Majuli – Culture and Heritage

The river island of Majuli left us spellbound in so many ways. I have already written an elaborate post on the scenic natural beauty of Majuli. My description of Majuli would remain utterly incomplete if I do not write about the Satras. The scenic beauty of Majuli is intricately interwoven with its art and culture, a large part of which is contributed by the Satras.

Pic 1: A pond at Auniati Satra

Satras are religious and cultural institutions or monasteries dedicated to Lord Krishna. Satras date back to the 15th century when the first Satra was established by Srimanta Shankardev, the great Assamese saint and Neo-Vaishnavite reformer. Subsequently, 64 more Satras were established. Though only 22 Satras exist today. The rest were washed away by floods and erosion. Some of these have been rebuilt in other locations in Assam. The Satras are much more than just religious centers. They have shaped the culture of the island and continue to have a huge influence on the social lives of local people.

TRIVIA

A friend of mine, well versed with the culture of Majuli on account of her husband being posted there as a high govt. official, had recommended that I visit the Satras strictly in a Sari. Consequently, I landed up being in a Sari all through my Majuli trip. Something I did for the first time while on travel. And, I must say that it felt amazing!

Majuli owes much of its rich cultural heritage to the Satras. They are the hub of traditional art and folk culture, which naturally ripples all across the state of Assam. Each Satra has a distinct identity and caters to a specific art form. Over the centuries, these institutions have had significant contributions to Assamese art and culture. The classical dance form, ‘Sattriya’, and the theatre form, ‘Bhaona’, along with their associated music have been developed and preserved through these Satras over the past five centuries.

Pic 2: The quarters for the Bhaktas overlooking the pond at Dakhinpat Satra

Each Satra has its own set of residing monks who preserve its distinctive cultural significance. Their lives are dedicated to the devotion of Lord Krishna. The religious and the administrative head of a Sattra is known as ‘Sattradhikar’ and rest are known as ‘Bhakats’. The Bhaktas are responsible for various administrative, maintenance, religious, and cultural activities of the Satra. The Bhaktas are brilliant artisans too and make several items like masks, musical instruments, hand-fans, door frames, etc. The monks are quite friendly and open to having conversations with visitors.

Each Satra typically consist of a large prayer hall facing the shrine, known as ‘Naamghar’ surrounding which are dormitories or huts for the monks. Each Satra also has one or more ponds or tanks. Some Satras also offer guest accommodation, where devotees and visitors can participate in the daily worships and also watch traditional Bhaona performances.

We visited five Satras, few of the most important ones. It’s a boon that such places still exist, which not only value our culture and heritage but are working towards preserving the same. Especially in today’s era that has engulfed most of us in endless rat race and mindless consumerism.

Sri Sri Dakhinpat Satra

One of the oldest Satra, Dakhinpat was established in 1584, which is evident from some of the old structures we saw here. The ‘Naamghar’ supported by huge wooden pillars was under renovation and there was cement and sand all over. Even then, it emanated an old-world charm that was difficult to miss. Hundreds of diyas were lit on the floor making the festive season all the more prominent.

This Satra is known for preserving various types of dance forms that are performed during the festival of Raasleela, which depict the life of Lord Krishna. It is also said to house treasures and artefacts from the Ahom kings, which are not in display for public. Though they are constructing a museum where they may display some of the items. This was the first Satra we visited and consequently spent quite a bit of time. A monk even invited us for a cup of tea and provided some valuable insights about this Satra.

Pic 3: The entrance gate of Dakhinpat Satra
Pic 4: The age-old structures at Dakhinpat Satra
Pic 5: Diyas at the Naamghar, the uneven floor clearly indicating that it is under renovation.

Sri Sri Samaguri

Majuli has a unique tradition and legacy of mask-making, which is preserved and propagated by Samaguri Satra.  That makes Samaguri the most fascinating of all the Satras. The masks or ‘mukhas’ represent various mythological and religious characters and are integral to ‘Bhaona’ performances.  The masks are completely organic made of cane, cloth, mud, dung and are mostly used during the festival of Raasleela.

The Sattradhikar, Dr. Hem Chandra Goswami, has been instrumental in not only reviving the tradition of mask-making but bringing in many innovations, such as moveable jaws and eyes. Dr. Goswami has been acclaimed nationally and internationally for his endeavor and unique craftsmanship. He is also a recipient of the prestigious Padma Shri, India’s fourth-highest civilian award, for the year 2023. We were extremely fortunate and truly honoured to be able to meet him as he happened to be at the Satra at that time. His passion and dedication was clearly evident when he took time out to enthusiastically explain to us the intricacies of Sattriya dance and the importance of masks in Bhaona. He also demonstrated the functioning of a couple of masks and encouraged us to try them out. He went on to share about all the accolades he received, including that British Museum displayed five of his masks during an exhibition called ‘Krishna in the Garden of Assam’. All that with no hint of pride or arrogance but in complete humility, leaving us even more astonished.

Pic 6: Various types of masks are seen displayed inside Samaguri Satra
Pic 7: Entrance to Samaguri Satra (L); An artisan at work (R)
Pic 8: The various stages of creating the masks or the ‘mukhas’
Pic 9: Hand-made cane statues depicting Sattriya Dance poses (L); a huge mask in the making (R)
Pic 10: Truly honoured to meet Sattradhikar and Padma Shri, Dr. Hem Chandra Goswami who spent quite a bit of time with us explaining the use of masks and the process of their creation.

Sri Sri Uttar Kamalabari Satra

This Satra has a major contribution to the Mati Akhora and the Gayan Bayan forms of the clasical Sattriya dance. This Satra is also famous for crafting some of the finest boats of the island. Personally, I thought this was the most aesthetically designed Satra. The ornate doorways and the beautiful paintings on the life of Lord Krishna that adorned the walls of the Naamghar were captivating.

