Mawlynnong, a perfect village for your retirement

It is true India is not one of the cleanest countries in the world. Leave cities, its villages are equally filthy. But what if I introduce you to a village where you’d be surprised to see no garbage! Yes, no garbage at all.

Mawlynnong, a small village located in the East Khasi Hills of Meghalaya is about 80 kms from Cherrapunje. The village is home to 90 families with total population of around 400. Having credited as the ‘cleanest village’ of Asia, Mawlynnong was on my list for long when I first heard about it. It was hard for me to believe the existence of such place in India. But it does exist.

The drive to this place is not only picturesque but quite an adventure since the road to it is blanketed by fog all throughout the year that makes tad difficult to drive. I always have a picture in my mind before visiting a place, however this village broke all notions. To reach to the interiors of the village we had to cut through the dense grassland. Since, it was pleasant weather I rolled down my window to feel the fresh breeze of the hills, and I could hear the loud buzzing of crickets.

It was pitch dark everywhere.

I asked our driver if it is always like this or is there a burnout? He replied that village has no streetlights. I was not surprised though.

As we were proceeding towards the village, we encountered men sitting on the road and drinking. Seeing me a bit puzzled, the driver told that it is normal here since there is no source of entertainment; people sit on the road and have ‘fun’.

Suddenly, the car stopped. I asked the driver why did he stop, we want to go to the village soon. He said, “this is it, this is the Mawlynnong village.” I was surprised because first, it was dark and second, it was dead, I could see nobody there. I checked my watch to see if we were late, but to my surprise it was just 7p.m.!!

This is how it looked in the morning

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Photo Credits: TravelsandStories

We approached to our guesthouse that we had booked; the owner of the place was called Henry. Apparently, in Meghalaya, Christianity is predominant and almost all speak basic English! That was a breather. So, Henry showed us our bamboo hut that I was super excited to see. And it didn’t disappoint me a bit. The hut was a quaint cottage with two twin bedrooms, a common bathroom and dining area. Still basic but looked luxury in this small village.

Photo Credits: TravelsandStories

Henry told us that it is good if we leave to see the Riwai living root bridge early in the morning to beat any crowd what so ever.

Since it was too dark, I couldn’t have a first sight opinion of the village. And now, I anxiously waited for the morning. We all retired early after a long day.

The morning was even more beautiful than expected. A dewy morning with drizzle and I was awestruck by the greenery there. It was 6 a.m. and still did not see any village people.

Street of the village

Photo Credits: TravelsandStories

Riwai Living Root Bridge is located in Riwai Village, which is just a kilometer away from Mawlynnong. The bridge is another tale altogether and needs another post to be told.

On our way back to the cottage I finally saw local women cleaning the roads (which were already cleaned) and for the first time I noticed the cute bamboo triangular bins hung all around the village. These ubiquitous bins are the proofs of efforts taken by the locales to keep this place in tranquility with nature.

Photo Credits:TravelsandStories

I am sure you’d be mesmerize by the simplicity of the village to the extent that you might just start plan to spend your after retirement years there. Mawlynnong is an inspiration model to all the villages of India. It is so good to see when people respect nature and live in harmony with it. We have all read in schools about the importance of eco-balance but as we grow this knowledge holds little relevance. I was reintroduce to the concept again in this village and I could clearly make out how happy people there were. I just hope the credits of this village spread worldwide and inspire people to respect and preserve the nature. And believe me we don’t have a slightest idea how much a happy eco-system can give us back.

When to go:

Though it is still rainy season in August but it is the best time to see this beautiful village.

Where to stay:

If you are somebody who can’t leave his or her comfort zone, this place is not for you. There are no proper hotels here. There are only few bamboo huts owned by villagers, which are not advertised on Internet. Contact Henry (09615043027) or Carol (09436104844) for booking a bamboo hut.

Things to know:

  • Since these bamboo huts are like homestays so only option to eat here is with the family. The food is basic but delicious and big portions.
  • If you are a bit finicky about blankets, you can take your own since here the bedding would have a little damp stench. But you can’t complain.
  • Check out the Tree House near the Bamboo Hut
  • Since the village is all green, carry insect repellant.
  • Carry rainproof cloths and footwear.
  • Beware of leeches.

