Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Essential Andaman in 8 night / 9 days - Detailed Travelogue - Day II

Day 2 - 18th Jan

It was our second day at Port Blair. It was planned to make a trip to North Bay Island (water borne and Under water activities) and Viper Island Where freedom fighters of first war of independence were jailed by British.

Starting at about 0800 we all, in our best of travel cloths, reached the Water Sports Jetty to take a boat for this trip. Water sports jetty is where the morning activity of  boats going to North Bay, Ross and viper islands. As we reached the jetty, the diving companies approached us claiming that we have to book our activities particularly diving here it self. I did book a fun dive. It is a different story that there is no need to pre book any activity. All of these people have their set up at North Bay and everything can be booked there (and may be at better bargain depending on the customer base for the day)

Clear Water  Sea Urchins can be seen from Jetty

Water Sports Jetty

A View of Public Garden from Water Sports Jetty at Port Blair
It was a rainy morning. It was drizzling off and on. Weather was heavy and we were worried about sea state while travelling by boat. However, by the time we sat in the boat, weather had improved a bit. Taking 0830 boat which started little late we reached North Bay in about 40 minutes. As the boat approached the jetty (temporary one made from floating plastic blocks) the sales man landed up on the boat. The introduction given by him about the underwater activities that you can do there was good but he was primarily selling the Russian Glass Bottom boat and Semi Submarine rides (each costing 1850 and 1800 per person respectively). Our views about the activities here are coming up later in this post.

North Bay appeared to be a beautiful island whose small beach area was utilized for various activities. There were centers of various water sport organization on the beach. Apart from them there were places to eat and also toilets were available for ladies and gents. Also available was fresh water at per bucket rate (I think Rs 10 per bucket) for taking fresh water bath post a dip in the sea.

We went for Russian boat ride. This boat has a big under water kens fitted for viewing the marine life under water. It is a high speed boat which moves out at slower speed for better viewing and comes back at high speed to give high speed boat ride thrill to passengers. The boat also had a guide to tell us about various underwater fishes and corals.

We also wanted to take a semi  submarine ride but after talking to fellow passengers we dropped that plan as they did not recommend it. Thereafter I went off for fun diving. In this the instructor gives you the briefing about signage  during diving ( hand signals). There after he straps on the oxygen cylinder, put on the eye mask and mouth pipe on you and makes you practice the breathing using the oxygen tank.

Once the practice is over you are taken underwater. Unlike regular diving where it is essential to know how to swim, in the fun dive all you have to do is breath properly using oxygen from the mouth piece and see the underwater world. The diver accompanying you is the one swimming and also carrying you along. It is thus a very safe and enjoyable activity. My fun dive along with underwater video that they take and underwater photos (both given to you later in the day) lasted for an hour.

Diving Dry Practise
Me Underwater

Wow Experoence

Beaming after successful Dive

People going for Snorkling

Divers in Foreground and Snorkelers in the back ground
Balance group did not go for snorkeling or regular glass bottom boat / sea walk. They had fun soaking in water and photography. The water in Andamans is not as saline as it is on the west coast. I did not feel too much salt deposits on the body and consequently a need to take a fresh water bath.

After having something to eat and a cup of tea we took the return boat which was to take us to Viper island and then back to Port Blair. Boat ride to Viper took another 40 minutes or so.

Viper was the  earliest penal settlement created with two hundred of our soldiers who fought against British in first war of independence in 1857. Since the ship that brought them here was called Viper, the island was named after it. At that time it had separate jails for men and women. The inmates were regularly taken to Ross island to build the settlement for British.

Viper now has only a Gallows Room on a hillock, a impressive red coloured building beautifully constructed but used for hanging people. This is where some very famous people / freedom fighters were hanged by British. Most other old structures are now nonexistent. Major damage to them was caused by 2004 tsunami. It is a place that makes one emotional.
Details of Fansi Ghar

Fansi Ghar, Beautiful Building and Shedy Past

Beam used for Hanging of 1857 warriors 

So Called Kachahari or Court (kangaroo Court)
We returned to Port Blair through Marine Jetty. Rest of the day was spent in a small trip to Aberdeen bazaar and dinner etc.

