Umkar Living Root Bridge: Marvel of Meghalaya

What a natural wonder it truly is ! Bridges made by the local tribes in Meghalaya by entwining the strong secondary roots of the Ficus elastica tree. Whenever and wherever the need arose, they simply grew their bridges. Helping the tribals to get past rivers and streams, these trees helped sustain life yet again.

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The most famous one is the Double Root Tree Bridge of Umshiang located in the village of Nongriat. But its quite and arduous trek, 2500 steps to reach Nongriat and this takes about 1.5 – 2 hours each way easily (maybe bit more depending on your fitness).So thats more than half a day gone. My friends who have been here say its definitely worth the visit. Don’t forget, you need a lot of energy to get there.

But if you are pressed for time, like us and yet didn’t want to leave Meghalaya without witnessing this marvelous phenomenon, here is another easy but lesser-known option: Umkar Living Root Bridge. I had a been in my bonnet to see any bridge in the short span of 4 hours that I had (6am to 10 am to be precise after which we had to leave Cherrapunjee for Guwahati airport for our flight). The local drivers and Hotel guys surprisingly didn’t have much information to offer. But extensive Google searches revealed bits of information that I put together to set off on our quest of Umkar Living Root Bridge.

A morning cup of tea in the clouds with a view of the sunrise and Bangladesh border like this from our room at The Polo Orchid Resort really gives a new meaning to life! It energizes you to get out and seize the day.

Our group of enthusiastic doctors boarded the jeep and it was a beautiful downhill drive from our resort to Siej village though thick tropical rainforest on either side. The wettest place is also definitely blessed with nature’s bounty. Just before Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort, it’s another 3km drive by taking a left turn. Its not well sign-posted so one has to ask for directions to Umkar Living Root Bridge.

Once you see this sign, walk through the Betel grove for about 10 minutes, past gushing waterfalls to reach the bridge. This 40 year old bridge is now considered to be “under construction” as it was washed away due to massive floods. Hence the the villagers are actually now rebuilding it.

The roots are light brown and green compared to older bridges and Umkar Living Root Bridge is a perfect example to learn the process of building living root bridges.

The bridge was strong enough for us to walk across it already. See how the floor has been formed with entwining branches around the scaffolding of the hollow betel nut tree trunks. Since this region gets heavy rainfall which results in innumerable streams and flowing rivers, the trees are well adapted to the soil erosion and the roots grow down towards the water. This one will take maybe another 15 years to be ready.

We were back in time to shower, have a delicious breakfast and check out of the Polo Orchid Resort with a heavy heart. A final “Adieu” to the Seven sisters waterfall, unmistakable seen from the resort all day. The next 5 hour we drove back to the airport through mountains and waterfalls, and it was such a pleasurable drive. We echoed the words of E.E. Cummings in our hearts “I thank You God for most this amazing day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes.”

Mesmerising Meghalaya: Beyond Shillong

More unchartered destinations get added to our travel map on a wondrous discovery of our country that has unsurpassed beauty as we travelled to Shillong in September 2018. I haven’t yet seen the famed rainforests of South America, but the more I’ve travelled in the North east of India, I’m convinced we can give them a run for their money. And so the journey to the wettest place in the world begins…

You can’t take your eyes off the ubiquitous rain-washed terrain from Guwahati airport towards Umiam lake. As we ascended up the green Khasi hills, overcast grey skies above and the serenity of the lake imbues a new energy that only culminates into pure bliss when we reached “Ri Kynjai” for lunch.

The resort and especially the restaurant with its unique location offering majestic views of the lake and should be the place to stay, instead of Shillong city, for that perfect getaway. Placid and tranquil as its name implies.

The delectable local food, rustic cottages and ambiance in the midst of nature really took my heart away. But we were headed to Shillong for the night and had to move on.

Shillong really has nothing exciting to offer, especially the traffic can be a huge nuisance. Living in Mumbai and waiting in bumper to bumper traffic-borne misery is not something I enjoyed on a holiday.

Tripura Castle hotel built in the early 1920’s by the then Maharaja of Tripura boasts of the grandiosity of the Colonial era. It houses such an amazing collection of historical memorabilia, prompting a journey to a by-gone era.

What adds to the uniqueness of this a hotel is the room Rabindranath Tagore used to spend his time while visiting Shillong and one can be in unison with the thoughts behind why the the state Meghalaya was named “the abode of clouds” 

A morning walk along the flowering blossoms was followed by a flavourful breakfast in the garden. We then jostled through narrow lanes to get out of the city towards Laitlum gorge.

