I was out traveling for a few days and came back to this wonderful surprise – A Sunshine Blogger Award. This is the first award for my blog and I am truly delighted, though I really don’t know if I deserve one.
A big Thank You to HappymessHappiness for considering me worthy of this award. I feel really honoured.
The Sunshine Blogger Award is given to bloggers by other bloggers who are creative, positive, and inspiring.
Once nominated, a blogger is required to:
Thank the blogger for the nomination and provide a link back to their blog
Answer the 11 questions asked by the blogger who nominated you
Nominate eleven other blogs
Give them eleven questions to answer
List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award logo in your post and/or on your blog
Notify the nominees by commenting on one of their blog posts
After the customary coconut breaking ritual on the first step and lighting a few incense sticks we were all set to start our journey. It was still dark at around 3.45 AM but the flight of concrete cement stairway was well lit with bright lights. The stairway was quite broad and divided into two halves by a railing that ran right across the center. On either side of the stairway were flat cement slabs that one can use for resting while making the arduous climb.
Accompanied by my cousin, I was on a pilgrimage to Lord Balaji Temple at Tirupati. Located in the South Indian state of Andhra Pradesh on Tirumala hills, Tirupati Balaji Temple is the world’s richest temple. Lord Balaji is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu and is also known as Venkateswara, Govinda, and Srinivasa. The Lord probably has a couple of other names too but I am not aware.
The temple receives enormous amount of donations from pilgrims, which is the main reason behind its being the richest. Pilgrims donate money, gold, precious gems, jewellery, and even demat share transfers and property deeds. They also donate their hair, which is sold by the temple authorities. It’s ironical that a country with a huge population living below the poverty line houses the world’s richest temple. India is a country of striking contrasts.
An interesting mythology is associated with this donation, which I have narrated at the end of this story.
Tirupati temple was the richest temple in India but Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple has recently disclosed incredible amount of assets discovered from a hidden place in the temple, forcing Tirupati to the second position in terms of wealth.
Tirupati Temple is the most visited religious place in South India and remains extremely crowded with an average of 50,000 to 100,000 footfalls daily. The number increases by leaps and bounds during festivals and special occasions. I had first visited the temple several years back with my family when I was in college. I hated the mad rush and thought I would never go back. Subsequently some other things led me to the temple again and I had a special spiritual experience that had brought tears to my eyes. After that, I have been to this temple 5-6 times.
The temple is accessible through a properly tarred road and one can drive up as well. I have done both – walking up as well as driving up. The walkway is a separate pathway away from the tarred road and constitutes an 11 Km distance up to the temple that passes over two of the seven Tirumala hills. The walkway is covered by a roof and well equipped with food, water, toilets, and even a dispensary.
The walk starts from a place called Alipiri, where you can deposit your luggage, if any, and your shoes. It’s a temple and you climb up barefoot. Your belongings are sent up the hill and reaches even before you arrive. There is a designated place where they can be collected after you are done with your darshan.
For me the walk has more to do with my love for hiking and trekking rather than pleasing the Lord. I am certain the Lord doesn’t differentiate between his devotees whether one walks up or drives up. It’s all a matter of faith and belief. I was quite astonished to see the elderly and people carrying infants walking up the path. Some women also pause at every step, smear it with turmeric and vermillion, light a diya (oil lamp) and only then proceed to the next step. And that is no mean feat in some of the steep sections. Sometimes men and women chant the name of the Lord at intervals all through the pathway in loud rhythmic voices and most often other pilgrims join in. It’s their unwavering faith in the Lord that keeps them going.
This was the second time I was walking up and hence knew exactly what to expect. There are a total of 3550 steps through the 11 km distance. The initial flight of 1000 steps is continuous and very steep. This part is really tough and quite a test of stamina and endurance. At regular intervals the steps are marked, I think every 100th step which gives you an idea of how far you have come.
Most of the walkway is through a forested area with a variety of trees and birds. A certain stretch has a deer park too, where you can buy cucumbers and carrots to feed the deer. A stretch of forest is also marked by Red Sandalwood trees. Statues of the Lord in various incarnations are found at regular intervals along the path.
At the 2083rd step, the Gali Gopuram is situated. Gopurams refer to temple entrance gates in South India. The Gali Gopuram is brightly illuminated with florescent lights and is visible at night from most places in Tirupati city and the nearby highways. At this place, we need to get our biometrics done and obtain the darshan tickets. It was dawn by now and we were quite hungry. Hence, we took a break and had some traditional South Indian food. There are several places to eat here, but you can expect only South Indian breakfast kind of food (idlys and dosas).
Beyond this point, for the next 6 Km. the path is flattened and there are no climbs. The deer park is located in this section. We spent some time feeding the deer through the fenced enclosure. After this, very soon we encountered the Hanuman temple, which is prominent with its large Hanuman statue. We lit diyas here and resumed our journey this time beside the tarred road used by people driving up. This section of about a kilometer stands out for splendid views of the lush green hills and valley.
At a distance of 2.4 Km. from the hilltop temple is the final flight of 1000 stairs at Mokalimitta Gopuram. This is the steepest section, much more than the one we encountered at the beginning. We rested for a while, had a cup of coffee and then embarked upon this section. Some pilgrims were climbing this entire section on their knees. I tried but couldn’t manage even two stairs!
On reaching the temple, we had to wait in queue for another 3 hours before we could get a darshan of Lord Balaji. It was a Thursday and on this day the Lord does not adorn any jewellery, something we learnt in the queue. Lord Balaji is otherwise clad with 1000kgs of Gold.
This experience of visiting the Lord has been as good as the others I had so far. My BalajiDarshan actually has a very special story attached to it and probably I will write another post on that.
