Friday, 29 July 2016

The Double Decker Living Root Bridge At Cherrapunji

Introduction

The Double Decker Living root Bridge is one of the most breath-taking sights in Meghalaya. The bridge lies in the Umshiang village, straddling a stream in the deep valley amid the high hills of Cherrapunji. The bridge is approached after a trek from the village of Nongirat - an inverse trek that starts with a descent to the velley and wraps up after the ascent back to Nongirat. An alternative route is to ascend to Nohkalikai Falls on the other end of the valley, instead of returning to Nongirat.

 
The pic of the day!

We were three days down in Meghalaya by this time and were geared up for the first major adventure of the trip. The itinerary for the day was simple enough: start off early to Nongirat, trek to the Double Decker Living Root Bridge, return for lunch at the Cherra Holiday Resort and then maybe cover a few sights around Cherrapunji.


 
On the map

It was about 0930hrs by the time we started off - after a quick stop at Cherra Holiday Resport to place our lunch order and contact Don, the guide - which was about mid-day here in Meghalaya.

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The Trek Down

Cherrapunji (Sohra) and Nongirat are located on tall ridges at a considerable elevation from the deep water-cut valleys below. The bridge is in Umshiang down one such water-cut valley. The starting point of the trek has a board which states "Double Decker Living Root Bridge: 3Kms". This is one of the most innocuous signs we saw on our entire trip. 3kms one side = total distance of 6kms. Typically, time taken to cover this distance can be just a little over 2hrs. However, this place is far from typical.

Don (L), our guide; Kyrmen (M), the co-ordinator; Gear (R) drives a Scorpio

The trek route starts with stairs. 2700 stairs in all. 2000 of them are together at the start, the rest are scattered. The first 2000 stairs all go down. This is the worst section of the trek, especially when returning. Almost all the steps here are 6inch high and 6inch wide, which may be comfortable for the locals, but for someone with a size eleven foot it means that only half the foot lands on the stair at a given time. It is also not advisable to skip any stairs as the impact starts to hurt after a while.

The start of the stairs
 
In memory of the 2000th step!
Spidey on the trail

There is a small settlement at the base of the stairs with a fork for a living root bridge, located about 1.5hrs away. The stairs continue outside the village, but here they are punctuated by flat stretches with gradual elevation changes. At the end of this stretch, one comes across a suspended steel bridge. This bridge is small and on a beautiful stream: crystal clear mountain water!

  
The first steel-suspended bridge

 
The cables 'n the waters
 
After this bridge we came across another steel bridge, this time only longer and with a stunning backdrop. Picture this: Green trees on sloping mountainsides, white boulders marking the path of the stream, clear blue flowing water amidst the rocks and then us, standing awestruck in thin air on a bridge made up of steel cables. Paradise!

 
A quick snap of paradise
 
The second bridge
 
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The Bridges Of Umshiang

Our guide Don was reminding us of our target: the Double Decker Living Root Bridge and we moved on. After the second steel bridge, we came across an inconspicuous living root bridge - our first. This was a small single decker bridge, a fact which most of us realized only after going halfway through. We had a small photo-op at the bridge and moved on. A little far from this bridge lies the village of Umshiang, which is home to the Double Decker Bridge.

The first sight of the Double Decker Bridge is a massive letdown; only because you see it as a path and nothing else. The best thing to do now is to cross the bridge and get a seat on the rocks on the other bank. This is the view you are looking for: the Double Decker Bridge in its full glory. The view here is amazing, especially with the sun-rays filtered through the leaves of the surrounding trees.

The DDLRB .. photo-ops

 
The top-view from the bridge

Another angle

The Umshiang guest house is close by for people seeking an overnight accommodation near the bridge. Alos close is a small football ground with a level pitch and bamboo goalposts. The presence of a football field was very startling; especially in a place like Umshiang whose only access to the world was through the bridges.

 
The beautiful game, a beautiful ground

Don, then mentioned of another steel bridge a little distance away and we decided to check it out. This bridge lies on a path to the Nohkalikai falls which is at a walk of about three hours more. The next steel bridge is the longest (in two parts) and the most precarious of them all. The view here is again splendid. At the end of this bridge starts a root-bridge-in-making based on a steel framework, followed by a short bamboo bridge. Some of us decided to venture in the river below, but kept away from the water.

 
The third ...
 
 
A massive boulder, and us astride
 
Root bridge in the making .. the path leads to Nohkalikai
 The upper valley leading to Nohkalikai
 
We returned to the guest house from this point. We had a tea break and then decided to move on. It was already 1300hrs by then. We did a quick photo-op at the double decker bridge and headed back to Nongirat. Some of us then ventured in the water below the second steel bridge. I do not know how to swim. This was the first time of many on this trip when I repented the fact.

