Tag Archives: Cherrapunjee

A Slice of Adventure

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ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY showcase the coolest adventure sports and the best places in India to experience an adrenaline rush

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Snowboarding, ziplining, surfing, caving, paragliding to hot air ballooning, India’s diverse terrain offers something to every adventure junkie. Push your limits with the coolest adventure sports on offer. Take on the elements as you ski down the slopes of Kufri, Auli and Gulmarg, go kiteboarding at Rameshwaram, zip down Neemrana fort, over the Ganga, at old hunting lodges and abandoned stone quarries, surf along the country’s west coast, glide across the skies in hot air balloons or scour the bowels of the earth with caving in the north east… this is a must-do guide for every adventure seeker!

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Skiing in the Himalayas
You don’t have to go all the way to St Moritz for some snowplay. Come winter and heavy snowfall transforms the Himalayas into vast outdoor playgrounds perfect for snow adventures across Uttarakhand, Himachal and Kashmir. Learn the basics at Auli (1917-3027m), with 3m snow carpeting the slopes, the longest cable car ride (4km to Rajju) and the backdrop of Nanda Devi, Kamet and Dunagiri peaks. At Manali, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports offers skiing courses and facilities at Solang Valley with lessons on offer at Himachal’s first advanced amusement park at Kufri.

In Kashmir, at 13,780 ft, Kongdoori on the shoulder of Mount Affarwat is the highest skiing point in the Himalayas. Little wonder CNN has ranked Gulmarg as the 7th best ski destination in Asia. The world’s highest ski lift whisks you to the upper slopes from where you ski or snowboard down freshly powdered slopes. The Indian Institute of Skiing and Mountaineering (IISM) has certified instructors, quality skiing equipment, snow gear and modest shared rooms. For more luxury, stay at the plush Khyber, one of the few resorts where you can literally ‘ski-in, ski-out’!

Getting there: Jet Airways flies to Srinagar, from where Gulmarg is a 45 min drive.
When to go: December to March
Cost: Around Rs.40,000/person (minimum group of 8), includes stay, food, training and equipment

Contact
Mercury Himalayan Explorations
Ph +91 11 4356 5425
http://www.mheadventures.com

Ski & Snowboard School
Auli, Garhwal Himalayas
Ph 9837937948, 9837685986
www.auliskiing.in

Atal Bihari Vajpayee Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports
High Altitude Trekking & Skiing Center, Narkanda Ph: 01782-242406
Incharge, Skiing Center, Solang Nalla, PO Palhan, Manali Ph: 01902-256011
www.adventurehimalaya.org

Kitesurfing near Rameshwaram C55A9949

Kiteboarding near Rameshwaram
Kiteboarding is a surface water sport that harnesses the power of wind on water. Combining multiple disciplines like surfing, windsurfing, paragliding, wakeboarding and gymnastics into one extreme sport, the surfer is propelled on a kiteboard by a large controllable power kite. Southern Tamil Nadu, with a large stretch of sea, steady wind speed and dry weather, provides the perfect conditions for kiteboarding. India’s only female kitesurfer Charmaine and Govinda, who trained under the legendary Ines Correa, provide certification courses. Learn jumps and wave-style riding from IKO (International Kiteboarding Organisation) certified instructors at Fisherman’s Cove, Lands End lagoon and Swami’s Bay. Learn all about tea-bagging – popping in and out of water intermittently due to light or gusty wind, poor skills or twisted lines. Stay in rustic beach huts for around Rs.1,400 per person per night, inclusive of meals and transfers to kite spots. Also learn snorkelling, kayaking and stand up paddleboard while you’re at it.

Getting there: Jet Airways flies to Chennai and Madurai, a 3 hr drive away. Or take an overnight bus or train to Rameshwaram, with Rs.400 auto fare to the location.
When to go: Oct–Mar (Winter North Winds), Apr–Sep (Summer South Winds)
Cost: Private or shared lessons of 6-10 hours between Rs.15,000-30,000 (1-2 days).  

Contact
Quest Expeditions
Ph +91 9820367412, 9930920409
Email booking@quest-asia.com
thekitesurfingholiday.com

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Surfing in South India
With a 7,000 km coastline, India is just discovering the thrills of surfing. At Mulki, Kaliya Mardana Krishna Ashram (or ‘Ashram Surf Retreat’ as it’s better known) is run by Krishna devotees who impart surfing lessons besides yoga and mantra meditation. With no smoking/alcohol allowed on the premises and healthy veg fare, it’s the perfect place to detox and learn to ride the waves! Ride the Zodiac boat to local surf breaks like Baba’s Left, Tree Line, Swami’s and Water Tank. Ganpatipule near Ratnagiri is home to Maharashtra’s only surf school run by Ocean Adventures while Kallialay Surf Club at Mamallapuram south of Chennai provides surfing lessons with wakeboards and equipment on hire.

Getting there: Mulki is 30 km north of Mangalore, Ganpatipule is 300 km south of Mumbai, Mamallapuram is 56 km south of Chennai.
When to go: Good all year round, with Summer South Winds blowing between Apr–Sep and Winter North Winds between Oct–Mar 

Contact
India Surf Club, Mulki
Ph +91 9880659130
Email gauranataraj@gmail.com http://www.surfingindia.net
Cost Rs.3,500-4,500 (double occupancy), surfing lessons Rs.1,500/p/day

Kallialay Surf Club, Mamallapuram
Ph +91 9442992874, 9787306376
Email kallialaysurfschool@hotmail.com

Ocean Adventures, Ganpatipule
Ph +91-99755 53617
http://www.oceanadventures.in
Cost: Rs.2,500 (4 hrs) or Rs.5,000 (3 days)

Caving in Meghalaya Kipepo

Caving in the North East
Call it spelunking (American) or potholing (British version), caving is the hot new adventure trend. It’s dark and grimy, but the descent into the subterranean realm offers a chance to see the beautiful world of stalagmites, stalactites, candles, cave curtains and cave pearls, formed over thousands of years. The presence of limestone hills, heavy rains and high humidity are ideal conditions for cave formation, best exhibited in India’s North East. With 1350 caves stretching over 400 km, Meghalaya has the deepest, longest and the largest labyrinth of caves in the Indian subcontinent. Little wonder it ranks among the world’s Top 10 caving destinations.

For tourists, Maswmai Caves near Cherrapunjee in the Khasi Hills is a decent primer, though for less touristy stuff, head to Shnongrim Ridge in the Jaintia Hills, riddled with cave passages like Krem Tynghen, Krem Umthloo, Krem Chympe and Krem Liat Prah, the longest natural cave in India. In neighbouring Manipur, Khangkhui Mangsor (cave system) near Ukhrul is a top draw with the village’s Tangkhul Naga inhabitants doubling up as guides. Each of the pits and caves has interesting legends of kings and demons attached to them.

Getting there: Jet Airways flies to Guwahati from where Shillong is a 3 hr drive.
When to go: November to March

Contact
Kipepeo
Ph +91 9930002412
http://www.kipepeo.in

For more on Meghalaya’s caves, http://megtourism.gov.in/caves.html

Bir Billing Paragliding

Paragliding in Kamshet & Bir-Billing
A good place to get initiated into paragliding is Kamshet in Maharashtra. Its mild altitude, dynamic wind, moderate weather, profusion of flying institutes and proximity to Mumbai and Pune, make it ideal for beginners. All year round access means you clock more air miles here. Basic and advanced courses like EP (Elementary Pilot) and CP (Club Pilot) are offered, but for serious stuff like XC (Cross Country), head to Bir-Billing in Himachal Pradesh. The 2400 m high meadow at Billing, 14 km north of Bir, is the launch site with the landing site and tourist accommodations in Chowgan.

