I am sitting cozily in my home in the Seattle area a month after returning from my excellent journey to Bangladesh and remote Meghalaya and Assam in Northeast India. It is truly challenging to let go of a great trip, in many ways it feels like I haven't. My backpack, journal, strange musical instruments and other accoutrements from my trip are still next to me. The memories are fresh and will be with me forever. Hope you enjoy my little story.
Bangladesh, Bangladesh, Bangladesh. Most famous for devastating cyclones, ethnic strife, horrible flooding, bad air and being the most densely populated country on earth. This is a country that receives very few travelers, mostly just international aid and disaster relief workers. Bangladesh is one of the cheapest places on earth to manufacture and does exactly that for many multinational Western companies, primarily in the garment sector. Along with this comes air and groundwater contamination, serious and often deadly labor issues and rampant corruption in all sectors.
The Bangladeshi people are another story altogether. They have so little but give so much. They are desperate for contact with the outside world, honored when people take the time to get to
know them a little. Their smiles are huge, their hearts big. The poorest people insist on buying you tea.
I had never heard of anyone who went to Bangladesh, it certainly wasn't on my travel radar. In 2004, I was sitting in the Bangkok airport on my way to Sri Lanka. I remember waiting for my plane, our gate waiting area was shared by people waiting for a commercial flight to Dhaka, the capitol of Bangladesh. I remember talking with a Western aid worker for about 20 minutes and then some delightful Bangladeshi people this day. They said "you must come to visit Bangladesh. The world doesn't know about it but it is very special". I filed this in my memory and the idea slowly grew.
Last spring I was planning a trip, an amazing thing happened. A good friend of mine gave me a bunch of frequent flyer miles to use. I looked at the different places I could go around the world. There were a few spots in Asia, then one evening I noticed Dhaka, Bangladesh was available. The light went on, the connection with that visit in the Bangkok airport years ago was reignited. Within
a few days, I excitedly reserved my airline ticket. I knew almost nothing about this place.
Quickly, I became immersed in Bangladesh research. I found an obscure travel guide from England about the country. I read about British rule, partition and the eventual bloody war in the 70s that gave Bangladesh its independence from Pakistan. I read that it is a majority Muslim country but with secular protection written into the constitution. Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists living in harmony. If only that were true. Religion and power always make things different.
Around this same time, I got word that my retired parents may be traveling in India, quite possibly in Assam. This is an area most people aren't aware of when they think of India. The "seven states" are an appendage that stick out over Bangladesh and all the way to the Burma border. I was excited about the possibility of seeing my parents again on the other side of the world. I got an India Lonely Planet guide and started to hatch a plan where I would visit both Bangladesh and the Northeast on India. From the look of the map, it seemed possible.
next few months, many twists and turns happened. It turned out that my parents weren't going to go to India. A good buddy of mine in Seattle who had always wanted to travel with me stepped up and bought a ticket. I made good contacts in Bangladesh, got our visas to Bangladesh and India. I was full of different ideas about how we could spend our 3 weeks.
Late at night one day, I was reading through the massive 700 page India Lonely Planet. I found a small paragraph that jumped out at me. The remote West Garo Hills area in the Indian State of Meghalaya had an indigenous culture and harvest festival called Wangala 100 Drums each year at just about the time I arrived for my trip. The book said that the people were incredible and the festival truly special. The people in this area and all over the Northeast of India were said to look much more like people in Bhutan or Burma. Christianity made its way to their lands, in years past they had been headhunters. Headhunting was fortunately phased out but many of the traditional beliefs and rituals were quite strong to this day.
Another thing that strongly caught my eye was that the Garo and Khasi indigenous peoples of Meghalaya are some of the only continuously matrilineal cultures on earth. In short, this means that for 1000 years, money and property have been passed down legally to the daughters instead of the sons. Somebody years ago decided that society would work better this way. This, combined with the beautiful landscape and tribal ways, were very interesting to me.
The next day I was surfing online and found a blogspot and the name of a woman who handled public relations for this event. I sent her an email about my idea of visiting, the next day I heard back from her, amazing. She told me that Westerners passed through sometimes and we would be most welcome if we could make it. She told me that there were many dance troupes that came to the festival, some came from Bangladesh and we might be able to hitch a ride.
