Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Aahana - The Perfect Retreat Just 5 hrs From Delhi


The days were going very hectic when I got an invite for the experiential stay at Aahana. It is a good opportunity to take a break from my hectic schedule, I thought, and decided to head to one of the finest Luxury Eco-resorts in Corbett. And, no surprise, I had the most calm and dreamy time of my life!

RELAXING ENVIRONS

Spread over a sprawling 11 acres amidst the wild environs of Corbett Tiger Reserve, it is a perfect place to unwind. The morning walks, simple yet delicious meal served with lots of love and care, the cozy afternoon siesta, the evenings spent by the pool side listening to mild tunes on guitar and the mesmerizing star studded nights - all of this made my stay perfect!


The cool seating arrangement by the pool 

The property overlooks the Bijrani forest and is ideal for bird watching. More than 173 bird species frequent the property.  Just sitting in my balcony I could see more than 15 varieties of birds. 

Morning walk in the campus breathing fresh air laden with lemony scent of citronella, listening to sweet bird songs and cherishing the variety of tree plantations with more than 200 species, I was refreshed to the core. 

 A Well Planned Walking Pathway in the Midst of Nature 

ECOLOGICALLY RESPONSIBLE RESORT

Being a responsible traveler, I was thrilled to know it's an ecologically responsible resort. And its not just a claim I saw many such initiatives in the property:

 - The water conservation and waste management system. 
The water treatment plant here is one of the biggest of its kind in Asia. The plant effectively recycles waste water and is used for gardening etc. The pathways have been constructed in such a way that it allows rainwater to seep in and thus maintaining the underground water table. 

The Water Treatment Plant - Biggest of its kind in Asia 

- The Waste Management System
All the biodegradable waste generated within the property is decomposed and utilized as manure for gardens and organic farming. 
The non-biodegradable waste is collected, segregated and sent for recycling, maintaining the ecological balance within the resort. I was highly impressed to see the way my breakfast for the journey was packed in paper bags are made of used newspapers and biodegradable plates made of Areca Nut Palm leaf.

- The Organic Garden
There are gardens that grow organic vegetables, spices and medicinal plants and herbs as well that are used for treatments and therapies in the spa
It was interesting to see how the cow urine mixed with neem leaves is used as pesticide for the plantations. 

COMFORTABLE STAY, DELICIOUS FOOD AND CORDIAL STAFF

Last but not the least, the comfortable well equipped rooms with every minute detail taken into consideration. Like umbrellas in the room, a disposable bag in the bathroom and the usual - robes, slippers, locker and other required accessories.

Comfortable Room Opening Up to The Forest

Another highlight of the stay was simple delicious food cooked from fresh seasonal vegetables locally sourced or grown in in-house organic kitchen garden. Got the taste of local flavors in their Kumaoni cuisine. 


The Multi Cuisine Restaurant

Its good to know that the resort support locals. Out of 105 staff members, 90% are locals. And all of them extremely hospitable. 



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Sunday, September 8, 2019

Living in Harmony with Nature




Recently I was on a trip to village Sunkiya near Mukteshwar. While roaming around in the village, the heaps of Oak leaves mixed in cow dung made me curious. It looked like something I have never seen before. Can you guess looking at the picture below what this might be and what is being done here?


Its the organic manure in making. Vermi-composting of leaf litter mixed with cow dung and other waste.  

So here goes the process - 


The oak leaves and bark are collected from all over the forest during autumn (April - May).
          

These are then used as bed for the cattle. 
  
The leaves/ bark etc mixed with cow dung and urine are then collected and stored. 

It takes a few months for it to convert into organic manure. Litter of the Oak tree leaves is composted and then converted into vermicast by the action of earthworms. This manure is the basis for soil fertility and the renewal of degraded soils year after year.

Yes, it’s so simple yet so alien to city people. We keep talking about organic food, but do not really know what it means. The food grown using natural fertilizers. And here's this natural fertilizer in making.  These simple village people do it so naturally, without even knowing the importance of it. 

It’s amazing to see how the villagers live in harmony with nature. Nature provides them with all they need and inturn they have taken the responsibility of conserving the surrounding forest. They do not let anyone cut the trees and new trees are planted every year.

May this relationship between villages and forests keep flourishing in times to come. 
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Saturday, March 2, 2019

Homestays – A Perfect Option for Long-term Stays

An old couple enjoying their last inning in a cozy home watching birds and butterflies on the hills without actually spending their life savings in building a house there; a research scholar coming back to a caring family after a hectic day’s work; a developer writing codes while sitting in a balcony with a view of snow covered Himalayas and a writer getting her/ his creativity boosted while watching sunset on a hill. All thanks to the concept of homestays where you can live with a family in their homes. 




