Monday, May 14, 2018

Assam, Meghalaya- bowled over by the cuisine and generosity- Part II

For Part I... Click Here

Moving on to Meghalaya

Next day morning after breakfast we started for Meghalaya. In Kaziranga the climate was warm and we were dressed accordingly. As we entered Meghalaya it was cloudy, raining and the temperature went down to 15 degrees. We had lunch on the way and I started feeling sick.

We came to 'Travellers - Bed & Breakfast where our room was booked.
 It was a nice place, but the room was too cold. I just went under the two blankets they had provided and got up only on the next morning. After a hot water bath and breakfast, I was ready for exploration.

Lake, Waterfall and the Living root bridge

A road trip to Dawki is considered a must on one's bucket list while travelling to the North Eastern state of Meghalaya. It is a small town along the Indo -Bangladesh border along the river Umngot in the West Jaintia hills. Umngot is considered one of the cleanest and beautiful rivers of India. We went to a small tea shop up there and sipped hot tea, enjoying the beauty of the river. Sand mining on the Bangladesh side has disfigured the landscape to quite an extent.

Next we drove to the Borhill Falls, which is one of the best waterfalls on the India -Bangladesh border while driving from Dawki to Mawlynnong village. It was so refreshing to watch it and absorb the pure energy it was exuding.

Walk to the Living Root Bridge was a bit long and it was drizzling at that time. Living root bridges are a form of tree shaping common in the southern part of the Northeast Indian state of Meghalaya. They are handmade from the aerial roots of Rubber Fig Trees (Ficus elastica) by the Khasi and Jaintia peoples of the mountainous terrain along the southern part of the Shillong Plateau.We stood there watching that marvel and I could feel energy encompassing and soaking me, making the climb back up a breeze. We got to eat mulberries and very sweet pineapple on the way.

Our next visit was to the cleanest village of Asia, Mawlynnong. Mawlynnong is known for its cleanliness. The waste is collected in the dustbins made of bamboo, directed to a pit and then used as manure. A community initiative mandates that all residents should participate in cleaning up the village. Smoking and use of polythene is banned while rainwater harvesting is encouraged.

We had lunch at a small restaurant in Mawlynnong. We found the people in Meghalaya serve food with so much love, as if they are serving guests, not customers.

Getting totally drenched

We knew that Meghalaya has the highest rainfall in Cherrapunji or Sohra, but God wanted us to experience it first-hand. 
                                                                      Path to the cave
                                                                                 Entry to the cave
As we started walking towards Arwah caves, it started to rain very heavily. We had umbrellas and we were walking under the trees, but we got totally drenched. The views inside the cave was well worth the walk in the rain:

There was a guide to take us inside the cave, to show us the fossils, and stalactites. A stalactite is a tapering structure hanging like an icicle from the roof of a cave, formed of calcium salts deposited by dripping water.It was a unique experience. 
                                                                      Fossils in the cave

When we came out of the cave, the rains had stopped. We wanted to buy some clothes to change, but couldn't locate any clothes shop and by the time we reached back our room, the clothes were almost dry.

Ecopark and Seven Sisters falls

Our next destination was Four Season Eco Park that was a huge area with so many waterfalls:

We had lunch at the Eco Park, in EMI restaurant that served Assamese and Bengali food. 

Here again the ladies were serving us with so much love, forcing us to have more. Later we came to know that the local tribal people are very caring and generous.

Then we were on our way to the Seven Sister Falls: 

They are dramatic waterfalls, some of the highest in India. They symbolize the seven states in northeast namely Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Nagaland, Tripura, Mizoram and Meghalaya. It was a breath taking scene and I felt like standing there only, watching the heavenly sight.

Meghalaya - House of clouds

While we were driving through the mountain roads in Meghalaya, it was interesting to see fog rising up from the valley on the side and obscuring the road in front of us. We thought that fog descended from up and were really intrigued. The mystery got solved when we were near Seven Sister Falls. It was all very clear when we reached. As we stood there, mesmerized by the beauty of the whole scene, suddenly we saw water particles rising from deep down area, gathering together, forming a thick fog, coming all the way up and engulfing us. It was an out of the world experience.