There are a host of paragliding schools like Paragliding Guru run by BHPA certified paragliding instructor Gurpreet Dhindsa or Hi-Fly run by Debu Choudhury from Manali, the only Indian pilot to be in the Top 50 of Paragliding World Cup Association and India No.1 several times. Manoj Roy, founder and president of Paragliding Association of India, explains that the sport is catching on at Panchgani, Sikkim, Vagamon and Varkala (Kerala), Yelagiri (Tamil Nadu) and Goa. An annual paragliding tournament is conducted in Bir in Oct.

Getting there: Kamshet is 110 km from Mumbai and 45 km from Pune. Bir is 65 km from Dharamsala.
When to go: October to May (avoid rainy season and peak snowfall period in the Himalayas between Dec-Feb)
Cost: Around Rs.18,000 for 3-4 day course, includes stay, food, travel to the hill and equipment 

Contact
Hi Fly, Bir
Ph +91 9805208052
http://www.hi-fly.in

Paragliding Guru, Bir
http://www.paragliding.guru

Indus Paragliding, Karla
Ph +91 7798111000, 9869083838
http://www.indusparagliding.in

Nirvana Adventures, Kamshet
Ph +91 93237 08809
http://www.flynirvana.com
 

Temple Pilots, Kamshet
Ph +91 9970053359, 9920120243
http://www.templepilots.com
 

For more info, visit http://www.pgaoi.org, http://www.appifly.org and http://www.paraglidingforum.in

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Ziplining in North India & Coorg
Ziplining in the country started when Flying Fox founder Jono Walter met Neemrana Hotel’s Aman Nath and remarked “I want to fly you over your fort like a vulture.” Aman retorted, “No, no. I want to fly like a god!” And thus Flying Fox, India’s zipline pioneers, started South Asia’s first zipline in 2007. Ziplining at Neemrana promises a heady buzz of history and adrenaline as you zip over battle-scarred ramparts of a 15th century fort. Zipline five sections over the Aravali countryside – from the 330m Qila Slammer launched from an old lookout to the 400m ‘Where Eagles Dare’ or the Bond-inspired Pussy Galore and Goodbye Mr Bond, ending at Big B, named after Amitabh Bachhan who zipped from that very spot into the fort in the movie ‘Major Saheb’.

At Jodhpur, launch from ridges and battlements of the historic Mehrangarh Fort accessed through secret tunnels as you tackle Chokelao Challenge, Ranisar Rollercoaster and Magnificent Marwar, a 300m flight over two lakes landing on the tip of a fortified tower. In Punjab, Flying Fox Kikar set up the longest zip-line tour in South Asia and the first forest-based zip-line adventure in India at an old hunting lodge. Upstream of Rishikesh at Shivpuri, zipline over forests in the Himalayan foothills and raging rapids 230 ft below as you span 400 m stretches of High Times and White Water Flyer.

Down south, Siddhartha Somana (Sidd) repurposed a 35-year-old abandoned stone quarry near Madikeri into an offbeat adventure spot. Set in an 18-acre patch at Madenad in a 250m long horseshoe arc, take a guided Rainforest Walk, go rock climbing, rappel down a 50 ft natural rock wall and try 5 Treetop Adventures above the forest floor, eventually flopping into a Giant Hammock. The ziplining is done in two stretches – 400 ft and 600 ft, about 100-150 ft high. The all-inclusive ‘Full Dosage’ costs 1,999/person for all activities with food arranged on request.

Getting there: Neemrana and Kikar are 2 hr drives from Delhi while Shivpuri is a 15 min drive upstream of Rishikesh. Jodhpur Airport is well connected by flights from Delhi and Jaipur. Quarry Adventures is 8km from Madikeri.
When to go: All year round
Cost: Rs.1,399-2,299/person 

Contact
Flying Fox

Ph +91 9810999390, 011-66487678
http://www.flyingfox.asia

Quarry Adventures
Ph 9880651619, 9482575820
http://www.thequarryadventures.com
Timings: 9am-6pm

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Hot Air Ballooning across India
A hot air balloon is indeed a strange aerial vehicle that has no brakes or steering wheel with only the fair winds to guide you! Commercial hot air ballooning in India finally took off on 1 Jan 2009 with pioneers SkyWaltz waltzing into the skies. The tourism hub of Rajasthan, with its forts, palaces and rugged Aravallis was the perfect place to start. Headquartered in Jaipur, the action spread to Ranthambhore, Pushkar camel fair, a permanent operation at Lonavala, besides tethered flights at festivals like Taj Mahotsav, Hampi Festival, Amaravati Festival and Araku Balloon Festival. SkyWaltz has flown over 35,000 happy customers in the last nine years. With the trend catching on, the fifth edition of the Tamil Nadu International Balloon Festival is back this January with tethered flights and night glow at Chennai and Pollachi.

Getting there: Araku is 112km/3 hr drive from Vizag via Simhachalam.
When to go: All year round except peak summer and rains. Tamil Nadu International Balloon Festival takes place 4-6 Jan 2019 in Chennai and 13-15 Jan at Pollachi.

Contact
Tamil Nadu International Balloon Festival
Ph +91 95000 90850, 94882 54204
Email tnballoonfestival@gmail.com
http://www.tnibf.com

SkyWaltz/E-Factor
Ph +91 9560387222, 9560397222
Email goballooning@skywaltz.com
http://www.skywaltz.com

Pushkar Fair
Ph +91 8130925252
http://www.pushkarmela.org

Araku Balloon Festival
http://www.arakuballoonfestival.com

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared as the cover story in the January 2019 issue of JetWings International magazine. 

 

Meghalaya: Cloudy with a chance of Meatballs

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ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY chase the monsoon across the Khasi hills to Shillong, Mawlynnong and Cherrapunjee while relishing local cuisine

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A gnarled bridge made entirely of roots spanned a swift flowing stream in our path. The surreal setting was Tolkienesque to say the least, as we wondered what adventures lay beyond. It was as if some sorcerer had cast a spell, leaving us speechless and transfixed. While we took in the dreamlike scene, two kids chirpily ran across the heavy bridge. Roughly paved with mud and stone, it swayed ever so gently, and the reverie was broken.

This was no ordinary bridge. It was a ‘Living Root Bridge’ of Meghalaya, locally called Jing Kieng Jri, shaped over centuries by entwining the fast growing aerial roots of the Ficus elastica tree. In these remote hill tracts, long before the availability of cement and steel, these were age old modes of crossing streams. It was an unwritten rule that anyone passing by would diligently twirl new wiry tendrils around older ones to strengthen the latticed structure. It was CSR taken to another level.

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We were at the root bridge at Riwai, a 2km walk from Mawlynnong, a remote village in the East Khasi hills on the Indo-Bangladesh border. Our guide Henry explained that his village was named after the rocks hollowed by rainwater – maw was ‘stone’ in Khasi and lynnong meant ‘cavity’. After all, this was Meghalaya, the Abode of Clouds, home to the rainiest place on earth, a title that had passed from Cherrapunjee and Mawsynram. With Cherra as our next stop, we were hoping to find out…

For now, we just wanted to float forever in the tranquil sun dappled pools but Henry promised to take us to a better spot. The jump from a little stream to a 300m cascade was definitely an upgrade. The Wah Rymben river tumbled over a wide rock face as Niriang waterfall, ending in a deep pool fringed by reeds. Having a waterfall all to yourself is a rare luxury in a populous country like India. With butterflies for company, we lazed around for what seemed like hours.

