Tag Archives: Nohkalikai

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.

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Gushing about Waterfalls

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ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY go on a waterfall trail across India to chronicle the Legends of the Falls

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With the advent of the monsoon, India’s many waterfalls revive into gushing torrents. Many are named after the closest village – like Jog (Gersoppa) in Karnataka or Amboli and Vihigaon in Maharashtra. Some are named after their appearance – Dhuandhar in Madhya Pradesh or Hogenakkal after hogey nakkal (smoke stones) on account of the rising mist. There are still others that are labeled after the creatures that frequent them – Bear Shola Falls in Kodaikanal, Hirni (Doe Falls) in Jharkhand, Chitrakot in Chhattisgarh (after chital or spotted deer) or Puliaruvi (Tiger Falls) in Courtallam. However, in a country where mountains and rivers are steeped in fables, can waterfalls be far behind? Here, we showcase some unique falls whose waters hide legends of kings, sages, gods, mortals and maidens…

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Dudhsagar (Goa)
Legends recount the tale of the princess who used to bathe in a scenic nook of the Khandepar River, a tributary of the Mandovi. After her bath, she would sit with her attendants, and drink a tumbler of sweetened milk. Once, on hearing voices in the woods, a prince stumbled upon the waterfall. To protect her modesty, the princess upturned the tumbler of milk and the water became milky and fell down as Dudhsagar (Ocean of Milk). The waterfall – India’s fifth highest – plummets 310 m off a lofty ridge bisected by a railway track and a scenic bridge!

Access: Trek from Braganza Ghat near Castle Rock while staying at Off the Grid Camp at Poppalwadi or Dudhsagar Resort at Mollem, 14km away

Jet Airways flies to Dabolim

Nohkalikai falls at Cherrapunjee

Nohkalikai (Meghalaya)
One of the most beautiful waterfalls in the Khasi Hills of Meghalaya, Nohkalikai drops from misty cliffs into an aquamarine pool. However, its natural beauty hides a sinister tale. In the village of Rangjirteh, from where the stream passes, there once lived a poor lady called Ka Likai. When she gave birth to a child, her husband passed away. In due course, she got married again. However, her new husband did not love the child and often got angry with Ka Likai for not taking proper care of him. One day when she was away to carry iron ore, he killed the child, cut the body into pieces and prepared a curry. He tossed the head and bones away but forgot to dispose the fingers he had hidden in the betelnut basket. When the lady returned and enquired about the child, the man said he had gone out to play and excused himself. She relished the rice and curry, thinking it to be meat from a sacrifice in the village. However when she reached for some betelnut, she stumbled upon the fingers. Letting out a terrible shriek, she grabbed her dao (machete), ran out and threw herself off the precipice. From that time, the waterfall was known as Noh Ka Likai or the Fall of Ka Likai.

Access: At Cherrapunjee, 60 km from Shillong; track the monsoon while staying at Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort

Jet Airways flies to Guwahati

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Irpu (Karnataka)
It is believed that in their conquest to Lanka, the brothers Rama and Lakshmana were crossing over the Brahmagiri Hills from Kodagu to Kerala. In a rare display of disobedience, Lakshmana felt a sudden surge of anger, returned his bow and arrows to his elder brother and stormed off. Oddly, the moment he stepped into Kodava land, his anger dissipated. Rama, walked up to Lakshmana, carrying a lump of earth from Kerala and explained that Kerala’s earth was Parashuram Kshetra, reclaimed by the sage after several bloody carnages against kshatriyas, and thus incited passions. Overcome by remorse, Lakshmana shot an arrow into the Brahmagiri mountain and threatened to fling himself into the flames that shot forth. Rama created the Lakshmana Teertha, extinguished the fire and blessed its waters with the power to absolve a person of his sins. Some believe it was Lakshmana’s tears of remorse that became the Lakshmana Teertha. Oddly, irpu in Sanskrit means ‘enemy’ – a place that made enemies even out of brothers. Even now, in Coorg when brothers fight, they ascribe it to this legend.

