A Monochromatic Day at East Sikkim

Touristy Yet Breathtaking Tsomgo Lake

As the car climbed up through the winding mountain side, the charming scenery all around suddenly gave way to monochrome. The sudden transition caught us off-guard leaving us tad surprised even though it had been raining off and on for a while now. The day had started bright and sunny but now the sky was overcast. The tall mountains on either side of the tarred road were cloaked in patches of white and grey.

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Pic 1: The monochrome surroundings 

We had arrived at Gangtok the day before with plans of visiting North Sikkim. However, leaving Gangtok without visiting the touristy Tsomgo Lake and Nathula Pass would be sinful – so what if these places are located in East Sikkim! Hence, off we headed towards Tsomgo Lake. Nathula Pass hadn’t opened for the season even though it was the month of April. Last winter was harsher than usual resulting in the Pass being still closed due to snow.

Situated at an altitude of 12,313 ft, the oval shaped Tsomgo is a glacial high-altitude alpine lake. Spread over 1 Km. with a depth of around 48 ft., it is also known as Changu Lake. The lake is considered sacred and located about 35 Km. away from Gangtok. The colour of the lake changes in different seasons and it is said that the spirituals gurus of Sikkim would predict the future of the state by studying the colour of the water. Due to its proximity to China, Protected Area Permit (PAP) is required to visit this place.

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Pic 2: The oval-shaped Tsomgo Lake as seen from a distance.

The lake looked stunning even though it was teeming with tourists. It was partially frozen making it even more enigmatic and magical. A large part of the surroundings was also wrapped in snow. The spectacular beauty of the lake enticed us but the swarm of people all around was quite a turn off. Tsomgo Lake being a popular tourist destination in Sikkim, the crowd wasn’t surprising and we had expected this. A small bridge connects one side of the lake to the other. We walked over to the other side. One can also avail yak rides to go to the other side.

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Pic 3: Notice the tiny people scattered like twigs all around?
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Pic 4: A prayer wheel breaks the monotony of black and white.
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Pic 5: Tourists ride these yaks to move around the lake.

After a short walk by the side of the lake, the touristy selfie-clicking chattering people got the better of us and we decided to leave. Instead we found a quiet place higher up in the mountain by the side of the road that provided a perfect view of the lake. And there we feasted in the magical scenic landscape of the ethereal lake nestled in between tall gigantic mountains. Everything remained black and white though.

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Pic 6: Reflection of the surrounding mountains on the half frozen lake.
Unfathomable Faith of Baba Mandir

Before spending time at Tsomgo Lake, we had gone to Baba Mandir – a unique temple that houses the shrine of Baba Harbhajan Singh. A very fascinating story is associated with this temple.

Harbhajan Singh was a soldier with the Indian Army. He belonged to the Punjab Regiment. In 1968, he was involved with flood and landslide relief work in Sikkim and North Bengal. During that time, the 27-year old soldier had slipped and fallen into a rivulet while escorting a mule column from Tuku La, his battalion headquarters, to Donguchui La. He went missing and all search efforts went in vain. After 5 days, Harbhajan Singh appeared in the dream of a fellow soldier informing about his death by drowning and that his body was carried 2 Km. away from the site of accident by strong current. Apparently, he also expressed his desire of having a samadhi (tomb) built in his name. His body was discovered exactly at the mentioned place.

Thereafter he came to be known as Baba Harbhajan Singh and his regiment built a samadhi at the place where he was posted during his service. The samadhi is the original temple, located about 10 Km. away from the new temple. This we learnt much later while at Dzongu Valley. The place we visited happens to be the new temple built for the convenience of tourists. I wish I knew about the original samadhi well in time to be able to visit it.

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Pic 7: The story of Baba Harbhajan Singh displayed at the temple.

Army folklore has it that Baba Harbhajan Singh still guards the international boundary between India and China. Apparently both Indian and Chinese armymen have seen a human figure riding a horse along the border at night. It is also believed that Baba appears in dreams of fellow armymen warning about any untoward activities happening at the border. Chinese soldiers also set aside a chair for the Baba whenever a flag meeting is held between the two countries.

The Army payroll still has his name and he receives his salary, due promotions, and is also granted leave as per policy. All this intrigued me and I googled later to learn that the Baba goes home on September 13th every year when a berth is booked for him in Dibrugarh Express. Army officials take his portrait, uniform, and other belongings to his village Kuka, in Kapurthala district of Punjab. The same soldiers carry the belongings back to the Sikkim, once the leaves get over.

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Pic 8: The idol of  Baba Harbhajan Singh.

The new Baba Mandir has three rooms in a straight row. The room at the center has an idol of the soldier along with Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the founder of Sikhism. The room on the right has a chair and a table that represents the Baba’s office. It also has a heater to keep him warm. The room on the left, is filled with water bottles. It is believed that water kept in the shrine is blessed by the Baba and if consumed after 21 days cures all possible ailments. Hoards of tourists and devotees visit the temple and offer things like toothbrushes, slippers, etc. One can also send letters to the Baba, which are opened by other soldiers.

The original samadhi has a room that has everything that may be required by the Baba, such as, neatly ironed uniforms, slippers, shoes, camp bed, etc. Indian Army soldiers polish the Baba’s boots, keep his uniform clean, and make his bed. The soldiers have apparently reported crumpled bed linen and muddy boots.