A Little Bit on Tirupati’s Wealth
According to mythology, Lord Balaji had taken a loan from Lord Kubera (The God of Wealth) for marrying Padmavathi. He now needs to repay this loan and as long as he doesn’t, he has to remain on earth. He is asking his devotees to help him pay back the loan. It is said that whatever you give the Lord, the double of that comes back to you. I read somewhere that in a single day, the temple receives approximately Rs 22.5 million as donation.
Pilgrims also tonsure their head and offer their hair to the Lord, which provides another source of income for the temple. The story goes that a shepherd hit Lord Balaji on his head and some of his hair came off leaving a portion bald. A Gandharva princess saw this and cut a portion of her hair and implanted it on the Lord’s head with her magical power. Touched by her sacrifice, the Lord promised that all his devotees would offer their hair at his abode and she would receive that hair.
The laddu prasadam is an interesting aspect of Tirupati Temple. The laddus are humongous, much larger than the usual ones and are made with pure ghee. A geographical indication tag attached to Tirupati Laddu entitles only the temple organisation to make or sell it. A large amount of money is generated by selling these laddus, which are in huge demand.
Refer to the following, if you want more information on Balaji Darshan:
It was 4.00 AM on a cold December morning just two days before Christmas. Groggily my hand reached out for the phone to switch off the alarm, which just went off threatening to wake up the entire house. The intense December cold hit my bare hands as the rest of my body was warmly tucked inside two layers of quilt and blanket. Not giving in to the temptation of drawing my hands into the warm layers, I gingerly dialed my brother-in-law’s (BIL) number as promised the day before. BIL and my cousin sister live a couple of miles away in another part of the town.
“Good Morning! Will be there in 30 min!” BIL announced energetically, indicating that he’s been up for a while now. I called out softly to my sister who was in the next room, careful not to wake up the rest of the family. I found her already peeping into my room with her half-closed eyes. “We’re leaving in 30 min”, I told her.
I was in in my pretty little hometown, Shillong for Christmas. Fondly known as the ‘Scotland of the East’, it is the capital of the North Eastern state of Meghalaya. Christmas has always been special in Shillong, given the majority of Christian population. However, the magnitude of Christmas celebrations in this quaint little hill station has drastically changed over the years.
I recall Christmas being a very quiet affair during my younger days when I lived there. In recent years, Shillong has evolved to be one of the most sought after Christmas destination in India. And, this time it was no different. The tiny little town brightly illuminated with yuletide decorations, smiling Santas, and carol singers, was brimming with Christmas fever. It’s no wonder that the hill town was throbbing with tourists despite the cold winter season.
This December, however, the cold was less than usual, which was not only surprising but a little strange this being the Christmas season. Back in the days, I remember waking up to frost in our home garden at this time of the year. The winter temperature falls below zero degree Celcius but it never snows in Shillong. This drop in temperature causes a layer of frost to form over the leaves and grass and can be seen during the early hours of day. This time the temperature wasn’t that low and consequently no frost formation happened. What else but Global Warming at play!
BIL had informed that we can see frost at Mylliem if we are game to wake up before sunrise and go there. And, we were completely all for it. Mylliem is a village Panchayat located at a distance of 17 Km. uphill from Shillong. It did feel a little strange that we had to travel that distance to see frost but the freshness of the early morning drive more than made up for it.
Pic 2: Frost covered Pine tree
Pic 3: Another frost covered Pine tree
Mylliem looked gorgeous in the early morning light. The entire area was covered in a thin sheet of white as though it had wrapped a blanket around itself trying to wake up in the cold winter morning and soak in the first rays of the Sun.
We reveled in the beautiful scenery around us for a while. The sun was coming up and we decided to go further ahead and enjoy a little more of the early morning drive.
So, we went up to River Umtyngar. ‘Um’ means water in the local language. The river with its greenish water had a layer of mist over it. The mist was slowly moving as the Sun’s rays tried to reach the river though the canopy of trees around. This unexpected delight made for a splendid view and we were absolutely thrilled.
Waking up early in the cold December morning was completely worth it. What made it even more fascinating was that there was nobody other than the three of us. We watched the mist disappear slowly and steadily being replaced by the Sun’s rays that caused the emerald water to sparkle and glisten as though it was pleased to finally feel the warmth of the sun.
The early morning drive turned out to be heavenly and when it comes to views like these, I can even stay awake the whole night!
The other day I came by an article that listed out quotes of famous people who have visited the Taj Mahal. Amongst the great names of Rabindranath Tagore, Lord Curzon, etc, the one that caught my attention was Bill Clinton, the former President of USA, who said:
There are two kinds of people in the world, those who have seen the Taj Mahal and love it, and those who have not seen the Taj Mahal and love it. I would like people to watch the Taj Mahal and fall in love with it.
I could instantaneously relate it to my own experience of the historical monument. Memories of my visit to the Taj Mahal came flooding by and I thought I should write about it.
And so, here it goes…
“I’m very satisfied with your service. Thank you so much!” I heard my father say to the guide who we had hired for a tour of the Taj Mahal and who had painstakingly explained every little detail taking care to answer all the questions asked by us, especially my father.
We let the guide leave while we sat on the marble floor just outside the main dome to rest for a while. It was late morning on a sunny October day and the monument was teeming with tourists from all over the world. I sat there feeling gratified looking at my parents who seemed quite delighted with their tour of the iconic monument. This trip was for them and I couldn’t be happier.
This was my second visit to the ivory-white marble mausoleum that grandly stands on the banks of River Yamuna in the city of Agra. My first visit had been seven years back. Needless to say, I was floored when I saw this exquisite piece of marble for the first time. I was with a friend and her husband. As we entered the West Gate or Fatehpuri Darwaza and I laid my eyes on the monument for the first time, I was awestruck. Dazzling in the afternoon sun, its splendor was beyond words and somehow appeared unreal to me.
