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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Sunday, June 5, 2016

Last legacy of Headhunters in Nagaland

nagaland village mon traditional house

One mid-monsoon afternoon, after my Deutsche examination, I went out for much anticipated journey to north-eastern part of India. My journey was principally focused to Nagaland, a land of tribes, weird foods, legends, and conception, sometimes fabled to a point that outside so called civilized people take a backseat when going to the region.

My journey to Mon, a district town bordering with Burma was a hectic one. Nothing went smooth as soon as I crossed the Tizit town. Nagaland police drilled me for almost 40 minutes, checking all my papers, even my laptop and field notes. As I moved to the district, I was again checked, and this time Army (Assam Riffles) sniffed me hard. Earlier I was in Kohima, though a cool place to live in for a while, I saw security guards watched heavily laced with advanced guns from posts.

A typical Nagaland village house
It took more than 3 hours to reach Mon from Sonari, a small town in Assam, bordering with Nagaland. Sonary is a beautiful place with lush green sweeping tea gardens and small houses. I loved all of those scenes, those thatched tin roof, greenery and people around. The winding road, the villages, small patches of tea garden, forests everything put a very different, sometimes a little uncanny feeling in my mind. 

Nagaland, as it’s been portrayed to the outside world, something a unique identity whether their lifestyle, food and culture, I saw a certain glimpses through my journey. There are more than 35 existing tribes in the state; some are also present majorly in Manipur and Burma. There are principally three tribes who are in the mainstream: Sumi or Sema (mostly dominated in Dimapur region), snake eating Angami tribes are mostly confined to Kohima villages and famous Konyak, the legendary headhunter tribe. There are other prominent tribes like Ao, Chang, Lotha, Mao, Zeme and other spread over Manipur and Burma.

An old Konyak woman selling vegetables & Herbs
I was not much aware about headhunters but during my stay in Meghalaya, I was told by a guy about Konyak tribe and last remaining lineage of this tribe living in Mon. situated on the very border between India and the tribal parts of Burma, Longwa, a small village, earlier dominated by headhunters, still reflects the old charm. This small village is no more an obscure one; tourists throng to this village and everything is so expensive. There are a few places to stay and even a homestay where you can experience the beauty of Naga people in their own way. Travelers from distant land come to visit the village as headhunting legends and stories are indeed fascinating. There are a few men, very old ones whole still wear animal horns through their ears, brass skulls and tattoos on their chest, and some rare facial tattoos. 

Morungs are still found in Mon. These are old customary schools where children are taught survival skills and hunting practices. I never saw even a bird in the whole forests of Mon. An old temple priest, who lived there for 22 years, jokingly said that Nagas ate everything, not even spared worms. Longwa, the main attraction of travelers is perched on a ridge on the Indian-Burma border. It’s around 40 km from Mon town, and shared taxis are there to take you to the village.

Before Mon, I was in Kohima, but Mon was something that put a deep impression in mind. It’s culturally fascinating place where you witness old thatched traditional houses, people with old way of living, opium smoking tribes, houses decorated with animal skulls and famed tattoos. 

History of Headhunters

Till 1930, most of the remote regions in Nagaland were totally in oblivion, even not mentioned in maps. Headhunters were the main tribes or as a local said to me, all Nagas came through headhunter lineage. They remained remotely in villages and natural barricades, forests and fast rivers protected them. They fought with their enemies who were neighboring villages. Head hunting was sort of a culture than fight. Naga women ridiculed men who didn’t have face tattoos or even chest tattoos. Chest tattoos signify a person trained in headhunting. 

konyak headhunter
An old Konyak (trained in Headhunting)
Their main occupation was farming, principally rice farming. Sometimes they invaded villages, taking lands, taking heads of people, not even spared women and children. One village was connected with another through bamboo bridges, quite fragile and easily destroyed in hostile situations.

To protect their lands from enemies, Nagas covered forests with men traps. These were bamboo spiked that pierced the feet, sometimes they attacked with poison arrows, and rare occasion they plowed large pit with pointed spikes. Till 1936, Nagaland large regions were not mapped in British map, and then British came to this place with full army and arms.