 
Oh yes, a small waterfall ...

 
The blue expanse

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The Climb Back To Nongirat

It was almost 1400hrs by the time everyone gathered at the base of the 2000 stair climb. The humidity had increased as the day went by and all of us were sweating. For the next two hours all we did was huff-puff-stop-curse-repeat! The climb never seemed to end! We reached the start point by 1600hrs.

Aah yes ... something like this ...

I would like to state that most of us were good trekkers in the Sahyadris, but we were not prepared for what we got here. The locals do it quickly enough and are quite chilled about the entire affair.

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The Lunch - At Sunset

We moved to Cherra Holiday Resort for lunch by sunset. We tried a few local dishes (I cannot remember the local names) like yellow pork rice, radish salad, dry fish chutney, pork gravy and pork dry. After a sumptuous meal, we headed back to the Coniferous Resort where we were staying. It was already dark by the time we reached and any hopes of site-seeing were already dashed.

Thus ended our good day's hike.

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Originally posted in Indiamike.

© One Of The Road

© All images by Mayank Sharma

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Ahmedabad Snapshots

Introduction 

Ahmedabad is the city at the heart of the Gujarat hinterland. he city has been a regional powerhouse and capital since the times of the Gujarat Sultanate, up to the 1970s when the planned twin city and present capital of Gandhinagar was formed.

  
The Mahatma's domain

There is a lot of history imbibed in Ahmedabad and the corresponding architecture is beautiful too. The Indo-Saracenic style of architecture has a substantial mark, but well complemented by traditional Hindu and Jain architecture. A major historical aspect is the contribution of this city towards the Indian independence movement - the Sabarmati Ashram of Mahatma Gandhi can be considered the centre of the Indian Satyagraha.

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Getting In & Around

Ahmedabad is well connected by air, rail and road to all parts of India. Getting in is super-easy. The city has a strong network of buses, rickshaws and cabs for internal transport. We preferred not to undergo the hassle of bus routes and opted for the very viable option of Jugnoo instead.

Ahmedabad map

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Breakfast With The Dead?

One of the quirks of this city is the Lucky Restaurant, located near Lal Darwaza. The place is more of a cafe than a restaurant. The place marks for a unique, yet creepy experience of eating in a literal grave-yard. The tables are placed amid old tombs, probably attributed to saints/fakirs of old. I did not click a photo here.

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The Hutheesingh Jain Temple

This is one of the oldest temple complexes in Ahmedabad. The architecture is characteristically Jain. Photography is restricted inside the main temple.

The entrance to the main temple - under renovation 

 
The tower in the temple complex - similar to ones in Chittorgarh

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The Kankaria Lake

The place where Ahmedabad likes to take a stroll in the evenings - complete with fountains, islands, toy-trains and chat counters.

The local pastime

Still waters and fountains

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The Sabarmati Ashram

The iconic Sabarmati Ashram does not need any introduction - just posting some random images.

The view of the Sabarmati from the ashram

An end in itself?

The many languages of the Mahatma

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Sarkhej Roza

The mausoleum, tomb and mosque complex is spread over a 70acre area. What was meant to be a memorial tomb was later converted into this massive complex including a lake and a palace too. Most of the structures are made of white marble and feature intricate jaali (mesh) work and patterns. The present structures retain much of their original charm and inspire a wondrous awe.

The mausoleum

'Jaali' work

This used to be a water reservoir, now a cricket field

The prayer hall in the mosque

The mausoleum in profile

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The Siddi Sayyad Mosque

This mosque bears the emblem of Ahmedabad - the Tree Of Life. This mosque derives its name from an Abyssinian trader who convened the building of the mosque.


The pigeons fly as we arrive

The prayer hall and 'jaali' work

The "Tree Of Life" - the emblem of Ahmedabad

Not the best zoom ...

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Swaminarayan Temple

This temple is situated in the Kalupur area - the old part of the city near the railway station. The temple is easy to get to and is also a good place to start a walking tour through the narrow lanes of the old town.

 
The door has spikes

 
The entrance

 
The arches from the sides

 
The accommodation of the monks

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Some Snaps From The Streets

The last part of this blog is an assortment of images from the streets of the city. The old city, especially, is super nice to roam around on foot.

 This building was next to our hotel
 
The old Bhadra Fort

The market at the gates of Bhadra Fort

 
In memory of a poet ... 