Why are Homestays a good option for long staying guests?

  1. Stay under the safety and care of a family.
  2. Be easy on your tummy and relish homemade local delicacies.
  3. Enjoy respect of the neighborhood for being a locals’s guest.
  4. Be a part of local festivals during your stay.
  5. No disturbance of loud tourists unlike in hotels.
  6. You might as well be able to negotiate a good deal for long stay from the owner.

Students who have to live in foreign city or country can be sure of their safety at homestays. When they return to their stay after a hectic day, there will be someone to ask them tea and snacks. They will get home-cooked meals on time. So rather than staying in a hostel or a rented room, homestay is a better option for the students.

In the world where everything is digital, working remotely is trending. You no more need to be in confines of your office to earn. Today when connectivity is nearly universal, you can easily chose where your current month’s office will be. And homestays are the best option for digital nomads as well.

For retired people, building a home in the location of their choice, hills or near beach may be, can mean using up all their life savings. Staying in a homestay for long-term is a good option. They can spend every summer in different location. Not just that staying with a family will make sure they have someone to take care in case of any emergency.

Check out top 10 homestays in India ideal for long-term stay in summers without making a hole in your pocket. They will cost you anywhere from 15,000 to 30,000 a month for a person, depending on your month of visit, location, duration etc. Click on the title for details of the homestay.


1. LIATUMKHRAH, SHILLONG

Centrally located in the city of Shillong, this beautiful old colonial house is deal for students and researchers. The host will never let you feel home-sick, with her love and care.



2. RAILA, UTTARAKHAND 

This 100year old traditional mud-and-stone house and organic farm exotically located in a small village of Uttarakhand will give you ample opportunities to learn organic farming and live in harmony with nature. 




3. KYARI, UTTARAKHAND 

Not very far from the capital city Delhi, live in a peaceful village environment with tradional joint family and enjoy home cooked pahari meals. 



4. OLD MANALI, HIMACHAL PRADESH 
How would it be to live with locals in Old Manali? Enjoy the comfort and care of a home while getting all the facilities of a hill town. 



5. PALAMPUR, HIMACHAL PRADESH 
It is a beautiful home nestled in pine forest in the shadow of Dhauladhars. You can expect a super comfortable stay with soft spoken hospitable Himachali couple. 



6. MUKTESHWAR, HIMACHAL PRADESH 

Live with hospitable farmer family of Uttarakhand in this cozy little home surrounded by Oak and rhododendron forest. If you plan to spend your summers here, enjoy crunchy fresh fruits that you have plucked yourself. The highlight of the stay here is delicious food made from farm fresh vegetable 



7. ASSAM LINGZEY, SIKKIM 

Home to a cheerful and knowledgeable local person, you can spend your days relaxing here in the lap of nature and living simple life enjoying organic traditional Sikkimese meals.


This can be you home in the outskirts of Munnar. Positioned strategically on the top of a mountain, the homestay is a nest-in-the-woods kind of experience, ideal for those who want to escape the city crowd and live amidst nature. 


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Thursday, February 21, 2019

How to Best Spend 5 Days in Kolkata and Around

Unending addas with countless cups of tea, a nice spread of multi-course meal, variety of sweets, Victoria Memorial, Maidan, Howrah, yellow black taxi, tram... these are a few things that come to mind when we think of Kolkata. Yes these are the highlights along with a lot more that this city offers. Jotting down a plan that will help you explore the city if you have a few days and want to get the essence of place. I feel experiencing Kolkata will be incomplete without a visit to Shantiniketan. So I have kept 2 days for that. Plan in such a way that you get 1 day in Shanti niketan on a Saturday. Shonbarer haat is something that I highly recommend.



DAY 1: Plan the first half of the day getting to know the surroundings. It will be fun talking to people around, having tea on road side stalls or just talking a walk to get the feel of the place. Go to Princep ghat post lunch. Located along the banks of the Hooghly, the ghat is surrounded by greenery and overlooks the Vidyasagar Setu. This is a place that distinctly depicts the city. Cool breeze, view of the Howard Bridge and the tranquil boat ride will make your evening.
You could take a drive on red road past Eden gardens and all India ride and go to Park Street for a late dinner.


