barua (Wild Grass) recommended was Hotel Brahmaputra. This hotel is near ONGC complex in the town center. We found the hotel room to be OK/OK for a night stay and checked in. He had an early lunch and wanted to explore as much possible of those historical sites. We decided to cover the distance one first and do the close-by the next day and head out to Majuli. 

    We started with Charaideo Maidams, which is around 30 KM away from the town. The drive was not great as road conditions were bad and we had to navigate big potholes. It took us some time to reach Charaideo. The approach to the site was very nice with canopy cover from the trees. According to history books, it was the first capital of the Ahom kingdom. Now for the Maidams which looks like a small pyramid here are some details below.

    Maidams These lofty maidams are the burial mounds of the Ahom kings and nobles. The Ahom followed a unique mortuary practice to bury their dead kings and nobles in the coffin and an earthen mound of pyramidal shape raised over it. These maidams are hemispherical in shapes ad vary in sizes depending upon the power and status of the buried individual. The hemispherical mound is usually bound by an octagonal enclosure wall with an entrance on the western side and at the top of the mound generally occurs a brick-built structure. 

    The picturesque forest setting makes this place very ideal for leisure walks with a cool breeze. The Ahom’s continued to bury their royalty here long after they moved their capital elsewhere, and the mounds are still considered sacred. 

    On our way back from Charaideo we stopped at Kareng Ghar (at Garhgaon) which is around 15 KM away from the town. This brick palace is the last major remnant of the Ahom kingdom’s before they moved their capital to Sivasagar. This is a stepped pyramid-style structure with 4 floors. The top floor has a dome-like roof with a chamber. Kareng Ghar was built first in 1540 but 1752 the current structure was built on the top of the old one as the old one worn out over time. The influence of contemporary Mughals can be seen in the structure. There are four main gates to the palace. It is believed there is a secret tunnel from Kareng Ghar to Talatal Ghar (15 KM). After taking lots of pictures in their well-maintained garden we decided to head back to the town. 

    We parked our car next to the district court and explored Sivasagar Tank and temples around its famous Shiv Dol, Vishnu Dol & Devi Dol. These three temples are next to each other. Shiva Dol is the tallest, Vishu Dol has finer workmanship. Some might say these temples resemble the famous Kamakhya temple of Guwahati. These temples were built by the Ahom queen Phuleswari. 

    As the sun was setting down we got some great shots of these temples in golden light. We walked on the tank bank and reached the Assam Tourism hotel which is one of the corners of the Tank. 

    We had an early dinner called it a day. 

    The next day, early morning without any breakfast and all we started for the remaining attractions. We started with Joy Sagar Tank another massive man-made water body. It is Asia’s biggest man-made tank. The Sivasagar college was next to it. We wanted to drive along the complete perimeter, but one side is blocked by the Indian Army. I respect a lot Indian Army for their sacrifice and hard work but it is strange how they occupy some central part of a town and causes hindrance to civilian. 

    We came to Talatal Ghar next, founded by King Rudra Singha. Built-in the 1750s over an earlier wooden palace, it originally had seven stories, three of which were underground (including secret escape tunnels). Now we can visit the two surviving above-ground levels, which have labyrinthine galleries and a large flat roof holding several pavilions. 

    From there we went to the last attraction Rang Ghar passing Gola Ghar(Amination Storage). And It the best attraction to the Sivasagar area to me. It is a two-story, oval-shaped pavilion built by King Pramatta Singha in 1746. We walked up to the top floor, from where the royalty watched buffalo and elephant fights and other entertainment. The place was under renovation when we visited. The place used to come alive during Bihu festivals. 

    After this, we had breakfast on the way back to the hotel and left for Majuli.

    Friday, January 03, 2020

    A morning at Hoollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary

    Hoollongapar Gibbon
    Our trip to Hollong was one of the most challenging and memorable ones. Still, after so many months, it remains clear like yesterday. We slept early knowing we have to leave early. So when the alarm went off at 4 AM the whole place was quiet and dark. We hauled all our luggage from the room to the rented car. It was a bit of a task given that we were staying backside of the property. Any way by 4:30 we started and headed east to Hollongapar GIBBON.

