Sandakphu is not just a trek. It’s more than a dream.
As I ventured into the timeless traditions of the Northeast India ,days melted into weeks within this enchanting environment. Arunachal Pradesh is the country’s wildest and least explored state. It was time to step into the world of unadulterated beauty and experience the lifestyle and traditions of the indigenous people residing in various pockets of this state.
Getting here is an adventure in itself through the zig zag roads, treacherous routes, landslides and the icy passes.
After a long bone twisting drive, we reached a charming riverside town Dirang which is totally untouched by the glamour of city life. Being able to stay in a monastery, I was moved by the sacredness of the surroundings and able to connect with its vast pool of ancient wisdom. The rising sun and the morning prayers were radiating an abundance of vitality and energy. Such is the joy of unplanned trips.
Tawang valley, was eagerly awaiting our arrival but only after a long, sturdy ride with a never ending backdrop of the spectacular lofty mountains. Tawang is a tiny hamlet nested in the lap of Himalayas near the Indo-China border.
Tawang monastery, the largest monastery in India is the limelight of this quaint old town with a prolific history of spiritual and religious learning. In this bone chilling cold (temperature below -9 °C) , the little monks had just wrapped a cloth around them and appeared so peaceful, focused and calm with full of wisdom and happiness.
“Their selfless attitude hit me like a brick and I could only stand there dazzled and be grateful for everything that I have”. We then went for a stroll exploring the valley along the lush farmlands and gushing river.The best part about Arunachal Pradesh is its remoteness and seclusion. Even a little diversion from the road is the onset of a new exploration.
With awe inspiring panoramas captivating my senses, I truly understood “the purpose of life is to live a more rewarding, fulfilling and enlightened life without allowing gadgets to stimulate us”.
“The stories of bravery in 1962 Indo-China war was reverberating through the mountains” as we decided to see the international border known as BumLa. The destination seemed to be hazy as the snow had brought the roads to a standstill. Having no regrets, I started to embrace the journey.
It emerged into a different world, the moment I stepped my foot on the frozen lake. People were warning us the possibility of drowning as there were cracks all around. But everything you want is on the other side of the fear. I took a leap of faith and floated on the frozen water till eternity. It was a tremendously liberating time for me as I gazed at the vistas of freedom for the last time.
It was an end to the North east trip but at the same time paved a gateway to connect with its simple and hospitable people displaying glorious heritage of art, crafts and colourful festivals that reflect their faith in the power of nature.
After all, it was just a tiny snippet of Arunachal Pradesh that we got to explore and it’s splendid biodiversity is still out there in the open: Wild and free…
The North East India is nurtured with abundant and unspoiled natural beauty which satisfies wanderers in every possible way. The exciting eco system is like a dreamland waiting to be explored. The North eastern states or the seven sisters is an ode to what travellers are looking for in a place: A Real Life.
This blog embarks the joyous ventures of Assam where the mighty Brahmaputra passes right through the state. Being in the heart of North East, it was time to do something sensational and remarkable. To get the authentic experience of Assamese cuisine and truly vibrant culture, we reached Majuli. It is the largest riverine island in the world where ferry service is the only mode of transportation to reach here. The first impression of this island was our homestay which eventually took my breath away with its jaw dropping and heavenly landscapes.
It was a biodiversity hotspot where you can easily spot rare species of birds chirping around this fertile land which will captivate your senses. Being prone to floods every year, Stilt houses are raised on piles over the surface of the soil which is built primarily as a protection against flooding.
To decode the mystery of this unmatched beauty, we unanimously agreed to explore Majuli at its rustic best. Away from the hustle bustle of city life, this island is the ideal location for those seeking for peace and calmness. This place also boasts a unique amalgamation of culture, wildlife and different ways of life.
Throughout Majuli, satras have been established which stands as an epic centre of Vaishnavite culture in Assam .The satras are not just monasteries, but centres of traditional performing arts. Through art and culture, they try to preach the ideals of Neo-Vaishnavism to initiate the people in matters of the rhythms and religious beliefs.
Here, people believe in living sustainable and a simple life. Despite facing various moods of Brahmaputra during the monsoons, the people never lose hope. They believe that the “Brahmaputra is the river of sorrow and the river of hope and if there is no hope, there exist no life”. I was spellbound by the innocence and the ever smiling faces of the local folks. I realised that real happiness is totally free, yet we pay blindly for the fake or the counterfeit.
