ARTICLES:

There is such a place as Shillong

By Manika Senapati, Mumbai

Shillong, the magnificent Hill Queen, conjures up a wealth of beauteous forms of nature coupled with some fine specimens of unique architectural beauty. The vast expanse of the scenic Golf Course - green, green to the very core - set in an undulating valley full of thick, whispering pine groves and rhododendron trees, boastfully flourishing their bunches of red blossoms, the Peaks strewn with strawberry bushes, the lovely hills and dales draped in an exotic variety of trees and flowers, the cascading waterfalls, the graceful lake pleasantly situated like a jewel at the heart of Shillong - these alone amply connote the very essence of Shillong.

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Gurudongmar Lake – a breathtaking experience

By Nivedita Chakraborty, Gangtok, Sikkim

One of the most unforgettable journeys of my life was the trip to Gurudongmar lake in North Sikkim in April 2011. It is 190 kms from Gangtok, the capital city and 115 kms from Mangan, the district headquarter of the North district. We started our journey around eight in the morning from Gangtok with some friends who had come to visit us, all the way from Assam. We had no idea of what was in store for us apart from the pictures of Gurudongmar as seen in travel brochures. The only other bit of information we had then, was that the journey would be a long one and it would be cold there.

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Captivating Corbett

By Abhishek Deb, New Delhi

We visited Corbett from 27th to 30th March 2013. This is how it unfolded.

'Planning': We planned and planned and planned and finally selected Corbett among many options available being Goa, Ranthambore, Bandhavgarh, Himachal and Kolkata. We wanted to fully utilize our 5 days of extended weekend (Holi and Good Friday), while keeping it economical. Also, we did not want to waste 2 days in just travelling and getting from one place to another... out of those 5. Hence, Corbett was a perfect fit. We were a family of four: my wife, 2 twin boys aged 4 years and me.

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Gurudongmar Lake – a breathtaking experience

By Nivedita Chakraborty, Gangtok, Sikkim

One of the most unforgettable journeys of my life was the trip to Gurudongmar lake in North Sikkim in April 2011. It is 190 kms from Gangtok, the capital city and 115 kms from Mangan, the district headquarter of the North district. We started our journey around eight in the morning from Gangtok with some friends who had come to visit us, all the way from Assam. We had no idea of what was in store for us apart from the pictures of Gurudongmar as seen in travel brochures. The only other bit of information we had then, was that the journey would be a long one and it would be cold there.
As we started our journey our driver-cum-guide, (assigned by the travel agency), told us that we would have to stay at Lachen for the night.

On our way, we had rice, dal and vegetables, for lunch at a place near Phodong and resumed our journey towards Mangan. It was almost four in the afternoon when we reached Mangan. It was getting dark when we left Mangan and the road was unending. It seemed we were going uphill on a winding road with rocks on one side and darkness on the other. It turned out the next day, on our return, that the darkness was actually a deep gorge more than 100 feet into the valley. The mercury had also dropped. And then one of us, saw something white shining in the moonlight from above the tree tops. It was a while before we realized that it was a snow capped peak, peeping through the trees, probably from where our destination was. The more we traveled the closer it seemed, and the more excited it made us. By 7.30 we reached Lachen, and our driver took us to the Lodge where we had booked for the night. It was a three storey structure with lines of rooms, with carpeted floors. Our room was furnished with a bed, a television and a dressing table.

We had not yet settled fully in our rooms when we were told to go up to the dining room for dinner. Dinner was a buffet of rice, chapatti, dal, mixed vegetable, chicken, salad, and fruits. The steaming food made us realize how hungry we were and in no time we cleaned up our plates. We were told to be ready by 3 o’clock to resume our onward journey. After putting the children to bed, I remember, climbing up to the roof with my friend and having a look at the snow peaked mountains all around the valley. That sight was as exciting as it was memorable.
I was so excited that I hardly slept and was up before anyone. We had a cup of tea and some biscuits before we left Lachen, our luggages waiting for us at the lodge, to be picked up on our way back.
It was dark when we started and we could only see vast fields reaching out under the mountain slopes with one or two tin-roofed houses very far from one another. At sunrise the peaks started to turn a radiant orange, and that was a spectacle in itself. We stopped at a turn and took some pictures, the children were fascinated to be able to touch and feel snow.

