Saturday, October 22, 2016

Wandering and meeting sadhus during my Yamunotri pilgrimage

For a long time I was not traveled far distance to mountains but in 2015 Autumn I found a chance to go to my beloved place – Himalayas. I had no work as I was officially unemployed, which gave me the opportunity to travel. I went on thus for a long time, I may say without boasting, faithfully minded my way of living for at least a few days in the Himalayas. I had no laptops, no calls from clients or office; it was absolutely bliss to travel with freedom.

Himalayas have trapped me years ago. It is not just because I like mountains; earlier I thought I liked mountains more than anything else, but there are more things than just stiff mountains that keeps me hold tight for so many years. If you are perceptive enough, you can get certain hints about the true nature of Himalayas, or other way round is to visit those places recurrently to get such a habit, the mountains won’t let you go for rest of your life.  I have learned from my eight years’ experience, it would cost incredibly low to travel in mountains and you are enriched with such wisdom, not just looking at snowy peaks, but the ambiance, people, pilgrimage, overall life all around. To me, Himalayas present the most surprising elements, and one of the elements is various types of sadhus. I have met lots of these wandering monks, most of them were very old, majority was peaceful, and a few were flamboyant. It is a small place to write down all people here; still I try to recapitulate some impressive sadhus and my experiences with them.

 (Because of the nature of brevity in the blog writing, I just cite here 2015 experiences)

Ram Bharose Ji in Yamunotri

Living there in his small temple cum living room for last 50 years, it is said this ever smiling 80 something saint never crossed the bridge that joins the Yamunotri temple and the road. In winters Yamuntori is shut down completely because of heavy snowfall, but this devotee lives there and every day he does all the regular rituals. He wears minimal clothes and pretty much active doing all his daily chores including cooking, washing etc. 

I had heard his name at Janki Chetti and wanted to meet him. At first when I reached the temple, first thing that captured my attention was his honest and beautiful smile. He meticulously cooked food, served it to his worshiping God and Goddesses. He asked me to take the food and at least asked me four times whether it was all right. We had some talks and then returned back. I would love to stay there for some more time, perhaps couple of days, but somehow I returned back.

Naga sadhu en route Yamuntori

This huge sadhu lives in a cave with a DVD player, mobile phone, speakers, lots of containers and a thick photo album. A druggist with his own whim but calm and composed stature, he offered me smoke, which gladly accepted but unfortunately felt nothing after smoking three rounds. He showed me his photo albums, displaying lots of younger days photographs, naked, stoned, doing all sorts of austerity and acrobatics including twisting his penis with a rod etc. 

He asked me to donate something for his cave that I silently denied. He also said I could stay in the cave as long as I wished but I also refused. He asked me whether I was married or not, and after knowing my marital status, he suggested me to get married. When I rebuked and said I didn’t feel to do that, he asked me to become a ‘baba’. 

I sometimes wonder why it’s necessary to take an extreme step when there is an option to live a good life within the boundary of a regular living. At least I am living it without a pinch of dishonesty in my statement.

Ram Das Mauni Baba

Although he was said to be a mauni (silent) sadhu, he spoke to me a few words. Undoubtedly, he was the best sadhu I have seen so far. Too old to stand straight properly but I never saw him sitting idle in three days. Sometime he was cleaning his temple, sometimes he was feeding his cow, sometimes cutting fruits, but never sitting idle. His worn out loin cloth didn’t properly cover his private parts, but it hardly mattered to him.  Earlier he was completely silent sadhu for more than 20 years, but now, I learned he spoke a little. We had a brief conversation when he asked me what I do. 

Every time I was about to return back from temple, he offered me a piece of fruit. The most impressive feature of this sadhu was his eyes, blood shot, big with a bright glow. It was remarkable eyes, penetrating deep into my hearts and it seemed read all the content.

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Thursday, October 13, 2016

Things that you probably don’t know about Kolkata

handpulling rickshaws in kolkata

As for a city, I will not deny Kolkata has such a life that I haven’t seen so far in other parts of India, though there were instances when I saw lives of people just vanished in a gust; on the roadside, within the darkest miasma of politics, sometimes surrendered to the irresistible initial inertia, unable to break the self-created delusion of grandeur. I may imagine a time when, in the infancy of this city, it would be like a child who began the world, to some extent, and loved to stay out of the doors, even in wet and cold. The city opened to British Raj more openly than any other city in India. The decrepit architectural structures, British relics of erstwhile splendor cast a shadow of past on the present. Things have changed, however. The city has now secured itself into a cocoon that not allows the outside world to take certain inspirations.