This was a significant time, a momentary change for Nagas when they first saw cars, ammunition and white people. However, they remained what they were, and headhunting still continued as a traditional heritage of Nagas, particularly Konyak tribe. 

opium smoking in Mon
Opium smoking 
Headhunting was a cultural phenomenon rather a pure conflicting subject. Hunters were trained for the skill to chop of the heads and brought to the villages and ceremonial dance performed by the hunter. Skulls were being used to decorate their houses, not just animals but men, women, and children. These skulls were then fed with rice beer. This ritual was the central focal point of village life so that spirits revisit the village, giving the strength and vitality.

The last headhunting was officially stopped in 1970 as the central government totally abandoned this ancient culture as barbaric and criminal. Unofficially headhunting was continued till 80s but it was completely obliterated when Indian Army posted they camps in different regions of Nagaland. 

Important Facts about Mon Town

Lau Pani (local beer)
Mon town has a special charm. It is a small place with a few shops and food joints. There are some vegetarian food joints where you can get snacks etc. The villages are adjacent to the town, so you can easily get into those villages and see the local life. However, it is advised to take a local guy who know things better. It is also for safety reasons.

Accommodation & Food

Hotels are expensive. There are three hotels, and all of them are almost Rs. 1000 or more. The facility is basic and food is ordinary. But you don’t have any choice but to stay in Mon. if you can reach Mon in the afternoon, you can hire a taxi and go straight into Longwa and stay there.

I had a special experience, worth mentioning here. I didn’t anticipate the bills of hotels, so I was heavily disappointed but suddenly a teenage boy from bus who was a Bengali asked me what happened. I told him it was pretty difficult to stay for me here because of the cost. We went together to a hotel named Sunrise Hotel, next the State Bank of India. The owner was a Bengali too, but he said rooms were filled. So, we went to another one, which was again Rs. 1200. I was deeply thwarted but Rajat (the teenage boy) asked me whether I was comfortable to stay in a temple. I readily agreed, and we went to the temple located inside the premise of Assam Riffles. 

The temple priest was too reluctant to take me in. I finally said whether he took me in or I would go to the forest and stayed there for a night. Then I comforted him by saying I would go to the police station and stamped all my documents. I went to the police station, stamped my documents and then came back to the temple. He unenthusiastically asked for Rs. 200 for the stay that includes my dinner. Well, I think I was purely lucky in this case.

General Warning

The town virtually standstills after 5 pm, and it is not advisable to roam around the streets or villages. There are good people but there are bad people as well, particularly the opium stuff destroys the youth and men, so many of them looking for easy money to smoke some pure opium. This is not just a scare mongering but a real fact, so don’t just show your bravery in Mon after 5 pm.

Accommodation in Longwa

You can go to Longwa but there is nothing out there. The main attraction is Angh (king) house that is half in India and half in Burma. There are no headhunters left; at least I haven’t found any. However, you can see the village with skulls and other decorative stuff. Also, you can find some nice souvenirs. You can stay in Longwa, but the stay is expensive. 

If you plan to visit Longwa, it is better to note down the timing of bus and shared taxis. There is one bus going to the place in the morning and come back in the evening. There are two shared taxis, one in the morning and another one in the afternoon (2pm). You can obviously hire own taxis readily available in Mon but these are expensive. They charge you anything between Rs. 3000 to Rs. 4000 for to and fro from Mon to Longwa.

Insurgency in Mon

There are some problems in this part of Nagaland. Although things are now peaceful, insurgency is still there. Apparently there is a pressure for villagers to join the insurgents, else there will be reprisals against that village. The insurgents are dominated by ENPO (Eastern Nagaland Peoples Organisation). They have raised the demand of separate Eastern Nagaland or Frontier Nagaland. The eastern region, basically Konyak region is considered the most backward place in Nagaland so they demand their own independence.

Young Konyak woman eating breakfast (beef & rice)
It is safe and quite calm but it is advisable to take a local while roaming around those villages. There are army posted everywhere in this region but things are still lukewarm, and people are not happy with lack of business, jobs and taxes levied on them by the government.

For Intrepid Travelers

Houses decorated with animal skulls
A female Christian named Yahoi who has a developed a strange cult in this region. The women has been making many prophecies, encouraging followers to practice naked worship in Church. The village that you may interest is Wangti, but it’s quite far from Mon, so if you are really interested in visiting this place, you can find it out.

Important Contacts

You can contact Longsha, a Konyak Naga who knows fairly good amount of the culture and traditions. He is a local guy there and professional guide to foreign tourists. He speaks good English and has a car. He is a busy man, so contact him in advance. 

