A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about forest

Climbing 6000 Stairs

First trip into Meghalaya in the Northeast of India

semi-overcast 28 °C

Sunset over the Khasi Hills, from Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort

Sunset over the Khasi Hills, from Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort

Cherrapunji

The Khasi Hills near Cherrapunji (Sohra in the local language) in the northeast state of Meghalaya are a wonder! Meghalaya means “the abode of the clouds,” and is estimated to have just over three million people at latest count, with over 70% of the state covered in forest.

We arrived after a seven-hour drive from Kaziranga to the Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort just before sunset. For most of the journey, the drive is quite lovely as it takes you through tea gardens and villages on the way back to Guwahati, and then off through the winding roadway via Shillong to Cherrapunji. Shillong is a major holiday destination for Indians, but on this quick drive-through, I didn’t feel the need to return. Still, tis called the Scotland of India for some reason, so never say never!

Man-made lake on the way to Shillong - called Barapani (big water!)  We stopped for a photo-op, but I ended up be the photo-op, so exit... stage left...

Man-made lake on the way to Shillong - called Barapani (big water!) We stopped for a photo-op, but I ended up be the photo-op, so exit... stage left...

The first thing we noticed at Meghalaya’s main border crossing, next-door to Assam’s city of Guwahati, was ramshackle shop after shop selling alcohol. The state of Meghalaya has a very low tax on its alcohol, which was perhaps an early indication of how wonderful the state would prove to be? You can imagine the Assamese Wine Shops are not the most prosperous!

The highway, most of which was under construction, is the main artery between the states. We were definitely in the minority in our little car, surrounded by big, decorated trucks transporting goods to and from the region as we traversed the winding narrow road cut into the hills. Agriculture is the main industry here, though we also passed coal mining areas. The state is purported to be quite rich in minerals, which doesn’t bode well for that 70% forests I’m thinking. According to many agri-science-folk, this region may be the origin site for domesticated rice farming! Huge history, going all the way back to Neolithic (12-8,000 years ago) human settlements.

The road was filled with transport trucks and a few industrious auto-rickshaws!

The road was filled with transport trucks and a few industrious auto-rickshaws!


Taste of our landscape as we enter the hills.

Taste of our landscape as we enter the hills.

After checking in to the wonderful Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort, we watched the sunset over the Khasi hills and valleys, with the twinkling lights of Bangladesh laid out below. This hotel is lovely, simple, and superbly run. There are two buildings housing the resort’s rooms. The newer building’s Executive Rooms, a stone’s throw from the main structure, are more spacious and more expensive. The standard and deluxe options are in the main building and their doors all open onto the central, circular dining room, which would be great for groups and large families.

Most of the staff were women, which might be why it ran so well! A true family business, with helpful and attentive staff. Owned by a husband (Denis) and wife team, we spent the most time with Denis, who was very informative and passionate about the region, in perhaps the way only people from ‘away’ can be. Although his wife is from the region, Denis is from Tamil Nadu – about as far away as is possible to come from in India. Happy to arrange drivers, guides, maps, anything you might want, without charging extra. A true friend of the communities around the resort, working hard to have the success of their establishment translate into prosperity for the peoples.

They have created a truly unique place here in the clouds. Happy to share and have their guests share their experiences to enhance future guest experiences. Makes you feel a bit a part of the place, even when stopping for only a few nights. There is no shortage of outdoor adventures to have and a lot of resources to help point you in the right direction. Birding, hiking, camping, rafting, and exploring; or just sitting in one of the many concrete gazeboes around the grounds, or a short hike away overlooking the valleys. Something for all fitness levels. You really have to try very hard not to absorb some of the place’s magic.

Oh yeah, the food here is lovely, local, homely, and affordable! Ask for some of the local dishes, the staff was happy to set us up with their favourites. Wouldn’t stay anywhere else in these hills.

Nice old jalopy on one of our walks.

Nice old jalopy on one of our walks.


Wonderfully dressed up children in Nongwar Village

Wonderfully dressed up children in Nongwar Village


The loudest cicadas I've ever heard live here!  Seriously!  Way louder than any other place and finally got a glimpse of them... far, far away...