The cab stopped again at a small hamlet named Thangu at around 6 ’o’clock. We entered what seemed to be a one roomed house which also doubled up as a tea stall for passers-by. Two ladies, apparently mother and daughter, put some wood into an oven and turned on the fire; then a big pan was put on the fire and a few packets of bread that we had brought with us were put in it alongwith a bowl of butter. In the meantime we sat around the oven warming up and watched them make tea. It was so cold there that the molten butter froze as soon as we tried to bring it out of the pan to butter our slices. After a couple of cups of tea and toast we again got into the car and rode towards Gurudongmar Lake. The way forward was now more barren without much trace of plant life, and more snow. There were only three vehicles on this route including ours that had come from Lachen. At 15000 ft, we were stopped at a check-post by security personnel, where it became evident from their conversation that they had very little contact with fellow beings at that altitude. My heart went out to them and I also felt a sense of pride to see the Indian Army guarding us in this difficult terrain.

It was 9 in the morning when we reached the lake at a height of 17100 ft. There was barren land all around us dotted with snow; the white of the mountains contrasting the brown of the soil. There was no sign of life and it became very difficult for us to breathe. The children with us felt sick, and they stayed back in the car. Our guide and driver told us not to stay there for more than twenty minutes. We were barely able to speak but just managed to click a few pictures.
The lake remains milky in colour throughout the year. It is believed to be sacred and blessed by Guru Padmasambhava, when he was returning from Tibet. Quite extraordinarily a portion of the lake does not freeze even in winter.
When I stood there for a few seconds, looking at the frozen white of the lake, the wind biting at my breathe, a feeling of gratitude overwhelmed me for being able to go back and live a life where I would not need to struggle for a breathe. At the same time I was grateful to have had the opportunity to see this handiwork of nature and feel at peace with it. It was a moment that would remain forever etched in my memory.

There is also a place of worship built at the lake, aptly called The Sarva-Dharma-Sthal. We stayed there for quarter of an hour and got back into the car. No one among us spoke till we reached an altitude of 15000 ft, partly because we were awestruck with what we had experienced and partly because of the lack of oxygen in the air everyone was a bit sick. As we climbed down, the mountain slopes seemed to be whiter then when we were going up. The snow had come up the road leaving a very narrow passage for the vehicles. It was about two o’clock when we reached Lachen. We had lunch there and it was time to come back to Gangtok. Months after this trip, the experience still remains very fresh in my mind.

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Captivating Corbett

By Abhishek Deb, New Delhi

We visited Corbett from 27th to 30th March 2013. This is how it unfolded.
'Planning': We planned and planned and planned and finally selected Corbett among many options available being Goa, Ranthambore, Bandhavgarh, Himachal and Kolkata. We wanted to fully utilize our 5 days of extended weekend (Holi and Good Friday), while keeping it economical. Also, we did not want to waste 2 days in just travelling and getting from one place to another... out of those 5. Hence, Corbett was a perfect fit. We were a family of four: my wife, 2 twin boys aged 4 years and me.

'Booking': So, like usual novices, we booked a hotel first, to bring some seriousness to our travel plan. We booked it a month in advance, since we feared that most of the hotels will be sold out as we approach the long weekend. Anyway, booking hotel in advance proved to be our biggest mistake, not that the hotel was bad or something. But... ok... let's go through the rest first.

'Packing': We packed everything that we thought were needed. We were harping on our so-called 'web friendliness' and read about Corbett, everything that was to be read, across different platforms.
So, here comes the famous Ramesh Suyal of www.tigersincorbett.com fame. We happened to read testimonials about him through tripsammy and fugly (may the kind soul rest in peace) and just happened to contact him. Since, I did this only a week before our travel, understandably Ramesh asked us to change the trip dates. Needless to add, his promptness to revert back and eagerness to help was exemplary. So, when I told him that my hotel is already booked and I have promised my two boys that we will go see wildlife... Ramesh agreed to help us. And that was the best thing to have happened to us.