DAY 2: Spend the day around Chowringhee, the swankiest promenade in town, lined with colonial-era buildings including the Indian Museum, the Chowringhee Mansions and the Asiatic Society, as well as markets, shops, movie theaters and restaurants.  You can take local bus/ tram ride as well.

 If you're interested in theater the academy of fine arts and Kala mandir you can check the schedule and attend a show. Or you can just go to Nandan and gorge on the fish fries and coffee. Your Kolkata visit will be incomplete without shopping at New Market.


DAY 3: Start your day at the MaidanKolkata's 400-hectare green lung, which boasts a race course, countless social and sports clubs, a cricket venue, several football stadia and the Victoria Memorial, a grand marble monument to imperial ambition completed in 1921 which now serves as a museum displaying Raj-era paintings and an excellent permanent exhibition on Kolkata.
Then visit Kalighat Kali Temple, Dakshineswar Kali Temple and Belur Math. You may also visit Nirmal Hriday, formerly Mother Teresa's Kalighat Home for the Dying.


DAY 4: Drive on highway through beautiful countryside to reach Shanti Niketan. Lunch on the way. Get fresh and visit Sonajhuri forest and Kopai River. Take a rikshaw ride to feel the cool breeze from green fields on your face and appreciate the unadulterated greenery around you.

Visit Shonbarer haat at Khoai that is a platform for local artisans to showcase their art works. The usual items include ethnic jewelry, showpieces, local artworks, garments and even local ethnic Bengali dishes like pithey and payesh. The Haat starts to gather from around 03:00 pm and ends at around 06:00 pm. End your day listening to the Baul singing to you a song on life.




DAY 5: The early mornings are really nice for village walks along the tribal villages and the Khoai region.  Spend the day roaming around Vishwa Bharti campus. Visit Uttarayan Complex to see the five houses of Tagore’s family set in beautiful olden days’ architecture styled and designed by him, the Rabindra Bhawan Meuseum and Upasana Griha.
Have a  relaxed evening looking at the dipping sun at Sonajhuri
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Thursday, January 10, 2019

Snow Destinations Near Delhi


Imagine enjoying star gazing on a chilled night and chatting around bonfire. And the next morning when you wake up the whole valley is covered in white sheet of snow as if some fairy has waived her magic wand at night and magic dust in the form of light fluffy snowflakes is still floating in the air. It's not a very difficult-to-achieve dream. There are many places around Delhi where you can experience snow. 

And staying with a local in a homestay will further enhance your experience. You can use their knowledge about the place to have an offbeat experience.


MUKTESHWAR

Mukteshwar is a quaint little hill town in Nainital district just 8 hrs drive from Delhi. Kathgodam is the nearest railway station from where you can hire a cab. It is just 2 hrs drive from there.
Crisp mountain air laden with the fragrance of oak and pines and stunning views of snow clad Himalayas will welcome you to this sleepy hamlet. 

Spend quiet holidays with your family at a secluded homestay located in oak forest where you can enjoy fresh organic meals and mesmerizing sunset views. 
While staying at this little paradise you can do day trips to Bhimtal (37 km), Naukuchiatal (41 km), Sattal (41 km), Nainital (47 km) and Almora (52 km)


NADDI

Naddi is a small village in kangra valley, Himachal just 4 kms from McLeodganj. 
The best way to reach Naddi is overnight bus from Delhi to Mcleodganj. Start your journey with traffic and noise of the city and wake up in a quiet paradise.With amazing views of Dhauladhar ranges on one side and the stunningly beautiful kanga valley on the other, Naddi is a perfect place to spend a few days in the lap of Himlayas.

Stay with a local family who can guide you with some amazing nature trails. Enjoy your morning tea with spectacular view of snowcapped Dhauladhar range and a mesmerizing sunset with a bowl of hot maggi or pakoras.
While staying here you can plan excursions to Mcleodganj (4km) • Dharamshala (13km) • Palampur (42km) • Bir-Billing (75km)

RANGRI

Rangri, a small village just 13kms from Manali, Himachal Pradesh, is perfect to experience the winter snow charm of Manali while staying away from the crowds. Take an overnight Volvo bus from Delhi to Manali. Post the snowy season in Manali, the snow-filled peaks and valleys are perfect for outdoor activities. With the slopes covered in snow, you can indulge in snow sports like skiing and sled in day and cozy around bonfire at night.

Stay at a traditionally built cottage style home far away from noise and crowd.
Plan to visit Rohtang, Gulaba, Solang Valley and Bijli Mahadev during your visit to Rangri.


