Sunday, February 28, 2016

Las Vegas - “What happens here stays here”

Las Vegas was a city I was longing to visit for a long time. Though not a gambler nor a person who enjoys “night life”, I was somehow mesmerised with the city. An opportunity to visit it came in the form of Official duty as a participant for “CES - Consumer Electronics Show” in the beginning of this year.

The days were busy as I was completely occupied with CES. But outside CES timings, I managed to visit few places in Las Vegas and this post is about it.

Casino hopping
Las Vegas is famous for its casinos and hotels. In fact, 17 of the 20 biggest hotels in US are located in Las Vegas. I visited few of them like MGM Grand, Bellagio, Caesar’s Palace, Paris and Stratosphere!! Most of them look similar and all of them are grand. It is difficult to find way through them without the help of sign boards!! Apart from Casinos, I was also interested in their restaurants.

Most of these hotels are situated in Las Vegas strip area.

Bellagio fountains
The fountains in front of Bellagio is a treat to watch. A must visit in Las vegas. The fountain show starts at 3PM and repeats very 30 minutes. Best time to watch the fountains is after sunset when the lights galore the Las Vegas city.

High roller
While London eye and Singapore flyer are very famous ferris wheels, the tallest one is in Las vegas. Apart from Giant wheels in Indian fairs, I had never climbed a taller one and hence decided to experience it. The ride lasts for 30 minutes and is fully worth the high price paid (37 $) for this high roller!! It gives a birds eye view of the Las Vegas strip and its skyline.

Situated at the north of Las Vegas strip is the largest observation tower in US, Stratosphere. It provides the 360 degrees view of las Vegas city and its surroundings.

View from Stratosphere
Is there anything else apart from Casinos to see in Las Vegas?

Absolutely yes. Hoover Dam is about 30 minutes drive from Las Vegas. Red Rock canyon is another interesting place nearby. Due to time constraints, I could not visit them. The famous “Grand Canyon” is about 4 hours drive. It can also be reached by helicopter in 30 minutes.

“What happens here stays here” is a famous tagline created by Las Vegas tourism department!!

Monday, February 22, 2016

A day in Shillong

During our recent visit to Meghalaya, a day was spent sightseeing Shillong. At 5,000 ft above sea level, it has a very cool climate and some nice places to see. Unlike Ooty or Kodaikanal it is more known as capital city of Meghalaya than tourist destination. Interestingly it has the second highest vehicle to human population, first being Mumbai. Hence traffic jams are quite common.  Below you will see a compilation of the places we saw in Shillong. It is not a comprehensive of “place to visit” in Shillong.
Shillong view point
Our day started with the visit to Shillong peak. Since the place could get crowded, we decided to visit it before the people start trickling in. Known as the highest point in Meghalaya, this place is under Indian Air Force.  While cameras are allowed in the view point, it is not allowed to take pictures while passing through Air Force locality.

The view of Shillong town is amazing and it worth the visit. It reminds me of Dodda Betta in Ooty.
Chaya and Tanu in Khasi dress at Shillong view point
Elephant falls
After Shillong peak, we went to the Elephant falls nearby. The first question we had was why it was called as “Elephant falls”. It was named by British as the rock in the falls resembled Elephant.  But it was destroyed in 1897 earthquake but the named remained.
It is a three step falls. Steps are constructed to descend to the bottom of the falls.

Lady Hydari Park and Wards Lake
Lady Hydari Park is nice to spend some time lazing around. The nearby wards lake is good for paddle boating. Even during Christmas time, the place was not crowded.  

Don Bosco museum
It is a private museum that depicts the culture of North East. I think it is a good place to get an overview of North Eastern culture which we barely get to know in other parts of India.
Golf course
Our last point of the day was Golf course. Looking at the state of it, I believe it is not widely used!!

Umiam Lake

One of the beautiful places in Shillong. It is a man made but a big lake. A speed boat ride on this lake is fun. It is also a famous picnic spot for locals.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Places to visit in Cherrapunji

I believe that almost everyone in India would have heard about Cherrapunji. In schools, we were told that it witnesses the highest rainfall in the world. That position is now taken by neighbouring Mawsynram but Cherrapunji still retains its name in people’s mind. Needless to say that the best time to visit Cherrapunji is during rains. The area will be filled with waterfalls.

But our visit was in the month of December. While the waterfalls lost their charm, there were still few places worth visiting. This is just a subset of many waterfalls that we did not visit as they go completely dry during December.

Mawkdok view point
It is situated midway between Shillong to Cherrapunji. Just before the view point is a bridge resembling “hanging bridge”. The valley extends till Cherrapunji. A beautiful place to spend some time before proceeding further. 

Dainthlen falls
A spot next to the road some 4 km before Cherrapunji. The water was just tricking down in the falls did not give any pleasure but the views were great!!

