Summer Escapes This Season

Many travelers want to discover places across the world which are off the routine tourist circuit and experience magical moments drawn up from their wishlist. So, for those last minute vacation planners who are yet to decide we have chalked out some incredible vacations this summer from places as diverse as Mt. Kailash in Tibet toKalimantan in Borneo or Nubra Valley in Ladakh. From an experience as eclectic as a camping safari in Tanzania or trek through thick forests in search of the mountain gorilla. Whatever experience the traveler seeks this season, our team of wanderers should be able to come up with something truly special.

Canadian Rocky mountain adventure

get up close and personal in Canada with this self drive tour! You pick up your vehicle at Calgary and after that you go about exploring Western Canada at your own pace and time. From Calgary, drive through the magnificent Rocky Mountains to Banff. Stop when fancy takes you to admire the scenery. Explore Banff town and the National Park after which you drive down to the “Jewel of the Rockies” Lake Louise.

Check out the  Canadian Rocky Mountain Adventure

Gorilla Tracking in Rwanda

Those who love nature and love to see different aspects of it – be it the wild animals or as popularly called in Africa the ‘Big 5’, the colourful birds or the elusive mountain gorilla! This tour takes you to several national parks for game viewing. And takes you on a trek through the thick rainforest in search of Mountain Gorillas.

Check out our Gorilla Tracking adventure

Taste of Borneo

the mystical jungles of Borneo. The spectacular areas of rainforest, the National Parks, sighting of the wild man from Borneo” – the Orang-utan – either in the wild or in one of the rehabilitation centres in Sabah, Sarawak or Kalimantan, be in awe at the Clearwater Cave and head out Poring Hot Springs for treetop canopy walk.

Check out our latest Borneo adventure. 

Climb the Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania

Challenge yourself with ‘Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro’ – the Wanderers escorted climb and camp trip! Spread over 9 days, exult in knowing the Kilimanjaro (inside – out). Africa’s tallest and earth’s highest freestanding mountain, it towers above the east African plain. Its highest summit is 5895 meters. Temperatures range from 85 degrees F to sub zero. 15,000 people attempt to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro every year and almost half fail. But, the real adventure of climbing Kilimanjaro is in making the journey—regardless of whether the summit is reached or not.

Check out the climb to Mount Kilimanjaro. 

For culture lovers

If you are keen on combining Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia at one go, the Grand Indochina tour is perhaps what you are looking for. This fortnight long fixed date departure covers the best of the 3 countries.

 Salamanca and Portugal tour

See the best of Portugal with its best of monuments, beautiful beaches, churches and diverse architecture. Start your trip at Avila, a world heritage city before moving on to Salamanca, known for its 2 cathedrals. Visit the headquarters of one of Europe’s oldest Universities in Coimbra. Attend a mass at the Shrine of the Virgin of Fatima at Fatima.

Don’t miss the Spanish Exotica

Spain with its different traditions and culture, glorious art and architecture and friendly people makes for a delightful experience. Starting with Madrid, the vibrant capital, home to bull fighting. Start your introduction to the history of this country with a city tour and visit to Toledo, the capital of medieval Spain until 1560, Cordoba, one of the most interesting cities in Andalusia. Find out more about this trip!

India escapes this summer:

If jungles, high mountains and unique culture excite you, to visit North East India with time spent in Arunachal Pradesh and Assam is the perfect way of unwinding.

Explore the heritage village of Pragspur. Experience the mysticism of Jwalamukhi Temple and revel in the beautiful Kangra paintings in an old temple in Dada Siba”. Picnic by the river Beas and lunch at quaint dhabha which offer delectable North Indian cuisine. Explore the picture perfect retreat of Dharamshala – Dalai Lama’s abode and for nature lovers, visit the Kalatope Wildlife Sanctuary, all in our 9 Days Western Himachal package.

Wanderers Leh Ladakh Adventure

The highlight of 11 days passage to Leh tour starting from Delhi is the spectacular 485km journey from Manali to Leh crossing some of the highest passes in the world. Rohtang, Baralacha, LachlungLa and TanglangLa. Passes that are closed during the winter months open for a brief while during the summer months of June to September. It is arguably the most beautiful stretch of road in the Indian Himalayas!

Check out our exciting Ladakh package.

Wanderers Trip of a lifetime: Kailash Yatra

Traveling overland from Kathmandu (Nepal) on this 14 day tour to Mt.Kailash and Lake Manasarovar, which lies in the Southwestern part of Tibet, is an incredible experience. It is an epic pilgrimage to the heavenly abode of Lord Shiva, that is considered the most sacred and revered pilgrimage for Hindus, Jains and Buddhists alike. En route you can see the world’s highest mountains, travel on the world’s highest plain, meet nomadic Tibetan pilgrims and walk amidst burning butter lamps and chanting monks of Tibet’s ancient and legendary Buddhist monasteries. The numbing cold at night, the harsh sun during the day, the bitter winds, the looming solitude and the everlasting dust are a constant companion.