 UKHIMATH

And if you want to snow trek, you will love Ukhimath. It is 455 kms from Delhi. You can break the journey at Rishikesh if required. Below is the trail to follow:
Delhi -Haridwar – Rishikesh – Devprayag – Srinagar – Rudraprayag – Agastyamuni - Kund – Ukhimath. Ukhimath is base for treks to Madhmaheshwar, Tungnath, Deoria Tal and many other picturesque places. All these treks are full of snow between November and March.

Stay at a 60 yrs old pahadi village home nestled in dense forests of Oak and, Rhododendron.
Below are the places you can visit from Ukhimath:
Vishwanath Temple Guptkashi (15 km) • Kalimath (15 km) • Deoriya Tal (15km) • Chopta (17km) • Tungnath (23km) • Chandrasila (24.5 km) • Rakeshawri Temple (Chandramaa) (30 km) • Madhymaheswer Temple (45 km) • Triyuginarayan (Wedding place of Shiva and Parvati) (52 km) • Kedarnath (60 km)


KALPA

If you have more time and want to go on a longer vacation Kalpa is perfect place. 565 kms from Delhi, Kalpa is a small town in the Sutlej river valley in Kinnaur district of Himachal. It is located in the shadow of mighty Kinner Kailash. There is no rail or air connectivity to Kalpa. The only option to reach there is either by the public buses to Rekong peo which is 5 kms from Kalpa or the private vehicles on the below trail from Delhi. 
Delhi - Shimla – Rampur – Karchham- Recong Peo – Kalpa.
Take a night halt somewhere around Shimla.  Chitkul and Sangla can also be clubbed in the same tour if roads to Chitkul are open.

The village has an exquisite scenic beauty. Enjoy the magnificent view of snow covered mountains while having tea in the garden of your homestay. Witnessing the sun rising over the Kinner Kailash ranges and the changing colors of the peak while sun sets.  There is a possibility of snowfall at Kalpa till March.

*Pictures are sourced from the homestay owners
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Thursday, July 5, 2018

The Old Silk Route, Sikkim

There is a lot to explore in Sikkim than a few popular tourist destinations that are always spoken about. I recently did a road trip from Siliguri to Gangtok via Rongli and Zuluk that turned out to be one of my best road trips in India. Zigzag road snaking up the hill with a spectacular view of Kanchenjunga peak, beautiful waterfalls, serene mountain lakes, quaint monasteries and temples – I was amazed to see the beauty of this little state. This route is a part of the Old Silk Route. The great explorers in the ancient times had set up this silk route that connected Tibet to some important Indian towns for trading purpose. The route passed through Lhasa, Nathu La and Jelep La and through the port of Tamluk in West Bengal from where through the sea it reached Far East. Travelling on this route exposed me to the unmatched beauty of unexplored Sikkim.

The trail I followed is: Siliguri - Aritar – Zuluk - Nathang valley – Gangtok. Below are the points of interest on this route.

This whole circuit can be done in 8-10 days. Best time to explore this region is October - November and Feb – March. Since it passes from near the sensitive border areas, you need permit that can be obtained either from Gangtok or from Rongli.

#1. Zuluk Loops

Driving up the Zuluk loops

Driving on the old silk route from Rongli towards Nathula there is a beautifully located small village Zuluk. It was a transit point on the old silk route that connected Lhasa to Kalimpong and was in use even a few decades ago until the Chinese invaded Tibet. It was an overnight base for traders travelling to Tibet through Jelep-la. Now Nathula is the official corridor between India and China.
Located at an altitude of 10,100ft in lower Himalayas in east Sikkim, the village has a population of just around 700 people who are primarily the immigrants from Nepal who settled here in the hope of a better future. The main source of livelihood till recent times for these people was construction and maintenance of border roads, but now with the tourism boom along the silk route Sikkim circuit they are prospering. In addition to the mesmerising sunrise that can be witnessed from sunrise point (10,600ft), there is a Nag Temple at Lungthung (13000 ft.) which is the habitat of rare species of like Monal, Blood Pheasant, Snow Pheasant and The Great Red Panda.
August and September are good months to visit Zuluk for during these months the whole region is covered in wild flowers. Accommodation options at Zuluk are limited to a few home-stays.