As for under water sports are concerned, we did not find the Russian glass water boat worth its cost of Rs 1850 per person. The semi submarine ride also is hyped at Rs 1800 per person. Other activities can be done but then too we felt that they are better done at Havelock or Neil islands.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Hello from Meghalaya and Assam Installment VI

Sixth Day

It was a important day for me and our two children. Today while my wife and mother was to take it easy and rest in the morning session  we have been making them travel relentlessly for last few days) while we three were to go for one of the toughest trek to Living Double Root Bridge at Nongriat village. The toughness can be gauged by the mere fact that it takes over 3500 stairs up and down one way, the altitude loss / gain is of 500 m and the walk is about 3 km on the across a number of hills. In this trek one sees the longest single root bridge and crosses two wire rope bridges and a single root bridge before reaching Nongriat village.

The sun in the hills is very strong and irritating in the hills of Meghalaya. That was also our primary worry. As such we prefer to start early, we decided to start from the resort at 0500 in our car to be dropped at Tryna village, the base for the trek. However, we could actually be dropped at 0530 as the guide that was committed to come to the hotel did not turn up. Cherapunjee Holiday resort was kind enough to give us Cheese Sandwiches, apple and banana as packed breakfast with a bottle of packaged water.

  Our trek started at 0540 after getting a guide at the parking (for Rs 600). Initially it was a village road, mostly plane. Then came a downhill walk over comfortable stairs. Next came a steep downward descent of over 70 degree gradient. The stairs were laughing at us saying, “feel happy while going down, don’t forget we are going to meet you on your return trip going up and make you cry”. After we finished this set of steep downward stairs, it was time to visit the longest single root bridge. Which is a small detour from the route to Double Decker Root Bridge.

Longest single root bridge was almost V shaped and narrow to walk. We enjoyed a trip on it across the stream. It was also interesting to see another single root bridge which has been completed but the roots are yet to become strong for it to be used as a bridge.

After this visit we resumed our walk to our objective. The route took us to two wire stay bridges over turquoise green rivulets. We also crossed a small but very sturdy single root bridge and soon after many up and down climbs / descents reached the Nongriat village at about 0700 hrs.

Emerald Green Water down the Steel wire bridge

Walking on Steel Wire bridge is Tricky but safe
Way down  from The Nongriat village 

A Small but Beautiful Water Fall feeding the River under Double Root Bridge
It is a small village with very basic facilities. There are few home stays here where it is possible to stay amid the locals but be mindful that the facilities are just basic. Things like tea, noodles, etc are available in few shops that exist there. There is a very small entry fee and camera fee. As we were early visitors (rest people that we met here were all staying over at the home stays, there was none to give us tickets (one lady did come later and gave us tickets).

It was just a wow scene to look at Double Decker root bridge. Some people have worked for generations weaving the roots of a single rubber tree at two levels and created a root bridge having not one but two carriageways on two bridges one over the other.  Welcoming us also was a small waterfall with its sparkling clean and cold water. This water fall feeds the small river that flows under this bridge. The fall was very inviting and we did have a plan to take a dip but that had to wait for our photography session to finish.
Double Root Bridge

Double Root Bridge as Seen from its entry

Crossing the Double Root Bridge
The bridge was photographed from various angles taking in to account morning time and the position of the sun. Then we just could not wait and soon we were enjoying a dip in clean, cold water of the fall. After thoroughly enjoying the dip and changing, it was breakfast time. The packed breakfast was testy and adequate. Post breakfast we had a cup of tea in a nearby shop and then our return trip started at 0810 hrs.

