Flavor of North East – Shillong, Darjeeling, Guwahati

I was so much in starve for a travel vacation as the time since my last one was almost 2.5 years back. And something to do during the start of the year, could have not thought something better than this. I should solely thank my friend Sushie for her wedding invite which in turn triggered us to plan for this vacation. We were all set for our 6 day long trip to Darjeeling, Meghalaya and Guwahati (mainly for our visit to the Kamakhya Temple in Guwahati). We here refers to myself, my mom and one of my bestie Sharmila.
We left Bangalore an hour late on the 25th of Jan 2017 to Bagdogra and it took us almost 4 hours to reach there including a transit in Kolkata. Once we got down, we just hired a pre-paid taxi from the airport terminal to reach Darjeeling. It’s an absolute chaos of Taxi drivers here and the prepaid taxis are the best option. Now, Bagdogra to Darjeeling will take you 3 hrs on a full fledged Ghats section and it tends to become dark by 5.30 pm provided the months of winter. We reached our hotel by 7.30 pm and got settled with the chilling weather. It was around 5-6 degree out there which is totally apt for a hill station 🙂 .

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The next morning we got up early as in 5.30 am types because the sunrise is early and there is this clock tower which bangs at every hour with the time. The first thing which caught my eyes as soon as I uncovered the curtain was this beautiful view of the Kanchenjunga Range. We got ready, had our complimentary breakfast and left for the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway tour. Our hotel was just around 10 mins far from the station but just walking on the road here seemed to be an uphill task because we were on the HILL 🙂 . It’s way too many slopes up and down to tackle for a casual walk, so we decided to hire a cab for the whole day which would take us to the main viewpoints. We started our day with the Toy Train. We had already pre-booked our tickets for the 10.40 am steam train so there was nothing for us to hurry anywhere. Our driver dropped us to the station and we waited for a couple of minutes for our train to start. In the mean time we took some pictures of the Kanchenjunga range which looked like floating mountains with ice toppings right in front of the Darjeeling station. It’s just beyond words to explain.DSC_1043

The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is listed among the World Heritage sites. Ours was a 2 hour journey that covered the route from Darjeeling to Ghum and then back from there giving us a pit stop at the Batasia loop for 10 mins. We also had a stopover of 30 mins in Ghum station for us to wander through the Museum there. The coal was loaded, the engine was hot and the Toy Train named as “The Whistle Queen” departed from the station blowing up thick black smoke in the valley. It was sheer fun to see the train pass through the roads in between the traffic and in the midst of a market also. DSC_1147Firstly in the ghats the roads are narrow ones and on top of that you have these tracks on the side, what a scene to view man…I tell you. Then we had our stop at the Batasia loop – a memorial for the Gorkha soldiers who sacrificed their lives during and after the independence. Here you get an absolute panoramic view of the Kanchenjunga and other snowy mountains at the backdrop. We clicked pictures, visited the Museum in Ghum station and were back in the Darjeeling station by 12.40 pm. We had our lunch in some nearby hotel and headed towards getting a glimpse of Darjeeling Tea estates. Bought some fresh tea leaves there and did some tea leaves picking also (though our bags were empty…lol) with an exact attire and of course posing for the lens…how can we forget this one 🙂 . DSC_1072It was the 26th of Jan and Republic Day of course and due to a National holiday, we couldn’t visit the Zoological Park (famous for its snow leopards) and the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute as it was closed. So the only option for us was to see the gate and the signboard outskirts the gate to be satisfied with. Then after that we visited the Peace Pagoda and the Japanese Temple which are just adjacent places to each other. Once we did this we headed towards the market to do some shopping with some momos to munch along with. By the time we finished everything it was 6.30 pm and was as dark as though it was 10 pm in the night because the temperature dips down drastically. We reached the hotel and had some hot paneer pakoda’s. We did check out the hotel the next day to leave back to Bagdogra, then an hour flight to Guwahati and followed by a 3 hr journey to reach Shillong.

Once we reached Shillong we just had to rush to Sushma’s aunty’s shop for some woolen shopping. The latest trends and colors in warm clothes shopping…nothing can beat the north eastern part of India and the most important thing is that you get these at very reasonable rates. All our shopping desires were fulfilled here. And once done we checked in our hotel, had some hot hot dinner and slept off as it was a tiring day hoping from one place to another.