We have just announced our 14 day trip over the Tibetan plateau to Mt Kailash and Lake Manasarovar via Kathmandu. Dep is on 27 July, 2012. We plan to take up to 16 people on this trip. The roads are much better these days as the highway to Kailash is mostly metalled, unlike in the past.

Click hereto check out the Kailash Yatra 

Wanderers Travel Diaries:

Walk in the Clouds- Sikkim, by Shubendu Banerjee

Shubendu Banerjee is a passionate traveler. From the misty mountains of Sikkim to the dense jungles of Bandipur in Karnataka he has traveled to give a free reign to his adventurous spirit. Now, settled in Bangalore with his wife and son he continues to wander into unknown territories as often as his job allows him to. Read More

Be a Guest Author – Be the Wanderer of the Month. If you’ve got an idea for a story to share, then write on – share your photos/videos: we would love to feature your work in our bi monthly newsletter.

Places to see in India

By Abhik Dutta

If variety is the spice of life then India surely must rank as one of the most exotic and rare concoctions ever devised by God. In the cultural and historical cauldron that makes India so special, there is unity in diversity – a saying that every child must learn at the history classes in school and one that he will swear by for the rest of his life. During your travels in India, at every step you will be faced by this diversity – in the people, the geography, history, the architecture, the language and the lifestyles of the people.

It is a land that is steeped in history; where every stone has witnessed the passage of time and has a story to tell- of 33,00,00,000 Gods and Goddesses prancing in their playgrounds, of Kings and Queens, brave warriors, faithful stallions, courage and treachery and noble deeds; of freedom fighters and Godmen, sages and saints, preachers and poets –  the list is endless.

It is a land whose parentage can be traced back to more than 3500 years. And since then various dynasties and Kingdoms have shaped its turbulent and checkered history down the ages. It is all still evident in the ruins, monuments, forts, battlefields and palaces that still reverberate with the sound of battle and distant war cries.

Geographically, India has everything that a visitor may seek. From the remote high altitude regions of the high Himalayas to the mesmeric coast that overlooks two seas and an ocean, from the fertile plains of the Gangetic belt to the arid desert in Rajasthan, India has everything. Crisscrossing the length and breadth of the country are rivers, most of which are associated with the many Gods that Indians worship today – the most venerable being the Ganges and the Yamuna. The other great rivers that flow from the Himalayas are the Indus, the five sisters of Punjab- Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Sutlej and Beas – the river Teesta that tumbles down Sikkim and the mighty Brahmaputra that flows through the North East bringing both wealth as well as destruction in its wake. In the plains, the other great rivers are the Narmada that originates in Madhya Pradesh, the Cauvery in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka and the Mahanadi in Orissa to name a few.

The mesmerising beauty of the Himalayas has over the years attracted sages, explorers and adventurers alike. It is here that the Gods resided and till date this region is associated deeply with religion. The peaks and the passes continue to draw the mountaineer in search of the final climb that will give them ‘moksha’ or liberty. The pilgrims come here each year in search of peace and enlightenment. Exotic and challenging trails draw thousands of trekkers to the Himalayas that swing like a necklace from Kashmir in the West to Arunachal Pradesh in the East. The rivers attract the rafters and kayakers who wish to tame the deadly rapids. Undoubtedly, the Himalayan range is nature’s biggest gift to India. It has a vast coastline and pristine and little known beaches dot the coast. Goan beaches rake in the tourist moolah each year in the beach category alongwith Varkala and Kovalam in Kerala.

The harsh and fascinating desert regions of Rajasthan continue to be one of India’s biggest attractions. Fairy tale fortresses, richly adorned palaces and havelis and eternal love stories of beautiful princesses and brave Kings draw tourists by the thousand every year. There are jungles that reverberate with the roar of the tiger and the lion and no two of them are similar. From Corbett in the North to Periyar in the South, from Gir Forest in Gujarat to Namdhapa in Arunachal Pradesh each of them is distinct climatically, geographically and in the rich diversity of the flora and fauna.

The people of India are diverse and fascinating too. From the Gujjars in the Himalayas who rear their sheep and cattle in the bugyals (high altitude meadows) to the Adi tribe in Arunachal Pradesh, from the santhals of Bengal and Bihar to the fishermen of the Konkan coast, from the friendly Kinnauris of Himachal Pradesh to the fierce and primitive Jarawas of Andaman, each of them is unique. There are sub castes within each caste and inspite of intercaste problems, nowhere is unity in diversity more apparent than in India. The different strains of religions range from Hinduism, Islam, Christianity to Sikhism, Judaism and Zoroastrianism.

