Beautiful Meghalaya & Cherry Blossom On Top-6

Dawki, the India-Bangladesh Border, Umnagot the Cleanest River, Mawphlang’s Sacred Forest, Single root Bridge and Asia’s cleanest village Mawlynnong

The land of Bangladesh is enclosed on three sides with Indian states of West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram. It is a typical chilling-out- with-a-buddy scene, with India hanging its one arm on Bangladesh’s shoulder.

Honestly, when I was near the Bangladesh border, I didn’t think how I was at the south of Meghalaya touching Bangladesh’s northern border. I was vaguely aware how Bangladesh is nearer compared to all North-East Indian states, and though I knew we flew over it to get to Shillong, it amuses me only now while going through maps and writing on it. Having traveled to a place helps in learning tedious technicalities with a particular fondness..dearness.

Yeah, Bangladesh border at the village Dawki was one of the highlight of the day. Also there was a cleanest river, a cleanest village, a sacred forest giving out a very clear itinerary for the day.

Shillong to Dawki is another route from Shillong to Sohra and a farther travel. We were going there on a Sunday. On Sundays, many of the food joints and shops are closed as majority of Meghalayans are Christians. Though this also means less traffic on road, and for long road travels like Dawki, I think this day of the week is excellent.

Mawphlang Sacred Forest

Our first stop was Mawphlang Sacred Forest, which is only 45 minutes from Shillong. As the name suggests, it’s quite a sacred place for the locals, and you have to respect by following the guidelines for the place. Firstly, remember not to carry out any of the forest belongings with you. The trek around the forest comes with a choice, and you can either choose a half or a full trek around the forest and pay accordingly. We chose half trek.

You get tour guides for this place. Our local guide’s name was Vacky. In Meghalaya, the spoken language between locals and tourists is English. Vacky too briefed us on Sacred Forest in English. Ashu translated it in Marathi for Aai.

Along with the legends of the place, he also explained its flora and fauna. There were these lovely looking Mushrooms and they were poisonous. It was a bit difficult to ingest the info that these pretty things were so deadly. So Ashu had to confirm this, ‘what if we eat them’, he asked. ‘We die’, Vacky replied. ‘But there must be some antidote for them’, he asked again. ‘We die’, Vacky assured.

You will find these Monoliths/Memorials at many places on hills in Meghalaya. Sacred forest too has collection of them. They are of different size and shapes. The standing stones are of males and the flat ones are of females.

The sacred Monoliths

There is a rudraksh tree here. A rudraksha bead is divinely valued in Hinduism. This tree is different because the rudraksh is 3 Mukhi(3 headed). The number of lines on it define the mukh of a rudraksha. 5 Mukhi are commonly found, 3 Mukhi are rare and 1 Mukhi are rarer.

The picture below is voluntarily clicked by Vacky. He sure has got some serious photography skills. He also then clicked our family picture by holding a dry leaf against the mobile camera and clicking through the hole in the leaf.

The Art
The Artist, Vacky -our tour guide

There is a heritage village outside the forest, but we just had a cursory look at it. Didn’t look like people actually stayed there. The village comes to life during some tribal festival. Next, we went to a small Khasi joint in the area for breakfast. It is the only eatery there, so I did not note the name. Altogether, a neat and tidy setup with staple breakfast items including Jadoh. Jadoh is a popular Khasi dish made of rice and pork. For vegetarians, they had simple dal, rice, sabji, and veg momos in an unopened steamer. You can see the fermented soya bean paste on my plate. I tried it, but it does require an acquired taste. Veg momo was good, and the red chutney with it had smoky aubergine flavor(like baingan bharta) to it that made all the difference. Yummy.

Jadoh Rice
Veg plate + soyabean fermented paste
Veg Momo

Umngot, The Cleanest River In Village, Dawki

After Sacred Forest, it’s a no-stop hill ride of 2.5 hours. We were car-riding at great altitude watching eye-popping sight of deep green valleys passing by. It’s fodder to hungry eyes and a highlight of Meghalaya tourism. In between, we also came across some mined hills. Aai pointed how they make for the landscapes like in the movie, Sholay. A beheaded hill on the route rattled and quietened us for a while. Abhijit commented that this cutting has definitely impacted the climate and that Shillong was at least 50 percent more cooler than today.

We reached Umngot river, and as you can see in the pictures, it is famous for its crystal clear water. We hired a manually rowed boat from the locals which is the only option available. Dunno if it makes any sense, the engine ones make me less anxious. Boating for nearly an hour costs you around INR 1200. The water was deep in only some parts, so I calmed down after boating for a while and there was this eye-soothing picturesque greenery around to marvel and keep my mind occupied. We were keen to go inside these shallow water caves but the boat guy didn’t comply, and just touched the outer part. I forgot his name, but he was probably just a teenager rowing the boat well with us two heavyweights in it. We watched Bangladeshi tourists on the river-bed across. You cannot get down on that river bed as it is a foreign territory from there.

There is a camping facility on the river-bed and you can rent the tents for a night.

Dawki- Tamabil Border, India And Bangladesh Friendship Gateway

This border is 10 minutes by car from Umngot river in the village Dawki. Dawki-Tamabil is a friendship gate like Wagah- Attari border, but minus the fervor. There are talks of starting retreat ceremonies here for a long time now. A white mile stone was a point where the BSF soldier kept reprimanding tourists to not cross it. It’s important to follow the instructions given by the soldiers at such a sensitive place. Some tourist didn’t seem to follow the protocol, and found it funny to cross the line, literally!