I requested Ramesh to arrange for park safaris on 28th and 29th and elephant rides. He promised that he would do something, but also said we might not see tiger. We were anyway prepared for that, because for all four of us, just experiencing the wilderness was more than enough and tiger spotting would have been just an added advantage. We were not crazy about seeing tiger. I guess Ramesh liked this approach of ours. Finally, Ramesh arranged an AM safari in Bijrani zone on 28th morning and an AM safari in Sitabani reserve forest on 29th Morning.
Day 1: We left Delhi at 5:30AM sharp. After the initial tyre pressure checks at Chanakyapuri, we drove off in style. 27th March being Holi, was a boon in disguise as all roads were empty and we got hardly any traffic en route to Corbett. The route we took was: Delhi - Ghaziabad - Hapur - Gajraula - Moradabad - Kashipur - Thakurdwar - Ramnagar - Corbett.
We covered 180 kms in 3 hrs flat, enjoying a high speed drive on the Delhi-Moradabad expressway. The next 100 kms were covered in 2 hrs, mainly due to the bad road condition from Moradabad to Kashipur. We suggest, not taking Thakurdwara route, as road condition has worsened in that part. We reached our resort at 10:30AM. 5 hrs for 285 kms was pretty decent, I thought.
We checked in and relaxed and immediately headed for breakfast and pool. The day was spent hogging, pooling, sleeping and reading. Meanwhile, Ramesh called and confirmed that he would pick us at 5:30AM sharp, the next day.
Day 2: Ramesh came dot on time with Puran, his assistant who was driving the gypsy van. We hit the road at 5:45 and went straight to Bijrani gate at 5:45AM. After initial paper work, Ramesh led us through and we were the first ones to enter the park. Next 3 hrs, we spent driving around and soaking up the jungle atmosphere. Everything was beautiful, soothing.
Ramesh has eyes of an eagle. He spotted pug marks from a distance and we started following it. After an exciting chase of around 15 minutes, when Puran drove the gypsy van as if there were no engines and tyres (completely silent), we were about to catch a glimpse of the tiger. Unfortunately, another vehicle saw it first and the tiger vanished. We spent the rest of the tour looking for it and finally headed for exit. Not seeing tiger was a bit of disappointment for my young boys, but I completely understood that it was all on chance. Ramesh and Puran did a good job and almost got us there.
I also would like to add that, Ramesh’s knowledge of history, anecdotes, birds and animal behaviour is remarkable. Most importantly, his very endearing humane approach to life is worth appreciating. He introduced us to a lot of new types of trees, birds and animal behaviour... which we could not have gathered from any book.
Puraan also deserves a mention for keeping an eye for detail. He could spot a herd of elephants from a distance, and in the same manner a barking deer amidst dense vegetation. His endearing approach to my young boys also made them felt at ease.
After the safari, we headed for our resort.

Day 3: Ramesh again picked us up at 5:30 AM sharp and we headed for Sitabani reserve forest. Here again, we saw new birds and plants. It was an exclusive Sal forest. We also went to see the religious place inside the forest and came back to our resort. We bid farewell to Ramesh and Puraan – and promised to return to Corbett, to be with them again.
Some of the important points to be noted:
1. Corbett official website is a farce. It is never updated.
2. All jungle safaris need permits and designated gypsy vans can only enter. At a time, only 30 vehicles are allowed.
3. Always carry binoculars, jungle colour scarves, good camera, and a bag to dispose wastes
4. Wear jungle colour dull clothes, avoid loud noises, or shouting
5. Try to reach park gate by 5:45AM
6. Listen to your guide always; he is the one you should trust – more than your instinct. Do not get off the gypsy van.
7. Respect other’s presence as well. You have not come here for a picnic, you are here to see wildlife
8. Inform Ramesh at least 2 months in advance – he will help you by booking permits, rest houses, gypsy vans, transport and accommodation.
9. Dhikala is the best zone. Followed by Jhirna and Bijrani. Sitabani can be avoided.
10. Peak season means high rates, get ready to negotiate but do not over-negotiate to let the deal slip your hands.