Temples, Churches, mosques can be found everywhere and as you roam the length and breadth of the country, you will be amazed to see that a temple in the North is so different from a temple in the South; that the Dilwara temple in Mt Abu has spectacular carvings and yet is so different  from the masterpieces of Khajuraho or the Sun temple at Konarak. The Golden Temple of the Sikhs at Amritsar is beautiful yet different from the lovely Rumtek Monastery of the Buddhists in Sikkim or Sanchi Stupa in Madhya Pradesh.

Great minds from Gautama Buddha to Vivekananda have influenced the cultural and religious unity of India. Great leaders from Chattrapati Shivaji to Mahatma Gandhi have struggled for Independence and fought in their own ways against colonial tyranny. During your travels you will step on their footprints and follow their tracks. At each turn you will face at least a  hundred years of history. You may hate India and despise the filth, poverty and oppressive red tape that will leave you frustrated but once you have experienced India, it is unlikely that you will remain unchanged.

To travel with us click here

Pack light, pack right!

Like most frequent travellers, we believe it’s important to pack lightly, even when (like we were) on a road-trip and there are no baggage weight restrictions.

The right luggage can make all the difference and we were glad to each have an American Tourister Granada with us. It’s well made, lightweight and its wheels roll smoothly. It comes with useful built-in compartments for extra space. It can be expanded to fit in all those last-minute souvenirs which means you can pack more without worrying about finding another bag. It also has a fixed combination lock for additional security.

It’s ideal for annual vacations, since it accommodates several days’ worth of clothing and comes with a bottom handle making it easy to handle.

Since we were carrying a laptop, cameras and gadgets to keep The Wanderers community updated on our trip, the Achiever backpack from American Tourister proved to be extremely handy. The cushioned compartment helps to keep the laptop safe from any sudden impact. Plenty of compartments make it easy to keep contents organized and compact. The back padding makes it comfortable to carry the backpack around (even when there was a lot of walking involved). It’s roomy, rugged and loaded with thoughtful conveniences like a side pocket for water bottle and an organizer for keeping pen drives and chargers. American Tourister offers an 18-month warranty on the Achiever backpack.

Wanderers Travelogue Kaziranga to Shillong

Managed to get more than 5 hours sleep for a change. On a normal basis, I can operate on 5-6 hours of sleep. But the last few days have been physically exhausting too.

Today was supposed to be an easy drive on relatively good roads (compared to the last 3 days), so we were hoping to reach Shillong early enough to explore the hotel we were staying at instead of just burying our noses in our laptops on arrival as we have been doing since we began this trip.

We left Iora at Kaziranga by 8am and as we were leaving we were given a lovely send off by 2 rhinos and a couple of bison who came almost to the highway to bid us goodbye.

We stopped for tea at Dhabha Highway at Rah. Relatively clean washrooms. (Yesterday at Kareng Dhabha, the washroom was a series of broad leaves hastily thrown together in a reactangular shape with gaping holes all around that tried to enclose 2 bricks on either side of a hole in the floor). The dhabha was a popular stopping point for vehicles on this route until the new highway came in, which now runs about 15-20 feet above the dhabha. The enterprising Punjabi owners have added a staircase for customers to climb up and down while also affixing a couple of notices saying “Dhabha customers, please park cars on the service road and not on the highway”

The day was warm and I wasn’t in the mood for tea, so I got really excited after a few kilometers, when I saw Tender coconut water (nariyal paani) for sale at Thekeragudi There was plenty of competition, but they all insisted that it would be 20Rs a coconut and then proceeded to give us a lecture on the health benefits of coconut water!

Our next stop for lunch was 15kms away from Guwahati at Highway Citi Dhabha. We planned to bypass Guwahati completely, but I was extremely tempted to just go home and tumble into my own bed and not wake up to any more 6am alarms. In hindsight, we may have been better off if we had rested in Guwahati for half a day and then headed out to Shillong in the morning. We had basic anda bhurji, dal fry and rotis at the dhabha. We had ordered for butter rotis (rotis here are made with maida and need that extra moisture) What arrived where plain rotis. When we asked the waiter, he said that there was butter in the dhal and hence no need for any to be added to the rotis! That was a first, waiters normally try to upsell more expensive items on the menu, this guy was downselling!

The almost 200kms from Kaziranga to Guwahati was covered in 4 hours. After a 1 hour lunch break (service here is really slow) we reached Shillong (120km) within an hour and a half. But the last 13kms to enter Shillong took us 2 and a half hours. It was absolutely excrutiating to be so near and yet so far away.

Other than a short photo stop at Borapani / Umiam Lake, today was just about the drive and we had been really looking forward to reaching early and getting everything thats been pending organised, but that just wasn’t to be. The pitiable point to note is that none of these traffic jams would have occurred if people just followed some basic civic sense.