For more pics visit my flickr page : https://www.flickr.com/photos/travelzandstories/sets/72157646359037979/

 

Hunder, Ladakh

IMG_0341Photo Credits: A. Mittal

As mesmerizing this picture is, so is the story behind it. I always take joy in telling my enthralling experience on the highest motorable road in the world – Khardung La Pass in Ladakh.  The Khardung La Pass is located 40km away from Leh town, Every rider who loves challenges thrown by nature would find this road perfect for satisfying his adrenaline rush. The road is located at an elevation of 18, 380 ft.  At any given month of the year, you can find the snow mountains encompassing Khardung La.  It is really a nature’s miracle that people use this snow-covered road to reach Hunder, a village amidst  the cold desert of Nubra Valley. Well, my trajectory was no different. Hunder is located 130 kms away from the Khardung La Pass and it is advisable to reach there early in day time since the weather can be really nasty at the Khardung La in the evenings. The other reason that should tempt  you to go to Hunder is riding on a double humped camel.

ladakh-map Photo Credits: flycatcheradventures

We were also set to experience this sudden transition from snow-capped mountains to riding a camel in sand dunes.  As my family and I were proceeding towards Khardung La, our driver-cum-guide informed that many years ago this road was a trade road between India and China.  Ladakh is a very difficult terrain to drive plus you can’t use your private vehicle for excursions for security reasons, hence it is a mandate to hire a local taxi.

We were very much aware of Ladakh’s unpredictable rains, but what we didn’t know was, since it was at very high altitude, it can snow even in summers. In minutes, the whole road was covered with ice not even snow making it whole slippery and difficult to drive on.  As we reached at the check post to begin our memorable ride, we noticed our taxi was slipping towards the abyss. We were aghast for a second. My mother clutched my hand, though for me the whole situation was no less than an adventure. Our driver, however, took control and reversed the car, but every time he tried driving forward, the vehicle would go slanting. Our driver then stopped the car, took out iron chains from the trunk and rolled it around all 4 wheels and tried steering it again. To our driver’s surprise it still didn’t work and this time one wheel of our car went outside the road. My mom screamed with it and started cursing me as usual for jeopardizing all of our lives at that moment.

IMG_0342Photo Credits: A. Mittal

Our driver suggested we start walking down the road while he’d fix the car issue and meet us in the way, to which we all agreed, at least it was better than falling into that gorge. We walked. It was still snowing and the road sill slippery. I was leading the troupe making footsteps for my family to walk. 1 hour passed, we were still walking in a snowstorm on the deserted road, without any shelter in sight. Though some military trucks passed by but didn’t stop because if they did, the vehicle would lose its friction on the road.

I believe that was the best walk of my life stuck in nature, with spectacular landscape all around me, I had a moment of epiphany. Suddenly, this urge of connecting with God ushered in and thought maybe this is the way God wants me to his best creations. It still remains the best experience of my life.

IMG_0370Photo Credits: A. Mittal

My brother kept looking for our driver, but there was no sign of him. It was thundering, foggy and the chills in the air were making all of us nauseating. I was shaking with cold with the fatigue of walking for so long but didn’t show it to my family. Finally, my mom saw a shack that looked like a military bunker. We started moving towards it. Soon we realized it wasn’t near as we thought we still had to walk a lot, a lot I mean. But we didn’t want to die frosting in that snow, so we paced up. It took us another hour to reach to that shade and found it was abandoned and had nothing inside. At that point of time, even roof looked like a blessing. Mostly, my parent would freak out in a situation like this, surprisingly they were quite calm and were enjoying this adventure in their elderly age. We spent at least 30 minutes there, catching back our breaths and stabilizing our swiveling heads. Outside, the snowstorm stopped and everything looked calm. As we decided to head on, saw our driver speeding towards us. That moment was precious for my mom at least. He started explaining his delay but we were just too happy to see him there.  Well, we almost walked through the whole of the Khardung La road and were now descending.

IMG_0371Photo Credits: A. Mittal

I was marvelling in a sense that within 10 kms the whole scenery around me drastically changed from snow to sand, from white to brown, even the texture of the mountains changed. We were in Nubra Valley that homes the cold desert of Ladakh. Our driver took us to Hunder which was just 45 kms away from the Pakistan border. Hunder contrastively was greener with sand dunes and double-humped camel. I know a very odd combination, but it is totally worth it.

IMG_0374Photo Credits: A. Mittal

IMG_0388Photo Credits: A. Mittal

IMG_0380Photo Credits: A. Mittal

Ladakh is truly a wonder of nature. I am still waiting for the time when I can again visit Ladakh and this time going even more remote and feel blessed again in the lap of nature.

About Ladakh

Ladakh lies in the Jammu and Kashmir state of India. Still remote, place is now often visited by nature loving tourists. The capital of Ladakh is Leh town, a buzzing Buddhist town.