#2. Rongli 
River Rangpo

Rongli is a quaint little town situated on the banks of river Rangpo in the Himalayan foot hills in East Sikkim. It is a beautiful drive of 4-5 hrs along the river Teesta from the New Jalpaiguri railway station or the Bagdogra airport. Lush greenery, smiling people and colorful flowers welcome you to this little heaven. Take a stroll along the river or the lush green hilly pathways, chat with locals over a cup of tea to get an insight into the life of people in the foothills of Himalayas, gorge on amazingly yummy momos in a small town market or just sit back and enjoy the nature. Rongli is the place to relax specially for city tired people. It’s the trade hub of the east Sikkim region and the market is worth a visit. At night, request your hotel people to arrange for a bonfire by the banks of Rongpo. Nothing can beat sitting by the river side listening to the thunderous sound of water and watching star studded sky. I had the best time sitting by the river side at night listening to local songs sung by our guide, Sunil. There are not many options to stay. It’s advisable to pre-book your stay here.


#3. Lampokhari 
Lampokhari, Aritar

My second visit to Sikkim was in April during Lampokhari tourism festival. It is held in Aritar during March end or early April around Ramnavmi. The main attractions of the festival are horse riding around the lake, traditional archery competition, flower shows and cultural evenings. Locals from surrounding villages visit the place during this time to participate in the festival. You can also enjoy local cuisine and shop for some amazing local stuff here.
Lampokhri is one of the oldest natural lakes of Sikkim located at an altitude of 4600 feet. The lake is 1120 feet long and 240 feet wide and is surrounded by dense pine forest. A path is constructed around the lake where you can take a walk. Boating can also be done here. To get the bird’s eye view of this beautiful emerald green lake, drive further to Mankhim also called Aritar view point and climb up to the temple. You can trek down from here till the lake through the forest. It’s a beautiful downhill walk of around 2kms through pines. Many rare birds can be spotted here during morning and evening hours and therefore this trail is very popular amongst the birders. There are many options to stay in Aritar from hotels to homestays.

#4. Aritar Gumpa 
Quaint Monastery in the middle of Pine Forest at Aritar

While we were strolling in the pine forest around Mankhim top, the sound of ringing bells and drum beats attracted us to the Gumpa. The main prayer hall was locked. We followed the sound that was coming from the first floor. It led us a to a small prayer room where 3 lamas were performing their evening prayers. The elder one could easily ignore our presence while 2 younger ones smiled at us and continued chanting. We spent some time there totally engrossed in the prayer hymns. In the outside room were some carved & painted murals, treasure of rare manuscripts and artifacts. It is worth a visit while visiting Aritar especially for the monastic art that is reflected in its traditional architecture and the artifacts. The monastery nestled in the dense pine forest is often missed by tourists on their visit to Aritar. The Gumpa lies at a small diversion on the left while on the way to Mankhim Top from Lampokhari on road. The monastery is of the Kagyuapa order and is considered as one of the holiest and oldest in Sikkim.

#5. Mankhim Dara 
Mankim Dara beautifully located on top of a hill with an amazing view of Lampokhri

A little ahead of Aritar Gompa is Mankhim Dara. It’s an uphill climb of around ten minutes from the parking. The walk takes you to the hilltop from where you get an amazing view of the lake Lampokhri and the panoramic view of the valley covered in forest. You can also trek up to Mankhim Dara from Lampokhri. It is a lovely trek of around an hour through pine forest.
On the hill top there’s a temple of Rai community. I was amazed to hear the singing from a modest Nepalese family staying in the temple. Their melodious voice along with simple instrument that looked like iktara created magic in the temple and the surroundings.
The Rai is one of Nepal's ancient ethno-linguistic groups who worship nature. Twice every year, usually in the months of April/ May, they assemble here for celebration of Sakewa puja. This puja is performed when the seeds sown by the tribes bloom and the wild-life start moving up to the high hills. The colorful dance called silli is performed in the temple premises as a part of celebration. The dance mimics the movements of birds and animals during their migration. After Sakewa Puja, the community is barred from playing musical instruments until after August/ September when they have performed the harvest festival, udhowli. At this time the birds and the animals return from the high hills to the low lands and puja is completed.

