Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Abode of Stunning Waterfalls & Caves- Cherrapunji!

The last leg of our 50 day backpacking trip across Nagaland, Manipur and Meghalaya took us through some of the extremely beautiful rural villages of India and what better way for a grand finale than a stop over at Cherrapunji. A place that held the title of "The Wettest Place On Earth" for years is now in competition with Mawsynram for the title. A friendly tug of war for the title 'wettest place' is for sometime going on between Cherrapunji and Mawsynram.

Meghalaya is famous for a number of scenic waterfalls, natural living root bridges, caves and some brilliant landscapes. This journey around Cherrapunji on beautiful mountain roads with stunning green scenic valleys, monoliths and very few homes on the way makes you feel like you are in a different country.

Cherrapunji aka Sohra has some incredible attractions and can be done as a day trip. But apart from these attractions Meghalaya is famous for Living Root Bridges, the only one of its kind in the whole World with the most famous and challenging to reach is the 'Double Decker Root Bridge.' This incredible man made Natural wonder is in Nongriat Village, 20 km from Cherrapunji, and can be reached by trekking over 3500 steps. The trek takes anywhere between 2 - 2.5 hours down and 3- 4 hours to climb up. It would require an overnight stay at Tyrna village as it is not feasible to do a day trip from Shillong.

Cherrapunji is also home to the incredible Nohkalikai Falls, the tallest plunge waterfall in India. It was a mesmerizing sight to watch water cascade down the hills over a height of 1100 feet and plunge into a deep blue natural pool formed at the base of the falls. Even when she is not at her full throttle, it is still captivating and makes you fall in love with Nature. Standing in the viewing gallery we promised ourselves we would be back during monsoon to experience her splendor.

Nohkalikai in Khasi means "Jump of Ka Likai." The story is that a widowed women 'Ka Likai' remarried and her second husband was jealous of her daughter as she would spend most of her time looking after her girl. While, she was at work, he killed the daughter and prepared a meal from her flesh. Upon returning from work, Ka Likai who was hungry finished her meal. Only later, she found her daughter's severed fingers lying around and realized what happened. Unable to control her anger and grief, she plunged to death from the same cliff and the falls has been named after her.

Right adjacent to the view point of Nokalikai Falls small shops set up by villagers sell organic local herbs, spices, pure mountain honey and something similar to a bark of tree. Looking at the sheer size of the bark, we could have never guessed that they were actually selling nothing but 'Dalchini' (Cinnamon.) This amazing spice with medicinal property was being sold at dirt cheap price. At the parking lot, we got a taste of organic fruits from one of the local stalls. They were selling farm fresh fruits neatly cut and plated in leaves. For the very first time in our lives we tasted wild bananas that had seeds the size of pepper corn. It was an awesome experience to relish juicy fruits with the views of the amazing waterfalls.

Meghalaya has plenty of caves to boast and many of them are totally unexplored and un-mapped. Some of these magnificent caves are believed to be the largest in Asia if not the whole World. Cave exploration is yet to take off here with just one initiative taken by the Government of Meghalaya. While most of the caves require proper cave exploration equipment and the guidance of an experienced explorer, Mawsmai cave gives commoners like us an awesome experience of wriggling around and exploring a well lit and traveller friendly cave, minimizing any risk. An entry fee of Rs.20 per head gave us access to this amazing limestone cave. We felt like we were teleported to another World. A relatively large entrance continued to steadily shrink and at one point we had to squeeze ourselves through certain parts.

The stalactites were such amazing work of Nature that certain sections looked like sets of the movie Star wars. The total 150 meter experience unfolds very unique and amazing stalactites and stalagmites formations. Kindly do not wander off the designated trek path as the other larger sections of the caves are cordoned off and are not lit up. It is very easy to get lost and you can forget about any rescue or help arriving.

The exit of the cave is very small and narrow. As we stepped out we were so overwhelmed by the fact that despite having trekked down the 150 meter it was quite unbelievable to imagine that a massive cave lay in front of us. The entire section was completely covered by wilderness.

There are quite a few good restaurants around the caves and it would be the best place to break for lunch.