There is an entirely a different facet of Kolkata. The city is not a despicable alternative but a precious tenement of those who nurture life from a different dimension. People aren’t the same way deal with daily life, as the emotions run riot and go beyond the regular struggle of survival.  In a way, Kolkata is still saturated with imaginations, laughs from simple pleasures of life, strongly hold the past musing and let the future born out of the present. Despite every adversity the city bears, nobody can deny the simple fact that the city has this queer and irresistible charm that holds everything in a fine balance.

Everybody knows Victoria Memorials, Maidan, Dakhineshwar, Kali Temple etc. In all fairness, these are great places to visit, but many places visitors are not aware that actually reflect a lot about the city of joy.

Old Heritage Buildings in Kolkata

If you go through the lanes of old Kolkata, you find some amazing structures that take you to erstwhile era of British Raj. I am talking about heritage buildings, I call it heritage though most of them are residential houses where people live and celebrate life. If you research on these buildings you will find these were not created by architects like modern times, but built by anonymous builders. These buildings from the architectural point of view are extremely refined.

Modernity is a misleading conception. Unlike many people who think these structures are not modern or kirsch, somehow have a false sense of modernity. Kolkata is tremendously modern city, in fact when you stroll around North Kolkata, see those big houses, people living there and see how relax and content they are when they sit on the front porch, talking about stuff that many city dwellers are not even aware of.

There is a distinctive difference between south Kolkata and North Kolkata old buildings. South Kolkata building architecture is part European and part Bengali. For example, you will notice rock or the cemented ledge in the front of a house, long verandas, open terraces, slated windows, ventilators on the sides of buildings, sunrise motif grills, art deco and in some case sophisticated artwork.

Haunted Places in Kolkata

Kolkata has some interesting history, not just with historical figures but eternal entities. The city shares its own haunted places where many places including buildings and even metro station are alleged to brag about haunted past. Some people don’t believe it, some people even try to find rational among those haunted stories.

1) National Library

national library alipore kolkata india
National Library at Alipore
The largest library in India has some haunted past. In early 19th century, British government ordered a renovation project where 12 labors lost their lives in an accident. Some people claim they still feel the spirits of these workers inside the building. National Library is a huge space and within this mammoth size, these types of stories are natural. In another story, it is said that an English student was killed in an accident while visiting for his research paper. It is believed and some eye witnesses said they saw paranormal activities in the library where letters were all scattered on the desks when they entered into the library in the morning. 

2) Rabindra Sarobar Metro

The station is notorious for its suicides and infamously known as “Paradise of Suicide”. There are stories people claimed they saw eerie images of figures at around 10:30 pm, when the last metro reaches the station. There are also rumors that shadows move on the platform on late evenings. 

3) Hastings House

There are stories where people witnessed footsteps in and around the Hastings House in the night. Warren Hastings, his wife and children all died mysteriously within this place. It is said that shadowy figures are seen within the campus.  Playing inside the campus is strictly prohibited because in many cases young students were mysteriously suffered from terrible injuries while playing football.

4) Putulbari, the House of Dolls

doll house, putul bari, sobhabazaar, kolkata india
Putul Bari, Doll House at Sobhabazaar
These old dilapidated building is located near Ahirotala Ghat. This is called doll house because of doll like monuments are mounted on the terrace. There is a notice of strictly prohibition to enter in the building. The building is itself beautiful and people say the upper storey is haunted. There are some inhabitants in the house but they don’t encourage people to enter into the house. The house was owned by wealthy owners in British era who sexually exploited young women and killed them. Deep in the night many eye-witnesses heard clinking of bangles and anklets.

5) South Park Street Cemetery

South Park Street Cemetery is the oldest burial ground built in 1767, also known for eerie occurrence. The story goes like this, when a few friends visited the place and clicked photographs, suddenly fell ill after a few days. Even one healthy guy had an asthma attack. There are also images captured where shadowy figures were moving, and even cameras were not working while clicking photographs. All of these incidences made the place amongst top haunting places in Kolkata.

Chinese Breakfast on Sundays 

Kolkata has a Chinese connection. There are many Chinese families who came to Kolkata during world war and British era and permanently settled here. Their descendants are now Indian but they maintain their Chinese heritage. A large portion of Chinese families live around Tiretta Bazaar where you can find a few Chinese temples. Every Sunday a group of Chinese food sellers sell some delicious and sumptuous Chinese breakfast just behind the Poddar Court. The “breakfast market” starts at around 6:00 am and continues till 8:30 am. 

Photo Courtesy Ramble On 

You can find authentic Chinese snacks like pork dumplings, rice pudding seasoned with sesame seeds, noodle soup, sweet stuffed buns, ham choi (salted vegetables), red roast pork and many other delicacies.