+91 9436433504 / 8974390751 or

You can contact another person, a local who I befriended during my journey and he took me to the nearby village. I had a great experience with some people there. If you contact him, tell him my name (Shubhajit), he might recognize me.

Mr. Chahland, 9862841861.

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Saturday, April 30, 2016

What are safe drinking measures during traveling in India?

Although drinking packaged drinking water in India is may be more a cult than a necessity, obtaining sufficient clean water in the country, especially in the urban areas is a major health issue. Since most of the country is engulfed by heat and humidity, we need a huge supply of fluids and a safe supply has to be set up.

Courtesy to Gear Junkie 

During travel one of the major problems is safe drinking as contamination of water can cause lots of health problems, a few of them are also fatal in nature. Some of the common problems of water contamination are hepatitis A, diarrhea, typhoid, giardiasis and others. Some diseases, in particular (schistosomiasis), are spread through the skin and are caught by swimming, splashing or washing in contaminated water.

Ways of making water safe

During traveling it is important to keep at least a liter of safe portable water with you. Nevertheless, in case of emergency, you also need to know how to find the right source of safe water. Sometimes, during trekking, or long traveling journey through less peopled places, you need to know certain tricks to find the right source of water.

Related Travel Tips

Tips for Gynecological Problem during Overseas Travel

1. Identify a source

Find the nearest, cleanest source, such as spring, a deep well, hand pump, rainwater tank (except where roofs are painted with lead or made of thatch). Tap water should be avoided, even if you use it, identify where it comes from and make sure pipes and joints are sound. Hot tap water left to cool is a useful source in a hotel. Treat claims that all drinking water is boiled with extreme caution. An idea water supply is cool, clear and odorless.

2. Sterilize it

Boiling is the most reliable method and kills all organisms including viruses and amoebic  cysts. Unless your water is known to be for a safe source or there is a serious lack of fuel, boiling is the method of choice. You can use an electric kettle while traveling.

Contact with iodine kills micro-organisms and releases a low level of iodine for continuing disinfection. There are ideal when on the road but should not be used long-term. Iodine is effective, killing most micro-organisms and having some action on amoebic cysts. Buy portable aqua tablets and dissolve one in a liter of water, or as per manufacturer’s instructions. Current advice is not use iodine for longer than six weeks, and to use it only occasionally when pregnant, in those under six years of age, or if suffering from thyroid problems.

Related Travel Tips

How to Deal with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)?
3. Storing water

Boiled water should ideally be stored in the container in which it was boiled. Alternatively it can be poured into a previously sterilized narrow-necked earthenware jar and placed on a clean, dry surface. The jar will need careful and regular cleaning and should be kept covered.

Many expatriates keep two large kettles, using each in turn first to boil, then to store. In this way there is a constant supply of cool, boiled water. Water is best removed from its storage container through a tap or spout. Dippers are unsafe as they frequently get left on the floor and contaminate the whole supply. A good rule is ‘Tap or tip, don’t dip’.

Safe fluids – on the road

When on the road or in difficult conditions, boiling or filtering is not always possible. Many cases of diarrhea are caused by thirsty travelers dirking what’s offered and hoping for the best.
Keep to hot drinks. Tea and coffee are usually safe, though avoid coffee as it dehydrates the body quickly. 

Keep to carbonated soft drinks from bottles with metal tops from reputable brands. Such drinks are usually clean and their slight acidity kills some organisms. Avoid bottles with loose or suspect tops, and soda or mineral water bottles whose content may have been replenished from a tap.

Bottles of mineral water are now available in almost all parts of India. Although some of them are undoubtedly clean and genuine, others are definitely not. It takes an experienced eye to tell them apart. Only use those with unbroken seals, and preferably bottles where both main label and bottle-top have identical names. 

Always have some water sterilizing tablets with you. They should be dry and reasonably fresh. (Yellowish tablets are losing their potency).

Carry a small, portable water filter.

Avoid ice. Freezing doesn’t kill organisms and ice often comes from an impure source.

Avoid milk unless just boiled.

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Sunday, March 20, 2016

Travel free - Is it joke or reality?