Access: A 5 min walk from the Irpu Rameshwara temple at the base of the Brahmagiri mountains in Coorg, stay at Ramcad Estate or other homestays

Jet Airways flies to Bangalore and Mangalore

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Bheem nadi (Uttarakhand)
After the Mahabharata war, the Pandavas renounced their kingdom and headed to the Himalayas to atone for all the bloodshed. At Dharali, the Pandavas took a bath in the river to remove the sin of hatya (murder) and thus the stream was called Hatyaharini. While going to Manasarovar, Bhima’s horse allegedly left its hoofmarks on a rock, which can be seen even today at Mukhwa. Locals believe that Bhima created a waterfall (Bhim nadi or Bhim Ganga) by shooting an arrow into the mountain to quench the thirst of the Pandavas. The niche where he supposedly rested a knee to take aim, still exists besides the image of a sleeping horse. Even today, cows and mules step into the same hoof prints while walking up the mountain. Village boys from Mukhwa often lead you to the jharna, where quartz stones, called moti patthar by the villagers due to their pearl colour, can be found around the waterfall.

Access: Stay at Leisure Hotels’ Char Dham Camp at Dharali and cross the bridge on the Ganga to Mukhwa, from where the waterfall is a short hike away.

Jet Airways flies to Delhi and Dehradun

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Courtallam/Kutralam (Tamil Nadu)
It is believed that after separating from his wife Kaveri, Sage Agastya headed further south and climbed the loftiest mountain to meditate. Named Agasthiyar Malai, it is from the hill’s lofty heights that the Chittar River dashes down through roots and herbs as Kutralam Falls. Tagged as the Natural Spa of the South, (or Kuttralam Courtallam) Falls is the collective name for a diverse cluster of nine waterfalls. Peraruvi (Main Falls) plummets from a height of 120ft with people of all ages jostling for a good shower. In what appears like a mega community bathroom, fully clothed women cluster to the right, the elderly and children stay to the left and oiled men of all shapes and sizes brave the full force of the central torrent. The gentler Chittaruvi Falls is close by. Spreading like the hood of a five-headed serpent is Aintharuvi (Five Falls) 5km from the Main Falls with a shrine dedicated to Ayyanar Shastha. Around 6.5km from the Main Falls is Pazhaya Courtallam (Old Falls) with the ancient Thirukoortalanatheeshwara (Lord of the Peaks) shrine at the foothills. The conch-shaped temple has a stunning Chitra Sabha (one of the famous Pancha Sabhas) with beautiful mural paintings and wood carvings housing a Nataraja deity. A mile-long trek from Main Falls up the mountain leads to Shenbaga Devi Falls, after a temple nearby. Puckle’s Path, named after the District Collector who laid it in the 1860s, leads to Thenaruvi  (Honey Falls), alluding to the honeycombs garlanding the overhanging rocks. Puliaruvi (Tiger Falls), once the watering hole of the big cats, has bathing ghats for pilgrims visiting the Pashupathi Shashta Temple. Pazhathota Aruvi (Fruit Garden Falls) near the Govt Horticulture Park above Five Falls is off-limits to the public. An hour’s drive from Courtallam past Shenkottai, Palaruvi (Milk Falls) plunges from the forests of Ariyankavu and offers a panoramic valley view. The best season is June to September and between November and January during north-eastern monsoons.

Access: Located 5km from Tenkasi, it’s 167km south-west of Madurai via NH-208 on the Tenkasi–Shenkottai Road in Tirunelveli District.

