Showing posts with label assam. Show all posts
Showing posts with label assam. Show all posts

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, May 21, 2018

    Day 2 - Shillong

    We started early morning with a drive to pick-up point of our rented car. This place was in such an area where proper roads were not there….it was full of potholes and filled with rainwater from previous rains. One thing is there Guwahati inner roads are not great and even city is not that clean...full of plastics. Anyways we zoomed out from that place without much wastage of time and hit the highway.

    We were recommended to have breakfast on the way at Jiva resort but which we could never find nor even any hoarding-related to that. This Guwahati-Shillong road is very good because of which it hardly took 2-2.5 hrs to reach near Bada Pani (Umiam lake).

    Umiam lake when we reached it was a clear sky with no sun though. Then we were looking forward to boating area so that we can go near the lake. There was a sign for Umiam lake which we followed and it took us to orchid lake resort and very close to it has a garden with boating area. We decided to have a look at it first and then have breakfast. The moment we reached there, we were followed by some gujju families too...we did some photo session there. The serene lake is surrounded by thick coniferous forests. One can take a long boat ride in the lake, and adventure lovers can enjoy boating and various water-sports. There are a few islands in the lake that can be used as pit-stops if one requires a moment of rest while boating through the lake.

    We slowly proceed towards Orchid Lake Resort to have our breakfast. We were offered with buffet breakfast which was 300 INR for adults. Their dining hall has a high ceiling and at the centre, a fireplace for winters or maybe night time. Dining Hall windows face towards lakefront and their garden which is nicely maintained.

    We had our breakfast which was more of brunch and then took a tour of their lake facing the garden and headed straight to Shillong road towards the city. Our Google map guided us to through numerous twists and turns of narrow lanes. On our very fast left turn we too such a narrow cut that felt almost we would topple but the traffic police smiled and signaled us to proceed ahead. it was a scary start for what time coming next as we drive thourh twisted small roads.

    We were looking out for Happy-Valley which made us really unhappy at one point of time that we gave up hope but somehow managed to reach army area where we stopped to ask them about the area we were looking for. Phone signal was pretty bad at that moment of time and even when it went the person on other side was not responding so we were not sure to proceed or stop there.

    For civilians all Assam Regiments look the same, so with a lot of confusion in mind, we went down the hill where it seems there is another base camp which is having the guest room we were looking for. On reaching there, we got the phone signal we were looking forward. Then on entering our next job was to find the guest house but looks like we ended up in some official area which was deserted. After a while, we could locate someone who guided us with one jawan to our room.

    We were introduced to our room buddy, who was so kind.
     ”Sir, Would you like to have something for lunch”
    NO (we are too full to have any)
    “Sir, if you have any problem or complaint, related to anything, please first contact me”.
    We were surprised to hear that but we smiled and replied: “ Don’t worry we are fine.”

    We were actually taken back to see the room with slipper, comb, razor etc. with a proper kitchen where one can cook too for themselves if needed.

    As the day became more & more brighter we decided to go for city tour but in meantime, our host called to know our whereabouts and our plan. As we said our plan he proposed to take his army gypsy to police bazar to avoid parking and entry through their gates which will need permission again. By the time he came personally to check if everything was fine with us or not.

    In the meanwhile, his gypsy came and we left for police bazaar which was as usual crowded. The driver stopped us near the square and asked us to call once done to which we agreed upon. We strolled through the street. From young to old, the woman looks dazzling, dressed in their traditional attire (jainsem), which they pair with matching cardigans and heels. The street was busy with cozy cafes, restaurants and small umbrella shops and varieties of footwear. Side road was busy with their black Maruti 800 cab (public transport). We walked towards Ward’s Lake which is closer to Governor's house. This lake also has a cafeteria and a Botanical Garden, we paid entry fees and then crossed one wooden bridge which takes to another side of the lake. It's nice to watch people boating and feeding fish.

    We took the privilege of perfect evening sunlight and did time pass photography all over the garden. This garden has a lot to offer in terms of floral bed, bamboo trees and cobbled pathway, nicely manicured plants. As we strolled around, we too started feeling hungry and as the sun was going further west we decided to move back to police bazar area for some light snacks.

    We went to Grover's eatery, which was right at the corner on the first floor of the shopping complex. It has nice decor tastefully done but takes time for food to reach the table. After having some soups and momos we left from there as we had to go to our host's place for dinner.

    We had a nice evening with soothing music in the background. Mrs. Nayyar pampered us with an elaborate spread of starters and main course. It was really nice of (colonel) Mr. and Mrs.Nayyar to host us. We deeply appreciate their role and thanks them from bottom of our heart to be part of our memorable journey.

    Stay: At Army Basecamp

    Saturday, May 19, 2018

    Day - 1 Maa Kamakhya here we come !!!

    Guwahati Kamakhya

    The flight to Guwahati was too early in the morning from Bangalore and we decided upon that on landing we will go directly to Kamakhya temple before starting our trip. Kamakhya Temple is around 14KM from the airport and our relatives stay on the other side of the city. It makes sense to start the trip in an auspicious way and we tried to strike 2 birds with one.

    On D-day at the wee hours we three took shower, ensured all right measures were taken from the kitchen to balcony for a long vacation.  Pre Booked airport cab was a right choice as last time we did not have so nice experience with Uber/Ola. Morning marathon is sometimes little difficult when you are on vacation but it's all fine when you are bitten by the travel bug.

    After security check-in we were seated in the lounge, talking and watching people from different parts of the world and suddenly a call came. After a very short talk, I looked at Santanu in order to know whose call it was at that hour …."Ground Staff "calling to board the plane…..quite surprised though. Were we really lost in watching people and do they call personally on the phone,  as it's a silence zone...Strange but feels good.