I explored this idea for a couple weeks. The ride from Bangladesh looked like it would be difficult to coordinate so I tabled the thought and started to look at other parts of
Northeast India. The deeper I dug, the more fascinated I became with this area I knew nothing about. I became enthralled with the idea of visiting ancient human made root bridges, the biggest river island in the world, national parks full of rhinos and tea plantations as far as the eye could see.
About one month before it was time to travel, I got an upbeat email from my contact Alva Sangma, Ph.D. at the West Garo festival. She seemed so optimistic, invited us again. At this time I hadn't planned on going, this email and the personal invitation made my path clear, we would find a way to go. I communicated with my contact in Dhaka, Bangladesh about the change of plans. He said he could help us find a ride from Dhaka due north to a remote border crossing into India. My Dhaka contact said that foreigners could not cross that border, Alva said she thought it could be done. It was essential that we cross here as we flew into Dhaka the day before the festival and would miss it if we couldn't.
Alva connected me online with a dear friend of hers named Gunn
Marak. Alva said Gunn could help us, that she had business connection across the border and was the person to talk to. I was quickly learning that women were very empowered and powerful in this culture. Gunn had more specifics about the border crossing, insisted with her connections she could make it happen. This was getting exciting to me: tribal culture, remote border crossing, adventure!
Fast forward a month later, my buddy Todd had flown a day before me. I had made plans for him to be met in Dhaka, I'd see him when I arrived. My heart was thumping when I went to the airport in Seattle, it was time for another walkabout. My plane lifted off from Seattle and jetted toward Tokyo. After a ten hour flight and quick plane change in Japan, I caught another flight and after a another 7 hours I was on the ground in Bangkok, 10PM local time, planning to overnight near the Bangkok Airport before my flight to Bangladesh the next day. I stayed up all the way from Seattle to Bangkok, thinking I could trick jetlag and fall right to sleep when I arrived, I should know better by now.
You never trick jetlag, it will get its revenge.
The revenge came quickly, I slept not a wink in my Bangkok room, mostly just lay around obsessing about the fact that I wasn't sleeping. I got up quite early at 5AM, exhausted but unable to sleep. It was a fairly calm area on the outskirts of this big city. I headed outside for a nice walk at sunrise, got some Thai curry street food, some delicious coffee and had a stroll along a pretty riverside. I sat and visited with some ladies who were feeding giant catfish then chatted with some Buddhist monks at their temple as they swept the grounds for the day.
Sometimes even a few hours in a country can be memorable. Although completely in a sleep-deprived surreal state, I had a really nice morning. About 8:30A, I hopped in a tuk-tuk to the airport, excitedly caught my flight to Bangladesh. At the gate and on the flight, I was the only Westerner. Everyone smiled at me, Bangladeshis going home to their country. Questions flew from all around me. Most Bangladeshis speak some English, they were also amused to learn that I had learned a
few words of their language, Bengali. They asked, "What is your name, what is your country, why do you come to Bangladesh?"
We landed in Dhaka, a massive swirling city of 22 million. One of the guys on my plane seated close to me was a man of considerable influence. When we arrived in the airport, he summoned the airport chief of police who quickly assigned an officer to me to whisk me through the airport. They were VERY hospitable, zipped me through all customs and security areas and sent me on my way with a smile. I had heard this was a culture full of hospitality, it was clearly true.
I exited the airport into the chaos of Dhaka, quickly located my buddy Todd and the driver who was going to take us to to India border. The traffic in Dhaka is insane, the air thick with pollution. Bicycle rickshaws, cars, tractors, all kinds of vehicles and people were jostling for space. It was a swirling mass of humanity that somehow seemed to function. After an hour or so of non-stop noise bombardment, we broke free from the big city and headed north toward another good sized
town called Mymensingh.
I have told you that Bangladesh is densely populated. It is almost as if the whole country seemed like an endless town. We passed loads of factories and brick making chimneys. We would break free briefly and see pretty rice fields, then right back to another decent sized town. The roads were quite crowded, at least the air was better than in Dhaka. After four hours of intense driving, we came through Mymensingh, a town of maybe 400,000.
Foreigners rarely came up this way, people spotted us in the car as we went past and waved wildly at us with huge smiles. About 30 minutes north of Mymensingh, we finally started to get out to the country and could see the distant hills of Meghalaya, India. After another hour or so and getting to be about 7PM local time, we rolled into the little town of Haluaghat. This little coal importing town would be our stopping place for the night.
