“Didi, for heaven’s sake be careful…..that sari may just slip from your hands!”, she pleaded. My wavering attention was immediately back to the precarious situation we were in. I controlled the urge to rebuke her at that moment for being so insistent on wanting to be at this place. A noisy family of more than a dozen people had just landed right beside us. My attention was quite automatically diverted towards this freshly added commotion. As if the already chaotic situation wasn’t enough!
We were at Triveni Sangam and had just taken a dip in the holy confluence of the three rivers – Ganga, Yamuna, and Saraswati.
My cousin had made sure to include Triveni Sangam in the itinerary when we were planning our visit to Varanasi. During her previous visit to Varanasi, she couldn’t make time for Triveni Sangam and this time she wasn’t going to miss it. I wasn’t much keen but agreed on her insistence.
Triveni Sangam is located at Allahabad and is about 83 Km from Varanasi. It is a sacred place, one that is of religious importance to the Hindus, where the historic Kumbh-mela is held every 12 years. It is believed that a bath in the Sangam washes away all sins and paves the way straight to heaven. That’s not the reason why my sister insisted to come here though. It was just sheer curiosity. As for me, I just accompanied her though experiencing a Kumbh Mela is in my bucket list.
The Sangam is located some distance away from the banks and one must take a boat to reach there. At the confluence, the greyish and opaque waters of River Ganga is distinctly differentiable from the greenish and clear waters of River Yamuna. The mythical River Saraswati is invisible, believed to be subterranean. A series of boats were set up forming a sort of a platform where people performed religious rituals. There was a special arrangement for taking a dip in the waters. You step onto a log of wood holding the ropes on either side that are tied at the two ends of the log, much like a swing. The rope is slowly lowered till you are immersed in the water.
My sister was keen on taking a dip and also in conducting the rituals. I wasn’t sure for a while but then decided to take a dip too. It was going to be an interesting experience I thought, but no rituals for me. All the more, as the priest there demanded Rs 500 just for a coconut, some flowers, and a little vermillion.
Now, the only problem was that we couldn’t see any place to change into dry clothes after the dip. It was the month of December and hence quite cold. We would have to get out of the wet clothes. Our boatman assured that he would make the necessary arrangements. “Yeh sari hai na” (we have this sari), he said, picking up two bamboo poles, as he spoke. Both of us assumed that he would use the bamboo poles and the sari to create a makeshift arrangement in the boat with enclosures on all four sides. We didn’t bother to clarify.
When we were done with the dip, he just handed over the sari to us. One of us was supposed to hold the sari from one end and stretch our hands up. The cylindrical sort of an enclosure created by the 9 yards yarn is where the other would change. It was a HORRIFIC proposition. The sari even seemed quite transparent to me. We resisted a bit but soon realized that it was the only solution and we could either do as instructed or shiver our way to the banks. Opting for the latter would most certainly cause us to fall ill. We were also quite shocked to see other women doing the same. Nobody seemed to have a problem, except the two of us.
My sister had to admit our Varanasi trip didn’t have to include Triveni Sangam, at least not now. However, it’s an experience that we hilariously recall each time we talk about our Varanasi trip. All said and done, our wish to be at Triveni Sangam during a Kumbh Mela remains as strong as can be.
The noisy bunch of over-enthusiastic friends from Poland that we kept bumping into at every tea house, quite a botheration they were! The huge group of nearly 50 people we crossed twice on the way and had to step aside to let them pass. The warm smiles of the two Japanese girls we often found sitting around the bends taking a tea break, every time we eyed their beautiful flasks. The two German men we ran into every now and then until they decided to introduce themselves, leading to small conversations each time we met. The petite Chinese girl who was perennially rushing but never missed talking to us – in her own language while we replied in English, we communicated without understanding. The two Korean girls with whom we shared a room at the base camp, who spoke English enabling some interesting conversations.
These are some of the people from different parts of the world we met during our ABC Trek, last year in October. I clearly remember so many of those faces, some leaving impressions deeper than the others. I wonder how all those people may be coping with the Covid-19 situation. I wonder if everything is fine with them. There is no way I will ever know.
