Sunday, September 25, 2011

The journey back

Next day I started off on the return journey. A long 53 hour journey from Guwahati to Mumbai. Due to the summer rush I was unable to get a reservation in the AC coach. So it was to be 53 hours in mid-April in a non-AC compartment! Wasn't as bad as I had feared it to be :)

Cross country train travel is a nice experience. Every couple of hours the landscape changes, new hawkers pass by, new snacks to try out. And during the day a large number of ticketless travelers come onboard for their daily 1-2 hours commute. Innumerable haggles over their occupation of the reserved seats.

I am safely perched on my top berth. Enjoying the scenes around without any threat to my territory. 53 hours is a long time! Spent most of the time either reading Godfather or reflecting back on the trip that was. The interesting people I met...

SR, a software engineer from Chennai who had quit his job and planned to spend the whole summer in the hills, away from the heat, writing code for a proprietory software which he hopes to monetise. Good luck SR!

J and P, two girls from France who had come back to Pelling on their own expense to see how the projects they had initiated at a local school as a part of a volunteering program a couple of years were faring. Hats off!

A vet couple from Germany who were so much in love with India, that they come here every 6 months. Their professional duties do not permit them to travel more than 3-4 weeks at a stretch. This was their third trip to India!

Niranta, who at the same age has me, had managed to transform a village of poachers into passionate nature protectors, even standing up to the army when the situation required!

The happy-go-lucky people of Sikkim, the laid back people of Bhutan. They probably live in much tougher conditions than most  people I know but their happiness shows!

To round off the trip, here are a few more pictures from the trip

Later many people asked whether the northeast is safe to visit. For the places that I visited I can surely say there is only one thing to fear here... the possibility that you may want to stay there all your life and never return back home :)

Jeep Safari at Kaziranga

We reached Kaziranga just in time for the afternoon elephant safari. The jeep safari goes much deeper into the reserve. Larger variety of animals are on view but from a distance.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Dibru Saikhowa National Park

When we told the travel agent at Guwahati that we intend to go to Dibru Saikhowa, she looked baffled and said, 'Wahan jaake kya karoge?' Indeed, this place is not mentioned in any travel guides. Were we really crazy travelling to the farther corner of Assam for this place? Had it not been for the strong recommendation from one of Amogh's colleagues we would have missed out on this beautiful place!

Dibru Saikhowa is a national park on a river island. In fact it is the largest river island  national park in the world! It is a bird watchers delight. In addition, one can also spot wild animals such as elephants, wild buffaloes, wild horses, etc. The horses are said to have been left behind by the armies during World War II! Apparently the national park is also home to tigers and leopards but chances of spotting either are close to zero. Another unique attraction here is the Kekjari tree. Locals believe it to be an immortal tree and worship it. It looks like a banyan tree but is much larger, at times covering a few acres!!!

Tourists cannot stay on the island. We stayed at Wave Eco-tourism on the other side of the river at Rangagora. The stay is in simple huts. The food is traditional Assamese cuisine. Loved the pitha. It is run by Niranta Gohain. A few years back poaching was rampant in Dibru Saikhowa. The villagers nearby earned a living by illegally felling trees and hunting animals in the national park. In fact Niranta was also one of them. Over a period of time though, he had a change of heart. He managed to convince the locals the importance of preserving nature. They realized poaching was akin to killing the hen that laid golden eggs. Soon most of them became nature protectors and got involved in eco-tourism. Some serve as guides, some are involved in providing lodging and boarding, some provide boats, etc. Speaking to Niranta, his love for nature is very apparent. The passion with which he speaks is really moving and makes us rethink about our carbon emitting lifestyles! He was in fact once jailed for protesting against and blocking the army from clearing a part of the forest!

Some pics around the Wave Ecotourism camp

Next day we went to the national park by boat and explored the island by foot.

In the evening we went to a nearby lake for some more bird watching. Wish I had a powerful camera lens to capture them all!

At night, Niranta had arranged for us to witness the Bihu festivities in his village. The traditional progammes were over by then. Now the dancing was more freestyle accompanied by drum beats! The villagers were having a nice time :)

Thus ended an eventful day! The pristine beauty of Dibru Saikhowa and the simple nature loving people here left a deep impression on us. Hope they continue to remain so rooted even after this becomes a sought after tourist destination!

Tomorrow we head back to Kaziranga for a jeep safari.