Luscious ‘Lwai’

An Accidental Rendezvous with the Gorgeous Waterfall

“I have a request and you can’t say no!” demanded my brother-in-law (BIL).

Now, this was coming from one of my favourite persons in the world and it was his birthday too – how could I say no! BIL declared we would be visiting a lesser known waterfall, situated in a remote corner of East Khasi Hills. Sharing my love for exploring nature, that’s how he wanted to spend his birthday. Driving his new car into the wilderness was an added incitement.

Next morning, armed with a pack of sandwiches and fruits, we set out a little later than planned. The midnight birthday celebrations had extended way into late night and we couldn’t bring ourselves to wake up early in the cold January morning.

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Pic 1: Somewhere on the way.

Driving early morning through the winding roads, surrounded by lush green pine forests in the hills is as rejuvenating as anybody’s imagination. The sun was up but its gentle morning warmth did little to ease the chill hanging in the air at that hour. Our windows were rolled up and the music was on as we happily and merrily sang along, though  interrupted now and then by the birthday wishes that kept pouring in.

Soon we were out of city limits and headed towards the village where the waterfall was located. On the way we stopped at Laitlum to have breakfast at a Kong Shop. [I will write about these shops another time].

Situated 25 Km. away from Shillong, Laitlum is famous for its sprawling green meadows and breathtaking valley. We thought our destination was just 30 min away but a couple of local villagers informed that the road beyond was really bad and it would take us another 3 hours. BIL and I contemplated whether it was a good idea, given that we were already late.

Suddenly, I recalled someone telling me about a waterfall around Laitlum. A quick confirmation from the locals and we decided to explore this place instead. Our original destination was pushed for another time.

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Pic 2: The undulating dusty road with open meadows.

The narrow winding road beside the Kong Shop lead to Thangsning village and that’s where Lwai falls, also known as Thangsning falls, is located.

BIL maneuvered his swanky new car meticulously into the narrow village road. The dusty lane with wide open meadows on both sides and a few scantily scattered village homes was an instant dose of excitement and happiness. This is our thing! How much we love such things!

The lane went on for a pretty long distance and there was no indication of any waterfall nearby. There was nobody around whom we could ask. Google was of no help either.

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Pic 3: A small flock of goats basking in the winter sun.
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Pic 4: A village woman carrying a huge quantity of dried grass while managing her children.

We arrived at an intersection where this winding dusty lane met another similar road. Not knowing what to do, we parked our car here. In just a few seconds, another car arrived and parked in front of us. While I stepped out and started capturing a few pictures, BIL went ahead to talk to the two gentlemen who had also stepped out of their car.

Quite surprisingly, they were also looking for the same waterfall. They were native Khasis and had also come from Shillong. One of them had trekked through the jungle to the waterfall before and they were now trying to figure out the motorable road to it. We decided to join them. This was immensely helpful as they could ask around in the local language.

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Pic 5: The concrete cement steps to the base of the waterfall amidst greens of all shades.

In a short while, we located the falls. We parked our cars and stepped out into the soothing lush green hills. The gushing sound of water teased us though the falls wasn’t visible yet.

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Pic 6: We are nearly at the base where the water is flowing on to an adjoining stream.

The sun was strong now and the sky a deep blue. A flight of 250 concrete steps took us down to the bottom of the falls and there it was right in front of us the mesmerizing cascading beauty gracefully making its way down into a pool of pure turquoise.

There were two columns of water falling from a height of about 100 feet. The two water columns seemed to be in some kind of a friendly banter as they giggled excitedly hurrying their way down to touch the pool below as though in some kind of a playful competition with each other.

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Pic 7: The elegant Lwai falls in its entirety. There will be four times more water later in the year.

The turquoise pool shone in its sparkling clear water through which peeped rounded yellow pebbles from the bottom of the pool. Rocks of various shapes and sizes lay exposed all around happily soaking in the winter sun making merry as long as the party lasts. Come rains and all of them will be swallowed by the increasing water of the falls.

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Pic 8: Isn’t that turquoise pool simply fascinating!

My excitement knew no bounds and as always a surge of emotions left me speechless. I sat there gaping at the spectacular site and silently conversed with the white falling beauty, the elegant turquoise pool, the perfectly rounded yellow pebbles, and the little platoon of happy rocks.

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Pic 9: I could sit there and stare at it for ages. I need no one. Only me and the waterfall.

The unexpected rendezvous with the two gentlemen was a pleasure beyond words. Such fluke meetings don’t ever fail to fascinate me! One of them, Antho Syiem is also an ardent nature lover just like us. In those few minutes, he shared his trekking experiences in the remote corners of Meghalaya.

