Saturday, January 28, 2012

Cherrapunji To Kaziranga

I continue from here...Cherrapunji

28th Dec 2011
Episode 5 – It happens only in India!

There are many ways one can travel from Laitkynsew, in Meghalaya to Kaziranga, in Assam. Take a taxi to Cherrapunji market and ride on a shared taxi to Shillong. At Anjali cinemas, is a taxi stand where many taxis ply to Guwahati. One has to get off at Jorabat, where the buses from Guwahati take a left turn to Kaziranga. A bus to Johrat can drop you at Kaziranga on the way.

With our luggage we decided to take a taxi directly till Jorabat and it was a good decision. Taxi charges are Rs3000 and a two hundred extra to Guwahati airport. We were bid farewell by the kind resort owner, who has a practice of sending the guests away along with a dairy milk chocolate bar and a CD containing photos of Cherrapunji; a kind gesture.

Our driver was a nice Khasi gentleman who was more knowledgeable than any other guide we had had during this trip. He informed us about the fact that the stones installed in front of the Khasi houses represent the clan they belong to.

He was fond of Old Hindi songs and thus played Kishore and Mohammed Rafi songs. He asked if I was okay with that. Being a Kishore Kumar fan myself, I had no issues at all. But what bothered me, is that, like the music, he was driving slowly. And over that, we were caught in a bad traffic jam at Shillong which he said was usual.

On our way, we stopped at a view point for Umrai Lake.

The road from Shillong to Guwahati is filled with small shops that sell fruits and vegetables; mainly pineapple, banana, bamboo pickle and some unique type of long vegetable that they cook with pork. We bought some bamboo pickle and local bananas.

In most of Megahlaya I failed to spot a cow in the fields. But I saw a very disgusting sight of a cow head hung in a road side meat stall. I could not help sarcastically smile at the irony. Most of the meal cooked here has lot of beef but when we ordered milk, we always got milk powder dissolved in water.

We got down at Jorabat and made our way to the bus stand unaware of the adventure to come.

Jorabat bus stand (well there isn’t any bus stand as such, but people waiting and buses stopping indicate thus) is a weird place. Some folks, whom I would like to call agents, earn their living by helping people board the bus. Strange! And in return they get a commission. One of the agent stopped a bus for us but when we boarded, we did not find any seat in there and he asked us to adjust. Angrily we got down. Surprisingly he too was angry with us and said we won’t find a bus. I ignored him but just then a few people around us pointed towards a brand new Ritz car and told – “this would go.” And then an other agent comes and strikes a deal for Rs250 per head till Kaziranga. (Rs50 more than the bus charge). All were happy and we got in. We had one more passenger who shared the car with us. After a small argument between the driver and the agent on sharing the money , we finally took off.

As I sat inside the car, I realized that we were traveling in a brand new car that is not yet registered. It was going to the dealers place at Johrat. The seats were still covered with plastic. So it was obvious that the new car was being taken to the owner but on the way the driver and the agent were cashing in some money and some strangers from down south who were stalled at a strange bus stop were looking for help.

Our driver, a young boy, gave us some emergency tips as soon as we got in. “Sir, if the police stop us, inform them that you are the dealer's friends.” He said. “Okay” I said, as though the police were going to believe us – two obviously south Indian looking people, carrying two big bags and a SLR Camera! Thankfully we never got a chance to test that during the journey.

But as we drove on the newly constructed four lanes at a speed of more than 100 Km/h, I felt bad for the owner. The driver cared none for the pot holes; he had exceeded the speed limit before the first service and that too for more than 200 Kms. He was continuously spitting out the beetle leaves and many a times it failed to shoot past the window. The front glass was washed and cleaned using a newspaper!

I even wondered if my car might have gone through similar story but when I held the steering wheel for the first time, I thought that I was the first to drive the car and made thoughtful plans to follow the instructions on speed limits until the first service, when the Engines get tuned.

But, I am sure the mud and dust would be cleaned and what is visible shall become the truth. Anyways the car has to go from Guwahati to Johrat and the driver has to take it there and we have to go to Kaziranga and apparently everything fell in place. I thanked the Owner for this help that he shall never know he did to me. Everything simply fell in place at one given moment of time.

Assam looked similar to rest of the country. There were paddy and mustard fields and there were pictures of politicians along the roadside. This was a striking difference in Meghalaya as compared to the other states in the country. I do not recollect seeing any pictures of political leaders there.

We stopped at a hotel on the way and finally tasted real good North Indian food. Tasty roti’s and sabji’s were a delight. As soon as we resumed driving a cat hurriedly crossed our way. This is considered omen in India and the driver was terrified. He applied a sudden break in the middle of the road like that was not dangerous enough and drove back a little, marked a cross on the front glass and then drove forward.

