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Sunday, October 31, 2010

North-East Tour - Day 3, Oct 31

BITING COLD

It's awfully cold here in Shillong. Temperature around 17 degree Celsius. We were warned about this, and we did bring adequate warm clothes. We are told only in Shillong it becomes this cold, mainly because it's in such high altitude of about 1,500 metres above sea level. To the credit of White Orchid Guesthouse, where we are staying, it has top-quality blankets. You wouldn't like to get out of it!

ELEPHANT FALL

After breakfast, around 9 am, we set out for Cherrapunji, the name we are familiar with since school days, as one of the wettest places in the world. More of that later.

On the way to Cherrapunji, we went to Elephant Fall. The legend goes that the Khasi people here called the place 'Three Steps Fall' since the water falls in three steps. Later the British called it Elephant Fall since one of the rocks beside the waterfall resembles an elephant. But this rock was destroyed in an earthquake in 1897.

Here tourists were lining up to stand on a few small rocks for a photoshoot with the fall in the background. Never found such a rush to pose in front of a waterfall!

I have, of course, taken pics, lots of them. They all will be put up next week, when I am back in Bangalore.

CHERRAPUNJI

After Elephant Fall, we stopped at a number of places, popularly called here as viewing points. They are nothing but vantage points that offer a tourist breathtaking views of waterfalls or of the lush green subtropical forests of Khasi hills thickly covered with diverse vegetation.

This area -- Cherrapunji and nearby Mawsynram -- is among the wettest places because it receives both southwest monsoon and northeast monsoon. And not surprisingly there are a number of waterfalls, big and small, bringing the Meghalaya Tourism Board lot of revenue.

But I only wish some part of that revenue is invested in tarring the roads and bettering other infrastructure. Roads are pathetic in many places. I simply don't understand why something as important as roads are so low on the priority list of our officials and politicians.

VIEW OF BANGLADESH

Immediately after Elephant Fall, we stopped at Duwan Sing Syiem View Point. Then we went to Nohkali Falls. Here at one point we could see the rainbow in the waterfall. Then we went to Mawsmai Eco-park. There were a few swings and see-saw; but couldn't quite understand what was eco about this place. From there we can see barren fields of Bangladesh.

CAVE AND RESTAURANT

Then we headed for the Mawsmai Cave. We can walk through it. Not quite recommended for people who are claustrophobic. A portion inside the cave is narrow. So fat people will also have to step aside.

After the cave visit, we got into one of the many restaurants there for lunch. It has a peculiar system of placing the order. We go upto the desk, tell the lady what we want. She writes that down in a book, along with our name. She copies that on a piece of paper and sends it to the kitchen. A few minutes later a boy or girl with the food comes out to the dining area calling our name. We raise hand to attract his or her attention. Never have I found the customer's name being noted down while ordering food!

We then went on to Thengkarang Park. It's just that, a park and a well mainained garden and fountain. And then to Khoh Ramhah, from where one has a better view of Bangladesh.

NEED FOR DIFFERENT TIME ZONE

One aspect about this region that's difficult to get used to is the shortness of daylight hours. Dusk sets in around 4 pm, and by 5 pm it's darkness. It's quite a task to convince hourselves that it's not 8 pm and only 6 pm! The region does indeed need a different time zone.

Retiring for the day early as we need to leave for Mawlynnong, some 100 km south of Shillong -- widely known as the cleanest village in Asia.

North-East Tour - Day 2, Oct 30

A delay of more than an hour in our departure to Shillong proved to be a bit costly, at the end of the day. Why, you will learn later...

We had booked a taxi and we were supposed to leave at 9 am. Shillong is around 130 km from where were staying and it takes around 4 hours. But we later came to know that taxis aren't plying between Guwahati and Shillong.

The strike is in reponse to a call given by the Greater Shillong Tourist Taxi Association in protest against the district administration's decision to shift the taxi stand from in front of the crowded Police Bazar and allot the place for parking private vehicles.

So yesterday the taxi operator had arranged for a private car to take us. He charged Rs 500 over and above the Rs 1,500 that was agreed upon, with the excuse that strike has made their jobs really difficult. Since we were short of time and thus the option of bus wasn't viable, we agreed. But as there was some delay in getting the car, we could leave only at 10.25 am.

The weather was mildly warm, the terrain dry and air dusty. The road wasn't as bad as I had been told. There is plenty of greenery. Could spot plenty of coconut trees. The landscape at some places reminded me of Western Ghats.

I noticed that petrol price per litre was only Rs 38.69 at Dharapur. In Bangalore it's at least Rs 21 more.

We didn't get into the Guwahati city, saw a portion of Guwahati University though as we passed in front of it. At Chalukbari junction we took a right turn to Shillong, going straight would have taken us to Guwahati city. From Khanapara, it's mostly uphill and hair-pin curves to Shillong which is 91 km from there.

As we crossed the bridge over Byurnihat river, we entered Meghalaya. At Nongpoh, we stopped to have coffee at Zen Cafe, which had artistically laid out seats with thatched umbrella shades over them. Small road-side kiosks and even small houses were made of wood.

Barapani Lakeside, a beautiful expanse of water, is a must stopover for all tourists heading to or from Shillong. It's some 15 km from the capital.

We reached Shillong around 2.30 pm and checked into the White Orchid Guesthouse at Malki Point. Rs 1,600 for a spacious and neat triple occupancy room was very reasonable. After lunch we went straight to Shillong Peak. At 2000 metres, it's the highest point in Meghalaya, and from the peak one gets a breathtaking view of the city. The spot has some historical religious significance.

Next stop was supposed to be Elephanta Falls. But we had got late. By 4.30 pm it was dusk and by 5.30 pm sun had set and it was darkness all around. The place would have closed by then. This is when we regretted the delay of over one hour. Now we hope to see the place tomorrow.