Mawlynnong Single Root Bridge

We had cancelled on double root bridge, so Single Root Bridge was a good substitute. A root bridge is a suspension bridge made of aerial roots of well grown rubber fig trees by the locals to cross over the streams. Because the roots are used without cutting them apart from the tree, they are also called as living root bridges. Single root bridge is comparatively a lesser trek down to the double root bridge. Even so, we did not take Aai with us as it was still strenuous for her especially, after the long day. The bridge engineering is marvelous. Though, this is open for only one-way walk. Just for the experience of it. The increased human traffic on it is causing some erosion so tourist have to return from a different parallel bridge. The bridge is built just a little over an average human height so you don’t feel anxious at all. The view of the stream that looks like mini ponds is lovely.

Mawlynnong, The Asia’s Cleanest Village

This village was declared as cleanest village in Asia in 2003 by a travel magazine, Discover India. Mawlynnong has not failed in maintaining the reputation until now. Even fallen dried leaves are not left to litter for long on the pavements. The top ranking wasn’t just about the cleanliness, but included the everyday rural-life chores that had a rhythmic organic system of its own.

Apart from the village tour, you can also book a home stay here. The increased tourism has nearly doubled the income of villagers. Though, some regret the commercialization of the village today. Abhijit lamented that the tourist coming to stay here expected hotel comforts and it affected in changing the traditional life-style.

It was almost dark so I did not click many images around. We could hardly see things as there were no street lights in the village. Abhijit brought to our notice a type of flowers that eat bugs. They really eat bugs, not trap them for the night like lotus. It was a good walk around and the missing street lights gave a good view of sky in the night. I think next time I would like to book a stay here. The long travel from Shillong gives very little time to do justice to the nearby spots.

After breakfast at Mawphlang, we were eating our lunch in this Mawlynnong village joint at 5pm. We relished this simple vegetarian Khasi meal. Even Aai ate well. Ashu and Abhijit enjoyed the Khasi Chicken curry which apparently lived up to the built-up expectations by Abhijit.

The next day was going to be our last day in Shillong, and as we returned from Dawki, I was completely at peace with the travel accomplishments so far.

To be continued

Beautiful Meghalaya & Cherry Blossom On Top-5

Scotland Of The EastThe Sohra (Cherrapunji) trip.

On map, the state of Meghalaya is shaped like a horizontally placed cylindrical pillow. Geographically, the mountainous region is segregated in three parts: Khasi, Jaintia, and Garo. People/Tribes from these areas are named after these segregated terrains respectively. Even though I said in my last post that the state is small, I said it with comparison to my parent state, Maharashtra. At hindsight, I realize that all we traveled was a little part of Khasi hills. That too, only east Khasi hills.

We traveled that part because the majority of tourist places are concentrated here. There are famous spots like Tura at the other end of Meghalaya too but since the road is the only option to travel to there, maybe people prefer going to places in proximity to Shillong.

City of Shillong is situated in East Khasi Hills of Meghalaya. This state was formed only in 1972. Since the time of British, Shillong was capital for Assam that included today’s Meghalaya. They found the landscapes and the climate of Khasi region resembling Scotland and hence called it Scotland of the east.

Cherrapunji was our spot for the day. It is a very familiar name to every Indian as a land where it rains highest in India. We learn it in schools and the information ends here. Now Cherrapunji ranks 3rd, and Mawsynram, a Meghalayan village in the same Khasi area ranks first. In year 2007, Cherrapunji was named Sohra. British mispronounced Sohra as Cherra so now it is back to Sohra. Here on, it is Sohra in this post also.

While I went through all the Sohra pictures to attach here, I just couldn’t match them with pictures showing on Google search. The ones there are shot during monsoon. So, if Sohra is your prime reason to go to Meghalaya, and waterfalls are love of your life, you should plan it in Monsoon. Actually, most of the Meghalaya is about waterfalls and they start drying in winters. Although, be cautioned on possible land slides due to heavy downpour.

Shillong to Cherrapunji is nearly 2 hours drive. Covering travel spots in between extends this drive. We first passed through landscape full of Khasi Pine trees and Abhijit explained to us that they are different from English pines. We didn’t stop by this sight so have only this picture taken from the car.

I have traveled through Konkan green hills. But these hills look more dense to me. Impossible to find an un-green patch.

Mawkdok Dympep Valley View Point

This breakfast stop is quite popular for Maggi in travel videos, the Indian Ramen. Only pork maggi is good, and obviously for these pork chunks. Vegetarians should order something else as they take lot of time to serve it.

The Red Tea

For Adventure lovers, there are zip lines here. Two of the three lines are active. Their length differ – newbies can try the shorter one. There is a weight parameter to try; you should weigh less than 90 kilos, so Ashu could not try. I will try the shorter one next time.

The Mawkdok Dympep Valley View Point also has a trek down that leads to this thinned fall. Ashu was the only one who went down and clicked these pictures.

Laitryngew – Wakaba Falls

This is one spot that looks so good in monsoon in google pictures that when I tried matching them with my clicks, I couldn’t believe it’s same place we went. You can see how the grass is dried which is fresh green in the rains. Some cheating again. We didn’t go down from there which was supposed to be again a thinned fall.

Ramkrishna Mission Temple (No Pictures)

This one is a very simple temple but a good exposure to those who don’t know much about Ramkrishna Mission. Inside there are frames of saints hanging on wall from all parts of India and of other religions. They believe in respecting and being tolerant to other spiritual ideologies. There was a two storied building beside the temple and a Museum on the second floor.

The Ramkrishna Mission organisation runs a well reputed higher secondary school(among other initiatives) in Sohra. One student, Ribet Phawa, won the space quiz and earned himself a seat in the ISRO Control room to watch the live telecast of Chandrayaan 2 with PM.

Nohkalikai Waterfall

This is hands down the most beautiful waterfall of Sohra and was still running in November. The turquoise green plunge pool at the end makes it so unique and breathtaking.

This was some dried fall, I don’t remember the name. Loved the cloud view here.