I had read and heard about its grandeur several times since childhood – from history books to Bollywood movies, from photographs and paintings to travel stories of friends and relatives, from news feeds about the effects of pollution on the white marble to the surreal experiences on a moonlight night, and so on and so forth.
All of these had imprinted the Taj’s form into my mind’s imagery and I thought I was going to visit just another historical monument knowing exactly what to expect. But, when I saw the real structure with my naked eyes for the first time, its sparkling magnificence was something else altogether. Its prettiness was overwhelming. I had never imagined the Taj Mahal to be this beautiful.
The experience was way different from my visit to other historical monuments. Being an ardent nature lover, architectures and museums do not enthuse me much. So, I never quite get it when people stare at an Eiffel tower with those admiration-filled eyes for hours on end. With this existing state of mind, my expectations of Taj Mahal were pretty limited. Not until I actually saw it…
The stunningly magical Taj Mahal had left me literally speechless. It was only after I experienced the Taj in person that I truly understood the genius of its craftsmanship. And, I thought to myself — no wonder this iconic monument gets millions of visitors every year from across the globe; no wonder it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site; no wonder it is one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
The first thing that came to my mind at that moment was – I got to get my parents to see this. This is one of the seven wonders and it’s in my own country. This is an opportunity. It will be a pity if they were to miss this. So, here I was experiencing the magic for a second time and this time with my parents.
Built by 22,000 workers in 22 years, the Taj Mahal is famous as the ultimate symbol of love. That’s what I knew during my childhood and as I grew up. Later, I read some speculative counter arguments, which I think cannot be ignored (Read Here). Keeping that aside, it is the finest and most sophisticated model of Mughal architecture in India, which also incorporates elements of Persian, Turkish, and Hindu influences.
We walked our way around the tomb, my mother and I silently appreciating, the unique marble carvings, the incised paintings, the incredible Urdu calligraphic inscriptions, etc. and my father earnestly discussing all big and small historical detail with our guide. All along I was feeling deeply satisfied that I could have my parents experience Taj Mahal’s incredible wonder.
This was the Agra leg of our Golden Triangle trip (Delhi – Agra – Jaipur). The same evening, we visited the Agra Fort.
My parents love travelling and my father has taken us on many a trip across India during our childhood despite all the limitations he had at that time. It’s my turn now to take them around and it gives me immense joy whenever I am able to take them on a trip with me. However, with old age and their current state of health, they cannot travel a lot and that’s a limitation I now have.
The hurt isn’t going away. It’s been more than a year but it keeps coming back, often provoked by some random happening – a photograph, a memory on Facebook, some mention of them by someone, and so on. Probably we were too close, perhaps more than we should have been.
Their behavior and the choices they made hurt me so much that I wish we were never part of each other’s lives. I wish I could erase all the memories. Most importantly, I wish I could get over this feeling of hurt. And this age of social media doesn’t allow things to be forgotten.
Surely they have their reasons and one hand cannot clap so there has surely been misses at my end too. Life is short. Why does it become so difficult to let bygones be bygones and move on fresh and anew? Human relationships are complicated and as they say once there’s a scratch, it will heal but the mark will remain.
I am trying to be a more spiritually oriented person. If that’s the path I want to follow why is this getting so difficult for me? Is this my ego? I am not sure, as the pain I feel is real. It keeps coming back to me how alienated I had felt; how I was pushed to one corner when I needed them the most.
I thought we were very close friends, so much so that they were part of me….but they didn’t care….they were ruthlessly insensitive and displayed no empathy. They judged me, judged everything I said….blamed me of unnecessary whining when I shared my feelings of desolation and loneliness. They even tried to associate a negative psychological condition with my state of affairs.
I thought I was sharing my intimate feelings with my very close friends. Aren’t you supposed to share such kind of things with friends? Aren’t you supposed to support your friend even at times when they are not very likable – if at all that was the case? Perhaps being an open book is not a good idea, even if it’s with your closest friends. It just makes you vulnerable.
Why did we allow things to go disarray? When things went so wrong why did they resort to chat-messages? What stopped them from giving me call and clearing things upfront? Why did they gang up and resort to Social Media instead? We’ve had disagreements many times in the past but it was just a matter of time before things would settle down without a trace. However, this one was different.
I am a very social person and have a couple of other close friends. So, ideally I shouldn’t miss them but I do. I remember them often, both in good and bad times. They have left a dent in my heart, a deep one that I am unable to heal. Today they connect with me to talk, again through text messages, about mundane things, perhaps in an effort to fix things. Not sure if they realize the hurt is really deep and I am still not able to overcome it. I respond whenever they connect while consciously maintaining a distance, sometimes just answering what they ask. I cannot be myself with them ever again. I can’t share my intimate thoughts and feelings with them anymore.
At the same time, I tell myself why can’t I? We are not here forever and friendships are precious. But again a contradictory thought strikes – perhaps it’s better to move away from people who let you down and who have no regard for your feelings, especially when they have been your close friends who you have loved so dearly.
Yet one question haunts me – Why did we let our decade-long relationship collapse?
All said, time is the biggest healer so I am hopeful!
Trekking the Himalayas for the Third Time in a year…
It was the month of April, my favorite month of the year. The reasons are many – because it’s spring; because it’s my birth month; because it was in this month that I had fallen for the mountains all over again.
This was that time of the year when I had a promise to keep, a promise I have made to myself the year before about spending my birthdays with nature and experiencing its supreme splendor– the only thing that gives me utmost joy and happiness. With a corner of my heart now permanently occupied by the majestic Himalayas, I knew exactly what I wanted to do.
This time I was off to explore Har-Ki-Dun. Also known as Valley of Gods, Har-Ki-Dun is a cradle shaped valley and the legends of this trail go back to the Mahabharata*. It is said that the Pandavas had taken this very route on their way to heaven after the great war of Kurukshetra. The trek goes right up to Swargarohini, the peak which is supposedly the pathway to heaven.