During our visit to Meghalaya unfortunately the much hyped seven sister waterfalls or Nohsngithiang Waterfalls was dry. It is said that sighting a rainbow here is pretty common which makes this place even more scenic with the water cascading down the hills surrounded by lush greenery and the rainbow in the backdrop. This definitely calls for making another trip to Meghalaya to experience it at its best- during the monsoons.

Apart from the two massive well known falls another falls en route Cherrapunji is the 'Wah Kaba Falls.' A ten minute hike from the main road took us to a view point from where we could see her in full flow.

Another interesting stop over en route is Ramakrishna mission. The place, the person who set it up and his mentor needs no introduction. Their Legacy lives on! "Awake, Arise and Stop Not Till The Goal Is Reached."

While you visit Cherrapunji, try and figure out if it is the weekly market day. A congregation of massive number of local farmers sell a wide range of products here and the best among them are super sweet oranges. It is a must try as this part of the country is very famous for the yummy oranges and is named after it too.

Another product in the market drew our attention- we were baffled to see locals selling a very different looking leaf that was pretty large in size. In a matter of few seconds our curiosity was put to rest. They were nothing but tobacco leaves and a couple of seconds more, we could feel the strong scent of tobacco.

It would be perfect to visit all the places of interest and then head to Tyrna village, the basecamp for the Double decker Living Root Bridge and retire for the day. Early morning next day, would be perfect for the hike to the Root Bridge.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Umkar, An Under Construction Living Root Bridge!

Siej Village is home to a stunning piece of wonder "Umkar Living Root Bridge." A couple of years ago, this 40 year old bridge was washed away due to massive floods and the villagers are now rebuilding it. This Bridge is 75% complete and would take another 15 years to grow fully and become functional. The bridge can now be tagged as "Under Construction."

We could see and feel the tender off shoots from the massive rubber tree guided by the villagers with the help of betel nut trunks and bamboo. Since it is still growing, one cannot walk the complete distance on this bridge. It was amazing sight to see the roots in different shades and sizes. Some are so fragile and easy to twist and turn while others are just impossible to move. This amateur bridge clearly shows its age compared to other senior root bridges. This serves as a perfect example to learn the ingenious technique used to grow these natural wonders.

The color of this bridge is light brown while the other older root bridges are pretty dark in shade with moss all over them due to the levels of exposure to sun and rain. The bridge comes to life during monsoon. Another stunning fact about this bridge is that the offshoots are trained to form a double decker bridge. But this could take a long time as this is just in the initial stages.

This root bridge is accessible by a short 10 min hike once you reach Siej Village. This village is a 3 km drive from the Cherrapunjee Resort and can be easily clubbed with the Double Decker Root Bridge while you are staying at the resort.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Shillong- Base Camp of Meghalaya!

Beautiful and comfortable 4 way lane roads led us from Guwahati to the much hyped and dream destination of Meghalaya- Shillong, also know as 'Scotland of The East.' Even before we could reach Shillong, we were greeted by the massive Umaim Lake. This massive lake provides a teaser of what actually Meghalaya and Shillong have in store for you and it adds spark to your vacation. It is really hard to believe that this lake is actually man made and it also has small islands. A perfect stop if you want to be away from the city and just relax.

Christianity is widely spread across North East India and that meant amazing cathedrals and churches. We were here in December and the Christmas mood was full on and happening. Almost all homes, businesses, places of worship were beautifully decked up for grand celebrations. The beautiful 'Cathedral of Mary Help of Christians' in Shillong was a perfect place to soak in the celebration mood. This massive monument stands on sand as this region is prone to earthquakes and this kind of foundation was recommended for the Cathedral to withstand the impact. The stained glass and the elaborate paintings on the walls add much more beauty and charm to this spectacular building.

All Saints Church is at a walk-able distance from the Cathedral and is one of the oldest churches. This pretty monument has an all natural Christmas tree in its compound. One could be a believer, non-believer, practice any faith, but there is absolutely no denying the fact that the church premises offers a calm, quiet and serene atmosphere.

