Exploring the Living Root Bridges of Meghalaya: Part 1- Cherrapunjee

Ah Meghalaya!

The land whose exotic rain-forests hide one of the most beautiful secret of India- the ancient Living Root Bridges.

These Living Root Bridges, as the name suggests, are bridge like structures made from the roots of Fiscus Elastica. Interacting with locals, we found out that each living root bridge take at least about 10-15 years to become sturdy enough to hold human weight, and most of the living root bridges in the Khasi-Jaintia  hills of Meghalaya are over 100 years old.

In this article, we’ll showcase a series of such bridges encountered by the author during his trek to a village called Nongriat near Cherrapunjee.

The trek starts about 3-4 kilometres from Nongriat, a village famous for its rare Double-Decker living root bridge.

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Enroute the Nongriat Trek- Such views are abundant. 

Infact, you can witness you first ever living root bridge about 30 minutes into the trek (2-3 kms before Nongriat). This one will be marked as ‘Single Decker living root bridge’ on the sign boards. (I am unable to recollect the name of the village where this bridge is present. Comment on this blog in case you happen to know the name. TIA!)
Ticket Cost for Single Decker Root Bridge: 10 INR.

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Need to climb this bamboo structure to access the root bridge

cramit_img_20160515_081946-0120170121_195645About to catch the first sight in 3…2…1…

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Climbing a Bamboo Skywalk: Best things to do in Meghalaya

“What did you say name was again- Prophet Star?”
“Yes.”

“As in P-R-O-P-H-E-T  Star?”? I enquired.

“No. You’ve got it wrong- It’s P-R-O-F-I-T Star. And by the way, you need to pay my 20 rupees as an entry fee before entering this Bamboo Skywalk- Hurry up, I don’t have much time.”

I paid up, of course, but not without reconfirming his name a couple of time. It’s not everyday you meet a man with a name so apt, for his job was to sit at the entrance of this amazing Bamboo Skywalk in Meghalaya, collecting profits from keen adventurers–here to witness one of the most spectacular scenes that the wettest place on Earth had to offer them.

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Experiencing India: Sounds and Sights from an Indian Train Journey

It’s surprising how train journeys closely mimic the cycle of life. We meet people, make friends, only to let them go and find new ones- thereby knitting an endless chain of emotions- only to be felt but never to be broken. But again, what is life, but a collection of such journeys.

The following passage is an ‘as-it-happened’ description of a journey with the Indian Railways (the 12.30 Passenger train from Madurai to Rameshwaram, both of which lie in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu). Try not to find for a story in here, rather, seek to experience the billion personalities that make India Incredible. Here it goes.

Chug, Chug, Chug! The 12:30 passenger train from Madurai has just started to sing its rhythmic song, a melody it will sing for the next few hours till it reaches a mystical island called Rameshwaram. It is an overcast day of November 2015, the rain clouds looming over the horizon as I attempt to traverse, and hopefully document, the lush green landscape of Tamil Nadu, India.

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Tamil Nadu country side with the looming rain clouds

I yearn for the rain, as I am aware of the power of the raindrops to elate even the most dolorous environs.

As I try to get comfortable in my cozy window side seat, I am greeted by a distinct sound. ‘Wooooooo…’– a loud cheer, emanating from the far corner of my train bogie, surprises all the five occupants of the compartment I am in. The train had just passed over a small river causing a group of seven children, sitting at a corner of the bogie along with their parents, to let out a loud “Woooooo..” sound in a seemingly pre-planned unison. From that moment onward, the children failed to hide their excitement towards any river, tunnel, or even an old bridge that our passenger train crossed.
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Bhangarh : The Ruined City and The Ghosts I Met There

 

Ever been compelled to watch a horror movie in the dead of night even though you know it would lead to countless sleepless nights? Ever been infatuated with the idea of exploring a haunted house? No? Yes? I was.

So were four of my friends. The big question was – where? Residing in Delhi which has seen its share of cold-blooded assassinations, bloody battles and betrayals, we thought it would be easy to spot restless, revengeful souls here. After making trips to the Khooni Darwaza, the Malcha Mahal, Agrasen ki Baoli and even a neighbouring house in the residential area of Lajpat Nagar, and not meeting any ‘other worldly’ (just because it is an accepted term, if they are in this world, how are they other-worldly? Anyway more on that later) creatures, we couldn’t decide where would our efforts find fruition. We finally zeroed down upon Bhangarh. What better place to get the thrills than a ruined city which is famed to be India’s most haunted place?

Archaeological Survey of India board

Archaeological Survey of India has put up a stone inscription outside the fort describing the construction

On the D-day, we rose early and started preparing ourselves according to the lengthy to-do list put together by our friend. She insisted that the place was infested with djinns who cling to open hair – which made all of us pull our hair into tight buns. Applying perfume or fragrant shampoo was a definite invitation for ghosts – hence, avoided. We had breakfast with an uneasy sense of foreboding and then drove away. Throughout the 60-odd km drive to the destination form Jaipur, we were excited and discussing details with our jolly driver – Param bhaiya (In India men are ‘bhaiya’ until they become ‘uncle’ at about the age of fifty or so. It is the polite way of addressing them).

It was a bright December morning. As the majestic ruins loomed towards our eyes, the Sun warmed our souls and we walked on towards the fort from our car. And I thought, would it be just as beautiful had it not been chaotic? If this is its state in abandonment, how did it look at the peak of prosperity?

Stairway of Bhangarh

The stairway leading upto the main fort complex of Bhnagarh

Immersed in thoughts, we came upon a notice by the Archaeological Survey of India, prohibiting anyone from staying inside before sunrise and after sunset. After reading this proclamation of the dangers inside, we ventured onwards into the realm of ghosts.