#6. Thambi Viewpoint 
Beautiful view of Mt Kanchenjunga from Thambi

While driving on the the loops of Zuluk and the view, all of sudden I found myself above the clouds. My driver, a local guy informs me we are at Thambi view point. To my surprise I could see the range of sparkling mountain ranges beyond the clouds that seemed to be at my eye level. This is the best vintage point on the silk route to view the whole range of Mt Kanchenjunga as well as the Zuluk loops. This was when I visited the region in November. The beauty of the place was altogether different when I visited it again in April. The whole valley was covered in snow and we had to drive cutting through the dense fog. Thambi again was a highlight of the trip for the excellent view it offers of the Zuluk loops and Mt Kanchajunga.
It is 14 kms from Zuluk towards Nathang valley located at an altitude of 11,200ft above sea level. It can be reached through the zig zag road known as bhulbhulaiya that has more than 30 hairpin bends. Visit Thambi view point early morning for the mesmerizing sunrise. You can do that by staying either at Zuluk (14kms) or at Nathang (10kms).

#7. Nathang Valley 
Gorgeous view from Nathang

A picturesque drive from Zuluk will bring you to this small valley. Located at an altitude of 13,500 feet, Nathang is the highest place to stay in the Indian part of the Old Silk Route. Nathang was the home to traditional yak herders who came from Tibet and now is the most remote Tibetan habitations in Himalayas. Once you go into the village and interact with locals you get to know the simplicity in living and thoughts of people here. Not noticing any hospital in the area, I asked a girl how they manage when they get ill. “We do not get ill like you city people who survive on bad food like chips and burgers” she replies. Life is tough no doubt in high Himalayas, but she was right - the pure air and the pure food keeps them going.
The best time to visit Nathang is Sept –Oct just after monsoons when the valley looks gorgeous and is covered in wild flowers and the migratory birds visit the valley just before the onset of winters. During winter months, November – mid April, it’s covered in more than 5ft snow, and is extremely cold. There are a few home-stays and guest houses that offer comfortable stay and homemade delicious meals. And do not miss on experiencing the sunrise from Eagle's nest bunker, just a 20min drive from Nathang

#8. Eagle's Nest Bunker 

It is an abandoned army bunker just 5 kilometres away from Nathang valley. Located on a strategic point at an altitude of 13700ft., it gives a 360 degree view of eastern Himalayas. You need to walk uphill for around 10 min to reach the bunker to get the view. Whole range of the Mt. Kanchenjunga and some other peaks of Tibetan plateau and China, western Bhutan, plains of Bengal and River Brahmaputra can be viewed from here. The best time of the day to visit is morning hours when the sun rises. It’s very tempting to just keep cuddling inside your blanket in the chilling cold of morning at Nathang but watching the sunrise over the Mt Kanchenjunga is an out-of-the-world experience that you should not miss for anything. The sun rises from the horizon over Tsangpo River (as Brahmaputra is called in China) illuminating the horizon and spreading its golden magic over region and the snow covered Kanchenjunga peaks.
If you are getting your trip planned through an operator, make sure they take you to this point. They might charge a nominal extra amount for this but it’s totally worth it.

#9. Old Baba Mandir 

The baba mandir is built in the memory of an Indian soldier, Major Harbhajan Singh, who died in 1967 at the age of 26yrs while posted at Nathu la pass. It is said that Harbhajan Singh lost his life while carrying supplies to some remote post during wartime when he slipped on the difficult terrain he was walking on. His body went missing and was found after one of his fellow soldiers dreamt about the whereabouts of the body. Later he has said to have helped the army also by warning in advance about the enemy attacks in dreams of fellow soldiers. A shrine was then built near the place where his body was found. It looks like a replica of the bunker the soldier lived in. Many of his personal belongings have been preserved in the shrine. Another shrine was built at a lower altitude for the convenience of the devotees and is called new baba mandir. Today army men from across regiments come here to visit the shrine and pay homage to the holy soul and he is treated as an active soldier. His family gets his salary and a seat is booked every year in train to his home town that goes empty. It is located near the site where his body was found and looks like a replica of the bunker the soldier lived in. Many of his personal belongings have been preserved in the shrine. Another shrine was built at a lower altitude for the convenience of the devotees and is called new baba mandir.

#10. Memencho Lake 

As you go further ahead on the silk route, around 25kms from Zuluk is this gorgeous lake embraced by the dense pine forest. It is situated at an altitude of 12,500ft and stays frozen from January to August. It can be viewed from the road side while on the way from Zuluk to Gangtok. A picturesque trek of 4 kms through pine forest and mountain stream takes you to the lake. This high altitude lake is fed by the glacial water and is the source of the river Rangpo chu, a tributary of the Teesta River. The lake is also known for its trout cultivation center. Fishing can be done in the lake with prior permission. Though the lake can be visited while staying at Zuluk or Nathang, I would recommend staying in the forest department dak Bungalow near the lake and experience staying in the heart of jungle that inhabits rare Himalayan birds, bears and fox. You can also spot some migratory birds around November. The banks of the lake are covered in white sand and the lake changes colours with the changing time of the day. No wonder it is considered to be the second most beautiful lake in Sikkim after Gurudongmar.