* The Mahabharata is an ancient Indian epic poem revolving around Pandavas and Kauravas, the two branches of a family who fight the Kurukshetra War for the throne of Hastinapura. The Mahabharata includes Bhagavad Gita and with 100,000 verses it is the longest epic poem ever written. (Read More)
I was once again trekking with Indiahikes. This time, my sister was accompanying me. All geared up for yet another extraordinary experience, we arrived at Sankri. I was back to this tiny little beautiful village situated in the lap of the Himalayas exactly after one year. Last time I was here during my trek to Kedarkantha Peak.
Crossing the Nallahs on way to Taluka
After spending a night at Sankri, the group of 20 of us boarded two Boleros to go to Taluka, situated 12 Km away from Sankri. The entire route with lush green valleys, hanging cliffs, forests with tall tree all around, sporadic waterfalls here and there was simply spellbinding. The broken road passing through these waterfalls kind of interrupts their flow leading them to convert into streams before continuing their fall on the other side of the road. These streams are known as nullahs by the locals. As we crossed the nullahs, our Boleros tossed and jerked with the cliff on one side and a vertical fall on the other. Those were moments of additional excitement laced with a tad bit of nervousness for many of us – the city-bred delicate darlings!
Camping Beside the River at Puani Garaat
From Taluka, we started our trek alongside River Tamosa. The bright crystal clear turquoise water of Tamosa lifted my spirits the moment I laid my eyes on her. Tamosa was to be our constant companion flowing, dribbling, and swerving through the trees and hills while glistening and smoothing the already shining rocks and boulders. The flowing water seemed to be in constant hurry and always playing hide and seek with us, disappearing sometimes only to reappear again.
We had walked beside the river for close to 6 hours maneuvering countless twists and turns alongside a constant interplay of light and shade caused by green forests of tall Chestnut, Pine, Walnut, Cedar, Oak, and others. Finally, we arrived at our first camp site, Puani Garaat. The exhaustion from the 13 Km. walk disappeared the moment I saw our tents pitched in a tiny little clearing right beside the river. The constant sound of gushing river radiated an energy that was highly contagious touching the soul and soothing the mind. It was not the least monotonous as one might presume. The sound of the river magnified at night but its rhythm served as the perfect lullaby as we drifted into a deep sleep.
Charming Osla Village on way to Kalkatiyadhar
The trek route passes through a couple of ancient villages, most noteworthy being Gangaad, Osla, and Seema. These tiny villages left us bewildered with their remoteness and exclusivity. As we passed by Osla village, the wooden homes of the village arranged haphazardly on the mountain slope captured our imagination. Seeing our enthusiasm, our trek leader suggested that we could stay at the village on our way back. And, that we did leading to an experience of a lifetime. [I’ve described that in a separate post.]
It was the second day and we covered the 7 Km. trail through some level walks, few steep sections, and finally a continuous ascent through a gradually increasing incline. As we approached Kalkatiyadhar, the stunning views of the Bandarpooch and Pir Panjal ranges of mountain was just what we needed to sooth our tired mind and body. The magnificent Kalanag or Black Peak was also clearly visible just before arriving at this campsite.
Kedarkantha peak also provided a brief glimpse somewhere in this route. As dusk approached, Kalkatiyadhar displayed a dramatic sequence of changing colours with the sun painting the sky in myriad hues of bright oranges and yellows as it slowly departed for the day and set behind the horizon. (I miss having a camera at such times! A phone camera is largely insufficient.)
Getting Closer to Our Destination – Har-Ki-Dun
The entire trekking route had multiple steams, some we crossed directly by jumping over boulders and stones while some others through rickety wooden bridges. Besides the streams, on this day we encountered two fascinating waterfall as well. One cascaded in a narrow single flow with a great force and from a great height, the other was mildly spread across falling from a much lesser height. The latter enticed us and we waded across the stream to go right upto it, washed our faces and even filled in our water bottles.
Pic 5: The tall waterfall
Pic 6: The wide waterfall
Pic 7: Broken wooden bridges over the stream
Pic 8: Crossing the streams
Once again, passing through a forest dominated by pine trees with a sizable number of rhododendron trees we ascended and descended, walked through some flat land, and crossed some narrow ridges with a valley on one side and a cliff on the other. As we passed by a bend in the mountain, Har-Ki-Dun peak and Hata Peak made their grand appearance inducing a dose of instant happiness and delight.
The entire route, right from Taluka was as picturesque as can be. It truly lives up to its name of Valley of Gods. The meadows and the mountainsides were sprinkled with colourful spring flowers of varying shades though yellows, pinks, blues, and violets dominated. Not to forget the pink and white rhododendrons that illuminated portions of the forests.
Once in a while shepherds with their flock of sheep or mules would appear bringing in a sudden pause to our walking rhythm as we let them pass. Women of all age groups in their traditional attire and ethic jewellery from the villages would appear every now and then – some of them collecting wood, some on their way to Taluka, smiling and greeting everyone on their way. Sometimes giggling young girls and playful children would merrily pass by making us envious of their carefree demeanor.
Unveiling of the Scintillating Wonderland:Har-ki-Dun
We walked for about 5 hours and arrived at a steep incline. It was tiring in the hot afternoon sun as we inched along. The thought that this was the last climb for the day kept us going. As we approached Har-Ki-Dun at an altitude of 11,500 ft, it was a moment of disbelieve. The phenomenal valley was like an amphitheater and revealed itself bit by bit before my eyes. I felt that I was stepping into a wonderland. Was this real? Am I in a dream? Valley of Gods it indeed is! If there’s a place where Gods live, this has to be it.