Pic 11: The ornate entrance to the Uttar Kamalabari Naamghar
Pic 12: Beautiful Paintings on the life of Sri Krsahna adorn the walls of the Naamghar.
Pic 13: The quarters of the Bhaktas at Uttar Kamalabari Satra

Sri Sri Garamur

This is one of the four royal Satras of the island and hence used to be quite affluent back in the days. It houses a museum that preserves ancient canons, known as ‘bortop’. The museum was closed when we visited. The inmates of this Satra are householders and not monks that have renounced the world.  The same is true for Samaguri Satra as well.

Pic 14: Garuda idol and little Hanuman at Garamur Satra

Sri Sri Auniati

We arrived at this Satra early morning while it was still opening up. We walked around soaking in the early morning air through the peaceful ambience. Lord Krishna is refereed to as Govinda in this Satrra and all festivals and activities are centered around Govinda. This Satra also houses a museum that preserves ancient artefacts like old utensils, jewellery and handicrafts. The museum was however closed at that time. Auniati Satra is famous for traditional Mishing tribal dances and a congregational prayer, known as Paalnaam.

Pic 14: Entrance gate of Auniati Satra.
Pic 15: The quaint Naamghar at Auniati Satra

Majuli – Peaceful and Serene

This was the first time I was going to be in Guwahati for a few days on my way home to Shillong. Over the years Guwahati has been reduced to being just a transit point for me, enroute home. I have been wanting to explore the city for a while now but that hasn’t happened yet. However, a little bit of Assam happened in the form of Majuli – and a long-standing wish was finally fulfilled.

I’m back after a prolonged blogging hiatus and what better way to restart than writing about Majuli. Also known as the ‘Cultural Capital of Assam’, Majuli is the largest river island in the world with a total area of 352 square Kilometres. Formed by the confluence of River Brahmaputra and its tributaries, the island is however shrinking due to extensive soil erosion that’s chipping away its banks. In fact, surveys have indicated that the island may cease to exist in just 15–20 years. It is a biodiversity hotspot and houses several villages. It’s a UNESCO world heritage contender too.

Pic 1: Lohit River – A tributary of River Brahmaputra

It was the second week of April, time for the most important festival of Assam – Rongali Bihu or Bohag Bihu, which celebrates the Assamese New Year. This wasn’t in my mind though when I had booked the tickets, way back in the month of February. Rather, I was concerned about the weather, as we were at the brink of Summer. Well, it turned out to be one of best times to visit Majuli – the festive season of Spring. Though locals told us Winter would be the best time for the various cultural festivals held during that time, such as, Raasleela, Majuli Festival, Magh Bihu, etc. Summers and Monsoon are not the right time to visit the island, for obvious reasons.

Pic 2: The wooden bridge we came across over Lohit River
Pic 3: The wooden bridge won’t be around long, the red flag indicates its precariousness.

Reaching Majuli

Reaching Majuli by itself is an exciting venture for city people like us, especially if you choose to take a ferry over River Brahmaputra. It takes about an hour and is really convenient. The ferries carry not just people, but vehicles too. So, you can choose to take your own car or bike. Another way to reach Majuli is through road but that’s a very long arduous drive and takes close to 10 hours. We took an overnight train from Guwahati to the town of Jorhat. There we hired an autorickshaw that dropped us to Nimati Ghat, where we boarded the first ferry that was leaving at 7.30 AM. The double-storied ferry was unusually crowded. Jostling through the crowd we managed to reach the upper deck while the ferry was well into the mighty Brahmaputra away from the shores.

What We did at Majuli

We landed at Kamalbari, the Ferry Ghat of Majuli, boarded a shared taxi and reached the homestay that we had booked. The simplicity, peaceful, and rustic charm of Majuli was immediately evident. Wrapped in anticipation, we were all set to explore the mystical island in the next two days. One of the two days happened to be my birthday and I hadn’t planned to be here. It was the best coincidence.

Pic 4: It was green and only green wherever the eyes looked.
Pic 5: An algae covered reddish brown pond, the white dots are flower petals from a particular tree. I don not know the name of the tree or flower. These petals were strewn all over Majuli at that time.

An ideal way to explore the island is on a two-wheeler. This will enable you to traverse through the narrow pathways of the village interiors. A car can limit your experience to a large extent. Consequently, we rented a two-wheeler, which became our companion for the next two days. We had no particular plan or itinerary and simply rambled around Majuli’s green fields and straight roads, literally going wherever our eyes took us. We did plan to visit the Satras, a few of which we had shortlisted. Satras are religious and cultural institutions or monasteries dedicated to Lord Vishnu that profoundly influence the social lives of local people. Satras deserve a separate post where I’ll write in greater detail. (Read Here)

Pic 6: Another algae covered pond, with the boat making it quite picturesque.
Pic 7: White Lotus blooming in a pond at one of the Satras (Dakshinpat Satra)

Majuli felt like a bride draped in green! She was gorgeous and vibrant. Anywhere we looked green was all that we saw. Soothingly refreshed we kept riding all day long ingesting Nature’s calming bounty so much so that we even missed having lunch on the first day. Now and then we would just take a turn from the main road and explore the narrow pathways through the interiors of the island.

Pic 8: We saw most of the houses built on bamboo stilts. This one was a resort though.
Pic 9: Peaceful vibes emanate everywhere in the island.