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My Sojourn in Kolukkumalai (Part 2) – The Tea Factory, The Workers And Some Conversations

If you missed Part 1, read here – My Sojourn in Kolukkumalai (Part 1) – An Early Appointment With The Sun and Suicide Points

Alam (our driver) was telling us about his daily life before we stopped at the suicide point. He was used to making three, sometimes four round trips to the Kolukkumalai factory. That is six to eight hours of driving on the rocky terrain at a tardy speed of 5-10 kmph with frequent stops to let other cars pass and to click pictures. He was from a village in Tamil Nadu from where he and his parents would come to work in the tea estates in Kerala every day. Sometimes they took thirty minutes to walk from their village, small village problems he said, not like the cities with roads and highways. I thought about myself, spending an hour stuck in bumper to bumper traffic to reach the glass windows, the claustrophobic steel of my office. Well, this did look like a tiny village problem.

This pretty meandering path running between the plantations is the rocky road we traversed at a speed of 5-10 kmph

This pretty meandering path running between the plantations is the rocky road we traversed at a speed of 5-10 kmph

Now that the day was ripe, more jeeps had joined us on the rickety road. Alam turned up the sound system and then we realized how very special our jeep was in comparison to the others. He was a fan of Pop music and was humming to Justin Bieber’s hit single ‘Baby Baby Baby ooooh’. Akon, however was his favorite star. Conversation was stemmed because of the music so we lifted the flaps which acted as doors of the jeep to let in the sunshine and the view. Everything was surreal, the rocks, the endless cover of green symmetry. There were the dreamy, so-clean-it-could-hurt-your-eyes-if-you-stare-for-too-long jade inhabitants of the plantation our aim was to explore today, lined up all about us in a surreal symmetrical fashion. The tea gardens were a reminder of order, that was absent in my daily, chaotic existence of caffeine fuelled writing and sleep held ransom by internet.

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2015 Travel Logbook – ft. Fantastic Indian Foods And Where To Find Them

Given our love for food, this post was long coming. It is a proof of how nice things happen to you when you travel.  2015 was a year of joyful travels for the Slowrover team. Individually, we travelled to distant parts of this beautiful country, getting unbelievably lucky when it came to food, This post celebrates our love for Indian Food, and we share with you, the best treats we had in 2015 (and where to find them). Here it goes

Disclaimer : You will feel very hungry. And you will need to travel.

Omelette Indulgence at Lovely Omelette Centre, Mussorie
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Cheese Omelette at Lovely’s

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Foodgasm in the making

Lovely Omelette Centre is considered to be one of the best omelette experiences in India. Extensively covered by all the leading travel/food journals of India (Lonely Planet, Outlook Traveller, Trip Advisor, Highway on my Plate), this Omelette paradise is adored by all. It offers a limited variety of omelettes (Oil/Butter/Cheese being the prominent ones).

Location: At the Picture Palace end of the Mussorie Mall (Uttarakhand), near the Church.

 

The Joy of Looking At Fresh Banana Chips Being Prepared 

Travelling through Kerala meant being exposed to both banana chips and coconut water in plenty. And they don’t love their banana chips for nothing. Check out a fresh batch being prepared in Thekkady :

Location : Malabar Chips, Thekkady. There is lots on offer here – sweet, salty, tangy banana chips and several kinds of other specialities like tapioca chips.

 

‘Tikki-Chaat’ of Vrindavan
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Tikki Chaat, anyone?

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My Sojourn in Kolukkumalai (Part 1) – An Early Appointment With The Sun and Suicide Points

“And that is the suicide point”, our driver said and allowed the jeep to splutter to a halt so that we could scramble out. A tall rock, smooth and majestic, which reminded me of the hacked torso of an unfortunate lone messenger who dared to carry a peace treaty to the enemy barracks, was the addressee of the name. There’s this thing about India, every hill station has a ‘suicide point’ and an ‘echo point’. We stood at one of those, somewhere in Munnar, a town in Kerala, on our way to Kolukkumalai Tea Estate, which are the world’s highest tea plantations producing flavorful Orthodox Tea.

Board guiding visitors to various points of interest in the Kolukkumalai Tea Estate

Board guiding visitors to various points of interest in the Kolukkumali Tea Estate

I found myself uttering the meaningless question to our driver – “Do many people come here to die?” I think I sounded stupid, but he exclaimed “No! No! No one has ever committed suicide here”. So it was baptized ‘suicide point’ for no apparent reason just like all its other namesakes in India.

While we clicked pictures, the minimal amount of knowledge that I have in Physics told me my voice would echo better here than it had at the Echo Point where we stood to watch a new day dawn some minutes ago. In spite of the severe insistence of our driver that our voice will reverberate and probably wake up all the village folk in the valley down below, even our loudest shouts feebly regurgitated for a second or so before dying out in the endless chatter of birds. The only thing which had echoed at the Echo Point was the image of the Sun, rising from behind the mountains, like a shy child rising from the crib. It must be painful for the Sun, waking up before the rest, assured of your return to the same bed. Was constancy a curse?

And the Sun had finally risen like a shy child rising from the crib, scattering its glorious warmth

And the Sun had finally risen, scattering its glorious warmth

But we had beaten the child today. We had risen before the Sun, set out in what seemed like the hour of death on a wobbly road, in the throes of the cold wind which wanted to embrace us like a jilted lover while the whole town snored in deep sleep down below, to witness one of the most beautiful early morning spectacles we have ever witnessed.