Our next day journey started at 8.30 am after our breakfast and it was to the Dawki village. This village is bordered to Bangladesh. Though the distance to this place is around 100 kms but the bends and turns in the ghats makes the journey a little longer. We were there near this village at around 11 am before witnessing a couple of falls on the way. Since Meghalaya also witnessed almost no rainfall the last year, most of the water falls had dried up leaving only the rocks beneath to be seen. There is this Dawki bridge over the Umngot river which we have to pass thru, from where we can see one side is Meghalaya and the other side is Bangladesh. The view of the mountains and the crystal clear blue waters below is breath taking but unfortunately we are not allowed to take pictures from the bridge. Once we are off it, it’s allowed. We headed further towards the river after sneaking some shots after and before the bridge. We reached the river and seeing so clear waters which turns blue and green based on the sun rays was absolutely magical.

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There was only few minutes of sunlight and afterwards it became cloudy so somewhat managed to take few clear water snaps. There are these boat rides in the river which takes you around for over 40 mins to cover a good amount of distance at very affordable rates. We hoped on one of the boats and then we were in paradise. It was so calm and peaceful. The only thing which you can hear is the boat rowing in the waters. You have these kayaking and scuba diving sessions also which is done in this river. We saw couple of people doing this. The locals say the river is around 15-20 feet deep but due to the clarity of water it looks like you put your feet in the water and you will touch the ground below.

Our next destination was Mawlynnong which is awarded as the cleanest village in Asia. Indeed as the name says it all, it is famous for it’s cleanliness and natural attraction. We had our lunch here in one of the hotels where in the food is prepared by the villagers there and trust me it’s delicious. I personally had never expected so much from this place but it proved me totally wrong.

The Riwai about 2 kms from Mawlynnong village is also famous for its Living Root Bridge. To tell you some brief history of the Living Root Bridges – one of its kind in this entire world and you can find it only in Meghalaya. These bridges are handmade from aerial roots of Rubber trees by the people of the mountains, hundreds of years ago. The flexible tree roots are made to grow through the betel tree trunks which have been placed across rivers and streams until the figs roots attach themselves to the other side. It’s been maintained from generations to generations of families living in these mountainous regions. These bridges grow stronger day by day and is one of ultimate bio-engineering’s of Meghalaya.

We have to trek down a few steps (around 450 mts) to reach this single living root bridge. You have a ticket counter before reaching the bridge and I was taken by surprise when this Nepali guy over the counter spoke to us in Kannada (my native language) after learning from us that we were from Bangalore. It seems, he used to work couple of years in Chikkamagaluru and that’s when he learnt the language…amazing. We went ahead and walked on the bridge. The bridge never felt like a bridge at all because it was so firm though suspended and that’s the beauty of these living root bridges. We clicked some pics here and were back in the cab to travel again to Shillong. We had our friend Sushie’s wedding party to attend in the evening. We reached there on time and did some chat with the newly wedded couple. My friend enlightened me about the fact of the wedding ritual of Meghalaya as per which, once the marriage happens the groom shifts to the bride’s place. This is one state where there is no existence of Dowry system. The women are regarded as the key holders to the wealth and money in the family and the couple takes on the bride’s mothers name as their official surname…wow…now that’s some major change than the usual customs. Later we ate, spoke, danced and had lots of fun before leaving the party at around 10.30 pm to reach back our hotel.

Our next day journey started a little bit early in the morning at around 6.30 am without breakfast on a thought that we would have our breakfast somewhere on the way. We had to leave early because we were going to Cherrapunji where you have the Double Decker Living Root Bridge (the header image). To reach this place we have to trek down around 3500 steps in the forest and it’s called the Nongriat Trek. The concept of the living Root Bridge remains the same but here it becomes a Double Decker instead of a single. It seems the first bridge was not enough and during the rainy season when the stream overflowed, the villagers built one on the higher side without knowing that it would be a tourist attraction one day…wow !!! We did stop at around 7.30 am on the way to have our breakfast and by 9.15 am we were at our start point for the trek all set.