Best Luxury Hotels in Kolkata

Many people discard Kolkata as a hubristic city that denies industry, commercial establishments and modernization. The fact is the city boasts of some of the top 5 star hotels in Kolkata and wedding venues. Some of the prestigious properties are located in the heart of the city with impressive architecture and state of the art dining and winning facilities.  These are luxury paradise and some hotels like The Park, ITC Sonar Bangla, Novotel, Taj Bengal and others host regular business meetings, weddings and other occasions.

ITC Sonar Bangla kolkata, india
ITC Sonar Bangla, Kolkata
For example, ITC Sonar is a country’s top 5 Star luxury Hotel in Kolkata that is known for its sleek architecture. The best thing about ITC is the culinary experience that has earned awards from many worldwide hospitality forums. 

Galiff Street Pet Market

People call it ‘Pakhir haat’ (flea market of birds). The market is not just bird lovers, but also for plants, fish, dogs, guinea pigs, rabbits, hamsters, ducks and even chicks. The pet market starts early in the morning and continues till late afternoon. Many neighboring states also gather here to buy fishes, plants, pigeons and others pets. I particularly like aquarists and various types of fishes, aquarium plants and others. The price is cheaper than regular shops and most of the sellers are quite knowledgeable about their hobbies. You can find variety of flowering plants etc.

Howrah Bridge & Ganga Ghats

Howrah Bridge is the landmark icon of Kolkata, first cantilever bridge in India constructed without any nut and bolt. It took 6 long years to build this bridge and opened to public transport on February 03, 1943. It carries whooping 100,000 vehicles and possibly more than 150,000 pedestrians every day. This prestigious bridge is ranked 6th among all cantilever bridge in the world.

The ghats in Kolkata have rich history and significance. Like Varanasi, these ghats have special significance, for example, some ghats are exclusive for cremation, some ghats for pujas, some are for boatmen. The beauty of Hoogly River (Ganga) can be truly appreciated sitting on some ghat. If you go in the early morning, you can see people, even very old ones take their daily bath in the ghat. some people practice wrestling, some swimming, some just sitting idly. It’s a wonderful scenario and gives entirely a different perspective to this populated city.

Salt Lake Stadium and East Bengal Mohan Bagan Football Rivalry

East Bengal v/s Mohan Bagan Derby 2015

Kolkata is a football crazy city. If Brazil or Argentina lost in the World Cup, fans shed tears. However, nothing can beat the crazy rivalry between East Bengal and Mohan Bagan clubs. The Derby match between two clubs is considering as one of the classic derbies by FIFA. Salt Lake Stadium, the largest stadium by capacity in India holds almost 70,000 people, and during the match between these two arch rivals, you will never see one seat empty.

Mallick Ghat Flower Market

This iconic flower market is located near the southeast end of Howrah Bridge. The best time to visit the market is in the early morning when fresh flowers are brought by people on their heads and cycle vans. The flower market is photographers’ paradise where variety of flowers piles up on both sides of the road. The ubiquitous flower sold in the market is marigold. Other common flowers are roses, kum kum, rajnigandha and others.

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Saturday, September 24, 2016

Surprising castles and an oblivious history at Dhanyakuria in West Bengal

village rural life west bengal india

West Bengal rural areas are amazingly beautiful. It’s not just the greenery that creates a sense of calmness, but a sublime feeling that makes the place more enticing. I am not a village guy, probably this is the reason village life captures my imagination. I like to stroll around uneven village pathways, talk to people, eat in shabby little places and sometimes just relax under a big tree. West Bengal villages are famous for temples; you may find lots of known and obscure temples in various places in Bengal, but a few people know there is a village in nearby Kolkata that treasures a few extraordinarily beautiful palaces.

Dhanyakuria, a small village located just 60-70 km from main Kolkata city (by road). I had started early in the morning riding on my motorcycle. It was initially fun to ride in the morning, but soon the joy was gone once I landed on the Rajarhat to Taki Road. The road was terrible, stabbed by innumerable potholes. Adding insult to injury, people drove cars and motorcycles like crazy. It was a one way road, so I had to take extra precaution while riding.

The village was not typical of Bengal villages; there were big houses, sporting clubs, motorcycles and even cars parked outside the houses. The place has a rich history, unfortunately nobody really cares about it. Once eight wealthy zamindars belonging to different castes held sway over this village. They had no fiefdom but they liked the place so much, they built some massive palaces adorned with showpiece fusion architecture.

Dhanyakuria was once a part of Sunderban, a small village with very little people. The forested area was converted into living settlement in 1742 when Jagannath Das, a trader from (now) Bangladesh settled here with his family. Within a few decades other traders from different castes like Mandal, Gaine, Sawoo and Ballavs followed and settled. The area was rich and fertile, and famous for rice and sugarcane. 