Nohsngisthiang Waterfall A.K.A Seven Sisters Waterfall, Eco Park, Bangladesh Border View

7 waterfalls are streaming from here during monsoon and is quite popular for that.

We gave a miss to the eco park due to time constraint. Next picture is a peak point. You can spot Bangladesh border with help of binoculars. And also watch this village in middle from this peak.

Mawsamai cave

This I think falls under adventure travel spot. It gets narrow in the middle where you have to bend. In recent years, I have become claustrophobic and couldn’t try. Normally Aai dares if Ashu is with her, but here, she too backed off. Ashu went ahead even though his height and body were just about right. People with more than prescribed height and weight are turned down at this place. I think I understood the real meaning of the phrase ‘to cave in..’ I was planning a terrible pun with that phrase here, but jao maaf kiya..

Orange Roots, Vegetarian restaurant

It was quarter to 4:30 pm when we sat down for lunch. I think there are many other options on Sohra road but we went here so writing about this place. The food is near to South Indian cuisine and you have to pay first after deciding on the menu. You can ask for additional fills for which you will be additionally charged. Good on hygiene and food quality.

Squash Sabji, Like I said tastes like green Papaya
Some Payasam..too yummy
Outside Orange Roots

While returning, we were stuck in traffic. We got delayed by nearly one hour and were moving at crawling speed on a downhill road. It was a Saturday and a weekend which resulted in this jam. Haven’t seen such a quiet jam. Other than bikers, no one tried to get ahead, no one honked.

All day Ashu was trying to know if his old number was activated on the new sim he had put in Aai’s mobile. He learned that the staff in the phone gallery had activated it on the old mobile. That was like a tremor felt after an earthquake. It kind of revived the fear for few minutes and the call executive had to be told to block that sim again.

To be Continued..

Beautiful Meghalaya & Cherry Blossom On Top-4

Cherry Blossom Night View

The sheer number of tourist places to cover in Meghalaya are crazy many and this state isn’t even that big in size. In a week’s vacation, we had to skip some places and choose others. Some places evidently got dropped like this famous, Double Root Bridge that involved extensive hiking. Locals and passing travelers would advise us against it in tip-off chats in the interest of our mother.

After the traumatic mobile incident, Ashu called up Abhijit the same night to confirm our travel for the next day. I admired Ashu’s show must go on spirit. Earlier we were planning Cherrapunjee, but since Ashu was going to be occupied with mobile follow-up chores in the morning, we settled for places on outskirts of Shillong. In Shillong, the person driving you is also your tour guide. Do confirm that beforehand. As for us, we already had experienced Abhijit’s regional insight when he drove us from Guwahati. In my opinion, the cost still reflects only travel part and tour guiding is almost complimentary.

Shillong/ Laitkor Peak

I wondered how the day was going to be. The trauma still shadowed us. But, neither hitting a jackpot in life can make you forever happy, and nor a shock can put you down for too long. We started at 12pm and our first stop was Shillong/ Laitkor Peak. Before going up the tower, Abhijit directed us to this shop where you can wear Khasi tribal dress for 50 bucks and get pictured in it. It’s not usual me, but I was up for it this time. A little persisting and Aai wore it too. She looked awesome. She became inspiration to other older ladies who were hesitating earlier. The tribal wear is super comfy. You don’t have to change; the staff there helps you to put it on whatever you are wearing. The fabric is smooth and warm and only the ornaments are heavy. I loved the feel wearing it. Some guy asked for Aai’s exclusive pic and she happily complied. I guested in a group picture of tourists I had just exchanged pleasantries with. This exercise quite energized us and put our spirits back.

Please note that Shillong View Point/ Laitkor Peak is at highest altitude so Indian Air Force chose it as base for headquarters of Eastern Air Command. So foreigners are not allowed to pass through the route to the Laitkor Peak. Only Indians can and you need to carry your ID proofs to this spot. Better, if you carry them everywhere as Meghalaya is a state on country border, and you may have to show your documents at any checkpoint.

The view point is the highest peak giving bird’s eye view of the whole city. There’s one telescope in the room and you can supposedly see the city minutely. I couldn’t figure out which is which place, and it’s pointless exercise for people like me. There is a long queue of travelers behind you getting impatient for their turn. Dear Meghalaya tourism, please keep more of these telescopes there. I was just happy to notice pink blocks in the valley. Those were bloom on the cherry trees. If the Cherry plantation increases, will this be our new pink city? A pink revolution? Though green and pink should co-exist, their organic color match is match made in heaven.

We halted a while at these veggie stalls a mile away from Shillong peak. You can spot the gleeful spread of veggies in the pictures below. It sure was a color festival going on here.

White Radish with purple shade
This is called Squash. Common Veggie in Meghalaya. Tastes near to raw Papaya
Cylindrical Lemons
Local Black Berries. They turn black after ripening. These were too sour
Carrots like in Mahabaleshwar
The farm

The pineapples you get here in Meghalaya are the best ones. I have never gulped down the slices so easily without having to throw away the central indurate part. Sweet and tender, they were still last of the season. I could only imagine how the fresh lot must taste.

Elephant Waterfall

Next, we went to the Elephant Waterfall. It is a collection of three falls at one place – a natural wonder. British named this falls after a rock that was shaped like an Elephant trunk. It vanished during a century old earthquake. These layered waterfalls meant hiking down and up, but Aai managed it well. In November, the waterfall wasn’t that fierce, yet the dampness and wet jungle feel was exciting, close to a rain forest experience.

For lunch, we stopped by this Asamese + Bengali eatery. For vegetarians, Asamese-Bengali thali is a good option near to your spice palate. Ashu obviously got additional fried fish and chicken curry to his one.

