Monday, 31 October 2016

Why You Should Visit Arunachal Pradesh

Till now I have visited 17 states and 4 Union Territories of India, and Arunachal Pradesh definitely comes in top 3. If you are into mountains or exploring the untouched wild nature,  then I would highly recommend you visit this place.

Even after keeping aside one week for Arunachal, all we could cover was a tiny (but stunning) corner of this huge state -Tawang. Guwahati to Tawang takes 2 days by road, you could halt either in Bomdila or Dirang. We covered both of these places in to and fro journey and trust me you won't regret taking a halt there.

Monastery in Bomdila
The entire route is so scenic that after a while, a waterfall or sparkling mountains are too common to even photograph. Here's a sample.

Enroute to Tawang

Very close to Sela Pass

Now to enter Tawang we need to cross Sela Pass which at 13700 ft makes for a spectacular entrance. The place is just stunning and usually snow clad in winters. Very close to the Pass, is the beautiful Sela Lake (sometimes called Paradise Lake because of its beauty) with yaks grazing around it!

Sela lake

A Yak moment!

Tawang is especially famous for its monastery, which is largest in India and second largest in the world after Potala Palace in Lhasa.

View of Monastery from hotel room

Our next destination was Bumla-Pass, which is at 15200 ft (highest I have ever gone) and is at Indo-China border. The route to Bumla Pass is so unique that I often felt I was in another planet! Mountains covered with the most colorful trees you could ever lay eyes on (at least with Indian standard). Fiery red shrubs spread till your eyes can see, so sublime and mesmerizing..

Unfortunately I am unable to upload pics from border because we were asked by Army guys to refrain from uploading them in social media (lot of people ignore it, I choose not to). But it really does makes you extra-patriotic to visit such places and in the company of soldiers.

I could upload tons of pictures, and still somehow not show you what I saw in those silent mountains. But like other northeast states, what left a deeper impression on me is the humble people living a simple and content life.

People from these parts of country are not rich financially but unlike their fellow countrymen, they don't look poor. For a long time I wondered why. Soon I realize that answer was glaring at me, it's because they don't see themselves as poor and pathetic. They have a very optimistic outlook towards life, which no one can take away. Even their one room houses with no bathroom is adorned with beautiful garden and home grown vegetables drying on rooftops. They don't complain that they don't have public transport and often walk up and down the mountain just to run some errand. They don't have electricity or materialistic comforts. But I felt so small standing next to them.

This entire trip was a visual treat but it also opened my eyes to subtle things of life. Just looking at those calm mountains which has survived endless time and watched civilizations grow and wither, made me feel part of something big, bigger than you and me. I think all that wisdom seeping from these mountains has rubbed off on these native people because their resilience is beyond me.

Arunachal is not just a place, it's an experience which will move you so deeply that when you leave the place, a part of you will stay back forever.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Meghalaya - A walk through the Abode of Clouds

Wakaba Falls

Pleasant climate, mountains, lakes, lots of waterfall, good-looking people who also happen to be extremely well dressed and chic. These are first few things you will notice after entering Meghalaya, some 100 km away from humid Guwahati.

We chose to stay in Shillong and move around to neighbouring places in taxi. And that's how we met "Ricky" - our driver/tour guide who was so effortlessly charming that we soon realized we weren't the only one spellbound. Everywhere we went he was greated with love and affection. Often when we entered a shop we were quoted "tourist" price, but then Ricky would come, mumble something in Khasi (local language) and Voila! Just like that price comes down to half!

So three of us, in Alto 800 (which is surprisingly comfortable) started our endeavour to cover Mawlynnong, Dawki and Cherrapunji.

I could describe the beauty of Meghalaya in words but am afraid my talent as a writer would not do justice, so I am instead relying on the pictures and hope you get a glimpse of what we saw.

 Umiam Lake

View of Umiam Lake from top

Our next stop was Mawlynnong  which holds the record for one of the cleanest villages in Asia. The village itself is quite small and simple. One of the attraction is Living Root Bridge, which I swear will remind you of movie Avatar. In fact, a lot of places in north-east has "Avatar" feel to it.