The soothing sound of the rippling Har-Ki-Dun River with a patch of green on either side strewn with rocks and boulders that effortlessly blended into tall mountains all around was a sight to behold. On one side of the river stood tall jagged bare mountains adorning various shades of green, grey and brown with a rocky and stony surface. Their counterparts, on the other side, were elegantly dressed in a cloak of pristine white snow.
I stood there for a while drinking it all, trying to fathom all that lay in front of me. This was God’s perfect painting. I had seen such scenes only in calendars and posters. Words are failing me and I cannot do justice to that moment of picture perfect brilliance.
Spending my Birthday with the Mystical Swargarohini
While others went to their camps to rest and change, my sister and I had no patience for all that. We dumped our bags and rushed to the river bank to take off our shoes and dip our feet in the alluring river water. Fed by melting glaciers from the mountains, the water was very cold and we couldn’t keep our feet in there for long. It was around 1.00 PM in the afternoon and we had the entire afternoon and evening to ourselves. Moreover, we would be here the next day as well – a thought that made us ecstatic. We had enough time to explore the entire fairy tale like land. This was brilliant, I couldn’t have asked for more!
As we sat by the river facing the snow-clad mountains, for the first time we wondered which one of these was Swargarohini. It turned out that Swargarohini wasn’t right in front of us, rather up in the corner. Swargarohini, covered off and on by clouds, did stand out as being starkly different from the other mountains and had a mystical charm to it. We walked ahead for a closer look. I could imagine the Pandavas and Draupadi walking up the peak and falling off one by one. Yudhishthira reaching the top with the dog behind him, a ladder dropping from the sky, and they climbing up to heaven.*
* The Pandavas were five brothers and Draupadi (also known as Panchali) was their common wife. After the war of Kurukshetra the Pandavas and Draupadi renounce the world and go to the Himalayas where they finally start ascending the Swargarohini peak towards heaven. A dog who had befriended the Pandavas during the journey also accompanies them. During the ascend, one by one everyone falls except the eldest of the five brothers, Yudhishthira and the dog, who are the only ones to go to heaven. (Read More)
This was my perfect birthday, my kind of happiness and joy. With that thought, my lips curled into a pleasurable smile. I did keep my promise!
It was evening and I realized that I hadn’t seen my sister in a while. We were both sitting beside the river after lunch soaking in the afternoon sun. While I kept expressing my thoughts and feelings, she was relatively quiet. I then went off strolling around and was too busy taking in everything around to pay any attention to her. But now afternoon had given way to evening.
I walked back near the river looking for her and caught her sitting in the same place – all alone. I approached her only to find her weeping. Overwhelmed by the mountains, she felt very insignificant and small. This does happen to many people, so I wasn’t surprised. Her eyes were swollen and she just couldn’t stop the flow of tears rolling down her cheek. I sat beside her for a while and then let her be.
The next morning we trekked 3 Km, up the mountain to visit Maninda Taal, which is situated behind the mountains. We were back by lunch time. After lunch, my sister and I took off once again voraciously absorbing all that we could of the valley on both sides of the river. We crossed over to the other side, walked till the edge of the valley, climbed up the mountain towards the forest rest house and visited the Shiva Lingam located in its premises, climbed up another mountain to get a better view of Swargarohini, interacted with other people we met, and so on.
The next day we woke up early while it was still dark, as we wanted to have some more time with the valley before leaving. Once again, we went for a walk while waiting for the Sun to rise.
Soon it was time to go. As I started to walk away, unknowingly I turned back for a last glance of the gorgeous breathtaking landscape. A feeling of gratitude took over as I felt fortunate for having had the opportunity to spend a few moments of my life on this slice of heaven on earth. My soul is blessed to have had Har-Ki-Dun charted in my destiny! With this thought, I happily turned away to trace my way back with precious memories etched in my heart and mind forever and ever….
A Few Addendums
Indiahikes, the group I trekked with, follows a principle of eco-friendly and sustainable trekking with minimum impact on the environment. They take several measures to make that happen, one of which is handing over an eco-bag to all trekkers. Any waste we generate while trekking goes into that bag. Not just that, if we find any litter on the trekking trail, we collect them onto these bags. On this trek, I had collected a lot of garbage and often went out of my way to do so. Indiahikes awarded a special certificate in recognition for this and, I was absolutely elated!
We bought Rhododendron Juice on our way back from Sankri, which was a huge hit with our friends and colleagues in Bangalore.
The gorgeous Tamosa river is formed near Osla by Har Ki Dun and Ruinsara Nallah. Flowing through Taluka, Tamosa merges with Supin River at Sankri. Supin river then joins with Rupin River to form Tons River at Netwar.
The valley houses rich Himalayan fauna, like Black bears, wild boars, Barasingha, Langoors, Golden eagles and massive Himalayan griffins. The colourful Himalayan monal, the state bird of Uttarakhand also thrives here. We weren’t lucky enough to spot any of these except the horses and cows grazing in the meadows. However, during the night at Kalkatiyadhar, we got to know of a mule calf being attacked and killed by a wild animal possibly a leopard.
A bright and sunny day with sapphire blue skies stretching right through to the horizon is what greeted us that morning. There wasn’t a single cloud in sight. It was spring time in the month of April, hence no surprise. We were camping at the gorgeous Har-ki-Dun valley where we had arrived the day before. The more I talk about this heavenly place, the less it is. For now, I am parking that for another post.
Having an entire day in this valley, gave us the opportunity to hike up further beyond and see a lake called Maninda Taal hidden behind the mountains. Taal refers to lake in the local language. The night before at dinner we had a discussion on the two places that we might want to visit that day – Maninda Taal, located around 3 km from the campsite and Juandhar Glacier at around 10 km from camp site. Most of the votes went for the lake. I wasn’t sure, as I wanted to go to both but on enquiring got to know that wasn’t a possibility.