Shillong is a hilly region and roads are 2 laned. However, when faced with a series of cars in line, there is always one driver who messes up everything by overtaking all the vehicles standing patiently in line and zips up on the wrong side of the road, setting a horrid precedent, thagt is quickly followed by a rush of other irritated drivers and soon they block the path of all oncoming traffic and the situation is repeated on the other side resulting in a complete gridlock.

We finally arrived at Tripura Castle in Shillong at 6:30pm. Ancestral home to the Maharajas of Tripura in Meghalaya. Some of the buildings are very old and some are newer constructions, built to resemble the old. The cutlery all comes embossed with the coat of arms of the Maharaja, but we weren’t lucky enough to find him in residence.

Today was a quiet uneventful day, but tomorrow is quite packed, so stay tuned.

Day 6 – Mon, Nagaland – Sivsagar – Kaziranga

I can’t say I was sorry to leave the Konyak region of Nagaland. It was a beautiful soul stirring experience, but I couldn’t wait to get back to solid even grounds and hot water baths. (At 800m-2000m above sea level and 10C temperature, we only had running cold water at the guest house as the water heaters had all gone on the blink. Turning any one of them on would result in the tripping of the electricity to the whole building.)

The region and the area is beautiful, but the hardships that they face on a daily basis is sapping. I was expecting everyone in Nagaland to be dressed in colorful clothes and enjoy a relatively comfortable standard of living but the dirt & grime of reality in Konyak, was unsettling. It induced a strange kind of guilt, of us being able to take running hot water for granted with just the flick of a switch, while it meant chopping firewood, lighting a fire, carrying water from the well, setting it to boil and only then using it, for the Konyaks.

I had hoped that a tribal chief system in its purest form, would be a more effective form of governance. But drugs and alcohol seem to be more prevalent here than in the rest of India. A kilo of ganja / marijuana costs 250Rs (5$) while a kilo of pork or dog meat costs 130. A strip of opium soaked cotton costs 10Rs. So drugs are a cheap and easy way to dull the senses. At least for Konyak, the grain, meat and vegetables all come from Guwahati. Are these the same people who are demanding a seperate country or is that just political posturing? I left Nagaland without any answers and more questions than I entered with.

On our way out, we had to let the army post know that we were leaving and the Nagaland checkpoint too. We started early, so we could stop to take in a few sights at Sivsagar that is halfway through.

Sivsagar was the ancient capital of the Ahom kings who ruled over most of the North East for over 600 years, repelling Mughal and British attacks, but finally fell because they requiring British aid to beat back the Burmese incursions. Opinion is divided on where the Ahoms originally hailed from. The ASI says they came from China, while noted guide books claim it was Thailand or Burma. The best place to see remnants of their influence are the temples at Sivsagar. Today Sivsagar is famed as the cultural capital of Assam with all the plays & musical performances that happen here.

The Rang Ghar is the first Ahom Monument you will see while driving along the main road in Sivsagar. This is supposed to be Asia’s first amphitheater. Ahom Kings sat on the first floor of this oval structure, whose roof resembles an upturned boat and watched animal fights and cultural performances taking places in the grounds below. Today there are 2 statues placed in the gardens below to depict the kind of perfromances that took place here.

In 1734, Queen Ambika (of Ahom king Swargadeo Siba Singha) constructed the huge tank in the center of their Ahom capital and 3 temples on its banks. The Shiv temple called Sivdol is 104ft (32m) high and the circumference is 195ft (59 m) at the base. The 8ft high cupola just below the trishul on the top is covered in gold. There are claims that this is the tallest Shiva Temple in the country.

When facing the Shiva temple, the tank (Sivsagar) falls behind the temple. It is believed to be a very Holy temple and while we were visiting, we met some ladies of mixed Bengali and Assamese origin who had travelled from Guwahati to come to this tank to offer prayers for the successful and happy marriage of one of their family members. I struck up a conversation with them, because I was very fascinated by the hand painted pots in their thali.

To the left of Sivdol is Devidol and to the right is Vishnudol. The compound also houses smaller temples to Kali, Hanuman, Shani & Ganesh. Plenty of pigeons and goats are fed on the premises, so if you are visiting as a tourist and want to see all the smaller temples too, I highly recommend that you don’t leave your footwear at the main stand, but take them off just outside each temple. There are plenty of temple offerrings scattered on the floor, so you are better off wearing washable footware.

The path to the main Sivdol is lined with Sadhus and Babas peddling all manner of threads and charms. We didn’t buy anything from them, even though they were quite persuasive. With our SLR’s & Brajesh in shorts, we are often mistaken for the golden geese – “foreign” tourists, until Brajesh speaks to them in Hindi and assures them that we aren’t going to be buying cotton thread malas for 200Rs.