Mawlynnong Village

Living Root Bridge

Our visit to Dawki was not as successful unfortunately. You see Dawki is famous for it's boating in Umngot river, which is supposed to be clear water and looks stunning. But problem with mountain region is, if it rains anywhere nearby the entire water gets muddy. And that's what happened on the day we visited.

Dawki Bridge

Dawki is also the border between India and Bangladesh.  Although, honestly speaking this is one of the most uneventful borders you will see.

Cherrapunji was quite a surprise, to begin with it was not raining (it's one of the wettest place on the Earth), and what I absolutely loved is Caves! When we bought tickets for Mawsmai Cave, we didn't have anything in mind. I mean we didn't google about the place, and that was for the best. Because it was such a unique experience.

Some retrospection in Mawsmai Caves!

And if you have only one night in Shillong, do visit 'Shillong Cafe'. They have live music and you never know who you run into! We had the honor of meeting Lou Majaw (renowned for his Bob Dylan tributes) and enjoy a beautiful evening with his soulful voice seeping through our hearts.

I love Shillong. Not for it's scenic beauty (and the place is stunning!), but because it very laid back like Bangalore. I could totally see myself living there.

Our return journey was through helicopter and take my word for it that is was "AWESOME"! (Except for a short while when we went through thick clouds and I thought we were going to crash).

But I couldn't help but smile at the time we spent at this beautiful place, a place where people valued food, music, clothing and such simple pleasures of life. And suddenly life seemed a lot simple. I returned to Guwahati a happy woman!

Friday, 21 October 2016

The NorthEast Diaries

I love attending outstation weddings, especially if it opens up a chance to turn it into a vacation. So when a friend of ours decided to get married in Assam, we were ecstatic. We started planning our "North-East" vacation way before bride and groom their wedding!

After weeks of research, we realized that unlike other parts of India, travelling through the states of northeast is not an easy affair. Because of the rough terrain there is no railroads and the only option is by road. Sometimes covering a distance of 100 km can take as long as 6-7 hrs. We concluded that in 2 weeks we should be able to cover -Assam, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh.

I have so many awesome experiences to share that I think I will dwell on the details of each state in upcoming entries. But overall it was an overwhelming adventure, filled with so many "firsts" that I decided to jot it down

1. My First Domestic Flight

It's embarrassing, but true. As kids we travelled a whole lot in train, after which I kinda stuck to Bangalore. When in Chennai it was mostly bus and  later I married a car maniac who even took me to Noida by road! Not that I'm complaining because as convenient and time saving flight maybe, it doesn't come close to road trips.

2. My First Cruise

At Least on this I won't be the only one. I had often travelled in ferry and boats (all kind), even houseboat for that matter, but never on a ship. And I loved it.

3. My First Helicopter Ride

Since my dad was in Air Force, I grew up watching planes and helicopters. Growing up, our park always had a worn-down helicopter and we used to play hide and seek in it! But I didn't exactly get an actual ride on it before this trip.

4. My First Pork (with bamboo shoots!)

I am not a great fan of red meat, am more like a chicken-person. But when in Rome do as Romans do, or atleast I decided to taste how they do and what a revelation! Meat so tender that it melts in your mouth - literally! Apparently they smoke the meat in bamboo shoots and put simple ingredients which is very low on spice but filled with flavours. It was a gastronomic delight.

5. My First Cave Exploration

Again it's something I wouldn't have thought I would enjoy but was proved. Caves are supercool.

6. My First Meet With A Rockstar

Now I may not have met any international star per se. But he is a well known in Shillong - "Rock Capital" of India. And we had the luxury to indulge in some mouth watering dinner with his soulful voice in the background.

7. My First visit to Border

Infact two borders, India-Bangladesh AND India-China (must visit!)

I could go on and on about tons of other adventures but I guess that has to wait till next blog.

Northeast is visually stunning and a treat to your palate but what I loved the most is people. They are genuinely nice and welcoming with such a soothing aura that you just feel relaxed and comforted.

Before going on this trip I assumed  like most people that northeast is one entity. I categorized them all into one group and now I realize how stupid I was. It's like saying entire south India is same. Each of these 3 states had a distinct culture. They were like siblings, sometimes they have some things in common but mostly each has a different personality which makes it unique.