Putting the rest of the time to some good use, we went to Gloria Plaza and Vishal Market for some shopping.

Shillong is a town with narrow roads in most places and a few congested localities mainly shopping areas. It's a hilly terrain. There are no glitzy shopping malls or highrise apartment complexes. The hilly terrain doesn't allow any archetectural exhibitionism.

The city virtually shuts down by 9 pm. In fact, the Chinese restaurant we were in at that hour had downed its shutter at 8.30 pm and we were the only customers there. The food there was very economical for the large quantity they offered.

A full day of sight-seeing tomorrow.

Friday, October 29, 2010

North-East Trip - Day 1, Oct 29

OLD-WORLD CHARM

Kolkata airport may lack the swanky look of Bangalore airport, and the first thoughts of a tourist from India's tech capital would inevitably be that it could easily do with some image building to get rid of that 'old' look.

But step back a bit, and the old-world charm would start sinking in. The plaster of Paris on walls, deep grey cemented floors and steep steps, fans perched on thick pillars -- you begin to realise this is Kolkata, a repository of rich heritage. Soon, those sepia images begin flooding the mind, in a flashback as it were.

FLIES, NOTHING UNUSUAL

Had lunch at one Saptagiri restaurant outside airport. Flies were a major put-off. There was this no-fly zone, the air-conditioned enclosure for which there is a 20% extra charge. But surprisingly, there were few takers for it. Almost everyone, including well-dressed staff of well-known airlines found flies just a part of the Kolkata ambience. In fact, in the airport lounge too, there were a few flies marking their presence.

TAXI MUDDLE

The 6-hour transit halt at Kolkata did tempt me to step out of airport premises to get a feel of this world-renowned metro. Did briefly contemplate rushing to Dakshineshwar temple, on the suggestion of a friend. But quickly abandoned the plan as taxi fares being demanded were as much puzzling as exorbitant.

The first cabbie spoke of Rs 500. Then, a person sitting at a desk under a tree, who we were told is a 'pre-paid counter' said the trip would cost us Rs 700. Then, a few cab drivers followed us, with each of them slashing the others' fare by Rs 100! The whole thing sounded quite funny and scary in equal measure.

To be fair, there is indeed an authorised, well-designated pre-paid taxi counter, where I am sure we would have been offered a reasonable and straightforward deal. But, Kolkata wasn't a part of my tour itinerary at all, and there was no plan to see any place. Also, there was this highly inhibiting thought about massive traffic jams. Many of my friends discouraged me from going out to the city.

THE BIG SURPRISE

In a way, it was good I stayed put in the airport, for it enabled serendipity to play out in a glorious fashion. After lunch, at the lounge I was killing time with the mobile. And momentarily I looked up and around. I noticed a very familiar face, and I couldn't believe myself when I realised it was the very same person I'd have missed on my trip to Shillong.

We were travelling in opposite directions, and Kolkata was the transit halt for both of us; and never did we realise that we would run into each other in this crowded airport.

'DIFFERENT' GUWAHATI

Touched down at Guwahati airport at 7 pm. What a contrast in comparison to Kolkata. Much smaller and virtually deserted. I was quite impressed by the sensor-operated taps in the washroom; Kolkata had the very ancient variety.

Tomorrow we travel to Shillong. There's a lot to look forward to, I am told.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Vidyarambham today

It is Vidyarambham today... a day when children are initiated into learning. This is a very unique Kerala tradition, wherein litterateurs and scholars as much sought after to handhold kids into world of letters.

Kids on dads' laps, writing Hari Sri on rice. Some confused as to what's on, some crying, but many enjoying attention!

The function is held either at home or in temple. At home the person who initiates the kid into learning may be the parents or grandparents. At temple it could the priest.
The son a distant cousin of mine, and the son of a colleague went through this traditional ceremony today.

And interesting point that I saw on Twitter was: "Since twitter is were I write most, let this Vidyarambham begin here."... Another friend commented: "Twitter, facebook, etc can be the new rice pad for kids on vidyarambham ;)"

Link: Many throng temples (Mathrubhumi)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Holiday season

Though today is Friday, I have a feeling that today's Saturday! That could be because tomorrow is a holiday: Mahanavami. There's already a sense of holiday in the air. I am sure a lot of people are planning to drive out or take an extended break. I haven't planned anything as of now.

It's also the season of holidays. Soon it will be Diwali or Deepawali, and then Christmas is in the air; and then then the New Year...

Today morning, my wife and I went to the nearby Ayyappa temple and placed a few of study material for Saraswati Pooja. This is a unique Kerala tradition. Since textbooks and notebooks are kept for pooja, most children enjoy this time, since no one will ask them to study. The books are taken back on Sunday morning, on the day of Vijayadashami. That's also the day when children are initiated into learning.

Just wondering what to do tomorrow...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A lot to cheer about...

A day's break from the unseemly political drama in Bangalore. But it's all set to resume tomorrow when chief minister B S Yeddyurappa will seek a trust vote for a second time within a week following instructions from governor H R Bhardwaj.


But, it was wonderful day today... a break from the sickening politics.

It was such a pleasure watching on TV the gripping table tennis men's doubles match in which India won the gold. The match had me, like all spectators, on the edge of the seat... I had goosebumps as Sharath Kamal and Subhajit Saha clinched the gold beating top-ranking Singapore players Gao Ning and Yang in a nail-biting match.... 9-11, 12-10, 11-4, 5-11, 11-8 .

Then in far-away Chile, at the San Jose mines, 33 miners are being brought out one by one in a dramatic rescue effort that has involved weeks of careful planning. An amazing testament to, not only human endurance, but to human scientific accomplishment.

There's a lot to cheer about in this world, if only we look around.