Return trip was smooth but when sheer vertical stairs came, climbing up hill became tough and we had to take frequent breaks after about 30 to 40 steps (I remember taking breaks few times after 50 steps also). We felt out progress is slow but we pressed on completing our trek at 1000 hrs. As it stood, we took just 4 hrs and 40 minutes, that too after spending over an hour at the bridge. The determination that we showed and the times we achieved impressed our guide too. He gave us oral certificate of having very good fitness. Since we returned at 1000 hrs which is the usual time for most people to start the trek hence he had a chance of getting one more trip as guide.

With Our Guide post the Trip
Yeh, We did it. Leaving for Cherrapunjee Resort post Trip

We returned to Chera Holiday resort post this trip. After a quick fresh up we checked out and started our trip to Cherapunji Sights. Cherapunji has some of the great waterfalls but sadly they are most active during Monsoons and had little water post Monsoon. The seven sisters waterfall was at this time just one or two narrow streams. But the scenic beauty  of the surrounding areas is worth visit.

 The Mawsmai lime Stone cave has a very narrow entrance where we were told that one has to crawl to get into the cave which was not possible for some members of our family. We dropped the plan to go to these caves and decided instead to go to Arwah Caves having with wide open entry. These caves are situated off the route of return trip to Shillong. However, we did go to the road leading to Mawsami caves for a different reason.

The reason was, since we changed our plan and dropper Jowai trip in Jantiya hills in southern Meghalaya, famous for multiple monoliths mounted in memory of dead worriers or persons (vertical for man and horizontal for woman) or to commemorate some major victory or event, we had to compensate. The nearest Monoliths are present at beginning of the road leading to Mawsami caves.

We visited a small set of Monoliths, both horizontal and vertical, tall and not so tall, crowned (signifying memory of a king) and uncrowned. They are inside two enclosures either side of the road and they are well preserved. A visit is must if Jowai is not part of itinerary to get a glimpse of Jantiya culture. 

Monoliths enroute to Mawsmai caves

Shreya in Front of a Male Monolith
Next was a visit to a 1846 built first Presbyterian Church at this place. It is nice, clean and peaceful place showing the length of missionary activity in Meghalaya.

Nohkalikai falls, one of the perennial falls of this place was the next in our visit. Noh-ka-likai means Jump of Ms Likai. There is tragic story associated with this fall and I will leave that story for every one to find when they visit this place. Needless to say that this story has given rise to many poems, etc in local language. Another important information is tallest plunge water fall at a fall of 340 meters though from the view point made for this fall it does not feel so but if the fall is viewed from the beautiful pond that has got generated (due to this falls) the extent would be evident.

By this time we were famished and we headed to Orange Roots Restaurant, one of the few pure veg places at Cherapunji. This was not purely for the love of veg food but for the reputation of the place. We had lunch there and then started off for Arwah caves.

Arwah also are old cave but has been opened to public with a regular walking path few years ago. Earlier a rugged path was available but the new path has made visiting the cave easy for everyone. It is a beautiful lime stone cave with standing walk in entrance and also standing and walking viewing of cave. The cave is long (may be a few km) but only about 150 m is open to visitors. This area is well illuminated. It was a different experience like never before.
Entrance to Arwah Lime Stone caves

Inside View

Post this visit, it was straight way back to Shillong. The usual routine of dinner and then sleep followed.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Hello from Meghalaya and Assam Installment V

Fifth Day - 31 Oct 16

Leaving reasonably early we proceeded to Dwaki Lake which is part of Umngot river flowing from India to Bangladesh. Area under old british time Dawaki bridge (a old belly built by british around 1930 on a road leading to Bangladesh over) which is  part of the main river is  called Dwaki Lake (one of the deep section of the Umngot river). The journey to Dwaki is a long one on a dusty road which was being repaired) but the rewards are also commensurate.
View of the Valley during drive