Meghalaya Tourism Department Corporation, a government of Meghalaya undertaking, is a one stop shop for all your travel itineraries. They operate daily buses to almost all popular tourist attractions. They also provide cars on hire and the pricing is only a couple of hundreds more than the other tour operators which is completely justified thanks to their professionalism and no hassles which are not guaranteed by private players. The only catch is if all tickets are not sold out the trips are cancelled.

This would be perfect place if one wants to visit nearby locations keeping Shillong as the base and does not have too many days in hand. However, we did not take the tour bus as we might be pressed to rush through things which is in contrast to our leisure travel lifestyle. Their office is in Police bazaar.

Police bazaar is an attraction in itself. In simple terms there is not a single thing that would not be available in this bazaar. Much to the delight of the foodie in us there were several restaurants to choose from. We started our hunt to figure out the best dine in option. We started with Eden restaurant which is in the basement of the building opposite hotel Centre Point. The restaurant specializes in Mughlai cuisine and the chicken biryani that we ordered did not disappoint us one bit. The flavor was mild yet really good and the chicken was cooked to perfection. To go with the biryani we had ordered chicken haandi masala with egg which is a thick spicy gravy that gave an additional kick and completed the meal to perfection. A good meal for two would cost Rs 600. They have a very extensive menu with over 20 varieties of chicken dishes giving us a very hard time to pick one.

Jiva sizzler is another exquisite fine dining place in police bazaar. The perks of commercialization, we got to have one of the best sizzlers in Shillong. We highly recommend their roasted mushroom soup and smoke roast chicken sizzler. A meal for two would cost between Rs 700 - 800.

While in Shillong, if you want to take a sojourn to paradise look no further than "Bread Cafe" in G.S. Road, above Jiva Sizzlers. They serve heavenly pastries, quick bites and wide range of healthy cookies.

Be it any part of India, one can never be far away from Dosai or Idly. We stumbled upon "Madras Coffee House," which is opposite Meghalaya State Transport. One of us being a Madrasi, can vouch for the authentic South Indian taste that is guaranteed here. The divine looking Dosai is accompanied by hot spicy sambar and 3 varieties of chutneys. For the cold weather and South Indian food, a hot cup of filter coffee is one of the best moments in life. A heavy breakfast for two would cost Rs.300.

Qzine Restaurant in Police Bazaar is another gem of a restaurant that has amazing South Indian touch. The tawa fish masala was outstanding and comes highly recommended. They have an extensive menu which is pan India and their specialty being South Indian delicacies. A meal for two would cost anywhere between Rs.500-600.

We checked into Hotel Rainbow in Police bazaar. It is an absolute steal deal, this centrally located hotel offers spacious rooms with exquisite aesthetics at a very budgeted price. Other hotels in the vicinity that charge exorbitant prices only for the prime location come nowhere close to the feel good factor and amazing aesthetics offered here. The hotel has a quite hidden restaurant which serves amazing north Indian delicacies. After 40 long days we satisfied our craving for poori and bhaaji and were not let down.

During our travel in Meghalaya we were fortunate enough to meet Mr Robin (8794088304,) a cabbie and a thorough gentleman. People like Robin are rare who do not try to make quick bucks of unsuspecting travellers or swindle money. During our excursion to Dawki, Mawlynnong, Sohra and Tyrna he never ones rushed us through and asked us to take our own sweet time to visit each place. He made sure we have a very nice experience of Meghalaya. We had done our research about taxi fares and there was never an instance where we had to bargain with him as he always quoted a fair price. There were instances where he had to do more kilometers than agreed and his standard responsible would be a smiling face and he saying 'Baithiye Sirji.' He drives a Maruti 800 which is well kept, clean and comfortable. One might get a more comfortable car for the same price but again good people like him are extremely rare.

Shared taxis are available from Guwahati to Shillong and one can grab a seat for Rs 300. Tip- There are a lot of comfortable sedans that ply in this route so be wise in choosing your vehicle. The shared taxi drop point is in Police Bazaar.

Stunning Double Decker Living Root Bridge Photo Blog

Man made Natural Wonder! Double Decker Living Root Bridge