Mr Josh (Founder of Tapta marg Productions, New Mexico, USA) had contacted me in the month of January 2019 and expressed his desire of lading a group from USA to North East India. It started with a booking process of Jungle Safaris and 4 Star accomodations at Kaziranga National Park in Assam and eventually he went ahead and asked me to texecuture his tour plan of North East India at Assam and Meghalaya where Jungleideas would be the ground team for execution from arranging tour vehicles, recommending on the itinerary, arranging visit to the Kamakhya Temple, Sualkuchi, Mawlynnong and the smooth conduction of accommodations and safaris at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Kaziranga National Park in Assam. In the course of a couple of months (as Josh was on a visit to Tamil Nadu in India) the itinerary was finalized and it looked as below:
Day 1 (Nov 12): Pick up from Guwahati airport and drive to Hotel Taj Vivanta. Later travel to the Umananda Temple at Guwahati and night dinner at an ethnic Assamese restaurant.
Day 2 (Nov 13): Early morning visit the temple shrine of Maa Kamakhya Temple at Nilachal Hills in Guwahati and go for a temple darshan. After an early lunch drive to Sualkuchi village and observe the process of silk weaving and purchase good silk attires. Travel back to Taj Vivanta.
Day 3 (Nov 14): Drive to Umiam lake in Meghalaya. Check into the Ri Kynjai – Serenity by the Lake. After lunch drive to Shillong to visit the Don Bosco Museum at Shillong. Come back to Ri Kynjai.
Day 4 (Nov 15): Drive to Mawlynnong village from Umiam about a 3 hours drive. At Mawlynnong visit the Riwai Single Decker Living Root Bridge and later have lunch at a local Khasi restaurant and explore the cleanest village in Asia. Drive back to Shillong and visit the Studio of a local designer named Daniel who works with Eri silk designer wears. Return to Ri Kynjai.
Day 5 (Nov 16): Drive to the village of Umtngam in Meghalaya that is known for the weaving of eri silk (Ahimsa silk) and dying of this silk with natural colors. Our friend from Shillong Jenessa would accompany us and show us around the place and we will learn about the exquisite process of weaving of silk here. Return to Ri Kynjai.
Day 6 (Nov 17): Drive to Kaziranga National Park (6 hours). Lunch enroute and check into Resort Borgos at Kaziranga. Late afternoon visit the Kaziranga Orchid and Biodiversity Park. Evening traditional dance performances of Bihu and Jhumur at Resort Borgos.
Day 7 (Nov 18): Early morning go for Jeep Safari at the Eastern range of Kaziranga National Park. After lunch go for safari at the Western range of the Park. Return to Borgos Resort.
Day 8 (Nov 19): Early morning check out of Borgos resort and drive from Kaziranga National Park to Guwahati to catch late afternoon flights to Kolkata and onward destinations.
Josh wanted to visit Majuli Island in Assam as well but due to unavailability of any 4 Star accomodations and also in the interest of time he had to stop the visit to Majuli as they would directly visit Kolkata in West bengal from Nov 8th and already the 10 day time frame of the tour duration was ending with our visit at Kaziranga National Park. I finalized the details and arranged for 4 Toyota Innova vehicles along with the reservation at Borgos resort in Kaziranga and lunch at various restaurants along with a special darshan of Goddess Kamakhya at the Kamakhya Temple in Guwahati and along with it a visit to Sualkuchi to check out the exquisite silk variants of Assam and a visit to the silk workshop as well. A few changes happened across the following months when we had to make small changes in the Itinerary and along with ti 2 members of the group had to opt out of the tour as well due to health conditions as most members of the group were senior members above 60 years of age with a final group size of 12 members.
The day arrived on November 12th and their flight from Kolkata was scheduled to arrive at Guwahati airport at 2.55 PM. Along with the innova vehicles I arrived with my back up vehicle at around 2 PM at the airport and I went to the arrival gate of the Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi airport at Guwahati to welcome Josh along with the group. The group was out of the airport at 3.30 PM and I welcomed them with a traditional Assamese Gamusa for each member wrapping it around their necks and they were amazed with the craftsmanship on the gamusa. The Innovas were called in from the parking lot at the pick up point and aftera short halt at the airport ATM, the group boarded their vehicles and we started on our drive to the Taj Vivanta hotel at Khanapara area in Guwahati. We took the route via Pamohi crossing the Deepor Beel area in Guwahati and of no reason we got stuck in traffic at the Garchuk area in Guwahati. It took us around 20 minutes to get past this traffic and we hit the highway again to arrive at Taj Vivanta a at around 5.15 PM making the drive time exceed by almost 30 minutes. Anyways we reached safely and the guests went to check into their rooms.
The earlier plan was to visit the Umananda island and temple in Guwahati but as it gets dark early during the winter time in Assam and the evening happens at 5 PM we had to drop the idea of visiting the Umananda island ands instead Josh decided to take the guests for an ethnic assamese dinner. We were scheduled to leave for dinner at around 7PM from the Hotel and I discussed the plan for tomorrow with the drivers in the meantime. At 7 PM a few of the guests opted out of having to step out of the hotel as they were very tired after the long journey for over 4 days travelling across the busy streets of Kolkata and so they decided to order in and about 8 guests wanted to go out for an ethnic dinner. The vehicles were called and we started on our 15 min drive to Maihang restaurant at Hengrabari area in Guwahati. I had made reservations at the Paradise restaurant at Silpukhuri area in Guwahati but guests were indeed tired with the long traffic drives in the city conditions and driving for another 45 minutes was not their choice and so Majhiang was the close option to visit that would have ample parking space for cars as well.
We reached at 7.30 PM and I had asked my colleague to be present at the restaurant and place the order for 8 people for an ethnic veg thali. The place had a nice ambiance and there was a small birthday party going on the other side as well. We were offered two adjoining tables for the group to be accommodated and along with the diner the group members ordered for lime soda as well. The dinner arrived shortly and it had rice, two types of dal, a green sabji, mashed potatoes, pickles, chutney and salad. The food was served on bell metal utensils and the accompaniments were placed in small bell metal bowls as well. I gave a short presentation about the assamese cuisine to the guests and they started with their dinner. I had to take leave as I had to pick up my mother from Christian Basti area in Guwahati and then drive all the way to Lokhra in Guwahati and so I asked my colleague to attend to the guests while I was gone and instructed the drivers to take the guests home safely to their Hotel. I bid goodbye to the group and reached home at 9.30 PM. The guests arrived back to their Hotel at 9PM after the dinner thereby ending our first day of Tour of Assam and Meghalaya.
Today morning was our day of exploring the holy Maa Kamakhya temple situated atop the Nilachal hills in Guwahati and later we would be travelling to the ‘Manchester of the East’ and the largest silk weaving village in the World at Sualkuchi in Assam. We were scheduled to start at 8 AM from Taj Vivanta in Guwahati after the guests got a good night’s sleep and I would be joining them directly at the Kamakhya Temple entrance as I had to meet the Pujari (also called as the Panda) and make arrangements for the special blessings at this temple shrine. I left home at 7 AM and drove to the Nilachal hills via Jalukbari, Adabari and Maligaon area in Guwahati. There was a religious festival called as the ‘Pushkar Mela’ going on and this resulted in thousands of devotees coming to Assam to take a darshan of the Kamakhya Temple and also to worship the Brahmaputra river as well. The Panda had advised me to come early to the temple along with the group otherwise the rush at the temple premises would increase and we would have trouble even to enter the temple gate due to the long queue at the entrance of the Kamakhya Temple let alone visit the inner sanctum of the temple as devotees were lining up from the previous evening to enter the premise the next morning. Such strong is the devotion of the devotees towards Goddess Kamakhya.
The Maa Kamakhya temple in one among the 51 Shakti Peethas in India and is the holiest temple shrine in North East India. As per mythology, Goddess Parvati was in love with Lord Shiva but her father didn’t approve of their relationship and often rebuked Lord Shiva because of his color. This annoyed Goddess Parvati and she often expressed her displeasure towards he father for not liking Lord Shiva. At one instance, Parvati’s father had organized a ‘Yagya’ at his home and didn’t invite Lord Shiva to it. Parvati was furious on learning about this and she confronted her father who simple refused to invite Lord Shiva and started rebuking him again. Parvati got so angry at this that she self immolated herself by jumping into the huge fire that was lit in the form Sati. Lord Shiva learnt about this and he immediately came to rescue her but was late. Parvati had succumbed to her injuries and Lord Shiva was so furious that he chopped of the father’s head and started performing the Tandav Nritya carrying Sati’s body in his hands and started to fly around without any direction. Due to Lord Shiva’s tandav the entire World started reverberating and all the Gods and Goddesses had to call for a meeting to stop Lord Shiva from performing the tandav out of anger. Lord Vishnu decided to use his Sudarshan Chakra and cut the body of Goddess Sati so that the body parts fell on the grounds and Lord Shiva would get calm after having lost possession of Sati’s body.