My great contact in India had told us about the one hotel in town and told us she would try to connect us with the guy she did business with. We rolled up to
the little Hotel Imex, said goodbye to our driver and walked in. People in this little town of 10,000 people looked like they had seen a ghost. Never do foreigners come here, they flocked around us like we were rock stars. They graciously got us to our room, comfortable and $10 per night.
A nicely dressed guy came up to me, showed me a text on his phone from the woman Gunn in India. This was her contact, his name was Arfan and he had found us. He turned out to be a very successful businessman in this little town, had 10 extremely colorful trucks for importing coal from India and distributing it around Bangladesh. All of the buses and trucks in Bangladesh are painted outrageous and fun colors. Music often blares from them as they go by. The people in this part of Bangladesh were fairly conservative, the mainly Muslim women were covered up from what we could see. We started to see some of the Garo tribal people in this part of Bangladesh. They are primarily Christian and the women do not wear head coverings.
So, Arfan, his good buddy Wadude and a pack of Bangladeshi
guys grabbed us, took us out to a local cafe, pummeled us with tea, food and more food. The curries and various dishes were complex and delicious. No alcohol though we had heard there was rice wine in these parts. The guys wouldn't let us pay a cent, seemed very honored that we had come here. I was beyond exhausted, they followed us back to our room and wanted to visit. My buddy Todd stayed up with them for awhile, I quickly went to sleep.
It was cold this night, curled up with a nice blanket. I woke at 6am before Todd, went out to the street and had tea, fresh cooked naan bread and a yummy eggplant dish. Todd came and found me, people were swarming all around us. What happens in Bangladesh is three people walk by you, look at you like a ghost. One of them gets brave, comes and talks with you, his two pals come back, then all his buddies and anyone close by comes over and you are often surrounded by 35 to 40 smiling people. Closeness is everywhere in the culture, in part by necessity as there isn't much personal space.
Heterosexual men walk hand in hand, smiles are everywhere, some of the biggest I've ever seen. They wanted to talk with us, touch us, visit with us. Women were infrequently seen, when they came into our path they would quickly scamper away. The women who had full head and eye coverings would make contact with their eyes when they came by in buses.
Our friends Arfan and Wadude came and found us on the street, almost lecturing us for not waiting for them. There was no danger, they just wanted to walk around with us. The plan was for them to take us to the border, we wanted to get going soon to try to make it to the festival this day. These guys were not going to be rushed though, this became clear quickly. They took us to have tea, huge delicious breakfast, see their offices and visit with more friends. They kept saying that the border crossing was close by and the crossing would be very quick.
Finally, after many laughs, we piled into Arfan's car with his driver, Wadude and our bags and headed for the little border crossing into India. It wasn't 15 minutes
away, about an hour. The landscape was increasingly lovely as we got close to the border, bright green rice fields.
We zoomed around a few more turns and then we stopped at a small building near the border. The border guards and immigration guys looked at us incredulously, we were the first Americans to ever cross this border. There were three different stops at buildings on the Bangladeshi side, endless forms completely repetitive to fill out. At least twice I saw a little money changing hands, people were working to get us through the border. We walked across the little border, said goodbye to our gracious hosts. It is indeed magical to walk through a border.
In the distance about 300 yards away we could see my contact Gunn and her driver on the India side. A gate was lifted up, two more stops and a few more forms to fill out on the India side and we were in, we made it! Gunn gave us each a hug, we sat down and had tea with she and her driver in a little house near the border. We all jumped in her car, took a deep breath, laughed
as she pulled out ice cold Corona beers and we all zipped up into the gorgeous hills of West Garo.
We climbed quickly into the cool mountains, gorgeous white poinsettias, fruit and nut trees everywhere. The landscape was very pretty, thinly populated and the air seemed clean. It was amazing how quickly we left the flat plains of Bangladesh and got up in to the hills. After zipping around little roads and sharp curves for an hour or so, we came into the very pretty and bustling town of Tura, India, which was to be our base for the next couple days. Gunn helped us check into our room at a place called The Rikman, right in the middle of town in a great location. Our rooms were comfortable and looked out over this charming place.
We quickly noticed that people were dressed mostly in Western clothing, rock and roll music played, liquor shops were open and women and men interacted openly in public. The people all looked of Himalayan descent, beautiful healthy people with big smiles. This place did not seem like a place that could be in India, I had much to learn about India.