We then relaxed a bit and after changing into our daily wears headed for some sightseeing of our own, viz., Garjia Devi temple, souvenir shop and Ramnagar town.
Day 4: We took breakfast, entered the pool one last time and then headed for Delhi at 11:30AM sharp. This time, after Kashipur we avoided Thakurdwara and took the Tunda route for Moradabad. Till halfway, the road was smooth as silk without any traffic but the rest 10 km were a harrowing experience for us, as someone misguided and we took a wrong route. Anyway, we finally touched Moradabad again and took the expressway back to Delhi. On our way back, we took stops at Gajraula at KFC – which is avoidable, as it wasted an hour of our time, due to rush and mismanagement. We also got stuck at Ghaziabad traffic and finally reached home at 7PM.
Overall, the trip to Corbet National Park was a very relaxing, and rejuvenating experience. Raring to go again! This time with Ramesh Suyal, whom we plan to involve in advance.

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There is such a place as Shillong

By Manika Senapati, Mumbai

Shillong, the magnificent Hill Queen, conjures up a wealth of beauteous forms of nature coupled with some fine specimens of unique architectural beauty.
The vast expanse of the scenic Golf Course - green, green to the very core - set in an undulating valley full of thick, whispering pine groves and rhododendron trees, boastfully flourishing their bunches of red blossoms, the Peaks strewn with strawberry bushes, the lovely hills and dales draped in an exotic variety of trees and flowers, the cascading waterfalls, the graceful lake pleasantly situated like a jewel at the heart of Shillong - these alone amply connote the very essence of Shillong.

Shillong rose from a very humble origin. Till 1864 it was a small, little, obscure village unit. Its phenomenal rise and growth started after 1864 when the then British Government recognised Shillong as the Civil Station of the Khasi and Jaintia hills. Later, when the Province of Assam was created Shillong was chosen as its capital because of its picturesque setting and mesmerising beauty and also because of its strategic location between the Brahmaputra and the Surma valleys. Moreover, its convenient location and its high altitude were considered ideal for the establishment of a military Cantonment to keep vigil on the entire North East. Its virgin green woods, its cool and healthy climate were perfect for Sanatoria as also for Holiday homes for the British Civilians. The Englishmen tried to turn Shillong into a little England of their dream. And so, in course of time, Shillong occupied its pride of place among the famous hill stations of the country.

Shillong remained the capital of Assam with a temporary break from 1905-1912 till the formation of the State of Meghalaya on 21 January, 1972 with Shillong as its capital.
Shillong has its origin rooted in myths. Legend has it that Shillong was named after a mythical youth, ''Shyllong'' or variously called '' U Shillong'', a supernatural half-deity born of a virgin human mother, believed to be the presiding deity of the city, who lived in Bisi, a village near Shillong. The other such legend also points to a similar story that Shillong originated from the name of the Shillong Deity who lived in a cave known as ''Krem Marai'' near Shillong Peak.

Spread on a plateau at an altitude of approximately 4,990 ft. above sea level, the city occupies an area of 10.36 sq. km. The Hill Queen is often referred to as the ‘’Scotland of the East’’ owing to its striking similarity with the Scottish highlands. Shillong lies at a distance of about 104 km from Guwahati.
Shillong is a multi-lingual, multi-ethnic, cosmopolitan city where one can find people coming from different parts of the country and belonging to diverse race, religion, custom and life style and speaking different languages. The state language of Meghalaya is English and religion practised in Shillong is predominantly Christianity. It is from Shillong that the message of Christianity and along with it that of western thought and culture spread to other parts of the North East. The Khasis here form a large percentage of the population. They are a distinctive cultural tribe. They speak Khasi, the script of which is English. Music plays an important part in their lives. They are fond of dancing too. Young men and women dressed in silver and gold ornaments dance for three consecutive days to celebrate Thanksgiving ceremony after the Spring harvest. The Khasi society is matrilineal. This is because the lineage of the family is traced to the mother. The youngest daughter of the family is the keeper of the ancestral property. It is her responsibility to manage the property and assist any member of the family who is in need. The eldest son has a say in most of the family decisions.