The Sun took its time, rising lazily from behind the clouds. And as it made an appearance, clouds were scattered like a mob before the cops

The Sun took its time, rising lazily from behind the clouds. And as it made an appearance, clouds were scattered like a mob before the cops

And after paying a visit to the punctual host we were brought here, to the suicide point. Maybe they called it suicide point just to preach caution to the travelers? A misplaced step around there would lead to a steep fall. I think I’d rather die somewhere like that. I mean if it has to be my last experience, I’d want it to be beautiful. And settings like these are definitely numbered

A view worth dying for! - Sunrise at Kolukkumalai

A view worth dying for! – Sunrise at Kolukkumalai

There’s more coming from me about Kolukkumalai and Kerala soon. Stay tuned! 🙂

Update – Read here for Part 2 – My Sojourn in Kolukkumalai (Part 2) – The Tea Factory, The Workers And Some Conversations

-Swetambara

Want to know more about Kollukumalai or Kerala?
Feel free to post questions/suggestions for the author in the comments below.


The author served as a staff writer at Scoopwhoop! and is a freelancer
Send her virtual chocolates on her Twitter and Facebook.

Follow Slow Rover on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook!

© Copyright for all the images owned by SlowRover and Swetambara. 

Barfani Baba And The Art Of Seeking Alms

There is something I have been concerned about since I turned 6 – the mystery which is the River Saraswati. It is kind of there and kind of not. Supposedly the entire Rig Veda was composed on its banks before it vanished from the face of the Earth (or started flowing underground if Hindu religious texts or Puranas are to be believed) . For some it is a mythic river which symbolises the Milky Way, while for some historians it is a case of misplaced identity. Mostly all Hindu kids learn Saraswati’s name as one of the three major rivers of India (the other two being Ganga and Yamuna) and have spent a lot of time trying to distinguish the river from the other two at the sangam in Allahabad.

I was intrigued by how it had managed to become an underground river and for most of my childhood it came to symbolise the gangster of the river world (because gangsters are supposed to be underground – I know, lame, but I was a kid!) Now, so this particular river has something of a Bond status in india, seems like every river wants to be Saraswati. Because of its ‘invisible’ nature and mythological importance, several rivers have been named ‘Saraswati’ and there is a lot of confusion over which the real one is. This story concerns one of the many Saraswatis in India – the Saraswati which originates near the Mana village (famed to be the last village of India, but not quite) in Uttarakhand and is a tributary of the Alaknanda river.

River Alaknanda keeps you company through most of the 9 km hike from Mana village to Vasudhara Falls

River Alaknanda keeps you company through most of the 9 km hike from Mana village to Vasudhara Falls

My aim was to hike up to the 400 ft tall Vasudhara falls. All the other landmarks like the Vyas Guha (where the Epic ‘Mahabharata’ was supposedly written), the Bhim Pul and Ganesh Guha were wonderful distractions on the way. But as is usual for me, I was distracted by something not so obvious on the 9 km stony trek from Mana to Vasudhara falls. It was this section in the stone wall painted red, right before the Bhim Pul. It carried a message by Barfani Baba. Roughly translated to English, it said, “Baba Barfani, Naga Baba – doesn’t demand donations, devotees are free to donate”.

The message outside Baba Barfani's decrepit cave

The message outside Baba Barfani’s decrepit cave

Now if you have spent any time roaming the narrow lanes of India, you will know how pushy saints can get. It can be anything from ‘Bhagwan lambi umar dega beta, babaji ka ashirwad lete ja’ (The Almighty will bless you with a long life if you seek my blessings), to ‘Babaji ka ashirwad thukraoge toh paap chadhega’ (If you don’t seek my blessings, you shall be doomed). I have heard them all. So, Baba Barfani’s method of seeking alms really stands out. He come across as a maverick of the world of Indian saints. I wanted to talk to him. Find out whether the message was written by him or some devotee helped him or if it was from some organisation responsible for Naga saints. Unfortunately, he was lost somewhere in his cave, concealed by the red-painted asbestos sheet.

I was taken by this show of brilliant salesmanship. Many people who would not bat an eyelid at a saint could be seen donating generously. I was impressed. And thought much about him through rest of the climb.
Don't be fooled by the seemingly dreamy gentleness of the water seen from afar, on approaching near, the water of the Vasudhara falls was cold and sharp

Don’t be fooled by the seemingly dreamy gentleness of the water seen from afar, on approaching near, the water of the Vasudhara falls was cold and sharp

I would like to go back and see him. Get the answer to some of my questions. Or maybe you already have and would like to tell me?

-Swetambara

Want to know more about Mana Village?
Feel free to post questions/suggestions for the author in the comments below.


The author served as a staff writer at Scoopwhoop! and is a freelancer
Send her virtual chocolates on her Twitter and Facebook.

Follow Slow Rover on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook!

© Copyright for all the images owned by SlowRover and Swetambara. 

Valley of Flowers, Travellers and Pilgrims

I feel quite smug when I look at people performing rituals to appease Gods. I have never been compelled to fast and hope for redemption. No, that definitely does not mean that I haven’t tried to appeal to the better Nature of Gods on the morning of many an exam to ensure I score more than I deserve. But I think, that if there is a person called God, that person wouldn’t be so corrupt as to dole out marks, money and marital bliss in return for renunciation or offerings. Honestly why would a God care how many fasts you have kept and why would that God choose to praise you by rewarding you with your heart’s desire. It’s all too simple isn’t it?

In short I believe I might uncomfortably occupy that space called religious agnosticism.

This makes me quite capable of stepping into a place of worship to enjoy moments of calm, while observing the architecture, the paintings and murals.

The beautiful Badrinath temple in Uttarakhand (India)

The beautiful Badrinath temple in Uttarakhand (India)

But I have never quite believed in the rituals that people engage in. For me they are mere formalities to facilitate my visit.  Take the practice of taking off one’s shoes before entering a religious sanctum for instance. During my formative years, I was exposed to my mom’s friend who was finicky and expected everyone to take off their shoes before entering her living room. I started thinking of temples as similar places owned by finicky Gods. Like I listened to the aunt hoping to get chocolates, I followed rituals to visit temples in order to be able to observe.

