A Serendipitous Trip to Gurudongmar Lake

My sister couldn’t contain her joy and even did a little dance in the back seat of the car where she was seated alone. I was occupying the front seat with our driver, Lalu. Her fervent and silent prayers had been answered. Lalu had just received a phone call that the road to Gurodongmer Lake had opened up.

Gurodongmer Lake was one of the main reasons I had planned our Sikkim trip. Situated at an altitude of 17,800 ft, Gurodongmer is one of the highest freshwater lakes in the world. It is considered sacred and is located in North Sikkim, just 5 Km. south of China border. Having experienced the divinity of another such high altitude holy lake, Chandrataal in Spiti Valley, I was keen on experiencing the same at Gurudongmar.

However, just a week before leaving for Sikkim I got to know that the road to Gurudongmar was closed. Usually it opens around March end but the heavy snowfall that happened this winter was responsible for this. I was upset but kept thinking that it may just open by the time we go. While I made peace and decided to be open to possibilities, my sister (my travel companion yet again) sent out silent prayers to the mountains to make it happen for us. And serendipity happened! The day we had Gurudongmar on our itinerary, the roads miraculously opened up.

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Pic 1: The frozen Gurudongmar Lake – As we saw it!
Legend About Gurudongmar

Gurudongmar Lake is named after Guru Padmasambhava or Guru Rinpoche, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism. Dongmar means ‘red face’, and the lake supposedly represents the angry side of Guru Padmasambhava. Apparently, Guru Padmasambhava visited this lake on his way from Tibet and had felt a divine reverence towards the place. The lake used to remain frozen for most part of the year and could not provide drinking water to the local people. They prayed to the Guru, who placed his hand on a part of the lake and ever since that part never freezes even in sub-zero temperatures. Gurudongmar Lake has been revered and respected since then. The Sikhs believe that Guru Nanak, the spiritual leader of Sikhism, had once passed by this lake when he had traveled to this part of India and had blessed it.

Our Visit

Nature conspired and things worked out according to our wish. We felt blessed. Not only did the road to the lake open up, we woke up to mountain peaks glowing in the morning sun – indications of a bright and sunny day. And, it was just that! The sky remained a clear blue throughout the day, something which never happened any other day during our stay at Sikkim.

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Pic 2: The glowing mountain peak as we saw it in the morning at Lachen. (PC: Madhuchanda Paul)

The lake is about 67 Km. from Lachen and the entire route is exquisitely gorgeous. We started from Lachen at about 5.00 AM. As the narrow bumpy road snaked up, the snow draped mountains started making their grandiose appearance and with every turn the mountains got bigger and prettier. I was busy gorging on the surreal surroundings when, Lalu called out that the temperature was 4 degrees. “No wonder I’m feeling so cold,” I said aloud to myself! At some places either side of the road wore a purple hue with a liberal dose of Primulas scattered all around.

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Pic 3: Primulas scattered on the way, giving a purple hue to the surroundings

Soon we were at Thangu, the last civilian inhabited village before the lake. Here we ran into a traffic jam as a vehicle had gotten stuck in the muddy road. We stepped out of the car. The sun shone sharp but the cold was sharper! We couldn’t stay out for long and had to get into the vehicle. After about an hour here, we continued our journey and arrived at the Giagong check post at 15000 Ft., 11 Km. before Gurudongmar Lake. The Army checked our permits and we continued to the final stretch where the dusty bumpy road gave way to sleek tarred road. On some stretches, there were heaps of snow on either side of the road, clearly indicating that the road had just been cleared.

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Pic 7: At a random turning, somewhere near Thangu
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Pic 8: On the way
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Pic 9: Just before approaching. Notice the desert-land

Just before the lake, the landscape changed dramatically to a barren desert land with patches of snow. Pretty soon we were close to our destination. The deep blue sky playfully provoked us and we decided to get off the car and walk the rest of the way. The thin air was apparent and every step seemed like a huge effort. We climbed a little hillock and there it was, silent and quiet right before our eyes.

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Pic 10: The prayer flags on one side of the lake.
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Pic 11: The part of the lake that never freezes.