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This relatively obscure place is yet to be placed in West Bengal tourist map, but the extraordinarily beautiful palaces transformed the entire village into a treasure-trove of Bengal. The village was once ruled by the Sens, Lahas, Roys, Gayens and other clans. To show their wealth, they built large palaces and buildings. The first palace was built by the Dutta family more than 180 years ago. Unfortunately, most of them are now no more in the landscape, still there are structures, even after more than centuries; some of these structures look so young, well-maintained. 

Gayain Baganbari (Gayen Garden)

gaine bari palace mansion dhanyakuri west bengal india
Gaine Palace in Dhanyakuri
This was a surprise for me because it was a great architectural beauty, a castle that looked run down. The frontal area was unchanged and unlike other Bengal palaces, it looked like more of Windsor Castle than English Castle in Bengal. The arches, balcony and the entrance were well ornate. The architecture of this castle is an amalgamation of neo-classical and Indian forms. The Nazar Minar is more resembled with Islamic arches on the top floor. The dome of the pillar is influenced by 19th century western pillars.

The palace or Rajbari (called in Bengal), is L shaped with twenty one ionic columns adorn the front. The distinguished feature is couple of domes with coats of arms. It seemed to me Gaines were influenced by British heritage. The entrance or gate resembles the portals of a Roman temple.

There is a marble finished large temple adjacent to the palace that can be seen from any room within it. The building is surprisingly well-maintained with flower garden and trimmed grass lawn.

Gaine Nazar Minar
The mansion was built more than 175 years ago. Mahendranath Gaine was a trader of jute, dealing with the British directly and later on opened a Rice Mill at the village. Family Durga Puja that is till now celebrated, was started by him. 

The present members of the family have settled down in Kolkata, except 70 something Kanchan Gaine who still maintains the heritage of this house. Every year Durga Puja is celebrated when family member get together and celebrated like old times.  

Ballav Mansion

Royal Entrance of Ballav Mansion

The most interesting part of Ballav Mansion was some idols on the terrace. These dolls like structure made this palace known as “Putul Bari (House of Dolls)” by locals. The building was created almost at the time of Gaine’s palace. Shymacharan Ballav, the first owner of this beautiful mansion was a kind hearted and lavish businessman. Their descendants are now mostly in Kolkata and certain parts of West Bengal. The mansion is a fine blend of Indian and European architecture. The figure above the stucco peacock resembles a Roman centurion. 

Sawoo Baganbari (Garden)

It seemed a haunted place, but impressive with large porch and a big garden. Unlike other mansions, it wasn’t maintained, though I liked it because of the location. Behind it there is a huge pond, the trees and open field.

How to reach Dhanyakuria

I reached there on my motorcycle, so I suggest to go by own vehicle via Barasat. Don’t take Rajarhat road, it is a mess. From Barasat via Taka Road towards Bashirhar, Dhanyakuria is just a bit more than 30 km. After Beramchapa, you can ask somebody to look for Gaine Baganbari. The road condition is not good, and that is one way road, so be careful while driving.

If you want to go by train, take Bashirat local and drop down at Kankra Mirzanagar station. From there you need to take a local transport till Dhanyakuri via Kankra Kachua Road. The place is also famous for famous Bengal saint/mystic Baba Loknath at Kachuadham. At Dhanyakuria, you may hire a rickshaw or just enjoy a walking tour.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Riding on opium smoke and searching ghosts of headhunters

Another day, another search for a story forced me to leave my temporary life of security and conformity, and led me to an absolute unknown destination. I had planned this journey for long, as I was listening to these short abstract and mythical stories of headhunters in the state of Nagaland, India, infusing me with various adventurous possibilities crisscrossed my mind.

Modernization is indispensable; for people like to have the liberty and try to find the meaning within a self-regulating community. The village life in Nagaland has experienced the same conundrum. Too much influx of outside civilization transforms men and women into automata, suffocates their own cultural and social spirit and abolishes the very possibility of freedom. Travel to Mon is not exactly a fancy leisure activity. Mon is the northernmost district of Nagaland. It is not a big district, mostly small villages and a small town with basic facilities. From many decades intrepid explorers came to this small remote region of India for the search for headhunters’ legacy. In the recent time, the region has got recognition through a few photographers’ eyes, daring travelers and a few tourists who accidentally reached this place.

The district town also borders with Burma, which makes it easy to for opium pouring into villages without much difficulty. After a long, arduous and definitely a dangerous journey in terms of security, I had reached Mon in the evening. The journey was not smooth, especially in terms of security checks and umpteen questions by Indian Army at different check posts made an entirely different impression in my mind.

While I was passing through villages, I saw a different life. A strange feeling engulfed me during my journey as I doubted why I came here so far alone and without any strong knowledge about the place. The more I saw those tiny village huts, Nagas with guns and weapons to hunt in the forest, women wearing bizarre necklaces, tattooed all over their hands and necks, the more I was into a strange feeling of excitement and fear.