All of these would appear delusionary to a pragmatic mind. The Indian Army, however, believes in the spirit of Baba Harbhajan Singh. Everything in the universe cannot be fathomed by our limited understanding, hence let faith triumph over logic for this bizarre place of worship.

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Dzongu Valley – Distinctive World of the Lepcha Tribe


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“I couldn’t have had a better start to this day,” I said aloud as I looked out of the window of our room. Kanchenjunga Peak was covered by clouds but Pandim massif and Kabru peak were right there, seemingly looking at me acknowledging the statement that I just made. Mr. Karma, our homestay owner, had said the day before – “You have to be blessed by Kongchen Chu to set your foot here.” And, at that moment, blessed is what I felt! (Kongchen Chu is the local name for Mt. Kanchenjunga.)

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That’s what I woke up to on the morning of my birthday.

It was the month of April and the day was special as it was my birthday. My sister and I were in Dzongu Valley to experience the Lepcha way of life at Karma Lepcha’s home. Located in North Sikkim, Dzongu Valley is about 70 Km. away from Gangtok. The entrypoint to the valley is Mangan, the district headquarter of North Sikkim.

The Lepchas

Located within the Kanchenjunga biosphere, Dzongu is sparsely populated, inhabited by the Lepcha Tribe – the happy and peace-loving aboriginal people of Sikkim. The Lepchas believe that they are descendants of the mountains and the word ‘Lepcha’ literally means ‘Children of the Gods’. The Lepchas are a vanishing tribe with a dwindling population of about 50k across parts of Sikkim, Nepal, Bhutan, and West Bengal. The Lepchas have lived in Dzongu Valley for centuries and it was declared as a protected area for the Lepchas in the 1960s.

Lepchas are nature worshipers and believe that Mt. Kanchenjunga or Kongchen Chu is their protector. They are duty-bound towards Mother Nature and believe that by performing good deeds they will be rewarded with an afterlife and eternal bliss at Mayal Lyang – heaven hidden in the foothills of Kongchen Chu. Lepcha folklore has that Dzongu is the bridge to Mayal Lyang, which is the place of origin of the Lepchas.

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Lazy leisurely mornings. With Mr. Karma Lepcha in his home.
When we Arrived

The day before we had made a dramatic entry to Dzongu Valley at dusk, when the sky was overcast with dark clouds and it was raining quite heavily. The low visibility through the narrow, broken, winding road right up to the village with a deep plunge to Teesta on one side wasn’t the most comfortable thing though! We were going towards Tingvong, a village in upper Dzongu where we were to put up at Rumlyang Homestay for the next two days.

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Towards Upper Dzongu – not the best of roads.
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The only motorable bridge that was destroyed in 2016 landslide when Teesta changed its course.

Dzongu is divided into the northern ‘Upper Dzongu’ and southern ‘Lower Dzongu’ by Rongyang River, a tributary of Teesta. Dzongu Valley is vast and remains largely uninhabited though both these regions have several villages. The mighty Teesta that separates Dzongu from the rest of North Sikkim had changed its course after a devastating landslide in 2016. This resulted in the breakdown of the only motorable bridge that connected the villages of Upper Dzongu. A hanging bridge now connects Upper Dzongu with mainland but it is a walkway and vehicles cannot pass through. Hence, the Innova we had been traveling in for the past few days could not go up to the village. It went upto the landslide area over the broken bridge and another vehicle arrived from the village to take us.

Earlier, as the Innova had taken a turn from Mangan towards Dzongu the stunning greenery had made us feel like we were entering Amazon Forest.

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Karma’s home Rumlyang Homestay. The upstair room is where we stayed.
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Rumlyang Homestay – a view from the backside.
The Welcome Drink

Karma and his brothers welcomed us to their home with Chee, the locally brewed liquor, served in bamboo mugs with bamboo straws. Chee is made by fermenting millets and is like an organic beer. As a custom, Chee can be consumed only after offering it to Mt. Kanchenjunga and there’s a particular way of doing this.

Aarack is the other local liquor that is brewed from cinnamon plant and has a strong and pungent taste.

The Lepchas lead a self-sustained life and vegetables and crops are grown with organic manure. They only buy rice, pulses, and salt from outside. Cooking in their kitchen still happens on earthen ovens with log fires – surreal to us, the city dwellers. Karma did have a LPG gas stove but they seldom use it. The village had just one provision store that didn’t have much to offer.

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Chee or millet wine – a traditional alcoholic beverage that’s brewed locally.
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In the kitchen, the surreal set up of which fascinated us. 
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The cooking place is called “pukum”. Some kitchens have an additional cooking place that looks smaller than this and is meant for larger utensils, which is called “putong”
The Picnic that Didn’t Happen

Day-1 in the village and my sister and I were up early in the morning. The sun was yet to reach the valley but the chirping and chattering birds made sure we stepped out of our room. Karma and his brothers – Dawa, Nordin, and Tashi – were still asleep.

The greenery in the morning light was freshly captivating. We took a stroll in the neighborhood amidst rice and cardamom fields, across icy rivulets, through random fluttering of Buddhist prayer flags, and admiring little boys and girls peeping though half-opened doors of their traditional huts.

We ended our morning odyssey by walking over to Karma’s elder brother’s home, situated closeby. Randomly walking into somebody’s home and introducing yourself – quite unimaginable, right?