Air Force Museum

I don’t have any pictures for this visit. Inside Museum, it’s not allowed, but don’t remember why I didn’t click some fighter plane pictures out in the open. They were actually used in wars. You get information on political history, there is wall for war heroes including the locals, culture of seven states, tribes, types of uniforms for both men and women etc. This is situated right at the outskirt of Shillong and pretty much on the way every time you are travelling to the tour sites.

Ward Lake

Also known as Pollock lake is an artificial lake built in British era. It’s thoughtfully designed with a lovely footbridge to crossover the lake sides and a garden circling the lake where you can chill out. You can also use boating facility which is closed during cultural festivals. Cherry blossom is not the only one, there are more tribal festivals celebrated here. There is nominal entrance fee for the Lake. One other entrance of this lake opens to the Police Bazaar.

The lake was our last spot for the day. Even though it was one of the Cherry Blossom Festival site, I wasn’t interested. There weren’t going to be food stalls here and I didn’t think the blossom would matter in low visibility. I was so wrong! The sight blew my mind. The flowers serenely shone in the decorative lights. I couldn’t have enough of gazing at every tree from various angles. The view was so calming, but it also made me restless with greed. I wanted to capture all the flowers in my clicks and to share it with my friends so I could shake off the guilt of enjoying the view alone. Lacking photography skills is a big issue at such times.

Youngsters flocked here mostly to watch the live local bands performing on couple of stages or to just walk around.

The day ended without any news of the lost mobile. The trip was surely helping a lot in moving on faster.

To be Continued..

Beautiful Meghalaya & Cherry Blossom On Top-3

Cherry Blossom Day

Finally it was the day I would see lots of cherry flowers. We were tipped-off on blooming cherry trees at the Northeastern University by two of its faculty members we met at the restaurant the day before. I even saw their fascinating clicks of rows of trees near the university gate.

I went for a walk in the morning. The traffic in Shillong during rush hour is no joke. Good thing is you will find a sidewalk on both sides of the road almost everywhere. The sidewalks here, though, are narrow. And now that I brought up that let me also tell you even the elevators are intimidatingly smaller in size. As if the arrangement expects a leaner you.

Even though the sun rises at 5 am in November, the city functions following the Indian Standard Time. My primary motive to go out in the mornings was to get tea, not walk. The staff at the guest house didn’t seem like early risers, and also we had not opted for their breakfast as we were keen on exploring street food. The Shillong tea is a red colored one. You get milk tea too, but I never found a good one in the mornings. Ashu and Aai liked only the red tea there. I liked it too, but I’m enslaved to the milk tea.

To explore more breakfast options, I started for Laitumkhrah, an uncomplicated road from our stay that I remembered from yesterday’s walk. The only eatery that looked bustling in the morning there was ‘Jadoh’, a khasi place run by a woman again(the one in police bazaar was also run by a vivacious lady). This one looked very neat and clean. All the food items were mostly pork. There was daal and rice too, but I didn’t like the idea of having them in the morning. Being unfamiliar with the fare, I randomly picked up items for Ashu. For me and Aai, I turned to freshly made hot Parathas from the streets.

Street Parathas. The salads are from Jadoh

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A lovely start of the morning was a history now. It was 12 in the noon, and there were no signs of we gearing up to go out. I was losing patience. Didn’t we know by now how early sun sets here? How will we see the blossom in low light? This was our only cherry day and from next day we were going to explore rest of the Meghalaya. My pushing did not help and we delayed further. That day, we weren’t even getting lucky with the restaurants we were choosing for lunch. The Jadoh was out of food(which means you should visit it for the fresh food), a Manipuri restaurant was closed to participate in cherry blossom festival. We finally settled for a cafe.

The road to NEHU(North-Eastern Hill University) had many cherry trees on the way. They were planted indiscriminately, but I liked the pattern. The pink blossom of cherry flowers peeping from behind a green tree had a very illuminating effect. It lit up the surroundings.

I’m not clear on the history of plantation of Cherry trees in Shillong. The google search is confusing. Were these trees discovered or purposely planted? If discovered, then you have to wonder how they are found only at strategic locations of the city, and if planted, it can’t be as late as 2014 or 15 which you infer from the google articles – the first festival was held in the year 2016. Unlike Japan and other countries, cherry trees in Shillong flower in Autumn, in varying weeks of October or November. This too I don’t know if it is because they are different species or are result of the regional climate.

We reached at the gates of NEHU but the view didn’t match with that picture of yesterday. Was it some other gate, I wondered. We entered the vast campus and were a little lost. Finally, we found some well blossomed trees. The up close view of these delicate beauties was really something. If I can explain, they were like miniature pink stars in plenty on each branch gathered here to celebrate some joyous annual festival.

Ashu loved the sight too and was on clicking spree. To my wonder, Aai was more distracted with other flowers and trees in the campus. She didn’t seem to be into cherry flowers that much. We had just passed the botanical area of the University, and it sure held many lovely herbs and flower plants. The size of roses on this rose tree that I saw were the biggest I ever saw.

The entire campus was blessed with beautiful landscape and skyscape. This University is a must visit with or without cherry blossom. It was getting dark and it felt funny that the office times weren’t over, and the activities around continued in the darkness because it was just 4:45 pm after all.

From there we went to Polo ground, one of the prime festival site. It had a range of food stalls. I was looking for vegetarian menu and it was truly challenging if you exclude typical Northern and Southern Indian menu. All stalls were meat lovers delight. Especially, those who are into exotic food. Ashu and I decided to check all the rows of food stalls first and then dive in to it. Then somehow we got pulled towards the shows going on the central stage. May be we were thinking food stalls won’t run away.