It being the time of Bihu, we had the unique opportunity to experience Assam’s rich culture through the traditional Bihu Dance. The invigorative dance celebrates the vitality of Spring and is performed by groups of young men and women. At Majuli, we found groups of little children dancing around the lanes and bylanes in their traditional Assamese attires – the red and beige mekhela chador (the tribal children wore mekhela chadors of various colours). They had no qualms about dancing for us, as well, each and every time we requested a group. The tradition is they dance and you offer them a small sum of Rs 50 or so as a token of your appreciation.

Majuli is home to many tribes – Misings, Deoris, Sonowal, and Kacharis. Of these, Misings are predominant. We had plans of touring at least one tribal village but we gave that a miss as our random meanderings was turning out to be more fun and interesting. On the second day, we spent the afternoon hours on the banks of Lohit, which is a tributary of Brahmaputra. The quietude of Lohit left us spellbound and those 2-3 hours was like a lifetime of peace and solitude.

Pic 11: The banks of Lohit River had a lot to offer, it was a photographer’s paradise.

My friend, R, who was with me on the trip spent most of that time laying down on a patch of green grass on the banks of the river. I, on the other hand wandered around and met a couple of women from the Mising tribe. Since I can speak Assamese, language was no barrier. We exchanged stories and got a glimpse into each other’s’ lives. A group of three chatted with me while they collected some kind of specific leaves from the vegetation around the river bank. This was in preparation for a village feast they had that evening. They even invited me to their home. Then, I watched two other women catching fish that lay hidden in the clusters of water Hyacinth. I had no idea what they were doing until they explained it to me. It was a wonderful afternoon, one that I will never forget.

Pic 12: Mising women collect leaves from the vegetation around Lohit River
Pic 13: Another group of women catch fish from the water Hyacinths floating on Lohit River.

We spent the evenings watching sunset over River Brahmaputra. Sun down and the island is all quiet, there’s nothing much to do anymore. We did try riding around in the dark but that was quite boring and we gave up.

Majuli’s food is worth a mention too, especially the fresh fish and the rice beer or Apong. Unfortunately, we happened to miss the latter due to reasons that aren’t worth mentioning in this post. Well, there will be a next time and that’s for sure.

Pic 14: Sun sets at Kamalbari Ghat over Brahmaputra River.
Pic 15: Houses built on bamboo stilts to protect from the floods.

Majuli’s peaceful and tranquil vibe pervades my senses even now as I write about it. It’s simply meditative!

I leave you with two of my Instagram posts, if you are interested to know more. First one for Bihu Dance and second one for the scenic nature.

Reminiscing 2022

The Year That Was…

As I sit to write my year end blog post I can’t help but quote Charles Dickens – “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” The latter seemingly more prominent in my case for the year 2022. It was an eventful year but mostly for the wrong reasons and my woes are far from over even though the year has ended. Year-end, of course, has nothing to do with the phases in life that happen at different intervals of time. Year-ends or beginnings are simply man-made concepts. When I was younger, I was naïve enough to think that year ends and beginnings are significant as they herald fresh and new changes in one’s life.

Here’s a quick snapshot of the year 2022, as it happened to me.

  1. It was a year of one crisis after the other in my personal life, healthwise, jobwise, familywise. None of those are meant for this space because down the line tough times will cease to exist and it’s the good that will be remembered.
  2. A significant incident of this year has been acquiring my Yoga Teacher Certification, accredited by AYUSH Ministry, Govt. of India. The strangest part is that it just happened. Being a Yoga teacher was nowhere in my remotest radar. My love for Yoga took off to another level with all the new knowledge and understanding I gained.
  3. I have embarked upon my journey of teaching Yoga with two of my sisters being my first students. With my limited experience, I find great peace in teaching Yoga, even more than doing Yoga. The reason, I’m certain, is because one needs to be 100% mindful while teaching, there is no other way. And, my Guinea Pigs gave given me very good feedback. They look forward to my yoga sessions.
  4. Staying in my Shillong home for more than 2 months was the sweetest aspect of this year. My cousins being there as well for the entire duration only added to the good times. Especially all the explorations we did in the monsoon of Meghalaya – most notably the waterfalls. I am yet to write about all them all.
  5. One of the most unique experiences of this year was our visit to Kamakhya Temple during Ambubachi Mela. Experiencing the festivities of Ambubachi Mela is not something I had ever imagined in my life. I will write in a detailed post about the Mela, which is a very important festival of the state of Assam.
  6. My maiden staycation experience happened this year too.
  7. The most cherished travel memory of 2022 is certainly our visit to Goa, where we travelled by train passing via Dudhsagar in the month of July during the peak of monsoon. I’m yet to write about this one too.
  8. Our trip to Udupi during the Independence Day weekend was a sudden plan that worked out incredibly well. Not only did we discover the quietude of the lesser known Mattu Beach but we also happened to visit the ancient Sharada Peetham – located in Sringeri, it is one of the four Shankaracharya Mutts, established by Adi Shankaracharya himself.
  9. The day outings I did in and around Bangalore definitely need a special mention, especially traveling on a local train and going to Bangarpet and hiking on Avathi Betta. I am yet to write about the latter.
  10. This was the first year in my more than a decade long Bangalore inhabitancy that I celebrated Durga Puja with a lot of fun and fervour.
  11. I joined a new job, something I was forced to do by circumstances and not out of choice. The company I worked at for the last one year was acquired and our jobs were at stake. Gratitude to Almighty for having found an alternative. Though am still struggling to settle down even after four months.
  12. Lastly and most importantly I have been extraordinarily fortunate to have taken a significant step towards progression on my spiritual quest. I will leave out the details but hope I do justice to the blessings I have received.