It was not the ideal day to visit the gorge for the views, but definitely to frolic with the clouds and in the rain.

We got some sun on our was back as we headed south towards Cherrapunjee. The landscape has a distinct resemblance to the Tuscan countryside, don’t you agree?

Pit stop for a local lunch thali ….food coma again !

 

We reached Cherrapunjee by tea time, just enough time to explore the underground world of caves. The hills of Garo, Khasi, and Jaintia have a labyrinth of more than 750 caves in Meghalaya, out of which only 150 have been explored. The Mawsmai Cave is open to visitors and the lime and sandstone patterns and formations due to erosion by water will leave you awestruck.

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We reached our resort the Polo Orchid , just in time to catch last rays of the sun and unwind. The rooms are pleasantly decorated in wood, with a distressed blue finish.

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All the three hotels described in this blog are truly unique in their location, decor and ambience and we would recommend none other if you visit this part of the world.

” We are all travellers in a way” – George Whitman

Exploring Georgia: Borjomi, Uplistsikhe,Mtskheta

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The Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park is a treasure trove of nature’s bounty. Astoundingly beautiful in this month as the foliage changes color, the coniferous park is also famous for its mineral water from springs in the Borjomi Gorge. 

I was particularly mesmerised by the charms of the autumn season as various shades of red, yellow, orange and brown could be appreciated here
CAble car ride to the top

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An
“What a joy it is to feel the soft, springy earth under my feet once more,
to follow grassy roads that lead to ferny brooks….” Helen Keller

And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.  Kahlil Gibran

i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes  e.e. cummings

Go out, go out I beg of you
And taste the beauty of the wild.
Behold the miracle of the earth
With all the wonder of a child.  Edna Jaques

 

 

I am in love with this world . . . I have climbed its mountains, roamed its forests, sailed its waters, crossed its deserts, felt the sting of its frosts, the oppression of its heats, the drench of its rains, the fury of its winds, and always have beauty and joy waited upon my goings and comings.  John Burroughs

Exploring Georgia: Kazbegi, Gergeti, Ananuri

“I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.” Anne Frank

DAY 2

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The next morning from the room with a view, we were sipping a cup of tea, watching the golden fingers of the sun caressing the top of the snow-covered Kazbegi mountain and shrubs of red qubi berries all around.

Needless to say, a leisurely holiday it was! No hectic timetables. We had all the time to stand and stare as we set off on a stroll through the meadows of grazing horses and sheep to the village down the hill, admiring the ever-enticing beauty all around.

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Enjoying the best of the fall colors in all its glory as the sun shone brighter.

A hot shower, scrumptious breakfast and we were ready to bid adieu to the ever-smiling mumma at our Guest house Qubi. We drove to the city center to transfer to a four wheel drive vehicle for the rugged ride up to the Gergheti church.

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The jaunt to the top was exhilarating, with some breathtaking vistas at every turn. The 14th century Gergeti Trinity Church features sixth in the The British Newspaper The Telegraph’s list of the world’s most stunning churches and that’s undoubtedly because of its location. It is also now a symbol for Georgia.

The spectacular view surpasses your expectations here. Its a great place to capture the ethereal beauty of the mountains on your camera. Although it was extremely windy at the top and we were almost blown away a few times, it energizes every fibre of your being and makes you feel so alive !

The arduous trudge up the hill had got our appetites raging and we couldn’t wait to wolf down what Ana had in store for lunch at Sharona’s Bar Cafe in the city center. The aroma of warm Georgian bread wafts through the kitchen door and when served with wedges of Georgian cheese, Sulguni, that’s sour and a bit salty too (nicknamed “pickle cheese”) makes it a perfect start to a heavenly meal. Some Georgian pilaf and Lobio (Kidney beans stew in a pot) and that’s the best vegetarian lunch combination!

My first wine tasting experience in Georgia…Saperavi (made it quickly to my favourites list and soon Ana was calling me Ms. Saperavi!) is Georgia’s most popular variety of red grape. It has an intense color, high acidicity and a potent flavor. In comparison the Kindzmarauli is a naturally semi-sweet wine made from the same grape variety.

Well, we didn’t have time for more extensive viticulture lessons this afternoon as we were now headed south west towards Borjomi, after exchanging warm greetings with the chef and hosts. The language of smiles and laughter knows no barriers!