No, I don’t think anybody can travel free. It is simply not possible. I have searched lots of forums, blogs etc. and found people lying about the topic. Nobody really travels free. I feel amused when see headings like “Travel the World when you have absolutely no money”, “Ultimate Guide to Travel when you have no money”, and so on. They work, they do all sort of austerity to maintain a slim lifestyle during travel, slow living and other stuff, but never free. I travel solo, and have traveled to many places including overland traveling. I have seen lots of backpackers who lived a very austere life for their traveling passion. In a way that’s good, I don’t have any issue with that, but many bloggers show a far-fetched dream of traveling without money.

That being said, I also don’t like the idea of luxury traveling. It may be good for people who are not really enjoy traveling but try to escape from the monotony of the daily situation. Virtually they do exactly or expect to do the same thing in a different setting. That’s the idea of traveling for them. I am not here to do any critical analysis of traveling agendas of people. 

Related Link

There are two primary expenses: getting somewhere, and living there. Here I suggest certain budgetary plans, work plans in this topic and hope it will help people who are practical in their approach. These tips are not exclusive for backpackers but people who love to travel and at the same time engage in job, family and other things. Needless to say, these are not for luxury tourists, honeymooners and 4-5 days tourist trips. Lastly, these tips are for single people because I am not a family man and I don’t want to complicate the subject matter with my naivety.

Before Traveling

Start your planning early

First trip with most of the things borrowed (ignore the date)
We Indians have lots of obligations, even certain obligations, which are more of a burden than desirable duties. I generally plan my travel plans early in the year; destinations, travel budgets, days and job leaves.  Many people do cubicle jobs, some stay outside of their hometowns, so they need to manage time to visit their homes as well as fulfill their traveling ambition. So, the trick is, take your traveling seriously like any other job, and plan early.

Start a monthly saving scheme

Many travelers, backpackers suggest this method of saving a separate account for traveling. What I do, I open three recurring deposit account of 2000, 3000, 2000 at different periods of the year. In a year I get three good lump sum amounts to travel. If you have to travel by air and don’t want to empty your bank balance on airfare, I can also suggest you to book tickets on your credit card and ask your bank to convert it into monthly EMI. 

Related Link

Book early

It comes to the first point that is to plan early. If you have a clear idea where to go and when then it is better to book early your flight tickets.

Don’t book hotels

If you are not traveling to some exotic destination, you always find hotels no matter what is the season. Most of the cheap hotels or homestays do not advertise in internet, if you explore it well around the place, even in the most remote places of Himalayas, you can find accommodation.

During Traveling

Engage in money making process

This is for people who have left regular jobs for travel. If you don’t have a definite objective for travel, I suggest don’t just leave your money making process. No matter how romantic it sounds, at the end of the day, you will regret that you don’t have any money left. The situation of Indians and westerners are entirely different in terms of finance, social, cultural and personal will. If you write relatively okay, you can try your hand on different freelancing websites. Again, it is not an easy way to do it. Apparently, it seems very rosy to do freelance writing, earn and travel, but trust me, I am in this field for 6 years,  it is not. In India nobody pays you.

If you have facility to do work from home, you can give a try in your office. Small companies generally don’t mind to cut your salary and give you work from home for a definite period of time, so you can try that option.

If you have some special skills that can fetch you some money, you can do it.

a) Open a shop in eBay – It sounds ludicrous but people earn through it. There are number of people who are interested in postage stamps, coins, comics, old books etc. if you have something, you can start a shop, selling those stuff. Needless to say, if you are a hobbyist, this selling thing is not for you.

b) Day trading – If you have a relatively good idea about equity market, you can earn some money through day trading. The fun part is you can earn lots of money both when the market is up and market is down. There is a risk factor involved in day trading, so if you are not experienced, don’t do it.

c) Use your professional skills – If you are good in finance, you can search for auditing firm or CA firm or similar business and ask for a freelance financial analysis job for you. I know it is extremely difficult in terms of credibility, but if you have a good resume, it might possible you would land up with good job. If you have a skill in photography, you can ask for freelance projects from small companies.

d) Learn new language – For a long-term travel plan, you need to be very specialized in your profession. For example, if you plan to leave your job after two years and travel itinerantly, learning extensive language course would be a great idea. You find lots of opportunities like translator, tour guide, interpreter, language instructor etc. Money is good and it gives you lots of flexibility.