A big aspect of travel for me has always been the people I get to meet and connect with. Of the several people I met during the ABC Trek, the following need special mention.
“Does that look like a baby carrier basket?”, I asked my sister. Curiosity had me striding a little faster. The basket looked fancy and the man carrying it, dressed in typical trekker attire. So, wouldn’t be a local. It was the second day of our Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) trek and we were climbing through one of the steeper sections of the trail when I saw this man several feet ahead of us. As I drew closer, my doubts gave way to confirmation. It was indeed a baby carrier! The man was carrying his 3-year old daughter as he trudged towards the mighty eight-thousander. He was with his wife and three children aged, 12, 7, and 3. The family had traveled all the way from Shanghai.
Trekking with a 3-year old in the uncertainties of the Himalayas is no mean feat. Things like Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), sudden weather changes, are for real. Well, I am sure they would have thought through all of that and were well prepared. They did, however, gather quite a bit of attention all the way. Every other trekker seemed to be talking about them and as one would expect everyone had some opinion or the other. While some hailed them for being brave others thought they were being irresponsible. I was too stunned to have any opinion. We met the family at several junctions during the trek and each time I envied the fun they were having and all the memories they were creating together.
“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” The septuagenarian trekkers reiterated Mark Twain. Janette and Joe caught our attention on the trail one day. The cute couple was sitting on a rock and taking a break while munching on chocolates. Later, we caught up with them at the two tea houses where we stayed together. They were well into their 70s, had come all the way from the USA, and were trekking in the high altitude of the Himalayas for the very first time. Their agility, enthusiasm, and zest for life was infectious. They could easily give all youngsters a run for their money.
Then we met John, who was also from the USA and was traveling with his wife (a septuagenarian too) along with a group of family and friends. John proudly announced that he was “Seventy plus Four years old”. People like John, Janette, and Joe are astoundingly inspirational. They go on to prove that trekking and hiking has a lot to do with mental strength, which is just as important as physical strength.
When I interacted with these elderly people, I couldn’t help but think about my parents, especially my father who belongs to the same age group. I am certain they would have loved to do something like this, but it’s simply inconceivable for them. In fact, I haven’t seen many Indians in that age group trekking or hiking.
However, one thing I know for sure – if I am to live up to a 70 and beyond, I’d better be someone like Janette!
The world of Social Media is flooded with cool travel pictures from across the world. Pictures that make you want to want to pack your bags right away and get into that gorgeous beach to watch the sun go down, trek through the meadows and jungles to reach the supposedly secluded mountain peak, dive into deep blue pools at the base of the tallest plunge waterfall, bungee jump off the highest cliff, or simply stare at the milky-way dazzling in the middle of the night. While many of these may be slightly exaggerated, they aren’t false. Travel does lead to such unique wonderful experiences creating a lifetime of beautiful memories.
However, not everything about travel is hunky dory, not all travel memories are fun. There are tonnes of unpleasant things that happen during travels, more so when on offbeat, adventurous, and budget travels. Nobody talks about them, they are things best forgotten. Afterall, we tend to remember all good things from the past rather than the not so good things. It’s not uncommon to deal with things like falling sick, unclean toilets, long waits at transits, cancelled or missed flights or trains, undesirable fellow passengers, getting injured, sudden political unrest, delayed or lost luggage, no mobile network, the list can go on and on. Any one of these or a combination of few has the potential to completely mar a travel experience.
Despite being an avid traveler, I have had several situations where travel felt no less than a torture. Here I share three of those.
Yes, you read that right! It was peak monsoon during the month of October and I was in Goa during an extended weekend with a friend and my sister. We were at Palolem beach in South Goa on a day when the rains poured incessantly. Not to be perturbed by the dismal weather, we set out walking along a lonely stretch of the beach towards a point where the sea meets the backwaters.
After an enjoyable ride in a boat through the mangroves in the backwaters, we were walking back when we spotted a series of colourful boats set in a row towards the periphery of the beach. Drawn towards them, we went and happily perched on the boats oblivious of the fact that those boats were coated with some chemical that contained acid. The boats were kept there for drying. There was no warning sign anywhere.