I expected still blue waters, instead all I could see was a huge expanse of white – the lake was completely frozen. The frozen lake was nevertheless enchanting exuding a charm of its own. The part of the lake that does not freeze did have the azure blue water though. We walked around for a while. The temperature was -2 degree centigrade. The sun was blindingly bright, the skies were clear, and the wind was cold. The peace emanating within us is something that no words can explain. Numerous colourful prayer flags fluttered, as if sending messages of peace and calm to all the visitors. We sat down for a while exchanging no words taking in the glorious surroundings – the frozen lake with the rugged snow-covered mountains at it’s far end.

I found myself silently wondering if I wanted to come here again to feel the stillness of the unfrozen blue waters or if I wanted to keep this frozen view in my mind forever.

 

 

Those Morning Walk Rituals

It’s pretty late in the night and I should be in bed, yet I am not. Here I am lazing on my couch doing particularly nothing – shuffling between Instagram posts, pages of a book, and Whatsapp messages. Indiscipline makes occasional visits and tonight is one. Of late, such visits have become more regular than occasional. Walking from the living room to the bedroom becomes a herculean task requiring a huge amount of effort and will power.

“If I am to reach office at a decent time after maneuvering the crazy morning traffic, I need to be up early and leave home latest by 7.30 AM….”  – The mind blabbers, as it always does, but I pay no heed and continue wasting my time on the couch.

Promises I make to myself every so often are just broken, procrastinated for another time, or easily replaced by another ambitious and taller promise.

It wasn’t like this always though. There was a time when early to bed and early to rise was the most normal thing to do.

A quick rewind to my hometown days in Shillong and I never remember being awake beyond 10.00 PM and even that was considered late. In Shillong, and in all of North East, evenings set in early – around 5.00 PM during summers and 4.00 PM during winters. Consequently mornings break in very early too.

Talking about mornings in Shillong, my mind is transported to those times when our days would start with idyllic and therapeutic morning walks. Morning walks was like a family ritual for us, not necessarily done together as a family though. Sometimes we did walk together, but mostly everyone would do it on their own time, in their own way.

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Pic 1: I do not have many pictures of our morning walks, never really thought of clicking. Feels good though to think that these were morning walks done mindfully. 

Everyone, however, took the same route. The perfectly tarred road that snakes through the neighbourhood houses sometimes climbing up and sometimes climbing down. The green hills, mildly illuminated with dawn, overlook the road as it nonchalantly passes by two government schools and into a Pine Forest towards the Sericulture Farm.

A large nursery on the left announces the onset of the forest through which the tarred road continues, occasionally broken by tiny cemented bridges over unassuming brooks and streams that melodiously gurgle happily breaking the morning silence.

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Pic 2: Somewhere along the way
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Pic 3: Inside Sericulture Farm

Further ahead, there is a graveyard dotted with some more Pine Trees and then the road continues right up to a locality known as Lawshohtun. At times, we would turn around from the gate and retrace our path through the hillocks or the tarred road. At other times, we would go right into the Sericulture Farm and look around the already known places before walking back. Again, sometimes we would continue walking right up to Lawshohtun, much beyond Sericulture Farm.

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Pic 4: I just love ferns, these are some I had clicked last time I went that way.
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Pic 5: The administrative office of Sericulture Farm

Most of our mornings would start with this mandatory walk, the only exceptions were when it rained heavily and when we had exams as focusing on studies was considered priority.

Thankfully, much of this route remains the same even today and is still popular with morning walkers. However, a large part of the forest now belongs to the armed forces and access to the hills, meadows, and streams are restricted. One can only walk through the tarred road.

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Pic 6: Clicked somewhere inside Sericulture Farm
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Pic 7: Clicked a few years back during one such morning walk spree

In today’s context of chaotic mornings with mad rushes and traffic stresses, those unhurried morning walks are like unbelievable wishful tales. The hazards of metro living! The prices we pay for a livelihood. Small cities and towns do not offer jobs but offer quality life.

Back then, I never thought those casual morning walks would one day become luxuries, affordable only during vacations and that too in exchange for a considerable sum of money.