It was still early in the morning when we started walking up the mountain. It was a steep climb through a loose muddy trail with sparing vegetation. As we neared the top, the gorgeous snow-hooded mountains spearing up to the sky surrounding the valley appeared unusually close. They seemed to be gazing at us scrutinizing each and every move we made. A little ahead, we came upon a place that was covered with fresh snow. The blanket of white seemed unending in every direction and this continued for the rest of the trail with no sight of animals or plants.
The snow fights (throwing snowballs at each other) had already started and it intensified along the way and all hell broke loose when we took a bend and landed onto a mound of snow. This mound was created by an avalanche that must have taken place in the recent past. I for one hadn’t seen such heaps of snow before. It reminded me about those calendar pictures of *Shiva and Parvati sitting in a cloud of snow with Ganesha on their lap.
*Shiva, Parvati, and Ganesha are Hindu deities, Parvati is Shiva’s wife and Ganesha their son with the head of a elephant (Read More).
Everyone was engrossed with snow fights and unconsciously divided ourselves into two teams. We had to reign in ourselves by reminding that the lake was our destination and not the snow fights. We walked across the knee deep snow for some more time while the strong mountain sun continued blazing above us.
Finally, the lake was in sight! And, what a spectacular moment that was! I could feel utter joy surging up my heart. The silvery shining water of the lake lay still with occasional small ripples as though surprised to see the sudden curious onlookers. The gravity of the greyish-blue water was sending out invisible rays of energy that was gently piercing my heart filling me with contentment and happiness. The snow-draped mountains around the lake seemed to understand my feelings and I felt they were graciously smiling with acknowledgement. As my eyes dropped to the water for a deeper look, I noticed how divine and sparklingly clean it was. I was compelled to bend down and feel the water with my bare hands.
As I looked up from my cupped hands, my gaze moved a little beyond and fell upon the tall wall of a mountain that appeared to be on one corner of the lake. I could see our trek guide sliding down the snow from the top. How did he reach there! This was an adrenalin rush and I knew I had to go there too.
After spending a few more moments beside the lake and capturing some of it through my mobile lens, I started walking toward the tall grand mountain wall that seemed to be eagerly reaching out for the heavens above. A few people joined in. My sister, who was on this trek with me, also came along. Going over to the tall mountain wasn’t all easy as the snow was really deep. It was only with help and support from my fellow trekkers that I could make it there.
We walked up the mountain wall and then sitting on our water proof jackets, using them as props did a slide down. And, oh what fun that was! Some of us repeated the act several times as we slid individually and slid in small groups together with others. We captured videos for one another, clicked photos, and laughed our hearts out!
After all the fun and laughter, it was time to go. Bidding goodbye to the charming lake that exuded such elegance and grace was not easy. I felt I could just keep staring at her for the rest of my life.
Maninda Taal, I remember you with fond memories that I will cherish for the rest of my life. Lots of love to you…..
We climbed, climbed, and climbed along! Will this ever end! At every turn, I hoped to see some flat land but there wasn’t any and every turn only revealed another steep climb through the same set of rugged, uneven rocks. I glanced at my watch and it was 2.30 PM. That means we’ve been climbing constantly for 3 hours now. “Just 10 minutes more to the top”, said Droning, our guide. I knew I couldn’t take his word for it. As a 15 year old village boy, he can easily do it in less than that time.
We were tracing our way back from Nongriat after visiting the Double Root Bridge and the Rainbow Falls. The usual route is a pathway constituting 3600 concrete steps but we were on a different route. The path where we were walking, rather climbing, was right beside Nohkalikai Falls, which happens to be the tallest plunge waterfall in India, falling from a height of 1115 feet (340 metres). And, that very well explains the steep climb. It was like walking up a vertical wall of that height.
We got carried away when we heard about this route and embarked upon it without putting much thought onto it. To top it, we had missed breakfast and had hardly eaten anything. Not just that, we ran out of water pretty soon. And, I for one didn’t have a single sip as I was saving it for my cousin, who needed it more.
We had no clue about this route and got to know about it from some travelers the night before at Nongriat. The jungle route appealed to us and we had decided in an instant to go through that route instead of the usual concrete pathway. A quick chat with Droning to gauge the safety of the route with respect to wild animals and if it would be slippery was enough to seal the deal. Droning, however, miscalculated our capability and estimated that it would take us 2 hours to reach the top. He had said it takes him an hour, so by our standards it would be 2 hours. How wrong he was!
Also, it was only later that we discovered people climb down the route but seldom climb up. It’s not a very popular route and many people don’t know about it. Backpackers, trekkers, and adventure seekers walk down this route to go to Nongriat and then go back up through the concrete pathway.
Rajat and Ashwin, two of our newly made acquaintances had joined us too.
The jungle was alluring and too glamorous for words! The initial 2 hours was simply fascinating. I felt the five of us were like Enid Blyton’s Famous Five unearthing a secret trail attempting to solve a dark and deep mystery. Tall trees and thick shrubs adorned either side of the steep rustic moss-covered stone steps. The sun passed through the miniature openings in the thick foliage making varied patterns on the path we walked. The entire pathway had a generous dose of Bay leaves scattered all over.
Every view appeared unique yet the same, all at once. Once in a while we came across these huge and delicate spider webs housing an elegant spider, proudly sitting right at the center. Gorgeous velvety butterflies fluttered every now and then spreading a blast of colours across their path. Some were tiny while most were really big, almost the size of a man’s palm.
A sweet jungle fragrance filled the air and our eyes feasted on multiple shades of green, sometimes interspersed by few browns. Wild flowers of myriad vibrant hues scattered here and there were a source of constant delight uplifting our spirits and minds. I felt transported to a different realm. I wished I could take this jungle home and make it part of my everyday life but I couldn’t and have to make do with potted plants in my tiny little balcony.