After a few minutes, we felt a sticky substance on our back. My sister immediately went to the resort we were staying at and changed into a fresh set of clothes. I didn’t. Being completely drenched, I thought I would dip myself into the seawater and get rid of the sticky substance. I felt some discomfort on my back but didn’t pay any heed to it. It wasn’t until midnight that my sister and I discovered we had blisters all over our buttocks and in certain areas on our thighs. My condition was far worse that hers.
Coming back to Bangalore was a pain that I am never going to forget. It took me nearly two weeks to heal and the treatment had to be done with utmost care as chemical burns can easily get infected.
This happened to me on two different occasions. The first time in Kanyakumari when I did not know I was allergic to certain types of seafood, including prawns. I gorged on a plateful of prawns and had a lot more than I usually do. The others thought the prawns weren’t cooked well enough. I had their share too!
When in the ferry towards Vivekananda Rock, I started wheezing. Thinking that the cold wind of the sea was getting into me, I didn’t bother much. Once in Vivekananda Rock, my face swelled beyond recognition forcing us to get back to mainland immediately. A few doses of Avil, an anti-allergic tablet, helped arrest the situation. I spent the rest of the holiday with a swollen face with eyes that were nearly shut.
Another time, while returning from a trek, I was bitten by certain insects leading to a severe allergic reaction. This time, I had an Anaphylactic Shock – a life-threatening situation – and had to be rushed to the hospital ICU immediately. It’s by God’s grace that I am here today to tell the story. [More on that story here.]
Marooned in a Beach and then Getting Lost in a Jungle in the Dark
It was about 7 years back when I was visiting Gokarna with a bunch of friends. At that time Gokarna was relatively unknown and didn’t get many visitors. We had hired two autos to go to a place called, Paradise Beach. We had no clue where this beach was or if such a beach even existed. There was no Google Maps, no smart phones.
The auto drivers duped us and took us through a jungle dropping us in some isolated place far away from civilization saying that was Paradise Beach. We could see no beach but could hear sounds of waves crashing somewhere down the hill. We climbed down the hill maneuvering tall bushes only to find ourselves on huge boulders amidst thousands of crabs.
One of us was smart enough to note down the auto driver’s phone number. Or else, I have no idea how we would get out of that place. Now, why the auto driver’s left us at an isolated place is anybody’s guess!
On the way back, it had gotten completely dark. We had to make our way down a hillock following a trail through a jungle for a distance of about 2 Km. to reach Kudle Beach, where our resort was located. No motor vehicles could pass through that part and it had to be traversed on foot. We weren’t prepared for the dark and didn’t have torches.
All we had in the group of seven of us was two working phones, the batteries of which were nearly draining. The rest of the phones were completely out of charge. The friend leading the group down took a wrong turn and we soon realized we were lost in the middle of the jungle. To make matters worse, the two working phones went out of battery. After panicking for a while, we had no choice but to carry on walking following the sound of the waves. Once again it was by God’s grace that we made it alive to our resort in pitch darkness.
Would you like to share your not so good travel memory(s)?
“I couldn’t have had a better start to this day,” I said aloud as I looked out of the window of our room. Kanchenjunga Peak was covered by clouds but Pandim massif and Kabru peak were right there, seemingly looking at me acknowledging the statement that I just made. Mr. Karma, our homestay owner, had said the day before – “You have to be blessed by Kongchen Chu to set your foot here.” And, at that moment, blessed is what I felt! (Kongchen Chu is the local name for Mt. Kanchenjunga.)
It was the month of April and the day was special as it was my birthday. My sister and I were in Dzongu Valley to experience the Lepcha way of life at Karma Lepcha’s home. Located in North Sikkim, Dzongu Valley is about 70 Km. away from Gangtok. The entrypoint to the valley is Mangan, the district headquarter of North Sikkim.
Located within the Kanchenjunga biosphere, Dzongu is sparsely populated, inhabited by the Lepcha Tribe – the happy and peace-loving aboriginal people of Sikkim. The Lepchas believe that they are descendants of the mountains and the word ‘Lepcha’ literally means ‘Children of the Gods’. The Lepchas are a vanishing tribe with a dwindling population of about 50k across parts of Sikkim, Nepal, Bhutan, and West Bengal. The Lepchas have lived in Dzongu Valley for centuries and it was declared as a protected area for the Lepchas in the 1960s.
