Pit stops in North East India

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North-East India is still an unexplored treasure, perhaps, due to all the bias around being unsafe, underdeveloped and less accessible. As you can guess, I beg to differ. Cities have spoilt us for choices that are sub-par in quality or terribly expensive or both and yes, I know that ranting is not really blogging! So hopping over to the bright side, anything not commercially violated translates into pristine, untouched wonders and as we traversed some lands of Assam and Meghalaya they turned out to be nothing short of stunning.

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As you enjoy some of this scenic view, let me introduce you to some pit-stops in these two states.

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Umiam Lake: If there was one word that could envelop the meaning and sentiment of ‘Unbelievably gorgeous’ I would use that for this waterhole. I am a total sucker for lakes, rivers and all water bodies, but you should know that with this one I am not biased. Spread across 220 square km, this catchment area is surrounded by old coniferous trees and open skies that exaggerate the drama. Legend has it that two sisters were alighting from heaven when one got lost on the way. As the other sister reached Meghalaya, she cried so much with grief that it formed Umiam which means “Water of Tears.” It seems apt to have a story so heart-wrenching for a place this beautiful.

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What would I do differently? We rented a motorboat that flew at the speed of lightning (reduce that by a few notches!) causing a scenic blur. Given we were late, we did not have a choice. Next time, I would try and find someone patient who would be willing to treat his boat like one rather than a sports car! A woman driver?!

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Dawki River: In the movie ‘A walk to remember’, on a starry night, Landon fulfills Jamie’s wish to be at two places at once by taking her to the state border of North Carolina and Virginia. At the Dawki River, as the riverside was flocking with tourists, persistent vendors, and boatmen looking for a ride, granted that the setting was not romantic, but it was still special being in two countries at once at this India-Bangladesh border. The boat ride was perfect with the setting sun, colorful river bed, lone fishermen on rocks, and a small waterfall that greeted you at the end.

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What would I do differently? Visit at a time when I am not reminded of how we need better population control measures!

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Nohwet Living Root Bridge: Living root bridges are one of the coolest examples of how nature and (wo)man can co-exist. Ariel roots of ficus trees are guided and trained by people so that they grow and strengthen over a period of time to become a natural bridge that can hold the weight of humans. The bridge naturally self-renews and strengthens itself ideally over hundreds of years! As the uneven steps led us down, it felt like a gateway unfolding an old gorgeous rubber tree that lived to tell its immortal story. And this was how I made a strike in my bucket list!

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What would I do differently? Visit the double decker living root-bridge in Cherapunjee. More twisted trunks, two bridges, bigger stream, a double miracle – what more could you ask for.

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Have you encountered hidden gems that have been a show-stopper? Are there stories you want to listen to over and over again? Are there moments you want to go back to, so that time could stand still as you stare at the fading palette of the sun, or catch the last rays falling through the crack of trees? Are you willing to express yourself as that emotional fool, like I am right now?!

 

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Trekking the Mawphlang Forest in India

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It’s the small things that give you most joy in life, and it’s the hidden gems that provide the real thrill when traveling. During my recent North-East India trip I tucked one such precious memory at Mawphlang village. As we drove from Shillong to Meghalaya we stopped at a small Khasi village spread across a beautiful landscape with picturesque houses, budding soccer players and laughing children. Beyond this scenic view, we treaded into the 800 year old sacred forest and, no, we did not get lost although I would have liked to!

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This enchanted forest has one rule: Anything that is killed, picked, taken from inside the forest is to be eaten, consumed or used within the forest. In other words, what happens in the Mawphlang forest stays right there! This seems like a good rule as it helps prevent encroachment of lands, natural resources and plantations being abused especially with the innate human need ‘to develop and progress.’

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The Mawphlang forest was earlier a ground for sacrificial rituals. Historically (and in some places, even presently) many Indian cultures sacrificed animals as offering to the local Gods, and the choice of animal in this forest was the “reddish-brown bull with no spots.” So once they killed this beast in the forest, they would prepare, sacrifice and eat the bull within the forest boundaries true to the rule. Interestingly when you trek the path there are remains of the preparation ground, sacrificial stone and the resting stone; translating this to the modern day picnic grounds!

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The forest was wild, untamed, and I attempted swinging some forest vines inspired by Tarzan but, I admit, I failed miserably. As if the embarrassment were not enough, our guide chose to show off and effortlessly swung on them. In my defense, I had no practice time.  

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Our two-hour trek was interesting and adventurous, and our guide was a good storyteller. This kid explained he was in the tenth grade, and went to school like many other children in the town of Shillong, 25 kms away. They were mostly familiar with two languages: Khasi and English, and this also presented them an opportunity to explore other places for higher studies. As a local guide, he earned some money after school.

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Big trees and plantations spread across the area most notably Rhododendron and Rudraksha trees. For those unfamiliar, Indians use bead strings extensively for religious chanting and these are traditionally made of Rudraksha. We saw beautiful wild mushrooms grow along the way as we skipped through small streams, crossed over big tree stumps and enjoyed our undulated forest walk. Our guide further assured us that there were not many animals except for the occasional fox, hare and other cuddly creatures (don’t listen to me).

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On such a beautiful day, with the sun rays perfectly presenting rainbow colors, the huge trees providing comfort, and the forest inviting us to explore, we only wished we had planned to do the half day trek instead of two hours. But some things are left for the next time!

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