We dropped our bags, hopped in the car with Gunn and headed directly out to the festival grounds, in a town 10 miles or so north called Asanang. Like most of the people we met in this part of India, she drove very fast and actually very well. Everyone uses their horns here, very effective as a communication device when passing or going around curves. We rolled into the little valley where the festival was and I could quickly see that this was a big deal. Garo and Khasi people from all over Meghalaya were in attendance. The setting was idyllic, lush hills surrounded us, bright sun in the sky, a comfortable day but not too hot.
All of the dancers were practicing for the full Wangala 100 drums, which was to be the following day. They were in their full costumes, vibrant colors. The drum beat was steady and hypnotic, the voices and traditional chanting was clear and loud. The dancers and spectators seemed very connected and proud about the festival.
Gunn ushered us over when we first arrived to what I can only call a VIP area. We were under covered tents next to dignitaries, journalists,
ministers from the government. We sat down, were given tea and snacks and told to relax. There were a few Westerners, very interesting people each with a sincere interest in traditional cultures, who had made their way to this little part of the world.
We met a dude from New Zealand, great photographer with many stories to tell of other parts of India. We met Catherine and David from Liverpool England, traveling the world for 5 years. We met Hayley, a woman from London traveling with the Brits. We met Skye, a woman from Montana who lives in New Delhi and teaches music at the exclusive American School of the US Embassy. That was it for Westerners, all the rest were locals and some domestic tourists.
Soon after we got there, we met my original contact Alva Sangma. Amazing, the woman who helped inspire me to come to this place, right in front of me. She was busy with festival organizing but gave us a smile and warm welcome. She had just published a book about Garo culture and was going to have it accepted for publication by the governor the next day. We also met a wonderfully
kind and welcoming woman named Bulbully who I had communicated with before my trip. Most of the people we were meeting here spoke English very well.
After we settled in and watched the dancers and musicians, we wandered over to a handicraft area and looked at all kinds of things. I was still a little loopy from my jet lag adventure but starting to feel better. Exciting travel can make you forget about tiredness in the short term. If this fails, there is always a strong cup of tea and sugar in this part of the world.
We were taken over across the street to a big open room where food was being served to special guests, cooked in huge vats just outside. We ate heartily, curry, rice, pork, interesting dishes. We sat a bit more at the festival, as the sun started to go down, we happily hopped in the car with Gunn and headed over to a party at a home she is building. The place was under construction, she plans to live there but make it a place that can host weddings and events too.
It looks like it will be very nice, the construction
methods seemed excellent and the architectural planning thought out well. She will call it Moksha Villa.
When we arrived, we got to visit more with Pheroze Vincent, a talented journalist from New Delhi here to report on the festival. Gunn had sod already laid at the villa, tiki torches out and a party planned for all of us. We sat down and the food started coming. There was rice, delicious pork cooked with ginger inside pieces of bamboo over the fire. We had other food, very strong rice beer. A number of the Westerners and lots of local friends came. It turned into a great gathering with exchanged ideas and stories, music, dancing and laughter. A perfect day, sleep time after.
The next morning Todd and I were up early for breakfast then wandered out in the little town of Tura. It was alive at 7AM in the morning, the main market very close to where we were staying. It was chilly, this place was up in the hills and moving into winter time of year. I needed a cheap watch and bought one for $3 in a little shop. The strap quickly broke but the watch worked
fine for the rest of my trip.
This was the big day of the festival! My friend Alva arrived, picked us up along with the journalist Pheroze and the American music teacher Skye. We zoomed out to the festival grounds again, it turns out that Alva does rally car racing in her spare time so we got there quickly.
We were ushered into the VIP section, big crowds started to assemble. The governor of the whole state of Meghalaya and his machine gun protected security contingent arrived soon after we got seated. He was placed just in front of us and cracked a big welcoming smile at us. He seems much beloved. The security detail is important. We have learned about the GLF, Garo Liberation Front separatists active in these hills close by.
There is a war between the government forces and the GLF in this region. The government labels them as terrorists, the GLF believes they are trying to liberate their homeland and is involved in smuggling and arms dealing and occasional hostage taking to finance their operations. There are many places to hide in these hills and the GLF certainly has sympathizers. Just the night
before only 10km from here, there was a scary incident. Things seemed to be escalating, each side getting a bit more brazen.