Lepchas are nature worshipers and believe that Mt. Kanchenjunga or Kongchen Chu is their protector. They are duty-bound towards Mother Nature and believe that by performing good deeds they will be rewarded with an afterlife and eternal bliss at Mayal Lyang – heaven hidden in the foothills of Kongchen Chu. Lepcha folklore has that Dzongu is the bridge to Mayal Lyang, which is the place of origin of the Lepchas.
When we Arrived
The day before we had made a dramatic entry to Dzongu Valley at dusk, when the sky was overcast with dark clouds and it was raining quite heavily. The low visibility through the narrow, broken, winding road right up to the village with a deep plunge to Teesta on one side wasn’t the most comfortable thing though! We were going towards Tingvong, a village in upper Dzongu where we were to put up at Rumlyang Homestay for the next two days.
Dzongu is divided into the northern ‘Upper Dzongu’ and southern ‘Lower Dzongu’ by Rongyang River, a tributary of Teesta. Dzongu Valley is vast and remains largely uninhabited though both these regions have several villages. The mighty Teesta that separates Dzongu from the rest of North Sikkim had changed its course after a devastating landslide in 2016. This resulted in the breakdown of the only motorable bridge that connected the villages of Upper Dzongu. A hanging bridge now connects Upper Dzongu with mainland but it is a walkway and vehicles cannot pass through. Hence, the Innova we had been traveling in for the past few days could not go up to the village. It went upto the landslide area over the broken bridge and another vehicle arrived from the village to take us.
Earlier, as the Innova had taken a turn from Mangan towards Dzongu the stunning greenery had made us feel like we were entering Amazon Forest.
The Welcome Drink
Karma and his brothers welcomed us to their home with Chee, the locally brewed liquor, served in bamboo mugs with bamboo straws. Chee is made by fermenting millets and is like an organic beer. As a custom, Chee can be consumed only after offering it to Mt. Kanchenjunga and there’s a particular way of doing this.
Aarack is the other local liquor that is brewed from cinnamon plant and has a strong and pungent taste.
The Lepchas lead a self-sustained life and vegetables and crops are grown with organic manure. They only buy rice, pulses, and salt from outside. Cooking in their kitchen still happens on earthen ovens with log fires – surreal to us, the city dwellers. Karma did have a LPG gas stove but they seldom use it. The village had just one provision store that didn’t have much to offer.
The Picnic that Didn’t Happen
Day-1 in the village and my sister and I were up early in the morning. The sun was yet to reach the valley but the chirping and chattering birds made sure we stepped out of our room. Karma and his brothers – Dawa, Nordin, and Tashi – were still asleep.
The greenery in the morning light was freshly captivating. We took a stroll in the neighborhood amidst rice and cardamom fields, across icy rivulets, through random fluttering of Buddhist prayer flags, and admiring little boys and girls peeping though half-opened doors of their traditional huts.
We ended our morning odyssey by walking over to Karma’s elder brother’s home, situated closeby. Randomly walking into somebody’s home and introducing yourself – quite unimaginable, right?
Later that morning, my sister offered to prepare parathas for breakfast. Karma announced the weather was perfect and it was my birthday, and that called for a picnic. And off we went. Loaded pats and pans, some potatoes, and some rice and lentils onto the Bolero-like vehicle. Karma, his three brothers, a relative of theirs, and the two of us.
We first went to Lingzya waterfall, a steep vertical drop of about 300 ft in the middle of greens. We spent a substantial amount of time there while Karma and gang indulged in noodling but with no success.
We then visited the Lingdem hot water spring, located in Lower Dzongu. The hot water spring has two log cabins for men and women. However, the outlet of both were clogged at that time and a common area was provided outside for everyone. We dipped into the hot waters for a good 45-50 min. along with Karma’s gang. Just visualize soaking in the goodness of the medicinal qualities and healing powers of a Himalayan hot Sulphur spring in the middle of a dense forest beside a stream of icy melt. Pure bliss!
Soon after the rains decided to play spoil sport ruining our picnic plans and forcing us to return to the homestay for the day.