If you were not a poet, artist or photographer before you came here, you would certainly become one, surrounded by these breathtaking landscapes.

We drove past the ski resort town of Gudauri to stop at the Russia–Georgia Friendship Monument for some beautiful photo opportunities.

Blue skies have a new meaning when viewed from the ancient Ananuri fortress. It is a medieval monument en route where a legend unfolds. Named after Ana of Nuri, it serves as a mark of respect to the woman who had sacrificed her life to protect its people.

There are two churches with carvings and frescoes from the 17th Century. The unmistakable old world charm here of the Methodists churches transports you to the days of yore.

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We climbed the tall towers and walls for fine views of the turquoise waters and spell-binding landscape as it is built in a valley of two rivers.Some souvenir shopping and we were the back in the car to reach our next destination, Borjomi.

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What’s for dinner ? Lobiani, the Georgian bean bread with Jonjoli, an appetizers made from pickled sprouts from a local bush. Relish on some smoked cheese and sausages and of course Saperavi wine (It just naturally becomes a habit!).When you are with Ana you can expect the best and really experience the country in its true sense !!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The road less traveled: Exploring Georgia

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Unconventional destinations can be truly memorable, especially a country like Georgia, that nestles between two continents and cultures.

Tired of the popular tourist trails? Then Georgia is the place for you. In the last one year I had read and heard a such good things about Georgia that it kept playing on my mind and tempted me to plan this trip.

Travel partner : This time it was my fun and adventure loving friend Dr Anjali Patil. We had been to Greece together earlier. She just allows me to plan everything and goes with the flow. (P.S. I love such people!)

My reasons to plan the trip in October 2018 :

  • Fall colors : Mainland India typically has 3 seasons and the joys of spring and autumn in its true sense can be missed when you have lived here all your life. I was fortunate to enjoy the marvelous cherry blossoms this year in Japan and consequently the fall colors of autumn had to be ” ticked off the list”.
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  • Mountains : ” The mountains are calling and I must go !!!” I have a passion for the peaks and the the mighty Caucasian mountains beckoned.
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  • Grape harvest : Did you know that Georgia boasts more than 500 varieties of indigenous grapes? The first week of October is towards the end of the harvest season, yet we were able to grab some juicy bunches and have a merry time in the vineyards.
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  • Tbilisoba : It’s one day when the people of Tbilisi and around are reveling on the streets, not to be missed. A  great festival to enjoy the local produce, music and all that is good in Georgia!
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  • Georgian Wine : I’m definitely the oenophile, if not a sommelier. So visiting the birthplace of wine was definitely a pilgrimage for me, especially to see the intriguing quevris. Saperavi is  my favourite now.

Georgian people: My friends in Dubai had told me how warm and friendly people here are and this entire holiday would not have been as amazing without our dear guide Ana.

  • Georgian food: The palate craves some unique flavors and we were certainly not dissapointed by all the khinkali, khachapuri and walnut based dishes we ate.
  • Georgian architecture : Typical old houses with wooden balconies that can just steal your heart. You will find them in every town, perfect pics for all those Insta posts!
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Need I say more ?

I’m sure most of you are already packing….

Getting there :  Fly Dubai, the Emirates low cost psrtner connects flights from all over the world to Tbilisi.

Visa : US, GCC, UK and many country visa holders and residents done need a visa. Indians who dont have any of these, need to apply in Delhi and it takes about 2 weeks to get it.

Our 7 day itinerary involved spending time around Tbilisi in the regions of  Kazbegi, Borjormi and Kakheti and 2 days in Tbilisi  One could visit these regions as day trips from Tbilisi too but for the sheer joy of waking up in the crisp country air and mixing with the local people in guest houses, we chose overnight stays.

DAY 1

Our flight arrived late afternoon and we were greeted by Ana, our guide and driver Alex at Tbilisi airport. Driving through Tbilisi city center, we were headed north to the mountainous region of Kazbegi towards the Russian border.

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We drove miles along the country roads, gradually ascending up the mountains. The first stop our speeding Prius took was to soak in the spell-binding landscape surrounding the azure waters of the Enguri river near the Jvari reservoir.

We rolled down our windows and breathed in the clean mountain air…now we were hungry too. Ana had some wonderful surprises in store for us throughout this trip. But I would say the first restaurant she had selected for our supper was the most spectacular!