Next morning, the sun was shining in its full glory and I was ready to shed my skin with my beloved bicycle expedition through the untouched trails of Assam. Uniqueness was flashing from every form of life as soon as we left the roads and took the trails.
While experiencing non intruded landscapes, we came across a local kid. This kiddo with his glutted eyes asked if we could exchange his traditional bicycle with our geared mountain bike. This request aroused as he never had an experience riding a geared bicycle. The trade was done within no time and as a good will gesture, he invited us to feel the warmth of his house which was just few metres away.
The purity and honesty of a 10yr old kid just made my day and gave me a life lesson that “Life can be beyond beautiful by just pursuing minimalism in our daily lifestyle”. But the bitter truth is that, Assam sees an annual onslaught of floods, which wipe away lives and homes due to the intimidating level of the Brahmaputra. This leads to massive soil erosion hitting the island hard as it is slowly eaten away and may get completely vanished within 10-15yrs. The world’s largest riverine island needs a holistic disaster management plan, community initiatives and better coordination with other states.
As the sun set over the majestic Brahmaputra, we bid farewell to the riverine island.
But the adventure extended through the Himalayas into the Arunachal Pradesh. Stay tuned for the final episode of North East India: Ethereal Arunachal.
Throughout my travel voyage, I have always been inspired by the people of India with the stories they share with us and driven by the unconditional love that the every place had to offer. Today those same people had brought me back to experience what it’s like to be at home away from home.
Being in the heart of Meghalaya, there was no doubt that the coming days were going to be action packed and full of surprises. En route to Cherrapunjee (one of the Wettest place on earth), a blanket of clouds followed us with majestic views, heavenly landscapes and soothing road trip journey for which thousands of us could only dream of it. Every turn was a different turn, offering captivating moments which was beyond beautiful.
In childhood days, I used to dream of experiencing a walk through the clouds and hoping to live a life in a fairy tale. Who thought it could actually be a reality. If wishing could make things happen, then it should definitely be Meghalaya. Cherrapunjee was a city covered with clouds. It was a land where the clouds romanced with the valleys and the hills.
To experience something surreal and magical, we had to give up the life surrounded by “luxury and comfort”. These were the sleepless nights due to bone chilling weather, tiring scouts to get the best possible homestays, skipping a meal to increase the kilometres of our journey, unreserved train travels to cope up with our expenses and above all was the infinite patience to respect the fury of nature.
But had it not been for these sacrifices, the grandeur of mother Earth may have never taken place. By discovering nature’s thousand shades of green, the rain showers honoured our arrival and it would not be surprising why Cherrapunjee had been the wettest place on earth. It looked like a cinematic setting and we remained spellbound by the beauty that unfolded before our eyes.
But nature had some other plans as we decided to stay overnight in Nongriat to get the authentic experience and be more close to the nature. Nongriat is a tribal village in the midst of the jungle and in order to get isolated from the outer world, we had to climb down 3500 stairs.
This was going to test our limits but we were ready to give everything because nature never fails to disappoint you. In the depths of north eastern India, bridges aren’t built—they’re grown.
The living root bridges in Nongriat is a bio engineered marvel by the Khasi tribes where the rubber tree roots were tended to and patiently nurtured for years until they slowly reached the opposite bank. Living root bridges takes around 15-20 years to grow. This is the only bridge in the world which becomes stronger with age. It is a testament to the power of human nature in kinship to the surrounding landscapes. The overnight stay in Nongriat gave us the chills of living in the era of 19th century.The next day was going to be the last day in Meghalaya. With great resilience and determination, the feat of climbing up 3500 steps was finally achieved. We headed to this mystic waterfall called as Wei Sawdong.
This three step waterfall is the proof that nature is truly capable of producing golden moments. The melody of the waterfall and the refreshing touch of the virgin blue water captivated our senses. Few hours were left until we aboard the overnight train journey to Assam. The buzz of going into the unknown state had disappeared as everybody was living in the ‘now’ and soaking the warmth that Meghalaya had to offer. I wondered how blessed people living here are, being so close to the nature. These people were at peace with the way of life they have built for themselves.Warm and hospitable, they have maintained a smooth balance between advancement, culture and tradition. Simplicity had paved the way towards happiness. The happiness that I have been searching for years was there within me all the time. I just lost access to it a long time ago because of the delusional material world. It was the people of Meghalaya who taught me- “To fill my life with experiences and not things, to have stories to tell and not the stuff to show”.