How to get there?

To reach Leh you can fly directly from New Delhi. Though drive to Leh is cumbersome, but is worth all the pains. New Delhi to Leh is about 1,300 km and can take about 4 days. It is an experience of life, you won’t regret it. You can either take Kashmir route or Manali route. Both are amazingly scenic. Leh to Nubra Valley can be reached by any hired taxi.

IMG_0657Photo Credits: A. Mittal

When to go there?

Summers are the best. While the Manali route gets cleared of snow only in June, Srinagar route gets open in the end of April. For more details on the routes, you can visit the government tourist site with Leh here.

 

Top 4 eating places in Jodhpur

Jodhpur

The city of Jodhpur reflects blue if seen from altitude due to blue painted houses.  The city is known for its small lanes, authentic Rajasthani clothes specially bandhini (a.k.a. bandhej) and Rajasthani food.  You can’t miss Rajasthani food when you are in the city. It’s a feast.  Some very famous Rajasthani dishes are Dal Baati Churma, Ker Sangri, Gatte ki Sabzi, Kadhi, Pyaz Kachori, and the list goes on.

Since the city has a lot of restaurants you may easily get confused. Here is a list of my places where you can enjoy a good meal or time.

1. Gypsy Restaurant

As the name suggests the place is not at all gypsy. In fact it serves the best traditional Rajasthani Thali. Located in Sardarpura area of Jodhpur, the place is always brimming with foreigners and even locales. On any good day you may have to wait in a que to get a table but it is quick serving. The platter consists of mix of best 2-3 curries, 2-3 vegetables and sweets. You need to be really empty stomach before coming here as the meal is sumptuous to fill you for the day. The flavors just burst in your palette. You can even choose to order individual dishes from the menu rather the whole platter. But if you are in the city ou must try their platter as it offers authentic rajasthani cuisine at one place. Plus you can even ask for more, it is like a buffet where you are served at the table.

The mean costs around Rs.500 for two people which I think is quite rightly priced considering the quantity they offer.

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2. Panorma 360 view

Having a good meal and a view of magnificent Mehrangarh Fort, it can’t be nay better. Panorma 360 is a terrace restaurant on Hotel Inn Pal located near clock tower. The place can easily be located. Enjoy your meal on a breezy evening with great ambiance and view. You know I feel eating at such places really make your meal memorable. The place offers both vegetarian and non-vegetarian rajasthani cuisines. It’s a good place to try Rajasthan’s famous Lal maas (red meat).  I won’t say it has the best food but not bad at all. Certain dishes were good but some were bit spicy.

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3. Jhankar Choti Haveli

It’s a small cafe in Makarana Mohalla near Mehrangarh Fort. The place is good for snacks and spending good time in evening. You can bring your laptop, the cafe offers free wifi, plays good Indian music. Though I didn’t try main course there but just snacks, I would still go again to that place for its ambiance and backpacker crowd which gives you ample opportunity to indulge in good conversations and make friends for life. The place had a traditional Indian set up and thus gives you a lot to capture in your lens. The place is quite decent for pockets.

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4. Cafe Mehran

There are not many choices of eating joints in the premises of Mehrangarh Fort. One such cafe located in the fort is Cafe Mehran. I had heard a lot about the cafe and seeing the crowd there I was very enthusiastic about it. But unfortunately I think the place is a bit overrated in terms of food. Though the place is always buzzing, well it could be because it is better than the other cafes in the fort. The food it not bad but very ordinary. It’s a sort of fast food place where you can rest after your long walk around the fort and have a quick bite but nothing more than that.

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Getting to Jodhpur

Rajasthan is quite well connected by roads and railways.

There are few trains that goes direct to Jodhpur and even Jaisalmer. To name a few – Mandor Express, Del-Jsm Express, Rajasthan S Kranti etc. You can choose what suits your timing.

For comfortable travel you can book cabs from Delhi or Jaipur to Jodhpur and Jaisalmer.

 

 

Wild Ranthambore

Last weekend I took a trip to Ranthambore Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan. It is about 5-6 hour  away from New Delhi. As soon as I stepped in my resort I was welcomed by majestic Rajasthani hospitality.

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And then the day came when I took the safari to see the majesty of the forest. And look what I spot first …

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A stag..and he crossed the road in front of us, its whole movement was captured. For more pics look at my other blogpost here.

We also got to spot spotted deers and lots of them.

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We were taken to a spot where there were a lot of peacocks who were friendly not shying away from visitors. And how charismatic it is..