Our next stop was lunch at Sky Chef. The service is abysmally slow. But the restaurant is clean, hygenic, air conditioned with clean loos and the Chinese food was quite tasty. They served my favourite American Chopsuey on this trip so far. Yes, unfortunately, most places we have eaten at on this trip, only offer Indian and Chinese options and not their local specialities.

Post lunch, we visited Talaatal Ghar, a 2 storey Ahom palace built in the mid 18th century. The grounds are beautifully landscaped and its a beautiful walk for 5Rs.

There was a special exhibition by ASI on the grounds of famous Indian monuments. We lso saw some of the before and after pictures that the ASI has taken of the restoration of all the Ahom monuments and I must say it has been a phenomenal effort. The only problem is that the buildings now look new and not a couple of centuries old.:)

Simultaneously, the ASI was also holding an essay writing competition for disadvantaged kids on the necessity to preserve historic monuments. A wonderful effort, the kids were very excited and I hope these initiatives help to make a difference.

After stepping back 400 years, we were ready to come back into the present. We headed to Iora in Kaziranga to break journey before heading to Shillong in Meghalaya. It was such a pleasure to be able to have a hot water bath to wash away all the dust of the last 3 days and soothe our sore bodies. Our North East Chilli Vodka cocktail beckoned and it was with great effort that we stopped at one each, else no pictures would ever have gotten uploaded or blogs written.

Why should one visit the naga villages

Yesterday we were puzzled by the numbers on the 6 guest house bedroom doors. 17, 201, 134 etc. Completely illogical and non progressional. One theory we had was that Aunty had got the number tags at a discount and took them all. We were thinking of asking her about it, but were too tired to think straight. Today we realised that the keys to the doors came with pre assigned numbers and the corresponding key numbers became the door numbers.

For today, we hired a local Naga guide – Anyang. There are 16 Naga tribes and they each have a different language. They now use a language called Nagamese to communicate with each other and English. However, to smoothen the paths and ensure no misunderstandings in translation, we were assured that it would be best to have a local guide accompany us.

One of the 16 Naga tribes is the Konyak. Districts here are roughly divided along tribe lines and Konyak is also the name of this district. It is divided into Upper Konyak, Lower Konyak (borders Arunachal Pradesh and Assam) and Eastern Konyak (borders Burma). There are 4 main Konyak kings. They are blood brothers and each of them has some villages under them. Each set of villages is governed by a chief – Angh, who bears allegiance to one of the 4 kings. Similar structures are found in all the other Naga tribes.

Today we visited Shengachingyu and Longwa in Eastern Konyak and Chui in Lower Konyak. Paramount Guest House, where we are staying, is in Mon, which is part of Lower Konyak.

The drive to Shengachingyu which is 40 kms took 1.5 hours as the road is just a broad mountain goat path. Roads maintained by the BRO (Border Roads Organisation) and the Central Government are in much better shape than those managed by the State Government.

The foreigners who were staying in some of the other rooms at the at the Guest House had finished their village visits yesterday and were really excited about meeting with Naga Kings. So I guess I also built up the image of a fierce warrior chief. (Nat Geo programming simply reinforces these stereotypes.) When we arrived at the straw, thatch and reed mat palace, the chief had gone for a walk. He soon arrived and if he had not been introduced to us as the Chief, we would never have guessed. Dressed in a simple cotton animal print jacket, trousers and red flip flops, we could have easily passed by him anywhere in the world without giving him a second glance.

However, he is a very forward looking chief. One of the few chiefs who has only one wife. (Naga chiefs may marry as many times as they like) His son is currently studying at University in Shillong. He is building a brick and mortar structure to house a future museum and generally is concerned about the people who look to him as their chief. Konyak warriors were headhunters. A plaque near the palace, proudly proclaims that the father of the current chief beheaded 36 enemies & during his reign 130 were beheaded by the village warriors. His grandfather was a famed headhunter. So they currently have a collection of over 480 skulls which have been gathered as war trophies. He plans to display all of them properly when the new musuem is ready.

Making guns is a craft practiced in Nagaland and we visited their workshop. Wood is available in plenty in this thickly forested region. The barrels are made from all kinds of spare parts and they even make the bullets themselves.

The next village that we visited was Lungwa. This chief greeted us in shorts and a cowboy hat, with just a Naga style necklace with 5 bronze heads as a pendant to mark who he was. This chief greeted us, posed for photos and promptly invited us into the inner room to watch him and his council prepare opium for smoking.

As the only woman in a room filled with about 20 Naga men and the 4 men I was travelling with (husband, driver, guide, Naga guide) it felt like I was trespassing. But since I was invited in, I was happy to sit in the background and watch. Men ranging in age from 14 to 80 sat around a fire while the opium was distilled from soaked bits of cotton and prepared for smoking. There was some chanting which we were later told was more for our benefit than of any significance.