2022, ridden with all the difficulties, has been one of the toughest years of my life. My blog has taken a hit too as I couldn’t write much though I have a lot to write about. However, reading whatever I have just written makes me smile. Let’s see what 2023 has in store. As of this moment, I want to remain hopeful and keep the positivity in me up and running while expressing my gratitude to the Supreme Force that drives this universe.

A Tiny Town Called Bangarapet

And it’s Legendary Chaats

The weekend was here, and we did not have any specific plans. There’s nothing much to do in Bangalore, anyway! We didn’t want another day of mindless wandering around Jayanagar and JP Nagar. Though it’s something we had been enjoying of late – traversing the lanes and bylanes underneath the soothing comfort of the large canopies of age-old trees that line many of these streets. Scattered here and there are many parks, all refreshing spots of green.  The old-time houses stand in sharp contrast with the ones renovated to spacious and lovely bungalows. Things that more than often spark interesting conversations, as we watch life happen in the streets of Bangalore. All of these with my good friend R, a proud native of Karnataka, who always comes up with some interesting cultural insights and anecdotes.  

Pic 1: The sun was about to set when we arrived at Bangarapet

It was during these walks that I got introduced to many kinds of authentic Bangalorean food. The result of not being a foodie was that I never had much idea about the varied range of Kannadiga cuisine even after being here for more than a decade. R is a foodie and as a result our casual weekend sprees always lead to discovery of some good eating joints too – roadside as well as fine dining.

And, whenever we savoured chaats, R would invariably say, “I’ll take you to Bangarapet one day”. Bangarapet Chaats are very commonly found in Bangalore. One can spot that banner in almost every lane and street.

So, this Saturday we decided to go to Bangarapet to sample the chaats at their place of origin. I was, however, more interested in exploring the town than its legendary chaats. And no surprises at that! R grew up in a township very close to Bangarapet and even lived in the town for a couple of years during his childhood. Naturally, the place stands very special for him.

Located in Kolar district of Karnataka, Bangarapet is about 90 Km. away from Bangalore. We could have driven down but decided to take a suburban train instead. That got me even more excited! Afterall, we hardly travel in trains these days.

Pic 3: The train was relatively empty when we boarded but soon enough it was jam packed.

Travelling in the crowded suburban train for two hours turned out to be the most interesting experience of the trip. Scores of people commute in this manner everyday and I don’t mean to undermine the trouble they may go through. It could be all good though. At least they don’t have to struggle with traffic jams and all its associated problems. We boarded a Chennai bound train. This was the second time in my life that I was onboard a local train. The first time was about a decade ago when we had traveled to Murshidabad from Kolkata.

Pic 4: Several such colourful flower shops all around the town that make you pause in admiration.

The train was relatively empty when we boarded as it was at the station of origin. As the train started moving and we passed by two other stations in Bangalore, it got fully crowded.

I was comfortably seated at a window seat that gave me the best of views outside and even somewhat shielded me from the jostling crowd. Though I was equally interested in observing people and experiencing all the things that were happening inside the train – incessant chattering, strangers smiling and almost starting a conversation, some even managing video calls with their near and dear ones, hawkers calling out in their typical sing song manner, and so much more. It was like getting transported to childhood days when trains used to be the preferred mode of travel. Now even on those rare train travels you hardly get to experience such small little things.

Pic 5: Simply fell in love with these dilapidated old structures in one of the lanes.
Pic 6: The dilapidated building in its entireity.

We started our Bangarapet sojourn by having a very good chai (tea) at the platform. R claims it’s the best platform chai one can get! And I had to agree, as it was perfect.

Bangarapet is a very small town. It’s quite like the size of a neighbourhood in Bangalore. There are just 4-5 streets and one can easily walk through the entire town in less than an hour. It reminded me of the common Hindi adage of – shuru hone se pehle hi khatam ho jata hai (ends even before it starts).

Nothing distinctive about the town other than the chaat stalls liberally scattered all over in various shapes and sizes. We sampled a wide variety of chaats. Some were good others not so much. However, it’s the hot and spicy water served in small glasses, which is unique about Bangarapet chaats. The water is clear and transparent and can easily pass on as ordinary water till the spice knocks your nostrils so hard that it leaves you baffled for a while. It has the taste of ginger, garlic, cinnamon, cloves, chilies – hot, salty, and tangy all at once!

Pic 7: Thats’s us. A quick selfie before the train got over-crowded.

What are Chaats?

Chaat or chat is the collective name of a spicy and tangy category of roadside savoury snack found in India. This popular mouth-watering snack that originated in the state of Uttar Pradesh is prepared in various combinations. It may contain vegetables of the likes of tomatoes, potatoes, onions, peas, etc. It must contain some kind of crunchy and crispy base or topping or both. Mostly, it will be accompanied by curd and sweet and sour watery dips of various kinds.

A Part of Tagore Remains in Shillong

“Rabindranath lived in this bungalow”, I commented as we passed by the iconic heritage home located about a kilometer from my house. We paused at the large iron gate to read the black granite plaque that had the name ‘Jitbhumi’ engraved on it. “I heard this place has got some new owners”, I continued. “I hope they give this place its due and maintain it as is”. It was then that we noticed Tagore’s bust, just beyond the gate. Now this was something new, I hadn’t seen it before. Clearly, the new owners (a doctor couple) do understand the value of this property. Just then a man, clad in a security guard’s attire, appeared and started walking swiftly towards us. We were all set to be shooed away. Instead, the guard opened the gate and ushered us in. While entry inside the house was not allowed, we were happy to walk and look around the property. So, visitors are allowed in here.