By evening, the rains had stopped and the skies had cleared up. Nordin and Dawa came by inviting us for a walk to the village school, and off we went with them. There we found Tashi playing football with the village boys and also met a school teacher with whom we had some interesting discussions about Sikkim’s political scenario.
We ended the day with some melodious and rhythmic Lepcha music over a simple dinner of rice, dal, and potatoes. Nordin and my sister danced away while we cheered them, sipped Chee, and chatted our way into the night.
Kanchenjunga remained covered by clouds had eluded us so far. The other peaks, namely, Sinolchu, Kabru, Pandim, Langam Chu, and Pungyong Chu were clearly visible most of the time. While Pungyong Chu is considered to be the guardian of Kanchenjunga, Langam Chu is the guardian of Tingvong village.
On Day-2, we woke up to clear skies and looked out of the window of our room and voila – there stood the majestic Kanchenjunga draped in shining white. We jumped out of bed and rushed out. Karma recommended we walk a few meters ahead in the street for a better view and we did just that without bothering to even brush our teeth. We wanted to make the most of the view before the clouds came back. The view, however, remained clear for the next 2-3 hours. Karma thought we were really lucky and I guess we were.
The Village Hike
My sister and I gelled very well with the two brothers, Dawa and Nordin. We were already having a great time together. So much so that they decided to postpone some work they had in Mangan and stay back to take us for a hike to the village monastery and the other five villages that constitute Tingvong Gram Panchayat in Upper Dzongu. These villages are Namprick, Nung, Tingvong, Lonkoo, and Kusoong.
A flight of steep steps took us to the village monastery and the climb was not an easy one. It was a special day at the monastery and some rituals were underway. The monks offered us fruits, biscuits and butter tea.
Thereafter, we reached Kusoong village walking through cardamom fields and bamboo plantations, across rickety bamboo bridges over several streams, and a waterfall here and there. The day was bright and sunny until then. The weather Gods changed their mood soon and it started drizzling. Dawa and Nordin took us to their friend’s home where we decided to wait till the rains stopped. The slight drizzle, turned to hailstorm and heavy rains, which continued incessantly for the next 3 hours. Dawa prepared tea and noodles as we waited for the rains to stop.
Finally, the rains lessened. It was pretty late by then and we decided to go back to the homestay instead of the other villages. Karma had prepared some special bamboo shoot dish for us and we did not want to disappoint him by not having lunch. We reached back around 4.00 PM and had a late lunch together.
The rains continued lashing through the evening forcing us to remain indoors. It was cold and there was no electricity. We spend the evening in Karma’s kitchen cozily wrapped in blankets catching up on stories from our respective lives.
My sister and I left behind a part of ourselves at Dzongu. We are certain, we have some greater connection with Karma and his brothers. At Karma’s home, we never felt like guests. It was like visiting friends or family. There are many subtle feelings and emotions that I cannot describe in words. Dzongu has been super special and shall always remain so. God willing, I would love to go there once again and stay for a longer duration. Three days is hardly sufficient to explore the valley.
Lepcha Words and Phrases
Here are some Lepcha words and phrases that we picked up during our stay:
Achuley: Cheers, used mostly while drinking Chee
Chee: Wine, liquor, alcohol
Tokchee: Thank you
Tokchee atim: Thank you very much
Eng: Younger sibling – brother or sister
Anum: Elder brother
Anom: Elder sister
Adho sa ab ryang shugo: What is your name?
Ho sarey jong nee: How are you?
Go arum se: I am good
Adhom go lenchyo matsyo: I love you
Kat, Net, Sam, Flee, Fumo: One, Two, Three, Four, Five
I have a feeling of incompleteness about this write up. Perhaps, I have not been able to capture the essence of Dzongu Valley. The feelings and emotions I have experienced are beyond words. I leave you with some more pictures.
Ever heard anybody go on a weekend leisure trip from Bangalore to Kozhikode? At least I never did. If you’re someone like me, ‘God’s Own Country’, Kerala, means a Munnar, a Kovalam, a Varkala, an Alleppey, and the like. Kozhikode doesn’t feature in that list.
