It grows on you. You want to keep coming back. Each visit is a new experience.
The Kaziranga Game Sanctuary was a topic I had to teach little children about in social studies. Each year I would read about the floods in the sanctuary and more recently saw a picture in a newspaper of an orphaned baby rhino being fed milk through an angular looking milk bottle! Strangely enough it was just a few days before we left for our long awaited trip to the north east.
We meet up at Guwahati- 12 of us from Bangalore, Chennai and Kochi – sister, cousins, nephews, niece and yes, aunts. Our group varies from 12 years to 84 years. Rohan and David of India Trail meet us at the airport and take us to our hotel before we start our 10 day trip.
We drive to Kaziranga, stopping at ‘NE 7 Seven Sisters’ Manipuri Dhaba for lunch- exquisite hot rotis , vegetables and fried fish. On the way, Rohan takes a 10 km detour towards Tezpur so that we can cross the bridge over the mighty Brahmaputra river.
Early the next morning – the elephant safari through the forest – a little scary at first but you get used to the elephant walk. Then a 2 hour jeep safari through the central part of the sanctuary. We see elephants, herds of wild buffalo and deer, colourful wild fowl and many migratory birds.
Rohan manages an impromptu visit to the Rehabilitation Centre in Kaziranga that rescues and cares for baby elephants, and abandoned rhinos (yes, they tell us that often mother rhinos forget they have given birth and walk away from the new born).
We are told to climb up the bamboo watchtower and observe the animals and not take pictures. We see a herd of young elephants, the now famous baby rhino, a wounded adult rhino , monkeys an d leopards. Except for the leopards all the other animals will be let into the forest they tell us .
Next stop… Shillong. No horns allowed and no overtaking in town! It’s cold and windy on the terrace restaurant.
A relaxed day after the drive to Shillong. We reach the Indo-Bangladesh border and then go boating in country boats in the Umngot river. Our boatman tells us that the water is usually so clear that you can see the river bed but unfortunately we reach there after a rain, so the water is turbid. It’s strange to see people from Bangladesh on the sand beds on their side of the river! The magnificent men of the BSF are stationed at strategic points to guard our borders. ‘The first line of defence!
The next morning – the young and the able drive to the Living Root Bridge in Cherapunji. There are many such bridges across the river at various points but we choose to go to the double decker bridge… 3000 and more steps down, crossing over swaying pontoon bridges, and the same number of steps UP. It’s almost a 5 hour trek!
It’s adventure for us but a necessity for the locals. It’s the only way to take supplies to the villages in the valley. We come across young men carrying headloads weighing 40 kg (according to the guide) up the steps!!
At the same time as we are labouring up and down the mountain, and splashing in the cold mountain water, those not inclined to hard physical activity tour a waterfall, underground caves, and a local historical museum. When we meet up they tell us about the difficult time they had crawling through the caves and seeing the stalagmites and stalactites.
The next day… A nine hour drive to Kohima with breaks in between so it’s not so tiring. Moving about is sheer torture. We reach late at night and have dinner and sleep blissfully.
At 4.45 am – Wake up with a start as it is bright outside. That’s something we have to get used to. By 5 pm it is dark . We have a relaxed day around Kohima. We visit the War Memorial with its neatly laid rows of stones in memory of those who gave up their lives.
Seeing some of us struggling to move, Rohan changes the next trek to a relatively easy climb at Puliebadze thru a forest to a peak. What a beautiful view with the clouds around us! We have a sandwich lunch with the rest of the group at the foot hill. I dream about those lovely crunchy jalebis and yummy rosogollas which most of us gorged on.
Medo, part of the India Trail team, takes us through the local market. Vendors selling their vegetables and other ‘delicacies’ on the roadside make an interesting picture. A bunch of frogs with their legs tied together jump out of their basket onto the pavement in a bid to escape. Unity is strength! But alas a hand reaches out and they are hauled back.
Shops close at 4.30 pm so we have to hurry.
The next day – Off to Chizami village via Kisama. We explore Kisama and then one group goes to Khonoma village, where the kids cycle almost 9 km. We go up winding roads, slippery at times as it has rained, through Pfutsero, the highest town in Nagaland and come to our destination, NEN – an NGO, that helps women weave traditional designs into various items to earn additional income. Rohan has arranged lunch for us- a lovely meal cooked in the institution. We wrap ourselves in the traditional mekhala and have a hard time choosing designs. In the end some of us place orders which will reach us in two months.
The next morning we leave for Dimapur to catch our flights to Calcutta and onward to our destination. We meet up at Flury’s at Kolkota airport, each group leaving as flights are announced.
India Trail is a ‘must travel with’ group. They go out of their way to provide the best experiences one can ever have. Although this was my second trip, I looked forward to every day was a new.
Thank you, Rohan, David, Vike and Medo of India Trail. I am looking forward to our next trip together.
Sheila Abraham, Chennai