#11. Kupup Lake 

Little ahead of Nathang valley on the old silk route is Kupup Lake locally known as Hathipokhari owing to its shape like an elephant. This sparkling blue lake has crystal clear water that remains frozen from January to April. It can be visited any time of the year except July to Sept due to monsoons. From April to July the valley surrounding the lake covers with colourful flowers and looks mesmerizingly beautiful. October to December is very cold. A thin layer of ice covers the lake. Very near to the lake is “Yak golf course” a challenging 18 hole course managed by the Indian Army. It is located at an altitude of 13,025ft above sea level and is apparently world’s highest golf course. It was started in 1972 and was redesigned in 1979. During winters, Ice Hockey, Ice Skating and Skiing can be done at the golf course. To visit Kupup you need to stay either at Zuluk or at Nathang. The local drivers and tour agents have the tendency to just show you the lake and golf course from distance, but take some time to spend at the lake and observe little birds that visit the lake. I visited in April and got to meet a beautiful pair of the ruddy shelduck also known as the Brahminy duck.

#12. Tsangmo Lake 
The Sparkling Tsongmo                                          Pic downloaded from net

Tsangmo is a glacial lake situated at an altitude of around 12,400ft. It is located around 40kms from the capital city Gangtok. Tsongmo means source of the water in Bhutia language. It can be visited from either side - Gangtok or Zuluk. Tsomgo lake is open for both Indian and foreign nationals and a visitors permit through a registered travel agency is required to visit the lake and Nathu La pass.
A picturesque drive on rough hilly terrain with mountain streams and waterfalls on the way takes you to this beautiful lake that is positioned in the rift between two peaks and has crystal clear water. A hike up the hill gives a better view of the lake. It is said that the lake changes colour every season. You can enjoy the yak ride and Tibetan food here apart from the natural beauty. The lake is associated with many legends and is considered sacred by the locals. It is believed that Buddhist monks could forecast the future by studying the colour of the water of the lake. The lake also holds special significance for the Jhakris who gather here annually from all over the state to offer prayers on Guru Purnima.
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Friday, June 15, 2018

MEGHALAYA - The land of Green Hills, Blue Lagoons and Gushing Waterfalls

When I close my eyes and think of my time in Meghalaya, I see myself sitting on a huge boulder looking at the sprawling hills covered in velvety green sheet; I see a milky white waterfall pouring down and disappearing somewhere in the gorgeous greens; I hear the sound gushing water stream while I sit and watch fireflies dance at night and I feel the soft kiss of the cool breeze flowing over me.

In this post I am not going to tell you about must-dos in Meghalayathat everyone talks about but will take you through the collection of unique experiences that I had on my incredible trip to Meghalaya.

Trekking down to Nongriat through amazing flora...


Trek to Nongriat
Walking down the concrete steps, that I was almost sure I will not be able to due to my back problem, all I could do was appreciate the beauty of nature. Variety of wild flowers and pines on the way made the walk incredibly beautiful. It was fun crossing the suspension bridge and a living root bridge on the way.
The trek starts at a small village Lumsohphie near Tyrna. You will get a shared taxi in Rs 40 from Cherrapunji to Tyrna. There are approximately 3500+ steps that you need to climb down to reach Nongriat. My suggestion is to start the trek in the morning and walk down at your own leisurely pace enjoying the surroundings. Stay overnight at a homestay in Nongriat.

Also read: Assam - The Land of Unique Culture

Experiencing the life around Living Root Bridges, Lagoons and Waterfalls...


Walk around the Living Root Bridge, Nongriat
Down there at Nongriat, life is magical. The moment I crossed the living root bridge I knew I have made the right decision to stay overnight here. I had booked a community run homestay nearest to the double-decker root bridge. Most of my time here was spent sitting on the boulders by the side of the stream dipping my feet in the water. This was like my living room.
Some of my most memorable moments include the quiet night walk in the woods while hearing the silence of the jungle; playing with fireflies at a small field that is probably used by the local kids as a cricket ground in the day; taking a dip in the natural pools of River Umshiang; walking enthusiastically from one end to the other and from one deck to the other on the Double Decker Root Bridge; early morning walk to the rainbow falls; and talking to the locals in the morning.