Related Link

Walk more, use public transport

In almost every place, public transports are the cheapest way to travel. If you are not traveling in scorching summer, you can walk. I walked in Bangkok every day; in fact, I walked almost 25 km whole day and then returned back by ferry. So, walking gives you a certain amount of joy, know the place more, explore things better and it’s free.

Free Food

Well, I never tried it because I never had to. However, you can if you think living such an austere life is an adventure so as to sleep on rugs and eat free lunch. There are many ashrams, churches and of course Gurudwaras where you can look for free food. 

Make lots of networking, be an extrovert

Networking helps to find free accommodation, at least for couple of days. Find all friends from schools, colleges, universities and even offices and start connecting them through Facebook, Whatsapp and all possible ways. To have a good public relation is a great way to do lots of work. You can engage in travel groups, both locally and internationally and start interacting with people more often. Only thing one should remember, people are no stupid, so don’t try to push things in groups, be honest and be what you are. Ironically, humans are fond of honest people.

Related Link

FAM trips

I am not a big fan of FAM or Familiarization Trips that are offered by travel agents to give information and content for definite destinations. Reason for not being a big fan is these tour agents look for established players who already have earned good reputation in the blogging world. I got twice these types of trip offer but when I thought about it, I denied because I didn’t want to stay in a resort and do some stupid activities and write about it. Which traveler wants to be dictated on terms of travel agents?!?! Honestly, if I get something that blends with my traveling agenda, well, free trips are always welcome.

Staying in camps

I do it always when I travel in Himalayas. Northern Himalayas and villages are quite hospitable towards backpackers, and though there are rules not to camp anywhere in India, you can always do it. However, this point won’t go with the very first one to engage in freelance work while traveling. You can’t camp in the middle of a village or town, you have to go outside or stay in the forest where in all possible ways,  you won’t find any internet.


Traveling free is not possible, but yes you can do a lot more shoestring than you anticipate, only thing is the courage and inclination to do that.  If you leave everything and dedicate a period of time for traveling, I think you must have courage to ask hotels, hostels, restaurants and all odd places to ask for free things in exchange of work.  If you have a rich parent who's for some bizarre reason ready to sponsor your travel, then it is entirely a different thing.

If you have any suggestions/tips/invaluable advice, please share it in the comment.

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Monday, February 22, 2016

Select your campsite - Tips and Tricks for Backpacking Checklist and Campsite Selection

camping kausani

Camping in the wilderness is an amazing fun. Probably the greatest fun when you are really alone, a stark silhouette, only nature and silence that permeates the whole being. Camping is not easy as it seems, in both cases, if you are alone or with family or friends. The biggest responsibility of camping is to become an ecologically aware camper and appreciate the nature and treat it with care. 

Essential Things to Know Before your First Camping

Know in advance

Do you research thoroughly. Generally I have found online resources are very substandard unless you find a good blog about that particular location. Most of the websites are quite commercial and do not provide comprehensive knowledge and nuances about the place. If you are really enthusiastic about camping, and want to continue it further, my suggestion is to opt for old school book reading about the place. Also you can discuss your plan with a seasoned camper in online forums or directly meet with them at some mountaineer club.

Related Link

Know the local rules

camping abott mount uttrakhand india kumaon
Camping in Abott Mount
Many campsites in India are closed or you need permission to pitch your tent. Mostly I have done all my camping trips without taking any permission, in Uttarakhand and Himachal, but in North Eastern part of India or Southern hills, you need to take permission. Also, be aware about safety of the place as many jungle and hills are not quite safe because of wild animals.

Related Link

Book your reservation

If you want to camp in a popular place designated for camping, you need to book your reservation in advance. Mostly in summers, tour guide companies and hiking clubs have already booked places in advance, so be prepared for it.

Reach the place before time

camping in deori taal uttrakhand india
Camping in Deori Taal
I find it convenient to reach my campsite before dusk. So, I suggest everyone to reach the campsite well before dusk so that you can be familiar with the place, collect your woods, clean the place if required, search the water source and prepare well before the darkness. In the darkness it is not advisable to do any errand forest or hills.

Don’t camp near water source

Many people suggest to camp near the water source, but I did this mistake once and I know how dangerous if you pitch your tent near the water source. Animals generally come to the water source in the night, and they wouldn’t be very pleased to see and smell humans in their habitat. Do not pitch your tent at water’s edge, rather choose a spot at least 300-400m away from it.