Pic 1: Tagore’s bust at the entrance
Pic 2: Some description

We all know Kabiguru Rabindranath Tagore, the legendary poet, who was also a writer, novelist, dramatist, composer, philosopher, social reformer, and painter. The iconic figure of Indian cultural renaissance, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1912 for Gitanjali – a collection of poems, originally written in Bengali and later translated into English.

But, how many of us know that the multitalented personality had a deep connection with Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya!

Tagore visited Shillong not just once, but thrice in 1919, 1923, and 1927. No other hill station has had the privilege of hosting the illustrious poet so many times. Several iconic literary creations emerged from these three visits. The classic master piece romantic novel, Shesher Kobita, for e.g., is set in the backdrop of Shillong, though Tagore wrote it during a trip to South India. Raktakarobi and Shillonger Chiti are the other well-known creations associated with his Shillong visit. Shillonger Chiti is a true representation of how profoundly Tagore’s poetic sense was captivated by the innate natural beauty of Shillong.

In his memoirs, the poet describes the winding road to Shillong as ‘aka – baka – poth’ with eye catching forests on either side. He celebrates the unique aroma of the Pine trees and is charmed by the Rhododendrons of the evergreen Khasi Hills. Shillong’s calmness and tranquillity surrounded by Pine and Deodar trees reflects well in all such Tagore’s work.

Pic 3: The entrance gate

Tagore was already a global celebrity when he first arrived at Shillong. However, it’s a pity that the city did not give the bard his due welcome. Shillong was then the capital of Assam and was under the administration of British Government. It was a time when the political scenario of the country was in a very disturbed state. Tagore had denounced his Knighthood as a protest to the inhumanly cruel Jallianwala Bagh massacre of April 1918 when the British Army had opened indiscriminate fire killing 400 innocent Indians and leaving several thousand injured. Many people in Shillong probably avoided his company lest they offend the British rulers. It is said that Tagore was upset with the attitude of people but that did not diminish his adoration for Shillong. During his first visit, Tagore stayed for 20 days at a bungalow known as Brookside, which is now owned by the Art and Culture Department of Meghalaya Government.

Pic 4: The Assam type heritage home

It was during his second visit, that Tagore stayed at ‘Jitbhumi’ for two months, which at that time belonged to his niece. He was just back from a year-long trip to Europe and America. It was during his time here that he wrote Raktakarobi (Red Oleanders), a drama reflecting his experience of the largely mechanical and materialistic life in the West. A significant event during this second visit was the celebration of Tagore’s birthday on the 8th of May, 1923.

That ‘Jitbhumi’ owners have retained the bungalow in its original form and preserved many of his precious memories speaks volumes about their admiration and respect towards the renowned poet.

Pic 5: Another view

During his third and final visit in May-June 1927, Tagore stayed at Solomon Villa, later renamed as Sidli House in Upland Road, Laitumkhrah. During this time, he composed the novel Tinpurush, which he later renamed as Yogayog. He penned a few poems too. The letters he wrote to friends and family are also preserved. This heritage house no longer exists.

Besides Tagore, Shillong has also been fortunate to host Swami Vivekananda and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. However, it’s extremely unfortunate that there has been no effort to preserve the heritage homes where people of such stature have stayed. Most are destroyed. It’s a blessing therefore that ‘Jitbhumi’ is owned by people who understand and value the glorious heritage linked to eminent distinguished people, like Tagore.

Disclaimer: The information on Tagore’s Shillong visits is sourced from various news articles in the Internet.

Mattu Beach – A Tropical Paradise

Our auto took a turn and quite unexpectedly we found ourselves on a narrow but perfectly tarred road that was lined with coconut trees on one side and the vast Arabian Sea on the other. Peeping through the coconut trees and scattered all along were quaint little colourful houses painted in red, blue, yellow, pink. It was the long weekend of Independence Day and we were gallivanting around Udupi.

Rajesh, our auto driver, did mention that he was about to take us to a place that we would really like but we hadn’t paid much attention thinking that he hardly knew what would interest us. And, here we were in a state of complete euphoria mesmerized with the scenic and picturesque setting around us. We had grossly underestimated Rajesh’s capability of gauging the interests of tourists riding with him and customising the trips accordingly. His experience and zest in delighting his customers is something he repeatedly proved to us in the next few days.

Sensing our excitement, Rajesh stopped the auto somewhere in the middle of nowhere. It was only when we stepped out that we saw the backwaters beyond the coconut trees. The narrow strip of road was flanked by coconut trees, palm trees, and backwaters on one side and the deep blue sea on the other. Nature has uniquely blessed this place. There were very few people around and it wasn’t the least bit touristy making it the most pleasant place at that moment. There were no hawkers, no shops, no restaurants. The air was filled with the gentle sound of waves splashing into the golden sands, the swishing coconut trees dancing to the tune of the breeze emanating from the sea, and the pleasantly fluttering Indian Flag – it was the day before Independence Day.

Pic 2: What can be more refreshing than strolling on roads like this!
Pic 3: The narrow road flanked by coconut trees and backwaters on one side and the sea on the other.
Pic 4: A view of the backwaters.

The thought that I had never heard about this beach before was astonishing, especially in this digital age of social media. Such a charming beach remains lesser known is a blessing till word spreads and it gets discovered. I just hope the beach remains empty as it is today, which is a possibility so long eateries and hawkers don’t set up shop here. Thoroughly delighted to discover this hidden gem, we had clearly fallen in love with this place. The blissful, pristine, clean, and quiet surroundings exuded the perfect therapeutic feeling of peace and joy. The next few days saw us coming here at least once every single day and spending time in nature’s heavenly solitude.