There was nobody other than us in the trail making it even more enigmatic. The only people we met was a British couple going down the path towards Nongriat. They had come driving all the way from England and were exploring the remote corners our country.
As we started walking, we found plastic bottles, chips packets, chocolate wrappers scattered all around. Though this path was less littered compared to the concrete pathway but it was disturbing nevertheless. Even a place like this, which is not touristy and less frequented was not spared. Initially, we just exchanged discontent about this among us.
Soon the discontent got the better of me and I started collecting them in a spare bag I had and by the time we were done with the climb, my bag was full and there was no more space in it. It was a great feeling to find the British couple doing the same and they were stuffing garbage in their pockets. I had another extra bag, which I handed over to them.
After about 3 hours of continuous climb, we were drained. The tiring uphill trail coupled with an empty stomach was increasingly becoming tough for everyone. Our water supply of 2L was almost exhausted, which was anyway insufficient for six adults. We had expected to find a water source enroute in the jungle but there wasn’t any. Our focus had shifted from the enchanting surroundings to ourselves. The enthralling jungle was failing to divert our attention anymore and was becoming more of an ordeal that we wanted to get over with.
All of us were pushing ourselves. My backpack felt heavier than it was and with no water my throat was parched. My sisters were struggling. While one of them kept complaining about a supposed hamstring in her thigh muscles, the other was finding it more demanding than the rest. She kept drinking glucose water and spraying Volini on her calves to keep her going. She was getting me worried if she could at all make it to the top. At one point where I was further ahead, she even napped for a few minutes somewhere in the trail – I have no clue how she managed to do that on the almost perpendicular flight of rocky and uneven stairway.
To keep myself going, I devised my own strategy. I started counting the steps and set myself a goal of 30 steps at a time. After 30 steps, I would rest for a few seconds and start towards another 30. I would silently congratulate myself for completing 30 steps and heave out a sigh of relief of having progressed a little ahead.
Towards the end I was so dehydrated that it was getting increasingly difficult for me to move on. Desperate, I requested Droning to run ahead and get some water for us as we continued our climb. After an arduous 4 hour climb, the jungle gave way to tall brown grasses on either side indicating we were almost at the top. A little while later the hilltop appeared in the form of a vast and sprawling meadow. What a moment that was! Phew! At the same time Droning arrived with a bottle of water. We guzzled up all the water in split seconds like raindrops on a parched land. After quenching our thirsts, we moved ahead and soon spotted Nokalikai falls shining in the bright afternoon sun.
Today, as I look back it feels good that we had chosen to walk that path. Several memories besiege me –
Agony of the 4-hour near vertical climb winding through the thick green canopy
Stepping through hundreds of fallen dry leaves strewn over moss-covered rustic stones
Maneuvering billions of crisscrossing gnarling roots that even God himself cannot map
Feasting our eyes on the myriads of colourful flowers and butterflies
Mushrooms and lichens of various shapes and sizes
Amazing and unusual insects by the dozens
And much more……….
All of this I wouldn’t have known had I taken the concrete pathway.
I stepped out of my room and looked up at the sky. The moon shone brilliantly and looked like a perfectly rounded sphere of white radiance sailing in the cloudless night. Millions of twinkling stars accompanying the moon seemed to be looking at me knowing exactly what I was thinking.
We were spending the night at Nongriat in a homestay, which was right next to the double root bridge – a bridge that epitomizes the harmonious blend of Nature’s abundance and Man’s hard work. Braving 3600 steps, we had arrived at Nongriat earlier that day.
Later that night, we befriended four travellers staying at the homestay. Gautam and Om were from Mumbai and were biking in the North East while Rajat and Ashwin were solo travellers. Rajat came from Delhi and Ashwin all the way from the city of Mysore in the South. I was with two of my cousin sisters and we were exploring our own home state. Our destination for the next day was Rainbow Falls and we decided to go there together as a team. Our guide, Droning was quite amused to find the three sisters multiply into this little army in just a few hours. Droning lives in Nongriat and is a young 15-year-old lad, who is preparing to appear for his school final this year.
Next day started early for us. We were up by 5.30 AM and left the homestay at 6.00 AM with our newly found acquaintances. The sun wasn’t up yet but the skies looked clear. Soon, we found ourselves crossing a shaky iron bridge that threatened to throw us off as it swayed to and fro while we crossed it one foot at a time. We had encountered such bridges the day before as well, but I for one was still not used to them and could feel my knees quiver. This particular one was worse as the iron was rusted in places. After a while, we crossed another root bridge and the root bridges are so much more stable!
The sound of running water of the falls teased us for a long while as we continued walking and expected to see it at every turn but the falls kept eluding us. Then, in a flash it suddenly emerged from the thick green envelope. There it was! Rainbow Falls – a hidden treasure in the deep jungles of Cherrapunjee, Meghalaya. The mighty roaring water was spectacular leaving us transfixed for a moment.
I stared at it from the top of the hill for a while before convincing myself that this was not a dream. Only then, was I able to descend the final flight of steps towards the falls. As I looked on, I noticed the enormous force of the water as it pounded its way right into the pool below. The pool was a brilliant sparkling blue and looked serene and calm, unaffected by the torrents of water pounding on it with such great force.
The sun was just about making its way through the tall hills around the falls. So, we would have to wait a while to see the rainbow that appears on the falls. It’s this permanent rainbow across the falls that makes it unique and gives it the name.
I found myself a comfortable seating area from where I could view the falls in its entirety. One of my sisters joined me. The rest were already making their way down through the huge formidable boulders. We watched them go down. Two of the guys couldn’t control their urge and very soon plunged into the crystal clear blue waters of the pool below. The water was so clear that we could see right through into the pebbles at the bottom.