You may enter - after you take off your shoes

You may enter – after you take off your shoes

My understanding of such demonstrations of faith such as walking barefoot to a pilgrimage, is limited to say the least. I can’t help but engage in a fierce debate when such instances meet my eye. A similar opportunity presented itself to me during my sojourn in the Valley of Flowers, Uttarakhand (India).

Valley of Flowers – if you haven’t taken a look at the hyperlink, I’ll state the obvious, it is a valley of, guess what? Flowers!

But these aren’t just any flowers. At least not the ones you can order online for your mom’s birthday. They are flowers which are a part of the sacred Himalayan alpine vegetation.

A beauty seldom found beyond the valley of flowers

A beauty seldom found beyond the valley of flowers

Unique, bashful, temperamental, the flowers live and breathe in the valley, watched closely by the guardian mountains of the Himalayas with their burly bodies and beards of soft white. Streams which simmer with shy gaiety keep them company with their gurgling and shimmering warmth. And pretty butterflies and naughty wasps are aplenty.

Flowers being looked after by the Himalayas

Flowers being looked after by the Himalayas

No wonder it features prominently on many a traveler’s ‘bucket list‘ and finds mention in some of the greatest works of literature. Such is the enchanting beauty of the valley that Frank Smythe, the British mountaineer froze in his tracks when he accidentally chanced upon the valley and his encounter resulted in a book – The Valley of Flowers. Oh and of course, it is also listed in the UNESCO World Network of Biospheres.

Counting stars would probably be easier than counting the flowers on this plant

Counting stars would probably be easier than counting the flowers on this plant

Well, I for one don’t really have a bucket list. A place catches my fancy and I start planning a trip (sometimes when it doesn’t work out, I add the name to a secret ballot from which one day when I run out of places, I shall draw a name at random and scurry off to sip tea there).  So, with great eagerness, I set out to explore what promised to be an unforgettable rendezvous in the Himalayas where there are several species of flowers, names unheard of, some dangerous, fatal even, nevertheless beautiful.

You can find several winged companions buzzing with excitement

You can find several winged companions buzzing with excitement

Now when I head to the mountains, I do it for the vantage point above the world that the peaks offer. I do it for the emeralds swaying on the boughs of trees, the majestic robes of cloud which flutter in the wind and the Sun which blushes a deeper red while setting in the hills than in the plains. Distance from the chaotic network of roads in the cities which make life run like clockwork, from the hands of soot outstretched to hold and wring my wind pipes, from an armor of people who protect me so well that I’m at no risk of discovering myself ever. The kilometers which span between the city and the hills, bring this distance for me.

A flower which would give Black Beauty a run for her money

A flower which would give Black Beauty a run for her money

As I began the ascent to Ghangharia, the village which offers lodgings for the travelers aspiring to visit the valley, I was hoping for all of this and more. However, what greeted me was not a pristine picture but a picture which had been knocked clean off the wall and the inhabitants of the frame were swaying in the wind. An iron bridge and wide concrete roads on which vehicles were plying with great urgency, more hawkers selling more goodies in shimmery plastic packets than the New Delhi Railway Station and more people around me than I was likely to meet at a party in my city.

People clicking pictures around concrete structures on their way to the valley

People clicking pictures around concrete structures on their way to the valley

What was the reason? Apart from being a major attraction for nature lovers and Himalaya enthusiasts who throng the village to see the marvels of the Valley of Flowers, Ghangaria is also swarming with pilgrims who come to visit the shrine of Hemkund Sahib. Many of them walked beside me during the ascent, holding a polite conversation before quickly overtaking me. Some of them preferred to walk barefoot and that’s perfectly not unusual for pilgrims in India.

Sikh pilgrims I met en route Ghangharia

Sikh pilgrims I met en route Ghangharia

Now I am a perfectly jovial person as anyone who would have met me knows. However, I have a daily quota of joviality which is directly proportional to the number of people I meet. Hence, I was becoming increasingly irritable, aloof and the backpack started to feel much heavier than it was– when finally the respite came as I turned another dreary corner. It was as if I had crossed an invisible barrier dividing two countries. The air was a playful child which greeted newcomers with an enthusiasm which could knock down unprepared souls. The assault on my senses became pleasurable all of a sudden as the surroundings became beautiful. And amidst the new-found liberty of the mountains, I set the pace for the rest of the journey.

This twisted tree is the last post before the village Ghangharia

This twisted tree is the last post before the village Ghangharia

The path meandering through the mountains abruptly came to an end, vanishing within a huge intersection of a small village which by no means looked empty or quiet. I found myself moaning again. Would I never be rid of people on this trek? I had reached my destination for the day, tired and spent, but excited because of the promising aspects of the next day. I waited for the morning like I had waited for the morning I was to be awarded a Student of the Year (or something along the same lines) award in 6th standard.  Unlike that day, I did not have a nest of butterflies in my stomach who threatened to fly out through my windpipe. I had a cheery breakfast and made more acquaintances before setting out.

We cut across the village diagonally at a brisk pace to get to an official barrier. All the jagged, chaotic beauty I had been yearning for remained elusive. There still spread some beautiful, soil and moss-covered rocks between the valley and me. Had I not been so preoccupied with getting there, I would have probably paid them the attention they deserved.

Entering the valley is like going through The Looking Glass

Entering the valley is like going through The Looking Glass

I feel obliged to give a slight warning to future explorers. Don’t bother going there if it is order that you seek. I for one, usually tire of order and the chaos which it sows in my city life, the burdens of which are noticeable within a week of turning my back to the mountains. I love the mystique and the exotic chaos of the mountains which calms my mind and gives it the depth I seek. And this valley, an abode of the beautiful chaos whose song is sung by the countless species which come into existence in the delicate habitat, is perhaps the best chaos I have witnessed.

Mr. Leaf here looks really good with the yellow hair, doesn't he?