The Sudarshan Chakra chopped Sati’s body into 51 pieces and yet Lord Shiva still tried to carry the body parts in his hands and travel across the Indian Subcontinent. However, one by one the body parts started to fall on the ground and at whichever place the body parts had fallen a temple shrine was built. These 51 Temple shrines in the Indian Subcontinent are called as the Shakti Peethas and the Maa Kamakhya temple is one among these Shakti Peethas. It is believed that Goddess Sati;s womb fell on the Nilachal Hills and so the Kamakhya Temple is the shrine that celebrates the spirit of womanhood especially the ability of a woman to give birth to a child. Every year in the month of June or ‘Asaad’ the Kamakhya Temple shrine embraces the celebrations of the ‘Eastern Mahakumbh’ – the Ambubachi Mela festival of celebration of womanhood. During the three days of this month, the temple doors are closed to the devotees as it is believed that the Goddess menstruates during this period so the waters of the Brahmaputra river flowing near the temple turns red in color and the Kamakhya temple doors are thrown open to visitors from the fourth day and lakhs of devotees come to offer their worship here. The group was especially looking forward for their visit to the Kamakhya temple in Guwahati and I had to ensure that their visit went through smoothly and the Panda would show us around the temple premise as well.
The group was ready at Taj Vivanta and I called upon the drivers to reach the Hotel entrance to pick up the guests and one vehicle had to stop at an ATM as members wanted to withdraw cash. I reached the Kamakhya Temple and went to meet the Panda who would assist me with the temple darshan. Actually, at first we had planned to visit the inner sanctum of the Maa Kamakhya Temple but owing to the rush because of the Pushkar mela festival being held at Guwahati and considering the age of the group members we had to drop the idea and instead I had asked the Panda to help us look around the temple and help us perform a small puja at the temple shrine. I went up with our Panda and explained to him about the group size and the members. We were working to get the VIP Pass entry to the Kamakhya temple as only 2 passes per person was being issued to enter the inner sanctum bypassing the long queues and as now we were not visiting the inner sanctum this idea was dropped. I finished my discussion with the Panda and went back to the Kamakhya temple entrance to welcome the guests who would be arriving sometime soon. Hundreds of devotees were entering and leaving the premises of the Kamakhya Temple and I kept observing the area around the temple where I could see the symbol; of CIL as the Bhog Ghar where the devotees are served afternoon meals was donated by my father on behalf of the members of the NECF family.
The guest vehicles arrived soon and gradually the visitors disembarked from their cars and we had to wait for a little while at the entrance of the Maa Kamakhya temple as the fourth vehicle that had to stop at an ATM was following behind. In about ten minutes time the other vehicle arrived as well and we started towards the uphill climb to the main temple shrine of the Maa Kamakhya temple. There are numerous shops that are present here along each side of the pathway selling various gift items and framed pictures of Gods and miniature models of the Kamakhya temple as well. The flight of stairs led us to the temple top and we had to walk slowly knowing the age of the group members. In sometime we reached the temple top and we had to remove our shoes before entering the temple shrine at a place where there is a provision of safe keeping of shoes at a nominal price. After this we took our steps into the main Kamakhya temple entrance to finally get a glimpse of the main temple dome. The group members were fascinated looking at the amazing stone carvings on the temple walls and they got to clicking their pictures here.
The Panda came and welcomed everyone to the holy temple shrine of Maa Kamakhya temple in Guwahati and briefed me about the temple shrine and I translated the detail to the group. The temple priest briefed that the temple is a holy site of the hindus and a special place for believers in tantric form of worship. The priest also added that the main temple shrine of the Maa Kamakhya temple is a complex of certain individual temples dedicated to the ten Mahavidyas of Shaktism namely: Tara, Kali, Sodashi, Bhuvaneshwari, Bhairavi, Chhinnamasta, Dhumavati, Bagalamukhi, Matangi and Kamalatmika. Of these ten Mahavidyas, three of them namely Tripureswari, Matangi and Kamala reside inside the main temple shrine while the others reside as individual temples around the main temple shrine of the Kamakhya temple mostly a little ahead of the temple further atop the Nilachal hills. The structural form of the Kamakhya temple was built in the early 8th century and it is in the form of a hemispherical dome and consists of four important chambers mostly the Garbhagriha and the three mandapas called locally as the Calanata, Pancharatna and Nata Mandira.
The priest spoke about the various practices of tantrism and the practice of animal sacrifices that had been prevalent since the ancient times here as well as how the Ahom kings who took the practice of Shaktism seriously devoted a lot of time towards the development of the Kamakhya temple and today this temple shrine is not only visited by tourists to seek the blessings of Goddess Kamakhya but also as a wonder of construction that are to be seen in the form of sculpted stone idols and wall works as well. With this the Panda took us towards the temple pond where we had to cleanse our feet before entering the temple shrine. At the entrance towards the left is the pond that is fed with the waters of the Brahmaputra river and devotees climb down a short fleet of stairs to cleanse their feet here. I advised our group members to take care while stepping on the stairs as these were slippery and they had to be careful while climbing them. Just next to it is a statue of Lord Ganesha and devotees were seen seeking the blessings of the God before their visit to the Kamakhya Temple shrine.
This is auspicious as before doing any good work the hindus believe in seeking the blessings of the Elephant God – Lord Ganesha. We too seeked our blessings and then Josh took the group to an open area and as he is a yoga trainer he knew a lot about the various hindu practices and customs and he briefed the group about these details and how these were related to the Kamakhya temple as well. The Panda came over with the puja offerings and took us inside the temple where we would be able to view the statue of the Goddess and after seeking our blessings we would be shown a demonstration of a puja at the temple premise. The visitors were all lined up to catch a glimpse of the statue of the Goddess and were mostly devotees from South India who had come to witness the Pushkar Mela along with the darshan of Goddess Kamakhya at the Kamakhya temple. Our Panda led us and owing to the rush of the devotees people were not allowed to wait for more than a minute here to seek their blessings. After catching a glimpse of the statue we came to the altar where the Panda demonstrated a puja to our group.
The Panda performed this puja at the area near the sanctum and he chanted some mantras that were intriguing to the visitors. After this he led us to the temple courtyard where he distributed flowers and prasad to everyone and provided everyone with a holy cloth and tioed a holy thread on the wrists of the members of the group. He also bought for us the holy temple water for which the devotees line up to enter the inner sanctum of the Maa Kamakhya temple to touch this holy water and sprinkle in on their heads as well as drink a bit of it as well. Our group members sprinkled the holy water on their heads and then they offered their dakshina to the Panda. Some of the devotees who were waiting came to seek an opportunity to click pictures with our group members and while we obliged to a few we had to turn down the other requests here at the Maa Kamakhya temple in Guwahati. After this Josh allowed the group about 45 minutes of time to explore the temple premises and we would depart at around 11 AM to Sualkuchi after having our lunch at the Borluit restaurant at Amingaon area. At around 10.50 everyone was outside at the entrance down and I called the Innova drivers as there is no provision of parking at that place and also vehicles are not allowed to halt for pickup and drop for more than 30 seconds. Everyone boarded the vehicles and we started on our drive to the Borluit restaurant.
The drive to Amingaon took us around 25 minutes and I had placed an order for lunch for our guests for ethnic Assamese vegetarian thalis here. As we arrived the staff greeted us at the Borluit restaurant and we were offered our seats here. The place is a really nice and quaint place with interiors decorated with various bamboo furnitures and wall hangings and alongside there are framed pictures of the various ancient monuments in and around North Guwahati. The group loved the ambiance of the place and they asked me to join them for lunch with them and they asked me questions about the place, my life and our upcoming places to visit as well. They appreciated our culture a lot and specially liked the way how we used bamboo as a versatile plant to create so many handicrafts. Our lunch arrived shortly and it was a very elaborate presentation. The rice was placed at the center and alongside there were various offerings like varieties of dal, pumpkin curry, papaya curry, mashed potatoes, green vegetables, pickles, chutney, salad, a payasam and much more. The visitors loved the presentation and after having a bite they loved the taste as well. After lunch they ordered for tea as well and we finished our sumptuous lunch and started on our drive to Sualkuchi.