The loudest cicadas I've ever heard live here! Seriously! Way louder than any other place and finally got a glimpse of them... far, far away...

There are many interesting unique aspects to this region and the first to strike us was that virtually the entire staff at the resort were women. After remarking on it, we learned the Khasi’s are a matrilineal society, and while not exclusively matriarchal, Khasi women have a lot of personal power. Inheritance is to the youngest female in the family, and all family members take the mother’s surname. When the ‘heiress’ agrees to marry, the husband comes to live with the bride’s family. If the bride is not the inheritor in the family, the young couple can set up their own household. Marriages are not arranged and divorce is not at all difficult nor a particularly shameful occurrence.

We had three nights here and it didn’t rain once, even though Cherrapunji is oft named the Rainiest Place on Earth (a neighbouring locale has taken the honor the last couple of years). Nice really in the long run, because our hikes didn’t encounter the dread leech, which during the rainy season would be an inevitability. They’re not dangerous, just annoying so don’t let them scare you away!

The first few days we spent hiking through trails and villages to various vantage points on the ridge trying, often in vain, to glimpse the birds we could hear all around us. The people have hunted the area quite extensively so there isn’t much for wildlife and those we spotted were very shy. Fun challenge! When you walk through these forests or overlook the valleys below, you can’t help but feel the otherworldliness of the area. Enhanced by the many local legends, which of course Denis and family had compiled for our reading pleasure!

large_BlogPhotoC..tionCherra5.jpg

Another interesting sight was the number of churches in the area. Predominantly Christian we learned Welsh missionaries came to the region in the 1800s bringing their beliefs with them. Though I’m not personally a fan of evangelicalism, perhaps this was not an unwelcome change.

Passing through a coal-producing area, neighbouring a cemetery

Passing through a coal-producing area, neighbouring a cemetery

Legend of the Thlen

In the area by the nearby Daiñthlen waterfall (thlen is Khasi for Python), legend has it there was a large, evil Thlen that would devour half the people who passed through. When the people decided they’d had enough, they managed to trick the Thlen into swallowing a red hot iron ball, killing it. To stop it from coming back, they ate its flesh, but… and there’s always a but… one old woman kept a piece for her traveling son’s return, but forgot!! Uh oh… and the Thlen came back. It resided with the family and would change forms to all manner of critters demanding Khasi blood! This family became the first Thlen Keeper and had to provide Khasi blood to the Thlen whenever it required, or they would suffer great misfortune. The cult of the Nongshohnoh (meaning beater) was begun. The Nongshohnoh, would perform a ritual, get drunk, take his club and go searching for a victim on deserted paths. After clubbing the sacrifice to death they were ritually disfigured and blood collected in a bamboo vessel for the Thlen.

Historically, the Khasi’s were known to practice this snake worship and offer human sacrifices to it. After some time, the majority of the people decided to give up this practice, though there continued a few families who went underground to continue to follow the old ways… there’s always someone! Then the practice started to slowly spread again until the mid-19th century with the start of Christianity in the hills.

Every once and a while, the superstitions reappear and make the news, though it seems to be more often a case of killing suspected Nongshohnohs. A version of Salem’s Witch trials with similar mortal results for the hapless individuals caught by the mob. Long-held cultural and traditional beliefs are so complex and so hard to leave behind no matter where you are in the world.

Not a dragon, but, a wonderful dragonfly in the forest.  Its intricate wings my inspiration for one of this year's fabrics, becoming a butterfly top for Cheeky Monkey by LiSa.

Not a dragon, but, a wonderful dragonfly in the forest. Its intricate wings my inspiration for one of this year's fabrics, becoming a butterfly top for Cheeky Monkey by LiSa.

Living Root Bridges

The Living Root Bridges only recently become known to the world outside this region and are one of the most spectacular engineered wonders I have ever seen.

The Khasi people made use of the ficus elastica tree’s incredible abilities to survive by rooting strongly in water, on rocks, and on sandy soil. In a region where the intense rain and resulting engorged rivers quickly rot any wooden structure or wear away stone and concrete, the use of this tree was ingenious.