[Note: Kozhikode is correctly spelt as Kōḻikōḍ and pronounced as ‘Ko-yi-kode’.]
Biryani: Before I left for Kozhikode, a Malayali friend had told me that I was going to the food capital of Kerala and that it was her favourite food destination in the whole world. She gave me a list of must-try food items. Being the non-foodie that I am, I didn’t pay much attention to it. My ‘nature-person’ was more interested in the beach and the sea.
It was not until I tasted the biryani at Paragon (a famous restaurant) that I understood what she had meant. I had never tasted such delicious biryani in my whole life. The biryani in this part of the country may look pale but the mix of subtle spices, the aroma, and the rich taste is beyond comparison. Thereafter it was biryani for breakfast, biryani for lunch, and biryani for dinner for the rest of of our stay. My friends tried the flaky Malabar Parotta too.
Biryani (PC: Tripadvisor)
Karingali – The red coloured drinking water
Besides biryani, something else caught my interest. The red-coloured lukewarm water they served at the restaurant, locally known as Karingali. I had never seen something like that before. The colour is derived from the organic herbs mixed with the water.
Besides Paragon, we also tried the food at Rahmath Hotel and Adaminde Chayakkada.
Milk Sharbat: Just opposite to Paragon, is the famous Nannari Sharbat stall. The famous sharbat stall looked like a make-shift tent. There is no signage and it was overflowing with people. The shop sells Plain Sharbat, Soda Sharbat, Masala Sharbat, and Milk Sharbat. The roots of Sarsaparilla, locally known as Nannari is used to prepare the drink. We tried the Milk Sharbat, which is prepared by mixing half a cup of Nannari syrup with two cups of chilled milk. The huge rush of people at the stall was a tell-tale sign of its popularity. Two of my fellow travel friends pushed their way through the crowd to get the drink for us. They thought the unique manner in which the drink was prepared was something worth watching and we had missed it.
The Nannari Sharbat stall
The famous banana chips shop, next to the sharbat stall
Halwa: A walk through SM Street and we stopped at a halwa shop. SM or Sweet Meat street is apparently named after the famous halwa of Kozhikode. Full with the biryani and sharbat, we just satiated our eyes with the colourful halwa that decked up the shop.
Colourful halwa at SM Street
A lane in SM Street
The Place We Stayed…
We stayed at a lovely and cozy Airbnb cottage just beside the sea and behind a fishing village. The place is called Shellhouse and we couldn’t ignore the warm and cozy feeling it exuded. Located away from the hustle and bustle of the city, yet very close to the city, it was just perfect. The late night leisure walk in the empty streets of the neighbourhood, chattering endlessly about everything under the sun is something I shall fondly remember.
The Temples We Visited…
Though none of us are overtly religious, we had to visit the Tali Shiva Temple after it was recommended by someone. Built in the 14th century, it is the oldest temple in Kozhikode. It’s an orthodox temple and they have a strict dress code. Women need to be traditionally dressed and men need to be clad in a mundu dhoti (A traditional South Indian garment that is wrapped around the waist, usually in shades of white).
Two of my fellow travel friends bought the mundu dhoti from SM Street just for the purpose of the temple. I was in my capris and did not have anything traditional with me. As I had no intention of buying something just for entry to the temple, I decided to wrap a stole around my waist. That partially covered my pants. I was quite sure that I would be stopped at the entrance and was all set to go back. Surprisingly that didn’t happen. I entered the temple, paid my obeisance to Lord Shiva and marveled at the unique wooden architecture, the amazing murals, and roof carvings. Photography is prohibited inside the temple and hence we couldn’t click any pictures.
The Beaches We Visited…
Kozhikode Beach: We first went to Kozhikode beach and it was a time around afternoon when the Sun was right over our heads. It was so hot that we decided to sit at a quaint little café and watch the waves till the sun moved towards west. After several rounds of mocktails, lemon teas, cold coffees and what not, we took a walk towards the far end of the beach where we could see a rocky promenade. The beach was crowded but the rocky area wasn’t. An interesting thing we saw at this beach was the remnants of the ancient port of Calicut.