Opium smoking in the village

I met a Konyak guy while I was roaming around the street in the morning. I asked him a direction and instantly he befriended me. I was a bit suspicious, but I learnt during my travels that the attitude mattered, and when you were in doubt, you were vulnerable. I asked him about Longwa village and headhunters, but he seemed reluctant to tell me. He said Longwa village was a tourist attraction and there was no headhunter left in the village. He asked me to go with him to another nearby village to see their lives. I was a bit hesitant in mind, but then I agreed and walked to the nearby village.

We went to a small hut, a small fire was in the middle, a man was engaged in something I thought he was preparing heroin. Before entering the hut Longsha (name changed) winked at me and asked me to remove my shoes. We entered this small smoked filled thatched room where total four people were smoking opium in big strange pipes.

It was nine O’clock in the morning, and I was a bit surprised to see these four young men were almost stoned when normally people used to rush to work at that time. There was an old man sitting idly in the corner, probably in 80s, and all men called him ‘Buzum’. He was playing with some old playing cards, and oblivious of the happenings around him.

I noticed his whole upper body was beautifully tattooed, which made me curious and I asked Longsha if I could talk to him about headhunters. It was a really small hut and my eyes and nose hurt with the smoke, but after a while my eyes became accustomed to the smoke. A young man advanced toward him and offered him a spoon supposedly stained with fresh opium. He took the spoon and cleaned with some fine leaves and then put it into his thick bamboo pipe. He then offered me the pipe. At first I was shaken by the possibility of smoking pure opium; I felt a tremendous apprehension. I had not realized until then that I was perhaps very scared. My mouth had dried, I looked at my companion, and he was smoking and maintained a steady position. He looked at me and said not to worry. A young guy, probably in his early 20s was sitting to my right, looked inattentive. I looked at another man who was busying around burning opium in a spoon. My tension increased, I began to whine involuntary as my respiration became more accelerated. Longsha again told me not worry and it would be highly disrespectful if I refused the offered.

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Last Legacy of Headhunters in Mon

I smoked the whole opium. It was a quick affair. I didn’t feel anything as such except a mild lethargy and a slight sense of euphoria. My fear went away and directly asked Longsha whether he could act an interpreter to talk with this old man. I talked that old man for almost an hour and noted many things in my notebook. Longsha asked me not to take any photographs, but I requested him to take a photo of that old man. He agreed and asked me not to mention the real identity of the village and what I witnessed in the hut.

Opium is a big problem in Nagaland, especially in Mon because the region borders with Burma. Nagas cross the village and enter into the Burmese jungle. Burma is the second largest producer of opium after Afghanistan, and most of these raw, pure drugs are pouring into the state through Nagas unemployed youth. Later on, I saw in another instant where people smoked the whole day without doing anything. They process the opium and make it like small thin pads. They cut a small portion of the pad and burn it in the spoon. The opium melts down and turns into dark reddish sticky liquid. Then they use a special plant leaves to smoke with the drug.

History of Headhunters

I talked at length about the headhunter legacy and the current situation. I had learnt that these old men spoke Tibeto-Burmese dialect, which was not very popular in these villages. Most of the Konyaks speak Nagamese, a mixture of Assamese and Naga. Buzoom as people called him, was a trained headhunter but never hunted any head. You could recognize a hunter with non-hunter by tattoos. A head hunter has facial tattoos while a man trained in headhunting has tattoos on his chest.

The old man was not happy with the village chief whom they called Angh. Angh is sort of a dictator who rules over 75 villages in the region. His house is situated half in India, half in Burma and it is believed some of the villages in Burma are also ruled by Angh. He lives like a king in the village named Longwa, which is now quite open to visitors.

I got lots of information about Angh, how he killed people without any strong motive. How he picked any woman if he liked to marry her. I was told the king had more than 60 wives and his influence spread to Burma, where his men moved freely without any visa.

Till 1930, this remote northern region of Nagaland was in oblivion from the outside world, even not mentioned in Indian maps. As I was told all Nagas are from headhunter lineage, but Konyaks are special one who hunted heads as a part of their culture. It was believed that the success of crop depended on blood hunted by headhunters. These Nagas were excellent hunters, staying remotely in the mountains and forest with natural barricades of forests and fast rivers. Headhunting was more of a cultural practice than the result of rivalry between the villages. Chest tattoos denoted that a man trained in headhunting, whereas face tattoos testified the man hunted a head. It was a great pride and Naga women felt proud and ridiculed men who didn’t hunt heads.