As the journey continued from Meghalaya to Assam, there was a transition from hills and valleys to flat lands, crystal clear rivers to one of the largest basin (Brahmaputra) in the world, Asia’s cleanest village to world’s largest river island(Majuli). Stay tuned for more exciting stories of North east India in my Assam travel blog.
Human race is a monotonous affair. People spend their entire life filling their stomach for existence and never feeding the soul. The so called society had been dominating its instincts over decades hoping to live our life in misery and full of regret in the end. Then in these moments, I used to ask myself what it means to be alive, to breathe fresh air, to see the ethereal beauty, to escape from the madness of city life, to experience sweet melody of mystic waterfalls, to find my lost soul and to heal itself..? So it was time to create my own story rather than dreaming or living someone else’s life. The quest to truly understand this purpose led me to Meghalaya few months ago.
- The Plan: To travel about 8 thousand kilometers in three weeks.
- The Method: Improvisation
- The Objective: Explore the North East India that we only knew by books and digital media.
- The People: This is the story of five engineers with common aspirations in search of lost happiness and to find the purpose of life.
The journey started from the scenic mountain town Shillong where we hired a self driven car to explore and discover a slice of paradise called Meghalaya. To experience this pristine land, all of us pushed their limits and came out of their comfort zone with a hope to find a new perspective in life. City life was behind us. Behind us was also the miserable life, the uninspiring lectures, the exams, the expectations from the society and the long lasting struggle for maintaining attendance.
Magic was the only word to acknowledge this waterfall with its shimmering blue waters. But the water was icy cold and jumping in these circumstances needed some real warrior’s spirit. Suddenly my inner voice shouted “If not now then when? If not us then who?” I trusted my intuition and jumped ferociously in this magical pool. No other tourists dared to touched their feet in the water and were astonished to see our dazzling spirit to do the impossible. The sun was setting (sunset at 4.30 pm) and we decided to stay overnight in Mawlynnong (Asia’s cleanest village). As the darkness engulfed the daylight, the anticipation to see the cleanest village was glooming. Suddenly our car came to halt expecting to feel the sanity of this cleanest village. But the village we imagined was wreckage with garbage all around and everyone were cursing each other for suggesting this place as top priority and no one was ready to take the blame. A soft voice came from the dark and said “This is Riwai village and Mawlynnong is still 2 kms ahead”.
These words spirited our desire to push towards the unpredictable and in no time we reached Asia’s cleanest village. I was stunned to see the ambience of this village. Not only was this village spotless clean, but we were overwhelmed to soak the warm hospitality and ever smiling faces of the Khasi tribes.
There were bamboo baskets outside every house, used as bins. Not everyone here had a car or a bike but they definitely owned a garden outside every house. Despite being very close to the International border (with Bangladesh), the enemy of this village was surprisingly PLASTIC.
There was a viewpoint from where we could see the Bangladesh soil. A villager told us the possibility of crossing the border which was just few kilometers away from the cleanest village. Excitement was already over the roof and with our cognitive mapping skills, the estimation was that –“We just needed to descend this hill and could probably end up in international soil if there were no fence”. With Google maps on our side, we headed towards the border while experiencing uncharted trails and vast expanses of the nature.
By the time, we had already lost enough altitude and Google maps shocked us by showing our current location in Bangladesh. Each moment was split in two: the excitement of entering a new land and the fear of being convicted of high treason for crossing the border. Being able to write this blog, we were certainly on the right side after all. The havoc that just happened would no longer regain our trust on Google maps. But nature never fails to disappoint you and the next morning, all of us were bombarded with surprises when we reached Dawki. The umngot river in Dawki has a separate fan base for its transparent water and crystal clear visibility.
I felt like nature was pouring all its love over me. With refreshing views on the way, we ended our day at Zero point. It stands as an International border between India and Bangladesh. Despite being the International border, there was no demarcation or fences separating the two nations.
Here on the right side, I was standing alone on the Indian soil while the Bangladeshi’s were watching on the left side and in between us stands the International border.
Nature and life is full of surprises and we never know what beholds us. There was a hope to find new perspective in life and with mystic beauty all around us, we continued our journey into the unknown with uncertainty of what lies ahead…….!!!!