March 25 – 31 Cherrapunjee, Shillong, Kaziranger National Park & Majuli Island
Day 2 Monday: Drive to Cherrapunjee, Meghalaya (about 150km)
Today we set off after 8:30 am. We had three stops on the way to Cherrapunjee, also known as Sohra, in the state of Meghalaya. Cherrapunjee is one of the wettest places on the planet and the only place in India to receive rain throughout the year. The heavy monsoon rains over these mountains, create one of the rarest bio-diverse vegetation in the world.
Our first stop was at a view point overlooking Umiam Lake (also known as Barapani Lake). This reservoir was created by damming the Umiam River in the early 1960s. The water looked eerily green. I hope it is safe for consumption!
Then we had lunch. I had vegetable fried rice which is very good. We stopped to take a distant view of the Nokikhai Falls the second highest in India with the deepest plunge pool below. Anyway, as the rain has yet to come, the waterfalls look pitifully dry with only a tread of water coming down.
We then arrived at the underground Mawsmai caves.
The sun was setting when I emerged out of the caves. We drove another 45 minutes before arriving at the nice Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort where we would stay two nights.
Day 3 Tuesday: Trek to Double-decker Living Root Bridge (8km)
An exciting day as we enjoy an optional scenic walk through the beautiful Khasi hills to the 250-year-old double-decker living root bridge, spanning between two grand old rubber trees in the remote village of Norgriat. This bridge can only be reached on foot but it’s a very beautiful and interesting walk. The first part of the trail takes you down a series of steep stone steps, passing small remote villages. It will take approx. 2 hours (depending upon one’s physical fitness) of walking down the steps to reach the bridge. On arrival at the bridge we will have a packed lunch (not included) and enjoy resting in the area. It is then a steep climb following the same steps back to the coach. The ascent usually takes longer and it is challenging in the heat. It is a moderate/challenging trek and we recommend wearing walking shoes with good grip. Using a walking pole or finding a sturdy stick locally will help you navigate the steps especially if you have knee problems.
I completed the trek around 2 pm.
When I got back to resort, Vicki and I explored the Laitkynswe Village on foot.
Day 4 Wednesday: Visit the Sacred Forest in Mawphlang village and afternoon in Shillong (125Kms)
We got up early in order to walk to a living root bridge in Seitj Village (about 3km). started around 6:15 am. Hard walk took the wrong turn and descended a step staircase. Back around 8:30 am for breakfast. Set off at 9 am.
We arrived at the Mawphlang Sacred Forest, with its plentiful flowering trees, orchids and butterflies (approx. 3hrs drive). Had lunch.
Then set off around 1:30 pm arrived in Shillong around 2:30 pm. Pouring rain. Followed Navin on an orientation walk as the local guide did not turn up owing to the heavy rain.
From here it is just a 1 hr drive to Shillong where we will check in to our hotel. This afternoon we take a walk through the streets of Shillong, the capital city of the state of Meghalaya, as well as the headquarters of the East Khasi Hill district. Reputable educational institutions were established by various missionary groups, making Shillong the hub of education for the entire north-east. It is also home to several waterfalls and is referred to as ‘the Scotland of the East‘. British influence is still visible in the architecture and cuisine.
Gateway Hotel near Center Point, the heart of the city
I was on my feet wandering around from 4 to 7 pm. Went to the Bara Bazaar. Fun. Got some Assam tea from a tea merchant
Day 5 Thursday: Don Bosco Museum, Shillong – Kaziranga National Park, Assam (250km)
We set off at 8:30 am hoping to be the first group of visitors to the famous Don Bosco Museum on Indigenous Cultures, a famous museum which preserves the culture of various tribes and communities of northeast India.. The traffic was horrific: we spent an hour on a 3-km journey.
Left at 11 am. Had lunch in a nice veg restaurant. On the road again. Did not arrive at La Vue Resort close to the Kaziranga National Park after dark. We saw a most beautiful sunset but could not take decent photos from the moving vehicle.
Day 6 Friday: Kaziranga National Park
Kaziranga National Park is a World Heritage site, famous for the one-horned rhino. The landscape consists of pristine forest, tall elephant grass, reeds, marshes and shallow pools. The park also has a small number of tiger and is home to a large breeding population of elephants, buffalo and swamp deer.
We had two jeep safaris. The morning one from 7 to 11 am was fantastic. We had a packed breakfast at a watch tower. Has over 2400 Indian one-horned rhinos and an estimated tiger population of 120.
After a rest and a light lunch at the hotel, we set off again at 1:45 pm.
We left around 4:30 pm when Navin saw no chance of tiger sighting.
Anyway, it was a nice day.