The chiefs palaces are made from the same material as those of the other villagers. They only differ in size and the number of animal skulls on display on its walls. Their houses are huge and the Lungwa chiefs house is half on the Indian side of the border and half on the Burmese side. He also has some villagers living on the Burmese side of the border and the first real Burmese settlement is about 7 days walk away (there are no motorable roads on the Burmese side at this point)

When we came out some of the villagers had spread out their wares for sale. This reminded us a bit of the Masai Village that we visited in Kenya. The jewelry on sale was not something “I” could wear, but I did pick up a couple of pieces that would look lovely on our walls.

There are no restaurants where tourists can eat anything in Konyak except at the checkpoints. So we returned to Paramount Guest House for a late lunch. After which, Anyang took us to the village of Chui. We just strolled through this village and were followed by laughing, giggling children throughout. This particular village does not see a lot of tourist traffice, so the kids were curiously following us everywhere, alternating between making faces for the camera and running away from it.

To a general description, these kids could be described as poor. But they are well fed (nutritiously) and happy. Their joyful smiles when playing with a ball made by tightly rolled up plastic bags or rolling down the hill on a makeshift wagon were way wider than any PS3 playing or firefox riding kid I have ever seen.

Day 4 – Kaziranga – Mon, Nagaland

Today has been exhausting. 7 hours to drive 250kms. Of those, 3 hours were for the last 60kms inside of Nagaland. The roads are non existent. While we thought that the drive from Balipara to Nameri was bad, those were actually just a teaser. Our bodies are sore, bones are jarred, muscles are aching, nerves are shot and 4 hours after arriving, I still feel like my body is rattling around.

We set out from Kaziranga by 7:30am and given the smoothness of roads in Upper Assam, we were making good time. We drove through Sivsagar, the ancient capital of the Ahom kings who ruled the North East for over 600 years. We didn’t stop here as we needed to reach Mon in Nagaland before dark (ie 4pm), we did however glimpse the Rang Mahal from where the Ahom kings would watch elephant fights and other gladiator sport like events. It looked interesting and if we have time on our return journey, Ruporabha, our driver on this journey has promised that he will let us out to get a closer look.

We also passed the turn off for Majuli – the worlds largest inhabited Riverine island, famous for its Vaishnavite satras. If you are planning a journey of your own, it would be worthwhile to budget 2 days to explore Sivsagar and Majuli staying overnight at a Satra.

We stopped for tea at Sky Chef in Sivsagar where the coffee and tea was average but washrooms were extremely clean. In the vegetable markets nearby, we saw plenty of Bhut Jholakia – the worlds spiciest chilli (until the new hybrid version came out of Dorset). Bhut Jholakia grown in Upper Assam and Nagaland is much spicier than that found in Guwahati. The easiest way that these chillies are consumed here are by drying them in the sun for an hour or so, then they are sliced and immersed in mustard oil. The jar is kept in the sun for a week and the pickle is then enjoyed year long.

Dipankar (our guide) was very concerned that after staying at Iora and Wild Mahseer, he could not offer us similar “high standard” accomodation and restaurants on the Nagaland leg of our journey. We tried to allay his fears by letting him know that we would eat anything that was tasty (except dog meat and insects), no matter what the location looked like. He did not seem convinced and when we reached Kareng Dhabha he was very apologetic about how basic it was. We ordered 3 pork and 1 chicken thali between the 4 of us. Rice for 3 and rotis for 1. The food was simple, home cooked, but oh so tasty! As if the food wasn’t tasty enough, we also were served (our first) bhut jholakia pickle. I’d like to think that the way that we tucked in and polished off every bit that was served to us while licking our fingers, was to dispel his apprehensions and not gluttony on our part.

After the enjoyable lunch, Dipankar and Ruporabha confessed to us that we were the first Indian visitors that they were taking into Nagaland. Most Indian tourists they have dealt with visit Kamakhya and Kaziranga and return.

As we came close to the Nagaland border, they stopped the car to pick up some alcohol as we would shortly be entering a dry state. The alcohol wasn’t for us or for them, but for the Naga chiefs whose villages we would be visiting. At one time, most Naga chiefs were fierce, strong warriors, respected by their entire community. Today many of them are chiefs just in name, who expect gifts of opium and alcohol from visitors.

The situation has gotten so bad, that youth in many of these villages have now started harassing tourists to get a share of the booty for themselves. After checking in today, we were informed that we would not be able to visit Shangnyu village as originally planned. The harassment faced by tourists to this village, crossed all bounds today. Local youth have been demanding 2000Rs (roughly 50$) per picture taken. When the foreign tourists who visited today, felt that it was unreasonable, they decided against taking any pictures, the youth then started attacking their car and damaging it. The few tour operators who operate in this region have decided to boycott this village until the chief can guarantee that the tourists who visit will not be harassed.

