“Travel as much as you can,
As far as you can.
As long you can,
Life’s not meant to be lived in one place.”
A big Hello dear readers.In my last story I had forgotten to mention that we did not hike to the double decker Living Root Bridge which is in Cherrapunji. To see the bridge one has to trek about 5000 steps.Although I was keen, my family members were not very keen and additionally it would take 5-7 hours resulting in our missing out on seeing the other places.In case you plan to trek to this bridge, it is recommended that you stay in Cherrapunji and plan spending at least 2 days there.We decided to trek to the single Living Root Bridge which is in Mawlynnong.
Another interesting episode that I forgot to share was that our Wedding Anniversary happened to fall during our trip and we received a pleasant surprise on returning to our hotel in the evening to find a “Happy Wedding Anniversary cake” waiting for us. Being quite tired, we decided against going out and celebrated the occasion in our Hotel Room by ordering a sumptuous dinner.
As I had mentioned earlier,the next morning, we had planned a trip to the cleanest village in Asia and to the single decker Living Root Bridge. Mawlynnong is about 3 hours drive from Shillong.The drive is beautiful through lush green hills dotted with waterfalls but I was saddened to see large scale quarrying at the Hills damaging the eco system. This could be seen in Cherrapunji also.The roads are good and lined on both sides with many jackfruit and banana trees laden with fruits.Our first stop was at the Single decker Living Root Bridge which is in Riwai village about 8 kms from Mawlynnong village.
For a place that gets copious amount of rain each year, bridges should not strike you as exotic or surreal fixtures. But when they are fashioned from living, aerial roots of trees, braided together and banded for a century and a half, by generations of natives, these bridges transcend from being just bridges and turn into wonders created by man in amalgamation with nature.
Living root bridges are a common occurrence in Meghalaya. The relief system of the region allows the growth of several marshland trees which have tenacious roots. The one that stands out and is used to fashion most of these root bridges is the Ficus Elastica, or Banyan Fig Trees. The aerial roots of these trees are guided to attach themselves to the betel tree trunks, thus making these bridges one of the toughest structures that you can ever see! Each root bridge can comfortably hold 50 adults walking on them at a time! With the amount of rainfall that Cherrapunji receives, it would be impossible to sustain wooden bridges. To abet this, for centuries, Khasis and War Jaintias (local tribes) have trained the Ficus Elastica trees to merge with Betel Nut tree trunks. Each such root bridge takes about 15 years to grow strong. The tenacity of these structures is a natural wonder. What is even more interesting is that the bridges continue to grow for all their lives. Building root bridges is a tradition passed through generations among the Khasis!.
It is a trek down of around 400 steps.The steps are uneven and the decent is quite steep. There are however benches provided at regular intervals for the tourists to sit down and rest. There are also stalls selling fresh pineapples,water and cold drinks next to these benches.It took us about an hour and half to complete the journey. There is a nominal entry fee of Rs 20 per person.
The Tree House
Enroute to the Root Bridge, there is a Tree House which gives a good view of Bangladesh. The entry fee to this Tree House is also Rs 20 per person. The climb up from the Root Bridge is quite tough and we had to rest several times on the benches to catch our breath. It is advisable to carry umbrellas along as rains can be expected any time.
Our next visit was to the cleanest village in Asia – Mawlynnong which is about 8 kms from Riwai and close to the India Bangladesh border.There are about 95 Khasi households in Mawlynnong village,the literacy rate is 90%. Agriculture is the main occupation, with betel nut being the main crop.
As is the tradition of the Khasis, in Mawlynnong property and wealth are passed on from the mother to her youngest daughter, who also retains the mother’s surname.We noticed that the head of the households were the women.The Village is very clean and every house has a well maintained garden with beautiful flowers and neatly trimmed flowering hedges. There is also a locally handcrafted covered bamboo dustbin placed in front of every house for garbage disposal.The villagers are tourist friendly and can manage to communicate both in English and Hindi.There are no restaurants in the village but most village homes provide food to the tourists.A thali of dal/rice/mixed vegetable and green salad can be had for Rs 70 and a non veg thali would cost around Rs.100.Bottled water is also available.
Lunch at a Village Home
After lunch we headed to Dawki a small village on the Indo-Bangladesh border.You will see a number of Border Security Force posts on the way.We stopped on the way to take some photographs of a thunderous waterfall.
