Friday 30 November 2012

Umm-U-Noi Living Root Bridge

The villagers at Sohsarat and Mawlyntuin moved from the foothills due to very short days with scanty sunlight. They grew a living root bridge for access to their farming lands from their new habitat.

Umm-U-Noi Living Root Bridge at Siet village is located at 515m elevation and one hour away from Laitkynsew village (880m). Mawshamok is 15km from Saitsohpen and Laitkynsew 4km away after the splashing park and Cherra Resort. This 90 minute trek starts from a tiny thatched tea shop on the left side of the road from Mawshawmok to Nongwar where the road ends. The concrete steps leads to the villages from where the trail turns right. Ask the villagers for this trail hidden between houses. After trudging along a grassy area this trail leads to a rocky path covered under leafy canopy, so the rocks are slippery in any weather. This is used only by the villagers and least touristy (read no concrete steps).

The main branch of the bridge which looks like a spinal chord is very strong and big. Some branches are as wide as half meter and stronger than a concrete beam. We tagged along with Bansan for this trek and a villager was guiding us to this bridge explaining the history. He made a small cut on the branch with his machete and a sticky white gum oozed out which explains that this is in the family of rubber trees (ficus elastica).

 Ten minutes further from the root bridge there is a rock cavern made of sharp rocks and tree roots in intricate patterns. Interestingly the space below the cavern was hollow (not seen but heard). Half cut bamboo poles are used like a pipe to bring the water from upper hills to the farming lands inside the jungle.

After the trek we had a late but heavy lunch at the tea shop. We couldn't find a taxi from Laitkynsew, so decided to walk 4km to Mawshamok gazing at the starry sky. Bansan explained the location of different villages in the lower hills looking at the electric bulbs which look like fireflies in the forest. This was the last trek we did in Sohra and the easiest.

Wednesday 28 November 2012

Nongriat-Weiphngam falls-Nohkalikai trek

"Beware that even for the fittest walker, this hike is highly strenuous"- Lonely Planet, about double decker root bridge trek.

What if this is just a warm up trek for a day long trek from double decker to Nohkalikai waterfalls viewpoint, which takes more than three hours and climbs from 375m (Nongriat village) to 1300m (Nohkalikai waterfalls viewpoint).

As there was no taxi at 6.30am to Mawshamok, the good Samaritan who stays near Saitsohpen offered us a ride. Another fifteen minutes walk to Lum-Sophie, next one hour trek to Nongriat was ceaseless. Being on this trail a few times in the last month the concrete steps were a tad boring. Still, the turquoise blue waters under the wire bridge enthralled us. After breakfast and packing lunch from Cooling Corner, there was an extra trek in our agenda when Byron's father in law offered to come with us as a guide.

Weiphngam Falls:

DO NOT attempt this trail without a guide. This less beaten pathway is very rarely used by the locals, narrow and dangerous, you may have just enough space to place one foot. Starting right after Mawsaw root bridge, the deviation itself is hard to find. Our 50+ year old guide was clearing the trail with his machete. The best thing about this part of forest is that no major wildlife is present and it is very safe to explore as far as you know where you are heading to. It took more than an hour to reach the magical waterfalls with a rainbow across plunging into a pool of blue water. More than endurance, techniques will make this trek easy-use a hiking pole or a stick to balance your body weight on the narrow cliff.

Nohkalikai Falls:

Reaching the viewpoint in three hours seemed to be difficult when we started at 1pm. The trail from Mawsaw root bridge to Nohkalikai viewpoint is not used by locals or tourists often and there are no villages on the way. You may feel little claustrophobic as the sunlight is scanty, thanks to the tall trees keeping the open sky a rare scene. On the rainy days the mossy rocks make it impossible to trudge along this way. Endurance and stamina as well as water and energy bars matter a lot on this steadily steep but wide path. Lots of butterflies and even more spiders await you-a stick to clear the cobweb is a must. There is only one stream after Mawsaw bridge to replenish water bottles. Before sunset we tottered up to the open grassy moors near the viewpoint at 4pm, after dark finding your way in this trail is nearly impossible.

There are taxis to Sohra market, 4km away. This trek is best done with an overnight stay at Nongriat Rest House, trekking to Weiphngam falls on day one and starting early to Nohkalikai the next day. Barefoot Treks and Hikes, run by ever-helpful Bansan Kupar (9615093898) can arrange guides, to explore the forest safely as well as accommodation and meals.