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On the way back, we stopped at Maw Ryngkew Sharatia or Balancing Rock, an ancient Khasi shrine that existed long before the arrival of Christianity. A trio of monolithic stones or Maw-byn-nah stood outside every home or in the fields to honour ancestors. In the old animist traditions of Meghalaya, stones, rivers, forests, all life forms were sanctified and nearly two centuries of proselytization had not eroded these beliefs. Sacred groves like Mawphlang were still zealously protected as sanctuaries.

The road was lined with broom grass, what we commonly call ‘phool jhadu’ (Thysanolaena maxima). A cash crop for locals, they harvested the inflorescence, which was made into brooms. Not surprisingly, Mawlynnong was pegged as ‘the cleanest village in Asia.’ The locals were indeed sticklers for cleanliness and we noticed cane trash baskets outside every home. Flower-lined pathways led us past Balang Presbyterian Church before we returned to our bamboo perch at Mawlynnong Guest House and Machan.

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All of a sudden, a crack of thunder boomed with the severity of a giant transformer bursting in the sky. We stepped out to witness nature’s sound and light show in all its fury. Flashes of lightning in the dark foreboding clouds above looked like explosions of some inter galactic battle, lighting up the plains of Sylhet below. There was a terrifying beauty to the whole experience.

When we reached Cherrapunjee the next day, it had already received a fresh coat of rain. But then, it almost always rains in Cherrapunjee. And when high rainfall, humidity and elevations of 1000 m rich in limestone come together, you get caves! With 1350 caves stretching over 400 km, Meghalaya has the deepest, longest and largest labyrinth of caves in the Indian subcontinent. Driving through the mist, negotiating dizzying bends, we reached Mawsmai Caves.

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It was a good introduction to the subterranean world of stalactites and stalagmites, formed over thousands of years. There were all sorts of shapes – candles, cave curtains, grotesque shapes and cave pearls. It was apparent why Meghalaya was becoming a spelunking or caving destination with adventure enthusiasts heading to the Shnongrim Ridge in the Jaintia Hills that holds Krem Liat Prah, the longest natural cave in India.

The bounty of nature was apparent everywhere. Waterfalls like Nohkalikai and Nohsngithiang Falls plummeted from high perches into aquamarine pools. It was the scenic beauty and cool climes that prompted the British to set up their first base in the North East at Sohra or Cherrapunjee. David Scott, Revenue commissioner of Assam and agent to the Governor General came from the plains of Sylhet and died here in 1831.

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A stone memorial noted his contribution to society. The first missionary to arrive at Cherra was Rev Thomas Jones in 1841 and the Nongsawlia Presbyterian Church was built by 1846. A tablet marked the centenary of the Welsh Mission in the hills. Ramakrishna Mission’s lovely old building dated back to 1931.

After our local sightseeing, following quirky yellow signs, we finally reached Cherrapunjee Resort at Laitkynsew. Our host Dennis Rayen had painstakingly collated meteorological data over the years, with rainfall patterns and weather charts lining the walls of his reception as decor. It was a great base for birdwatching and long trudges into the valley to see more root bridges. But nothing could prepare us for the double-decker bridge at Nongriat.

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Rising water levels in the stream had forced locals to build a second bridge a little higher than the old one, hence the name. Knowing that we would soon be back in the urban sprawl of Shillong, we lingered at the pools, allowing tiny fish to nibble away at the dead skin of our tired feet.

It wasn’t the best way to return the favour, but soon we were nibbling on fish at our lakeside retreat of Ri Kynjai 15km from Shillong. The stunning resort, located on the banks of Meghalaya’s largest lake Ummiam or Barapani (Large Water), used Khasi architecture and décor in cottages built on stilts. We relished the Khasi feast of dohshaiin (chicken meatball appetizer) served with tungtab (spicy fermented fish and garlic chutney), kha rang (pan fried dry fish), doh sniang khleh (pork salad), jadoh (rice flavoured with local turmeric) and Cherrapunjee Chicken, a peppery chicken curry.

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Ri Kynjai was a great base for trekking to Lum Sohpetbneng or The Navel of Heaven, the most sacred mountain for the Khasis. As per local spiritual beliefs, while the Khyndaitrep or Nine Huts people remained in their celestial abode, the Hynniewtrep or the Seven Huts people of East Meghalaya descended to earth – interestingly, using a golden vine bridge atop the sacred peak. A repository of ancient wisdom and values, the peak was an umbilical cord to the Divine. An annual pilgrimage is held on the first Sunday of February.

Shillong, despite being Meghalaya’s bustling capital, had its own charm and all the trappings of a ‘hill station’ – bracing climate, a water body with a jogger’s park in the form of Ward’s Lake, viewpoints like Shyllong Peak, landscaped gardens at Elephant Falls and a clutch of museums for the visitor. Don Bosco Museum, part of the Don Bosco Centre for Indigenous Cultures, shed light on local culture.

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The Butterfly Museum at Riatsamthiah, a private collection of the Wankhar family, showcased a dazzling array of butterflies, beetles and moths. The Rhino Heritage Museum was a piece of history by itself. Built in 1928, it was used as a small arms store by the British, in 1944 it housed Japanese POWs during Second World War and was called Dungeon Lines, the 1/8 Gurkha Rifles used it as a magazine and after independence it lay abandoned until it was converted into a museum in 1998-99.

There was a lot to Shillong. Historic churches, stunning architectural gems like the Brahmo Samaj building dating back to 1894 and small tidbits of history. Arundhati Roy was born here. Arthur Llewellyn Basham, author of the tome ‘The Wonder That Was India’ lies buried here. Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore lived here. His summer residence Mitali was being used temporarily as a State Legislative Assembly.

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Tagore’s writing desk and chair adorns the Maharaja suite of Tripura Castle. The erstwhile summer retreat of Tripura’s Manikya dynasty, the castle was built in the 1920s and renovated into the first heritage hotel in the North East in 2003! Shillong had lovely stay options like Rosaville, a delightful colonial era bungalow with old furniture and photos.

In the evenings menfolk met at the Polo Ground for betting over the age old sport of teer (archery). The younger generation sported funky hairdos and blasted rock music from their Made-in-China phones. With visits to this little nook in the north east by iconic bands like Mr. Big to MLTR and Scorpions to Sepultura, tiny Shillong was giving major metros a major complex. We polished off a Khasi meal of pork and rice at Trattoria ‘Restauranto Khasino’, a local joint before hiring a cab back to Guwahati. As we walked out, the mist rolled in. Like the Cherrapunjee Resort sign said ‘Heads in clouds, feet firmly on ground’…

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FACT FILE

Getting there
Shillong is 100km/3hrs south of Guwahati. From Shillong, Cherrapunjee is 56km while Mawlynnong is 81km via Pynursla off the road to Dawki.

Where to Stay
Tripura Castle, Shillong http://www.tripuracastle.com
Rosaville, Shillong http://www.rosaville.in

Ri Kynjai, Umiam Lake http://www.rikynjai.com

Cherrapunjee Resort, Laitkynsew http://www.cherrapunjee.com

Mawlynnong Guesthouse http://www.mawlynnong.com

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Contact
Tourist Information Centre
Meghalaya Tourism Development Corporation
Police Bazaar, Shillong 793001
Ph 0364-2226220

Nakliar Tours
Ph 0364-2502420, 9863115302
Email nakliartours@gmail.com

For more info, http://www.megtourism.gov.in

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the March 2016 issue of India Now magazine.