The method takes upward of 20 years to complete but lasts hundreds of years. The first step is to select and hollow out betel tree trunks, which are then placed across the river allowing the ficus’ secondary aerial roots to be trained and constrained across the river. Once they reach, the roots are allowed to grow into the bank and rocks. As the root system grows in, flat rocks are placed in any holes along the floor of the bridge, which the tree then wraps around and ‘cements’ into place. Side rail roots are trained to complete the structure. These bridges have spanned rivers over 100ft in length, can support 50 people at a time, and have been purported to last 500 years!

Umshiang Bridge

Umshiang Bridge

We spent the first few days working up the courage to take on the trek to see the Living Root Bridges, far down in the valley below us. I knew I wanted to see them but having read more than a few accounts of the rather grueling trek was very uncertain cause y’all know I haven't been the most fitness-centric person in a while. Denis, however, was so encouraging, that we finally decided to do it. He said it was simply a case of your mind. If you believe it, you can do it. He set us up with walking sticks (very helpful along some of the steeper, more uneven passages) and young local guide, and set us off on the journey early enough to allow us to return before dusk, which we did… barely.

To see these bridges, in particular the Umshiang Bridge, commonly dubbed the ‘Double Decker’ bridge, requires a 10 kilometre hike, starting from the village of Tyrna. The first section is down 2004 quite steep concrete steps (per the count made by Timothy Allen of the Human Planet) to the village of Nong Thymai, then over two suspension bridges, a smaller living root bridge, and another 1000 stone steps leading the way across the valley, over a (relatively) small hill, and part-way up the opposite side of the valley to the village of Nongriat. Not too bad I suppose, but, then you have to come back! There’s a small, basic guest house set up in the valley near Nongriat. Would be a great place to base more explorations down in the valley.

Near the town of Tyrna at the start of our trek

Near the town of Tyrna at the start of our trek

We set off at 9 am, electing to be driven to and from Tyrna, and reached the top of those bloody concrete steps about 5 pm. You can walk from the resort along an easy sloping road, which adds another 10 kilometres round trip. There was a wonderful and welcome surprise enroute; a water pipe system runs down the stairs and through the villages with many tap stations along the way. It’s above ground so the water was pretty warm as the day progressed, but, you can drink it!! Straight from the tap with nary a problem. Was an essential bonus since there was no way I could have carried enough water and returned home to write this blog!

More Steps!

More Steps!


Arriving at the bottom of the 2004 steep concrete steps and the town of Nong Thymai

Arriving at the bottom of the 2004 steep concrete steps and the town of Nong Thymai


Drying pepper in Nong Thymai at the bottom of The Stairs

Drying pepper in Nong Thymai at the bottom of The Stairs


Nice bit of shade where we stopped for lunch.

Nice bit of shade where we stopped for lunch.


My patient companions crossing the Simtung River on the 1st of 2 suspension bridges.

My patient companions crossing the Simtung River on the 1st of 2 suspension bridges.


An old, partial living root bridge upstream from the first wire bridge.

An old, partial living root bridge upstream from the first wire bridge.


The non-concrete stairs!  Called the King's Way and part of the vast betel-nut trading routes that run through the valley between villages.

The non-concrete stairs! Called the King's Way and part of the vast betel-nut trading routes that run through the valley between villages.


Wire bridge number two across the Umkynsan River

Wire bridge number two across the Umkynsan River


Crossing the 2nd wire bridge

Crossing the 2nd wire bridge


Wonder if the boulders disappear during the rainy season?

Wonder if the boulders disappear during the rainy season?


Wonderful streams and valleys, must be spectacular during the Monsoon!

Wonderful streams and valleys, must be spectacular during the Monsoon!


Crossing our first Living Root Bridge, just before Nongriat

Crossing our first Living Root Bridge, just before Nongriat


Stones laid down and 'absorbed' by the tree to create a super solid path.

Stones laid down and 'absorbed' by the tree to create a super solid path.


Children playing in the crystal clear water by the Double Decker Bridge

Children playing in the crystal clear water by the Double Decker Bridge


Looking across the bottom level of the Double Decker bridge

Looking across the bottom level of the Double Decker bridge


I felt quite tired, but surprisingly not overly given the exertion of the day. I’d managed to make it up the final 2004 stairs by focusing on taking 25 at a time, and briefly stopping, counting off my progress in my head. ½ way there… ¾ there… 100 more to go… Phew! The lovely Khasi villagers, who of course make this trek often, would often stop to smile at the red-faced foreigner and commiserate kindly. Lovely people.