Shillong is a renowned seat of learning. Students from all over the region flock here for admission into its premier institutions like St. Edmund’s College, St. Anthony’s College etc. The North Eastern Hill University has been set up in order to fulfil the diverse ambitions of the scholarly students. The State Library and the Museum are other institutions that offer varied and ample facilities for the study and research of the ethnic culture of the North East region. Recently, a Forest Museum has come up where one can have a glimpse of the wonderful world of the flora and fauna of Meghalaya and carry on research by studying the exhibits kept there. Shillong is a place that is culturally inspiring and intellectually stimulating.
Shillong gave us our poet Tagore’s landmark novel ‘’Shesher Kabita’’. Krishna Kripalani translated it into English giving it the name ‘’Farewell, my Friend’’. By writing this novel Tagore demonstrated his versatility at the ripe age of seventy three thereby silencing his critics. The novel is primarily set in Shillong. It recounts the romantic story of Amit Roy, the brilliant Barrister educated at Oxford who meets the quiet, sophisticated Labanya in a car accident on one of the several twists and turns of hilly Shillong. The novel unfolds a series of stimulating dialogues and a number of lofty poems exchanged between the two. In unequivocal words Tagore proved his supreme command over the modern free-verse style as also his complete mastery over the magnificent play of words. The misty, magical Shillong provided the poet with appropriate ambience for his stirring novel.
Shillong is a major, popular tourist destination. Here follows a quick glance at the most sought-after spots and places abounding the hill queen:
The city celebrates its churches. The most famous among them are the imposing Cathedral of Mary Help of Christians lying between Dhankheti and Laitumkhrah, the Grotto Church and All Saints’ Church located in front of the Shillong State Library. The last one is a beautiful structure made entirely out of wood.
The excellently maintained North East Museum offers a comprehensive insight into the cultural life of the diverse tribes of the region as the Museum showcases their history, ethnography and life style.
The Shillong Peak, which is an ideal picnic spot, is the highest point in Meghalaya. It is situated at an altitude of 1965 meters above sea level. 10 kms from the city, it offers a panoramic view of the sprawling city below. Rare trees like Pine, Fir, birch etc. adorn the lovely Peak. In the evening, as the lights are turned on the city beneath the Peak appears like a star-studded fairy land.
The 18 hole Shillong Golf Course, charted in a deep green, surging valley, is one of the best natural Golf Courses in the world. It is often referred to as ‘’Gleneagle of the East’’ at the United States Golf Association Library and Museum because of its unparallel scenic beauty and unique location.
The graceful, horse shoe-shaped Ward’s Lake lying beneath the Governor’s Residence is an artificial lake developed by the then Chief Commissioner of Assam, Sir William Ward in 1893-94. A winding walk-way running through the gently sloping, colourful flowerbeds encircles the lake. Lush green surrounding enhances its charm and little isles on the Lake and the ornamental arched bridge over it are a marvellous sight. Boating in the cool water of the Lake is a splendid experience. Magnificent illumination and dancing fountain make the Lake all the more attractive.
The adjoining Botanical Garden offers a wide variety of orchids and a host of other local but exotic plants and flowers. It is an excellent place to take a pleasure stroll.
The other most frequented spot is Lady Hydari Park. The Park was dedicated to Lady Hydari who was the wife of the then Governor of Assam. The Park is landscaped in Japanese style and displays a wide range of plants and orchids. Rosebeds of a variety of colours beautify the place. Red roses in blossom are a treat to the eyes. Even so are the weeping Willows bending down in water bodies that house Pelicans and other water birds. There is a mini zoo and a butterfly museum that hosts a large collection of mounted butterflies and other insects representing the local species.
The waterfalls in and around the city are unique in that they are almost always at their full glory. Very rarely they become a trickle.