Time had taken a momentous leap when the British first stepped in this region. When the Nagas first saw cars, ammunition and white people, there was a significant change in the psyche of these people when they touched urban civilization. Nevertheless, headhunting remained an integral part of their culture until government of India officially ordered to stop headhunting in 1970. Unofficially, the cultural phenomenon continued till late 80s, but completely demolished when Indian Army posted their camps in different places in Nagaland.

Many people don’t believe it, but headhunting was a cultural stuff amongst Konyaks. Young men were taught how to cut the heads and brought to the villages. After that an elaborate ritual had been celebrated by hunters and villagers. These heads were priced possessions and skulls were beings used to decorate their houses. These skulls were also fed with rice beer as they believed the spirit of those hunted people came to visit their houses and bestowed vitality and strength.

Accommodation and food

There are three hotels in Mon, and all of them are expensive. You will get a basic facility, and ordinary food, but you really don’t have any choice in Mon. You can go straight to Longwa and stay in Angh place who is quite open to genuine travelers.
There are a few food joints where you can eat. Remember if you order meat or any non-vegetarian food, prepare for a bamboo shoot smell.

General warning

The town is virtually halt after 5 pm, and it is not sensible to walk around the streets. Although Mon is heavily guarded with Indian Army, there are local young ruffians who always find a way to harm strangers.

Visit to Longwa

The primary attraction of Mon is Longwa village because of Angh house. The house is located half in India and half in Burma. As of now there are a few headhunters left, but you can witness the relics of the past in the village. There you can find lots of houses decorated with animals’ heads, heads of humans. You can also find traditional ornaments, signifying the extent of tribal culture.
You can find shared taxis, one in morning and another one in the afternoon (2 pm), but if you miss these transportation, you can always hire a taxi. Personal hiring of taxi is expensive, anything between Rs. 3000- Rs. 5000.

You can stay in Longwa as there are a few homestays in home. To enter into the village, you have to pay a tax to the Angh.

Insurgency in Mon

Problem of insurgency in Nagaland is not new, though in a recent time there are less reports on insurgency. Mostly in Mon insurgents are the members of ENPO (Eastern Nagaland Peoples Organisation). They have raised the demand of separate state but government of India doesn’t pay heed on their demands.

For extra curious traveler

There is a Christian woman named Yahoi practicing a strange cult in the region. The woman is known for her prophecies and naked worshiping in the Church. She supposedly stays in a village named Wangti. The village is quite far from Mon, but a few intrepid travelers cover the distance to find her.
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Friday, July 8, 2016

Pages from my diary– Nongriat in Meghalaya; more than just Root Bridges

God is simple. The world is relative. If you try to find absolute value in worldly things, you will always restless. 

May 09, 2016 (Nongriat, Meghalaya)
double decker root bridge nongriat meghalaya

In certain places you feel time has stopped. You don’t want to do anything, and without doing you are hurtling through a process of nature that is sometimes so overwhelming, you can’t help but to wonder about this incredible diversity, which is so sundry, and at the same time everything is so precariously balanced. I never thought Meghalaya would give me such an overpowering experience that I stopped moving altogether and stayed at one place for so long. I believe in moving, I never stay at one place for more than 2-3 days, I keep moving to places during my travel, and savor the changing landscapes, but here I stopped everything.

The whole day I used to sit at my room or outside my balcony, watching hide and seek play of rain and sun. Rain here comes in feat, like a teenage lover, throwing tantrum for a whole and then shows her sunny side. But she is mercurial, again gloomy for now and again. She is fresh, not depressing, melancholic yet hopelessly poetic.

I was sitting at my rest house, looking at distant waterfalls and enjoying tiny raindrops constantly pouring from yesterday when I came here. The rest house was located near the famed double decker root bridge. I could see people, sometimes with family, sometimes solo, crossed the bridge and then went back. Nobody came near the rest house, a few may be, but people just came to Nongriat for this bridge.

Nongriat is a small village in the East Khasi Hills of Meghalaya. There are 44 families lived in this small village. The life for them is tough as twice or thrice a week then had to cover 3000 steep steps to reach neighboring village Tyrna, from where they go to Sohra market for their weekly shopping. The place is famed for these two living root bridges, especially spectacular double-decker suspension bridge called Jingkieng Nongriat.

Yesterday I met a young Canadian guy who was traveling in India for last 6 months. I was surprised to see his knowledge about places. He seemed to me as an intelligent guy, quite friendly as well. I had my binocular with me, so I watched him in the morning bathing in a stream filled gorge under the double decker bridge. He stayed in a cheap homestay named Serene that I first initially didn’t know and took an expensive one. (Rs. 250 at my rest house). When I said about the rest house, he said whatever came under Rs. 300 was okay. Once he came to my rest house and impressed with the setting.