Belly Bridge at Dwaki

Another view of the bridge

Dwaki lake is not just beautiful but mesmerizing. It is very rare to see turquoise green water in a lake on a flowing river. It is worth a visit though it is about 80 km from Shillong. Boating in the lake would be a wonderful experience but because of too strong a sun, we dropped the plan. 
A bost man in Dwaki Lake

Placid water. Note the reflections

Close up

See even the rocks reflect in the water

However, we enjoyed another facet of this place. Just after Dwaki, the river splits in to two branches. Both flow into Bangladesh but the left branch is interesting, in that, there is a sandbar after the lake on this branch whose leading edge is the boundary between India and Bangladesh. We saw many tourist on the sand bar and were surprised that they were all not Indian but Bangladeshi citizens.
Children on the bank (Indian Area)

See the Bangladeshi Citizens at Sand Bar

Crystal Clear waters

Sand Bar and river flowing into Bangladesh (leftwards)

Enjoying the Dawki and the peculiarities of Umngot river we started off for Living Single Root Bridge at Revai village enroute to Mawlynnong village. This visit was important as my mom and wife were not undertaking Double Root Bridge the next day and this was their opportunity to see a Living Root Bridge.

Living root bridges are a testimony to the wisdom and ingenuity of the generations of local tribes (making one bridge could take 100 years or more. It is task carried out by generations of people of a village or locality). It is also a marvel of an idea and an unbelievable sight. Even 50 or more people can cross these bridges at a time.

 It is a downhill trip by walk from the parking area. As we reached the parking and were about to get down, it started pouring. We waited for some time but then decided to take umbrellas and start our trip. This exercise brought another important input that umbrella can be hired at the parking, which we did as we were short of one. To reach that bridge one has to trek to the bridge by going down may be 500 stairs or more.

First Look
The pain of taking such big number of irregular stairs gets compensated by the sight of a marvel of the bio engineering created by the tribes of this remote area. Who must have thought that roots of a tree can be woven to make a strong bridge across a river? No building material, no foundation, no supporting columns, nothing, just the Strong supporting trunk  of the Indian Rubber Tree and its roots across the stream. It is a testimony of human ingenuity and patience and efforts of generations to weave the roots into a bridge, hanging across the river. If it is not a wonder, what else can be?

Another Angle

See the bridge, go across it, go to the stream flowing under it, photograph it, enjoy the setting, there is so much one can do. Double Decker living root bridge at Nongriat village which is about  three KM of tough trek from Tyrna village (off Cherapunji) is not every body’s cup of tea but visiting Rivai Single Root Bridge is possible for every one, except old and infirm (by that standard, by god's grace, my 80 yr old mom does not qualify to be old). My sincere request to visitors to Meghalaya is, at least visit Single Living root bridge.

River flowing down from bridge

Bridge up close
After Revai single root bridge (please wait for next natural wonder called Double root bridge which will be in the next part) we went to Mawlynnong village, which got its fame because of getting called cleanest village in Asia from visiting Christian Missionaries. Let me tell my readers that this village has acquired a reputation and has become tourist attraction but the fact is, every village in Meghalaya is either as clean as this village or may be a shade less.

We went to the village square which also is the parking spot for tourist vehicles. This is the place which has all the eateries of this village. After having a quick lunch we took a round of this village which is no doubt a very clean place. With the tourist inflow, there are many home stays now available in the village.
Children at Play

Take Rest during the visit. Benches are available

It is indeed clean
Post this village, it was a trip to Cherapunji Holiday Resort, a resort about 15 km beyond Cherapunji (or Sohara, as the place is better known in Meghalaya) and 5 km beyond Tyrna from where the trek to Double Root Bridge starts. We reached there by 1830 by which time it was pitch dark and even the resort people started asking the driver on mobile as to why we have still not reached.

After reaching there we were welcomed with a glass of water and a good hot cup of tea. In the lobby cum dinning hall a local troupe was singing local and western numbers we enjoyed their music. Post music session we had our dinner and retired to our bed.