Wet Set Go: 10 Things to do this Monsoon

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If you thought the Indian monsoon is a good time to sit back and enjoy the rains, think again… discover ANURAG MALLICK & PRIYA GANAPATHY

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Gone are the days when the onset of rains meant staying cooped up at home, curled with a blanket and book, eating hot pakodas. Today, the monsoons evoke images of adventure-seekers rappelling down waterfalls, chasing river rapids and trekking through the mountainous forests or playing football in slushy fields. We have begun to appreciate how the battering rain unleashes nature’s ferocious beauty and bursts open her bountiful secrets. With a host of outdoor adventure outfits mushrooming in big cities, it’s time to recognize that the monsoons are no longer a deterrent for holiday planners. We travel to a few places that have helped shape ‘monsoon tourism’ in the country.

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1. Make a Splash in Wayanad 
Play mud football and kabaddi in rice fields. Enjoy the thrills of river rafting in bamboo boats. Participate in offroad rallies over wild mountainous tracts. Try your hand at archery. Go on elephant safaris. Embark on a trek to Banasura Hill overlooking India’s largest earth dam. Or scale Chembra Peak, the highest mountain in Wayanad with a mist-covered heart-shaped lake! Rediscover Kerala in the rains with Wayanad Splash, a unique monsoon festival that celebrates Rain Tourism. Wayanad Tourism Organization organizes the weeklong event at Kalpetta (9-15 July, 2013) with rain-soaked adventures in the day and musical evenings and cultural programs by night. It’s a great opportunity to experience some of the best eco stays in the country.

Wayanad Tourism Organisation
www.wayanad.org

Jet Airways flies to Kozhikode International Airport at Karipur, from where Kalpetta is 84km

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2. Go white water rafting in Goa 
GTDC has teamed up with ‘Whitewater’ John Pollard (who pioneered rafting at Dandeli and KKR river in Coorg) to offer white water rafting in Goa. The scenic lower section of the Mhadei where it joins the Mandovi promises a real adrenaline rush with the season lasting till October. Tackle Grade III rapids like Big Daddy and Y-Fronts in a 10 km stretch from Ustem village to Sonal village in Sattari taluka (1½ hrs). The introductory offer of Rs.1500 includes 12.36% Govt. Service tax. For each ticket sold, GTDC shall contribute Rs.100 to the village panchayat for conservation activities like afforestation, water harvesting and nature education. The cost includes rafting equipment and light refreshments at the end of the trip. The base camp, located at Veluz, is 800 m from Valpoi bus stop in Sattari Taluka, about 45 km from Panaji. Post briefing, rafters will be taken to the start point and after running the river, dropped off at base camp by local transport operators (Rs.150/person for round trip).

Goa Rafting
The Earthen Pot Garden Restaurant, Next to Govt Hospital, Valpoi, Goa
Ph +91 7387238866, 8805727230
info@goarafting.com www.goarafting.com

Advance booking: Armando Duarte, Sr Manager GTDC Ph 9881465776
Spot booking: Ph 9763935295, 9527944661, 9527961785
Email reservations@goa-tourism.com

Jet Airways flies to Dabolim

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3. Rappel down a waterfall 
Maharashtra’s many waterfalls come alive only in the rains. But few offer the thrills of rappelling down them! While Bekare at Bhivpuri near Karjat, Dudhani near Panvel and Dudhiware near Lonavala have become popular for canyoning, it is Vihigaon that wins hands down. First explored in 2007-08, Vihigaon is Maharashtra’s premier canyoning site. The 100 ft drop is dizzying and the 30 ft wide rockface is large enough for three or four ropes to rappel down. A small check dam, smaller cascades and a scenic plateau make the 124km (2-3 hr drive) excursion from Mumbai all the more enjoyable. Being monsoon waterfalls, the season is short, lasting from mid-June to Sep end. Head on NH3 towards Igatpuri/Nasik and just before climbing Kasara Ghat, take the first diversion to the left. The road goes under a railway track towards Jawahar/Khodala to reach Vihigaon, 13km from Kasara.

Offbeat Sahyadri
Priti Patel 9987990300, Rajas Deshpande 9664782503 
Email offbeatsahyadri@gmail.com

Jet Airways flies to Mumbai.

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4. Monsoon Trek in the Sahyadris 
The monsoon is a great time to savour the lush mountains of the Sahyadris. Trekking is an exciting way to discover the rain-drenched forests, waterfalls, dams, forts and caves that abound in this region. A number of adventure groups like Offbeat Sahyadri, Trek Mates India, Nature Knights and Aberrant Wanderers organize trips out of Mumbai and Pune, be it 1-day hikes or 2-3 day treks. The monsoon calendar is packed with quick getaways around Karjat, Matheran, Lonavala, Bhandardara and Malshej Ghat. Scale Kalsubai (5400 ft), the highest peak in Maharashtra. See Buddhist sculptures and meditation lairs carved out of rock at Kanheri caves (inside Borivali National Park), Karla and Bhaja caves (near Lonavala) or Bedse Caves (near Pune). Walk in the footsteps of Shivaji or uncover older legacies at various hill forts like Lohagad, Visapur, Tung, Tikona, Gorakhgad, Prabalgad, Avchitgad, Asherigad, Korigad, Sagargad and Kalavantin Durg. Marvel at unusual rock formations like Eye of the Needle at Ratangad or the submerged linga inside Kedareshwar Cave at Harishchandragad. Legend has it that when the lone surviving pillar falls, it shall mark the end of Kaliyug! For more excitement, go on an overnight trek…

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5. Attend the Saputara monsoon festival
Nestled at 1000m in the beautiful Dang District, Saputara is Gujarat’s only mountainous region and the northern-most tip of the Western Ghats. The region is at its best during the month-long Saputara monsoon festival between 4 August-1 September 2013. Chase legends at Sitavan and Pandav Gufa. Visit the Saputara Tribal museum to understand the lifestyle, costumes, heritage and ecology of local tribes. Take a ropeway ride to sunset point over a lush green valley. Admire nature at an eco campsite in the Mahal Bardipura forest. Or drive 52km to Waghai to watch the Ambica river plummet from 30m as the spectacular Gira waterfall.

Photo Credit: narendramodi.in
Toll Free Helpline 1800 233 7951
www.gujarattourism.com

Jet Airways flies to Surat, from where Saputara is 172 km.

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6. Pillion ride adventure to Dudhsagar 
At 310 m Dudhsagar is India’s fifth highest waterfall. Located beyond the dense Bhagwan Mahaveer Sanctuary on the Goa-Karnataka border, the Khandepar River cascades off a cliff like an ‘Ocean of milk’. During the monsoons, two mountain streams flood the jeep track till October, leaving a narrow mud-track open. Ace local bikers offer visitors a pillion-ride adventure from Collem (6 km off Mollem, 57 km from Panaji) navigating a 14 km obstacle course – railway tracks, ballast, slush, culverts and gushing streams. A short trek over slippery rocks leads near the base for a fairytale view – a railway track and bridge cutting across the torrential waterfall. The Vasco-Madgao-Londa railway line slicing across the falls is accessible from Collem (12 km trek along the railway track) or Castle Rock (near Tinai Ghat in Karnataka). At Rs.300/head for a return trip, you’d be mad not to do it and mad if you do! 

Dudhsagar Spa Resort
Near Mollem Checkpost
Ph 0832-2612319, 2612238 
Email dm@dudhsagarresort.in
www.dudhsagarsparesort.com 

Jet Airways flies to Dabolim Airport, Goa from where Kullem/Collem is about 65 km (6 km from Mollem off NH-4A/Goa-Belgaum highway).