    The traffic was thin as there was not much movement in the early morning. Soon the sun came out, but the road condition started to deteriorate with ongoing road widening and other work. We passed many tea gardens on both sides of the national highway. But suddenly we saw one accident and lots of people. As we approach slowly we saw the accident involved a truck carrying fresh fish and another vehicle. As the fishes would spoil every villager was carrying two-three big fishes in their hand or any makeshift begs that they could find. It was quite a scene. I am sure those villagers even might remember that day when they had a Fete 😊 

    Primates of Gibbon  
    Soon we crossed Jorhat and saw the sign for Mazuli (our later destination). We were following Google Maps and soon we were in the middle of a tea garden as we left the highway behind. We were a little puzzled as there was no mention of crossing a tea garden when we discussed the road condition previous night with Wild Grass Manager. As we had no choice we continued driving and soon we reached a spot where there was a small signboard which said Hollong. 

    But by now the road condition is just dirt track and with previous night rain, it was only suitable for a 4x4. Our rental car was the cheapest one a small Ford Figo. There was no place to take u-turn as the road was narrow and we were moving forward at a snail pace using the tire marks from other cars. We saw only 3 people on this road who were on bicycles collecting fallen woods from the forest. With my broken Assamese, I just managed to ask where is Hollong/Gibbon and they just showed with their hand go forward. Aarush was sleeping in the back seat and we were scared as there was no mobile signal and we realized we are middle of the jungle. After driving for quite a few KMs we reached a spot where we saw forest personal. 

    They gave us a strange look as we were not the locals and had no local guides with us and how we reached there from the wrong road. Talking to them it became clear (thanks to Google Maps) we drove through the jungle which is not at all sensible as there are wild elephants who are active in the early morning. 

    Forest Guard waling with his gun
    The forest personnel asked us to pay a minimal fee and told one guard will come with us and it is a walking tour. This was our first walking tour inside a forest where there are wild animals like elephants and leopard. Luckily we got some company of another tourist who came with Diganta Gogoi. Mr. Gogoi runs a homestay and the best guide for Hollong and surrounding areas. Now there are two guards allocated for 6 of us, and they were carrying very old guns on their shoulders. The purpose of those guns maybe just to scare away any animals. I thought we will just go inside for a few hundred meters and come back. And after the scary drive was bit disoriented so when Aarush asked which shoes to put I said just put crocs. But he somehow decided to put proper shoes. 

    As soon as I entered I saw a bright bird and clicked it. And to my surprise, it was Red Trogon and soon the trogon flew away without giving any chance of a second shot. There are only three types of trogon in India, two are found in North East Red-Headed and Ward Trogon. And Malabar Trogon in the Western Ghats. 

    Soon we started to spot the primates we saw Gibbon, Pig-tailed Macaque, Stump-tailed Macaque. Other primates found in the same forest are Capped Langur, Assamese Macaque, Rhesus Macaque and the only nocturnal primate in the north-east, the Bengal Slow Loris. 

    A group of Stump-Tailed Macaque crossed just in front of us, but my bad luck I ran out of battery. And in the morning with all excitement from the crazy driving, I completely forgot to put the spare battery in my pocket. Asrush got 4 leech bites but he was brave enough not to make any noise. 

    After a few hours of jungle safari on our foot, we turned back to the car. We had a quick chat with Mr. Gogoi and he invited us to stay next time in his homestay which we are looking forward, 

    And this time with proper direction from the forest guide took the road to Jorhat our next destination. 

    Gibbon Wildlife -- Things to know before vising.


    Baby stump-tailed macaque
    Hollong - the state tree of Aaasm. The story goes back like this when the British came and saw these long trees, they asked How Long? And it became Hollong Tree. Just like "there is a brown crow" was a way to say "Darwaza bandh Karo" (close the door in Hindi -- from Satyajit Ray's Feludaa).

    It is only 20 sq KM of Sanctuary. Actually, it is the oldest miscellaneous plantation having Dipterocarpus and Mesua as dominant species It was declared a Reserve by the British way back in 1881,(53 years after the advent of British rule) The original forests used to extend to the foothills of the Patkai mountain range. Since then, the forest has been cleared mainly for tea growing by the British. In the 1960s people from Majuli were settled here, so small villages have come up also. Now it is a small tropical wet forest 20 sq km in size.