We started climbing down the steps at around 9.20 am and for the first 45 mins we were just descending…on and on the straight ones, the spirals and the slope. The very moment we realized that this part is going to be the toughest one while climbing up. Once this stretch was done, there comes this first suspended Steel Bridge. You keep a leg on this bridge and it starts shaking. The water down the bridge was very minimal and hence you could just concentrate on the bridge and pass on…otherwise you get distracted (to take pics) and tend to be on the bridge for longer duration which is absolutely not advisable. After this you again have to climb up and down before you reach another suspension bridge divided into two parts, as it is supported by a concrete structure in the middle. This one’s a combination of bamboo and steel and is even shakier then the previous one. Once you are done with this, you again have to do a couple of ascends and descends to finally reach the Double Decker Living Root Bridge. We reached our destination by 11 am and the first glimpse of the Nature’s marvel was just beyond explanation. The best part was that we started our trek early and reached early because of which the place was empty as though it was made exclusively for us. It was so cool and peaceful and you could hear the water flowing down the river from the rocks. There is this small pond like area where in you can keep your feet in the chilled water and trust me it just takes all the tiredness from your feet and also the dead skin…LOL !!! Not kidding. That’s because you have these fishes in the water which comes and eats your feet’s dead skin, so basically you get a natural fish spa of no cost…good right 🙂 . We literally were enjoying our time there for almost an hour and by 12 pm we decided to start our trek back because we actually didn’t know how much time it would take for us to go all the way up. At the same time we were very hungry also. We were surviving till then on just our morning breakfast. But unfortunately we had no shops open that day because it was a SUNDAY. Anyhow we started our trek back with some hope that we would get something somewhere. By then we were left out with only 500 ml of water for both of us.

On the way thru a village we just happened to see a board in front of a house which said “Lunch and Dinner available on Order only”. I just sneaked inside and asked if something is available for which I got a straight answer “NO”. But just when we were about to return back, to our delight this guy comes out and asks us that if Maggi would be enough for us. Wow…what else we could have expected and without a second delay I gave him a big nod. We went inside and sat there for a while till we were served with some hot Maggi noodles. It was such a savior for us. We did meet a Russian lady (Hellica) there who was residing in that village from past 2 months. She offered us with some Bay leaf tea also which was totally unexpected. The Bay leaf tea is the local special over there. It was almost 12.30 pm by the time we finished everything, did offer money to the owner (he was more than happy to receive it) and thanked him for the food that he gave us and left the place.

We ascended and descended couple of times and finally reached to the first suspension bridge on our way back. Then came the second suspension bridge and by then the water in the bottle had reduced to 300 ml or so. Then came the final toughest part of the trek and the steepest ascend that had earlier taken around 45 mins to climb down. Now we had to see how long it would take us to reach to the top. For sure for anybody it’s not possible to continuously climb the stairs, so our strategy was to climb 15-20 steps at a time and gasp some breath and then start again. We had some n number of pit stops till we reached the top by 2.20 pm. I am so proud that we both made it to the top. We then left the place to have our lunch somewhere on the way. But to our horror the road was blocked because there was a truck (dumper) which had slipped from the road and it was dangling somewhere in between the trees on the rocks. Now till they cleared all this, the road beneath was blocked. And it literally took us 3 more hours to actually leave that place. We were literally starving and we just went to this first Hotel (Orange Roots) which was opened being a Sunday though. We ate some yummy Butter Masala Dosa’s there as that was the only item which was available instantly. And tell you something guys I never expected Dosa’s from here to be so good. Everything from the potato masala and chutney to sambhar was delicious. We did rang the bell there when we were leaving the hotel as a mark of satisfaction and appreciated the food also.

The next day we checked out from Shillong as it was our last day of our journey and left to Guwahati (our flight back to Bangalore was from here) for our visit to the Kamakhya. The Kamakhya Temple is one of the four Adi Shakti Peetha’s and visit to this one being in Guhawati was a must thing to do. Our flight to Bangalore back was at 5.30 pm and by 10 pm I was back in my home sweet home. Oh man…it was such a good journey witnessing some great works of nature. This flavor of North east would definitely be unforgettable for me. And I have to thank Sushma and Sandeep for being such great hosts and I am so touched by their hospitality. Not to forget about the yummy food that aunty sent us. Thanks a ton guys for all the do.

Do’s and Don’ts:

  • Never visit Darjeeling on National holidays or on a Thursday as most of the places would be closed.
  • Plan your travel to only one state rather than hoping from one to another because it takes a lot of time to reach these places through the roads or by air.
  • Never go on the Double Decker Trek on a Sunday because all the shops on the way and the guest house at the Double Decker Bridge would be closed.

     

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