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7. Settle the debate about India’s wettest place 
If Dennis P Rayen of Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort is to be believed, Cherrapunjee may not be the wettest place in India anymore, but it still holds the record for having received the highest recorded rainfall in the world. While Mawsynram may be become India’s rainiest place (a matter of debate), the record still rests with Meghalaya. And what better season to visit the Abode of the Clouds than the rains? Walk on a double-decker living root bridge, explore Laitkynsew village, enjoy the 1100 ft plunge of Nohkalikai falls ending in an emerald pool or track the monsoon on the southern slopes of the East Khasi Hills. The walls of the no-frills resort are filled not with pretty photos but comparative statistical data and info panels on everything from the story of a raindrop to oceanic currents and the movement of the monsoon!         

Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort
Ph 9436115925, 9615338500, 9863079856
www.cherrapunjee.com

Jet Airways flies to Guwahati, from where Cherrapunjee is 152 km by road. 

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8. Escape to the roof of the world 
Getting too wet for comfort? Seek sanctuary in high altitude deserts of Ladakh and Spiti. Do the Spiti Left Bank Trek along Himalayan villages like Langza, Demul, Lhalung, Komic and Dhankar with Spiti Ecosphere while staying at rustic homestays. Track the Himalayan Wolf or follow the trail of the Snow Leopard at Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary and Pin Valley National Park. Visit ancient monasteries like Key Gompa and Tabo for an insight into Tibetan Buddhism. And if you do want to get wet, try some of the most challenging white-water rafting on the Pin and Spiti rivers.

Spiti Ecosphere
Ph 01906-222652, 98994 92417, 94182 07750
Email info@spitiecosphere.com
www.www.spitiecosphere.com  

Jet Airways flies to Delhi and Chandigarh.

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9. Get an Ayurveda treatment
According to the tenets of Ayurveda, monsoon is the best time to get an Ayurveda treatment as the atmosphere is cool and dust-free. The rains usher in a mood of meditative calm and the moisture in the air keeps the body tissue soft and supple. This makes it ideal for receiving poorva karma or preparatory phase of Pancha Karma like snehanam (oil application) and swedhanam (steam treatment). Whichever corner of Kerala you visit, there are several good Ayurveda centres to choose from. There’s Ayurveda Yoga Villa in Wayanad, Hari Vihar in Kozhikode, the famous Kottakkal Aryavaidyashala in Malappuram district and Rajah Island Ayurvedic Hospital in Thrissur district, but it’s Palakkad that teems with options. Besides Spartan traditional centres like Keraleeya Ayurveda Samajam, Vaidyamadham Vaidyasala and CNS Ayurveda Chikitsalayam, experience rejuvenation in tharavad homes and heritage properties like CGH Group’s Kalari Kovilakom and Poomully Aramthampuran’s Ayurveda Mana.

www.kalarikovilakom.com 
www.ayurvedamana.com

Jet Airways flies to Kozhikode and Coimbatore, from where Palakkad is 52 km

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10. Experience a rainforest in Coorg
Though Karnataka Tourism’s concept of Jalapatothsava is still to take off, nothing prevents tourists from flocking to the many cataracts in the state. The concept of a Waterfall festival was tried out for the first time at Barachukki Falls in Kollegal taluk of Chamarajnagar district. In Karnataka 11 major waterfalls tumble down from their perch in the Western Ghats. Besides the famous Shivanasamudra and Jog, there’s Gokak, Unchalli, Magod, Kalahatti, Hebbe, Sathodi and Lalgudi and easily accessible ones like Abbey and Irpu in Coorg. Blessed with lesser-known falls like Chelavara, Mallali, Mukkodlu and Sarthabbi, the tiny coffee district is drawing nature enthusiasts to enjoy Coorg’s unique mix of homestays, Kodava cuisine, adventure trails and pristine rainforests.

Karnataka Tourism
Ph 080 2235 2828
www.karnatakatourism.org

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article was the cover story for the July 2013 issue of JetWings International magazine. 

Meghalaya: A Walk in the Clouds

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The quietly beautiful East Khasi Hills are just an indication of the magic that the rest of Meghalaya can weave, discover ANURAG MALLICK & PRIYA GANAPATHY

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At Shillong, the air was crisp and cold with rock music riding the wind, wafting out of street cafés and mobile phones. The 3½ hour drive from the plains of Guwahati to the mountainous expanse of Meghalaya was mesmerizing. Every so often, we’d stop to click old churches, charming colonial bungalows and women in traditional jainsen and blouses. Near the Polo Ground we watched men wager at the age-old game of teer (archery) before digging into delicious Khasi cuisine of jadoh (red rice) and pork in Trattoria, a local joint.

Our base Rosaville was an elegant heritage home in the suburbs, adorned with antique furniture and sepia photos. Over tea and cookies our hostess Trupti Bauri delighted us with stories of burrasahibs and colonial history. The Don Bosco Museum was an eye-opener on the cultural uniqueness of the North East. We hopped over to the privately-owned Butterfly Museum at Riatsamthiah nearby. Run by the Wankhars, SK Sircar’s splendid one-man-collection showcased a brilliant array of butterflies, beetles and moths. The Rhino Heritage Museum, once an ammo store and dungeon for Japanese POWs in WWII, offered glimpses of the Indian Army’s achievements.

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We drove 10km to reach Shyllong Peak for a fantastic view of the East Khasi countryside. Vendors selling farm produce along the road startled us with the size of radish – each, an arm’s length and as thick as a dictionary! About 15km north, the rippling Umiam Lake (Bara Pani) was the scenic setting for the plush Ri Kynjai Resort, a delicate fusion of luxury and tranquility. On a whim we took a bus to Smit, 17km south of Shillong, the cultural seat and royal abode of the Khyrim Syiemship. The thatched wood and bamboo Lyngdoh House was a study in traditional architecture while a massive granary stood as a nostalgic remnant of a prosperous past. In the quiet untouched sacred groves of Mawphlang, conservationist Tambor Lyngdoh shared insights about endemic flora and Khasi animist traditions.

Back in town, the quaint horseshoe-shaped gate of Tripura Castle drew us into the erstwhile summer retreat of Tripura’s Manikya dynasty. Built in the 1920s by Maharaj Bir Bikram, it was renovated in 2003 into the first heritage hotel in the North East! Swaddled in luxury, we mulled over our next move when a chance meeting with Deepak Laloo of Nakliar Tours led us to Meghalaya’s best kept secret. Mawlynnong.

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We rolled the word on our tongues like a toffee, savouring its musical lilt. Was it really Asia’s cleanest village? The winding journey from Shillong to Dawki would tell us. We sped past open meadows where grass glinted like polished gold in the slanting sun. By dusk, we reached the quaint village with neat rows of houses peeping over floral hedges. Bright orange cosmos bobbed in greeting as Henry Kharrymba led us beyond the Balang Presbyterian Church and a rickety bamboo bridge to the Mawlynnong Guest House & Machan. Like baboons in a leafy canopy, we chattered in the balcony, sipping black tea listening to the stream murmuring below.

By morning Mawlynnong looked like a fairytale. Gardens were awash with dewdrops and the village road was clean as a whistle. Was it coincidence that the fields were lush with broom grass or Phool Jhadu (Thysanolaena maxima), which spawned Mawlynnong’s broom-making industry? Each home had a woven basket for trash and everyone from the elderly to elfin children ensured that the town lived up to its tag ‘God’s Own Garden’.

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Patting a boulder, Henry said “This hole is caused by rainwater. We call it ‘maw-lynnong’ in Khasi, meaning ‘stone with a cavity’ which gives the village its name.” Stones play a significant part in Khasi culture. Some homes had Maw-bin-nah, monolithic stones honouring their ancestors. Perched on a stone with the improbability of an elephant sitting on a lemon, the sacred Maw Ryngkew Sharatia or Balancing Rock was an ancient Khasi shrine that pre-dated the advent of Christianity.