Beadon and Bishop Falls, off the Guwahati Road at Mawprem 3 km north, are popular haunting spots and picnic sites. There is a hydro-electric Powerhouse at the base of the Beadon Falls. The Bishop Falls is nearby. Together they flow into the Umiam river.
The Bishop Falls is a three-tiered waterfall with a height of 135 meters. Beadon and Bishop are often referred to as twin brothers as both tumble down the same escarpment into a yawning gorge.
Elephant Falls is one of Shillong’s prime attractions. It is a two-tiered rocky waterfall. It is situated just outside the city at a distance of 10 kms. Set amongst the dense greenery it provides an amazing sight as the water column curves its way and crashes at two successive locations. The gigantic stream then gushes down the terrain and leaps into a deep gorge. It is so named because of a huge elephant-like rock near it. Unfortunately, the rock was destroyed by a devastating earthquake in 1897.
The Spread Eagle or the Sati Falls is about 6 kms from the city. It is the widest Falls in entire Shillong. Tourists visit this calm and serene place to enjoy the sparkling waterfall which looks like an eagle with wings spread out. The steep cliffs on the three sides and a pool beneath are a wonderul sight.
Crinoline Falls within the city is a must see place for the tourists. A natural pool lies at the bottom and for the visitors it is an adventure to dive in it.
At a distance of 15 kms from Shillong - Jowai highway the Rengthian Falls wait for the visitors to discover it. This sprightly dancing waterfall untouched in its natural beauty will give any one enough excitement having been able to view the Falls in its deep green surroundings.
The Sweet Falls, at a distance of about 8 kms from Shillong, is known for its striking elegance. The water gushing from the Falls resemble a straight pencil of water forcing out of a huge pipe. The water then crashes below at a vertical distance of more than 200 ft. The scenic beauty at the base makes it an ideal location for relaxation.
The Umiam Lake, popularly known as Barapani Lake, is the biggest of the lakes in Meghalaya. It is an artificial lake situated just 15 kms from Shillong on the Guwahati-Shillong National Highway. Developed upon the reservoir of the Umiam Hydro Electric Project, the Water Sports Complex provides a choice of row-boats, paddle boats, cruise boats, sailing boats, water scooters and speed boats. Its tranquil ambience makes it a very popular spot for picnic, fishing etc. Overlooking the Lake is the Orchid Tourist Home run by Meghalaya Tourist Department for persons flocking here for adventure. A floating Restaurant is an excitement to the visitors and adds to its attraction.
People touring Shillong make it a point to visit Cherrapunji, the second wettest place in the world. It is the only place in India which receives monsoon all the year round. It holds two Guinness world records for receiving the highest amount of rainfall in a single year between August, 1860 – July, 1861 and for receiving the highest amount of rainfall in a single month in July, 1861. Cherrapunji is located at an altitude of approximately 4500 ft above sea level facing the plains of Bangladesh.
In Shillong the British legacy is still visible in architecture and food habits. Its gorgeous Cathedral, churches and Secretariat building distinctly display the style of English architecture.
There are shopping centres in Shillong which sell ethnic stuff typical of the traditional culture of Meghalaya. One can collect such articles in order to keep the fond memory of Shillong alive.
The hotels and the Resorts of Shillong welcome their guests with the finest standard of hospitality and entertain them with a rich, wide spread of exciting cuisine.
Shillong, the cultural capital of the North-East, is thus an amazing and fascinating place for the tourists. Here one can immerse oneself in its culture and elegant splendour. Free from the vagaries of the monsoons Shillong is at its beautiful best in the months of March-April and October- November.
The pristine beauty of Shillong never fails to win and lift one’s heart. And for those who have a long, lingering love for English ways and manners and for those who have nostalgic, personal reverence for the place, Shillong is a sure heaven.
How often, in spirit, I turn to thee, Shillong!

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"A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step." – Lao Tzu