Sualkuchi is the silk weaving village of Assam and is renowned across the world for its various silk variants of Muga, Eri and Paat. As this group was very much interested in handlooms and handicrafts of North East India, Josh ensured to have a visit to this village and had asked me to help them take a tour of the place. He even called in a local handloom promoter based out of Delhi to help them see around as well. We reached Sualkuchi and the members had to get down at the entrance as the vehicles had to be parked at a little distance ahead. I had arranged for the group’s visit at one of the premier silk showroom here at Sualkuchi and the owner of the place welcomes us here. The staff started to show the visitors a variety of the silk mekhela chadors and other fabrics and the ladies got all excited and started to scrutinize the attires and eventually make their purchase here at Sualkuchi. After about an hour we headed to another place a little ahead where we would witness the process of silk weaving on the traditional looms of Assam. The owner of this place was very welcoming and he showed us around the place and how the workers were weaving on the traditional ‘Taat Haal’ of Assam where they put in a lot of effort to weave out just a single Mekhela chador.
This is one main reason that these silk products are expensive than the machine made ones as a lot of human effort is put in the looms that finally weave out some of the most exquisite silk products of Sualkuchi and Assam as well. Sualkuchi has the highest concentration of handloom weavers anywhere in the World and hence if often referred to as the ‘Manchester of the East’. The owner explained the process to me and I translated the various works involved to our group. They made some purchase here as well and after about an hour we started on our drive back to Guwahati. Josh and myself discussed about our possibility of travelling to the Umananda temple in Guwahati but upon discussing the plan the members were tired and they wanted to return back to the hotel. So we started on our drive to Taj Vivanta in Guwahati. It took us about an hour to reach the hotel and the group returned to their rooms. We had a plan of going out to dinner but Josh informed that the members had decided to eat their dinner at the hotel itself and so we were free to go.
However one of the group members needed a charging cable and also Josh wanted to have a battery charger for his camera battery so I took the task of finding these for him. I went around the city looking for the items and the charging cable was easy to find but I had a tough time searching for the battery charger as the same was not available in any of the authorized canon dealers ans so I had to return without it. I got the idea of ordering it online and have it delivered to my home so I could carry it along to Kaziranga National Park after our visit to Meghalaya. We found the same in the amazon shopping app and so I placed the order for Josh and later headed back home to prepare for my visit to Shillong the next day.
Today we were all set to travel to Umiam lake near Barapani in Meghalaya where the guests had their accommodations booked at the beautiful and luxurious Ri Kynjai – Serenity by the lake Resort. The scheduled time for departure was 10 AM and I had made calls to the Innova drivers who had to be woken up as they were expecting a day of leisure today. Josh messaged me in the morning at 8 AM that one member of the group had to buy some medicines and withdraw cash before we started from Guwahati and whether it would be feasible or not. I had my backup vehicle so I told him I would reach early around 8.45 AM and assist the group members to look around for the medicines at the nearby Beltola area. I reached Taj Vivanta and Josh along with the guest were awaiting my arrival and the guest came along in my car to travel to Beltola closeby. The seat of my smaller car had to be adjusted as the guest was quite tall and after this we started on our drive via Khanapara. I made a mistake in judgement to reach Beltola via Jayanagar as today was a thursday and the day of the biweekly market at Beltola Bazar and the traffic was more as the local vendors came over here and setup their stalls to sell their produce on the roads leaving enough room for one car on each side of the road to pass.
This couple with the plying of rickshaws, e-rickshaws and motorbikes creates a havoc on the roads. The guest however enjoyed the view of the bazaar and looking at all the fresh produce he was telling me of New Mexico and how they had big supermarkets there where it was an all provision store where people could buy everything. He also wondered as to why the big conglomerates in India did not come out with such an idea of having a convenient store of proportion like the ones in USA. We eventually crossed the market area and reached an ATM where I stopped to help him withdraw cash. It so happened that the guest had a credit account and due to certain issues with the bank he was unable to withdraw cash and as the problem was rectified last evening he was successful in withdrawing INR 10,000 from his account. He was telling me how beneficial technology has become these days and a simple day to day task of withdrawing cash from an ATM served as a boon to tourists who love to travel across the World. During the earlier days of travel across India he spoke of how difficult it was to withdraw cash and it would be almost a day long process awaiting at a bank just to get some petty cash withdrawal done.
After this I stopped at the GNRC Medishop at Beltola where we vought the medicines and we found the one with the same composition but a different name. We started on our drive back to Taj Vivanta and the innovas were ready to pick up the guests who were schedule to start at 10 AM. One very good thing about the Americans are their time adherence. They are always 5 minutes ready prior to the scheduled departure time unlike most us Indians. The guests started boarding the vehicles and we left Taj Vivanta at Guwahati at 10 AM to commence on our drive to Umiam in Meghalaya. As today was a relaxed afternoon after we made certain changes in the plan and dropped our plan of visiting the Don Bosco Museum as Josh wanted the group to relax at the Ri Kynjai overlooking the grand Umiam lake of Meghalaya and also the beautiful lush green campus of the place where they could take a short hike in the afternoon as well. The drivers were instructed not to drive very fast on the well paved highways in Meghalaya and the speed limit I restricted to maximum 70 km/hr to avoid motion sickness among the group as we would be travelling on a hilly terrain.
We approached the diversion to Meghalaya and took a right to drive towards Burnihat and further to Nongpoh. Before approaching Nongpoh toll gate we stopped to refuel the vehicles and shortly started ion our drive again. The beautiful roads of Meghalaya along with the lush cover of forests along the way was a nice drive and we gradually approached the Umiam lake at Barapani in Meghalaya. The Umiam lake is the largest man made water reservoir in North East India and its crystal clear waters make it an attractive tourist destination in Meghalaya. We had to take a right road to travel to Ri Kynjai and shortly we approached the entrance to the resort. The Ri Kynjai is one of the premier hospitality properties in Meghalaya and North East India as well. Tall canopy of trees across the campus welcomes visitors at the resort and we went ahead with the check in formalities. The rooms are luxurious and boasts of all modern amenities and a beautiful lake side view from all the 17 rooms at the property. The check in formalities were done and the guests headed for their lunch at the restaurant downstairs. In the meantime I had to look out for an accomodation for myself and so I headed out of the place to go to nearby areas but unfortunately there only a handful of accommodations here at Barapani and the ones present are quite expensive as well.
I finally had to settle a bargain at the Umbir cafe and resort at Barapani at a slightly higher rate than expected for my stay here. I came back to the parking area where our drivers were cooking lunch for themselves and I just went in to see if the guests had finished their lunch or not. Josh told me about the plan for the group and they would relax around and take short hikes admiring the greenery of the property and we also planned on our day tomorrow as we had to leave early by 7.30 tomorrow to Mawlynnong as it would be a 3 hour drive from Umima and also the best way to beat Shillong traffic is to cross the cityu in the morning itself. After this I came to the drivers resting place where they offered me lunch of rice, dal and mashed potatoes and they indeed had cooked a delicious meal. I paid them some money to buy some fish in the evening as well and also as a token of appreciation for the safe and pleasant drive today. I took leave for a while and went back to Umbir cafe to take rest for a while and also the fact to recover some of the amount I had paid towards the accomodation charges there. In the evening I wanted to come to the Ri Kynjai but Josh told me it was not necessary as the people were wanting to retire early to bed after an early dinner so I stayed back at Cafe Umbir and took a walk across the beautifully lit campus here with an adjoining swimming pool and IO had nice coffee and placed my order for dinner of pork fried rice and scrambled eggs.
One of the drivers came along and he bought me some fish curry that they had prepared and my dinner arrived as well at 7.30 PM. I enjoyed watching a classic bollywood movie over dinner and retired to bed early.
The morning I got up at 5 AM and I started to Ri Kynjai at around 6.30 AM. The group was ready at 7.30 AM and we started on our drive to Mawlynnong village from Barapani. We reached the highway again and this time took another right diversion to travel to Shillong and further to Mawlynnong village via Pynursla. We crossed the Umiam Dam and drove further towards Shillong. Today I sat behind one of the Innovas as I didn’t take my car along owing to the roads of Mawlynnong that were undergoing repairs. The driver was telling me that thankfully we left early and also if we reached Shillong entry at around 8.30 AM we would have been diverted via a different tourte via heart of Shillong city and this would mean adding another hours time to our travel which was certainly not an option as we wanted to keep owing to the fact that we had to travel back to Ri Kynjai by sundown. We approached Shillong city and the traffic level was moderate today.