The dazzling blue water was too inviting. My sister could hold herself no longer and decided to climb down. The huge boulders intimidated me and I wasn’t sure. It’s my short height that limits me, shaking my confidence at such times, as I know my legs will not reach out to all places. I felt quite comfortable where I was but my sister insisted. Soon, Droning was summoned to give me a hand and help me navigate my way down to the blue pool.
Down below, the falls was magnificent but at the same time terrifying and unnerving. I stood there for a while watching the rest of my gang braving the chill and swimming and wading in the water. At one point all of them climbed up a huge boulder that had a ladder against it for a closer view of the falls. I wasn’t able to muster the courage.
Another sparkling green pool of water amidst huge rocks and boulders glistened in the morning sun and lay quietly away from the falls. While the others went towards that, I decided to go back to my comfort place and again not without Droning’s help. One of my sisters and Rajat joined me too.
We chatted and waited patiently for another hour and a half as the sun’s rays slowly descended down the falls. The rest settled in a place down below after they had their fill of exploring and posing for photographs of kinds. We didn’t know at what point the rainbow would appear and every now and then imagined seeing colours when there weren’t any.
And when the rainbow actually appeared, we literally shrieked in unison. It was so sudden that I felt as if an invisible fairy godmother had touched it with her magic wand. We reveled in the enigmatic beauty of Mother Nature for a while.
It was almost 10.30 AM. A few more people had now started coming in and it was time for us to leave.
In our anticipation of the rainbow, we had forgotten that we had missed breakfast. Having been up for more than 4 hours with quite a bit of physical activity, our stomachs had started growling. The girls had meticulously packed in a few bread slices from our Homestay the night before. The boys had none. The food was far from sufficient and we still had a long way to go. We had decided not to go back to Nongriat, instead follow a jungle trail that goes straight to Cherrapunjee.
We had already invited trouble, just that we were still unaware…. (Continued)
A quaint little village nestled in the tropical rainforests of Meghalaya.
The perfectly rounded moon glistened as it’s bright white reflection fell on the crystal clear waters of Umshiang River that flowed through in shadows of light and dark, right below the double root bridge. It was a December night but not as cold as one would expect. The sky was clear with not a single cloud. It could have been full moon that night, I can’t say for sure but I couldn’t care less.
I seated myself on a flattened rock right beside the double root bridge watching the moon dance in the ripples of the river. There was magic in the air and my heart was strumming a random tune. In this utterly romantic setting, the only thing missing was the prince of my dreams…… Sigh!
We were at Nongriat village, in the interiors of Meghalaya – a state in North-East India that houses lush green mountains, thick tropical rainforests, gorgeous water falls, rivers with clear waters and several other wonders of nature. Situated at a distance of 10 Km in the south of *Cherrapunjee, Nongriat’s fame is attributed to the three functional root bridges. Of these, the double root bridge is outstandingly significant.
[* Cherrapunjee, known as Sohra locally, previously held the distinction of being the wettest place on earth, which is now taken over by Mawsynram, another place in Meghalaya.]
The quiet village with its few tiny houses scattered around a thick canopy of green is like a soothing balm to sore eyes and tired legs. Trees of bay-leaf, betel-nut, jackfruit, pepper, bamboo, rubber, a variety of shrubs, ferns, and herbs converge in multiple shades of green creating a healing effect of harmony and freshness. Every household had an artificial beehive just outside their homes making us wonder if bee-keeping was an obsession with the villagers.
Nongriat is accessible only by foot and the pathway constitutes an almost continuous flight of 3600 steps, spread over 3.5 Km. After an early lunch, we had started walking from Tryna village, which is also located in Cherrapunjee. The steps are concrete man-made, which start with a continuous descent that go on incessantly and is merciless on the knees. On the way, we stopped at a single root bridge and our wobbling knees got some much needed respite.
The steps continue in the same way, interrupted only by a few precarious hanging bridges made of iron rods. These bridges sway dangerously the moment you step onto them threatening to throw you off onto the gorgeous greenish-blue river with huge boulders that lie below. The swaying becomes even more erratic when several people cross simultaneously and if you encounter someone coming from the opposite direction, you may just want to send a prayer heavenward.
Quite an adventure, indeed!
Just before reaching Nongriat, the steps go upward and the descent suddenly changes to a pretty steep climb.
The entire stairway is through lush green tropical forests with leaves and roots brushing up against you. This region gets copious amount of rain and it’s fairly common for people to experience heavy rainfall while walking this trial. Not surprising as rains and rain-forests are like bedfellows and you cannot expect one without the other.
Having been born and brought up in the state of Meghalaya, I have seen enough of rains in my lifetime – and ugh, I am so not a rain person! Thankfully it was winter and the weather was pretty good.
And by the way, don’t be surprised if you encounter rain during winter, it rains throughout the year in this part of the country. The winter ensured something else though – no leeches! God knows how much I dislike them!
Apparently, the Government is planning to build a road to Nongriat. While it will be immensely beneficial to the local people of the village, I selfishly hope that doesn’t happen. Nongriat will lose its uniqueness. Besides, the ills that will come with a road will surely jeopardise the delicate balance between man and nature in this gorgeous little paradise on earth.
Life is by no means easy for the villagers at Nongriat. The village has no school. While some children study in boarding schools in Cherrapunjee or Shillong, others walk these steps (~ 7000, both ways) on a daily basis.
There is no health care center, villagers rely on their herbal and natural medicines but for serious issues the only way out is again through the stairway. There are no shops in the village except one that sells Maggi and biscuits to travellers. Villagers have to get everything, including grocery all the way from Cherrapunjee.
Hence, devising a way to provide these basic necessities instead of building a road would do good to the villagers.
Most people come to Nongriat for a day trek. Our idea of staying a night at Nongriat turned out to be a great decision.