Mr. Leaf here looks really good with the yellow hair, doesn’t he?

As I rested by the river bank, soaking in the glory of Nature which surrounded me, my mind wandered. I thought about sundry things. From the botanist who had lost her life to this valley and its mysteries to the Lord Indra who sought his pleasures here. And then I thought about myself. The valley meant so much to me while I probably meant nothing to it. Just another of those thousands who flock to see the wonders it holds in its arms.

A flower shining like a beacon among the greens of the valley

A flower shining like a beacon among the greens of the valley

Then something interrupted me. Not something actually, someone refilling their bottle at the stream while making what seemed to me as much noise as possible. Another possible acquaintance, another interruption, who I observed chose to walk barefoot. Another pilgrim! But why walk barefoot to the valley? Not really, a splash in the stream led to wet shoes which were now drying on the bank. But my presumptuous query about the shoes managed to start a debate. Lots of words cropped up – renunciation, salvation, and beliefs – yes, all the stock phrases basically.

Then the conversation started taking an interesting turn. My acquaintance wanted to know why would I climb mountains, why would I walk when I could ride, why would I eat sparse meals in the villages when I could afford lavish dinners in the cities? Choice – was my simple answer. And then that victorious smile spread upon my new friend’s face and something dawned upon me.

The message reads

The message reads “enjoy the view of the mountains from here” – Nandadevi National Park, Joshimath

My friend got up to leave. So it was as simple as that. Being baptized in a certain religion at your birth makes you a devotee. Many a times the lifestyle choices prescribed do not appeal to your soul, your being. So people like me start thinking of religion as a factory, working through the machinery of rituals trying to manufacture identical individuals in the society. But does that mean we don’t need that kind of influence? One might choose to live by a different set of rules, or by no rules. Even negating makes you a believer. That becomes your own personal religion, albeit with fewer followers than other religions. Like the flowers of this plant, alike yet different :

Cluster of flowers spotted at the valley of flowers

Many musings later, I found myself getting up to join the rest of the group to head back. I was reluctant. I did not want to leave, not yet. But I had to. This view would have to do for now.

I was, after all, a pilgrim!

-Swetambara Chaudhary


Tripoto
The author served as a staff writer at Scoopwhoop! and is a freelancer
Send her virtual chocolates on her Twitter and Facebook.

© Copyright for all the images owned by SlowRover and Swetambara Chaudhary. 

A Chance Encounter In McLeod Ganj And The Musings Of A Wandering Mind

Woods are enchanting.They are partially the reason for my fixation with mountains. While reading Enid Blyton’s The Enchanted Wood in my childhood, I had convinced myself that woods were magical. And somehow they held more of a sway over me, it seemed to be more potent than the magic of the toys which used to come alive in her other stories. Pixies, goblins, fairies, unicorns – all could be my friends if I lived in the woods.

As I grew up, I was faced with the strict logic of textbooks which declared Santa Claus to be nothing more than an impersonator (I think he is a phenomena). Anyway, the books were still there. The Forbidden Forest deepened my liking for the woods, grave as the dangers lurking there might be. So, I can safely say that I love the rank of trees, the smell of pine cones and sweet Earth, the little rocks which make great seats to sit and ponder life.
So much for my growing up. But this story isn’t about that.

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About Goodbyes And The Plight Of A Traveller

This is not about the goodbyes you bid to people as you hug and smile with the promise of meeting again. It is about those goodbyes which ring a bell of finality, of an end.

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Girls waving goodbye while I drove away in Ladakh

Every time I visit a new place, I find myself taking an oath to return. Because I feel that I leave behind a part of my soul at all the places and it is necessary to come back and collect it later, to make myself whole again. But somehow I know that it won’t happen.
I will leave a city, a village, a town, behind.
A place where I had sat on the grass and gazed at the stars. A place where I had the first taste of coal burnt fish. A place where I camped in the darkness for the first time.
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An hour before departing from the place, a strange restlessness seems to take hold of me. As if I was Frodo leaving behind my Ring. I want to stay back, if only for a couple of hours. I can’t begin to describe how many times I have wished for the flight to be cancelled or to miss the bus which would lead me away from the place.
And then I have silently chided myself. For wanting to stay behind. Because isn’t it my aim to see the world? And the quicker I move from one place to the other, the better will my chances be of living that dream. And hence I have passed on, from one place to another.
Don’t get me wrong. It is not that I have not found happiness chasing different places. But it is much like the feeling you get when you are faced with the last day of school? Or the last day at work in your office? You are sad because you are leaving something behind, some people behind, a place which gave you beautiful memories behind. But that doesn’t stop you from moving forward in life, does it?
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Driving away from Warsaw, where I experienced the first snowfall of my life

That’s exactly how I feel with places. I want to see the world. But somehow I also want to stay forever at some places. The city lights appeal at the darkest hour of the night and the cool mountain breeze at dawn. Sometimes I want the opposite. And I find myself thinking again, maybe one day, someday, I would go back to those places. The places which are forever present in the memory palaces of my mind, breathing and whispering. One day, someday, when that whisper grows louder, I shall follow it. Until then, like a true traveller, I shall keep looking for new pastures to graze my mind upon.
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A man I met in Trakai, walking away after saying farewell

Tripoto

The author served as a staff writer at Scoopwhoop! and is a freelancer. Send her virtual chocolates on her Twitter and Facebook. © Copyright for all the images owned by SlowRover and Swetambara Chaudhary, unless stated otherwise. 

Lithuania – My Visit To The Country Which Had Intrigued Me Since I Read Hannibal

My curiosity about Lithuania, was deeply connected to Thomas Harris’s works. I looked at it as the majestic country where Hannibal was born and which shared Hannibal’s fate of destruction at the hands of the Nazis. And like all booklovers, I would like nothing better than to go and visit the country of the anti-hero. So when the opportunity to travel there cropped up, I was extremely happy.