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Immersed in everything green. Spot Karma’s home in the background.
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Cardamom cultivation found all around.
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Millet cultivation

Later that morning, my sister offered to prepare parathas for breakfast. Karma announced the weather was perfect and it was my birthday, and that called for a picnic. And off we went. Loaded pats and pans, some potatoes, and some rice and lentils onto the Bolero-like vehicle. Karma, his three brothers, a relative of theirs, and the two of us.

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Lingzya waterfall with a vertical drop of 300 ft.

We first went to Lingzya waterfall, a steep vertical drop of about 300 ft in the middle of greens. We spent a substantial amount of time there while Karma and gang indulged in noodling but with no success.

We then visited the Lingdem hot water spring, located in Lower Dzongu. The hot water spring has two log cabins for men and women. However, the outlet of both were clogged at that time and a common area was provided outside for everyone. We dipped into the hot waters for a good 45-50 min. along with Karma’s gang. Just visualize soaking in the goodness of the medicinal qualities and healing powers of a Himalayan hot Sulphur spring in the middle of a dense forest beside a stream of icy melt. Pure bliss!

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The hanging bridge over Rongyang, the only connection of Upper Dzongu to mainland. And, I just got to know this bridge has collapsed due to heavy rains this Summer  – super sad 😦
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Another view of the hanging bridge. And, it no longer is there!
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On way to Lingdem hot spring.

Soon after the rains decided to play spoil sport ruining our picnic plans and forcing us to return to the homestay for the day.

By evening, the rains had stopped and the skies had cleared up. Nordin and Dawa came by inviting us for a walk to the village school, and off we went with them. There we found Tashi playing football with the village boys and also met a school teacher with whom we had some interesting discussions about Sikkim’s political scenario.

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The village higher secondary school.
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Village boys practice football every evening in the school football field.

We ended the day with some melodious and rhythmic Lepcha music over a simple dinner of rice, dal, and potatoes. Nordin and my sister danced away while we cheered them, sipped Chee, and chatted our way into the night.

Kanchenjunga Views

Kanchenjunga remained covered by clouds had eluded us so far. The other peaks, namely, Sinolchu, Kabru, Pandim, Langam Chu, and Pungyong Chu were clearly visible most of the time. While Pungyong Chu is considered to be the guardian of Kanchenjunga, Langam Chu is the guardian of Tingvong village.

On Day-2, we woke up to clear skies and looked out of the window of our room and voila – there stood the majestic Kanchenjunga draped in shining white. We jumped out of bed and rushed out. Karma recommended we walk a few meters ahead in the street for a better view and we did just that without bothering to even brush our teeth. We wanted to make the most of the view before the clouds came back. The view, however, remained clear for the next 2-3 hours. Karma thought we were really lucky and I guess we were.

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Mt. Kanchenjunga peak as seen from the window of our room.
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The majestic Kanchenjunga, a closer view.
The Village Hike

My sister and I gelled very well with the two brothers, Dawa and Nordin. We were already having a great time together. So much so that they decided to postpone some work they had in Mangan and stay back to take us for a hike to the village monastery and the other five villages that constitute Tingvong Gram Panchayat in Upper Dzongu. These villages are Namprick, Nung, Tingvong, Lonkoo, and Kusoong.

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Tingvong village monastery

A flight of steep steps took us to the village monastery and the climb was not an easy one. It was a special day at the monastery and some rituals were underway. The monks offered us fruits, biscuits and butter tea.

Thereafter, we reached Kusoong village walking through cardamom fields and bamboo plantations, across rickety bamboo bridges over several streams, and a waterfall here and there. The day was bright and sunny until then. The weather Gods changed their mood soon and it started drizzling. Dawa and Nordin took us to their friend’s home where we decided to wait till the rains stopped. The slight drizzle, turned to hailstorm and heavy rains, which continued incessantly for the next 3 hours. Dawa prepared tea and noodles as we waited for the rains to stop.

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Somewhere along the way towards Kusoong village.
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A bamboo bridge along the way towards Kusoong village.
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Another bamboo bridge along the way towards Kusoong village.
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One of the several waterfall we encountered on the way.

Finally, the rains lessened. It was pretty late by then and we decided to go back to the homestay instead of the other villages. Karma had prepared some special bamboo shoot dish for us and we did not want to disappoint him by not having lunch. We reached back around 4.00 PM and had a late lunch together.

The rains continued lashing through the evening forcing us to remain indoors. It was cold and there was no electricity. We spend the evening in Karma’s kitchen cozily wrapped in blankets catching up on stories from our respective lives.

Bidding Goodbye

My sister and I left behind a part of ourselves at Dzongu. We are certain, we have some greater connection with Karma and his brothers. At Karma’s home, we never felt like guests. It was like visiting friends or family. There are many subtle feelings and emotions that I cannot describe in words. Dzongu has been super special and shall always remain so. God willing, I would love to go there once again and stay for a longer duration. Three days is hardly sufficient to explore the valley.