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Pic 8: Those are staff quarters inside Sericulture Farm 

Well, morning walks are warmly greeted and indiscipline shooed away at least once every year when I visit my hometown. I am indeed lucky to be able to revisit those morning walks. So what if its just once a year!

Love and Gratitude for the Himalayas

“You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen.” – Rene Daumal

Nature has that power to enable unburdening of our hearts leading to joyous experiences of inner peace. What better place to experience nature than the higher reaches of glorious mountains!  My sincerest gratitude to the mighty Himalayas, to whom I humbly surrender each time I set my foot on them.

Coined from the Sanskrit words of ‘hima’ meaning snow and ‘alaya’ meaning abode, the Himalayas are the loftiest mountain system in the world. With more than 110 peaks rising to elevations of 24,000 ft. (7,300 m.) or more above sea level, the Himalayan Range includes the highest mountains in the world.

My first encounter with the magnificently regal Himalayas happened rather abruptly – one fine day, I randomly decided to go for a trek. It was just an impulse act and I had no clue what high altitude trekking entailed. In fact, I had never trekked anywhere before. I have been a nature-lover forever and that was all I knew. That incident turned out to be the beginning of a new chapter in my life.

I will not hesitate to say that the mountains changed me in ways more than one and I have become a much better person today (at least I’d like to believe so). Many things I do today, I owe to the Himalayas – this blog for instance.

The snow-clad Himalayas are mystical mountains associated with divinity and spirituality. And, I do find the divine in them. They seem like a living-breathing entity to me watching over me, blessing me, and helping me. Possibly, it’s their tall and grandiose appearance or perhaps just the initial intimidation when I look up at them.

I always feel they have a mind of their own. I firmly believe that you can set foot on them only if they allow you do so. You can plan and desire and do what you want but in the end it’s their wish and not yours. With that in mind, I truly feel fortunate and privileged. In the last two years, I have trekked in the Himalayas five times. Without blessings from the majestic mountains, that would have never happened. Each time the mountains ensured that everything worked in our favour, which is especially true with respect to the unpredictable weather.

Earlier this month I discovered the Northern Himalayas as I trekked in Kashmir savouring the gorgeousness of the high altitude glacier-fed alpine lakes. Here are some pictures of Kashmir Great Lakes. I will write a detailed post later.

[All of these are unedited photos clicked through iPhone-6.]

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Pic 1: Vishansar or Vishnusar glimmers in the late afternoon soft sun.
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Pic 2: A flock of sheep at Vishansar Lake – blessed they are to graze on such heavenly grounds.
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Pic 3: The purity of Kishansar Lake can be felt through the sweet taste of its pristine water.
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Pic 4: Kishansar Lake as we walked away climbing the mountain along the sides.
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Pic 5: The twin lakes of Vishansar and Kishansar as seen from the top of Gadsar Pass.
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Pic 6:The green tinge of Gadsar Lake sets it apart from the bluish tinge of Vishansar and Kishansar.
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Pic 7: Shepherds with their flock in one of the Satsars. Satsar literally translates to seven lakes. 
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Pic 8: Another Satsar. Out of the seven, we could see only three. Two lie behind the mountains and are difficult to access. Two others had dried up as it was the fag end of monsoon.
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Pic 9: The twin lakes of Gangabal (R) and Nandkol (L) as seen from the top of Satsar Pass.
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Pic 10: Gangabal up close, peace and quiet reigned all around!
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Pic 11: Nandkol up close, its closer to civilisation and I was saddened to see signs of that as one side of the lake lay littered with bottles and plastic.

 

 

The ‘Daugts’

In Fond Memory of my Beloved Uncle

“My daugts! Having fun, huh!”

Those doting words full of love and affection still ring in my ears loud and clear, even though it’s been close to a decade now.

I grew up in a joint family where the concept of family is not just limited to parents and siblings. Besides parents, my family constituted my aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins – a total of 17 people. Uncles here are my father’s brothers and aunts, their wives. We lived together under one roof sharing common bathrooms, toilets and a common kitchen.