The real fun came later... I have never had such sore muscles in my life! Both of us were hobbling along in a pretty amusing way. Following any similar experience with sore muscles, I reassuringly and assuredly stated, no worries, will be worse tomorrow, but then we’ll feel fine! Uh uh! Took a week to be able to get off the toilet without crying! What? Too much info?

Villagers picking bay leaves by the stairs on the way back up from the valley.

Villagers picking bay leaves by the stairs on the way back up from the valley.


Another winged lovely in the forest

Another winged lovely in the forest


Got quite a few amused looks as I huffed and puffed my way along.  Lovely people the Khasi folk.  Very friendly and engaging.

Got quite a few amused looks as I huffed and puffed my way along. Lovely people the Khasi folk. Very friendly and engaging.

We met a couple arriving as we got to our car. They were about to start the trek down. We warned them against it, as they were not very athletically inclined and suggested perhaps they might want to go the next morning. Not sure if they followed our advice… they didn’t look like they believed us.

Beauty in Beauty

Beauty in Beauty


Back at the top again... wasn't sure I'd make it!

Back at the top again... wasn't sure I'd make it!

I’d like to close this portion by saying… DO IT! This is a superb place to visit. It left me wanting more, and to be more fit and able to see more, more easily. As long as you’re otherwise healthy, just take your time and don’t sit down along the way or it might be a bit tough to get started again. The day is long but there are beautiful streams and pools to cool off in at the bottom, so bring/wear a bathing suit. If you have bad knees, there is another trek that is much shorter and without the many stairs to another smaller but beautiful bridge from the resort.

Yep! We really did make it down there!

Yep! We really did make it down there!

This small state is so different from the India most people in the west hear about. It leaves me very curious about the other northeast tribal states often referred to as the Seven Sister States. They are – Assam and Meghalaya (which I’ve now visited), Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Tripura. Travel to the latter five (except Tripura) long required additional entry permits, though as of this blog, with the exception of AP, foreign tourists apparently no longer need to get permits but must register within 24 hours of entering the state. This currently applies to most, but not all foreign nationalities, and like many bureaucratic issues in India and the bordering issues with China, can change daily, so make sure you check before planning.

Peering through the tangle of ficus roots

Peering through the tangle of ficus roots

Posted by LisaOnTheRoad 12:18 Archived in India Tagged wildlife hiking forest meghalaya cherrapunji cherrapunjee khasi living_root_bridges khasi_hills root_bridges living_bridges Comments (1)

Fun in Delhi and Rajasthan

...and the sari stayed on!

sunny 30 °C
View India ~ 2010 Part B on LisaOnTheRoad's travel map.

India2010B..10_0034.jpg
Back in Incredible India! This is my 4th trip in 2 years and it's a very different visit for me, being shorter and more socially-driven. With sightseeing not being a focus, I’m finding it a very relaxed trip so far.

I arrived ridiculously late on the 19th of October with a mission. Find the perfect sari for the Canadian High Commission’s biggest social event of the year – the Thanksgiving Ball. This would be my first attempt at wearing the fantastically beautiful garment that Indian women wear so easily and gracefully throughout the country. While men in India have largely adopted western attire, many women still wear the sari. Tied in different ways depending on regional areas and traditions, and made of a variety of fabrics and colours. Sparkled, painted, patterned and plain, the women add an incredible array of colour to the landscape in India. Whether walking the streets of the bustling cities and markets, working on the roads, construction sites, fields or home, it is done with incredible grace and beauty in the sari.

So... all of you who know me, can understand my nervousness at doing the same – grace and beauty not being the first 2 adjectives that come to mind! Still, I don’t often let fear stop me from trying something new. So, off to Sarojini Nagar to shop with Sabrina, my friend Lynn’s housekeeper. This sped things up considerably, since she was able to quickly tell if the shop didn’t have the very specific colour I had in mind and I didn’t have to spend 20 minutes as shopkeepers pulled out every colour and fabric type completely opposite to my requests, all the while nodding and assuring me they did indeed have that colour/fabric… “one moment madame”... before ultimately throwing their hands up in frustration at the foreigner who quite obviously didn’t know how to pick the right colour/fabric for the sari she wanted to wear.