Just two weeks before I had been to South Goa, which is known for its stunning white sandy beaches, clear blue seas, swaying palm trees, and the amazing sea food. Therefore, it was only natural for me to make a quick comparison of the beaches in South Goa to Mattu Beach. The latter won hands on for reasons more than one. The soulful and serene Mattu Beach is grossly underrated, which is not a bad thing at all, especially for travellers seeking to enjoy nature’s inherent quietude.

Pic 5: The entire stretch of the beach is separated into smaller coves by artificial rock walkways that extend onto the sea.
Pic 6: Clean and simmering golden sands, something that I haven’t seen in any other Indian beach for quite some time.

The 30 Km. long Mattu Beach is also well known for bio luminescence – the sea sparkles at sun down because of the production and emission of light by some bio-luminescent microorganisms. Unfortunately, I got to know of this only after getting back to Bangalore when my friend, unable to get Mattu Beach out of her mind, went into a research mode and started reading up about the place. That was certainly a big miss for us as we never stayed back after sundown. Well, I will certainly visit Mattu Beach once again and bio luminescence will be an additional attraction.

Pic 7: There wasn’t a lot of sun those days and mostly the sky remained overcast, yet we got to witness brilliant play of colours everyday at sunset.

When Staycation Got Hold of Me

Staycation – nah! Not my kind of thing! Why would I spend so much money on a fancy resort or hotel in my own city! Not something I’ll ever do. Or so, I thought.

It must be a year ago or may be two when I heard this word for the first time – STAYCATION, a portmanteau of the words Stay and Vacation. Travel hadn’t opened up fully until then and I would find colleagues off on staycations with their families or friends. When someone explained to me what a staycation entailed, it didn’t appeal much to me. Sure, it worked great for them, especially with their young kids, but it wasn’t for me.

If you surf the Internet, you will find various definitions of staycation. Wikipedia says, it’s about staying at home and participating in leisure activities within day trip distance of your home that doesn’t require overnight accommodation. Merriam Webster says, it’s a vacation spent at home or nearby. Somewhere I also read, it’s a vacation close to your hometown or in your home country rather than travelling abroad. Merriam Webster has even traced the first usage of the word staycation and interestingly, it dates way back to the year 1944. So, the trend of staycation may not be as new as we think it is.

Take a Stay-cation instead of a Va-cation, this year.
— Cincinnati Enquirer, 18 July 1944

[Source: Merriam Webster]

My interpretation of staycation, based on what I see people around me doing, is staying at a hotel or resort in your home city. This felt like a weird concept to me. It was a complete waste of precious holiday time. Must be stemming from my acute love for the outdoors.

I have been told that staycation need not necessarily have to be limited to staying at a hotel or resort with your family and loved ones. It doesn’t have to be just an indoor activity. It could also include short drives and hikes in the surrounding areas. Well, isn’t it just another vacation then? My brain hurts, it’s confusing. Ah! It’s vacation when it’s another city, staycation when it’s the home city. I suppose I got it right. But, did I?

To add to my confusion, the tourism industry is abuzz with terminologies like workcation, homecation, daycation, and what not. While I was comparing, contrasting, and trying to make sense of these post-Covid travel terminologies, I found myself in the midst of a staycation.    

I had to visit Guwahati a couple of times during my extended stay at my home in Shillong. A few of my friends live in Guwahati but more often than not I have to miss meeting them because of competing priorities. There’s one friend though, who never misses to catch up with me each time I pass by Guwahati, even if it is for a few minutes. And, ironically, she happens to be the busiest of them all. This time, both of us had the luxury of a little more time – the afternoon of that day until forenoon, the next day. Incidentally, a common friend also happened to arrive at Guwahati that day. The three of us were meeting after a very long time and we had loads to catch up on. I presumed that we were going to spend most of the time at my friend’s home in Guwahati.

My friend threw up a big surprise by announcing that she had booked a room at a luxury hotel in Guwahati and that’s where we would put up for our time together. And, when three women are together after a very long gap what happens is anybody’s guess – talk nineteen to the dozen – an activity that’s completely in tune with the concept of staycation.

The impromptu staycation planned by my friend turned out to be the best decision. We got to spend such quality time with each other. All three of us were fully absorbed and completely focused on each other. There was no concern for food, no worries about tidying up the place, no diversion with anything or anybody interfering and taking away our time.

My maiden staycation turned out to be a lot of fun and quite an eye-opener too. Now, I can say with some authority that staycation sure has its merits. And, I learnt for the nth time to be open to ideas and not be opinionated or biased towards things that I haven’t experienced yet.

So absorbed we were with ourselves that we had no time for pictures, but here’s two for memory’s sake.

Chasing Waterfall Through Torrential Rains

I’ve been away from the world of blogging for two whole months and that’s a significantly long time. It wasn’t a planned getaway as such, no intentions of taking a break from social media, but just happened that way. I got a little absorbed in my own world with the usual ups and downs of living life. Amidst all of that, the best thing of traveling and exploring kept happening. So, that leaves no room for any kind of complaints!

As you can imagine, I have a lot to write about.

To start with, let me provide an outline of some of the waterfall that I have visited this monsoon. Except one, all of these are from Meghalaya. I will describe them in greater detail in a future post. This is just a sneak peek.

Prut Falls

The gushing waters of Wah Urwan (Wah means river in Khasi), located in Laitlyndop Village falls from a height of 40 m. creating this elegant sheath of white spilling over the ledges. I can easily rate this as one of the best waterfall I have seen in Meghalaya. This waterfall provides a unique opportunity of seeing it from behind the fall – the first of many such waterfall experiences I have had this monsoon.

Pic 1: Prut Waterfall: This picture shows a part of the waterfall. (Mobile Shot)
Pic 2: Prut from behind the fall(Mobile Shot)

Mawsawa Falls

The waters of Wah Umlapieng gently tumbles down through the boulders on its way, creating the captivating Mawsawa. This waterfall is more broad than tall and is a treat for the eyes.