The cultural dance and songs section called North-Eastern colors Of India had just begun. All the 7 sister states were putting forward their best with enchanting tribal performances. I loved the first performance by Arunachal Pradesh, then Meghalaya and Mizoram followed. Manipur had more than a single show. Their sword-fight dance performance was truly spectacular. I knew, we couldn’t be at all places and couldn’t have covered every highlight of this festival. But the blossom earlier and these shows were the core things I was interested. I couldn’t have asked for more. I was recording them, but was mainly relying on Ashu’s recordings who could shoot it well because of his height and tenaciousness to hold up the mobile for so long.

Only bother was there were no seats while watching these performances. Aai was losing patience standing up in open air feeling cold. She gave us a final call to move from there. We moved away and thought of pulling a chair from the stall for her when I noticed she was shivering. The thought that it could be dehydration symptom owing to unmindful water consumption rather than the chilly air, worried me sick. We gave her some drinks and decided to make a quick move out of there.

We were closer to the entrance so we plead to the security to let us out sighting our emergency, and they kindly did. The festival was getting momentum and lot of people were coming in now. Luckily, we could hire a taxi quickly. We went to our room and now Aai was feeling much better.

We decided to order food in our room from the only restaurant that delivered to our guest house(No Swiggy, Zomato et al here). As our one worry subsided, another panic struck us. Ashu couldn’t find his mobile. He checked his backpack, his pockets but couldn’t get hold of it.

The mobile loss isn’t just a communication device loss. It is a threat of access to our most valued data making us really vulnerable. At first he called the number a few times from my phone, but it was switched off. Then he sprung to action and blocked the sms, incomings, the sim, changed passwords, security codes etc. He then went to report it to the nearest police station.

In our panicky state of mind at the Polo ground, Ashu hastily slipped mobile in pocket of his pants instead of putting it in the backpack. It got stolen/ dropped on either the ground or inside taxi. We were hoping it got dropped in the taxi and the driver reached us and relieved us from this stress. As I learned about the option of data wiping that Ashu had used just now, I sensed the loss. Even if someone reached us with the news on mobile, all the images and the videos were now forever lost. There was this family picture with the cherry tree, Ashu’s Khasi food plates, his clicks of food stalls, the videos of evening performances – my favorite one from Arunachal, the melody of which was still playing in my head – all that was gone. The above videos posted here are from my mobile.

Because the phone was switched off, we couldn’t go with positive theories. Right now we had to be just thankful that we weren’t dealing with Aai’s health.

What a mix day! The morning was lovely then afternoon wasn’t then in evening I had summed it up as an accomplished day, and then we headed for a shock. What was tomorrow going to be like? Would we be happily exploring more of Meghalaya?

To be Continued..

Beautiful Meghalaya & Cherry Blossom On Top-2

Guwahati-Shillong Road Drive, Fighting cold weather, Police Bazaar

We started at 5:30 pm from Guwahati for Shillong. It was only evening, but already dark on the roads. We had hired this cab from the desk at the airport that said Meghalaya tourism. We had stopped by it to inquire about state tour packages for local spots. Our last experience of tourism services in some states opened our minds to check the benefits that are not same as Private Travels. Ashu makes it a point to check out those in every trip now. The staff at the desk handed us this cute palm-size brochures for travel spots and sure this car and the driver hired from there proved to be a good deal.

Guwahati, the capital city of Assam is 49 meters in height from sea level. Shillong, the capital city of Meghalaya is at 1,436 meters in height from sea level. This interstate drive is 2 hours journey but can get longer due to heavy traffic. Weather in Guwahati wasn’t very different from Mumbai but I thought of keeping sweaters handy for the upward journey to Shillong. The driver assured us that we don’t have to worry. With windows up, we won’t feel the chill at all. He then continued chatting all the way to Shillong. His name was Abhijit. Thanks to him, we got a great insight into unique culture of Meghalaya. Abhijit also diligently pointed at every temple on the way for Aai when he got to know how much she was interested.

We learned how disciplined are the locals of Meghalaya as community and how it reflects in things like their traffic discipline. They don’t honk often and don’t like anyone doing so. It amused us great deal to know that Meghalaya is a matriarchal state. The boy moves into the girl’s family after their marriage. Most of the family businesses are carried on by the elder daughter of the family and they inherit the property. He was all praise about everything in the state from steady supply of electricity to organic vegetables to describing how locals value and practice honesty.

Me in the back seat had the option of swaying away from the conversations and enjoy the road sight. The full moon had risen and had lit the hilly roads. The roads were curvy just like the roadway to Ratnagiri. The difference is in the level of altitude. Also, the up lane and down lane are pretty distinctive. While planning the travel, we were bit worried of travelling in low visibility and had considered to stay the night in Guwahati. Now I can say a night travel is quite safe on this road. Though you might miss a scenic spot, a view of Umami lake that is for the mornings. But we were compensated by another scenic views. The betel nut trees from the family of palms glimmering in moonlight made for a perfect post card picture. At first, the sky was quite clear with the round moon in it. But soon, lot of small patches of clouds were formed around it. Meghalaya is the name given to this state by Rabindranath Tagore, precisely for this amazing instantaneous cloud play in the sky. There were these cute identical stalls for pickles and pineapples we kept passing by on the hilly roads. They too made a lovely sight with all their neatly arranged products on display. I resisted stopping by them for a click in case I was getting overexcited about everything.

We were almost near Shillong when we stopped by a petrol pump. I saw a girl employee attending to the vehicles. Correct me, but I haven’t seen female workers at petrol pump on highways that too in night hours. Later, after reaching Shillong when we went out for dinner, I also spotted many waitresses at the restaurant we visited. It’s a rare sight other than for International chain restaurants in other parts of India. Meghalaya being a matriarchal state was coming out to be so true.