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As dusk was setting in, we stopped at a quaint and homely place along a gurgling brook. We frolicked over the old wooden bridge to the other side, exploring the log huts. A specially prepared meal awaited us; warm juicy khinkhalis (dumplings) and crisply baked khachapuris (traditional Georgian cheese-filled bread) with tkemali (Georgian plum chutney). Our host brought us a huge platter barbecued food next …it was a feast for the kings, in the most heavenly location….The best way to start your holiday!

A peek in the kitchen to learn the culinary secrets, lots of chitter-chatter with our hosts (translated by Ana of course!) and after striking a pose against the artistic wall, we were zooming again in our car on the Russia-Georgia highway.

Bidding farewell to our warm hosts, we drove through the popular ski town of Gudauri to reach our Guesthouse Qubi in Kazbegi for our first night. Tired yet excited about how the next day would unfold…..in the next blog !

Madloba!

Serenity in Sikkim

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My visit to Sikkim, the first to a Buddhist state is still etched in my mind. The land of monks and monasteries where one is greeted by fluttering prayer flags all along the mountainous route that give tranquility a whole new meaning. The name of Sikkim is derived from the term “Sukhim” meaning new “house” or “place” and the wanderbug in me was only delighted to discover surprises at every bend.

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The journey from Bagdogra airport to Gangtok winds through verdant green valleys and mesmerising vistas of the Eastern range of the Himalayas. One could just spend the day rejuvenating in the fresh mountain air and discovering amazing local food options on M G road> Must include places in your itineray without which no visit is complete

 

Rumtek monastery

 

 

 

The Dharma Chakra Centre is the largest monastery in Sikkim exemplifying the great Tibetan architecture and is almost a replica of the original one in Tibet.

 

 

The blizzarding snow and yaks at Nathula pass

 

 

 

The frozen lake of Gurudongmar

 

 

Lachung Valley

 

 

 

227080_10150238016852744_3212355_n.jpgChang is the local brew

Beyond sushi; Foodie trail in Japan discovering okonomiyaki, gyozas and more

Japan really has a treasure trove of food options to explore, each town has some culinary specialities of its own. Let me take you on a gastronomic journey, sampling some authentic fare that was really a feast for the senses at pocket-friendly prices.

Vegetarians, hang on, there is a lot for you here too. Just make sure that you download this very useful picture and save it on your phone so you can show it as soon as you enter an restaurant and they will guide you with appropriate options on their menu. This is an important part of your survival kit, then life is sorted !

Hiroshima

Hiroshima-style onomiyaki actually a delicious layered Japanese savoury noodle dish topped with cabbage, green onion, bean sprouts and seafood with pork. Vegetarian options also available. The chef will make it in front of you and the traditional way is to eat it is with a spatula.

Quaff off with some Kirin beer. Crunch on some kaki fry (deep-fried) oysters fresh from the sea that Hiroshima is famous for. There are many food joints to chose from. We had our lunch at Nagata-ya restaurant, not to far from the Hiroshima Peace Park. You will leave satiated, smacking your lips. Trust me.

MIYAJIMA

The island of Miyajima is a short ferry ride from Hiroshima, a picturesque spot to spend the evening.

It has a reputation for the best seafood (for obvious reasons). Strolling along the waterfront, snack on some scrumptious oyster curry bread here.

Vegetarians can relish the Miyajima croissant rusk with a hot coffee. Many sake shops and other local Japanese souvenirs here to buy as well

BULLET TRAIN BENTO BOXES

Whilst dashing from one city to the other on the super fast bullet trains, don’t forget to try the ekibens.

You can grab one at stands on the station platform or on the train itself. Vegetarian show your sign but chances are you will be declined and you may have to settle for a beverage and chips instead.

KYOTO

Wagyu (Japanese cow) beef

This is the star of gastronomy of Kyoto.There are different varieties, all so delicious and come with step-by-step instruction card on how to eat them. Food court at the top of Kyoto station or Yodabashi store has many eateries with hearty meals.( Vegetarians have other options !)

Osaka

An evening in Osaka isn’t complete if you are not in Dotonbori. The electric streets with neon lights has a lot of food options, especially for crab lovers.

We chose to get away from the glitter and glow to amble along the canal that gives you a bit of a Europe-like feel. Dinner at this family run restaurant was a real treat and the hosts made you feel at home. Even though their English wasn’t so good, the smiles and hospitality made up for it.