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The World Wars had ravaged the landscapes of the beautiful country in the narrative. And in fact it has been an uphill climb for the country which knew such prosperity before the war. A considerable number of Jews, were forced to abandon their homes and migrate to other countries because of the imminent threat of German occupation in the early 1940s. With them they took a huge part of the country’s soul.

If that was not enough, Lithuania faced Soviet occupation in 1945. It was finally declared an independent country in 1990. And now, slowly and steadily, Lithuanians have come to a place where they can actually look back at the painful history and take lessons from it. The Grūtas Park, which won its creator an Ig Nobel Peace Prize, is a step in this direction.

Source : Andreas Moser

Around a two-hour drive from the capital city, Vilnius, the park houses the remnants of the Soviet occupation. Several statues of Soviet activists and leaders like Stalin which lay strewn about the country have been procured by the founder Viliumas Malinauskas and now adorn the theme park. According to Malinauskas, it is a way to criticise the ill-effects of the Soviet ideology which held the country captive. This is a bold step I believe. One visit to the park and you will know.

Lith4Source : Andreas Moser

The best way to prevent something horrific from happening again is perhaps to keep the memory of the event alive and breathing. However, just remembering is not enough. That is the tragic flaw of Hannibal (yes I do think he is a Shakespearean hero). He remembers each and every detail with the help of the memory palaces. But he is seething with the fire of revenge. He does not condone the actions itself but the people. Condoning such events will prevent us from making our future, a mirror of that past.

Lith5 Source : Daily Mail

The Hill of Crosses is one vantage point from where I could clearly make this observation. Twelve kilometres from the city of Šiauliai, is a hill which has over time become a mark of solidarity, a symbol of peace and hope for Lithuanians. It is here that the people found strength during the November Uprising when they decided to take their lands for their own from the Russian authorities. And again, during the Soviet and Nazi occupation between 1940-1990.

Source : Wikipedia

How did they manage to do achieve this feat? By turning to religion. They showcased their strength by leaving Crosses at the hills. This silent gesture reminded them again and again that they were not alone and their cause was not lost. The pile of Crosses keeps growing and it is a burden. A burden upon the hearts of tyrants and usurpers, upon the hearts of those who wish to take what is not rightfully theirs. Maybe Hannibal should have made this pilgrimage once. Maybe he would have if he had not been forced to elope from the country. Maybe then he would have been different? Who’s to know!

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Though Hannibal did not spend much time in Lithuania, it was his birthplace. Would it be too much to expect that his tastes, his elegance and sophistication were in some way a result of this ancestry? I was thankfully not proven wrong.

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The cobbled streets of Vilnius which greeted me as I walked on the cobbled streets of the city. The rustic appeal of the streets was enhanced by the maple leaves strewn all around, reflecting all the hues of autumn – from a mild yellow to a deep orange.

The buildings of the old town are a legacy of the Baroque movement. Beautiful cathedrals beckoned at me, to observe the peace that lay inside alongside the beauty.

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Food in Hannibal’s country was a treat for the traveller in me. Not only do they make the best potato dumplings, they also call them Zeppelin! (The fan inside me was singing ‘Stairway to Heaven’ the moment I set my eyes on the dish).

Lith7Source : Ausrine art 

Another favorite was the beetroot soup which is kind of the ‘national soup’ there.

Lith8Source :Pinterest 

My trip to Lokys – the most highly rated restaurant was rather dull because of the mandate by my parents to abstain from eating meat during the Holy period of the Navratras. Still, the eggplant dish was delicious. I can’t wait to go back and try some their special stuff (though I LOVE and adore bears).

Could I forget Hannibal’s love for music? I was waiting to be enchanted by Lithuanian art and the opportunity presented itself when I got invited for a violin recital at the town hall. The first half of the recital was dedicated towards expressing feelings of great joy. i could feel my feet moving in a happy tap-tap as the bow moved against the violin. During the intermission, I felt as happy as I could, drinking some espresso and treating myself to some handmade chocolates. Then came the second part of the recital. The range in the artist’s work was clear as he drowned me in a sea of sorrow as I felt the bow move across the violin with short twangs and lengthy movements.

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I was deeply affected by the music the previous night. But then the puff pastries happened. When in Lithuania, watch out for all these wonderful bakeries which dole out goodies made in HEAVEN. They taste magnificent. And I thought what more could I possibly see around here?

I did have the ancient Trakai on my list though. and so I was driven to the castle town. The magnificence of the castle greeted me across the bridge.

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  As I walked in towards the gates, I took in the size and architecture and the beautiful lake amidst which it was majestically perched. Happy school kids out on a trip, families showing their kids around and lovers walking with their hands linked – it was the perfect place for all.   l8 (1)

I read up all the information put up in different corners regarding the glorious past of the Grand Lithuanian Duchy of the fourteenth and fifteenth century. (Yes, the castle is THAT old. My proud Indian father kept comparing the fort to Chittorgarh – that grand abode of the fearless, warrior clan – the Rajputs. That’s another story) The tales of the Civil War were narrated by our friend and the impressive armory had much to say.

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Unknowingly, almost naturally, I had become friends with a bunch of schoolkids who were there for a school picnic. They kept following me, playing peek-a-boo at times and making much noise in general. You know what was the most entertaining thing for them? That someone could be called ‘swaatee’. To avoid causing great agony to non-Hindi speakers, I like to use my shorter pet name ‘Swati’ when introducing myself (in fact even Hindi speakers at times).

Indians are taught the importance of speaking English, and speaking it correctly early in life. Most of us have no problems in pronouncing a certain English name like James or Thomas. Now sometimes, the child in me thought everyone puts in efforts to get someone’s name right. Boy was I wrong! Those kids ran around the entire castle shouting out my name with an absolutely unique pronunciation of their own. Hannibal would probably put in a lot of effort.