    The place is easily accessible and has 7 species of primates. Only walks are allowed and Hollock Gibbon easily sighted. The area has Northeastern India's only nocturnal primate – the slow loris But you have to be overnight in Gibbon itself to see the slow loris. The accommodation is basic inside Gibbon. (night visit is now banned) There is a presence of pigtailed and stump-tailed macaque which can be sighted with moderate luck. In winter (starting late October) it is good for forest birds several species of forest butterflies and giant squirrel also can be seen. The dense forest makes it difficult to see too many birds. Guides claim that in the main road cutting through this small sanctuary more than 100 species of butterflies can be identified in the months of Oct and November as also in March-April. 

    Though a plantation it looks like a natural forest with all stories of canopy extant. It’s a natural-looking rain forest and surely worth a visit. The sanctuary is now insular and has no connectivity with a larger forest belt. But earlier it had contiguity with Disoi Valley Reserved Forests(RF) Disoi RF, Tiru RF and Geleki RF bordering Nagaland and was the natural abode of all these primates. Due to large scale human-induced degradation especially from Nagaland the Gibbon Sanctuary is what is left. A pocket herd of the elephant is largely resident in this sanctuary and leopards are also found. Sighting of the groups of primates requires prior arrangement with forest authorities. in this unique forest, It is the best place for orienting a naturalist to the representative rain forest habitat condition coupled with interesting primate sighting especially the Hollock Gibbon which is the only ape available in India. Photographers usually try their luck.

    It does not take long to explore Gibbon usually people do it ex Kaziranga they take a hired vehicle to go to Gibbon WLS and leave very early 4 am so they reach the place 128 km (2 and half hours) and then Gibbon activity is over they come back to visit Eastern Range in Kaziranga on same day. The place is 30 odd minutes from Jorhat airport and so on the last day of the tour, it is fruitful to visit this very small sanctuary for those flying out via Jorhat airport. Jorhat airport is 90 km away.

    Second Day in Kaziranga (April 2018)

    Our hotel Wild Grass was next to Central Zone. For the second day in Kaziranga, we supposed to have elephants Safari in the morning. Now there are 2 places where you can have elephant safari. The central zone is very popular, is difficult to get, The counter opens at 7 PM in the evening prior and people line up for long, there is a priority to foreign tourist. Our hotel arranged for the Western Zone. 

    Elephant Ride @ Kaziranga
     As last evening we already had done our safari there, we drove in our car till the Western Gate. Reaching there we called the person who was supposed to make our booking and take us to Safari. There were hundreds of people in the early morning. We could not get the first batch of Safari as there are a limited number of elephants. There were vendors selling hot tea and other hot beverages. We spotted many birds just outside the Park gate.

    These elephant rides take place at the very edge of the Park. There are only 4 people (max) allowed on each elephant. Depending on the group of tourists and their overall weight distribution the seating is arranged. Getting up on the back elephant is always fun, it is shaky and you need to adjust yourself and your legs properly. The best part of the elephant ride is it takes you very close to the rhino. The track is partly swap so you swing a lot from the back of the elephant. Photography is difficult as there are not many stable moments. The whole ride was for about 45 minutes.

    Post the ride we came back to the hotel, had a big breakfast that involved freshly cooked many dishes. We walked around the property and did some photoshoots. And decided to visit the nearby Orchid & Biodiversity Park.

    In the afternoon we had our second jeep safari in the central zone. We again saw many birds, elephants, rhino. It was really great. If you plan to visit Kaziranga must recommend Wild Grass for their rustic bungalow with warm hospitality.

    Kaziranga - information you need to know before visiting

    Kaziranga is one of the bigger National Park of India. It has three prominent zones - Central, Western and Eastern.

    Central Range -- This drive covers the central region of the park. It is an ideal introduction to the park and its ecology as the route passes through the entire spectrum of habitat types prevalent in the Kaziranga area. (though Brahmaputra view is not available, a stretch of the route goes by the tributary river Difloo) There is a possibility of sighting elephants as well as the other big animals especially the swamp buffalo and of course the rhino. In the extensive short grass yards next to the wetlands the rare Swamp Deer. Swamp Deer is more endangered than the Asian one-horned rhino as far as the world population is concerned. Birding is possible in a wide range of habitats.