With great pride he introduced us to his YouTube channel – Sorjah, through which he aims to show glimpses of his gorgeously beautiful homeland, Meghalaya, to the rest of the world. And I feel fortunate to be able to share this feeling of pride.

[Sorjah’s video on Lwai falls can be viewed here. Do check out their other videos as well.]

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Pic 10: A selfie with our new found friends.

BIL was elated and his excitement was evident as he slowly and steadily climbed up the steps. With a chronic back problem climbing a continuous flight of stairs is something he would rather avoid but today, he couldn’t stop smiling. And I knew his birthday was made!

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Pic 10: BIL, the happy man, celebrates his birthday with sandwiches and water as the sound of the waterfall sings his birthday song.

Tides of Bekal

Swaying coconut trees, rhythmic tides of the sea, and sparkling golden sand on a pristine and clean beach! Sounds perfect, doesn’t it? And if I tell you there are just a handful of people playing around in the beach. How ideal does that sound! Well, that was just how we experienced the Arabian Sea at Bekal Beach.

Bekal is one of the several beach destinations in God’s Own Country – Kerala. It’s home to the fascinating Bekal Fort, which is perched on its rocky shores, situated on one corner of the beach.

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Pic 1: The golden sands and the swaying coconut trees.

We were at Pallikara, a sleepy little lovely village in North Kerala, where all you see is green – just so characteristic of Kerala. Everything in Kerala is green! It’s like patches of concrete hidden in green unlike most other places in India where you find patches of green hidden in concrete!

It was a hot April day when we arrived at this place. As we had lunch at a roadside eatery, we found people staring at us, probably surprised by tourists at this unlikely time of the year or to see women who were on their own and look different from the ones they are used to seeing.

The shop owner had a volley of questions for us and though we displayed our disinterest, he continued. Sensing that he was probably harmless and not wanting to appear like arrogant tourists, we chit-chatted with him . The small talk turned out to be useful as he showed us a shortcut to the beach on the other side of an unmanned railway crossing that runs just behind his shop. The beach was right across and here we were all set to take an auto!

While the sweltering heat nearly baked us at the fort, the beach was much cooler. In fact, we had walked towards the beach preparing our minds to face the hot afternoon sun thinking that we would sit in the shades provided alongside the shore and just watch the gorgeous Arabian Sea. We were already roasting in the April heat of Malabar Coast since we arrived in the morning and that made us cautious.

However, the Sea was in a playful mood and seemed to have a different idea. It was cooler than we thought and we could even walk bare foot on the sand. We played in the water and walked around in the beach for a while and then went off to explore Bekal Fort.

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Pic 2: A glimpse of Bekal Fort right there at the corner.
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Pic 3: A closer view of the fort.

We came back to the Sea again in the evening. This time there were more people but still it wasn’t that crowded. We walked along the length of the beach, sat on the golden warm sand, felt the cool salty breeze brush against our face, played with the waves, followed the fast and furious crabs, and just relaxed.

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Pic 4: Dozens of these screw seashells washed ashore only to be taken away by the next tide.
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Pic 5: The only crab that I could click as it was lying still, probably about to die, it was still moving though.

Evening was slowly approaching and we decided to walk towards the rocky shore where the fort is located. The fort provides for an imposing view from the beach. However, there is no way to reach the fort from the beach, though you can climb through the rocks and approach just a section of the fort wall. The fort can be accessed only through the road.

We spent the evening sitting on the rocks with the fort behind us and the tides crashing against the rocks in front of us. It was splendid to say the least. And it was my birthday. Couldn’t have asked for a better birthday gift (other than the Himalayas, of course…)!

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Pic 6: And the gorgeous sunset!

Something interesting happened in the evening. We were waiting to see the Sun slip into the sea, expecting a usual sunset that happens in most beaches. The Sun, however decided to set behind the fort providing an awesome view of the entire landscape – the magnificent fort, the setting sun, and the mighty Arabian Sea.

We watched in rapture even as the tides continued discharging their duty of systematically doing rounds of the shore, not getting distracted even once, so what if the Sun was looking gorgeously beautiful. There’s so much to learn from nature, always!

Tide

Bekal Fort – A Glimpse into the Past

And a Birthday Gift to Self…

 “Tu hi re……tere bina……”  [“Uyire”]

I could almost see the scintillating Monisha Koirala sauntering around with her long flowing gown behind her and Arvind Swamy yearning for her as he sings the famous soul stirring romantic melody of the late nineties. Composed by A.R Rahman, this masterpiece was sung to perfection by Hariharan.