The 2km walk to Riwai’s Jing Kieng Jri led to a setting reminiscent of the movie Avatar. A stunning natural bridge created by gnarled roots of the Ficus elastica tree swung over a rivulet. In Meghalaya’s remote hill tracts, the Living Root Bridges are centuries old modes of crossing streams. Nurtured by villagers who diligently twirl new wiry tendrils around older ones, the intricate hardy mesh can even be paved with stones!

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Nearby Niriang Falls, a 300m cascade of the Wah Rymben River fell in a deep crystal pool fringed by swaying reeds. In this paradise where bright yellow butterflies flitted and mud-puddled around wet rocks, we surrendered to the therapeutic power of the tiered cataract splashing upon us. Not satisfied with the day’s adventures, Henry insisted we walk up to Mawlynnong’s Sky View! “Now??” we groaned. He nodded vigorously, urging us up a wobbly ladder. He gestured at the panorama of green rice fields and smiled, “All that…is Bangladesh.”

But no trip to Meghalaya would be complete without halting at Sohra or Cherrapunjee, one of the wettest places on planet earth. In this rain-soaked haven adrift with clouds, nature lovers come to track the Dark-rumped Swift diving along the misty gorges of the magnificent Nohkalikai and Nohsngithiang Falls and admire the limestone formations of Mawsmai and Mawsynram caves. Being the first British foothold in the North East, relics of Sohra’s imperial past lay scattered around the countryside – the David Scott Memorial (1831) and Nongsawlia Presbyterian Church built in 1846.

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At Cherrapunjee Resort, our host Dennis Rayen revealed that bouldering and caving were gaining popularity. His passion for the place was evident. He had painstakingly collated meteorological data and decorated his walls with charts indicating how Mawsynram had dethroned Cherrapunjee as the world’s rainiest place!

A long trudge into Laitkynsew valley took us to an ancient double-decker root bridge. We dipped our feet in aquamarine pools rippling over cradles of rock, indulging in the pleasures of a natural fish spa. As we drove past the resort’s quirky signboard ‘Heads firmly in clouds, feet firmly on ground’ we wondered, if just a portion of the East Khasi Hills held such intrigue, imagine what magic the Garo and Jaintia hills could weave…

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Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article was published on 18 May 2013 in Times Crest newspaper. 

Getting Away from It All: India’s Top 10 Great Escapes

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ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY showcase India’s ‘coolest’ destinations, from Himalayan retreats, beach holidays to legendary hill stations

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There are many things for which we blame the British – cricket, bureaucracy, railways, tea and anglicized spellings – but the quaint ‘hill-station’ has to be their most charming contribution. From Snooty Ooty in the Neilgherries where the rules of snooker were laid down, to Simla in the Himalayas, where imperial plans were drawn every summer, most hill retreats were ‘discovered’ by British collectors to escape the scorching heat of the plains. Complete with lakes, botanical gardens, pony trails, golf courses, racetracks, bakeries, the ubiquitous Mall Road and scenic viewpoints and waterfalls named after Company officials and British memsahibs, these Little Englands were hailed as ‘Scotland of the East’, ‘Switzerland of India’, ‘Queen of Hill-Stations’ and other grand epithets.

Some of these hill retreats were developed into sanatoriums and cantonments of the British Empire, where homesick soldiers found rest and respite. The term Doolaly, Brit slang for ‘gone crazy’, originated in the hill town of Deolali in Maharashtra where recuperating soldiers often feigned madness to avoid being redrafted! Netarhat in Jharkhand, considered the Queen of Chhotanagpur, is supposedly a corruption of ‘Near the Heart’! The cool climes drew European planters to set up vast estates of coffee, tea, fruits and spices while missionaries established educational institutions. With time, these outposts became summer retreats for a vast Indian populace.

However, not all hill stations were British finds. Kodaikanal is credited to the Americans while Indian rulers developed their own summer capitals – Almora and Binsar by the Chand Rajas of Kumaon, Kemmangundi by Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV, while Chail was created by Bhupinder Singh, the swashbuckling Maharaja of Patiala to peeve the British after he was banished from Simla for eloping with a British lady! From Horsley Hills in Andhra Pradesh to Pachmarhi in Madhya Pradesh or Saputara in Gujarat to Mount Abu in Rajasthan, the state’s only hill station, India’s cool hideaways stretch from the Western Ghats to the Himalayas. Here are 10 great picks…

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1. Nilgiris (Tamil Nadu)
Lured by the irresistible charm of the swirling mist and eucalyptus-scented air wafting above the sweeping acres of manicured tea plantations, for decades tourists have wound their way up the hairpin bends towards the Blue Mountains. Sprawling bungalows with sloping roofs, monkeytops and vibrant gardens hark back to the colonial legacy of the region while the looming hills cloaked by dense forests are still home to herds of elephant and gaur. If Ooty seems too commercial and Kotagiri somewhat warm, Coonoor is indeed the perfect balance! One of the newest retreats is Tea Nest, run by The Kurumba Village Resort. Surrounded by 1,800 acres of the Singara Tea Estate, the charming colonial bungalow is perched in the shadow of Tiger Hill with its lofty manager’s bungalow and Pakkasuran Hill where Tipu Sultan had an outpost. Relish tea-themed cuisine like tea-mushroom soup and smoked chicken or fish infused in tea, wake up to grazing herds of gaur among the tea bushes or birdwatch from the comfort of your lofty lair. Drop by at Needlecraft in the century old Erin Villa to browse through exclusive petit point embroidery, cutwork and tapestry. Try tea-tasting at the Tranquilitea lounge and buy organic hill produce, Toda shawls and Kota stone pottery at the Green Shop. For complete pampering, surrender yourself to Kurumba’s brand new Jacuzzi suites.

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2. Wayanad (Kerala)
With a sweltering coastline, Kerala’s highlands are the ideal refuge – plantation bungalows in Nilambur and Nelliyampathy to Neelambari, the luxurious Ayurvedic hideaway in a pristine corner of Ranipuram. Yet, Wayanad with its rolling hills and profusion of homestays and resorts is a clear winner. Enjoy solitude in a 500-acre plantation left to grow wild at Fringe Ford near Mananthavady. Stay in luxurious tree houses at Vythiri Resort and Tranquil Plantation Getaway, where you wake up to the carefree whistles of the Malabar Whistling Thrush or choose from 14 nature trails within the property. Rekindle romance in a cave restaurant lit in the warm glow of a hundred candles at Edakkal Hermitage and marvel at Stone Age cave drawings nearby. The newest entrant My Garden of Eden, is a premium plantation retreat set in the hilly tracts of Valathoor near Meppady. Don’t forget to drop by at Uravu near the district headquarters of Kalpetta for an astonishing range of bamboo instruments like binsi (a hollow reed that whistles when swung), rainmaker (cascading seeds that emit sounds of the rain) and other innovative products.