    Western Range -- From Wild Grass, it takes 20 minutes by jeep to reach the entrance of this Range. The route traverses the southwest portion of the park. This range has maximum short grass areas and is the optimum habitat for Rhino and Water buffaloes The Dunga Tower presents a panorama of short grass edged wetland, patches of tall grassland and woodland in with such visual setting animals can be sighted in a landscape representing their appropriate habitat. Part of the drive is also through Low Alluvial Savannah Woodland. Colonization of grassland by Lagerstroemia trees can be seen.

    Eastern (Agaratuli) Range --Situated towards the eastern part of the park, less frequented (we did not go there ourselves). The area is excellent for birding. Many water birds can be observed at Sohola Beel. Various woodland birds can be seen along the drive through very scenic Dillenia Swamp Forest. Elephants may be encountered, as well as Water Buffalo and Swamp Deer. Takes 30 minutes to reach from Wild Grass. Part of the route gives an idea of the Brahmaputra river (only tourist route that goes partly by the river). One can do a boat ride in the northeastern point of the Park.

    The Kaziranga National Orchid & Biodiversity Park, located in Durgapur village off the National Highway(37) itself. It offers a very benign recreational activity. It is about 3 km of walkable distance from Wild Grass. Besides the outdoor orchids, the greenhouse is manned by personnel adept at orienting and interpreting the rare orchids of NE region The Park has a large array of medicinal plants as also varied species of bamboo groves. A day-long cultural program makes the place lively and a selection of folk dances of different communities and tribes of the hills and valley of Assam is continually performed. The Bamboo dance is very special. Ethnic thali having as much as 18 to 26 food items is available for lunch and early dinner. There are other exhibit areas apart from the orchid display areas in this property. Apart from the photo gallery of orchids, the exhibit areas are all evolving into a storehouse of the tangible folk cultural properties of the various communities of Assam. Diverse implements produced out of the necessities of the everyday daily life of the peasants and farmers of different regions of the Brahmaputra Valley help any visitor to understand the material folk cultural forms of the Assam area.

    Burrapahar Wildlife Range, Ghorakati.  This area is part of the addition to Kaziranga National Park. Scrubland some forty years ago it was under afforestation management practice for fast-growing tree plantation but the low lying areas (now grassland ) were found uneconomical for tree planting. Part of this Range has areas having ideal wet grassland habitat attributes for transient animals from Kaziranga National Park. Kaziranga management was In a search of more areas for the ecological integrity of Kaziranga NP and with this in view the Ghorakati area, as well as the hilly Kukrakata Reserve Forest, has been annexed to Kaziranga. And only a little over a decade ago has been opened to visitors. Again we have not visited this part ourselves.

    Wednesday, February 20, 2019

    Day 1 in Kaziranga - April 2018

    After a good night sleep with thunders and rain, the morning was clear of rain but the sky had overcast. Without much delay, we put all our stuff in the car and head out of the resort for Kaziranga. The best thing about the resort for us its proximity to the highway. We drive on the straight highway going east. The road was divided four lanes and there was not much traffic and was cruising around 100KM/Hr.  We crossed Pobitora wildlife sanctuary just outside Guwahati.

    Dining Hall - Wild Grass
    We even kept a half day back up to visit Pobitora if we do not get to see much in Kaziranga. We were getting hungry as last night the dinner was quite early and did not even had tea/coffee before leaving the resort.  As we look out for a decent place to stop for breakfast we reached Anuraag Dhaba near Nagaon bypass.

    We ordered two plates of breakfast. The dish was served in an authentic Bronze plate with lots of different vegetables.  The staffs were wearing traditional Assamese Mekhela Chadar. We were quite impressed with the food and service. The food was served in a very satisfactory manner and the taste was splendid. Overall, we really had a "something special" kind of experience. Please do not keep your hope too high after all it is a simple place to eat on a highway, but would recommend it for sure.

    Now, as soon as we crossed Nagaon the road condition deteriorated. There was work going on to make four lanes which we are back to 2 lanes road and have to navigate traffic with caution. As we left GHY early we had plenty of time in our hand for the afternoon safari which we had planned. 

    Now we had to cross the Western and Central Zone gate of Kaziranga before reaching our destination “Wild Grass”.  As we approach the turn to be taken as suggested by Google map I find a small road going inside from the highway. I did not take that road as there was no sign or anything for Wild Grass. After going 100 meters or so I ask someone local and he points back to the same road. So reluctantly I took the road which is a narrow road with stones and you see bamboo houses, some small plantation and drive like that for a 1KM.  We continue and at last, there is a sign for “Wild Grass” a small one on the fork.  But as we approach the property we just get mesmerized. It is an old colonial style big bungalow. 
    One Horn Rhino

    We were greeted by a warm welcome and were told we have good 2/3 hours before the safari so we can just linger around have lunch and then head out for afternoon safari.