So that was Wednesday. Thursday saw me heading to SouthEx and Ahujason’s to pick up a shawl for cooler Rajasthan nights, as I was heading to the parks on the following Monday. Then the embassy to get my guest pass set up and of course Hanuman Mandir, to my favourite bangle stall, to get the bangles to complete the ball outfit. After a Friday at the spa, a stop at Mr. Mogha’s in the Meridien to pick up some suitably sparkly rings, Lynn and I were off to a pre-Diwali party hosted by an embassy client.

On Saturday, we went to DLF mall and the Inglot store to have our make up done. As someone who prefers a more natural look with make-up (read too lazy to deal with cosmetics), I was a bit leary but figured I could always wash it off and start again. I was in luck – the young man who worked on me was an artist! Using colours I never would have picked in a million years. I think that I must keep him with me wherever I go from now on, the results were almost unrecognizable.

Wrapping a sari seems so complicated and precise, but the lady who came by to wrap us made it seem so simple and I was bundled up in a matter of minutes. Panic started to set in tho when I realized that she put in only 2 safety pins – one at the shoulder and one to keep the front pleats together. I kept asking if I should put more pins in, like every inch or so, only to be reassured that it wasn’t necessary! Oh boy!

Lynn, Remy, Vrinda and me

Lynn, Remy, Vrinda and me


All done up and off to the High Commissioner’s house, where the ball is hosted. So beautiful! The tables were set up throughout the garden, fairy lights strung through the trees, the air warm and sultry. And to top it all off, a full moon pushed valiantly through the Delhi smog to add a glow to the glittering guests. Of course, a complete turkey dinner crowned the evening. We danced and laughed till 1, then moved to the Taj’s nightclub and finally a house party in Vasant Vihar. Back home at 5am, feet a tad sore, but sari still securely on! Major mishaps avoided and what a fantastic night.

large_BharatpurLake.jpg
Sunday was spent doing absolutely nothing, resting up before heading out on Monday for a wildlife fix. This time of year starts off a bird migration period in India, so I was excited to visit the UNESCO park, Keoladeo Ghana National Park. Had a comical drive from Delhi, with a driver who couldn’t seem to go anywhere without getting lost, even with specific instructions. He had a seemingly uncontrollable urge to take “short-cuts”, whether he’d done it before or not/ whether it was shorter or not/ and whether it was even heading in the right direction or not. Funny… after the fact!

Painted Storks greeting each other

Painted Storks greeting each other


We stayed at a wonderful lodge, run by a highly respected Indian birder, The Bagh. It was set in a 4-hectare former royal orchard and was so lush and filled with trees that you often couldn’t see beyond the next building. The naturalist provided by the lodge, Mr. Rajveer Singh, was similarily exceptional.

Cool looking bug eating fruit in the park

Cool looking bug eating fruit in the park


I love the wilder areas of India, and look forward to exploring them, but in most cases, the naturalists are not of a dependably high calibre. So, I decided to hedge my bets and try something new – I hired my own naturalist/guide for this trip. It made such a difference. Rajveer was unexpectedly great, but Sarkiska guides were what I have come to expect. Mr. CV Singh, from Udaipur, is one of only 2 exceptional naturalists I’ve been lucky enought to travel with in my many park visits within India. Luckily for me he began private guiding this year and he immeasurably improved my experience on this trip. In addition to the wildlife aspect, I was able to experience places, foods and insights that I would have completely missed out on without his wonderful company. Helped with our direction-challenged driver too! He was similarily impressed with Rajveer, which says a lot more than my good opinion.
Monitor Lizard

Monitor Lizard

Dragonfly.jpg
Keoladeo is a relatively small 29 sq km sanctuary made from diverted water by a former Maharaja’s desire to have a ready hunting ground. There is a plaque in the park, which highlights the shooting successes of that bygone time. For a duck, not so much a success. One listing, in November 1938 saw over 4000 ducks shot in a single day.
Green Bee-eaters