Sunday 25 November 2012

Sohkhmi - The Green River

"We are in Cherrapunjee."
"Is it raining there?" That is the question we hear most often. Known as the rainiest place in the world, Cherrapunjee was there in the social studies curriculum across India. At an elevation of 1400m it is still one of the wettest places in the world. In 1974 it rained 24555mm (80.56ft) which is the highest recorded rainfall in any one place in any one year in the world. On 16th June, 1995 it rained 1563mm in 24 hours! The rainfall in July 2012 was 3847.8mm.

The huge mountains and the rainforests are lashed by heavy rains accompanied by thunderstorms; from mid March to September. Rest of the year can boast about sunny normalcy suitable for outdoor activities.

A major hobby as well as a profession for people in Meghalaya, there are fishing competitions (in ponds)with a first prize to the tune of Rs.3,00,000 or more in the peak season. There are many rivers bordering Meghalaya flowing down to Bangladesh. The river is auctioned to different villagers and demarcated with boundaries at a range of Rs.1000-5000. Each villager who wins the bid, spends day and night at the riverside camping in a cave or makeshift camps and sells his catch at the market. Angling is the only means, which is a sustainable method. Villagers use homemade gear for angling, not fancy but very effective. Fishing rod is made of flexible long bamboo pole and the fishing reel is made of wood and metal. Polythene line is attached to multiple hooks which are hidden inside a block of boiled tapioca, hooks and bait change as per the variety of fish. The captured fish will be kept in the river until the day of selling.

Sohkhmi-the trail and the trek:
Sohkhmi is a village with less than fifty families, which can be accessed only by foot from Sohra. The motorable road from Saitsohpen near the police station ends at Kut-madan village. By foot it takes an hour to the Presbyterian Church, from where you can see the Bangladesh plains. The river is an hour and a half steep descent from the Sohkhmi village. This trek takes you from 1300m to 75m at the river, an indication of the dizzying trail. We could reach the village by 10am, two hours from police station through wide but rocky walkway. We crossed the village following concrete steps lined with mandarin orange trees. The villagers might be curious where you are heading to. After the last blue house you will get a sneak peak of the bluish green river decorated by white rocks.

The traipse down is knee trembling due to the steep rocky trail. After an hour we reached the hidden paradise at 11.30 and got onto the very narrow wire bridge to enjoy the mesmerizing green river. The tranquil water is so clear that you can see the river bed and reflects the sun on the wet rocks on the side wall. It looks like an aquarium displaying the wide variety of fish in their natural habitat. We did a tad rock climbing to find Bah Pen who hails from Sohkhmi village with whom I had been to this location two years back. Though we did not speak any common language he could recognise me when I told him Bansan's name. He offered his bamboo raft for an enthralling joy ride and we spent one hour playing in the water. Like a fish in the water, Romin swam in the river and was difficult to get him out of the water. At 1.30 we started our arduous ascent back to the village; two hours later when we reached, we even thought of sleeping there because of fatigue. Willpower took over physical exhaustion and we foot slogged to Kut-madan village by sunset. This nine hour trek was highly rewarding and each moment at the riverside was like experiencing paradise. Considering the effort, it is highly recommended to spend more time at the riverside.

To do this trek over two days with all the paraphernalia, contact Bansan at 9615093898 and if you enjoy angling he sells fishing gears too. 


Monday 12 November 2012

Aizawl - Wild Wooded Wonderland

Geographically Mizoram is the remotest state in India. You will be genuinely appreciated by locals for coming all the way from the southernmost part of India travelling 4000+ km. Shillong to Aizawl bus takes 16hrs to cover less than 400 km which speaks of the road condition in the hills. Network Travels buses start from Dhanketi at Shillong and charge 700 for an overnight bone crushing ride. If you stop at Silchar en route Sumos are the only option to go further. The roads are bad between ML-MZ borders through Assam. Once you cross the border you will see endless dense forest thickened by bamboo and teak holding cotton clouds at its branches. Every one kilometre takes two minutes to climb up by the bus because of the steep gradient.