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3. Coorg (Karnataka)
Blessed with nature’s bounty of hills, waterfalls and brooks, Coorg or Kodagu is a paradise that boasts dense forests teeming with wildlife, lush coffee and pepper plantations grown in the shade of rainforest trees, unmatched culture, unique cuisine and the genuine warmth of Kodava hospitality. From rustic and organic homestays overlooking estates and paddy fields to palatial plantation bungalows of the colonial era, Karnataka’s smallest and most mountainous region is also the fountainhead of the Cauvery, South India’s greatest river. Stay at Neemrana’s Green Hills Estate in Virajpet, a town formed after King Virarajendra met Lord Abercrombie to form a historic pact against Tipu, their common enemy. Straddle the Kerala border at Kabbe Holidays and walk along historic trade routes or base yourself at Palace Estate near Kakkabe and trek to Thadiyendamol, the highest peak in Coorg. Discover organic farming at the Rainforest Retreat or stay at exclusive heritage homestays like School Estate in Siddapur, Gowri Nivas in Madikeri and Java Mane near Madapur. For a cool splash in streams, choose from a new clutch of homestays like Silver Brook Estate or Bird of Paradise around Kushalnagar or resorts like Amanvana, Tamara and Kadkani River Resort. Or immerse yourself in colonial comfort at Tata Coffee’s Plantation Trail bungalows around Pollibetta.

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4. Spiti (Himachal)
If Shimla, Manali, Dharamsala and Dalhousie sound too familiar and you’ve been to Ladakh already, head to the Himalayan realm of Spiti for a change. Abutting the Tibetan highlands in eastern Himachal Pradesh, the region is dotted by some of the loftiest homestays in the Himalayas. Perched above the left bank of the Spiti river are the high altitude villages of Langza, Komic (the highest in Asia), Demul, Lhalung and Dhankar, the site of a crumbling monastery that was the first to be built in Spiti and as per legend will be the last to fall. Plan a tour with Spiti Ecosphere to uncover a mystical world of gompas (Buddhist monasteries), amchis (traditional medicine men), Bon traditions (animist religion preceding Buddhism) and unique experiences like the Tibetan Wolf Trail, protecting fossil sanctuaries, Yak Safaris and River Rafting. For a more inclusive experience, participate in rural development projects in this remote and rugged region as you watch locals involved in eco livelihoods like hand-woven handicrafts and organic products available under the brand name Tsering (blessing in Tibetan).

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5. Lake District (Uttarakhand)
Unobstructed views of the Himalayas often stretching across 300 km, stunning high altitude lakes and mythical tales of the divine infuse Uttarakhand with untold magic. The period when the mountains are awash with the fiery glow of rhododendrons leaves every visitor spellbound. Explore the Lake District of Nainital, a reflection of the emerald green eyes of Sati, the majestic Bhimtal and Sat-Tal and the nine-cornered Naukuchiyatal that bestows everlasting bliss on the beholder. Follow the high mountain road to Ranikhet and Majkhali or hike from Nainital to Corbett through forests of broad-leafed sal, oak and deodar, while staying at jungle lodges or century old Forest Rest Houses. Beyond the hill town of Almora, lies the quaint hamlet of Kasar Devi, where spiritual masters, artists and beat poets sought inspiration while Binsar doubles up as a wildlife sanctuary and a hill station. Scenic homestays like Valley View Villa near Ranikhet, The Cottage at Jeolikot, Emily Lodge at Nainital, Emerald Trail at Bhimtal and a chain of resorts by Leisure Hotels across Kumaon and Garhwal offer an assorted bouquet of options. The signature jams, pickles, preserves and flavoured honey available under the Kumaoni label and warm woolens can be picked up at Umang, a local co-operative.

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6. Meghalaya (North East)
A delicious nip in the air along undulating roads and strains of retro music emanating from cafés and mobile phones announces Shillong, touted as the Rock Capital of the East. Picture postcard images unfold in scenic churches, old schools and hill slopes swathed in green. Relive colonial grandeur in sprawling bungalows like Rosaville and the regal Tripura Castle or soak in the luxury of Ri Kynjai resort overlooking the shimmering Lake Umiam at Barapani. Watch locals wager on the age-old game of teer (archery) in the market area, marvel at the dazzling collection of beetles and butterflies at a private museum and savour delicious Khasi cuisine in homes and tiny hotels like Trattoria. Unfold the secrets of ancient root bridges, sacred stones and lonely waterfalls in Mawlynnong, the cleanest village in Asia and at the rain-drenched paradise of Cherrapunjee, track the Dark Rumped Swift swooping along the misty cliffs of Nohkalikai Falls. In this Abode of Clouds, there are other surprises – the surreal limestone contortions of Mawsmai Caves, the sacred groves of Mawflong, fish spas in natural pools and even a Double-Decker Root Bridge!

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7. Konkan Coast (Maharashtra)
The Konkan coast of Maharashtra can rejuvenate your senses in a delicate fusion of nature, peace, solitude and simple pastoral life. From the irrepressible joy of eating luscious Ratnagiri mangoes to golden sunsets along the sea-kissed beaches of Kashid and the historic sea fort of Murud-Janjira to the north and Ganpatipule, Devgad, Sindhudurg, Tarkarli and Sangameshwar stretching to the south. Just off the coast, choose from a host of homestays like Atithi Parinay, Nandan Farms and Dwarka Farmhouse that offer special experiences of farm life. Relish flavours that range from the subtle sattvik fare of Saraswat Brahmins to the spicy indulgence of seafood and Malvani cuisine. Pick up hand-painted pieces of Ganjifa Art at the Sawantwadi Palace or lacquerware toys from Chitaar Ali (Artisans Lane) before driving up to Amboli Ghat. If this is not enough, head north to the high hills of Lonavla, Matheran, Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani for breathtaking views and local specialties like chikkis, sweet corn, homemade chocolates and fudge.

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8. Canacona/Palolem (South Goa)
Far from the psychedelic beach scene of North Goa, serpentine roads lead south to the quieter shores of Canacona and Palolem. Just beyond the main bus stand lies a 12,000 sq ft oasis called Turiya where you can experience a legit mode of mind expansion! Inspired by the fourth state of consciousness, the newly opened 100-year-old yellow Portuguese villa draped by bougainvillea creepers houses a spa offering authentic Ayurvedic and western therapies. Renovated by a well-known architect, the impeccably furnished Turiya exudes a sensual lazy charm with delicious home-cooked food and a cozy verandah overlooking a garden twittering with birds. Personalized visits to the local market for fresh fish and nearby farms to hand pick your choice of vegetables make the holiday unique. If you can drag yourself out of the armchair, there’s Palolem beach just 2km away with bistros and boutiques or the serene Agonda Beach 10 km north, boat trips to Butterfly Island and the promise of dolphin sightings, day trips to Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary and Karwar (Karnataka), besides some of the most scenic trekking trails in South Goa.

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9. Darjeeling/Sikkim (North East)
Surrounded by tea plantations and cradled in the lap of the mighty Kangchenjunga mountain, Darjeeling’s allure has always inspired poets, writers and filmmakers besides scores of tourists to roost upon its cool slopes. Visit local factories to taste the eponymous Darjeeling tea or take a ride in the UNESCO World Heritage train, the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) up the Batasia Loops to Ghoom. Apart from a slew of resorts and plantation bungalows, you can check in at the unique Beatles theme lodge, The Revolver, with rooms named after John, Paul, Ringo and George! A more plush option is Mayfair Darjeeling, the erstwhile palace of the Maharaja of Nazargunj. Their newest offering, the ritzy Mayfair Spa Resort in Gangtok fuses a monastic theme with colonial architecture and has raised the bar for luxury in the North East. While in Sikkim, the land of prayer flags and chortens, visit Buddhist monasteries at Pemayangstse, Rumtek and Tashiding and experience the warm hospitality of heritage homestays like Yangsum Farm at Rinchepong, Mayal Lyang at Dzongu and Bon Farmhouse, a birding haven at Kewzing.