May 10, 2016

I had a pretty rough evening as mosquitoes wouldn’t let me sit outside, but surprisingly mosquitoes started to disappear as the night approached. There was not electricity in the whole village for last two days, so no phone. I had a fantastic candle light dinner alone. The food was awesome, and to my amazement, he served me a sophisticated way. He also gave me two candles, so I read for an hour and then slept early.

Double-decker bridge and beyond

I found Nongriat an amazingly peaceful place, especially if you walk beyond the famed double decker bridge to the forest. Sometimes while walking around the forest I felt if I would be glad to see at least a person because the ambiance around the forest posed an eerie feeling. I visited the place onset of monsoons when almost the whole day rain never stopped. I walked for hours in the woods, took bath in some small waterfalls and enjoyed the diversified vegetation. I never saw such diversified vegetation in my life, such a beauty! The forest was full of various trees, plants and ubiquitous ferns and mosses. Everywhere I saw variety of mosses on the rocks, logs of trees, on the stem of trees, literally everywhere.

From an architectural point of view, root bridges are amazing. These are totally made up of secondary roots of Ficus Elastica tree, otherwise called rubber tree. These roots are interweaved on both sides or directed from a single tree to the other side. It is not unique to Nongriat; in various villages in Meghalaya small root bridges are made by locals for convenience, and truly a natural art form. These bridges or roots take 10-15 years to grow fully to become a functional root bridge. These bridges are extraordinarily strong, strong enough to support at least 50 people at a time.

Important Information about Nongriat

Trekking information

Surprisingly it is not an easy trek, even for people like me who are habituated in trekking. The trek starts from Tyrna Village, around 20 km from main Cherrapunji market, from there Nongriat is 5 km away. It is 3000 steps climbing down, descending 2500ft and then climbing up again.

Picture courtesy Untravel - Nidhi Thakur  

Before Nongriat, you will find two small villages Nongthymmai and Mynteng, which are sights to behold. I liked the small huts like houses on a raised platform, built of wooden plants with slanted tin roofs. The verandah of almost every house reflected colonial style architecture.

The excitement stopped when I reached a wire rope bridge, strung precariously some 40ft above a stream. I thought I came to a wrong place because I couldn’t see anything on the other side except dense forest. I tried to cross but it swayed dangerously, so I returned back. The size of boulders in the streams, roar and the sway made me nervous. In the end I had crossed the bridge but soon discovered there was another rope bridge to cross. It was perched even higher and river below had bigger boulders. But this time I had crossed it with a little fear because I saw yet another bridge to cross after that. So, it was total three bridges to cross to reach the first root bridge.

Where to stay?

I stayed in Nongriat Rest House, which is owned by Nongriat community. There were three double bedrooms with attached bathrooms, but you have to carry water from outside. The rest house was on the other side of double decker root bridge and quite a good location where you could see the bridge and forest. It’s Rs. 250 per day excluding food. They didn’t offer my food but after requesting them to cook some food for me, they served me surprisingly great food, even with decorated with salads.

Most of the foreigners stay in Serene Homestay because of its popularity and comfort. Serene costs you Rs.200 per day excluding food. The guesthouse has some really elaborate breakfast menus but they only serve their guests, even they don’t serve tea for outsiders. Another guesthouse named Santiana charges Rs. 100 per head with basic rooms.

Important Notes

I suggest you to stay in Nongriat for at least 2-3 days to soak in ambiance.

There is an excellent trekking route that goes directly from Nongriat to Nohkalikai falls. You have to walk past Rainbow Falls and just walking straight. It is tough because ascend is sometimes too steep. I didn’t do it but I met three people who did successfully.

If you want to come back on the same day, it is better to start it early. From Sohra to Tyrna, you will get a government bus at 9am-9:30 am. If you want to start early in the morning, you have to squeeze yourself in one of those taxis that ply from Sohra market to Tyrna.

Carry as minimum as possible. For a non-trekker, it’s an arduous trek.

You don’t have to carry food. Everything you will find in the village albeit in 30% extra cost.
The villages are extraordinarily clean, in fact almost every Meghalaya village is amazingly clean. So, please don’t throw plastic bottles, wrappers and your garbage in the forest.

A guide will charge you anything between Rs. 300- Rs. 500. Although the path is quite straightforward, a guide will tell many hidden stories during the journey.

If possible carry colored pencils, pens, crayons, books, notebooks for children. There are plenty of them in the villages.

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Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Things you shouldn’t miss to carry for an international trip

There is a few and rare people who don’t want to travel to new places. There are different types of travelers, but all of them have a common objective, to experience. The traveling anticipation is exciting probably as much as being on it. Planning is an important part of traveling, probably the most important part of it. It is also essential if you are going to ensure that you make the most of your time and of the country or countries that you visit.