Subsequently, as we grew up the family progressively became smaller due to various reasons. Contributing events include an uncle being transferred to another city and moving out with his family; another uncle moving out to a different house with his wife after he got married; grandparents passing away.

Most of these events however happened after I had completed school and had stepped into college. As a result I have experienced the adventure and fun of being in a large family for a significant part of my life. Life is all ironies given that I live all alone now – not something I had even remotely anticipated.

And, with my generation of the family moving out and settling with jobs in other parts of the country, there are just four people living in our house in Shillong – my parents, an uncle and an aunt. The rest of us are reduced to being just occasional visitors.

A direct consequence of living together has been the bond that we cousins share – the five girls of the family are like own sisters rather than cousins. Circumstances in the past few years have brought in a little distance between us as we don’t get to catch up often. However, in our heart of hearts our love for each other remains the same.

The best memories of our cousins together are those that we have spent in Kolkata. My uncle had retired from his job and settled down with his family – my aunt and two cousins – in an apartment in the South of Kolkata. At the same time, I had also moved to Kolkata with a job and lived with my sister in the North of Kolkata. The youngest cousin was doing her MBA from an institute in Kolkata and she stayed with us too.

So, three of us stayed in the North and two of them stayed in the South.  Notwithstanding the 23 Km. between us, the five of us would spend a considerable amount of time together. Much of that was spent in my uncle’s house. Living at two ends of the metropolis hardly bothered us. The five of us together meant the world to us. We would cancel our meetings with friends and other engagements to just be together because being together used to be the greatest fun of all.

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 This is the only picture I have of us with a nephew, me missing in the frame though as I was clicking. Those were pre-digital days and tonnes of printed pictures are safely stored back home.

Those years were fantastic and definitely belong to the bucket where I store the best days of my life. It was all about mindless conversations and incessant laughter; about making fun of the idiosyncrasies of other family members, giving them names; and endless repetitions of the same gossips running late into the nights. The five of us would cuddle together in one big bed and spend the night together even if that meant being uncomfortably sandwiched with each other.

Our laughter was contagious and my uncle would sporadically make his appearance saying the same thing in various ways.

“My daughts…enjoying huh!”

Daughts is what he would lovingly call us, meaning daughters. And we would laugh even more seeing him peeping into the room every now and then.

One of the cousins loved cooking and we were her guinea pigs whether we liked it or not. On the days of her experiments, my uncle would be seen making several trips to the local market to get all the special ingredients.

Often, we would go on long drives in the car that belonged to one of us much to the amusement of Kuddus, our driver, who enjoyed just as much, though he had no choice whatsoever.

Then there were festivals, especially Durga Pujas. The Durga Pujas that we spent together were the best! No other Durga Puja before or after that has been the same. Dressing up and pandal hopping all over Kolkata ignoring the profuse sweating in the tropical humid weather or walking the muddy lanes when it rained. Then coming back to the apartment and enjoying the gala celebrations of song and dance all night long from the privacy of our very own balcony.  My uncle’s flat was the only one that would always fall within the closed enclosure of the apartment Durga Puja Pandal, much to the envy of all the neighbours.

Those days are clearly some of the best days of my life!

My uncle passed away nearly a decade back and ever since the daughts haven’t been the same anymore.

(And, I realized that in the absence of digital pictures, I don’t have a single picture of my uncle.)

Chasing Frost on a Cold December Morning

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.

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Pic 1: That’s us – BIL, my sister, and I

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.

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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.

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Pic 7: Mylliem looked gorgeous as dawn breaks in

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.

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Pic 8: River Umtyngar – note the layer of mist over it
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Pic 9: The mist disappearing slowly and steadily as the Sun’s rays fall on the water.

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!

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Pic 10: A pond enroute, note the layer of mist over it.

Frigid

Up Through the Forest Wilderness

An Arduous Climb Alongside Nohkalikai Waterfalls

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.

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Pic 1: The steep climb laid out through rustic moss-covered stones

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.

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Pic 2: Resting a while to catch our breath

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.

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Pic 3: The climb continues through as the sun’s rays filter through the thick canopy. (P.C: Ashwin Chandru)

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.

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Pic 4: Delighted to meet people from across the continent (P.C: Ashwin Chandru)

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.