From Dawki, we returned to our hotel in the evening. While I had by now somewhat recovered from my bout of cough and cold, my son and husband were now feeling feverish and therefore we decided to rest and have dinner at the hotel as the next morning we were to take a long drive back to Guwahati.
The next morning, we bid adieu with a heavy heart to beautiful Meghalaya, her simple,friendly & peace loving people.It is worth mentioning that unlike other tourist places in the country, here the tourists are not harassed or troubled by the locals to buy items, take pony rides etc!!.
We reached Guwahati around noon and checked into an apartment known as River Home.It is a spacious three Bed Room fully furnished apartment tastefully decorated with all home comforts.The apartment has view of river Brahmaputra.The care taker was good and looked after us very well.We had lunch in a nearby restaurant and thereafter proceeded for local sightseeing.On the way, we booked our tickets for a Brahmaputra river cruise in the evening with Alfresco Grand.
I was looking forward to a trip to Dipor Bill- Bird sanctuary which provides shelter to a large number of migratory birds.It also has rich varieties of aquatic species like turtles and tortoise. However on arrival at the bird sanctuary we were informed by the security that it is closed to visitors for the day owing to some VIP visit which we thought was ridiculous.Disappointed, we set out for our next destination – the Saraighat Bridge.Saraighat bridge also known as double decker bridge connects north and south Guwahati. It is a rail and road bridge.
Next we visited The Dr Bhupen Hazarika Samadhi Kshetra. It is a tribute to one of the greatest sons of Assam built by the Assam Government. Bhupen Hazarika was an Indian playback singer, lyricist, musician, singer, poet and film-maker from Assam, widely known as Sudhakantha. His songs, written and sung mainly in the Assamese language are marked by humanity and universal brotherhood and have been translated and sung in many languages, most notably in Bengali and Hindi. Next we visited some of the main temples of the city.
Guwahati is also known as the “City of Temples” for the famous temples of Kamakhya, Unmananda,Balaji,Bhubaneshwari etc.We paid our obeisance at the Balaji and the Bhubaneshwari temples and we decided to visit the other two famous temples the next morning.
We then headed for the river cruise which was an one hour sunset cruise on the mighty Brahmaputra river.We had booked our seats on the upper deck which cost Rs 300 each. During the cruise, we were entertained with live music with many passengers taking the floor and one can enjoy the cool river breeze sipping a cool drink and munching some snacks.The rates are however on the higher side.I took some spectacular shots of the sunset on the Brahmaputra River. On our way back we packed some dinner from Sagar Ratna restaurant .The food was tasty and the rates reasonable.
Kaziranga National Park is one of the prides of India, located in the Golaghat and Nagaon districts of Assam. The Park is home to around two-third of world’s great one-horned Indian rhinos. According to the latest census held in March 2015, the current rhino population in Kaziranga National Park is about 2401(as per the data of Forest Department, Government of Assam). The Park was declared as a World Heritage Site (for its unique natural environment) by UNESCO in the year 1985.In 2006, it was declared a tiger reserve.It is located on the edge of the Eastern Himalayan biodiversity hot spot and this could be the reason to envision high degrees of diversified species with great visibility.The park is home to a large breeding population of elephants, wild water buffalo and swamp deer. Kaziranga is recognized as an ‘Important Bird Area’ by Bird life International for the conservation of avifaunal species. It is one of the most beautiful parks in the world and is renowned for the sheer number and easy sightings of the Great Indian Rhinoceros.
Kaziranga National Park
We left our Apartment at 0800 in the morning for Kaziranga National Park which is 250 kms from Guwahati and took us 4 hours to reach.The roads are good and the drive was enjoyable.Robin through his friend had booked a jeep safari for us in advance which cost Rs 1200 besides an entry fee of Rs 300 and still camera Rs 100 and video Camera Rs 500(the rates may vary).The safari timings are from 7.30-10 am in the morning and 2-4 pm in the afternoon.Since we reached around Noon time, we had a Bengali lunch of fish curry and rice and then set out for the bumpy ride of the National Park. The roads inside the park are in very bad shape and the ride is not enjoyable. We could see many rhinos.We were particularly thrilled to sight a white baby and an adult rhino but could not make out whether it was a mama or papa.:) We also sighted many deer, wild buffaloes and wild elephants.Inside the park there were some view points.we climbed one and tried our best to spot a tiger but could not see any.We were dropped back at the entrance gate after about 2 hours of a very bumpy ride.We took quite a few photographs inside the sanctuary.