We reached Kohra at 6PM after a journey of four hours. Our co-passenger, for some reason became very worried about us. He kept inquiring if we were okay and that we had made proper arrangements to stay. Once I explained how we had booked through internet etc he felt relived and said that back in communist days it was very dangerous for strangers. And people would loot or fool the tourists. “Aab tho Assam bhi global ho gaya hein.” (Now Assam has also gone global) he said with a sign of relief. But the lonely roads turned into a busy junction with lots of tourists as we arrived at Kohra and we felt really comfortable and dismissed the slightest concern that our co-passenger's talks would have raised. Both, the driver and the co-passenger got down from the car to bid us farewell at Kohra. We took a jeep to Dhanshree resort which was around 2kms away from the Kohra junction.

Like the drive, resort booking also was an adventure. After not having found any lodge or resort in Kaziranga during this holiday season I was just about to give up when I spoke to this employee of another resort. Mr. K sounded kind and told me that he could arrange another resort for me .My instincts asked me to trust him. I even transferred the advance to his account before the trip. But he did assure me that I must not worry and he shall make all the arrangements. And he was right. We had our cottage and safari’s booked for the next day. The Dhanshree resort staffs are excellent hosts. We were all excited about the elephant safari next morning.

To Be continued…

Monday, January 23, 2012


I continue from here...Living Root Bridges

27th Dec 2011
Episode 4 – Cold & Dry

The trek was amazing and its reminiscence continued to the next day, in our minds and the legs. :-) Yes, the 3000 steps running that steep was sure to bring back some muscle catches like everyone in the resort had warned. But I must say that the nostalgia in the mind was far more superior than the pain; the sense of having achieved something was far more vaster than the body ache which is temporary and physical unlike the former.

So the next day was intentionally arranged to relax and view the so called tourist spots around Cherrapunji. Mr Rayen handed us a map with 10 places and I had one to add from some guide book – David Scott memorial. A day’s trip around the village costs Rs 1600 for taxi. We started at 9:30 AM after having some Aloo Parathan's.

Our first stop was the rock pillar. On the way we stopped for some view of the Bangaldesh plains. The rock pillar resembles a basket hence it is called devils basket. We had some parks and gardens in the list which we just dropped. If I would ask him what can we see there, he would just smile and tell – “nothing sir, plants and flowers….but all dry now.” In fact he took us to a waterfall that was an almost invisible string of water flowing.

So we hurried to the Mawsmai caves which are a worth. The caves are well maintained and has some adventurous walk through it. There are other caves which are not lit and if one may want to explore them, one is allowed to do so.

At the village of Mawsmai we had the David Scott memorial. After a little search, we found the memorial. David Scott was a British administrator and a few trekking trails are named after him.
The Nohkalikai falls is a beautiful one and is the tallest in India (1100 feet or 335 metres).

Ramakrsihna mission anthropology museum was a pleasant surprise as this gave us a lots of information on the culture in the seven states of north east. Here, we met a relative of ours, whom Preethi had seen at a wedding. Apparently the groom was Preethi’s cousin and the bride was the lady’s.

Don Bosco church had a nice crib presented at the front yard. The church was empty except for one nun praying and hence it made the place more picturesque.

At Sohra market, I requested the driver to get me some Khasi movies. I was hoping for an offbeat movie on the villagers and the Khasi lifestyle but the movies were all romantic or typical masala movies and over that had no subtitles. So I had to drop the idea.

We desired Maggie for lunch as the vegetarian food here is not that great. But unfortunately no hotel had Maggie. One of the shops at the Nohkalikai falls had an argument between mother and daughter as they debated about cooking it and finally the mother won by replying to us with a no. We bought some more oranges at the market and also had some cakes and biscuits at a small bakery. The lady who owned the place was nice enough to give us some biscuits to try for free. We also stopped at Mawshamok for some quick tea and cakes before returning to the resort.

Back in the resort, Preethi felt feverish and she decided to rest while I decided to walk up to the restaurant for some Maggie. Nothing ever can go wrong with a Maggie.

Having had my Maggie, I took a walk to the Laitkynsew and Nongwar villages that seemed very active. A church was busy serving food as part of continued Christmas celebration; others were busy working at home and kids smiled and requested for a photo.

The houses here are small and have a basement to store firewood. A small vegetable garden and few flowering plants make up the front yard. It was an amazing walk.

As it began to get darker, around 5PM, I was debating whether or not to return. For some unknown reason one begins to fear darkness in an unfamiliar place. But as I walked the streets of Laitkynsew with its friendly inhabitants smiling, I felt comfortable with the early darkness of Cherrapunji.

At resort, another surprise awaited me. A few boys from the village were performing. Their entertainment comprised of an English, Hindi and a Khasi song with music played on a guitar and some dance with nice glittering costumes.

My rice and Dal tasted better and according to me, it is the best they can cook there for vegetarians. One must admire the fact that they try to learn and cook these dishes from across the country in spite of their cuisine being so different.

Next morning we were to leave this beautiful village and its quietness as we travel across more chaotic places to reach a land similarly serene because of its special inhabitants.

To Be continued…