    The lunch was an authentic Assamese one   

    This place is unique and the owner is the best. He was instrumental in planning this trip. He shared so many details about Kaziranga that no guidebook could have covered it better.

    Soon we started for our first safari to the West Zone, in fact, we have crossed this gate while coming from Guwahati. It is almost 20/25 minutes drive Wild Grass. Once we reached the gate we had to buy tickets and pay the camera fee and all.

    We were fortunate enough to spot the one-horned rhino. We spotted elephants and spotted deers. There were many birds but as a beginner, we were not very well versed with the same. We saw an Indian Roller from a close distance. Spotted Pallas Fish Eagle, Lesser Adjutant, Ruddy Shelduck, Pied Kingfisher, and others.
    Lesser Adjutant

    Kaziranga has very tall grass so animal sighting is mainly near the edge of wetlands and in short grass areas. Technically Swamp Deer is more endangered than the Asian one-horned rhino as far as the world population is concerned.

    We headed back to the resort as the sun sets in the east, the hotel had warm snacks and tea. And once again the dinner was fabulous.

    We felt like we accomplished all we had to do in Kaziranga ;) but honestly, as I write this post after so many months I find myself reliving each moment once again and wish we could have stayed there for long.

    DescriptionKaziranga has very tall grass so animal sighting is mainly near the edge of wetlands and in short grass areas.

    Thursday, December 27, 2018

    Sight Seeing Sohra (Cherrapunjee)

    Sohra (Cherrapunjee) Tourist Guide Map

    As usual, the sun went up early as we are the Eastern part of India, so after a good breakfast and settling our bills we left towards Cherrpunjee. The sky was cloudy but not raining. The 16KM drive is a long one from the resort we stayed and the road of last 8 KM was really bad. 

    Kynrem Falls
    Kynrem Falls
    We started with Thangkharang Park which looked farthest on the map. The road was good for the most part but again the last 4/5 KM was under heavy construction. Our legs were heavy from yesterday’s hike still we walked around the whole park. We got to see Kynrem falls from there. And Bangladesh plain was in plain sight. The water was not so heavy in Kynrem falls as we were just before the monsoon. I am sure in monsoon the sight will be completely different with roaring water rushing down the hill.  The waterfall is made of three or four stages as you can see from the picture. We could see one or two cars on the winding road and there were a few tourists we went to the base of the falls.

    From the park, we headed towards Pillar Rock/Khoh Ramhah but there was no other soul out there. There was no board explaining what we really need to see. So we felt a little disappointed and just circle back from there.

    On the way back to Sohra we first went to Mawsmai Cave, this is a small cave compared to our very own Belum Caves in Andhra Pradesh. But as usual, the cave had its own fun. Some passages were really small and narrow. And you need to be mindful of your steps all the time as there was water. We were followed by a big Bengali group and they were very noisy which really spoiled the fun. Being a Bengali, we really feel ashamed by these large noisy tourists at times. Anyway as we came out and was looking for some biscuits and snacks from the back the car we realized we left our shoe bag at the resort.

    We called the resort and they informed yes it was left just out of our door and they have kept it safe. After a quick stop at the Monoliths which are on the road itself, we headed back to resort again. We did not stop at Eco-Park and the viewpoint. The drive of 16KM back and forth with the broken and twisted road cost us an hour plus.
    After picking up the shoe bag we headed towards Nohkalikai Waterfalls. The road is splendid, we stopped many times, we tried the most difficult form of photography aka landscape with little success. There were lots of spices, pickles and local handicrafts being sold at the viewpoint. 

    Around Sohra
    After Nohkalikai falls we headed back to the Sohra again and stopped at Ram Krishna Mission.  This is very close to the ground where my Shillong-Cherrapunji Marathon ended 2+ years back. This RK Mission played a big role in Meghalaya’s modern history. There is a museum on the first floor highlighting Meghalaya and NorthEast as a whole.

    After RK mission we decided to head back to GHY post lunch. We stopped at the “Orange Roots” a vegetarian restaurant on the highway very crowded.   The food was fresh and hot and it was clean.