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There was this whole lake blanketed with red algae..We got to see some other birds there and a crocodile which was too far to spot. Some didn’t even believe if it was a real one. It looked real to me but I have my own doubts.

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Although it was a tiger reserve the only thing we didn’t get to spot was a tiger. Pretty disappointed I was. I also wore my leopard print pants, I was that excited. But after that I got to know it is a 10% probability to see a tiger here. The guide told me that the Wildlife enthusiasts take about 50 trips to and fro to see one Indian tiger, well I was just unfortunate. But I really enjoyed the jungle safari although the bumpy ride really strained my back.

After I got back home I googled more on if they are even any tigers there in this reserve or is it just a gimmick. I found out something interesting story about a tigress of this forest.  Read about her story here.

Unexplored journey – Lansdowne

Not all journeys are successful. This doesn’t mean the others which are not successful are failures but sometimes they leave a story behind which you wouldn’t mind telling to people again and again.

So this was back in 2010 December.  My father has always been very spontaneous on travel. It’s a record that he has never booked a hotel room well in advance and his idea  behind this is in India you can always find a place to crash for a night and if you don’t, you always have your car.  It was around New Year holiday when at a prompt, my family decided to celebrate New Year’s eve at some hill station. It was still 31st morning and we all started packing not sure of destination. My dad while packing kept asking me to Google any place within 300 kms from Delhi. After a lot of  yes and no we finally pinned down Lansdowne.  My family had never heard of this place before and they were bit skeptical at first but since it was 250 km from Delhi and bit unexplored they got convinced.  Like a adventurous family we packed everything in our SUV and left for Lansdowne.  Lansdowne is a very small hill station in the state of Uttarakhand in India.  It is a relatively a less touristy place.

It was very unfortunate that in a very less time of our journey we got stuck in traffic for almost 4-5 hours.  For once my parents gave up and suggested to return back home since it was winters and Lansdowne being a hill station is prone to thick fog which could hinder our drive.  But like an obstinate traveler I insisted to carry forward and so we did. As expected by the time we reach the hill slopes the fog blanketed the road and we all were at the edge of our seats. While in ascended towards the destination I observed Lansdowne is located on a very steep hill, so driving here is not easy especially in night. Additionally it is not a very touristy destination back then in 2010, now it has, so the roads were not well maintained and there were no street lights to top it all. We were driving in a secluded rocky terrain, steep slope, thick fog, and adding to the difficulty there was also unfenced deep trench , I don’t know if there was a  water body running below or pointed stones as it was pitch dark. As a family we were happy that we were together that if something happened tonight it would be to all of us. Needless to say it was a high point of anxiety and fear to my mother, she started a series of endless chanting and prayers that we reach safely to the town. This high tensed drama went on for atleast 5 hours. I won’t lie but the thought that why didn’t I stay back at home came to my mind but I did not let it out rather I had put a brave face and was showing how fun this journey is.  

But after brave driving by my father we reached to the point when we saw first Motel but the town was still 1 km away.  The Motel was having its New Years Party with all it guest enjoying.  We were  pretty excite seeing people after 5 hours so we halted there for a while and did general inquiry about the place.  There we got to know that the further road to the town is blocked due to a landslide !!! It was such a devastating news to us. After such a hard driven journey, all we got was an unexplored destination. We were still curious so went further to see if we can drive through the landslide but we saw a bus stuck half in the trench which of course freaked my mom and she commanded everyone to not to even think of doing any stunts but to take a room at a Motel we first saw. So we didn’t further proceeded towards the town. Alas!!!.

 We were being followed by the bad fate that Motel was full and there was no other Motel in that area so here we were out in the cold without any roof just the car and four of us. We had dinner at the Motel and James Bond decided to leave back to home that very night. After a lot of confrontations we decided to go back to home and it was still midnight. We had to face that scary ride again in one night. But thankfully descending down was not that scary than before. We reached the foothills but the fog was still thick. While my brother and dad were taking turns on driving I was having my goodnight sleep. I would only wake up when I would hear that they lost the way and took the wrong turn and reached to dead ends. I remember my brother also asked a way from a man who guided us in detail but later we realized he was a thief!!! and was trying to steal a car.  In sometime we reached the outskirts of Delhi and watched the sunrise. 

This was one failure trip when we couldn’t reach to the destination but this whole journey has left a deep impression in my memories which I think I’ll always pass as strange stories from my travel.  I do plan to go to Lansdowne again sometime but may be sometime in summers so that I can see what was below in the trenches.

I have no pictures from this trip but I still want to put some from Google so that readers can relate and imagine the whole journey I had been though.

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