While walking out, I set my eyes upon a pillory that was used to punish criminals and set to take pictures. And those kids ran out and trapped their friend so that I could get a perfect shot.

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I stayed at this comfortable modern establishment called ‘Comfort Inn’. The buffet breakfast was great. But I think I would love to go and stay at the Shakespeare Hotel. There is something absolutely enthralling about it. The hostels like July are amazing to stay at.

Another of my biggest regrets is not having visited the Curonian Spit. I hope to take a trip soon and walk on the sand while the Baltic sea rages on one side and the Curonian lagoon on the other.

Lith10 Source : Pinterest 

I did fall in love with the country. With the architecture, the food and the people. Making friends with people allows you to come closer to yourself. And that is the whole point of travelling. Isn’t it?

-Swetambara Chaudhary


Tripoto
The author is a staff writer at Scoopwhoop! Send her virtual chocolates on her Twitter and Facebook. © Copyright for all the images owned by SlowRover and Swetambara Chaudhary, unless stated otherwise. 

The Ross Island- Finding Beauty in Negative Spaces

Ross Island is a deserted island that is a part of the Andaman archipelago in India. Once the seat of the royal Britishers, it now lies in utter ruins. A shadow of its earlier self.

Despite this, Ross Island has a charm of its own.

This post covers the macabre beauty of the  Ross Island.

Welcome to Ross Island

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This sight greets you at Ross Island

Sights like these are abundant:

IMG_4069Nature, the Ultimate Conqueror

Ross SIlandA little perspective

Nature has engulfed everything here, EVERYTHING:

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IMG_4166Only the memory remains!

But there’s more to see here:

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Some views are more beautiful than others:

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Whoaaa!

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An old swimming pool!

IMG_4215An ancient tree at Ross Island

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The Presbyterian Church

IMG_4234-001The Ross Island Cemetery

IMG_4243Yes, this place has a beautiful pond!

Wildlife’s abundant too :

IMG_4196Deers roam freely here

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Liked the images? Check out our other post on Andamans.
Click here to read more about the history of Ross Islands.

-Vibhav Bisht


The author is a hardworking lazy-ass! He loves to travel though!
Feel free to disturb his naps on Twitter and Facebook.

Follow Slow Rover on Twitter!

© Copyright for all the images owned by SlowRover and Vibhav Bisht. 

Pari Tibba- The Witch’s Hill

Pari Tibba or the Witch’s Hill, is my favourite part of Mussorie, India. Away from the hustle bustle of the Queen of Hills, Pari Tibba is a haven for all those who are looking for complete solitude (and also a chance to witness the best of Mussorie Ridge). I was first introduced to this place by Ruskin Bond, who has mentioned this magical land in many of his stories.

Hence, I decided to explore it. In this article, I’ll tell you how to trek to Pari Tibba.

Actually, it is more of a stroll rather than a trek, for this region can be covered within a few hours on foot. And once you conquer the top of the hill, the sight is truly spectacular.

Reaching There :

The trek to Pari Tibba technically starts from the famous Woodstock School at the eastern end of Mussorie. Mussorie lies at approximately 286 kms from New Delhi . It is a 5-6 hour drive on a route that passes through the following cities:

Delhi -> Ghaziabad -> Modinagar -> Muzzafarnagar -> Saharanpur -> Roorkee -> Dehradun -> Mussorie
Total Distance -286 kms

After having a light breakfast (Try ‘Lovely Omelette’ at the eastern end of the Mall) head towards the Woodstock School. You’ll pass through the famous Landour Bazaar (Old Mussorie) which is quite an experience in its own way .

An old Bike Repair shop at Landour Bazaar

Woodstock lies at a distance of 3 km from here. The Pari Tibba trail starts from here.

THE TREK :

As mentioned above, it is a simple enough trek which can be completed in a few hours. From the main gate of the Woodstock School, take the side road which descends towards the hostel building of Woodstock.

The gentle trail near Woodstock
A cemented trail emanates from the back of this hostel. Follow this trail which will lead you towards Dhobi Ghat Village in a few minutes. A quick tip: Stay away from the dogs of this village!

Moving on, from here it is a gentle ascent for around two kilometres. The track bifurcates after a while and you need to take the path going right. En route, you might also notice the ruins of old British houses which were abandoned by their owners due to constant lightning hits(Hence the name– Witch’s Hill). A steep ascent during the last stretch of the trail leads you directly to the top a small but beautiful hill.

Welcome to Pari Tibba!

A small temple near a clearing let’s you know that you’ve arrived.

Relaxing at Pari Tibba

Pari Tibba is a great picnic spot. It has some of the most deliciously breathtaking views of the Himalayas.

Just Perfect!

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After spending a considerable amount of time extolling the beauty of this wonder, you can descend down the same path and retrace your steps till Woodstock.

If time permits, you have the option to cover the Lal Tibba region of Mussorie. Or maybe someplace else.

You’re never short of options at Mussorie.

-Vibhav Bisht

Tripoto


The author is a hardworking lazy-ass! He loves to travel though!
Feel free to disturb his naps on Twitter and Facebook.

Follow Slow Rover on Twitter!

© Copyright for all the images owned by SlowRover and Vibhav Bisht. 

5 Ways To Respect Others When You Go Abroad

Guest writer Amile Jessica of the international travel super-group ‘Unexpected Wanderlust‘ writes about ‘how’ and ‘why’ you should respect the locals while travelling globally!


From a young age, I dreamed of a life of international travel. In many ways, travel was my first love. It prompted me to quickly consume as much information as I possibly could about the world around me, to constantly change for the better so I could become smarter, stronger, and more capable to do what? Travel of course. It got to a point where I had to ask myself, why do I even care, what is it that I like so much about this?  Which lead me to my next love: a love of life, of other people, and of the human experience.