As we walked back to our room after dinner, I agreed with Ashu that the air wasn’t biting cold and in fact enjoyable. I probably worried in vain. But no. I had to soon regret giving clean chit to the winters. I couldn’t sleep. I wore all the winter gears that we brought but it wasn’t warm enough. The two other souls with me weren’t struggling so hard to sleep. Ashu was snoring. Aai was half asleep, a bit cold, but coping. There was an electric kettle but it had a stain inside which made the idea of boiling water to drink repulsive. I should have asked for a room heater earlier at the reception, now no one was picking up the phone. Finally, I thought of putting on more clothes from the bag and it helped.

The sun was up since 5 am but we woke up only after 7 am. The restaurant last night, had this view of the rows of Shillong houses in inclining order, but in morning the scene was stunning. My heart leaped with joy that we truly came here. I also spotted my first cherry tree in the neighborhood. I wasn’t sure it was a cherry tree though as the blossom was little withered.

Our itinerary wasn’t very thorough one. On our first day, we decided to move in and around the city. We first headed to Police Bazaar. It’s the main market place of Shillong. We checked out the stalls on the street displaying fruits, winter wears, souvenirs etc. Then we headed for the lunch at Bistro, a vegetarian restaurant. It was good quality food. Ashu consciously ate little there expecting to eat more at a Khasi(local tribe of Meghalaya) restaurant. He found the one we had watched on YouTube. I too wanted to taste the stir fried banana blossom on the plate, but realized I was too full for even one bite. Ashu liked everything on his plate that were mostly pork items. Though he remarked that it would have tasted much better in mornings when they were freshly made. I consoled myself that I will come back for the banana flower dish, but it never happened.

They called it local almonds
The Nursery Owner
Police Bazaar

We picked up flabby sweaters for me and Aai in Police bazaar. Ashu was stuck on the line, ‘I want to experience the cold weather’. He sure did well without any warm wears on the previous night. When we returned to our room, I was mighty pleased about being well armed today. I had a new sweater, then we got a room heater as we asked for one at the reception. Also had got the electric kettle cleaned. Life was sorted.

Laitumkhrah

To be Continued..

Beautiful Meghalaya & Cherry Blossom On Top-1

Inception Story

It started with a Facebook post that I picked up from my friend’s timeline which remained my favorite for the day. A pink dream that I shared further on my various social media accounts but still couldn’t contain the excitement. I had just come to know that we too in India celebrate Cherry blossom in Shillong, and hold a festival for it. It was fourth year already, and this year the Meghalay government was engaging South Korean government to celebrate it more grandly. A dreamy picture of pink cherry flower shower played in loop in my head, and after much daydreaming, I started thinking more seriously about going there. Only few days back, in our casual family chat, we were discussing where to go on our long pending trip. We ended up confirming nothing so this was a chance.

But Ashu, my brother, said his hands were full. Without him, Aai was reluctant to go for a long distance trip. Ashu kept stressing that I should use this chance and go for my first solo trip.

I’m not much of a darer. For first solo trip, I wished to go somewhere familiar. This travel route looked tedious. Mumbai-Shillong on google search gave a flight route via Kolkata. A 12 hrs of journey sounded insane. I also strongly felt that Aai shouldn’t miss the blossom, she has much more natural sense in spotting the color spread around.

Then one morning I woke up and said enough dreaming, it’s time to move on. My subconscious though, kept at it and I suddenly got up to look for another route. And there it was all the time there screaming at me, but the one I kept overlooking – a route via Guwahati. Even though there is an airport in Shillong, there is no direct flight from Mumbai for it. Google answers positively to your query of Mumbai- Shillong flights but it’s actually misguiding. There is no need to go via Kolkata. You reach Guwahati by plane in 3 hours, and then it’s a 2 hour road journey to Shillong from there.

Now the imagery was much more clearer and I felt somewhat assured to go. The question was if Aai will come with me without her son to such a far place. She didn’t vehemently oppose, but it was not a yes either. Then Ashu looked up at the Cherry blossom events just to see what I was up to. The food description started working on him. North-East India was his ‘someday’ plan. He finally realized he was going to miss something he shouldn’t. His work dilemma was real, but so was this. Temptation won, and we booked the to and fro tickets for all three of us.

I had woken up that morning thinking of giving up and now we were really going. I was still feeling very unsure of everything and told this to only few friends to avoid face-palm moment lest we cancelled it all abruptly just like the way we planned it..

Now we had only 4 days to organize the rest of the requirements and we started it by watching travel videos for Shillong..Shillong or rather North-Eastern states wouldn’t have come up in long time on my wish list. They looked like an adventure travel and only Ashu had them in his mind for bicycle touring. I had never spotted any tempting dish(vegetarian for me) to follow the trail. Thanks to this cherry blossom post that we were going there.The first thing dawned on me was obviously the low temperature. 15°c at night(November) is not much for many but it bothered me. We shopped for all the recommended warm wears for me and Aai. The travel videos were too much information at a time. But they helped to figure out the center of the city( Police bazar) and book our stay accordingly. 

The travel day arrived. We had to go to Mumbai airport from Virar which is an intimidating travel by local train in the morning. More so, with the luggage. Both, Ashu and Aai didn’t catch any sleep the previous night. Ashu, because habitually, and mother because of the travel anxiety. Sleep deprivation wasn’t a good start. We chose local train to avoid the road jam in Andheri. With same logic, Ashu had decided on Metro from Andheri Station, but forgot to tell me about it. Confronting meant further loss of time so I avoided it. But Metro means lot of walk with luggage that affects speed. Then we took a rikshaw for the airport.

Our abstract calculations of transit time from Virar to port had left us with more than an hour margin. But in reality, we now only had half an hour. As we got off the customized elevator that stopped on specific floors, I spotted Ashu with one trolley bag less. I screamed and brought it to his notice. He hurried back, but unfortunately, the elevator doors closed on him. Ashu took another one to get it back. This sudden animation was so not needed right now when we were few feet away from the check-in counter. I was breathing anxiously. I remembered all the tweets that complained how they didn’t get to board the plane though they were well in time. We weren’t even leaving any grounds to complain.