Aizawl is situated at an altitude of 1132m, surrounded by Tuiral and Tlawng rivers. Inner Line Permit for the entire state can be obtained by paying Rs.140 per person at the Mizoram House, Christian Basti, GS Road, Guwahati (Ph:0361 529626/224087), Sonai Road, Silchar (0146 256823), Tripura Castle Road, Shillong (0364 520315/520149). As we had planned for a seven day trekking and caving expedition, our destination was the Youth Hostel at Luangmual, near Chhunga High School (0389 2332243, 9862223095, dm/dbl 100/400). The Secretary Zodinsanga was very helpful to guide us and a taxi dropped us at the Youth Hostel without any hiccups. Our base camp leader Mr.Lalduhkima Sailo (9862712367) introduced details of the program and about Mizoram in general. Later camp leader Mr.Manoj Sahu (9238588126, 9583186177) explained the itinerary of the program in detail. He is an avid trekker with 24 years of experience and very helpful for any traveller in India. We visited The Martyrs Cemetery erected in memory of 1,563 persons died during the bloody insurgency period 1966-1986 whose names inscribed on the marble blocks. The martyrs included MNF rebels and civilians. After breakfast with the help of description and map of the city from the warden Mr.Lalmwai we visited the areas spread around Zodin Square, Bazar, Zarkawt and Chanmari. The swanky new shopping mall Millenium Centre is a pride factor for young Mizos. There are frequent city buses from YH to Vaivakawn, from where the Bazar is a short walk. Long distance buses start from Thuampui though you can get tickets from KT travels (2345280) at Zarkawt. There are numerous Sumo counters for long distance trips at Zarkawt. We visited Salvation Army Temple and the caretaker Issac was kind enough to show us around and took us to the clock tower for an aerial view of the city.

Mizo in local language means a highlander (Mi=man, Zo=high altitude). The ever helpful Mizo people are very friendly and women are highly respected. The women are very liberated and industrious - line up on the streets selling vegetables and handicrafts throughout the town. You will find women running big shops in the Bara Bazar selling automobile parts, electrical appliances and confectionery. Women smoking in public does not seem to be a taboo. You can shake hands with opposite gender without any inhibitions. A young mother feeding her baby in public does not attract stares. Christians make up 84% of Mizo population, everything shutdown on Sunday.

In the evening, a bunch of traditionally dressed boys and girls performed Cheraw- six boys squat on the ground holding bamboo poles while six other girls dance in between the shifting bamboo poles which are rhythmically shifted and struck against one another, drums are used to maintain the rhythm. Multi-talented warden Mr.Lalmwai entertained us with his guitar and songs.

Next  morning we were dropped by two mini buses near 1 MW mini hydel project site from where we trekked 4 km to our first camp at Vaipuanpho. Two is a company but forty four (!) is more than a crowd. Not so agreeable crowd and inclement weather made us rethink about continuing our trek further. Following our intuition we called off the trek and returned to YH. Rest of the day was spent with lovely and entertaining Peter and Rebecca who work at YH reception. The Sunday service at the next door Presbyterian Church was simple and spiritual. Rebecca lent us clothes to dress up to suit the church attire. We thoroughly enjoyed the hymns accompanied by drums, rest of the Sunday was spent chattering gaily with Rebecca and Peter and the second batch participants.

We played the local guides by taking seven of the participants with us to a few local sites. KV paradise-built in memory of Varte by her husband Khawlhring dubbed as Mizoram's Taj Mahal. Take a city bus from Temple Square to Bawngkawn, hire a taxi or bus from Zasanga Point to Durtlang, the narrow mud road leads to KV paradise. The nearby high rises are polytechnic, hospital and women's college. Go down the steps from the parking lot to find the caretaker if the entrance is locked. Enterprising Soni runs LNS restaurant near the ATM-handy for lunch at Bawngkawn. State Museum at Zarkawt (admn fee 10) was our next stop-a vast collection of anthropological/textile/historical exhibits on Mizo people and culture are displayed here. Loitering around Bara Bazar through the evening crowds of Aizawl munching a few local delicacies was fun. Betel leaf with dry coconut is a novelty here. Highly disciplined drivers keep the traffic smooth though slow, following traffic rules strictly. After 5pm you may not get any buses, taxis are the only resort.

For a peaceful stay away from the bustling city, Berawtlang Tourist Home(0389 2352067, dbl 450-650, Zemabawk near Mizoram Science Centre) is an ideal choice. Most of the buses end at Zemabawk via Chandmari-Chatlang-Zasanga Point- past Pushpak Mandir. Walk up the steep hill for 15 minutes where a sign board says Science Centre just before the bus station. The rooms are very spacious though the ceiling is peeled off and toilet is moldy. Cafeteria cooks up decent meals and it is the only option. Walk up the grassy hill in front of the tourist complex to watch the contrasting views of the sprawling city skyline on the west side and lush green mountains on other sides. Mizoram Science Centre (admn fee 10, 10am-4pm) is right after the tourist complex frequented by the students. Basic principles of science are explained well by simple practical and interactive devices. The 3D theatre (Rs.10, 11.30 am, 1 pm and 2.30pm) offers an exciting 3D experience with two ten minute shows.

Though we didn't get a chance to experience rural Mizoram life, it wouldn't be wrong to say Aizawl city is not so urbanized. The simplicity and innocence of village life still persists in this capital city.