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With Karma and his brothers as we bid goodbye to Rumlyang Homestay. The yellow scarf around our necks is known as hada, khata, katak, or khada. It is a traditional ceremonial scarf that is presented to guests as part of the Lepcha culture.
Lepcha Words and Phrases

Here are some Lepcha words and phrases that we picked up during our stay:

  • Achuley: Cheers, used mostly while drinking Chee
  • Chee: Wine, liquor, alcohol
  • Chu: Mountain
  • Khamri: Hello
  • Tokchee: Thank you
  • Tokchee atim: Thank you very much
  • Eng: Younger sibling – brother or sister
  • Anum: Elder brother
  • Anom: Elder sister
  • Tyol: Friend
  • Amu: Mother
  • Abbu/Appa: Father
  • Tedi: Man
  • Teyue: Woman
  • Cho: Child
  • Ong: Water
  • Adho sa ab ryang shugo: What is your name?
  • Ho sarey jong nee: How are you?
  • Go arum se: I am good
  • Adhom go lenchyo matsyo: I love you
  • Kat, Net, Sam, Flee, Fumo: One, Two, Three, Four, Five
In Addition…

I have a feeling of incompleteness about this write up. Perhaps, I have not been able to capture the essence of Dzongu Valley. The feelings and emotions I have experienced are beyond words. I leave you with some more pictures.

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With Dawa (L) and Nordin (R) during the village trek. The large knife dangling from Dawa’s waist is locally known as ‘tukmok’. 
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That stem we are chewing is locally known as ‘thotney’. It has a sour taste similar to gooseberries and is an antidote for dehydration. It is used to make pickles.
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The ‘putong’ is also used to warm up when it gets really cold. A saucepan with water is always placed over it. The hot water is then used for drinking and for various household purposes like cleaning utensils, etc. Nordin sports a traditional Lepcha hat here.
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The house at Kusoong village where we waited for the rains to stop. The house owner (in blue boots), referred to as Anum or elder brother, has graduated from Jadavpur University, Kolkata. He left his well-paid job in the city to teach Mathematics to children in the village school.
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Nordin proudly displays animal hooves, horns, and tusks, that are kept in houses and are considered to be lucky charms.
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Bundles of corn hung for drying in the balcony of the house in Kussong where we waited for the rains to stop.
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The well-kept house of Karma’s elder brother. It was really beautiful.
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The tidy and well-kept kitchen at Karma’s elder brother’s home was quite a contrast to Karma’s rustic minimalistic kitchen.
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The bolero-like vehicle that took us around. It’s named Langam Chu after the village’s guardian mountain and is apparently the first vehicle of Dzongu Valley.

Mawlyngbna – Hits & Misses

Our initial excitement of traveling in the yellow-coloured shared Tata Sumo was now replaced by impatience. It’s been an hour since we boarded and the driver was waiting for 9 more passengers. Having seen these typical yellow Sumos from early childhood, it felt somewhat surreal to be seated in one. Another 30 min passed by and no other passengers arrived. These Sumos pack 12 people in one go and are the primary mode of commute to Shillong for villages located in the outskirts.

I was with my sister and we were off to Mawlyngbna. It was a Saturday and we had made the plan just 2 hours back. We were already late and could wait no longer, so we decided to pay for the rest of the 9 people and asked the driver to start – Rs. 100 per person it was.

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Pic 1: Somewhere at Mawsynram along the way
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Pic 2: Mesmerising drive to Mawlyngbna

At about 75 Km. from Shillong, Mawlyngbna is a scenic village in East Khasi hills, nestled atop a hill overlooking the Bangladesh plains. It shares space on the hill with three other villages – Lawbha, Mawtepiew, and Umtyllun. Locals say Mawlyngbna is a rain-blessed village. Not surprising. It’s just 15 Km. away from Mawsynram, the wettest place on earth. Besides waterfalls and natural springs, this village is home to the endangered unique predaceous pitcher plant (Nepenthes khasiana). Most importantly, Mawlyngbna occupies a coveted place on the geological map because of remarkable fossil imprints.

We arrived in the village at around 2.00 PM in the afternoon after an amazing drive through lush green bountiful hills which played hide and seek with the clouds that sometimes appeared from nowhere whitewashing everything all around us. There’s a lot for one to do at Mawlyngbna – trekking, kayaking, canoeing, fishing, camping, and so on.

Here’s an account of what we did at Mawlyngbna accompanied by our guide, Chest Pdah.

Trekking to Waterfall

Um Diengkain and Ar Phalat are the two waterfall treks we did at Mawlyngbna.  I have written an elaborate post on the two and will not get into the details once again. You can read it here.

We had started our Mawlyngbna trip with Um Diengkain waterfall, where my sister had a slip and hurt her arm. It didn’t seem to be too bad at that time but eventually it limited our experiences to a very large extent as we had to curtail our original plan.

Walking up to Bangladesh Viewpoint

It was around 4.30 PM when we were back from Um Diengkain. It was too late to trek Ar Phalat, so we settled down for some sha dood (milk tea) and jingbum (snacks) at a Kong Shop in the village square. Thereafter, we took off on a village stroll. A large field where young boys were practicing football, a bunch of playful children laughing and giggling just outside a village home, a few cows and goats here and there, a local bus loaded with people going to the next village  – some things that I recall now.

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Somewhere up in the hill we noticed a place that looked like a viewpoint. We called up Chest and asked him to take us to the viewpoint as we weren’t able to figure out the route. Chest was himself unsure and took us up the hill through sections of leech-infested grasses that were as tall as us. Finally, we landed on a moss-covered pathway that led upto the viewpoint. Surprising that the viewpoint was built but not used even though it had fantastic views of the village and Bangladesh plains.