 
Old buildings of the old city

 
Intricate woodwork on an old school facade

 
Teen Darwaza

 
The shaking minarets near the railway station

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Other Places in Gujarat

Adalaj || Patan || Modhera


© One Of The Road

Friday, 8 July 2016

Shangarh Is Picture Perfect

Introduction

Shangarh is a small village nestled amidst the mountains on the left bank of the Sainj. It is also the most picturesque human settlement I've seen till date. :)

 
The defining image of Shangarh

Shangarh's calling card is the beautiful alpine meadow surrounded by a fringe of tall pines and the old temple of Sangchul Mahadev at its corner. But our not-so-perfect planning and lack of detailed information meant that we got a chance to see the real extent of beauty that a quaint and untouched Himalayan village could offer.

Oh yes, we were the only tourists in the village for that period.

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Getting In

The Sainj valley is a non-touristy place spoiled by the many hydel projects. However, there are some places of interest located higher in the mountains - like Shangarh on the left bank and Shenshar on the right.

 Shangarh on the map

The highway to Kullu-Manali has an iconic tunnel just before Aut. One has to skip this tunnel on the left and head straight towards Larji. One the way one sees the confluence of the Beas and the Sainj. Again head straight at Larji, continuing on the right bank of the Sainj. The bridge to the right branches off to the Tirthan Valley. Larji is where the Tirthan meets the Sainj.

 
The Himalayan road-shrine was here too

About 18km from this point, one reaches Ropa on the left bank of the Sainj. A 6km dirt track (4x4 only) leads up to Shangarh from this point. Very few vehicles ply this route and hiking is the usual option. We were lucky to hitch a ride - there was a mela (fair) being held in the village and hence quite a few vehicles were plying the route.

 
The dirt track up to Shangarh

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The Meadow Of Shangarh

The maidan (meadow) is the main draw of Shangarh village. I'll let the pics do the description here:

 
The shed at the near-corner had the village-horn and a small shrine

 
The village from the meadow
The tower-like structure is the new temple of Sangchul Mahadev

  
The cattle graze and the people laze
The children and the wise play

  
A view from the village

  
The old temple of Sangchul Mahadev

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The Village Fair

The fair of Sangchu Mahadev was a smallish affair. Four stalls selling sweets-treats and assorted stuff were put up by enterprising locals. Many people who consider Shangarh their native had turned up. People from Shenshar (across the Sainj) had also turned up along with their devta Manu Rishi.

 
The wafts rise from the food stalls

 
The halwa and pakoras - both made of besan 

The devta was brought from the new temple on a palanquin to the meadow at a place where the ceremonial horn was placed. The people danced along with th e heavy palanquin and someone proceeded to beat himself up with iron chains to ask for forgiveness on behalf of the village.

 
The palanquin of Sangchul Mahadev

Local kids, oblivious to this were busy with their game of cricket. The elder ones were practicing volleyball to prepare for a match against the team from Shenshar. It started raining, so we had to skip the ceremony half-way.

 
The cricket and the spectators

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A Night At The FRH

By some weird twist of fate we were destined to stay at the Forest Rest House (FRH) in Shanghar. We had booked, then cancelled then booked that place again. Once we reached Shangarh though, we were invited to stay at a home-stay by the local priest, but we had booked the FRH, so politely declined. On enquiring the whereabouts of the FRH we were pointed to property a further 20min uphill hike away at the very periphery of the village, just before the pines.

 
The FRH is on the right-background

 
The FRH living room had a sun-roof too

The FRH seems like a colonial era bungalow, has two bedrooms, one living/dining room and a separated kitchen. The bedrooms have fireplaces too. We were the only ones there. The chowkidar got us food from his house down in the village and left us for the night. And ... it was raining outside and the power was out - somehow the fuse had blown after our arrival.

By the time we tucked ourselves in at 8pm, it was pouring outside and we had very well spooked ourselves. The blankets did ensure a cozy sleep though. We woke up at about 5am to this view:

 Not a cloud in the sky, Kheerganga range visible in the distance
Shenshar lies on the ridge seen in the left-middle section
And a pair of long-tailed magpies I couldn't click

We soon left the village and descended to Ropa to conclude this chapter of Shangarh.

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Random Shots From Shangarh

 
Random image #1 - Mill

 
Random image #2 - Train to FRH 

 
Random image #3 - Watercourse

 
Random image #4 - The Kheerganga vista

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The Parting Shot

Shangarh has gained visibility on the offbeat travel circuit. As the road develops further, this place will see more tourists coming in. All I pray is for the growth of tourism here be sustainable. All the best Shangarh & Shenshar - Jai Sangchul Mahadev, Jai Manu Rishi!

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Other Places Nearby

Jibhi || Chehni Kothi || Raghupur Garh

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© One Of The Road