Related Link

Anticipate the wind

camping mushiyaari uttrakhand india
Camping in Mushiyaari
It comes from experience but certainly you can study in which direction you should pitch your tent. A sudden wind can destroy your enjoyment. If the wind is gushing, select a site behind boulders or trees.  If you are camping near the river, seek a higher spot in case weather could move overnight. Do not pitch on a flat meadow or untrodden spot.

Camping in winter needs more protection

Needless to say, camping in winter demands lots of extra protection, also it needs specialization if you need to camp on snow. In winter the weather can change very swiftly, so it is very risky to camp solo and that also if you are a novice.

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Thursday, January 14, 2016

Bishnupur: Land of Terracotta and Rich History

bishnupur west bengal terracotta temples

A quaint village once, the first impression of Bishnupur was totally surprising because the richness of heritage wasn't reflected on the overall ambiance of the place. When I first came to visit the place, it was no different from regular sleepy town in West Bengal. People out there took the heritage matter very nonchalantly as I could easily see houses were built on the same spot where these ancient terracotta temples and remnants of erstwhile rulers had embellished the place. People dipped in the same heritage lake where once Mallah kings built dam and other things. Most of these wonderful work of art was neglected for decades, suffered vagaries of weather and stolen.

Bishnupur boasts of a rich history, though during the passage of time the glory somewhere lost in oblivion. The ancient terracotta relics were no doubt wonderful, a treat for any history or archaeological student, or matter-of-fact any creative person, but somewhere I felt the sweet spot was missing, which I found in Agra, Rajasthan and other ancient and medieval historical places.

History of Bishnupur

bishnupur terracotta temples
@ Radha Madhav Temple
The history of this ancient town is mired in stories, myths, certain fantasized tales. Legend says in 7th century BC, the king of Jayanagar, a small province near Vrindavan, went for pilgrimage to Puri (modern day Odisha) with his pregnant wife. On the way to Puri, his wife experienced a labor pain, so they stopped at Laugram village near modern day Kotulpur, and bore a boy in a hut of a Brahmin family. After spending sometimes there, probably provided enough wealth to Brahmin family, they went to fulfill their pilgrimage ambition.

In those days it took years to reach one place to others, so the boy started to grow in the village with Brahmin family. One day while grazing his cows, the Brahmin saw an incredible scene where the little boy fell asleep on the field, and a big snake protected his head from scorching heat with its big hood. After seeing this, the old Brahmin realized that it was not a regular incident, and the boy had some extraordinary caliber, so then onward he took special care of the child. He had initiated special training for the boy including wrestling, sword fight and in-depth study on Hindu scriptures. In the premature age of 15, the boy got fame as a wrestler, and the local king titled him with ‘King of Wrestler’. We don’t know anything about his real father though, but we learned that in the later years he was crowned as the local king and famous as ‘Adi Mallah’ or first ‘Raghubir’. Later, he had shifted his capital to Bishnupur and created famous Mrinamoyee Temple. The successor of the king, Raghubir the 2nd had transformed himself into a staunch devotee of Lord Vishnu and created lots of temples in that region. The name Bishnupur was given in respect of Lord Vishnu and idolized the God everyone in the province.

There are number of festivals and fairs organized in Bishnupur. You can enjoy the trip more if you land at the right time.

April 14 – Lord Shiva Festival where from different people from nearby villages come to here to enjoy few days of Lord Shiva festival.

August 16 – Jhapan Utsav is popular in Bishnupur and also known for its uniqueness in Bengal. Here snake charmers come with their pets and show different snake stunts.

December 23-27 – Bishnupur Mela, the famous one where artisans, singers, baul artists all come to the place and exhibit their talent.

Journey to Bishnupur

joypur forest road bishnupur
Winding through Joypur Forest road
The journey to Bishnupur was one hell of a ride! It took more than 5 hours to cover 145 km because of bumpy road all throughout till Joynagar. I and my friend had started early morning from Kolkata in his hatchback. The road till Dankuni was relatively smooth but things turned into ugly sore when we crossed Dankuni flyover and took Ahalabai Holkar Road. The road till Champadanga was so pathetic, we had to drive at a speed of 20k/h. From Champadanga to Arambagh we were relieved a bit, but again, from onward till Kotulpur, we again experienced bumps every minute.