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Trekking at Split Rock that Didn’t Happen

We spent a lot of time sitting at the roundish and flattish comfortable rocks around Umseiniong River on way to Ar Phalat waterfall. My sister’s arm pain had worsened the night before and we decided to take it easy. The situation also led to my cousin sister and brother-in-law (BIL) coming over to Mawlyngbna all the way from Shillong to pick us up. As we waited for them, there was no better way to spend time than at the quietude of Umseiniong River with nature as our only companion. However, after about an hour we realized that we had some more time before they arrived. My sister started feeling better too – the Khasi traditional massage oil had done its trick.

We decided to go and visit a place called Split Rock, which was located at Mawsiangjroi, a few kilometers away from the village. And, off we went hiring a local taxi.

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Pic 10: In quietude alongside Umseiniong River 

Split Rock turned out to be unique and extraordinary. It’s a huge rock split into two from top to bottom. So, two flat rocks sat parallel to each other separated by about 2 meters. The two rocks are as high as a 4-storied building. One can trek through the narrow passage between the two rocks that leads to a very narrow cave.

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Pic 11: The gap between the two rocks – Split Rock

We maneuvered our way through rocks and boulders towards the narrow passage and landed at a place where we had to climb down a ladder. The ladder was slippery due to the rains that had been happening during that week. Climbing down didn’t seem like a great idea and we decided to give it a miss.

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Pic 12: Chest and the driver of the taxi lead us towards the entry point of the Split Rock.

Besides Split Rock this place had a viewpoint known as Thalaw viewpoint. It’s a picturesque viewpoint with greens of all shades, clouds floating down, and the Thalaw village perched somewhere in the hills amidst the greenery.

Umakhakoi Reservoir

Umakhakoi is located somewhere near Split Rock. However, BIL and cousin sister had arrived at the village by then. We went back to the village and came back to Split Rock and Umakhakoi with them. The multiple bowl-shaped holes at Umakhakoi fascinated us much more than the lake itself. An unending stretch with numerous water-filled hole greeted us as soon as we entered the area.

Google says this type of geological features are called ‘Potholes’. The formation of these are associated with the flowing of water over an uneven surface of limestone for prolonged periods. As the water percolates inside tapered sections, the centrifugal force of water leads to the formation of these natural sink-holes. Kayaking and Canoeing are common activities at Umakhakoi. However, we indulged in none.

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Pic 14: The pristine waters of Umakhakoi Reservoir
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Pic 15: The multiple bowl-shaped holes at Umakhakoi 

And, here’s an account of what we missed at Mawlyngbna and why we need to go again.

Ka Iew Luri-Lura

We missed the most significant aspect of Mawlyngbna – the fossils embedded in the boulders, remnants of a time when the entire area was under sea. The fossil trek through jungles, streams, and waterfall leads to a place called Ka Iew Luri-Lura. This place has rock impressions that resemble animal footprints. Khasi folklore has that these footprints are from a time when animals could talk and they would come to this place to trade with each other and with fellow human beings.

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Limestone Caves

Mawlyngbna has fascinating lime stone caves where stalactites and stalagmites abound. However, the caves can be visited only during winters.

Others

Other activities at Mawlyngbna includes ziplining, snorkeling, and angling. One can also indulge in midnight football matches under full moon, which takes place in the village sometimes. Then there are amazing river treks for the Adrenalin Junkies. One can also experience the local culture, depending on the time of visit. The community holds local dances and displays their handicrafts at a certain time of the year.

An interesting thing that I got to know was that the liquid inside some of the pitcher plants is edible, one needs to select young pitchers and those whose mouths are closed by the flap.

Waterfall Chasing at Mawlyngbna

Mawlyngbna (pronounced maw-lyn-bana) is a quaint little dreamy village nestled atop a hill overlooking the Bangladesh plains. Located in East Khasi Hills of Meghalaya, about 75 Km. from Shillong, this picturesque village is all about adventure activities from trekking to canoeing to kayaking to fishing, and camping.

This post is about our experience of waterfall trekking at the village. A more detailed post on the village will follow soon.

Through the Jungle to Um Diengkain

Passing through a dusty track, we entered a jungle – a dense jungle with huge butterflies of myriad colours, a damp forest floor covered with narrow and broad leaves, tall aged trees with trunks wrapped in layers of moss, multitudes of ferns of various dimensions, and every such thing that you can imagine only in a rain forest. The constant calling of cicadas added to the charm, making it even more enigmatic. After a while, the forest gave way to a semi-barren land that was covered by patches of grass but was devoid of trees.

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Pic 1: Following Chest, our guide, through the dusty track towards the jungle.
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Pic 2: Somewhere inside the jungle.
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Pic 3: The jungle gets left behind as we land on a patch devoid of trees.

Soon enough, the sound of the cascading water reached our ears. A few more steps and the waterfall made its elegant appearance. From far it looked like a dainty white sheer curtain amidst the greenery. Approaching closer, we alighted with ample caution through as set of rustic precarious rocks that served as steps to go closer to the waterfall. Here it looked forceful and was not the least dainty as we presumed. The pool of still water surrounding the waterfall was emerald green where we found locals quietly fishing away. Other than them, there was nobody else. We had the entire waterfall to ourselves.