Beypore Beach: We had planned to watch sunset at this beach. After whiling away a lot of time at Kozhikode Beach, we were really late to reach Beypore Beach. The sun was at it’s last stage of sliding down into the water when we reached there.
We also had plans of going to Kappad, or Kappakadavu beach because of its associated historical significance – it is said that in the year 1498, Vasco da Gama had landed here. We gave it a miss however, considering the hot weather and preferring to spend a little more time at our cute little cottage before bidding goodbye to Kozihikode.
If you’ve ever been to Shillong, you would have visited Elephant Falls. It is one of the most visited tourist spots in Meghalaya. I haven’t been to Elephant Falls in recent times and had visited only once after it acquired its current cosmetic look – well defined steps, painted railings, cordoned off water area, dozens of shops at the entry way, and so on. I would rather preserve memories of the rustic Elephant Falls that I had seen during my childhood. The other day I was interacting with a fellow blogger about how I had seen Elephant Falls, when I remembered another place very close to it. I had promised him that I would write about it and here it is – I. J. Khanewala, this post is for you.
And if you want to read about Elephant Falls, visit I. J. Khanewala’s post at Don’t Hold Your Breath. He has been there very recently.
The first time I visited Mattilang Park was when it did not exist – I mean in its present form. That was several years back, when a Khasi friend had taken me to this place that not many people knew about. At that time, Meghalaya hardly existed on the tourist map, perhaps it was jostling to make a slot for itself. Many were not even aware of its existence. I still remember people rephrasing Shillong as Ceylon to clarify they heard correctly when I would mention my hometown outside of the North East. Well, that’s another story for another day….
My second visit to Mattilang Park was a year or two after my first visit when I had taken my cousin and a friend there. At that time, we had seen the beginning of some construction work happening. Back then we were too naïve to be bothered about such things and the phrase ‘concrete jungle’ didn’t exist in our vocabulary. Much later that very place became Mattilang Park.
Three years back my cousin and I revisited the park on a gloomy October afternoon when she took me out on a drive – something she religiously does each time I visit home. Located in Upper Shillong, the park is run by a regional self-help group. Just on the other side of Elephant Falls, it provides for a great view of the waterfall. The luscious greenery around the park has a charm of its own and since not many tourists know about it, the chances of finding a swarm of people is pretty slim. That afternoon was no different, there was nobody other than the two us. The dull weather might have also contributed to that. We did find a gardener though, who was busy tending to the flowers and also cleaning up the place.
After having walked around in the park for a while we found ourselves comfortably snuggled in the tiny quaint little tea shop located in the park. We spent the evening indulging in harmless gossips about everything and everybody while sipping endless cups of sha (tea in Khasi). Meanwhile, the clouds were descending and in a matter of minutes all the surrounding greenery was whitewashed.
We remained engulfed in the nothingness of the fog refusing to budge an inch from our respective positions. Instead ordering some more sha, this time sha-saw (black tea) with a tinge of lemon and some biscuits to compliment it. A few minutes later the fog cleared slowly revealing the refreshing greenery all over again.
Evening was drawing in making us realize that we had to get going before it became totally dark.
If you visit Shillong, you would surely go to Elephant Falls. Do visit Matilang Park too as it is closeby. Not a ‘must visit’, but you may just like the place.
There is more to Diu than just the beaches and here are some of those in order of my preference.
Diu Fort – Cannons Overlooking the Sea
I am more of a nature person than a history person, Baba is quite the opposite, and Ma keeps changing her taste depending on several factors. However, when it comes to forts all three of us are on the same page and equally interested.
At the first glance, Diu Fort felt disappointing but we quickly realized that we were expecting the architectural marvel of Mughal forts like the ones in Agra and Jaipur from a Portugese Fort. The Portugese weren’t as lavish as the Mughals neither could they afford the grandeur of the Mughals.
Having made peace with that, we noticed that the unique position of Diu Fort overlooking the sea made it very appealing. The huge wall around the fort secured it tight with the sea on three sides acting as an additional barrier. The fourth side used to be protected by a canal. Huge canons occupied the bastions that pointed in different directions towards the sea. These bastions opened into attractive courtyards lined with rows of trees. We crossed several gates that looked simple yet sturdy, then there were walkways, and few rooms as well.