    As we approached Shillong we thought of visiting Shillong Peak and drove all the way to the Air Force base to get the ticket when we realized we missed the cutoff. Disappointed we headed back to the highway. The road was narrow and had to manage big construction trucks on the turns and twist which was a complete waste. And top of that the weather was perfect with late afternoon sun on a clear blue sky ☹

    We spoke with our hotel owner in Kaziranga and he was saying if you really want ride a little longer from GHY and next 4/5 hours you will be there. While it sounded promising we were not ready for that long drive. Alternately he suggested stopping near GHY where there are lots of new resorts. We found it was way cheaper to book via MakeMyTrip so we booked online and headed toward GHY. We were going to stay at Brahmaputra Jungle Resort. Lucky for us we did not face major traffic while getting out of Shillong it was snail pace but moving. It did take a long time to get out from one end to the other of Shillong, We could see the long queue of cars/bus/trucks getting towards Shillong.  

    We did stop for few minutes at Badapani/ Umiam Lake but no great sunsets.  This time we are cautious and did not miss on “JAVA VEG” for our break. We had a good break there and almost had our early dinner and headed towards our night stop.

    By the time we reached the resort we were really tired after so many tourist places and driving. After we finished taking a hot shower and all it started to rain. And it did rain like cats and dogs for a long time. We were lucky that we did not need any room service as there was no chance for those hotel guys to serve us in the rain. And this place is a resort the place we were staying and the dining area was quite far. 

    Monday, December 17, 2018

    Tiring yet happy day - Double Decker Root Bridge

    Today we got up pretty late compared to other days. Had breakfast and left the hotel around 9 AM. There are some journeys in life which are hard to forget. Our trek to the much talked about Double Decker Root Bridge was one such journey for me. Staying at Cheerapunji holiday resort has one advantage that it is hardly 7 km away from double-decker root bridge. We went 5 KM till Tyrna village where we parked our car and then 3KMs of hiking we were told by hotel people. When we asked for a guide they said it's not required, moreover its all marked and proper cemented pathway so no chance of getting lost.

    It was a 3500 step journey down the hill. After almost 40 minutes we reached a small village which we thought was the village with the bridge, but it was another 40 min from there. At this point, we saw a very small board nailed to a tree indicating the way to the longest root bridge. We were only people there still we wanted to cross that bridge but it shakes and swings and the water flowing 20-25 feet below makes the whole experience breathtaking. I took the courage first to cross but half away, came back felt like can’t cross, then Aarush said mamma, are you scared...let me go. Then his dad stopped him saying let me go, once I reach another end then you come. Aarush agreed to the same. But halfway through even Santanu came back saying does not look to be safe enough to cross. Then after few photo shoots we returned to a regular path and now the descend was further steep.

    After descending few steps, we came across two hanging bridges over rivers. The bridges were made of rusty iron cables repaired and supported with bamboo with some parts held together with steel wires. The whole bridge shakes and swings and the water flowing 20-25 feet below makes the whole experience scary though adventurous. There were 2 families after us...we allowed them to cross the bridge first. While crossing the bridge all we could hear were the sounds of the squeaking cables and gurgling water flowing down the huge rocks, makes the whole experience nerve-wracking.

    After a few more climbing up and down the steps, we reached the new bridge which looks to be recently done. Further few meters ahead was Nongriat village, where they sell some basic food items, juice, water. To reach the double-decker bridge, you have to take a few more steps up – and there it was …

    This bridge is unique in so many ways. It has been built using the roots of a tree – that’s still alive. It took years to build this bridge – patiently waiting for the roots to be guided over and across the river until it was firm enough to carry weight. Currently, there are two levels of roots that have been guided across, stacked on top of other. These are roots from the rubber tree, which is considered to be 200 yrs old.

    On reaching there, waterfall from the rocks is so soothing and cool that feel like jumping into the water which we did not but definitely soaked my feet in them. Took a few pictures, and spent some time admiring nature's beauty. From here we went towards natural swimming pool asking few villagers on the way. We went further up and down the steps but at one point we were clueless as there was no proper demarcation and that bridge ends abruptly giving no hint for a natural swimming pool. So, after that point, we had to return as there was none to guide further and thus we started our return journey.