Pic 3: The captivating Marsawa from a distance as we first saw it. (Mobile Shot)

Lyngksiar Falls

The layered Lyngksiar surging and plunging down the rocks through the green valley was as picture-perfect as you can imagine. This waterfall has two views, one at the mouth and the other at the bottom.

Pic 4: Lyngksiar was just too beautiful for words. I could spend my whole life staring at it. (Mobile Shot)
Pic 5: At The mouth of Lyngksiar. (Mobile Shot)

Wei Seidong Falls

The famous three-tiered waterfall, which was discovered recently and has become a hot tourist spot in the past 3-4 years. This gorgeous waterfall is formed when the white water benevolently cascades down a linear step-like pattern on the rocks.

Pic 6: The famous three-layered Wei Seidong. Remains way too crowded now.

Dainthlen Falls

The gorgeous legendary waterfall of Sohra, known best for its marvelously gorgeous vista. Besides, it is associated with ‘U Thlen’, the gigantic serpent of Khasi folklore, from which the waterfall is said to have derived its name.

Pic 7: The legendary Dainthlen, pictures do no justice to its sprawling surroundings.(Mobile Shot)

Wah-Kaba Falls

This waterfall is surrounded by scenic views of lush green hills and valleys. It descends from a steep rockface and drops into the gorge from a height of 170-190 m. Like Dainthlen, it is associated with a Khasi folkore, which claims that two fairies, one black and the other white reside in this waterfall.

Pic 8: No lens can do justice to the panoramic scenic beauty of Wah-Kaba. (Mobile Shot)

Nohsngithiang Falls or Mawsmai Falls

Popularly known as the Seven Sisters Waterfall because of the seven segments that come cascading down side by side. There were more than seven cascades this time, thanks to the excessive rainfalls. Plunging down from an altitude of 315 m., it is one of those waterfalls that I associate with my childhood having made umpteen visits here.

Pic 9: The magical play of light and shadow when the rains paused for a bit was quite a sight to behold at Mawsmai Falls. (Mobile Shot)

Elephant Falls

The most touristy waterfall in Shillong, another one that I associate with my childhood. Elephant Falls used to be a mandatory visit for all guests who visited our home back in the days. During those days there were no steps and no railings. Climbing down used to be an adventure through moss covered rocks and boulders. I can still visualize moms and aunts clad in their 6 yards saris, precariously maneuvering their way down.

Pic 10: The touristy and forever crowded Elephant Falls. (Mobile Shot)

Dudhsagar Waterfall

Dudhsagar is the fourth tallest waterfall in India, the grandeur of which is pretty well known. It is located on the border of Karnataka and Goa where Mandovi River plunges from a height of 320 m. Most people trek to the waterfall during monsoon season, which is the best way to experience the spectacular fall. We took a train to Goa from Bangalore, which is the second-best way to experience it as the train line passes right through this waterfall. It was an experience of a very different kind with water sprinkling across the train compartment drenching us right through the skin. There was no way to click pictures. Here’s a video of the same that I had posted on Instagram.

A Beautiful Afternoon at Orchid Resort

We woke up to a relatively bright Saturday morning. It had been raining with almost no respite for the past few weeks. Hence, a morning that wasn’t cloudy or rainy was a celebration by itself. This Saturday was special for another reason too – it was J’s birthday. My presence on her special day was a rare occurrence, which surely added a little more to its significance. The plan for the day was simple, we would just spend it together along with A1 and A2. The three of them are my core group of friends at Shillong, the ones who fortunately or unfortunately settled down in Shillong. The rest of us left the city and the state of Meghalaya, mostly forced to do so due to lack of jobs and other opportunities for the non-tribal populace of the state.  

Pic 1: Somewhere at the resort

All four of us are outdoor people and love to go on long drives around the outskirts of the city. Such long drives frequently happen when I’m in town and they constitute some of my most treasured memories of visiting Shillong. The best part is that the three of them would sing all through the drive. Their lovely melodious voices would fill the air creating a dreamlike environment that’s difficult to describe. We hardly had the need to play music from the car’s music system. I haven’t written a single post on those drives yet. The reason being I feel words can do no justice to the feelings and emotions of those drives.

This time we haven’t had the chance to go on a drive yet. Besides, the weather playing spoilsport, A2 has broken her wrist. All our drives usually happen in A2’s car with her being behind the wheels.

Pic 2: From the restaurant when it was pouring outside.

The plan for this Saturday was to visit a place called Mawkasiang, which isn’t very far from the city. I was delighted as this was towards North Eastern Indira Gandhi Regional Institute of Health and Medical Sciences (NEIGRMS) and Indian Institute of Management (IIM-Shillong), an area that I hadn’t been to yet. It’s apparently known as New Shillong. I knew the drive would be good but had little idea about the exact destination my friends had in mind. I didn’t bother to find out and let them take the lead.

Pic 3: Several such gazebos lay scattered across the resort

We met up at a pre-determined location in the city a little before noon, hired a local taxi, and headed out. A few minutes into the drive, we found ourselves passing through a series of uphill and downhill on a road that surprisingly had more greenery than concrete. We passed by NEIGRMS, crossed a signboard indicating that IIM was nearby, and also a dome-shaped construction that reminded me of Capitol Hill. That’s the new Meghalaya Assembly building under construction, said someone.