From here, we drove to the Orchid garden in Kaziranga and were delighted to see the beautiful flowers. The entry ticket is Rs 100 per person. Inside the garden, there are folk dance performances by local artistes at regular intervals and we thoroughly enjoyed the performances.
Orchid Garden Kaziranga
Folk Dance Performances inside the Orchid Garden
On the way back to Guwahati, we picked up some dinner and retired to our apartment.
Day 8 :
We checked out early from our apartment and left for Kamakhya temple.The queue being very long, we opted for darshan(view/sighting) from the outside and the hired pujari(priest) arranged for quite a good and close darshan(view/sighting). Like in most temples in India, beware of the pujaris who will try and talk you in for hefty donations at various locations and also squeeze you for a hefty amount for their services. The ticket for a darshan(view/sighting) from inside through a long serpentine queue is Rs 500 per person but the darshan(view/sighting) as well as all the ticket counters were closed. We had to shell out Rs 500 for the pujari(priest) who arranged our darshan from outside.
About Kamakhya Temple
The Kamakhya temple is one of the most revered shrines of Shakti(power) in India, in the form of Kamakhya. Located on the Nilachal Hills just 7 km from Guwahati, the Kamakhaya temple is of great religious importance. It also holds tremendous historic and archeological significance.
It is believed that during Shiva’s catastrophic cosmic dance after Sati killed herself, 51 Shakti peethas were born in different parts of India, Kamakhya being one of them. Kamakhya is the Goddess of Desire, and celebratory for the Tantrik sect of Hinduism. Followers of the Tantra Sect place their belief in Kamakshi or Kamakhya.
After Kamakhya temple, we visited the Umnanda temple for which you have to hire a boat.Sharing boats are available but that takes time as one has to wait for the boat to get full.We hired a full boat for Rs 1000.The boat ride was pleasant and we saw many seagulls on the way.Since the temple is at a hillock, one has to climb a number of steps. On making my way to the temple, I realised that the climb was quite easy.The temple was not very crowded and after a quick darshan we made our way back.,It took about an hour to and fro.
Umananda Temple is a Shiva temple located on Peacock Island in the middle of river Brahmaputra. Peacock Island is just opposite the office of the Deputy Commissioner of Kamrup or the KachariGhat, in Guwahati. It was built by the Ahom King Gadadhar Singha who was quite a devout Shivaite. The original temple was badly damaged by a devastating earthquake in 1897. Later, it was reconstructed by a rich local merchant who chose to inscribe the interior part of the Shiva temple with Vaisnavite slogans.
The Umanada Temple is located on the smallest inhabited riverine island in the world. Country boats are available all through the day on the banks of Brahmaputra for ferrying the visitors to and fro from the island.The mountain on which the temple is built, is known as Bhasmacala.
Entrance of Umnanda Temple
By now it was lunch time and Robin took us to a restaurant in the by lanes of Guhawati for a typical Bengali meal. We ordered a Elish(Hilsa) thali for lunch.The food was yummy and pocket friendly.Since there is a considerable number of Bengali tourists, there are quite a few options for Bengali food.The restaurants also cater to North Indian,Chinese and other dishes.So don’t worry as you can get food according to your pallet. People in Meghalaya are mostly pork eaters but you can get chicken, mutton, fish and vegetarian dishes also.
After lunch Robin dropped us at the airport and we returned home happy with sweet memories of the trip.
“Travel is the only thing you buy,that makes you richer”
You can take a direct flight to Guwahati or Shillong depending on your itinerary.The best option is to hire a cab for sight seeing which can be booked on the net but remember to check the reviews of the company that you intend to hire the cab from.
By Train:There are a number of trains from Mumbai Central and LTT but the travel time is about 52 hours.
I would advise you to plan your trip and book your flights well in advance.From Mumbai, presently there is only one direct flight of Indigo at 4.25 pm.The ticket cost depends on how early you book your flight.
I had booked the hotels through Booking.com and found them to be quite o.k. The home stay cum hotel in Shillong ‘Quinton Enclave” is walking distance from Police Bazaar – the main market of Shillong but the apartment in Guwahati “River Home” was a bit far from the main city/market area.
Carry light woollens and rain wear.If you are prone to carsickness,carry some anti nausea tablets.The roads are mostly good but winding like in all hilly areas.