Day 7 Saturday: Drive 150km to Nimati Ghat, Crossing Brahmaputra by Ferry to Majuli Island
We drove about two hours to reach Nimati Ghat where we boarded a local ferry to cross the mighty Brahmaputra River.
Majuli Island spreading over 924.6 sq. km with a population of approximately 200,000, is the second largest river island in the world. It is renowned for the Mishing tribal culture and from time to time it attracts migratory birds. The island has been a principle place of pilgrimage for Vaishnavites (followers of Lord Vishnu) since the age of the Ahom rulers. There are 22 Hindu temples and several satras (monasteries and hermitages) resembling those of mediaeval times and headed by Satradhikars, teaching Vaishnavism.
The ferry crossing took about an hour and we were met by our local guide, Little, a 42-year-old monk. We now travelled in four 4WD and soon arrived at Me-Po Okum Eco Resort. On arrival, we had a light lunch (R100) with Indian snacks and tea.
We then went to see India’s longest bamboo bridge (about 400m in length). Each year before the arrival of the monsoon, the main bamboo poles would be pulled up. Locals would be crossing the stream by boat.
Today’s highlight was our visit to a Mishing tribal village near the bamboo bridge with about 120 households. The Mishing tribe comprises of 45% of Majuli’s population and their ethnic culture remains unchanged for centuries. They have community pillar houses, which are generally stilted and have a thatched roof. There are.
We had a nice dinner with chicken and fish. In the evening, there were torrential rain, lightnings and thunders. Then we lost power and struggled in darkness.
Day 8 Sunday: Majuli Island
We had candle breakfast as the power line had been pulled down by falling trees. It was raining and the early morning bird watching walk had to be cancelled.
The weather was changeable. As a whole, the rain had not affected our main programme today. We started off with a visit to a mask making family.
Then we visited another village famed for pottery making. We watched a lady making pots.
Then we visited two satras which are centres of learning, art and culture. Each satra has an unknown wealth of Vaishnavite scriptures and extensive revenue-free lands cultivated by the Bhakats (celebrated monks) of the satras.
The first one has 60 monks including some kids. The monks here all wear long hair. There is no idol in this temple. Instead they have the book in the temple.
Then we proceeded to the Chamaguri Satra the largest and oldest temple on the island. It has 350 monks living in 96 units.
We had a vegetable lunch in the unit where Little stays.
We visit more satras, learning about Majuli’s unique traditions and the hold these satras have over its people. We’ll meet the priests and the impact in which the Vaishnavite culture has on the people of Majuli. We finish today’s sightseeing with a visit to Chamaguri satra, famous for mask making, which are used for religious dance and theatre. There is an optional cultural show this evening for those who would like to experience traditional dance and music.
I was coughing badly especially at night. I therefore slept badly. I bought cough sirup which made me drowsy.
Day 9 Monday: Crossing Brahmaputra to Nimati Ghat; drive to Sivasagar (60km)
We had a walk at 6 am. By the river, watched some waterfowl and birds, walked through a village next to the eco lodge. We returned to the hotel for breakfast and left for the pier at 7:45 am.
We caught the 8:30 am ferry and were back to Nimati Ghat around 10 am. We drove to Sivasagar, which was once the capital of the Ahom Kings and the most historic town in the state. The Shans, who came from Thailand through northern Myanmar in the early 13th Century, ruled for 600 years. Centuries before the arrival of the British, this part of the world was controlled by several tribal chieftains. Today, Ahom palaces and monuments dot the landscape around Sivasagar.
Possibly owing to the coughing sirup, I slept most of the way to Sivasagar. On arrival, we went to the ruins of an Ahom brick palace Talatal Ghar. Once a seven stories high, it has underground floors and several secret tunnels including one which is said to be 16km-long to the old capital.
Then we checked in Hotel Shiva Palace and had two hours before meeting at 4 pm. Instead of eating at the Sky Chef restaurant at the hotel, Lesley and I ventured out and had rice and fish in a local eatery for R100. Great! We also visited a local market where the vendors were all men.
At 4 pm, we took tuk tuk to went to the Rang Ghar a double-story royal sports pavilion.
Then we visited the Shiva Temple which is the tallest temple in Northeast India. I went into the temple. Interesting to watch man cracking a coconut and poured the juice in a bowl. A lady was kneeling beside the pool and placed flowers in pool before putting it over her head. A type of blessing! Many pilgrims visit this temple.
We walked back to the hotel through the bustling city centre. In the evening, I joined the group to eat at the Sky Chef Restaurant though I was not hungry. I ordered a fish curry which price was R200 on the menu. When I got the bill, it said R300. Anyway, I paid instead of arguing with them since it was not a lot of money. But it is not value for money at all: the fish was fried and tasteless. The fish I had in the street stall was fresh and much better.