Then Ashu appeared triumphantly with the bag from one of the elevators. We checked-in and he narrated the story when we could slow down a little. A guard had immediately quarantined the unattended bag. Ashu could successfully convince him probably only because not much time had passed in between. A due procedure would have certainly cost us this flight. In worst scenario, we could have made it to the headlines of a very cheap news channel..

From this dramatic situation we headed for a pleasant surprise. For reasons unknown, our seats were upgraded and we got a business class..yep! Better seats and complimentary lunch. Why – no idea! I saved the question for later but never asked. Thank you #Spicejet. This must be a universal sign to make more such impulsive journeys.

The Guwahati airport was cute.

I could safely say now that we were going to Shillong.. Well, most probably…

Nah kidding , we went 😉

To be continued..

About Potato Star 2013QR3, Korean Sitcom

An asteroid, significantly massive in size, is reported to pass by earth soon. It causes a mayhem among people by wavering from its path, and heading towards the earth instead. Halting at a safe distance, it starts orbiting the planet like another moon. Life of these Korean families and people in their circle get influenced  in a peculiar manner because of its presence. Hence the sitcom is named after it, Potato Star 2013QR3.

Noh soo dong, Director of the toy company, Kong Kong is retiring because of health issues, and is handing over his responsibilities to his son, an Oxford graduate. 

The opening episode baffles you with turd talks between this father and son who discuss them each time in all seriousness. The lead girl expertly clearing the clogged toilet, Mr. Soo-dong utterly preoccupied with his bladder problems, and believing his son makes the perfect sound to help him urinate are some similarities that reminded me heavily of Hindi movie, Piku.. That’s only the first episode for you. There are many more quirky stories of crazy interesting, yet identifiable characters here making this a ‘don’t–don’t-miss’ sitcom. Whole gamut of  human digestion system gets due acknowledgement and respect along with the other aspects of life of these people.

The Nohs are quintessentially a self-engrossed upper class family. They began ordinary with a toy startup but got lucky(and some bribe to sport officials that helped) with their innovative products that made it to Seoul, Olympics held in ’88. A sketch of these family members and people affiliated with them will give you an idea what to expect from this sitcom.

Na Jin-Ah – Na jin-ah is the main protagonist of the story. She is a hardworking young girl with a never-die spirit, and dreams to work at Kong Kong. Just like her father, she too wants to design a unique toy. Her father passed away without getting due credit for innovating a jumping gear at Kong Kong. It was a breakthrough product resulting in establishing a name for the company.  She finally cracks the Kong Kong’s entrance test and gets apprenticeship there, but her hardships have only just begun.
For such a cute face with petite looks, Na Jin-Ah is surprisingly tough inside-out. I mean, take this example; She suffers from Nyctophobia(fear of darkness), but in her frenzied state, she beats up this serial killer black and blue when he attacks her. Nevertheless, fright is fright, because she has no clue what she managed in her anxiety!
She is herself only with two people on the earth. Her mom and Hongberg, her confidante and much more. Even when you catch her a few times thinking of the second lead, Min-hyuk, you know the clear distinction in her feelings for them because of her comfort level with Hong.

Hong Hye-sung / Noh Jun-hyuk -He has two names because he is the lost and found son of the Noh family. Or is he? He is Tech -smart, always busy developing several useless apps on his laptop, but quite simple-minded when it comes to social skills. You can’t imagine he is planted in the Noh family by their rivals. Given his unworldly ways, Hong is obviously a wrong choice on their part. He is therefore never completely at ease in the Noh house, but slowly gets attached to the members, and prolongs his stay there. Using bare minimum words in a conversation(mostly, a no, used both to affirm or negate) his expressions speak thousand words and the love he feels for Jin-Ah.

Min Hyuk – Played by Go Kyung Pyo, he is the reason I started watching this sitcom of 120 episodes. He is yet to get his breakthrough role and has mostly played  second lead in other Korean dramas – so impressively, that I never came to like the lead guys of those series. Here, he  plays a self-admiring, pompous young new CEO of the company who loses his memory in an accident. Go Kyung Pyo effortlessly slips into role of Min Hyuk, who has forgotten all memories after he turned 7. He is now so innocently sweet and charming that you have to blame his growing up that ruined this side of him.  Even as a 7 year old, he isn’t convinced that Jin-ah lives in their garage because she likes cars. He feels the discomfort of having to live there, especially when the cold season has begun. Things go missing from Noh house like mink coat, wall T.V etc. to the garage to provide for his NaJinahshi. A hilarious war breaks out with his younger sister when she suggests Jin-ah to go on blind dates. 

Gil Seon Ja(Jin-ah mom) – Na-jin-ah and her mom share a beautiful relationship even though they often get on each other’s nerves. On the face of it, her mom looks like a shallow person always nagging Jin Ah to hookup with either of the Noh brothers and put an end to their suffering. But she never shies away from hard labor.
She takes up the housekeeping job at Noh’s which is exasperatingly annoying for many reasons. In a fair world, the riches of Noh family would be hers. Then she is putting up with the entitled attitude of her boss lady and her babyish husband.
She is jack of many, many things, and is master of cooking. Unknown to her, she is also harabeoji-Grandpa’s crush.

Grandpa of Noh family -He is so old that he has once played a basketball match with Japanese soldiers during Japanese occupation of Korea. Yet, he is looking for dating prospects much to the annoyance of his daughter in law. Grandpa is forever at war with her and despises her centralized control on the Noh house. He always overestimates his physical prowess and invites trouble.