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Pic 4: Wading through water to go closer to the waterfall, the bridge you see on the left was broken.
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Pic 5: Up close

Our guide, Chest, asked whether we wanted to go closer. That would entail walking through a set of moss-covered slippery stones. Being the cautious adventurer that I am, it wasn’t something I was very keen about. As always, my sister played down my concern and we went ahead. We were so close to the waterfall now that sprays of water landed on us every now and then, drenching us quite a bit.

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Pic 6: It wasn’t easy to cross over, the stones were very slippery and that’s where she had slipped.
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Pic 7: Locals fishing in the emerald green water.

On our way back, a small glitch happened – my sister slipped on one of the mossy rocks and hurt her arm. It did not seem like too big a thing at that point of time as she was able to move her arms freely. There was an obvious pain but that was manageable. The pain, however, multiplied manifolds later that night. So much so that we were all set to leave Mawlyngbna much before our planned departure.

Upto the Mouth of Ar Phalat

Ever traced the course of a flowing water and landed up to the mouth of a waterfall? Well we just did. I had read about such treks but experienced one for the first time and it was just as exciting as it seemed. We were almost not going for this trek to the mouth of Ar Phalat waterfall as the pain in my sister’s arm had aggravated the night before. It was the traditional Khasi oil massage that came to rescue. In the morning, she was better though the arm still did hurt. After breakfast, we decided to go ahead with the trek. We walked through the lanes and bylanes of the village towards our destination. Chest and I walked ahead while my sister walked slowly trailing way behind us.

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Pic 8: This is what we saw as we approached Umseiniong River.
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Pic 9: Those large depressions on the rocks are common and they create nice little water pools.

Soon we found ourselves walking over moss-covered stones alongside Umseiniong River. One would imagine these rocks to be slippery, but they weren’t. Most of it was dry and didn’t feel very difficult to walk on. Some sections were tricky though and we had to be cautious with our footing. As expected, this trek is possible only during certain months of the year when the water level is low. The mouth of the waterfall was a huge flat rock that just drops to the plains of Bangladesh. There is no way beyond the rock and no option other than to retrace our path. The water from the river was passing down only through one side of this huge rock. During monsoon, the gushing waters would cover the entire surface of the rock.

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Pic 10: Not so difficult but some sections were tricky.
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Pic 11: The water was as green as you see. There was nobody around other than us.

As we stood at the edge, gazing at the Bangladesh plains, I wondered about the water most likely flowing into River Padma. The water doesn’t change as it flows from one country to another. The flowing water couldn’t care less about the imaginary boundaries we humans have marked out on earth.

With nobody around, it was blissful time with Mother Nature. On our way back we spent a lot of time sitting beside the flowing water as you see in the featured picture.

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Pic 12: The flat rock at the mouth of the waterfall from where the water cascades during monsoon. Note the Bangladesh plains down below.

How Difficult is Rupin Pass Trek?

And, how I prepared for it…

I was mesmerized by the mystical Himalayas when I had trekked there for the first time. At that time, my knowledge of trekking was limited to just a few blogs that I had read. I had very randomly signed up for the Kedarkantha trek and embarked upon it without any preparation. (Read more about my first trek here).

It was during Kedarkantha trek that I had heard about treks like Rupin, Roopkund, etc. from fellow trekkers who had been to those places. At that time, I had thought that such treks were way beyond my league.

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Upside down or downside up! Kedarkantha Trek
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Marching ahead! Kuari Pass Trek.

As time progressed and I went for two more subsequent treks to the Himalayas, I found my heart yearning to do something more challenging. Being an ardent nature lover, I reasoned – more the difficulty, more rewarding would be views!

It’s been one year since…

Subsequently, I nervously signed up for the Rupin Pass Trek with doubts filling my mind on whether I could do it. A seasoned trekker and a friend with 17 treks under his belt both in the Himalayas and the Alps always raved about the hypnotic charm of Rupin Valley. And, each time he maintained that Rupin Pass was a difficult one for him. Also, Indiahikes (an organization, with whom I have done all my Himalayan Treks so far) rates Rupin as their topmost trek.

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Remnants of an avalanche! Har ki Dun Trek

I had taken the plunge, but the jittery me started scavenging the Internet to gain a good understanding of the difficulty level. All the blogs gave vivid elaborations of the gorgeousness of this trail making me yearn for it even more. However, I could not find much insight into the level of difficulty.

Now that I have done the trek and done it well, I decided to write about the level of difficulty for the benefit of others.

Rupin Pass is graded as ‘moderate-difficult’. My personal experience is that the initial two days are moderate or easy even though you cover 10-11 Km. each day. You walk through winding dusty tracks with a few ascents and if it’s sunny make sure to cover yourself well and don’t miss your sunglasses or else you will end up with sunburns and headaches.

The next 4 days is a little challenging and it’s the terrain that makes it so. Some sections have steep ascents and steep descents which are sometimes through boulders and loose rocks or loose soil. There are precarious sections of walking on snow, some of which may have become hardened or even converted to ice.

And, just like any other Himalayan trek if the weather is good the trek becomes a lot easier and if rains or snows just that much difficult.

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I could live in a tent forever! Rupin Pass Trek

If I compare it with the other treks I had done till then, namely Kedarkantha, Kuari Pass, and Har-ki-Dun, I will definitely say this one is challenging. Those treks felt like child’s play before the Rupin Pass Trek.