Green Bee-eaters

Little Egret

Little Egret


The area constantly battles to gain access to water these days, which needs to be diverted from a nearby dam. Competition from local farmers and villagers and the highly unpredictable monsoon rains make the park’s water levels virtually non-existant some years, putting the UNESCO designation at risk. Luckily this year the park has water and was lush and green, but the last few years has seen the park dry, which has greatly damaged this important bird breeding ground.
Painted Stork

Painted Stork

Indian Pond Heron

Indian Pond Heron


With no motorized vehicles allowed in Kaleodeo, we actually got to walk most of the time, which was such a treat! Can also rent bikes to explore. How wonderful to walk through your safaris. The big excitement in the park while we were there was the tiger! Yep, you heard right! A tiger had wandered over from Ranthambore national park and settled into one of the areas. Must have seemed like paradise to him – loads of deer and antelope, and no other competition! It really was all everyone could talk about. At one point, CV planted some pugmarks on the side of a path to add to the excitement. I knew that’s how those pugmarks got there in all those parks I visited without seeing a tiger! Hah!
Brown Fish Owl far off in the trees.

Brown Fish Owl far off in the trees.

Soft Shell Turtles

Soft Shell Turtles


So a wonderful 2 days in this park, with loads of birds, massive turtles and the lizard, and we were off to Sariska Tiger Reserve a few hours away. Our driver had received detailed, direct instructions on how to reach the Alwar Bagh resort, so of course we went another way… and got lost…

Beautiful cliffs in Sariska

Beautiful cliffs in Sariska


Alwar Bagh was a lovely, family-run hotel and our hosts were so welcoming. The resort is adding a new more luxurious building, built of beautiful pink sandstone, so the resort was quite empty with construction to be completed this month. Lovely peaceful grounds to relax during the afternoon and have evening drinks, filled with trees and surrounded by the Aravelli hills. A bit of a trek to the park (about 30 min drive) but didn’t become tiring as we feared it might.
Flameback Woodpecker

Flameback Woodpecker

SariskaLangurDrink.jpg
Sariska – wow! This park is so beautiful. From the towering, stark Aravellis hills and cliffs; the brilliant greens of dense, old-growth forests; plentiful water holes, streams and lakes; and patches of open grasslands. The beauty of simply driving through it was spectacular.

Chital reaching for a particularly good leaf!

Chital reaching for a particularly good leaf!


This park is wonderfully quiet and less travelled, which I loved. Sadly farming and cattle are strewn through the park as well, which doesn’t bode well for its future ecology. After being wiped out a few years back, there are now 5 tigers reintroduced into the park. The absense of tigers helped to make the population of leopards high, and there were pugmarks everywhere. We had a dramatic tracking one evening, following the warning calls of sambar, chital and langurs, accompanied by the very loud growls and calls of a leopard. It seemed only a few feet away hiding in the dense vegetation, but unfortunately remained hidden from us.
Langur posing in the sunlight at the Hanuman Temple

Langur posing in the sunlight at the Hanuman Temple

Beautiful little jungle cat at dusk, posing for us

Beautiful little jungle cat at dusk, posing for us


Lots of animal action here, but no big cat sightings. Tho did have a beautiful sighting of a jungle cat as were racing out of the park at the end of the last day. Also had a dramatic face-off between 3 Indian mongooses – is that mongeese? – and red-wattled lapwings as they searched for eggs for dinner. Also had a fab sighting of an Indian hare – but missed the shot! followed by the comment that I’d never get a chance like that again :-S Had such a wonderful time on this trip, and loved, loved, loved this park. Oh yeah, and I finally learned to eat curry and rice with my hand! sort of...
Mongoose being confronted by anxious Lapwing as it searched for eggs

Mongoose being confronted by anxious Lapwing as it searched for eggs

Sadly this adventure closed, it was back to Delhi for the Halloween party and to relax with friends before heading out to Sri Lanka for the Diwali weekend.
Halloween party in Delhi.

Halloween party in Delhi.

Posted by LisaOnTheRoad 06:25 Archived in India Tagged people parties birds india halloween safari forest birding tiger langur balls mongoose sari jungle_cat Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 2 of 2) Page [1]