But this love is much more complicated. When you feel connected to the human race, you also feel responsible for the incredible amount of pain so many individuals face at the hands of greed, ignorance, and recalcitrance. You feel aware of your own privileges to do something about this, and don’t want to squander your possession of a voice, which has power to advocate and fight for others so that they can be heard too.

People are so wonderful and amazing!!! (of course I asked these women if they would be comfortable with their photo online before taking the shot-- they were very excited about it)

People are so wonderful and amazing!!! (of course I asked these women if they would be comfortable with their photo online before taking the shot– they were very excited about it)

Then traveling can feel selfish, and even downright harmful. To be an honest ethical individual I must then ask myself hard questions about my life long passion and path: Is this worth my time, efforts, money, health, and energy? Does this genuinely help make the world a better place? Does it make me a better person?

If you are one affected by wanderlust then you have surely seen quotations which praise travel for it’s ability to expand personal horizons and squash prejudices in their tracks. But is a change of scenery enough to make us ethical people? Enough to make us forget the harmful stereotypes and one-sided perspectives that have been born and bred in us from day 1?

Travel can certainly open the door to deeper feelings of empathy and global human connectedness, but as we open this door we often hit many innocent people along the way. Travel alone does not and cannot act as an antidote to oppressive behavior. However, it can act as a powerful catalyst for diplomacy and change when paired with mindfulness, self-reflexivity, and intentions deeply based in ethics, which embrace humanism and social justice.

Below are 5 ways that all those who are interested in travel can better respect those peoples which we go to such great lengths to admire.

Bridge the Language Barrier with Patience and Respect

When traveling abroad it can be easy to become frustrated by language barriers. You’re tired, in a rush, and feel like you are going in circles so you snap at the innocent citizen who you’re asking for help. Remember that you chose to come to a country where people speak a language different from your own. Come into the experience expecting frustration and remind yourself to be present whenever you feel impatient. Laugh at yourself and the situation. Keep a language guide with you, and study some phrases before hand.  If you’re in the country for an extended period, try picking up a new language! Always remember: just because a person does not speak your native language does not mean that they are stupid.

Just because I hit travel rock bottom, does not give me an excuse to bring other people down with me.

Just because I hit travel rock bottom, does not give me an excuse to bring other people down with me.

Think Twice Before Using Your Camera

We get it. Nonwestern clothing looks really cool. But that does not mean that it’s okay to get your camera all up in the face of a random pedestrian, street hawker, or cute little kid. When in doubt ask yourself how it would make you feel and then respectfully ask permission.

Poverty is Not Your Eye-Sore or Your Fantasy

It’s difficult to not have high hopes and expectations of a place before you go. Movies and other types of media influence our perceptions of places we could only imagine before, and now will actually see. But places don’t exist for spectators and movies will almost always tell an embellished story. Many travelers, when faced with poverty that they were not expecting to see, cringe internally and come away from the experience with criticisms of a country like “the people smell” or “the city is dirty.” These criticisms play into negative stereotypes that do not take into account a history of oppression, whether it be colonial or corporate.

The inverse can also be true. We often use traveling as a way to experience something different. But when a country is not the type of different we expected it to be we feel like we’re not getting our money’s worth. This happened to me when I was traveling through Morocco. A native Moroccan that I was staying with told me he would take me to the best kebab place. Of course, I got my hopes up that I’d soon be eating kebab in some seedy back corner cafe surrounded by locals, but instead he ended taking me to a restaurant in a packed shopping mall. Internally I threw a little temper tantrum, I was in Morocco for a limited time and I wanted to go to a real Moroccan place. But I was wrong. I was in a real Moroccan place and I was surrounded by locals, even if it wasn’t the real Morocco that I expected to see.

This popular ice skating rink in a shopping mall in Rabat is a part of "Moroccan life," as are old medinas.

This popular ice skating rink in a shopping mall in Rabat is a part of “Moroccan life,” as are old medinas.

Make Personal Efforts in the Cultural Exchange Process

While learning about new cultures is not everyone’s first priority when traveling abroad, many of us do want to leave the experience with a deepened cultural perspective. That being said, while many native citizens are excited and more than willing to educate foreigners about their customs and history, it is not their sole responsibility to do so. Reading a few pieces of literature from popular native writers as well as some books about the local religion, food, history, and so on can truly deepen a travel experience and give you a great starting point with which to engage the locals you meet along the way. Making an effort to learn on your own shows others that you desire to move beyond shallow tourism and toward an authentic cultural exchange.

On a trek through the Peruvian Andes, this guide and I really bonded over the fact that I had learned about the native Incan language Quechua through reading literature from the popular Peruvian author Jose Maria Arguedas.

On a trek through the Peruvian Andes, this guide and I really bonded over the fact that I had learned about the native Incan language Quechua through reading literature from the popular Peruvian author Jose Maria Arguedas.

Educate Yourself on the Impacts of Voluntourism

So now that you’ve read this article and are fully committed to becoming a more ethical traveler you might as well go all in and sign up for some voluntourism right? Think again. Voluntourism is often criticized for creating more problems then it solves, which makes sense considering the issues this world faces are much more complex then a two week or a summer stay can accomplish. Even though these travelers might mean well, voluntourism contributes to damaging white savior mentalities which implicitly state that poverty is a spectacle which outsiders are entitled to enter into at any time, and that the only thing stopping issues from being fixed is a lack of local leadership.

If you would like to productively make use of your time in another country, embrace your outsider status and teach English (or another language which might be in high demand). Consider this teaching a man to fish; teaching English allows others access to a useful skill (in today’s marketplace), which will help aid them in benefiting their own communities long after you’re gone.

What are some ways that you respect other cultures when you travel? 

-Amile


© Copyright for all the images owned by SlowRover and Amile Jessica