Nohkalikai waterfalls
One of the highest waterfall in India. Also, the only falls that hold some water in December. It still looked beautiful during dry season. You can imagine the beauty during rainy season. I made up my mind to visit this beautiful place during monsoon. Not to be missed at all. The falls is about 5 km from Cherrapunji and the road leading to it is simply beautiful.

Mawsmai cave
Meghalaya has many caves and Mawsmai cave near Cherrapunji is a small but beautiful limestone cave. I have seen many such caves but each of them are different in their own ways. It is a “one way” cave meaning that the cave has separate entry and exit points. It is an ideal place to reach during lunch time as there are many restaurants nearby. 

The area is also home to “pitcher plant” though the ones we saw were still not fully grown.

Eco park and seven sister waterfalls
The park is simple but the view are excellent. Again a great place to visit during monsoon.

Khoh Ramhah
It is a huge pillar rock that provides a great background for the excellent views. The Bangladesh plains are clearly visible!!

Kynrem falls

A falls near Khoh Ramhah that was completely dry.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Trek to Double decker root bridge at Cherrapunji

1st January 2016

One of the primary reasons of our visit to Cherrapunji was to see the root bridges, especially the double decker root bridge.

Double Decker root bridge

What is a root bridge?
According to wikipedia Living root bridges are a form of tree shaping common in the southern part of the Northeast Indian state of Meghalaya. They are handmade from the aerial roots of living banyan fig trees, such as Ficus elastica by the Khasi people and War Jaintia peoples of the mountainous terrain along the southern part of the Shillong Plateau.

The pliable tree roots are made to grow through betel tree trunks which have been placed across rivers and streams until the figs' roots attach themselves to the other side. Sticks, stones, and other objects are used to stabilize the growing bridge This process can take up to 15 years to complete. The useful lifespan of any given living root bridge is variable, but it is thought that, under ideal conditions, they can in principle last for many hundreds of years. As long as the tree they are formed from remains healthy, they naturally self-renew and self-strengthen as their component roots grow thicker.”

The most beautiful root bridge is “Double decker” root bridge in the village of Nongriat village near Cherrapunji visiting which involves climbing 3500 steps each way taking 5-6 hours. Our earlier plan was that only I and Sankara would go down while our families would stay back at the resort. But excitement of seeing root bridges was too much to resist and hence we decided to make a complete family trek. 

Our trek
At 8:30AM, our driver dropped us at the start of the trail. The initial 1.5 km of walk was a steep decline through well laid steps. I knew that my daughter would get bored soon and start complaining. She had done only few easy treks of couple of hours before. Though she liked to travel and enjoy nature, she does not like to make it “hard”!! In order to keep her engaged, I hatched a plan. The task was to count the steps till the root bridge. That kept her busy throughout the journey!! She became very excited.

Path while going down
Getting down is always easy though it hurts the knee a lot. Within 45 mins we are at the end of the steep decline and had reached the base of the valley. Here a small detour would take to “longest living root bridge”. Since our destination was double decker root bridge, we decided to visit the longer one while returning back.

Hills of Cherrapunji
The path was now though gradual slopes. Soon we reached the first rope bridge to cross. While it was not new to me, but it was a new experience for Chaya and Tanu.

The first cable bridge
Soon we had to cross a longer and higher bridge. That was quite a task as the bridge was longer, higher and wobbled a lot. The stream running beneath also added to the adventure. The stream had beautiful natural pool with crystal clear water. An amazing scene to watch.

The second cable bridge and water pool
After crossing the stream, we had to climb a bit. At one place the top portion of Nohkalikai falls was visible. The stream that we crossed before was from that falls. We had visited that falls on the previous day. It would be a scene to watch the falls during rainy season. A reason to visit Cherrapunji during monsoon!!

Water trickling down Nohkalikai falls

Nohkalikai falls
Very soon we reached the double decker root bridge. The sight of the bridge gave a feeling of thrill and excitement. We were the first ones to reach the place on that day. That have us the privilege of enjoying it without any disturbance for some time. 

Chaya and Tanu posing at Double Decker root bridge
The question arose why did the villagers construct double decker bridge. Apparently, the first bridge was not enough during rainy season when the stream overflowed and hence they built one on the higher side without knowing that it would be a tourist attraction one day. We also saw the third one in progress (It would take several years to finish). But that is only for tourist purpose!!

Clear water in a pool near Double Decker root bridge
I had heard about beautiful the pools near the root bridge. I walked alone while other relaxed at the root bridge. A 20 minute walk brought me to the pool which had clear waters. There was also a rock with fossils. I could not understand anything from it!!

One can also stay near root bridge. A lodge in the village can house few people. A small hotel also serves snacks and drinks. There are some good hiking routes in this area!!

Tanu posing at longest root bridge
People were thronging the bridge when we started our return journey. Since our spirits were high we also visited single root bridge which is known as the longest root bridge.

Longest root bridge

The last climb up was tougher for Chaya and Tanu. It was slow but managed it without much incident. At 3:30 PM, we had reached the road to wait for our driver to pick us.