Gradually we crossed Shillong at the Rhino point and took a right diversion to travel to Upper Shillong. The Cherry blossoms were in full bloom and at our time of visit Shillong was also hosting the Cherry Blossom festival 2019 as well. The entire Upper Shillong area looked beautiful and we came to a halt once the roads widened to pick up water bottles for the group members. The group members took about a minute to get out of the cars and stretch themselves and we started on our drive again to Mawlynnong. We reached the Mawkdok area and from here we had to take a left diversion that takes us to Mawlynnong and Dawki via Pynursla. After a drive for a little while we reached a valley view point area where we stopped for a tea break and also for the group members to use the toilet as well. The viewpoint was very beautiful overlooking the lush green mountains of Meghalaya and its valleys as well. The group took time to click their pictures here and tea was ready. I was feeling hungry so I had ordered for a plate of puri sabji and shared it with the drivers and after about 15 minutes we hit the road again to drive to Pynursla town in Meghalaya.
We did not make a halt at Pynursla but however I told Josh that this is the place that is home to the Longest living root bridge in the World. Josh was fascinated by the mention of the longest living root bridge but due to lack of time we didn’t plan it in this itinerary and hopefully we planned to include in oi our future visits to Meghalaya. After Pynursla we reached the road diversion where we had to take a right to Mawlynnong village and then left would have taken us to border of India and Bangladesh at Dawki. The roads to Mawlynnong were under repairs owing to the heavy flow of vehicles it receives everyday especially during the tourist season. Thankfully I didn’t bring my smaller car along as it would have been tough navigating the roads here with the smaller tyres. The nature along the road is however breathtaking with a lot of betel nut trees and broom plantations along. We could see people engaged in repair works and there were earth moving equipments as well that halted our journey for a few minutes to make way for vehicular movements. It took us about 45 minutes to reach the parking area of the Riwai Single Decker Living Root Bridge near Mawlynnong.
The drivers allowed every group member to get down from the vehicles and then as we moved on our way towards th entrance of the Riwai Living Root Bridge at Mawlynnong they parked their vehicles at a little distance away from where they had dropped us. I had made arrangements for lunch at Mawlynnong village for our group at one of my friend and local guide Sukher’s brother’s restaurant and once I reached Riwai I tried calling him but his phone was switched off due to connectivity issues and so I asked one of the drivers to got to the restaurant and inform the owner of our arrival and to keep our meal ready before we reached his restaurant. In the meantime, the guests went to use the paid toilet here to refresh themselves after a long drive before we went ahead to explore the Riwai Living Root Bridge. We chose to explore Mawlynnong instead of Mawsynram just to visit and catch a glimpse of this bioengineering marvel of the Living Root Bridge which is a sight to behold for any tourist once in their lifetime. These living root bridges are grown ands not built and the Khasis and Jaintia people of Meghalaya have been using this indigenous technique to grow the roots of rubber trees in a particular direction atop perennial streams by the use of hollowed out bamboo and betel nut trees and these roots grow in one direction over the stream to reach the other side where they are attached to the ground and this results in a sturdy bridge like structure that are living and grow stronger with rains.
This technique was adopted as Meghalaya has a hilly terrain and there are numerous small villages perched atop mountains and construction of modern concrete and iron bridges are not feasible to be carried out due to the treacherous roads and so the local people came out with this idea and this turned out to be a very sustainable and cost effective solution to connect each of the remote villages in the mountains that were earlier separated by the streams and rivulets. And also we chose to visit th Riwai Living Root Bridge as this is the most easily accessible one in Meghalaya unlike the others that needs hours of trekking to reach the remote villages to look for these root bridges. I briefed the group about the living root bridges of Meghalaya and then we embarked on our short hike down the stairway to the Riwai root bridge. The stairs are broad and not very steep so the climb down is fairly easy and there are bamboo railings built along the pathway in case the steps feel slippery to some guests and they could hold these railings to trek down to the place. At the ticket counter I purchased tickets for the group and we climbed down the stairs a bit further and the root bridge of Riwai was visible to us now. The group was amazed with the wonderful bioengineering construction and they immediately got to clicking their pictures.
We walked across the Living Root Bridge and crossed over to the other side. At the top of the living root bridge at Riwai visitors are not allowed to halt as everyday hundreds of visitors come here to catch a glimpse of this bioengineering marvel and so with the added weight to the bridge the structure is gradually feeling burnt and so the locals have come up with unique way of preserving the life of the bridge by allowing the visitors to cross over the bridge just upon entry while on returning back they are asked to make use of another adjacent bridge that has been built with bamboo to ease the flow of traffic over the Riwai root bridge. The entire structure was built with natural materials and hence the area looks very beautiful. Few of the group members walked down towards the root bridge and as the stream had dried up owing to the winter season people could go near the root bridge and capture their pictures here as well. After spending about 45 minutes here we walked across the other bamboo bridge and people stopped to view a very large spider web at the center here. They were intrigues with the size of the spider and clicked their pictures. Later we climbed back the stairs to board our innovas and travel to Mawlynnong village – the cleanest village in Asia where we would have our lunch and after exploring the village head back to Shillong and later to Ri Kynjai.
We reached Mawlynnong village and after paying our entrance fees to the village towards community development we parked our vehicles and went to Sukher’s restaurant where our group would be having their lunch. Shain, the owner of the restaurant welcomed us all and he laid our a nice and elaborate lunch presentation for us. Bottled water was served to the guests and I called over everyone for lunch. The lunch menu had rice, dal, banana flower sabji, mashed papaya sabji, fried potatoes, mashed potato chutney, salad, pickle and chicken with sesame seeds. The guests took their turn to serve themselves and I helped them in serving the rice and the meat was served individually to the guests who took their seats for lunch as many were vegetarians and didn’t consume any meat especially poultry products. The guests enjoyed the lunch as the place was an open air restaurant. Although it was a basic place but he cleanliness was good along with the hygiene free from flies and insects. The food was delicious especially the raw papaya sabji, the banana flower sabji and the chicken curry.
After lunch we set out to explore the village of Mawlynnong. From the parking spot visitors need to walk for a little distance to reach the village. I briefed the group about the details of the village and why and how it had been dubbed as the cleanest village in Asia. I spoke about the size of the population of the village, how the cleaning activities are undertaken, how the waste is segregated into organic and plastic waste and how it is disposed off, about the sewage system and other details and later we walked to explore the village. At the entrance there is a beautiful tree house made up of bamboo and visitors can climb up here to get a bird’s eye view of Mawlynnong village and also see the plains of Bangladesh as well. Also there are numerous small shops around here that sell souvenirs like bamboo handicrafts and woven bags that visitors can buy and carry home as a remembrance of their visit to Mawlynnong. We took a walk around the place and I took some members to show them pitcher plants that grows in one of the homes here at Mawlynnong. We took around 45 minutes to explore the place and at around 1.30 PM we started on our drive back to Shillong.
After crossing Pynursla we stopped for a while for a short toilet and tea break at a place where we get majestic views of the mountains of Meghalaya. We had black tea here and after the group members took their pictures of the valleys and shopped for eatables we started on our drive to Shillong city. At Shillong we were supposed to catch up with Ms. Janessa who works with an upcoming fashion house owned by Mr. Daniel and together they promote the natural dyed Eri silk of Meghalaya and Daniel being a fashion designer gives a modern day touch to the attires with eri silk and Ms. janessa helps him to source the eri silk from the Umntgam village where we would be visiting tomorrow. Once we reached Upper Shillong I called Ms. Janessa and she asked me to come to the rhino point, cross the Civil Hospital at Laban, come towards the Malki point towards Dhankheti in Shillong, take a left tot eh Mary’s Help of Christians cathedral and arrivea the Don Bosco square in Shillong where she would meet us and take us to Daniel’s showroom cum production unit at Laikmukrah area in Shillong.
The directions were apt and after beating the deadly Shillong traffic we picked her up and reached Daniel’s studio at around 4.30 PM. Janessa took everyone in and it was a nice designer showroom cum production unit backside and there were many young designers working at the place. Daniel and Janessa showed the guests around and helped them make informed purchases of the designer wears that had stoles, scarfs, clothing and much more. After the group finished their purchase we started on our drive back to Ri Kynjai at Barapani. The traffic at Shillong city was dreadful and we were making very slow progress along our route. The guests were amazed with the number of cars on the roads and they got a real feel of city traffic in India today as well. Actually in Shillong, the roads are narrow and there are numerous crossings along the road and diversions as well. So once a car turns to take a diversion it has to wait for the traffic from the other direction to be halted by the traffic policemen and in the meanwhile the cars behind it get stuck and this leads to long queues and increases the traffic on the roads.