While it is of course fine simply to book a flight and head off into the unknown (in fact some travelers say this the most fun way to journey), this approach isn’t for everyone. Nor is it a good idea for those who don’t have travel experience, like to be in control of situations or like to do their research.

Traveling to unknown destination is a venture into unexpected surprises. Sometimes surprises are pleasant; a few times it could be unpleasant. So, it is important to plan your itinerary accordingly. You can’t just simply avoid surprises; in fact in a way that’s the fun part of it, but it is important to avoid unnecessary pitfalls, for example running out of money or not having a traveling insurance for international traveling.

Budget for international travel

Budget is the foremost part of your planning process. Whether you want to travel short time or long time, you need money to do it. It is a false narrative who says traveling doesn’t need money. Of course it needs money, and sometimes it requires good money, especially if you travel to international trips.

There is no better place to start the planning process than with your budget. Whether you want to go away for two weeks or a year, you are going to need cash. If you don’t any to spare, it’s not a good idea to go into debt to fund your travels.

It is a good idea that you make a separate travel account where you save every month some money for your travel. You will be surprised at how swiftly putting aside small amount a month mounts up, and before you know it you will have a nest egg to put towards your adventures.

Related Story

The Internet

These days traveling is easy. Internet has revolutionized the way we travel. It is now easy for check everything in internet,  moreover, you can download variety of apps that help you determine shops, destinations, necessary information, flight tickets, hotels, cab service and literally every details of traveling. Also, there are plenty of blogs, personal travelers’ account that are enriching and you get lots of valuable intricate information.

Government and tourism authority websites are also a great place to start research into a destination. They are the first place that I look when I am investigating a potential new country to feature, as they are packed with all your vital need-to-know info. One of the downsides to the vast amount of information available on the internet is that not all of it is correct, much of it is out-of-date and some misleading.

ID & Discount Cards

The most clear ID you are going to need is a legitimate passport. Sounds self-evident, however you would be stunned at what number of individuals touch base at the air terminal with an obsolete passport. It should be substantial for a long time with no less than six months left on it from the date that you travel.

There are chances that you are applying for your first identification, you ought to anticipate permitting additional time than in the past to get your travel permit as you should go to a meeting. It's suggested that you present your application six weeks before you have to travel and not book any travel game plans until the new international ID arrives.

passports aren't the main type of ID that is convenient when you are voyaging. In the event that you are an understudy, the International Student Identity Card (ISIC) gives you thousands gives you a huge number of travel, on the web and way of life rebates. It's acknowledged in more than 100 nations where you can get rebates with more than 40,000 organizations including eateries, manuals, travel equip, lodgings, visits, attractions, historical centers, displays and even carbon balancing.

Pre-paid Forex card instead cash for international trip

Plastic is everywhere. This holds true even when you are on an international trip. Many travel experts recommend travelers to go for a prepaid Forex card while purchasing foreign currency. The forex card is safer and cheaper, especially against currency fluctuation. 

Forex cards are widely accepted in restaurants, hotels, shopping malls, and even many countries taxis accept these cards. 

The card is safe to carry. Just like a credit/debit card, you will get a hotlisted to in case of loss or theft. Many dealers also give a secondary card in case you loss the primary card.

The most advantageous thing is it protects a client from currency fluctuation volatility. This is for the reason the value of Forex amount is evaluated based on the exchange rate of the day, which remains constant.

Indus Forex cards are cheaper than credit and debit card.

Flight booking

In one way, flights have never been less demanding to deal with. Because of the Internet, it's conceivable to book them quickly and basically and analyze costs as well. On the off chance that you will fly at odd times and by implication, the funds can be gigantic, so it's well worth looking on flight correlation sites like Sky Scanner. Be that as it may, on the off chance that you are looking for various flights it can turn out to be all the more a cerebral pain. For a begin the expenses truly begin to mount up.

One thing to keep an eye one when you are reserving flights is charges. What may appear a deal can abruptly twofold in cost when duties are included, so make sure to spending plan for this additional cost. Additionally know that most carriers will charge additional on carriage that you over their weight confinements, which can be as meager as 15 kg for a minor aircraft. You would prefer not to be stung with overabundance stuff, so attempt to pack as delicately as could be allowed.

Insurance in international travel

In most of the countries in Europe, travel insurance is mandatory. Even if you are not traveling to Europe, don’t travel without insurance. Medical expenses abroad can be eye-watering expensive if you aren’t covered. Although it’s unlikely anything will happen, if you do happen to injure yourself while white water rafting, for example, knowing that you are covered is massively reassuring.

It’s not just medical expenses that are covered. Insurance can also be used for theft, delayed or cancelled flights, legal costs and adventure sports. If you are traveling to more than one place and for a prolonged time, it is probably more economical to get annual insurance.

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