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Pic 5: We just reached the top, the azure blue sky is just fascinating

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.

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Pic 6: The direction shows you can walk down this path, and we walked up instead!
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Pic 7: Nokalikai Falls – note the steep wall beside it, that’s the path we walked up!

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.

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Pic 8: We encountered several such gorgeous beauties. (P.C: Ashwin Chandru)
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Pic 9: A stick insect, insects that camouflage like twigs (P.C: Ashwin Chandru)
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Pic 10: The skeletal remains of a leaf (P.C: Ashwin Chandru)

Constant

In Pursuit of the Elusive Rainbow

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!

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Pic 1: Another precarious hanging bridge, this one had few rusted iron rods making it scarier!  [P.C – Ashwin Chandru]
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Pic 2: Another hanging root bridge, this particular one was supported by iron rods. Root bridges were much more sturdier. [P.C – Ashwin Chandru]

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Pic 3: Towards the end of the root bridge as we stepped into the jungle. Isn’t that glorious!

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Pic 4: Through the jungle trail, one step at a time. [P.C – Ashwin Chandru]
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Pic 5: Sis takes a break. [P.C – Ashwin Chandru]
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.

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Pic 6: Rainbow Falls as it emerged through the dense green thicket.

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.

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Pic 7: I just had to admire it for a while before making my way down.

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.

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Pic 8: The pristine blue water was just too alluring!

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.

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Pic 9: The  clear blue water through to the pebbles below. The water was comparatively shallow, as it was Winter season.

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.

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Pic 10: Sis poses at the crystal clear green pool at the far end of the falls. [P.C – Ashwin Chandru]
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Pic 11: At my comfort place overlooking the falls. [P.C – Ashwin Chandru]
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.

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Pic 12: Do you spot the rainbow? We had to wait till the Sun’s rays reached that point just before it touched the pool below.

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)

Bridges that Breathe

I stood there and stared at it, there it was, just as I had visualized. It looked brilliantly gorgeous in the subdued evening light. “Love is the bridge between you and everything”, I muttered. Rumi has indeed captured my imagination and seems to have followed me even to this remote village in Meghalaya. The tantalizing double root bridge seemed like an entwined poetry between the two trees that flanked the Umshiang River silently flowing through the rounded stones that lie below. It was winter, and the reduced water level in the river made it look more like a stream.

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Pic 1: A marvel of organic engineering – man and nature in perfect harmony!

It was my first time at Nongriat village after braving 3600 steps and it was all worth it. The natural bridge floored me with its splendid elegance and grace. I couldn’t stop marveling at the ingenious organic engineering of the local tribal people. There are several root bridges in Meghalaya that are hand-crafted, using natural resources by the Khasi and the Jaintia tribes of Meghalaya (Khasis, Jaintias, Garos are the three tribes that constitute the native people of Meghalaya.).

These root bridges are made by guiding the aerial roots of Rubber tree (Ficus elastica) across a stream or river, and then allowing the roots to grow and strengthen over time. The young roots are tied, twisted, and weaved together encouraging them to combine with one another. The roots are wound around areca nut tree trunks, placed on either side of the water body. The roots keep growing, entwining the trunk and the bridge is elongated to the desired destination taking about 10-15 years to completion. The roots thicken over time and the bridge is further strengthened with mud, stones, sticks, and bamboos. These bridges last for hundreds of years and can carry the weight of 500 people at one time.

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Pic 2: Enchanting tree trunks that seem to be straight out of a fairy tale.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the double root bridge is nearly 200 years old. Locally known as Jingkieng Nongriat, the bridge is one of a kind and famous across the world. As a non-tribal resident of the state of Meghalaya, I could feel my chest swelling with pride as I stood there trying to fathom this tangled masterpiece hand-crafted by my tribal brethren.

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Pic 3: The water in the crystal clear stream below irresistible to our tired feet.

Soon, I found myself kicking off my walking shoes and settling down with my feet dipped in the cold water and the bridge right in front of me. My sisters joined in. We chatted into the evening accompanied by the occasional fishes that swam across tickling our tired and aching feet. We stayed at Nongriat and hence could enjoy the bridge in the way we wanted to, which would not have happened otherwise.