A light house was located at one end of the fort. The history of the fort is displayed at the entrance gate. A section of the fort is not open to public and has the office of Jail Superintendent and used to house Diu Prison until recently.
Panikotha (or Fortim-do-Mar), a former prison, located in the middle of the sea can also be seen from the fort. Panikotha was once connected with the land by an under-sea tunnel.
Somewhere in the fort
Naida Caves – Manicured and Neat
A labyrinth of interconnected orangish-yellow wind-eroded rocks; trees springing up here and there with their artistic roots hanging in random places; sun beams passing through narrow crevices putting up a beautiful play of light and shadow – that’s what we saw at Naida Caves. I remember jokingly telling Ma, “I can imagine an old woman holding her pet black cat wearing a pointed black hat with a cackling voice suddenly springing up from nowhere.”
Naida cave entrance
Play of lightsand shadow momewhere inside
The cave was truly beautiful but seemed tad cosmetic to us. We couldn’t help the unfair comparison of this cave with the rustic ones back in our hometown Meghalaya. While Ma and I had a little fun with our imaginations running wild, Baba was clearly not impressed. I loved the trees though!
Gangeshwar Temple: Five Shiva Lingas
Five Shiva Lingas situated inside a cave located just a few feet away from the sea – that’s Gangeshwar Temple. Apparently, the temple dates back to the times of the Mahabharata. It’s simplicity and quaintness is what amazed me.
The Shiva Lingas are of various heights and are believed to have been installed by the five Pandavas during their exile in the forest. The varying heights portray the seniority of the Pandava brothers, except the largest one at the center which represents Bheem, the strongest brother. There is a well on one side of the cave that apparently gets filled with sweet water during low tide despite being surrounded by the sea. Locals call this flow of sweet water as Ganga Dhara (sacred flow of River Ganga) and that’s how the temple gets its name too. During high tide, the Shiva Lingas are washed by tidal waves.
St. Paul’s Cathedral – Intricate Wooden Interiors
Someone had told me that St. Paul’s Cathedral was really amazing, which led me to build up an expectation that was obviously not satiable. So, I am probably biased when I say that for me the churches in my hometown Shillong are far more beautiful. Anyway, the church did have aesthetically appealing interiors with elaborate wood work. We lit candles at the altar and sat quietly for a while before walking towards St. Thomas Church located right next to it.
St. Paul’s Cathedral
St. Thomas Church or Diu Museum
St. Thomas Church is also known as Diu museum but didn’t have much to offer other than few antique artifacts made of petrified wood, mostly figures of Catholic saints, from the Portuguese era.
Inside St. Paul’s Cathedral
Inside St. Paul’s Cathedral
Inside St. Paul’s Cathedral
INS Khukri Memorial – War memorial in Glass Casing
Located in Jallandhar Beach, the memorial of Indian Naval Ship (INS) Khukri is dedicated to all the valiant sailors of this ship who died during the Indo-Pakistan war in 1971. The memorial is a scaled-down replica of the ship inside a glass casing. Khukri went down with her crew of 18 officers and 176 sailors a few miles off the coast of Diu, when a Pakistani submarine fired a torpedo at her. Captain Mahendra Nath Mulla chose to go down with his ship and was posthumously awarded the Maha Vir Chakra.
The replica of the warship inside the glass casing
The story behind INS Khukri
Hoka Palm – A Discovery After Leaving Diu
I thought I was seeing coconut trees but I did wonder why they had their trunks fused together. Several coconut trees seemed to be growing out of a common trunk and diverging in various directions. I also noticed an oval fruit hanging in bunches on top amidst the dense green foliage. These were definitely not coconut!
It was only on my way back from Diu that I questioned our cab driver and got to know that these are Hoka Trees and that they are unique and found only in this part of the country. Hoka seeds are used for preparing a local alcoholic drink known as Tadi. The soft flesh inside can be eaten raw.
Hoka Palm Tree or Hyphoena indica is a native of the Nile valley in Egypt and is also known as Doum Palm or Gingerbread Tree.
Diu is a great destination for a quick weekend refreshing getaway!