The incident that happened the night before was explained to me like this. A few weeks earlier the government had raided the home of one of the GLF leaders and although the leader wasn't home, roughed up his wife and scared his family. So, last night the GLF sprayed bullets at the police chief's home, not attempting to hurt his family but as a clear warning to fight fair and keep families out of the conflict.
This day brought much pomp and circumstance. The government ministers were all introduced, our friend Dr. Alva Sangma's book was accepted by the governor for release. She was all smiles and gave an excellent speech about preservation of cultural traditions in the Garo community.
We were given tea, food, special tribal necklaces to wear. We were invited to take photos wherever we wanted, treated the same in that respect as official journalists.
All kinds of dance troupes performed on this special day, including monkey dances and a variety of musical instruments. The mood was happy, brotherhood and sisterhood. The
day culminated in the incredible full Wangala 10 drums, all of the troupes performing in front of the governor and all of us. At the end, the Westerners were invited to dance around the grounds with the full group, they gave us shields, swords to carry and taught us some basic chants. The crowds howled with laughter as we butchered the dance moves.
Todd and I took a break, walked over to the handicraft area and bought some nice textiles. We had a very nice chicken and spinach meal over rice, lots more tea and then rested for awhile.
We left the festival grounds basking happily in the memories of the day that just happened. We had another gathering at Gunn's house, my tired body had begum to catch up with me so I called it a night by 10PM. The next day was a travel day so I needed sleep.
I woke early, walked out to a cool misty Tura morning. Todd joined me, we had fresh bread, dahl curry, eggs and tea for breakfast. Soon, the American teacher in Delhi named Skye wandered up to our place. Skye needed to get to a large town in
Guwahati, Assam that was 4 hours away to meet her husband who was flying in. Gunn was going to Guwahati to catch flight to Bangalore to see her son. We all piled in and were on our way, music playing and lots of laughter.
We rolled down from the chilly and beautiful hills of West Garo and edged closer to Assam, the next state over. Where the people of West Garo had been mostly of Himalayan appearance, as we moved closer to Assam and crossed into it, most of the people looked like what you might imagine Hindu looking like. In fact, most of the people were Hindu, some Muslims.
We got to Guwahati, a city of millions on the banks of the mighty Brahmaputra River, one of the biggest rivers in the world. This river originates high in the Himalayas and continues all the way to the Bay of Bengal, feeding many near its banks with fertile soil. The food changed as well, we stopped for lunch of masala and paneer cheese. We dropped off Gunn, got to the airport and picked up Skye's husband Matt. We were fortunate that the airport was on the outskirts of
Guwahati, were able to get out of town without crazy amounts of traffic.
We got to know Skye's husband Matt on the drive. he is originally from the Spokane area of our state. He had been trapped in Guwahati for a couple days waiting for Skye. They had planned a vacation and now they could get started. We climbed back up into the hills of East Meghalaya, headed on a 4 hour drive to Shillong, the capitol. We dropped Skye and Matt at a picturesque lake north of Shillong and Todd and I rolled into Shillong on this Sunday at about 5PM.
This town of one million was buzzing, everybody riding around on the top of buses, many of them coming home from afternoon church. The Baptist and other Christian denominations are strong in this area, years ago it was the "hill station" in this area where colonial leaders would retreat to get out of the heat. At 5000 feet, it was called the "Scotland" of India, quite cool and often rainy. When we arrived, it was very cold. The people were the most Western we saw on this trip in attitude, dress and music. Rock and roll
is huge here. It seemed to be a very clean and modern town, also the regional location of the India army so lots of that presence about.
Our multi talented friend Alva owns the newspaper in Tura West Garo and in turn knows journalists all over the region. She had connected us with a journalist friend named Banjop in Shillong who would join us on the next part of our journey. We called him and waited near a hospital in the cool air for him to arrive. After about 30 minutes, a smiling Banjop pulled up and walked up to meet us with a very young 18 year old Western guy. We were thrilled to see the smiling Banjop and curious about his tagalong. It turned out that this kid named Colton was from Iowa and a great young man. He had no plans after high school, his Unitarian minister in Iowa had friends in this part of India and suggested he come for awhile. What a great way to learn I think. Colton would join us on the next adventure, we all piled in the car and sped off.