It took us about an hour to reach the Ri Kynjai from Shillong and the guests were thoroughly exhausted and they went to refresh themselves and then come over for dinner. I went in to the restaurant to have a look at the food and today they had a chinese menu for dinner. After this I bid goodbye to everyone and went back to Cafe Umbir after checking with the drivers for their dinner. We had bought along some leftover chicken and banana flower sabji from the restaurant at Mawlynnong today and I carried some of the chicken with me to be had with my dinner back at my room. At cafe umbir I ordered for fried rice and went in for a shower and shortly my dinner arrived as well. Today, one of the drivers had arranged for a small bottle of rum for me as it was a long day and the night was chilly as well. So I poured myself a drink and watched another bollywood classic movie on television. At 9 PM I had my dinner and went to bed for the next day’s preparation to visit the village of Umntgam in Meghalaya.
The next morning we were scheduled to travel to Umntgam at 8 AM in the morning. Few of the guests were still exhausted after the long drive yesterday and they decided to stay back at the resort and so we were 7 of us travelling to Umntgam today. We left one of the vehicles behind in case the guests needed it and soon we started on our drive to Umntgam. Ms Janessa would be joining us at the Shillong bypass and we were to take the road that leads to the West Jaintia hills. I sat in front of one of the vehicles with our driver Ranjit Barman and our vehicle led the drive until Ms Janessa joined us and we started on our drive to Umntgam. I remember travelling this route during my visits to Jowai in meghalaya especially during the NH7 Weekender Music festival that happens here every year in the month of November. The view of the countryside along the roads is very beautiful and one gets the true feel of nature all around here. We reached a road diversion to the left and from here upto a little distance ahead the roads are good but then it starts to get quite bad and at certain times there are only potholes to be seen on the roads.
The drivers started complaining and even I had a tough time on the roads. Thankfully all our vehicles were Toyota Innovas and if it were some other vehicles the drive would have been very tiring for everyone. We kept driving and could see the paddy fields around and people working on them sowing the rice and even collecting the paddy crops for harvest. There were also ginger plantation around and we continued on our drive. Finally we reached atop a hill from where the roads were good again and after about an hour and thirty minutes we reached Umntgam at around 10 AM. A peaceful countryside, all the group members who had joined us on our visit to Umntgam today got down from their vehicles and even Ms. Janessa had bought along four other members with her including her mother. Our guests took little time admiring the wonderful nature around them and capturing them in their cameras and iPads. Ms Janessa introduced us to her family and to the members of the self help ladies group here who work on the Eri silk and later we walked over to one of the member’s house to have tea and refreshments before we set out to explore the process of silk weaving of Umntgam village on Meghalaya.
In the house there were two traditional Khasi looms and visitors went to admire the beautiful traditional loom. Everyone walked about the village admiring the nature all around and the tall tree canopy and vegetable gardens that were present in the households. Shortly tea was served along with freshly baked cakes and cookies. After tea we explored a nearby church and then walked down again to visit the workshop cum production unit of the eri silk handloom area at Umntgam village. The people in this remote village were very welcoming and interestingly many of them spoke english and greeted our group in english itself. At the production unit we were welcomed by the all ladies members of the self help group who are now on a mission to promote the eri silk production of Meghalaya. Ms Janessa joined us and she asked everyone to look around the place first before she started a short description cum presentation of the place. There were big looms present in the production unit where the ladies were busy weaving and creating some delightful eri silk fabrics. There were ladies busy rolling out the fibres from the freshly create deri silk and some ladies were wrapping around each of the strands of the fabric into an organized roll for the weaving process to begin with the strands here at the Umntgam village in Meghalaya.
The entire raw materials that are needed to produce the silk and then weave it into a final product were put up on display here especially for our group. There was a table laid out and on the table were displayed like there was a bunch of eri leaves kept on display and on the leaves the silkworm were feeding to show us what these silkworms looked like. Likewise the various end products from the cocoon of the eri silkworm are then kept along with the end products of silk on display. As the natural ingredients used to prepare the dye like turmeric, lac, etc. were also kept on display here at the production until. The guests admired the natural ingredients and they were intrigued by the presence of the live silkworm and they tried to hold the silkworms in their hands admiring the beauty of the worm. Eri silk is known as the Ahimsa silk and the silk worms are not killed during the process of extraction of silk from it. After the worm finishes feeding and forms a cocoon around it, the cocoon is taken for the silk production and the silkworm is set free to live a natural life cycle. The eri silk has a warm characteristic to it and people mostly use it as shawls to protect themselves from the harsh winters seasons of North East India.
I remembered my times at home when to beat the chilly weather my family members used to cover their body with the eri silk shawl and this would be sufficient enough to beat the chill. After sometime everyone took their seats on the plastic chairs and stools available around the place and the head of the self group who was a local lady at whose home we had tea took the dias along with Ms Janessa and explained to us about the detailed processes of silk weaving here at eh production unit of the Umntgam village. She detailed about how the group was formed many years back but due to lack of funding and support by local authorities they had to shut operations., But now she and a few other ladies got back together and with a determination to revive the silk weaving culture of Meghalaya and to keep the tradition alive among the youth devoted to revive their art and they took shelter under this production unit to carry the legacy forward. During the initial days they had faced a lot of challenges especially as they did not have a market to sell their finished products and this was when Ms Janessa was introduced to them and she helped them a lot for the marketing of their products on a global platform and since then they have been working together and Janessa helps the weavers of Umntgam village to earn a decent livelihood out of their silk produce and in turn this has helped to keep this ancient weaving art form alive.
She explained the process of weaving elaborately to us and Janessa helped to translate and even answer the questions put forward by our guests. Overall it was a wonderful experience witnessing the silk production here at Umntgam in Meghalaya along with our guests. The guests looked around the displayed eri silk products and made their purchases after understanding the pain involved in weaving of the silk by these hard working ladies. Later we went back on top to explore the village and the paddy fields around the place. Once we came back our lunch was ready and the people at the home had taken a lot of trouble to prepare an elaborate meal for us. The lunch had local grown sticky rice, dal, chicken legs roast, salad, a gourd sabji, fish fry, boiled eggs, tomato chutney, pickle, etc. It was a very hearty meal to find in such a remote area and we savoured our lunch. They took the pain to cook for everyone including our drivers as well. During lunch we had some general conversation about the food habits in the cities of Assam and our guests were surprised when I said that American fast food have gradually taken over the youth in Assam and the guests themselves didn’t eat the food like the KFCs and burgers from Mcdonalds. Instead they savoured the naturally grown and home cooked food. No wonder even though they were so aged yet they were so fit and fine especially when it came to travelling long distances on Indian roads.
After lunch we were served tea and the owner of the house along with a few other ladies got together to demonstrate to us the process of naturally dyeing the silk yarn with natural dyes like turmeric and lac. The process was very interesting to observe as to how they first boiled the natural ingredients with water and removed it in an aluminium vessel. Then they added some naturally brewed herbal mixtures that allows the color to stick to the silk fabrics for lifetime and the very fact that nothing artificial was used to prepare the fabric simply intrigued all of us. Coming here made me feel that nature had provided humans with everything but we used technology to destroy it with all artificial chemicals. After witnessing this wonderful process of silk dyeing naturally we finally bid goodbye to Umntgam village and the welcoming locals and started on our drive back to Ri Kynjai in Barapani. We reached back at around 4 PM and I had to return to Guwahati to collect the camera battery charger for Josh and also to finish some pending work at home. I instructed the drivers to start at 8 AM tomorrow from Ri Kynjai and to meet me at Sonapur near the petrol bunk where I would be waiting to join the drive to Kaziranga National Park in Assam.
I bid goodbye for the day and started on my drive to Guwahati from Barapani. I crossed the area of Nongthymmai to reach Nongpoh where I made a quick stop to savour one of the most favoured Khasi delicacies of ‘Jadoh’. Jadoh is basically rice cooked with pig blood and is a staple diet among the Khasi people of Meghalaya. It has a rich irony taste to it because of the blood and it is accompanied by various offerings that have to be purchased additionally like pork intestines, pork fat, pork liver, pork skin fried, etc. I ordered for the Jadoh with chunks of fried pork and some fried pork skin and it tasted amazing. The spicy tomato and green chilly chutney that accompanied the Jadoh was a very good way to cleanse the food through the stomach as well. After this I started on my drive to the Nongpoh toll gate and continued further towards Byrnihat in Meghalaya and reached the Assam and Meghalaya border at Khanapara. I got stuck traffic at this place as there are numerous petrol bunks along the way and the vehicles plying on either side of the road try to take road diversions to refuel at these stations and this leads to a traffic chaos especially during the early evenings when the night busses start plying on the roads travelling across various destinations of Assam and North East India. After crossing this I finally reached Guwahati and headed towards my home at Lokhra area and stopped at the shop near my home to collect the battery charger and I reached home at about 7 PM.