The border crossing saw a flurry of paperwork. One stop on the Assam side where we had to show our ILP’s (Inner Line Permits) and other documentation to the Assamese police. The second was a permit check on the Nagaland side. If you enter without a permit you can face a 1000Rs fine or one year imprisonment or both. The third stop was at a Nagaland police station at the border and the 4th was by the Indian army. Tomorrow, we may have to personally check in with the local police station where we are staying.

While we stopped and Ruporabha was getting the paperwork checked, there was a small vegetable market run by local women. So I stepped out of the car to take a look. We had been warned that we should be extra careful about asking permission before taking peoples pictures in Nagaland, so I did. The woman who looked like she was in charge said it would be 1000rs a picture. I did not think that this was a fair price, so I thanked her and we moved on.

The other warning that we have been given is that if anyone other than the police or army asks us, we should not mention working for any company. Company employees and tea garden employees are seen as prime targets for kidnapping. Our cover story hence is that we are writers – the most unthreatening employment, with least likelihood of being kidnapped – everyone knows that writers have no money 🙂 and it explains the cameras.

After the treacherous last 3 hours, we arrived in Mon just around sunset and saw kids running around like crazy. We were told that they were catching insects, which would soon be roasted for their evening snacks.

At Mon, we checked into Paramount Guest house. A basic accomodation. 6 rooms with attached baths and twin beds. It is owned by Aunty who used to previously manage Helsa Cottage the only tourist accomodation in Mon. Aunty is a jovial woman who is a great hit with all the guides whom she mothers. Aunty was very happy to see us, as she said that we were the first Indian tourists to stay with her over her 20+ years managing Helsa Cottage and Paramount Guest House. She told us dinner would be served at 7:30pm. There is no menu. Food is whatever she cooks in her home for the visitors. Today it was rice, dhal, mixed vegetable and pork with custard for dessert. The pork was first boiled, then marinated with ginger garlic paste and then fried in an egg and cornflour batter. An interesting combination of simple flavours.

We are very excited about tomorrows village visits and the possibility of 7 hours of sleep. We have both taken a dispirin to soothe our aching bodies and hopefully we will wake up refreshed and charged to face those roads again

Be the Wanderer Kaziranga National Park

Today began dark and early. We were up by 3:30am to leave by 4:45am and reach the Western Range – a 30minute drive from Hotel Iora, so we could catch the earliest safari at 5:15am.


Kaziranga National Park has 3 entry points for safaris- the Western Range, Central Range and Eastern Range. Each of them falls in a different district. While animal sightings are the norm at the Western and Central ranges, the Eastern range is mostly visited by birding enthusiasts.

Elephant safaris start at 5:15am and last around 45minutes each and jeep safaris start at 7:00am and extend for around 2 hours each. The park is closed to tourists for about 1.5hours in the afternoon, so the forest rangers, mahouts and working animals can have their meals and some rest. It opens up again around 2:00pm until sunset which is 4:15pm these days. By 5:00 its pitch dark outside and you have to exit the park before it turns dark.

Each elephant seats upto 4 people on a howdah and they set off in groups of 8-12 elephants. 1-2 armed rangers escort the group. The mahouts all have their own lethal looking machettes. With these armed men to guide us and a thin iron rod to protect us from losing balance and toppling over we took off into the park.

The minute we entered the main area, we were surrounded by grass almost at eye level, even though we were atop elephants. This makes sightings more difficult. Kaziranga is only open from November to April. The rest of the year, the monsoons make it too treacherous to allow tourists in. The same holds true for all other sanctuaries in Assam. In November-December, the foliage is dense and the grass really high. By February the grass is burned in controlled fires, so the new grass shoots can come up before the monsoons start again. So February-March is the best time to visit for sightings.

Kaziranga is home to over 80% of the worlds one hormed rhino population and over 3 safaris today, we must have seen at least 7-10% of the rhinos in Kaziranga. It was heartening to see baby rhinos too, which meant the population was doing well inspite of poachers still trying to sneak in. In fact, today morning, a Naga poacher was caught in Kaziranga with a special Chinese made gun that kills rhinos with just one shot. Chinese are the largest buyers of illegally and brutally obtained rhino horns for traditional medicines.

After the elephant safari we came back for breakfast and then returned for two jeep safaris before and after lunch. We probably overkilled it, but I absolutely love seeing animals in the wild and it was definitely worth the early morning wake up and evening exhaustion. We saw wild elephants, rhinos, deer – swamp, hog, sambhar and barking, wild boars, bison, monitor lizard and plenty of birds. This more than made up for the disappointment at Nameri yesterday. Kaziranga also has a tiger population, but sightings are extremely rare. We weren’t fortunate to see one today and at least we weren’t subjected to the con of “pug marks” as practiced in Corbett 🙂


Most people say elephant safaris allow you to get closer to the wild animals. But given the height of grass right now and perhaps our luck, we were able to get closer to them while on the jeep safari. Also its very difficult to capture photographs while atop an elephant because they are constantly shuffling their feet even when stationary, so the swaying movement is perennial.