Soon, after a drive of just 30 mins from the city, we arrived at Mawkasiang. We took a turn beside Institute of Hotel Management (IHM) and in less than 5 minutes arrived at a huge gate, manned by a security guard. As, we entered after completing the formalities, I noticed we were at Orchid Resort.  “Aare, it’s Orchid!”, I exclaimed. Orchid is too familiar a name for me. It’s a chain of restaurants and resorts belonging to Meghalaya Tourism Department. The most popular one being Orchid Lake Resort, located beside Umiam Lake, on way from Guwahati to Shillong. I have frequented that place countless number of times. Haven’t been there for a few years now, but I’m sure it still exists.

Pic 4: The canopy walk through the metallic bridge surrounded by jungles of Pinus khasiana, the indigenous Pines of Khasi Hills.
Pic 5: Another picture of the canopy walk.

About 20 Km. from Shillong city, Orchid Resort at Mawkasiang is easily accessible. Situated on 27 acres of land surrounded by luxuriant Pine Forests, it is relatively new. There is a restaurant and several wooden cottages or log cabins for those who plan to stay. Quad bikes and bicycles were parked outside the restaurant, surely guests can rent them. There’s a long canopy walk through a metallic bridge flanked by lush green jungles of Pines. This, for me, was the highlight of the resort. The young Pine needles almost brushed against us while we walked across. Tiny young green Pine cones peeped through the branches as did the mature large brown ones, each one vying for undivided attention. It was indeed a refreshing feeling.

Pic 6: One of the log cabins at the resort
Pic 7: Some more log cabins where one can plan a stay.

We spent about half a day at the resort, walking around, enjoying the brief spell of heavy showers, having lunch at the restaurant, and of course, chattering endlessly all through. The starters and desert were great, the main course was average. The resort provided the perfect ambience for us to relish every moment of being together, as we celebrated J’s birthday.

Before ending this post, I must mention that this is the first time I am writing about visiting a resort. The nature-lover in me can never align to the idea of having an enjoyable time at an artificial and manicured environment. Yet, that’s just what I did today. While this place did manage to impress me, I also realized that I was perhaps upholding a negative cognitive bias about resort outings. Hopefully that’s broken today.

Pic 8: Cheers to friendships that must have been made in heaven

Shrouded in Mist

A Drive Through East Khasi Hills To Pynursla

The car moved at a slow pace and it literally felt like we were riding through the clouds. The mist was so thick that we could barely see even 10m. ahead of us. “I hope you’ve switched on the fog light”, I heard my sister’s anxious voice while nephew and I were more concerned about our rumbling stomachs. We had a light breakfast earlier in the day and now it was well beyond lunch time. The thick mist made it impossible to know what lay on either side of the road. Our plans of having lunch at one of the roadside small eateries, locally known as Kong’s Shop, seemed like a far cry. My brother-in-law, who was at the wheels, had to meticulously concentrate on the road and maneuver the continuous turns. One wrong move and the car could easily topple down into the deep valley, which wasn’t visible at all but very much existed.

Pic 1: The clouds moving through the valley, clicked on the way back when the mist had cleared for a little while.

We had left Shillong a few hours earlier with the aim to drive around the countryside. It had been raining heavily for the past few days, right from the day I arrived here on the 3rd of May. Heavy rains lashed the city this morning too. However, for the first time the rains had stopped and the day seemed brighter though the sun continued to remain elusive. We headed towards Pynursla completely forgetting the fact that this part of Meghalaya always remains shrouded in mist during this time of the year. As we started the drive, all I could visualize was the perfectly tarred winding roads with pine-covered hills on one side and the deep valley with various shades of green on the other. Just as I had seen it at other times.

Pic 2: Umtynger River somewhere just after leaving Shillong. The muddy water is an indication of the heavy rainfall.

Pynursla town is a quiet small hamlet located in East Khasi Hills about 53 Km. away from Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya. This region is not very popular among tourists and that makes it a great destination for the locals. It’s enroute to Dawki and Mawlynnong, places that are thronged by tourists. The drive from Shillong to Pynursla is simply stunning because of the lush green landscape. I had seen a few resorts in this region the last time I had visited, some of which were under construction. Perhaps some people do come here afterall, but certainly most wouldn’t stop here.

Initially, the experience of being enveloped in the thick mist gave us the thrills. The ecstatic feeling of moving through clouds, surrounded by the thick curtain of white, and with near zero visibility was indeed exciting. Soon it gave way to unease as we were missing out the scenery of the landscape that we had in mind. We kept thinking it would reduce and the mist would fade away. But it continued in the same state and the entire route remained whitewashed.

Pic 3: When the mist had cleared for a little while on our way back.
Pic 4: The beautiful road that could be clearly seen just once while on our way back.
Pic 5: Somewhere a small waterfall and the associated landslide.

Driving very slowly and carefully, we arrived at Pynursla town only by late afternoon. It was 3.30 PM by then. Our stomachs were revolting and the first thing we did was to put it at ease by grabbing some lunch at a small local restaurant. Concerned about the mist on the way, we could take no chance of hanging around in the quaint little town.

It was market-day and the town wore a colourful look. With a lot of self-restrained, we controlled the urge of walking around and left for Shillong immediately. Our hopes of getting some views on the way back was once again strangulated by the thick stubborn mist that simply refused to go away. This time we noticed signs of landslides that would have happened in the recent past. At one of the bends, we noticed the clouds moving very fast and the green valley was revealed in parts. That was our moment! Of course, we had to stop the car, step out, and soak in the surroundings. But it hardly lasted just a few minutes.

Do not miss this video, it’s a small one created by nephew on that day’s drive.

We reached Shillong safe and sound, just before darkness descended. I heard my mind quietly hoping to go for a drive in the same route on a bright and sunny day before I take leave from Shillong.  

Leaving you with two images of the same route clicked three years ago on a clear day.