The next morning my day started early at 5 AM as I had to visit one of my uncle’s place as he was not keeping well due to a certain muscle problem and he had undergone a surgery two days back to recover from the pain. I finished visiting and came back home at 8 AM and got ready to leave at 9 AM to Taj Vivanta where one of my colleagues would join me on my drive to Kaziranga National Park. We have having another group come to Assam today on a photography tour to Kaziranga and other National Parks of Assam so another of my colleague who would accompany them had also come with the other 2 Innova vehicles that were scheduled to go to the airport in sometime. We discussed our plans for this group as well and scheduled to meet at Kaziranga in the evening. The other colleague and myself started on our drive at 9.15 AM from Khanapara to reach Sonapur at around 9.45 AM. One of the drivers called me and informed that they had finished refuelling their vehicles and the guests had time for a restroom break as well and they would be leaving Nongpoh now. So it meant it would take them another 30 minutes to reach Sonapur before we started on our drive to Kaziranga National Park.
The cars arrived at around 10.15 AM and I welcomed our guests back to Assam. Some of the group members wanted to stop at an ATM to withdraw cash and I asked the drivers to stop at the ATM near Sonapur town before we started on our drive to Jagiroad and further to Raha where we would make a stop at one of the roadside shops that sell exquisite bamboo handicrafts. We stopped at the ATM at Sonapur and thankfully the members were able to successfully withdraw cash here otherwise the ATMs across the place are often short on cash and often display a comment that cash unavailable please try at another ATM. After this we started on our drive again and the beautiful countryside of Assam filled with the backdrop of the mountains and the lush paddy fields greeted us along our way. In sometime we reached Raha and we stopped here to visit the roadside shop that displayed an elaborate collection of bamboo handicrafts of Assam. The shops itself was constructed entirely with bamboo and it gave a detailed description of how this grass is so versatile and can be used to make things as delicate as souvenirs and also hold the weight of so many people standing on the floor constructed using bamboo as well.
There were various handicrafts made using bamboo and cane put up on display at this shop. The most elaborate were the fishing traps that were used by the indigenous people of Assam and certain other items like entire sofa decor made up with bamboo and cane, bamboo and cane stools, bamboo trays, showpieces, handheld fans, etc. the group members admired the beauty of the artistry involved in making the handicrafts and some even made purchases to carry along with them back to USA to gift them to near and dear ones. There were woodworks as well including rhinos crafted with wood to be used as souvenirs. After spending about 20 minutes at the shop we started on our drive to halt at Nagaon Bypass at the very popular Anuraag dhaba for lunch. I had arranged for a cabin for the group members to have their seats for lunch here at the Anuraag dhaba. It was hardly 12 PM and the place was bustling with guests already filling the place to have their lunch. This place serves as an ideal stopover for tourists travelling to Kaziranga National Park from Guwahati and the drivers prefer to halt at this place as they get a free lunch and also there are good rest room facilities here as well.
Our guests were taken to the AC cabin and they took their seats here and the order for veg thali was earlier placed for them. The lunch was served ato our guests on arrival and the guests were amazed with the various dishes offered on the huge bell metal plate. From a small bowl of rice to various offerings like brinjal sabji, potato fry, mashed potatoes, three types of dal, mixed sabji, sweets, pickles, chutney, salad were offered on the plate and the guests asked me to elaborate the dishes to them and I obliged and showed them the ingredients of the dishes and they started to have their lunch. We finished lunch by 12.45 PM and started on our drive to Kaziranga at Resort Borgos where i had made the room bookings for our guests in 8 Deluxe Double rooms. After Nagaon the four way lane ceases to exist and it is a 2 way lane with the construction of 4 way lane going on alongside. With the traffic flowing in from both directions our speed reduces and so we had to move at a lesser pace compared to earlier to Kaziranga National Park. Shortly we reached Jakhalabandha and the huge hoardings welcoming us to Kaziranga National Park came to sight. Numerous signages indicating the presence of animal corridors and to drive slowly could be visible and we obliged with our vehicle speed as there are numerous speed bumps and highway patrol vehicles to monitor speed as well.
While our vehicles were following the car no 1 it stopped and we too followed suit to find out that the members of car 1 had spotted two elephants grazing in the nearby jungle and they wanted to click pictures of this animal. Hearing this all the members got down from their cars to take a look at the elephants and click their pictures as well. After 15 minutes we started on our drive again to cross the Burapahar range of the park and stopped to view the tea gardens of Assam. The lush tea gardens were a treat to the eyes and everyone was delighted to see the tea gardens and posed for pictures. Few of the guests asked me to click their pictures as well and as we were running short in time we reached back to our cars and drove straight to the Borgos resort at Kohora area of Kaziranga National Park. We reached Borgos Resort at around 2.30 PM and the place was bustling with guests. The Borgos Resort is one of the premier stay options here at Kaziranga National Park and to our luck the Hon. Governor of Assam was also staying here today as he had come on a visit to Kaziranga National Park along with his family. By the time check in was completed and everyone were allocated their rooms it was already 3 PM and we were scheduled to visit the Kaziranga Orchid Park at 3 .30 PM as it gets dark quite early and we needed adequate light to view the blooming orchids at the green house at the Kaziranga Orchid and Biodiversity park.
We started at 3.30 PM from Resort Borgos to the Kaziranga Orchid Park and we reached at 3.45 PM. I rushed to purchase the tickets for our group and we made our entry by 4 PM with about an hour left to explore the place as it closes to visitors at 5 PM and there is one round of folk dances scheduled at 6.30 PM being the last performance of the day. For us, however at Resort Borgos the manager had arranged for a folk dance performance at 7 PM at the courtyard of the resort and we would be witnessing the Bihu dance of Assam and the Jhumur dance of the tea garden tribes. The area around Kaziranga National Park is famous for its tea gardens and numerous tea estates are present around it. The tea gardens workers were brought to Assam by the Britishers from the tribal areas of Orissa and Jharkhand and today the tea garden tribes have become an integral part of the population of Assam. They practice a traditional dance form of Jhumur that will be showcased to our guests today as well. At the Kaziranga Orchid Park, we were taken to the greenhouse at first where various orchid varieties from across Assam and North East India have been kept to give the visitors a glimpse of the rich floral diversity of the region.
The region is home to over 800 species of orchids about 2/3rd the varieties found across India and Kaziranga Orchid Park aims at protecting and preserving these species and also give a glimpse to its visitors about the varied orchid species of the region of North East India. The orchids present here were brought in from various states of North East some of the unique species were the dancing lady orchid and the pitcher plants. an able lady guide escorted our visitors and showed them around displaying the various orchid species and explaining about them to our guests. As we were loosing light and there was a lot to cover at the Kaziranga Orchid Park we briskly walked across each of the blooming orchid species and the state flower of Assam – the ‘Kopou ful’ was another highlight of the orchid species present here. After spending about 30 minutes exploring the greenhouse at the Kaziranga Orchid Park we dispersed to explore on our own to the handloom section, rice museum, display gallery, photo museum and the herbal medicine garden at the Kaziranga Orchid Park. The preparations were going on for the final dance performance at 6.30 PM and the members of the Orchid Park requested us to stay back to witness the performance. We did not want to disappoint them but yet as it was quite a long drive today we told them that we would try to attend but had to leave the place by 5 PM to continue to Resort Borgos.
I stayed back at the office of Mr. Jadu who assists us with our Jeep Safari bookings here at Kaziranga across the four ranges and Krishna my colleague who was coming along with our photography group was scheduled to arrive shortly. We had to plan for our safaris for tomorrow as for both the groups we had 6 Jeeps in operation at two ranges of the park and it was necessary that the Jeep drives acted in sync and so the drivers were called and we discussed on how to travel on our jeeps and the allocation of our jeeps to our guests on our safaris at the eastern and western ranges of Kaziranga National Park for tomorrow. We had a cup of tea at Jadu’s newly opened restaurant and our dinner order was placed here as well. After this I went back to Borgos to look for the arrangements of dinner and also for our guests to come and watch the performance of traditional folk dances at the area of the resort. Our guests had already settled themselves in the area where the dance would be performed and girls and boys dressed in their traditional attires were getting ready to perform their dances here at the Borgos Resort. It was a nice performance that lasted for 30 minutes and all the guests at the resort enjoyed the dance performances especially the colorful Bihu dance of Assam.