Throughout our drive in Meghalaya, we got to see these rising clouds in the valleys on the side. There is no doubt that 'Meghalaya', which means 'House of clouds' is the most apt name for this mystical place.

Assam, Meghalaya- bowled over by the cuisine and generosity- Part I

I remember learning the capitals of countries and states for a scholarship exam during my school days, and then Shillong was the capital of Assam. I liked the name ‘Shillong’; it had something musical to it. With my vivid imagination, I used to get lost in its beauty and the torrential rains of Cherrapunji. In 1972 when Meghalaya formed a separate state, I was captivated by this name too, it had an ethereal tone.

Home coming feeling

When we reached the forest guest house in Kaziranga after a strenuous journey from Bomdila (the roads were really bad and it took 3 hours to cover 80 kms), I felt like having reached home. 

We took some rest in the room and went out in the evening , had tea and took a look at the local shops. I found black rice which is used for making sweet interesting and bought a packet. We asked the girl in the shop to suggest a good place for the next day's lunch and she told us to go to Pelican dhaba. Then she asked us whether we would like to have some white tea. We told yes, really surprised at her generosity.

White tea is known to be one of the most delicate tea varieties because it is so minimally processed. It is harvested before the tea plant’s leaves open fully, when the young buds are still covered by fine white hairs, hence the name “white” tea.
                                                                                  White tea leaves
These buds and unfurled leaves from the newest growth on the tea plant are handpicked and then quickly and meticulously dried. The leaves are not allowed to oxidize as long as leaves plucked for green or black tea production. This minimal processing and low oxidation results in some of the most delicate and freshest tea available.  Studies have linked white tea with many health benefits, like it reduces the risk of heart disease, combats skin aging and helps with weight loss. I have to admit that the white tea had a certain vibration in it while drinking.

There was cultural show at 7 pm and we decided to see that. There were two dance shows, the first one was Bihu and the second was Zhumoir, which is folk dance of the tea tribe community. The local people were celebrating their Bihu festival. It is interesting how we get to see the local festival celebrations, even though  we just plan our trips according to our convenience.

Heart and soul in their performance

The Bihu dance had body movements and hand gestures similar to Cambodian dance that we had witnessed during Cambodia visit. It was a real joy watching them perform with full involvement and joy.

                                                                          Bihu dance

Zhumoir dance was performed by people who were working in the tea plantation during the day. 
                                                                     Zhumoir dance

What energy they exuded! When the performance was over, they came down the stage to the empty space in front of the audience and invited us to join them. I love dancing, so went ahead, along with my daughter and some others.  The dancers were so happy that we picked up the footsteps and hand gestures.

In both the dance performances, the dancers only were singing. As a dancer, I know how much energy is needed to do that. My heart filled with reverence for them.

Where all inhabitants are at peace and happy

Next day morning elephant ride was fixed for us in the Kaziranga forest. 

I had misconceptions regarding this, because I thought it was cruel to the elephants. But my attitude changed after the ride. The animals are so well taken care of in Kaziranga, it was a joy to see the rapport between the care takers and the animals.

We were three of us, plus the person taking us on one elephant. 

I think all of them were female elephants, and the baby elephants were also walking along. 

They were all having their breakfast on the way, uprooting and eating grass. Our mahout was very good in spotting birds and animals and we got to see rhinos, two types of deer, and many types of birds at close quarters. 

The energy around was so great that we were so refreshed by the time we completed the ride.

Bowled over by Assamese cuisine

Though only one day stay was planned at Kaziranga, we decided to stay for another day as the peace we felt there was beyond imagination.

After the elephant ride we had breakfast and then rested in the room.  For lunch we went to the Pelican dhaba and ordered Assamese thali for lunch. Oh my! What a delicious lunch it was. Each and every item was good and I was totally bowled over by their cuisine.

An afternoon of festivities
We were invited to join the Bihu celebrations by the employees of the Kaziranga forest department. It started at 2 pm and continued late into the evening. It was a joy to watch many performances by small kids, ladies and boys. They were all so happy and full of energy, totally enjoying what they were doing.

In between they invited us to have light refreshments with them. We had some nice local preparations, and they were serving with so much love, forcing us to have more.

Continued... For Part II - Click Here