We were at Bekal Fort, located in a quaint little place called Pallikara in North Kerala. This remarkably well preserved fort gained popularity after the legendary lyrical song from the critically acclaimed Bollywood Movie ‘Bombay’ was filmed here.

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Pic 1: The fort as seen from the outside.

It was that time of the year – the month of April – the time to keep a promise to myself. Time for my birthday and I had to gift a travel to myself. It’s the mountains I prefer above everything else, precisely Himalayas. I have a few treks in mind that I want to do but there was a clash here. None of those were happening in April. So, I booked one for May and decided to do a small 1-2 day trip somewhere nearby just for my birthday. That’s how the trip to Bekal Fort happened.

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Pic 2: Somewhere inside the fort.

I was all set to go alone when my sister decided to come along. Both of us are going through some financial constraints and this trip fitted well into our pockets. Google told us that Bekal Fort is about 65 Km away from Mangalore and can be reached in about an hour and a half from there. This was the best route for us from Bangalore. We took an overnight train to Mangalore. With our current financial situation, we opted to take a bus rather than a cab from Mangalore. However, we had to change two buses to reach Pallikara – Mangalore to Kasargod to Pallikara.

We had booked a homestay at Pallikara at a very reasonable rate. The room was quite small but the people were wonderful and the food they served was stupendous, at a price that is unthinkable. It’s pretty good for just a night. (http://www.bekalforthomestay.com/)

An auto from the bus stand took us to the homestay and everyone seemed to know the ‘retired Headmaster’s house’. It was late morning when we arrived and the sun was blazing. At this time of the year, Kerala is sweltering and the humidity only makes the weather even more miserable. Notwithstanding, we stepped out after a quick shower.

The lady of the house warned us against venturing to the fort at this time. She advised early evening and recommended the beach for now. We had a quick lunch at a roadside shop trying to ignore the gazing curious onlookers who are probably not used to seeing many tourists and especially women on their own. The shop owner, unable to control his curiosity, asked us a couple of questions and every answer seemed to flabbergast him.

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Pic 3: Roasting in the sweltering heat of Malabar Coast
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Pic 4: Sis finds a cooler place to chill for a while.

After lunch, we went to Bekal Beach and thereafter took an auto and went to the fort. It was around 3.00 PM and the Sun was shining mercilessly. April is definitely not the best time to visit this place. The roasting heat of Malabar Coast was exhausting as the lady of the homestay had rightly warned us. The aura of the age-old fort managed to keep us engaged though we were drenched in sweat from head to toe. A pleasant surprise awaited us at the fort though. It was ‘World Heritage Day’ and entry was free. I took that as an unexpected birthday gift!

 

Perched on a steep rocky shore overlooking the Arabian Sea, Bekal Fort intrigues and fascinates with its architectural marvel and picture perfect location. The rusty red fort owes its colouration to the *laterite slabs that have been used to build it. The polygonal fort, shaped in the form of a giant keyhole surely houses a million tales of bygone ages.

[*Laterite is a soil and rock type rich in iron and aluminium, considered to have formed in hot and wet tropical areas. Nearly all laterites are of rusty-red coloration, because of high iron oxide content. Source: Wikipedia]

In the 13th Century AD, Bekal was an important port town in Kerala. The fort has changed hands a couple of times from Shivappa Nayaka to Tipu Sultan to East India Company. This is the biggest and best preserved fort in Kerala that is now maintained by Archeological Survey of India (ASI).

The Fort has several unique features, such as, the water tank with its flight of steps, a tunnel that opens towards the south, a magazine to store ammunition, an Observation Tower with stunning view of the surrounding landscape.

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Pic 8: Note the rusty-red laterite slabs

The majestic fort in its entirety against the backdrop of the mighty Arabian Sea on one side and the sea of greenery on all other sides was as picturesque as one can imagine. The vast expanse of tall coconut trees that spread out as far as the eyes can see adds charm to the already scenic location. And it’s the scenic beauty of the place that appealed to me the most.

The weather was taking its toll and we were drained after having loitered around for about 90 minutes at the fort. With no shade around, we decided to go back to the beach.

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Pic 9: The sea of coconut trees, just so typical of God’s Own Country – Kerala
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Pic 10: The winding pathway just outside the fort by the side of the Arabian Sea reminded us of ‘King’s Landing’ from Game of Thrones!)

We got to know that monsoon is the best time to visit this place. Besides the pleasant weather, the fort walls are covered with a layer of green owing to the growth of mosses, lichens, and tiny plants that apparently makes it look even more gorgeous. Our April adventure was nonetheless a good one.

With another promise kept and another birthday well spent, armed with a bagful of wonderful memories we retraced our path towards the beach.