After the performance dinner was ready and our guests went to have their dinner early after a long day’s drive and it was a nice buffet with a mix of various cuisines at Resort Borgos tonight. I allowed the guests to have their dinner and the drivers left in one car to a homestay where they would stay and I too went to my guest house that Krishna had booked for me at his friend’s place. Jadu arrived with the dinner at 8 PM and after dinner I too retired to bed to prepare for the early day long safaris at Kaziranga National Park tomorrow morning.
Today morning our Jeep safaris at Kaziranga National Park were scheduled at 7.30 AM and we could have started early as well but the resort served breakfast from 7 AM and so I had to allow the guests at least 30 minutes time to finish their breakfast. I got up at 5 AM and got ready and left by 6 AM to pick my colleague and we visited a small restaurant near the Kohora entrance to have some tea and snacks because we would be returning only after 10.30 AM after our safari was over so we had to ensure to eat something here. Luckily the shop was preparing some hot roti and sabji for breakfast and we got our chance to savour this along with hot black tea. The Kohora area is a popular bus stop in Kaziranga and busses plying for Jorhat to Guwahati and vice versa and various other destinations halt here to pick up passengers travelling to areas around of Kaziranga National Park to Guwahati and so many people were waiting here to board their busses as they had jobs to attend to. We finished our breakfast and reached Borgos resort and I made a call to Jadu and the jeep drivers to ensure they arrived by 7.20 AM to the resorts that the guests did not have to wait to begin their safaris.
I went in to check whether the guests had started coming in for their breakfast and to my surprise everyone was already having their breakfast. The buffer breakfast had bread toast, an array of spreads, sausages, ham, boiled vegetables, fried eggs, boiled eggs, cashews, tree nuts, noodles, bacon and much more. I informed everyone that the jeeps were arriving soon and we would be starting sharp at 7.30 to travel to Agoratoli range that would take us about 45 minutes and then on safaris to last for 2 hours and later we return back to Resort Borgos for lunch and in the afternoon around 1.30 PM we will head to the Burapahar range of the park as per our initial plan. The jeep drivers arrived and the three were open Maruti Suzuki gypsy vehicles that are the most popular safari vehicles in India and area used across the National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries of Assam for journey into the interiors of the park. The Gypsy is one of the premier 4WD vehicles in India with a powerful engine and so it is mostly preferred by the Indian army and until the early 2000s the gypsy was available for purchase commercially but later the production and sale was limited only to the Indian army.
The jeep drivers were local men from Kaziranga and one experienced safari operator by the name of Bhai Da had joined us as well as Jadu requested him to come for our safari today. It is always good to travel into the forest reserves with an experienced safari operator as the wild animal movements can never be predicted. Some animals feel threatened due to the presence of safari vehicles and might often charge towards the jeep as it happened to us as well and i it weren’t for the timely mind presence of Bhai Da a convoy of jeeps might have been under threat from a male wild elephant. So I introduced myself to our drivers again and at 7.30 AM we started on our jeep rides. As we had 3 Jeeps for this group four members from the group sat on each of the jeeps and my colleague and I sat on the front seats of the jeep and our ride started. Meanwhile, Krishna called me and he said that his group members had already reached the eastern range of the park and they would be starting their safari as soon as the entry formalities were completed.
We reached the main highway and continued on our drive across the Kohora area and going towards Bokakhat in Assam from where we had to take a left diversion from the road to reach the forest range office at the Agoratoli range of Kaziranga National Park. The beautiful paddy fields were visible to us now and we could see the hard working farmers toiling to harvest the paddy crops and the guests liked this view a lot. They were intrigued by the small vegetable gardens in each home and asked me as to what vegetables were being grown and what the bamboo mesh like structures were put up and I explained that these meshes would help the climbers of the gourd plants to grow taller and act as support and later the vegetables would use the bamboo mesh as a support to stay upon. There was a local school nearby and the children were all excited to see foreigner group and they started waving out to us and saying ‘Bye’ and our group members waved them bye as well. Finally at 8.15 AM we reached the forest range office at Agoratoli and one of the drivers and myself went in to make the entry of the guests and pay the fees to the forest department to continue on our safari rides into the interiors of the eastern range of Kaziranga National Park.
The formalities ended shortly and at 8.30 AM we entered the eastern range and started on our jeep safari rides. Just after 2 minutes of driving into the park we sighted our first animal the prized Indian One Horned Rhinoceros and the guests got busy clicking their pictures. I had recommended the eastern range for safari to our guests as this is less touristy as compared to the central and western ranges of Kaziranga National Park and also this area is famous for being home to the Royal Bengal Tiger population of Kaziranga as quite often reports of them being sighted here have been heard. Even during some of our safaris at the eastern range our guests we successful in sighting tigers in the wild crossing the jungle tracks and the guests were able to click their pictures here. One instance one of our guests had recorded a video as well and the same has been uploaded in our home page. We were hopeful to sight tigers today and we continued on our safari ride.
Agoratoli or the eastern range of Kaziranga National Park is also very good area for bird watching as it covers a huge area of the park and with the less vehicular movement and presence of ample water bodies various species of resident and migratory birds find it peaceful to spend their time here. Krishna along with the other guests had chosen Agoratoli range twice for safari as they were avid bird photographers and they were sure to sight some of the magnificent bird species here at the Agoratoli range. My calculations proved correct and we sighted the black necked crane and the Oriental Pied Hornbill a little into our safari ride here at Agoratoli range of Kaziranga National Park on our Jeep safari rides. The jeep driver Bhai Da was very observant and even while driving the vehicle he could spot these birds on the trees including a grey necked fishing eagle and he immediately stopped his jeep to show us these species and our guests took time to click their pictures. In the meantime we were behind the other three jeeps that were being led by Krishna and we exchanged greetings and it was surprising that even though they had started 30 minutes prior to our safaris they covered only a little distance mostly as the birdign group take their time lciking the pictures of the birds and wait for the perfect click.
We reached a watchtower and we got down here from our jeeps to climb the watchtower to get an aerial view of the various animals grazing about the area. There were numerous species of birds, asiatic wild water buffaloes, hog deers, sambar deers, asiatic wild elephants, Indian one horned rhinoceros all lying near the water bodies while some of them were grazing and feeding others were just lying there in relaxation mode. One of the drivers had brought a pair of nice binoculars and some guests tried viewing the animal species with the binoculars. After spending little more time here we continued further on our safari into the Agoratoli range of Kaziranga National Park. We spotted many more birds, rhinoceros, wild elephants, hog deers, sambar deers, wild boars, jungle fowls, monkeys, assamese macaques and many more animal species but yet the elusive tigers were hard to find. Our drive continued and we finally arrived at the banks of the Brahmaputra river here at Kaziranga National Park. We got down from our jeeps to view the mighty Brahmaputra of Assam and I had a short discussion with our drivers about our plan for the afternoon.
They informed me that it would be better for us to visit the western range of the park as in the Burapahar range sighting of animals happens nice in the morning time and the western range is apt to visit in the afternoon as we get a chance to spot many rhinoceros from close distances. I explained this to Josh and he agreed mostly because the drive to Burapahar would have been lengthy and he was more concerned about sighting animals rather than going far to an unexplored part of the park. We would even save some money as the safari rates were higher at Burapahar compared to Bagori and I would pass on the benefits to Josh as well. So it was agreed that we would be visiting the Bagori or the western range of the park in the afternoon and we started on our jeep safari ride again. As the guests wanted to use a restroom facility we had to stop at a forest guard’s guest house to avail the toilet facilities. It was a short 15 minute break and we continued on our ride again sighting some more animal species and we sighted more monkeys on our way back.
Our ride ended at 11 AM and we started on our drive back to Resort borgos to reach by 11.30 AM. Kunch was scheduled for our guests at 12.30 PM and it would be a traditional Assamese buffet at resort borgos. I thanked the jeep drivers for a smooth safari ride and asked them to have their lunch and come back and even I along with my colleague went to have our lunch at the Pelican dhaba at the Kohora entrance here at Kaziranga. The Pelican dhaba is a popular restaurant that serves ethnic assamese cuisine and vehicles travelling across the roads stop here to savour some nice thali along with a variety of delicacies at affordable prices. For us we ordered veg thali and borali fish curry and the thali was an assortment of various dishes having rice, yellow dal, black dal, a khar with fsh head, kharoli, pudina chutney, pumpkin curry, mashed potato, brinjal fry and salad. The borali fish is one of the most fleshy catfish species of Assam and it was freshly caught from the Brahmaputra river because the freshness of the fish can be tasted once you take a bite and also the fish would be quite soft as compared to refrigerated ones that have a gard muscle tone. The meal was sumptuous and I couldn’t help but order myself another scoop of rice but keeping in mind not to eat too much as I would start feeling drowsy and also as the roads inside the park are very rough it is strictly advisable not to eat too much before your safari ride into the interiors of Kaziranga National Park.