Day 10 Tuesday: Sivasagar, Assam – Mon, Nagaland (120 km)
Today we headed to Mon in the state of Nagaland. There are expansive tea plantations along the road in Assam. But once we entered Nagaland, the landscape began to change and we drove along winding roads. Unfortunately, the first Nagaland town we stopped was filthy with litters dumped in the river and found along the road. The people look like those from hills tribes in China, northern Thailand, Myanmar and Laos.
Nagaland is one of the smallest states of India with an area of 16,579 km2 and a population of about 2 million. The state is mostly mountainous except those areas bordering Assam valley. Agriculture is the most important economic activity. Other significant economic activity includes forestry, tourism, insurance and miscellaneous cottage industries. The state is inhabited by 16 tribes each with its own distinct customs, language and dress. It is one of three states in India where the population is mostly Christian. Kohima is the state capital.
Nagaland is known in India as the land of festivals. The diversity of people and tribes creates a year-long atmosphere of celebrations. Each major tribe has its festival. The government of Nagaland has successfully launched since 2000 the Hornbill Festival held between 1 and 10 December.
Mon is the Regional capital of the Konyak tribe. At 897m above sea level, Mon is one of the most mystic places in Nagaland and boasts a rich tribal heritage. The Konyak tribe hosts a colourful Aoleang Festival in April.
Mon district is a nature lovers’ paradise offering some of the best views of the Assam plains. The district is also known for Headhunting as it was practised in historic times.
We arrived at the Teihpha Cottage (Homestay) around 1 pm and met a local guide from Mon. At 2:30 pm, we set off to the Hongphoi Village to meet one of the last surviving former headhunting tribes in this region.
We drove for about 45 minutes and walked for about ten minutes to reach the Angh’s house to meet the king and a dozen of elders. The king is 84 years old. They were sitting around a fire. This house was also the dormitory for unmarried men of the tribal in the old days.
The men were all dressed in tribal clothing. They have a hat with a hornbill feather and tattoo on their face. The king and few leaders also have an ivory band on their arm and a blue-beaded band below the knee: these ornaments signify their senior position.
A group of elders the drum while we took photos with the king. Before leaving, we gave the king some money as a token of appreciation. He and the elders countered the money and seemed very pleased with our gift. The king took the lead to sing and they followed the drum beat and moved in a circle. Fantastic!
Then we walked through the village which looks surprisingly tidy without little litter. I met a lady who is 82: she looked much younger with smooth skin. But I was annoyed when a few children asking us for money. They have been corrupted!
Day 11 Wednesday: Visit Longwa Village (64km)
The local guide arranged a morning visit to the Longwa Village located on the India-Myanmar border. The drive took almost two hours. The landscape is breath-taking with lush green mountains and a mosaic of patches of land cleared for cultivation. This was the most scenic ride of the entire trip.
The Angh’s house is located on the ridge which forms the border between India and Myanmar. Half of the house falls within Indian Territory, whereas the other half lies under Myanmar’s control. The Angh (hereditary king) and the village council chairman control the whole village, and the Angh’s jurisdiction extends up to Myanmar and Arunchal Pradesh.
We first went to the Angh’s house. But the 42-year-old king was away as he had to attend the funeral of a wife of the council chairman who passed away the night before. As a result, the village celebration in the morning as part of the Aoleang Festival was also cancelled. It’s a pity.
The house is fairly new and well-built. We met the king’s uncle in the kitchen and watched him preparing opium over the fire. He mixed the stuff with tobacco before inhaling it. Opium smoking among men is still common in this region.
I stepped on the Myanmar soil. I visited it once in early 1990s and love to return one day. Then we took the same route back to Mon for the Aoleang Festival celebrations.
When we arrived at the sportsground, we discovered the morning celebrations with dance and music were over. Some members were disappointed and frustrated as they had not seen any cultural activity in Longwa Village and had expected some music and dance performances in Mon in the afternoon. They believed Navin and the local guide should have found out the main programme in Mon and Longwa Village before finalising the programme of the day.
Anyway, the local guide said there would be festive activity in the sportsground in the afternoon. Lesley and I decided to go to walk to the town centre and had a grilled fish and red rice for lunch.
When we returned to the sportsground, the afternoon activity several competitions involving a show of masculinity and force had begun with tug of war. The next game was cutting a bunch of bamboo with an axe. But one man cut his leg by accident and was rushed to hospital.
Then a dozen competitors took part in archery. I was surprised to find most of participants were not skillful: only one man hit the centre.
The final game was stilts walking. The winner turned out to the same guy who won the archery competition.
When the games were over, Claire and I had a go at the bow and arrow. Though I did not hit the centre, my arrow landed nicely on the board. Not too bad for a novice.
It was early when we returned to the homestay. I strolled around the village and discovered the houses nearby are all tidy and clean with nice gardens.