Stay 2 nights here to soak in the nature. The day here can be spent going for short trails around including the one till the rainbow fall.

Also read: Hidden Beauty of Himachal - Kinnaur

Water sports and Boat Ride on clear waters of Umngot River at Village Shnongpdeng...


Boating on Umangot at Shnongpdeng
Driving through the beautiful landscapes, we reached Dawki by evening. and it was night by the time we reached Shnongpdeng. We chose to stay in the camps here. Enjoyed chatting with other travelers at dinner by the banks of river. Morning boat ride on Umangot was the highlight. Sailing on the clear waters through out-of-world landscape was surreal. The only voice to be heard was that of our Chappu.
Shnongpdeng is a small village by the banks of river Umngot around 10kms farther form Dawki. If you like little adventure go for river side camping and indulge in sports like scuba diving, boating, kayaking, cliff jumping etc. Not just water sports you can also enjoy  angling, rock climbing and trekking. There are many big and small camps that have mushroomed recently, make sure you book a professional one with all facilities and a good location. If you want to experience village life there are a few homestays as well.

Also read: The Calm in the Chaos - VARANASI

Staying in a Bamboo hut at Mawlynnong, the cleanest village in Asia...


Bamboo Hut, Mawlynnong
The impression I had of the village Mawlynnong, supposedly the cleanest village in Asia, was that it will be full of tourists and will be very commercial with many shops around. I was there on a Sunday so as expected there was a lots of tourist crowd, but what amazed me was the efficiency with which the crowd was being handled. The parking was outside the village, there were public toilets just in the beginning that were very well maintained and there was a single community restaurant that was catering to all the inflow of hungry visitors. After having a delicious sumptuous meal served by enthusiastic local boys and girls I went out to explore the village. It was more like I was roaming around in a garden which was neatly lined with well constructed houses and there was a church in the heart of the village. Staying in a traditional bamboo hut here was an experience in itself. Warm host in our homestay here made our visit even more memorable.

Also read: Common Myths About Homestays

A memorable walk in the lanes of Saitsohpen, Lower Cherrapunji...


Cute Kids of Cherrapuniji
Another fond memory from the trip is the evening walk around the residential area of lower Cherrapunji. Small kids were playing around and ladies gossiping in the varandah while the round ball of fire bade us goodbye. The cleanliness was worth appreciating. There were dusbins all around the locality and I could not see even a single Though we didn't have a common language to interact, I felt connected to each one of them. The eye contact along with a warm smile did not make me realize I am on a land where no one understand my language.

Also read:Following the Old Silk Route, Sikkim

Picking tea leaves at tea-gardens in Shillong...


Tea leaf plucking at Shillong
During all the research I did before going to Meghalaya, not even once did I read about tea gardens in Shillong. While driving back from Shillong peak and going towards the elephant falls I saw a very well maintained tea gardens. Ladies were picking up the tea and there was a stall as well where we could buy local juices, pickles and tea. A small break there turned out be one of the best experiences of the trip. Initially the ladies picking tea were very shy and were not willing to get clicked, but after a while and a small conversation we had great time chatting and clicking with them.

Also read: In the shadow of Dhauladhars

A Visit to the local Bazar...


Bara Bazar, Shillong
The real feel of being in Meghalaya came when I was running around the bara bazar in Shillong with my local friend, who calls himself a 'morning star' as he is born very early in the morning. The narrow lanes decked beautifully with fruits and vegetables, spices, local snacks, fish and meat; lively people selling and buying stuff; the smiles and the gossips being shared - all of this was worth the effort.  Most interesting for me were the variety of fruits and green vegetables, some of them I have never even heard about. I was also amazed to see the variety of dried fish on the display.

Local Market, Cherrapunji
 Also read: Pushkar Holi - Festival of Colors in True Sense

Riding a local Taxi

Ride in local cab from Sohra to Tyrna
Riding jam packed small cars while chatting with locals, mostly moms and kids, is something I will always remember about Shillong and Cherrapunji. The best way to travel in budget in Meghalaya are these small black Maruti 800 cars that play locally. They usually cost between Rs 10 to 50 per person depending on the distance. You might find them overcrowded but believe me you must experience this. Its amazing to see how comfortably and big-heartedly more than 8 people fit in this small car and without any resistance. You can use them while doing local site seeing in Shillong and Cherrapunji. For long routes also like Shillong to Cherrapunji or Shillong to Dawki you get shared cabs.

Have you ever been to Meghalaya? How was your experience?


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