Jet Airways flies to Madurai

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Yapik (Arunachal)
As the high road plows deep into the folds of the mountain on the drive to Mechuka, a stunning waterfall makes every traveler stop and marvel. The wispy Yapik descends like a fairy. However, after a brief pit stop, our co-passengers urged us to hurry up. We wondered why. The oldest in the group explained, ‘Yapik is beautiful, but you must not overstay your welcome. After some time, red egg-shaped stones fall from above. And bad things happen!’ We did not stay long enough to find out…

Access: On the drive from Along to Mechuka while basing yourself at Nehnang Hotel (Private IB)

Jet Airways flies to Itanagar

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Thoseghar (Maharashtra)
During the course of their exile, Rama and Lakshmana are supposed to have drifted down from Nashik and Mumbai down the Sahyadris. As they came to Saputara or the region of seven hills, like Banganga, they shot an arrow and created a spring. The twin streams of the Thoseghar Falls are known as Ram and Lakshman, though locals also refer to them as Mota Dhabdaba (big fall), which plummets 250 m in wide tiers and Chhota Dhabdaba (small fall), the three-ribboned stream to the right. However, it is water collected from the surrounding range of mountains Mahabaleshwar, Yavateshwar, Kas and Panchgani that forms this cataract and the origin of the Tarlee River. Access to the waterfall in monsoons is tricky due to slippery rocks and force of the water. A board with a list of lives lost in drowning accidents serves as ample warning.

Access: Drive 26km from Satara on the Sajjangadh road; stay at Nivant Hill Resort, on Kas Plateau Road

Jet Airways flies to Mumbai and Pune

Bhagsu (Himachal)
As per local legend of the gaddis (shepherds), nearly 5000 years ago Vasuki, the King of Serpents, stole Lord Shiva’s miraculous bowl holding the water of immortality. Having incurred the Lord’s wrath, the snake god fled with the bowl, which turned upside down while escaping. Its contents were released and formed the waterfall while the spot itself was name after the serpent’s (nag) attempt to flee (bhaag) – as Bhagsunag. While the story may be more fable than fact, the naga connection is apparent. According to another lore, once the region of Alwar in Rajasthan was facing a severe drought. For the benefit of his people, the mystic king Bhagsu left his kingdom and wandered everywhere for a solution. On reaching the slopes of the Dhauladhar mountains, he chanced upon a magical spring owned by Nag devta. Seeing the serpent god away, the king stole a little water in his kamandala (water pot) and left. On returning to his abode, the Naga instantly sensed his water had been pilfered and knew who was the culprit. He chased the king and in the ensuing scuffle, the water spilled and created the waterfall. Bhagsu was shattered. On learning of his noble quest, the serpent blessed his kingdom with rain. He also decreed that the place would become a spot of pilgrimage and be named after the king…

Access: Just 2km from the Himalayan retreat of McLeodganj lies the temple of Bhagsu nag and a short 20 min walk leads to the scenic 30 ft cascade.

Jet Airways flies to Chandigarh and Amritsar

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Athirapally (Kerala)
Perhaps no waterfall in India has been depicted in films as much as Athirapally. Kerala’s biggest fall has served as a backdrop for several songs in Tamil, Malayalam and Hindi cinema. A major portion of 1986 Tamil movie Punnagai Mannan, starring Kamal Hassan and Revathi was based and shot near the falls, leading to its popular nickname as Punnagai Mannan Falls. But the waterfall might as well have been named Mani Ratnam Falls, whose love for the location made him cast it not once, but again and again. It featured in his 1997 film Iruvar starring Mohanlal and Aishwarya Rai, the 1998 film Dil Se with Shahrukh Khan and Manisha Koirala, the 2007 Guru with Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai and then again in 2010 in Raavan (Raavanan in Tamil). Such is Athirapally’s popularity that nearly 7 million tourists visit the falls and nearby Vazhachal annually.

Access: 30 km from Chalakudi, 55km from Kochi Airport and 58km from Thrissur. Stay at Rainforest Athirapally with waterfall views from every room.

Jet Airways flies to Cochin, Kozhikode and Coimbatore

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article was the cover story for the July 2014 issue of JetWings International magazine.