We finished our lunch and headed back to Resort Borgos for our final round of safari at Kaziranga National Park and also the last evening of our tour here. The drivers came back at 1.15 PM and I informed Josh to come along once they were ready. This time four members opted not to go for safari again as the earlier one was long enough for them and they were feeling tired. Josh asked me about the total time it would take on this safari because the last time I had informed that it would be a total of 3 hours but due to our travel time to the range as well as the frequent stops for sighting inside the eastern range of the park it took us almost 4 hours to complete the safari. In the meantime I called one of the innova drivers to the resort as the guests who opted out of the safario wanted to purchase Assam tea and the driver had to take them to the Amalgamated plantation tea shop at the Kohora entrance and the other member sof the group would visit the place after our safari ride at the western range of the park was over. So at 1.30 PM we started on our jeep safari ride to travel to the western range of Kaziranga National Park at Bagori and later after our entry formalities we would start our jeep ride inside the Bagori range.
I went along with one of the jeep drivers at the forest office here and we paid our entrance fees and the other formalities before we started on our ride into the reserve. There was a small check at the entrance where the forest officials made a note of the number of water bottles being carried into the range and we had to ensure to bring back the exact number out of the park as this was an efficient way of not allowing tourists to dump plastic waste inside the forest reserves. I was the only one carrying one and the same was noted and I had to ensure not to lose the water bottle to avoid paying any penalty. Just on entry we had a close encounter with a rhinoceros that was standing about 5 meters away from our jeep grazing on the area below the road. We stopped for a while and the beautiful animal even started what looked like posing for us when we clicked our pictures. Gradually the rhino crossed the road and all the guests were amazed looking at the beautiful animal especially the tough skin that looked like an armature. The body of the adult male rhinoceros looked as if someone had sculpted it with great patience and in my mind that sculptor could be no one else but mother nature. After this we started on the ride towards the Sildubi lake at the Bagori range of Kaziranga National Park.
Here we got down from our jeeps to sight the various ‘Sital’ fish species that are present in abundance in the lake and it keeps jumping out of the waters and it is a sight to behold. Just when we were watching the beautiful backdrop of the western range of Kaziranga, one of the jeep driver came running to me and told me that there was a big rhino just behind the toilet area of where we were standing and he asked me to tell everyone to maintain strict silence and when we turned around it was an experience of a lifetime. The rhino was standing just about few feets away from us and thankfully the area was cordoned off with bamboo and the risk of the beast charging towards us minimal. The driver told me that this was the territory of this rhino and it keeps coming here to feed. The rhino was not at all scared and he kept looking at us and also he went about looking for food as well. We all thanked the driver for this experience and went about clicking our pictures of the beast. After a while we bid goodbye to the rhinoceros and thanked it for this opportunity of a lifetime of spotting a rhinoceros from such a close encounter in the wild and boarded our jeeps again to start back on our safari ride.
We were amazed with the number of rhinos we spotted at the Bagori safari range of Kaziranga National Park because after every few meters we spotted them grazing and the horizon view looked amazing. Flocks of birds were to be seen in the swamplands at the Bagori range and we stopped to view the grand Black necked crane again. This unique bird had a wonderful body color with orange legs, black body and a tip of white on its head and a black back as well with a large wing span and extremely tall legs. The Monpa people of Arunachal Pradesh who practice Buddhism as their faith consider this bird to be very holy and often offer prayers to the black necked crane. Same is the case with the Hornbill bird species that the naga people of Nagaland revere it for its characteristics of alertness. We spotted an adult female rhinoceros and its small one grazing in one of the swamp lands as well. There were many hog deers we spotted on our safari ride and the various assamese macaques as well. At one instance I spotted a huge animal running into the forests and as the elephant grass growth was quite tall we couldn’t figure out which animal it was. We spotted numerous wild boars, jungle fowls as well.
Then about time we made a circle and begun on our safari ride out of the Bagori safari range of Kaziranga National Park. This was when the surprising thing happened. An adult male wild elephant, an adult female elephant and their baby elephant were spotted and they spotted our convoy of vehicles as well. The adult male elephant somehow got offended by us trying to invade its territory and it assumed an attack position. Bhai da was driving behind us and asked he drivers not to panic and just stay still until the elephant came to know that we we here not as a threat and this the experience I spoke about earlier. While me driver was panicking in fear which I could make out from his face, Bhai Da was calm and he gently rode past us and kept signalling our convoy to wait still and turn off the engines. The elephant was quite angry and he at one time even charged towards the jeeps. But as long as we stayed still it returned back and went into the tall grass canopy. But once we started our jeeps it came running to us again and Bhai da signalled to turn off the ignition and the drivers obliged. When the elephant came charging but what seemed to us like a warning of not to invade its territory mostly as there was a baby elephant around it it went back and we waited for some more time and later after the elephant went inside the grass cover we quickly came out of the spot.
We breathed a sigh of relief and were back on the safari track. A little further into our ride back we got to sight another interesting fact of the animal kingdom the fight for territory. The drivers spotted this and somehow they knew that both these rhinos would noe go for a head on fight. One of the adult rhino charged towards the other and they entangled their horns to begin the fight. They hit each other with their horns for a few times but one of the rhinos realized that the battle might turn ugly and so it backed off putting an end to the fight. Yet to us experiencing this in front of our own eyes instead of watching this on television was a great feat. It was indeed a good decision to visit the Bagori range of Kaziranga and we witnessed some of the most fantastic animal encounters here. This was the end of our Jeep safari rides at Kaziranga National Park and in sometime we came out of the park. The forest guard inspected the number of plastic water bottles we carried back on our way out and it tallied because I was the only one carry it and I held the bottle close to me during the safari duration.
We stopped for a short toilet break and then started on our drive back towards Kohora. At Kohora we stopped at the showroom of the Amalgamated tea plantations – a TATA enterprise that owns and operated a majority of the tea gardens and tea estates not only in and around Kaziranga National Park but across Upper Assam as well where the tea growth is abundant and is one of the principal components of the economy of Assam. The small store had various tea varieties from teh CTC to the tea leaves and various organic tea varieties and green tea as well as bought in from the nearby tea estates of the Amalgamated tea plantations. There was also fresh peppercorns for sale here because pepper vines are grown as a cash crop in the tea gardens as there are many trees in these tea estates and with a favorable climate, the pepper vine twists themselves around the trees and bears fruit to one of the most healthy spices in the world of black pepper. Our guests made their purchases here and Josh paid the gypsy drivers a tip for showing us around today and making our safari rides smooth and awesome. After this the gypsy drivers dropped them at Resort Borgos and I called the innova drivers to discuss the plan for tomorrow morning.
Josh along with two of our group members would need to reach Guwahati airport early by 12PM and so I discussed with the drivers about the feasibility of when to depart from Kaziranga National Park so they could reach on time at the airport keeping in mind the traffic conditions at Guwahati city. So it was agreed that vehicle no 3 would leave at 6.45 AM and the other vehicles would leave at 7.45 AM to the airport as the second flight was only at 3.45 PM to Kolkata. I informed the same to Josh and he would have packed breakfast ready at 6.30 to have it on the way and stop at Guwahati airport for lunch. The rest of the group members would have their lunch at the Delicacy restaurant at ISBT area in Guwahati before the drivers dropped our guests at the airport for their onward flights. Keeping this in mind we ended our day and headed back to our places of stay.
The next morning I came to the Borgos resort at 6.15 AM after having breakfast of tea and roti sabji. The innova driver reached at 6.30 AM after a little follow up and I went in to settle the bill for food as the accommodation rent was already cleared by Krishna here. Josh had settled the food bill last evening itself and he was ready to leave. The guests had to ensure to leave the room entry cards at the reception desk and so at 6.45 AM after the luggage was loaded the first car departed to Guwahati airport. At 7.30 AM other guests were ready as well and everyone boarded their vehicles after bidding me farewell as I was not travelling to Guwahati and instead I was going to Majuli to look after my camp here for a few days. My colleague was escorign the group tp Guwahati and she would assist them for lunch and then the drivers would drop them at the airport and Josh would see them off and he would return to Guwahati at Hotel Radisson Blue as he was staying back here for a few more days. I thanked everyone for coming and wished them luck for their journey ahead and after this I started on my drive to go to Majuli in Assam. The guests were dropped on time for their flights and thus ended our eight day journey of exploring Kamakhya, Sualkuchi, Meghalaya and Kaziranga with our guests from USA.