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10. Andamans
It is hard to imagine that a notorious penal settlement of yesteryears is today a tropical isle of pleasure. While the remoteness of the Andaman Islands has worked in its favour, its sparse population and laid back charm accentuates the privacy one seeks on a holiday. Located 1000km east of the Indian coastline and fringed by coral reefs and a palette of crystal clear blue waters, the islands are among the finest beach getaways and diving destinations in the world. Take a trip into history in the triad of Port Blair, described as India’s only ‘warm hill station’, Viper Island and the ruins of Ross Island once praised as the Paris of the East. Sunsets at Chidiya Tapu and Mount Hariett, snorkeling above iridescent coral reefs at North Bay and Wandoor, deep sea diving and sport fishing around Ritchie’s Archipelago are not to be missed. Havelock, the main tourist hub bristles with resorts and diving experts like Barefoot Scuba, Dive India, Laccadives etc. Visit during April-May as the waters become murky once the monsoons set in. Grab a tan at Radhanagar Beach, ranked by Time magazine as the best beach in Asia. Scenic Neil Island nearby has a subdued ambience and rustic stay options, making it an offbeat outpost. Besides regular boat access between the main islands, the swanky Makruzz cruise zips across 50km from Port Blair to Havelock in just 1½ hours!

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 8 April, 2012 in Deccan Herald (Sunday edition). 

Mawlynnong: God’s Own Garden

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No candy wrapper. No gutka sachet. No crumpled packet of chips. Not even a cigarette butt. Try as hard as we could, it was impossible to find any litter at Mawlynnong. This tiny speck on the Indo-Bangladesh border of Meghalaya took its claim as ‘the cleanest village in Asia’ quite seriously. It was like trying to find an illiterate Malayali in Ernakulam.  

Aha, we exclaimed, running to the yellow wrappers some errant schoolchildren had recklessly thrown. To our surprise, the shiny wrappers wafted off magically like butterflies. In fact, they were butterflies! Nothing seemed out of place in this picture-postcard setting – flower-lined pathways, thatch baskets outside every home and roads that gleamed like they do on election eve or to welcome a dignitary. 

Our guide Henry Kharrymba took us past a green sign ‘Mawlynnong: God’s own garden’, the Balang Presbyterian Church and deposited us at the Mawlynnong Guest House & Machan. As we gingerly stepped on the creaky bamboo pathway, Henry’s disarming smile indicated this was an all-too-familiar routine. Emboldened, we walked into the house on stilts, with cozy interiors of straw, bamboo and thatch, a sit-out and an extended balcony. Through the dense foliage we could hear a stream below. Soon, our hostess brought in steaming cups of black tea and after a quick break we were all set for our tryst with Mawlynnong. 

‘Nice musical name’, we chimed. ‘Do you see those round cavities in the stones around here?’ Henry asked. ‘They are hollow depressions caused by rainwater and that’s what it means in Khasi, maw lynnong, stone with a cavity’. A few hundred meters outside the village was a gated enclosure where a large boulder sat precariously on a stone. Henry beamed as he introduced us to Maw Ryngkew Sharatia or Balancing Rock. It was an ancient Khasi shrine that pre-dated the advent of Christianity in Meghalaya. We hiked 2 km to Riwai for yet another startling discovery. 

A flight of stone steps and a crude signboard with Jing Kieng Jri scrawled on it didn’t say much. But when we saw it, our jaws dropped. Spanning a gurgling stream was a natural bridge made up of knotted roots. Meghalaya is known for its centuries-old tradition of Living Root Bridges, used to cross streams in remote mountainous areas. The pliant roots of the Ficus elastica tree are entwined such that they grow into an elaborate lattice. Over time the bridge becomes so strong it can be paved with stone. It was an unwritten rule that if any villager noticed a new root, he had to weave it into the mesh. Before we could rip our clothes and jump into the water, Henry stopped us. He had a better place in mind. 

A short hike off the road brought us to the spectacular Niriang Falls created by the Wah Rymben River, which plummeted 300 m into a large deep pool. Luckily, we were the only visitors and appropriated the whole site. Henry sat patiently watching us make fools of ourselves. ‘Feeling cold?’ he shouted over the din of the cataract. We nodded. ‘How about some Khasi vodka?’ It was our quickest exit from a waterfall ever.  

We took a different route back to Mawlynnong via Maw Rym Song for some kyiad (rice beer). After glugging down a few glasses of the potent colourless brew, we headed back to the village, on wobbly knees. But instead of our bamboo hut, Henry took us to Sky View, a rickety bamboo perch with a panoramic view. It was a tricky climb and as we paused to catch our drunken breath Henry pointed at the green rice fields, ‘All that… is Bangladesh’. A strong wind blew in and dark clouds gathered on the horizon. It was time to head home.   

Back at the hut, a spread of hot pork, jackfruit, rice and dal awaited us. The wind whistled eerily through the cracks in the bamboo and we spotted white flashes of lightning outside. We decided to take a post-dinner walk and the great gig in the sky lured us further away to the edge of Mawlyynong for an unhindered view. When a local told us to follow the steps past the graveyard, we hesitated. ‘I’ll take you’, he offered. ‘In the rainy season, it is even more intense, very scary.’ In silence, we watched streaks of lightning light up the ominous clouds over the dark plains of Bangladesh. 

‘So what’s your name’, we asked? ‘Seventy One’. ‘71’? ‘Yea, I was named after the year I was born’. ‘That’s pretty…unusual’. ‘It’s nothing…in Meghalaya, people name their kids after anything that catches their fancy – Christian names, political figures, celebrities, countries or random English words. ‘For example’? ‘Truck, Bus, State, Reliance, whatever!’ We listened agape as Seventy One listed out Meghalaya’s eccentric nomenclature.  

Here, Frankenstein, Hitler, Roosevelt, Churchill, Chamberlain, Lenin and Stalin fought for elections. Ulysses had sisters named England, New Zealand, Finland and Switzerland while another sweet trio were called Institute, Constitute and Prostitute! Boys weren’t spared too – a garage owner named his sons 1st Gear, 2nd Gear and 3rd Gear while Toilet Marbaniang didn’t give a shit to what his name meant either. The origin of this perplexing phenomenon goes back to the British occupation of the North East in the 1850s. The oral dialects of the Garo-Khasi-Jaintia hills in Meghalaya, like Nagaland, adopted English as their script and subsequent conversion to Christianity spurred the blind adoption of anything English.  

The next morning, we caught the only van out of Mawlynnong back to Shillong. As we rolled past fields of tall grass on either side, we casually asked what they were. ‘Thysanolaena maxima or broom grass’ said Pastor Henry. He thrust a small parcel wrapped in a newspaper into our hands. ‘Something to remember us by’ he smiled. The souvenir was a neatly crafted short broom. Ironic that in this tiny village obsessed with cleanliness, the most lucrative crop was broom grass! In a country notorious for its lack of public hygiene, places like Mawlynnong bring a ray of hope. 

Travel Info 

Getting there
81 km from Shillong. Lies on the route to Dawki (83 km) on the Bangladesh border. Just 20 km short of Dawki, turn right from Pongtung for an 18 km drive to Mawlynnong. 

Where to Stay
Mawlynnong guesthouse has two huts — the larger accommodates four persons and costs Rs 2,400 while the smaller sleeps two and costs Rs 1,000.  

Contact
Nakliar Tours
Deepak Laloo/Carol Nongrum
Ph 0364-2502420, 9863115302
Email nakliartours@gmail.com

Tourist Information Centre
Meghalaya Tourism Development Corporation
Police Bazaar, Shillong – 793001
Ph 0364-2226220

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 3 August, 2011 in Deccan Herald (Sunday edition).