The reason being, it was the Christmas – New Year time, when the maximum surge of tourists happen leading to the place getting over crowded. To top it all, not all tourists who come here are nature lovers. It may seem strange but it is true. When we reached this place in the late afternoon that day, we were shocked to find people all over the place. There were some who were bathing in the river and shouting their lungs out disturbing the tranquil and serene surroundings. This is not how I had visualized the double root bridge and this is not my idea of enjoying nature. Dismayed, we walked away towards the jungle and came back only in the evening.

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Pic 4: A single root bridge on way to Nongriat village.
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Pic 5: A closer look showing the floor of the bridge.

Earlier that day, while on our way to Nongriat, we had been to a single root bridge. It had a prominent notice displayed stating that only two people are allowed on the bridge at one time. But the crowd of over enthusiastic tourists had no time read that. We pointed out to many but they didn’t care. We waited for a very long time for the crowd to thin down before we embarked upon the bridge. The next day, we crossed two other bridges in the interiors of the village. Each one leaving us spellbound with their spectacular intricacies.

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Pic 6: Another single root bridge in the village.

Last year when I was home, we had visited the single root bridge at Mawlynlong. That one is accessible by road and hence remains very crowded. However, the day we visited there was no one. We were really lucky. Mother Nature ensured peace so that we could soak in her comforting ecstasy.

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Pic 7: The single root bridge at Mawlynlong village.

Brilliant

Moments of Bliss

Beside the Serene River Spiti…

I couldn’t have enough of the crystal clear emerald green water meandering its way through the nooks and corners of the big tall mountains. Sitting on the banks of Spiti River, all I could hear was the soft gentle gushing sound of water. The gurgling sound of water was healing and soothing to the mind. It was a moment of pure bliss and I felt transported to a different world. The serene calmness of the water quietened my mind and cleared out all thoughts. The peaceful moment was mystically overpowering and I could think of nothing else.

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Pic 1: Spiti River sometimes emerald green sometimes a tinge of blue

Originating from the Kunzum mountain range and fed by the glaciers melting from the top of the Himalayan range, the river is an epitome of peace and tranquility. Its calmness seem to radiate an eloquence and grace that made it gloriously beautiful. To me it seemed to be wearing a constant smile, welcoming me with open arms, and making me feel at home and comfortable.

Alongside the river and just a little distance away, runs the only road in Spiti Valley, which serves as a passageway for thousands of vehicles ferrying people across their destinations.The river didn’t seem to be affected at all by the tarmac road and its activities. It kept flowing along its own course shining and glowing all the way.

Shouldn’t I be like the river, I wondered? Unperturbed by all the happenings around me and be my best self always? Possibly I cannot but at least I can try. Will I remember this when I go back to the city?

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Pic 2: The tarmac road, the elegant river, and the barren mountains

The glistening stones smoothened over time with the flowing water was clearly visible through the shallow water. These stones laying on the river bed appeared to sparkle even though they were covered by a layer of colourless slippery moss. I tried stepping onto one but it didn’t let me stand. I wondered what stories they would tell. Each one would surely have a story of their own. They must have seen so much through the passage of time. If they could talk, what conversations would they have with me and with one another? I giggled at the thought of telling them about the world of AI and IoT.

I sat there for a long while staring at the transparent water. The river had captivated my imagination and I felt I could sit just like that forever. My mind was blank and I must have been smiling. “Didi, look here!” suddenly these words came flowing through the wind putting an end to my blissful reverie. It was my sister calling out from a distance. She was positioning her camera to click a picture. While I sat there, she walked along the banks, both of us were lost in our own worlds.

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Pic 3: I could sit there forever

Those moments of serenity and tranquility I treasure. Much as I wish, I cannot get that here in my city. Drowned in the humdrum of daily life, I miss those moments. The anticipation of the next such opportunity keeps me going. Until then, I just gratify myself with those wonderful moments carefully stored in a corner of my heart. My source of sustenance, as I patiently and eagerly wait for the next blissful moment….

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