    We again now crossed the double-decker bridge and to my surprise, there was a guest house with minimum facilities for Rs.400/ per day which I came to know on asking one foreigner descending from one corner. On our return, we had some juices to hydrate ourselves while Aarush had proper basic food without any fuss.

    We started our climb back to Tyrna again through the swinging bridges and those steps. But it did take much more time and effort as though looking at the steep steps. I particularly huffed and puffed to reach the top and in between, it started raining like cats and dogs for few mins. One side it rained and another side we were sweating like pig from head to toe. Felt like they should have one waterfall at the top too so that one can shower there.


    • carry a bottle of water and refill in taps they are all potable and drink in sips
    • carry as little as possible – There are some small shops near your destination where you can buy water and snack on some food before you return. 
    • Carry cash(no cards)
    • Carry swimming trunks if you want to take a dip in the water pool under the double-decker root bridge and perhaps a cloth to dry yourself out.
    • Change room is available there.
    • Wear comfortable shoes.
    • Wear light clothes preferable shorts but no jeans.

    Day-3 Long day, Long drive- CRAZY ONE - Meghalaya

    Last night could not have proper sleep as in the middle of the night there was a sudden storm, followed by rain and finally power cut off. We got up around 6 AM and moved out of the place before 7 AM so as to avoid school traffic. We headed towards Elephant caves which come on the way to Cherrapunji, before that we saw the sign for Shillong Peak. And the sun was perfect to see the entire Shillong from the peak but as we approached near the turning and asked one passer-by whether it will be open. He smiled and said not before 9 AM so we proceeded towards Elephant Caves. Before this comes one famous eatery ML-05 Cafe (ML  05 is Shillog's Vehicle Registration Code). This café is located near the Eastern Air Command in Shillong which was highly recommended last night but unfortunately, it was closed when we were crossing it. Anyways, early birds have to face some issues too and does not gets its worm ;)

    On reaching “V” junction, one road goes to Cherrapunji and Dawki while other to Mawphlang and Mawsynram. And at that junction is the Elephant Falls.

    This fall is 3 layers fall accessible to all but the point is when we reached there it just opened. We were the first ones to enter there as tourists. The first of the three waterfalls are tucked between the dense trees and are very broad. The second waterfall reduces to thin strands of water while the third and the most visible waterfall is with clear water flowing like a sheet of milk on the dark rocks in the backdrop. Out of the three, the third waterfall tends the most impressive. We did our photo session and then on our return to have something for breakfast. But hardly anything was available, they were just setting up their shop. So, Aarush had his cup noodle and Santanu his tea and we took some tetra pack juice for the road.

    We headed towards Mawphlang sacred grove which is around 25 KMs from here. This was not there in our to-see list but got added last night on rethe commendation. It's a small forest with meadows around. Khasi people believe it as God and anything was taken out of this forest will bring ill-luck to the person. Perhaps, with that thought, they are able to save this dense forest where one can trek for either 3 or 5 KM with a local guide. The time we reached it started to drizzle and we took one young guide who can speak fluent English.

    They have been protected by communities for a variety of reasons, including religious practices, burial grounds, and sacrifices. There was no formal entry gate of the kind we usually have at sanctuaries and national parks. We just blindly followed our guide which was nothing more than a usual spacing between trees. Once you are inside its trees, trees, and trees all around- a visual treat to eyes for the people coming from the concrete jungle.

    We walked on a multi-layered carpet of leaves, twigs, branches, fruits, and ferns. The older trunks had fallen gracefully after a full, long and prosperous life was providing a home to Lichens and mosses and ferns. We felt like walking through the rainforest. Seems like sun needs to seek permission to enter into their dense world. Our guide asked Aarush to try a Mowgli swing on low hanging branches.

    Khasis believe that guardian spirit resides in the forest in two forms- tiger and snake who takes care of this forest. The good spirit appears in the form of a tiger and anything bad as a revengeful snake. Our guide showed us rudraksha fallen from the tree and various type of mushroom and ferns that have grown there. There was a stream flowing in one part of the forest. It's something you see every hues and shade of green there. When we were inside we hardly got any raindrop on us because of dense forests that act as a natural umbrella but as we headed out of the forest we saw it was raining pretty heavily.

    We got into our car and moved out of this place as we had to go Dawki - Which means we need to come to that V junction and now take the other route. In that way, we stopped for having brunch at a small place. This road is very scenic with mountains and hills, you can see white cotton-clouds looming in between. 