While returning from Bishnupur, we took a different route, and realized that it was the route to be chosen in the first place. We take Champadanga to Tarekeshwar and via Haripal, Singur reached Durgapur Expressway and reached Kolkata in less 3 hours.


If you are going by road on your own car, never trust Google Map because it shows the shortest route, which is Dankuni to Champadanga via Ahalabai Holkar Road.

Most of the buses from Kolkata also come through that road, so if you go on public transport, it is recommended to take train from Kolkata. Or come at Kharagpur/Midnapur/Bardhman/Durgapur by train form Howrah.

For more about rail timing and other information, check the below link:

What to see in Bishnupur?

Bishnupur is known for India’s first and the largest terracotta temples. The whole area is sprinkled with numerous temples, relics, gates and other stuff made of terracotta. Terracotta word originated from Latin word, which means Terra = Earth or Clay and Cotta = Dry Coating or Upper Garment of a man. Terracotta means Baked Clay Work.

terracotta crafts on the wall of bishnupur temple
Exquisite Terracotta craft
You have to stay for at least couple of days to explore the place fully. To understand the significance temples, you need to study and see the place from a deeper perspective.


Don’t miss the Joypur Forest, which is probably the biggest stretch of forest in that region. The forest stretches nearly 120 square kilometers with a watch tower to catch a glimpse of early morning bird watching, cheetals and if lucky wild elephants.

Jorbangla Temple

This wonderful art of clay was built in 1655 AD by King Raghunath Singha Dev II. The walls are carved with stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata. The roof and temple represents the classical Bengal village huts, and the rooms and walls are carved with medieval battle scenes.


This is claimed to be the oldest pyramidal tower shaped terracotta temple. The temple is surrounded by turrets ideated by King Bir Himbira in 17th century. 

There are number of other exquisite temples to visit in Bishnupur such as:

  • Radhamadhab Temple
  • Kalachand Temple
  • Radha Govinda Temple
  • Mrinmoyee Temple
  • Chinnamasta Temple
Official Information

Department of Tourism , Government of West Bengal 2, Brabourne Road Kolkata - 700 001 Phone: +91-33-2225-4565/8183/4723-25 Fax:+91-33-2225-4565 E-mail:

Tourism Centre , 3/2 B.B.D. Bag (East) Kolkata - 700 001 Phone: +91-33-2248 8271/5168 2210-3199, 2243-7260 Fax: +91-33-2248 5168

Tourism Centre, M-4 Building, Hill Cart Road Siliguri, Dist: Darjeeling Ph: +91-353-2511974, 2511979, Telefax: +91-353-2517561

West Bengal Tourism Office, 1, Nehru Road, Darjeeling 734101 (WB) Phone: +91-354-2254050/2254102

West Bengal Tourism Office, State Emporia Building (1st floor) Baba Kharak Singh Marg New Delhi - 110 001 Phone: +91-11-2374 2840

West Bengal Information Bureau, West Bengal Youth Hostel, 18, Wallajah Road, Chennai Phone: +91-44-2841 1046

West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation Ltd, Netaji Indoor Stadium Kolkata - 700 021 Phone; +91-33-2248 7302/8256/8242/7318/9416, 2210 3194 Fax: +91-33-2248 8290 E-mail:

What to buy?

terracotta gifts bishnupur

Bankura Horse is famous of its unique terracotta sculpture. These horses are available both in terracotta and wooden versions.

You can also find rich and exquisite Baluchari Saris in Bishnupur. The traditional sarees are crafted with Ramayana and Mahabharata symbols. These days artisans are creating new contemporary designs for tourists.

You can find cheap and variety of conch shell items including beads, decorative pieces, pen stand, incense holder etc. Also, you can buy terracotta conch shells, which is dart cheap.


Although it is now rare to find Dashaavatar deck of cards in the market, still you can find it in Bishnupur. You go to Shankhari Bazaar (near Madan Mohan temple), Manshatala where Fouzdaar family continues with their traditional craft of this unique Dashavataar cards. 

Where to stay

Well, the best place is to stay is near Joypur Forest where you can find a two resorts with sprawling campus surrounded by lush green ambiance. The atmosphere is pristine, food is good and accommodation is decent. 

If you want to stay in Bishnupur, there are number of lodges ranging from budget to luxury. 

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