    On boarding the flight we met surprisingly one of the friends and his son on the same flight who were supposed to go with us to Shillong initially but had to cancel due to last minute emergency. The father-son duo was going just for a family function. We spoke two words and moved on to our designated seat. After waking up so early, me and my son were really hungry waiting for the breakfast which we have pre-ordered. Santanu was first one and me in between dozed off but my son was completely awake whole of the time.

    In between, that friend of Santanu came and spoke to us for some time about his family matters and even my son went to talk to his son. On landing, we had a quick selfie and parted our ways. Santanu's cousin was waiting outside for us with his car. 

    Maa Kamakhya Temple which is situated on Nilachal hill and is one of the oldest of the 51 Shakti Pithas.   Shakti Peethas are shrines or divine places of the Mother Goddess. These are places have been blessed with the presence of divinity due to the falling of body parts of the corpse of Sati Devi, when Lord Shiva carried it and wandered in sorrow.  Now out of  51, 4 are considered Adi(primary ) Shakti Pithas and Kamakhyais one of them. The main temple is a cave of indeterminate age, with rock steps leading down to the garbhagriha. According to Kalika Purana, the site marks the spot where the yoni of the Goddess fell, and the hill turned blue. The deity is represented by a representation of the yoni. The temple has various sculptures around embedded in the walls not only outside but inside also constructed during Aahom rule.
    From regular families to politicians, foreign tourists to sadhus and sanyasis, everyone wants to have a darshan. Its really difficult to make your way through a bustling crowd but being a cloudy day with raining lightly it was not crowded madly but enough for you to stand in a long queue.

    On reaching the top, we were introduced to one known panda(priest) who took care of us. We bought VIP tickets of 500 INR for both and were made to sit in one room. In between and it started to drizzle more. After waiting there for about 40 minutes we were made to join one line from where it takes to the main temple. There are three kinds of queues in Kamakhya - the ordinary one, the VIP one and lastly one for armed forces.

    We couldn't see much after our offering as it was raining and was getting time for temple closure for bhog (mid-day offering to Goddess). Santanu’s cousin drove us to Bhuvaneshwari temple from where you can view entire Guwahati city and river Brahmaputra on a clear day. But unfortunately, we couldn’t see much because of bad weather. We paid our homage to the temple and quickly moved from there to our relatives' house.

    By the time we reached was almost 3 PM, had late lunch and catch up with them after long gap about the entire family. In the evening we went to visit another relative who resides close by and had the plan to go for dinner somewhere outside. But relatives seeing us after such long time pampered us to the extent that we were almost full having no space for dinner.

    Then seeing the time and weather we too decided to call off the day so that next morning we can wake up early as well as fresh in order to start our journey by road with our Zoom car.

    Friday, May 18, 2018

    North East 2018 planning

    Long prologue … someone once said
    “Happiness is to plan a trip to somewhere new with your loved ones”. 

    One best friend from Santanu’s engineering college got transferred from Bangalore to Shillong last year. In his send-off party, everyone committed that they would like to visit that part of the country. The friend in question is serving our country and he promised to be our host there while we visit Shillong, the Scotland of East and British summer capital of North East.

    Our travel planning started way back in the month of January it was left to Santanu as he grew up in NorthEast to talk to relatives & friends, read travel blogs and come up with a rough itinerary. While initially, he wanted to travel all the way to Dibrugarh, he has fond memories of that places as he studied there between 1st and 4th standard a long long time ago.  But he dropped that idea as it would have been too much of traveling. So the first cut and final looked like this. We are really thankful to Mr. Manju Barua (Wild Grass, Kaziranga) for his valuable selfless inputs.

    First Draft
    What we did
    Kaziranga (bypassing  Guwahati)
    Gibbon & Sibsagar
    Nameri and back to Guwahati

    It is easy to start and end with Guwahati in NorthEast as it is well connected to rest of India with many flights and trains. To explore and have a relaxing trip we almost decided to have 2 nights halt in most places. The key challenge was rain as Kaziranga closes by end of April. One friend said he would be joining us for Meghalaya part so we changed the first draft and opted to visit Meghalaya first and Assam second. 

    Seeing our detail itinerary many eyebrows were raised.  Few of the friends gave up saying they can not have this type of strenuous vacation. Vacation for them is getting up late...relaxing, enjoying food and not mandatorily visiting all tourist points….aargh just the opposite of our thinking style.

    We never gave up on our thinking as we are what we are….For us traveling means getting up early, beat the traffic or the other tourists irrespective of breakfast time, cover as many possible, eat foods from roadside small eatery or any recommended place(traditional food) as per convenience. We are so used to all this that my 10 years old also got adjusted to the same. Without complaining, he too enjoys this kind of travel.

    “Once the travel bug bites, there is no looking back we are happily infected till we can”

    Exploring so many places means we need to have a car of our own to travel. We talked to few reliable drivers as suggested by friends and family, their rates were almost similar but was on the higher side for us as we had almost 2 weeks to cover. Moreover, each day we do not plan to travel a lot on the road,  so it was more economical to self-drive. There are not many options like other major Metros but ZOOMCAR is there and we made our booking with them in advance. 

    Also, we are used to self-drive as it gives us privacy and the complete back seat to Aarush. He really likes it that way as it gives him liberty to take a small nap in between if needed. Santanu made most hotel booking well in advance, but he kept two buffer days without any prior hotel booking to accommodate any unplanned situation.

    We also planned to visit to Siliguri to visit my mother-in-law for a day and Calcutta for 2 nights on our way back.

    While we write more on this long trip,  please take few minutes off and see this wonderful official video of Assam Tourism.