    Indeed, we were amazed by the quality of the roads, and the road to Dawki is the idyllic hill drive (till last 5 KMs before it starts showing wear and tear due to heavy vehicles). At first, I thought this was the result of tourism but later learned that this had more to do with the area’s economic importance of the limestone and coal mines. 

    “Some beautiful paths can’t be discovered without self driving or getting lost.”

    The cool, wet airbrushes over your face and lush greenery around refreshes and revitalizes you as it enters your body. Dawki is a small village and its main attraction is the Umngot River that marks the natural separation between the Khasi and the Jaintia Hills. The river can be crossed by a suspension bridge that connects India to Bangladesh and facilitates trade between the two nations. 

    This place is very famous for the emerald green transparent river which I was excitingly waiting for but due to rains, it was very disappointing. Many people did say that but I was adamant to see through my eyes :) bad-luck. People take boat rides there in season. We crossed the bridge and went to see Tamabil(Indo-Bangladesh border) where road condition was extremely bad. Big trucks were waiting for their turn in 2-3 lanes leaving only one lane to allow the vehicles to pass-by from either side. We reached near the border, parked our vehicle but on our return, it was almost 1-hour wait as no vehicles were able to move.

    With great difficulty, we were able to come out of that area and zoomed towards Mawlynnong- the cleanest village in Asia. This part of the drive is again very scenic with the different terrain we first went to skywalk machan at Nohwett. It was altogether different experience climbing the bamboo ladder. From there we can see 6 waterfalls.

    Then came towards Mawlynnong which is also said to be gods own garden. When we reached there it was almost getting dark, we went near the stream gushing down and climbed up to their village which is very neat; avoided their living root bridge as it would turn completely dark. There we had some noodles and hit the road back to Cherrapunji.

    After some hour nature starts to hide and seek game with fog and it was dense enough that we could hardly see anything in 10 meters; very poor visibility which is difficult to explain people living in plains. We tried following the tail-light of other vehicles but in vain - could not match up with their speed. Then we decided to maintain our 10-20Km speed by keeping two tires in between the white midline demarcation. 

    Only when any vehicle used to come from the opposite side we use to go to side otherwise back again in the same way. At one point, it was so stressful, that I told Santanu to pull over and move the vehicle off the road; sleep inside the car only rather than taking risk of 3 lives. I really panicked and repented of my decision of going to Dawkii. But now Santanu was quite confident and continued driving at very low speed. At one point we got one cab whom we could follow for last 45 min. and was able to maintain pace with him. 

    Driving car at that night was you never see beyond your headlight, but you finish your trip that way”.

    From here Cherrapunji was not far, once entering the city we made a call to hotel people for their direction and requested them to keep dinner ready for 3 of us. (this part had poor connectivity with phones but somehow SMS worked). On reaching their one good thing was fog was not there and the second thing we realized that booking we made in the hotel is further 19 KMs from the city. Around 10 KMs of the road was pretty bad near the hotel. Finally, it was almost 10 PM when we reached the hotel. 

    Stay:- Cherrapunji Holiday Resort. (Breakfast and dinner included within price)

    Monday, November 12, 2018

    Birds of Coorg

    As we learn more about birds we try to accommodate a day or two within our family trips for birding. These pictures were taken around Virajpet (South Coorg) and few within Nagarhole National Park. from our recent trip in 2108 October.

    The birds found here are very common to birds of Kerala as they are very close by.

    Serpent Eagle

    Red-wattled Lapwing
    Pied bushchat - Female

    Mountain Imperial Pigeon
    White-rumped Munia
    Plum Headed Parakeet

    Malabar Parakeet
    Black-throated Munia
    Black-throated Munia
    Malabar Starling
    Plum Headed Parakeet
    Brahminy Starling
    Green Bee Eater
    Black Hooded Oriole
    Green Bee Eater
    Indian Tit
    Racket-tailed Drongo

    Greater Coucal
    Green Bee Eater
    Black Drango

    Purple-rumped Sunbird
    Crimson-backed Sunbird
    Oriental Magpie Robin

    Purple Rumped Sunbird - Female
    Indian Blue Robin (Male)
    Red-whiskered Bulbul

    Oriental Magpie Robin
    Long-tailed Shrike
    Racket-tailed Drongo

    Rufous babbler