We have already decided that we will do our best to be back here in February-March to see what it looks like when the grass is burnt.

Another highlight of our day was the awesome Assamese lunch at Bhaatbaan – the ethnic cuisine restaurant at the Iora Hotel. We have tried Assamese cusine in Guwahati and quite enjoy it, but todays meal surpassed everything that we have eaten so far. Assamese food is very light and healthy. It focuses on fresh ingredients, simply prepared without much fuss. Mr Arun and
Mr Dulal Dutta the restaurant manager at Bhaatbaan were extremely helpful in explaining the technicalities and finer nuances to us. Their staff is efficient, polite and ever smiling.

The Veg thali is extremely filling and even for a hard core non vegetarian like me, I wouldn’t have minded if we hadn’t ordered a side dish of chicken in bamboo shoot curry. They have a speciality of meat steamed in bamboo hollows which takes longer to prepare, so for these dishes it is advisable to place your order and hour or so earlier. Other items are all served within 10-15 minutes.

We returned here for dinner and had a wonderful North East Chilli Vodka Cocktail specially created by MR Arun who is in charge of Food & Beverages at the resort. If anything can cure my horrid head cold, it would be this and I’m sorry I didn’t discover it earlier.

We head into interior Nagaland right upto the border with Burma over the next 3 days, so we don’t know whether we will be able to update our pictures, twitter or blogs. But we will have them ready to upload once we are back under network coverage.

Be the Wanderer Day 2

After a wonderful dinner and restful nights sleep (inspite of the raging thunderstorm outside) at Wild Mahseer, we headed out to the Nameri National Park early in the morning.

Nameri is the third largest sanctuary in Assam after Manas and Kaziranga, but it is actually part of the same reserved forest area that is called Pakhui Game Sanctuary in Arunachal Pradesh, making it the largest in North East India. Nameri only has foot safaris and it is also the only sanctuary in India where you can do a foot safari.

To explore Nameri, you need a permit, which can be got from the eco-camp (also a lovely place to stay) a few kms before the river crossing. Once we procured our permit, we drove to the banks of the Bharali river and took a short boatride across in a canoe.

We were accompanied by 2 armed guards who also serve as spotters and guides within the reserve.

To our bad luck, although this is supposed to be the dry season, it had rained really hard for the last 2 days and the ground was all mucky and swampy. In many places, we could only walk across by balancing on thin, unsteady logs. Unfortunately, after walking for a couple of hours, although we did hear some peacocks and barking deer in the distance, we did not get to see any wildlife. The leeches in the forest were much luckier though, they got fresh blood to suck on and we ended our trek with freshly crushed herbal poultices on our feet when the blood wouldn’t stop flowing.

My recommendation for anyone wanting to visit Nameri, is not to go if it has rained the previous night. The going is really tough and the chances of spotting wildlife are drastically reduced. We did see a “mithun” at the forest officers outpost though – a domesticated gaur.

It was disappointing to have woken up early, endured a bone rattling car ride, braved trekking across murky swampy trails and then not see any wildlife, but that is a risk you always take when it comes to dealing with the wild. Sightings are completely unpredictable.

We dropped our armed escort back at the permit point at the eco camp and drove back to Wild Mahseer, where the staff instantly lifted our flagging spirits with an excellent spread of Anglo Indian food. Chicken soup, chicken stew, a mix vegetable stir fry, pea chops, Macaroni cheese bake with hot buttered buns and a bitter lemon souffle for dessert.

After lunch, we loaded the car and headed towards Kaziranga. The drive passed by lush tea plantations until we came to a point on the road where we had manicured tea plantations sprawling on our right and the wilderness of Kaziranga national park on our left.

It took us about 2.5 hours to drive from Balipara to Kaziranga. Initially the raods were really bad and almost non existent. Then suddenly when we arrived at Upper Assam the roads improved dramatically, almost as good as the Mumbai – Pune or Delhi-Chandigarh highways. While the roads we traversed in Lower Assam were frankly quite terrible, they would have been non-existenet if not for the work of the Indian army which helps in protecting these roads which often traverse through patches of bodoland. Ever since we visited Leh, we have been unlimited respect for the majority of the Indian army that lives and works in such inhospitable terrain for pittances, just for the love of their country. It is because of them, that we can sleep peacefully at night.

At Kaziranga, we are staying at the Iora, which is a few minutes drive to the central range. We did see some hog deer while driving here, so we are hoping that it is a good sign of things to come tomorrow when we head out for our Elephant and jeep safaris.