This post is definitely not to dissuade you. You just need some amount of fitness and that is it. So, with the right preparation, it is absolutely doable. If I have done it and enjoyably so, anybody can do it.

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We were in great company! Rupin Pass Trek

Nervous as I was, I made sure I paid extra attention towards preparedness in terms of fitness. And, all of that paid off in the mountains, where I surprised myself by always being at the beginning of the team. Most of the time, I was leading – even during the much talked about ‘gully-climb’. All through the nine days, never for once was I exhausted and thoroughly enjoyed the stunning and divine Himalayan landscape.

A gist of the things I did…
  • Jogging 3-4 Km, five days a week and increasing that to 5 Km. a fortnight before the trek. Jogging is the best way to build cardiovascular endurance and get fit for a high altitude trek.
  • Continuing my usual Yoga routine four times a week but including squats and planks.
  • Doing Pranayama almost every day for 30 minutes, including breath retention as that increases lung capacity.
  • Taking the stairs whenever I could, which is something I anyway do – trek or no trek.
  • Walking as much as I could and whenever possible, again something I anyway do – trek or no trek.
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Stupendous views! Kashmir Great Lakes Trek.

I want to be ‘trek-ready’ always. With that intention, I have continued the above mentioned routine is a slightly customised way till today.

And subsequently, I went ahead and completed the Kashmir Great Lakes Trek too. However, Rupin was special and continues to be my personal favourite.

(Read more about my Rupin experience here)

Mawphanlur – Meghalaya’s Tiny Little Secret

It was a Sunday and I woke up to a bright and beautiful day. An ideal day in Spring. “No wonder I love Spring,” I thought to myself. Such kind of days are rare and special in my hometown, Shillong, where rain clouds are always lurking around the corner.

A Sunday like this must inadvertently be associated with countryside long drives. And so it was! As always, Brother-in-Law (BIL) and I set out on our tiny little adventure. Both of us are perfect partners in crime and totally in sync when it comes to exploring nature.

BIL picked me up and we set out without any particular plan or destination. Very soon we realized that the city was left behind and we still hadn’t decided the plan for the day. BIL didn’t waste time in expressing his wish of driving towards West Khasi Hills. The perfectly tarred roads of the National Highway connecting Shillong-Nongstoin-Tura is one of BIL’s favourite long-drive destinations.

Not surprising as the undulating road winds through green hills dotted with Pine trees, the Kynshi River appears in some places, tiny colorful houses of the sporadic pretty villages add to the overall eye-catching surroundings. The ride serves for a relaxing and soothing experience.

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Pic 1: The National Highway connecting Shillong-Nongstoin-Tura. (PC A.D. Roye)

We had heard about a village called Mawphanlur, located somewhere around West Khasi Hills that boasts of seven lakes tucked away in gorgeous green valleys. Decision taken and Mawphanlur it was! The place was sealed and closed.

Located around 95 Km. away from Shillong Mawphanlur is little known amongst the tourists that throng Meghalaya. In fact, West Khasi Hills does not fall in the usual tourist circuit and that made it just perfect for us. The drive through the highway, as expected, was a pleasure to the senses – perfectly complemented but the warm sun and blue skies. The sparkling tarred road snaked through the gorgeous surroundings as BIL maneuvered his car rather skillfully.

I was totally lost in the surroundings when I suddenly realized the road was going uphill and was much narrower – well we had left the National Highway and was on the road to the village. The narrow road was perfectly tarred and that was an unexpected but pleasant surprise.

After a while we were treated to verdant rolling hills, quaint cottages, narrow lanes and several water bodies. We had arrived at Mawphanlur. Clouds had gathered by now and there was a nip in the air. I made sure to take my jacket with me as I alighted from the car.

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Pic 2: As we arrived at Mawphanlur Village

I would describe Mawphanlur as utterly refreshing, not only because of the greenery but because of the complete lack of usual tourists and all the associated paraphernalia of shops, hawkers, etc. There were a few locals though who had come over to explore the place just as we did.

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Pic 3: One of the many lakes
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Pic 4: Another lake
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Pic 5: Large rocks on the hilltop

The Traveller’s Nest guest house with its three cottages was a complete surprise for us. Had we known that Mawphanlur has a guest house, we could have planned to stay back and would have had more time to explore Mawphanlur and its idyllic surroundings. We spent close to an hour enjoying the serene surroundings before heading back. On the way back we had a late lunch at a local eatery – in a Kong Shop.

What is a Kong Shop?

Kong Shop translates as Sister’s Shop. These are small one room eating joints found all over Meghalaya. They are super clean, serve fresh, hot, and tasty food that’s dirt cheap. You might not find a lot of variety in the menu but the food is light on spices and is like home cooked food. Most importantly, you’ll be treated with a lot of love and care. When in Meghalaya, spotting a signboard that reads “Hangne Die Sha and Ja” would mean you are at a Kong Shop. This Khasi phrase translates as “Rice and Tea found here”.

On the Historical David Scott’s Trail

The green all around refreshingly fed my lungs and brain. I felt alive! I hadn’t seen so many shades of green anywhere before. The green felt pronounced and took me by surprise as I was just back from Sikkim and the surrounding greenery at a Lepcha Village had made me feel like I was in Amazon Forest.

Once again, I realized how little I have explored my own place of birth, my home – Meghalaya.

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No match for nature’s palette of green.