Noh Soo Dong – He is supposedly the man of the Noh house, but he isn’t. He has done almost nothing to own the success of his business. In his 50s, he is a man child who is paranoid about his health and panics at the drop of a hat. He has no say in his house. He barely manages to let Jin-ah and her mom stay in their garage when they have nowhere to go. But even when he is not facing resistance from his wife, his ‘generous’ acts are annoying owing to his miser nature and detachment from reality (after Jin-ah’s father passes away, he has dutifully sent them one rice bag per year as a token of gratitude).
His bloated belly thus often is about unsettled reparation stories and he can burp peacefully when he repays the dues.

Wang Yoo-Jung is Noh Soo Dong’s wife and in contrast to him a non-sentimental type. When her lost son is found, she is the last person in her family to accept him wholeheartedly. Wang Yoo has a tight grip on Noh family, especially her husband. Unlike her husband, she refuses to feel any obligation towards Jin-ah and her mom. Ironically, she comes from a modest background and is carrying a guarded complex about it. Which is why she feels the need to act superior, and have her way.

Noh Bo Young -The eldest married daughter of Noh family has a nose of a detective. She is a hobby food blogger and mother of twin boys. Like her mother, she too needs to have the last word in her family. I found her ‘home mystery solver’ tales very enjoyable. In the beginning, it is funny to watch how she knows every move of her husband and her children only too well. Though this keeps her husband always stressed who cannot have any life of his own. Also this panicked husband’s foiled cheating plans, however unlikely to happen, aren’t that funny. In short, they are elaborated episodes of ‘my wife is so dominating’ Whatsapp jokes.

Noh Soo Young – The young daughter of Noh family returns  to Korea along with her American boyfriend, Julien(he is a sweetheart, but I won’t be writing separately about him). She is so fickle minded that she breaks up with him as soon as they land in the country. The reasons she gives are silly, but understandable. She even tries to get back with him, but is unable to force it upon her heart. As Julien decides to wait a while for her in Korea, she falls in love with a struggling band artist, and this time for real. 
It’s quite interesting to watch her transition from one kind of life to another. She is typically a rich brat who is idling away her days. Then when in love, she even takes up a job to clean pig intestines in a restaurant (Gopchang is a S.Korean special dish made of it) as her class-conscious mother puts a stop on her pocket money to discourage her relationship with Jang Yul. 

Jang yul – He is my second favorite character after Min Hyuk(during memory loss). He reminds me of me. He is slow in reactions and I’m accused of same. You too will take to him much later, just like his slow responding. Before that happens, you don’t get why Soo Young likes him and is not changing her mind this time. A struggling musician, I also liked his few pieces that has off-the-wall lyrics. Some nearly 20 episodes of this sitcom go real slow and are a little lost. It’s a pure coincidence that they were exact those episodes where he was missing as he gets a work assignment in the US. 

Mr. Oh and his two associates are villains in this sitcom. Most of the times their plan to take down Kong Kong and financially harm the Nohs, fails. But they are all so adorable that at times I suspected or wished they had a valid reason for holding a grudge against the Nohs.  

Each and every actor in this sitcom has performed ingeniously. The director, Kim Byung Wook, has a history of notoriously giving an abrupt/ weird endings to his previous series. This sitcom too is left open-ended. I didn’t like that at first, but was okay after giving it some time. It’s not sad, just gives us some heartburn, hahaha!

What happens to the asteroid? Do Earthians survive it? Are there any aliens in here?

Janne ke liye dekhiye – Potato Star 2013QR3

Telecast Year – 2013

Episodes -120

Genre – Sitcom

Where to watch – Kissasian.si

Crazy Rich Asians

Because of Korean Dramas, my interest in East-Asian culture has expanded immensely. Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian too look familiar now. I was therefore curious about this movie, Crazy Rich Asians since I heard of it and wanted to know how crazy the rich Asians can be. Measure my level of interest in this movie knowing how I prioritized it to watch before the movie that topped on my watch-list – Gullyboy.

Though, after the first opening scene which is very impressive, I was disappointed with the rest of the story. To sum it up in one sentence, it is a typical story of ‘girl facing resistance before getting accepted by the boy’s family,’ served in golden plate with eye-pleasing garnish.

It was hard to gulp that the lead girl of the movie is so clueless about her boyfriend being an awful rich heir that too after dating him for one year. One year is enough time in which you should try to get to know the person you are dating, at least, from the point of safety. Thank goodness that her shock was about he being crazy rich and not that her boyfriend turning out to be a serial killer, or a terrorist, or an enemy country spy!

So even if he is not a serial killer, he is still not a great boyfriend as he hasn’t thought beforehand the consequences of not preparing his girlfriend for the hostile situations that will in most probability arise after introducing her to the family. Then it is the usual story of girl struggling to make her place battling prejudices of the boy’s mom who thinks of her as more American despite her Chinese origins. What would the mother do if the girl her son fell in love with was a complete American? Or African? Or Afghani? After making the excellent point of racism in the opening scene, shouldn’t the people who faced it have developed a broadened vision of life? What is the point of being so crazy rich if the woman in the family still has to put family over passion? I couldn’t help think that this Mamma’s boy could capably go only so far when it came to falling in love -recklessly by his family’s standard but not enough bold about it. Naturally, I did not feel like rooting for him. The happy ending did not answer how the couple is going to work it out post marriage and who is going to sacrifice what. (I felt concerned…lol.) In the end, I marveled only at the luxurious display of their lifestyle but felt hollow emotionally.

Those were my thoughts.

A little chat discussing this movie with my cousin, Meghana made me consider the audience who are totally new to the East-Asian culture. May be I missed feeling enthralled by little cultural elements in the movie because of my exposure to it already. If it was successful in drawing some good attention of western audience at the life in their far east, it did serve a certain purpose. Hope it makes the producers make more movies and go beyond this achievement and we consider this movie as a start.