Last week I was spending time with my 26-year-old nephew, who is more of a buddy than a nephew and has been so since he was a child. Our meeting in Shillong was sheer coincidental and we got to spend four days together. And, that just had to be super special. Last time we met in Shillong was when he was in school. Thereafter, we did meet a couple of times in Bangalore and Ahmedabad but together in Shillong never happened until now.

On Saturday, aunt and nephew, both passionate nature lovers, decided to go on a day trek. After exploring a couple of options, we settled on the historical David Scott’s Trail. We did a little bit of reading about it and didn’t think it looked much impressive. Nevertheless, we decided to go for it as it was logistically convenient.

Sometimes, you have to be at some place to know what it really is! We were prepared for an ordinary hike but the actual gorgeousness unfolded on the trail.

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The 19th century cobble-stoned pathway
A Little on David Scott’s Trail

The trail is named after David Scott, who was the first British administrator to be sent to North East India during the British Raj. He operated in and around Khasi Hills for nearly thirty years (1802-1832). The 16 Km. trek is part of the horse cart trail that he had laid down to connect Assam and Bangladesh during the nineteenth century. The complete route was about 100 Km. long and was used to carry goods across tow destinations.

This road resulted in a war between the British and the Khasi, the latter being led by U Tirot Singh, the king of Khadsawphra Syiemship. The Khasis, with their bows and arrows, were hardly any match for the well-trained British soldiers. However, the war continued for four years. The British muskets finally defeated the Khasi forces. U Tirot Singh was captured and deported to Dhaka (now the capital of Bangladesh) where he died on July 17, 1835. U Tirot Singh is still hailed as a freedom fighter and revered in whole of Meghalaya.

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The iconic stone bridge built in the pathway that has stood the test of time
Our Trek

Nephew and I connected with Evernold (our guide) and planned the trek. Normally the trek starts at Mawphlang and ends at Ladmawphlang. The former is closer to Shillong and the latter is closer to Cherrapunjee. Ending at Ladmawphlang makes it easier to move over to Cherrapunjee, which most people do. We had to get back to Shillong and hence ending at Mawphlang seemed easier. The usual route starts with 4 Km. downhill, which in our case would be 4 Km. uphill.

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The half-broken cement bridge over Umiam River that we encountered soon after we started walking
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Bhuralal poses for us at the only pool with a cemented embankment. The other pools had no cemented structures and are associated with folktales on good and bad mermaids.

As we started our trek from Ladmawphlang, it started raining. Not surprising, we were in Meghalaya and more so at Cherrapunjee. Simultaneously the curtains raised, and the show had begun. The stunning scenery already started revealing itself. It amazed us to think all of this was right there just when we left the tarred motorable road, not tucked away in some remote corner. Soon, we crossed a broken cemented bridge, laid over the river – it’s River Umiam, which remained our constant companion almost till the end of the trail.

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Somewhere along the way as I walked on with our guide, Evernold and the dog, Bhuralal
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A pathway that leads up to a village. An interesting folktale talks about the fights between the rocks in this area.

Every bend threw up something new. Rolling hills with every kind of green shade; the deep valley; the red and white Rhododendrons peeping out through the greens; the crystal clear waters in the natural pools; the sparkling river appearing and disappearing.

Sometimes the hills were so close that we could distinctly see the wide variety of trees, sometimes they were far away and we could only see the outlines layered into the clouds. Sometimes we were deep into the jungle walking through tall shrubs and heaps of brown leaves laid on our path; other times through cobbled stoned pathways; or just a muddy lane; or a lush green meadow.

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Sometimes we walked through gorgeous forests with with brown leaves strewn on our way.
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Sometimes we climbed up narrow pathways overlooking the green hills

The wide variety of ferns, the gorgeous mushrooms, the ugly poisonous toads, the wriggly caterpillars, the brilliant butterflies, the poisonous flowers, and such others were additional wonderment. Such places spontaneously transports me to a world of fantasy making me wonder if I am walking on earth or if I am in some other realm. 

A little while after we started walking, the heavens poured but thankfully stopped in about 15-20 min. The weather Gods were good with us for rest of the day as the Sun and the clouds played hide and seek making it the perfect trekking weather. There are four villages in the adjoining areas of this trail, but we passed by only one – Laitsohma. The others are Mawbeh, Pyrda, and Mustep.

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While aunt and nephew were having the best of time together, Evernold was adding to the fun by intermittently bringing in entertaining Khasi folktales and stories.

The best part was that there was nobody other than us throughout the trail. We did meet a few villagers on the way. A dog, whom nephew named Bhuralal, followed halfway till Laitsohma and then went back.

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The hanging bridge over Umiam River to cross over from one hill to another.
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Another view of the hanging bridge
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Camilla’s tombstone dated 1843 – Camilla was the daughter of David Scott’s Colonel, who had died of cholera on this trail
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Villagers call these ‘Headache Flowers’ as they believe the blooming of these flowers is associated with headaches.

The trek ended as we reached Nongrum Village at Mawphlang. I thought to myself – I run around the length and breadth of our country seeking nature’s divine grace but the best of nature’s gift is right here in my very own backyard.

I know, there’s an overdose of pictures in this post but my story will remain incomplete without the one below.

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This old man is more than 90 years old. He lives in the same village as our guide. Look at the load he’s carrying. He treks regularly into the forest to collect firewood, which he sells in the village to make a living.