We left Shillong behind and two hours later
at about 9PM pulled into a little lodge near Cherupungee. The ride was gorgeous, lush as we were reaching the wettest part of India. From the highland where we were, we were quite close and could see the Bangladeshi plains far below. We settled in our rooms at the lodge, mainly catering to domestic tourists who come to see this beautiful part of the country. We had a hearty meal of pork, rice, eggplant, dahl and tea in the common mess hall. After a long day on the road, we crashed quickly to sleep.
The next morning we were up, feeling rested, strong and ready for the hike that was coming.
We got our pack lunches ready, took a quick ride down to the little town of Tyrna and immediately hit the trail headed toward the ancient root bridges. The way down wasn't so bad, 2500 stair steps. On the way down we lost elevation quickly, realizing that we would have pure pain when we came back up. We passed through tiny little traditional Khasi people villages, canyon walls, waterfalls and lush landscape looming in the distance. This place was truly beautiful. We learned a local word for hello
"Kuble", and used it often. We passed local tribal people on the trail who must be in tremendous shape hiking these hills each day.
Our little pack of 5 people were laughing and enjoying each other, crossing bridges, steep trails and huge boulders. We finally reached the little village called Nongriat, the closest village to the amazing root bridges. I took a deep breath, remembered months earlier how I had read about the root bridges and became entranced by them. It is wild to visualize something and then be on the doorstep of your dream. We saw a little sign welcoming us to the village, asking for a small donation to help. We stopped to visit with a local man, he pointed us beyond the village.
We walked on through the woods through jungle like vegetation, lots of spiders, a soccer field in the middle of nowhere. I bring little gifts when I travel for people I meet along the way. This time I brought hair clips and ponytails for little girls, crayons and rubber bouncing balls for kids, magnifying glasses for elders with vision problems. We had to do something on this little soccer field, I reached
in my bag, pulled out a little bouncing ball and we played a short game with the tiniest ball ever. Good times.
We walked on, over more large boulders and past brilliant blue swimming holes. We wanted to dive in right them but Banjop encouraged us to wait. We crossed a huge span over one river on a rickety swaying metal bridge. Up over a couple more rises and in front of us was the double decker root bridge. It is hard to explain how amazing it looked, cross between a Tolkien story and the ewok's hideout in Star Wars for those of you old enough to remember that.
We had arrived at the root bridges about 9:00AM because we got such an early start. Local Khasi people passed back and forth over the bridges, waved and smiled gently. We met a sweet young Indian couple on holiday, besides that it was only us and remarkably peaceful. To think that these bridges were created hundreds of years ago, banyan tree roots and runners trained slowly over many generations over raging rivers. The rivers were calm now but during monsoon season explode with fury. The bridges themselves have roots
on the bottom and on each side as handrails. The bridges are large enough for two people to pass in places, made more passable by putting dirt and stones on the place where people walk.
After chasing brilliantly colored butterflies who would never quite let me photograph them and taking photos from all angles of the bridges, we sat down next to a pool just below the double decker bridge and had our box lunch. We visited more with the India nationals, fed some fish.
I took some peaceful time to meditate above the bridge, found an amazing little place behind some giant boulder where the sun gently streamed through. After another hour or so, we ripped ourselves away from the bridges and headed on.
We crossed another single root bridge that was no less spectacular and climbed up some fantastic root ladders to the top of a massive rock mesa looking over the cliffs in the distance, the jungle all around and the most stunning blue pools below. There was a drop off on the mesa, river and pools probably 200 feet below. I needed to get in the water, it looked so beautiful.
down some steep trails, winded and sweaty on this day that was getting warmer. Todd and I dove in, the water was quite cool and refreshing. I swam over to a little waterfall, we rejoined our group and hit the trail back in the direction we had come. After another stop at the double decker bridge, I took a deep breath and walked past it. When you travel, you see some amazing things, this was one of the best ever. I knew in my heart that I probably wouldn't see it again so took it in and held it in my memory.
As we walked through the woods back to Nongriat village, I was in a bit of a dream state, blissful at what I had just seen. We came across two tribal guys who were hoisting a huge log onto a platform for sawing. They were using branches and logs as levers to get it slowly up on this platform. Todd and I asked if we could help, they shook their heads "no", We insisted, thinking we could help. We pushed on one side on the log, they pushed on the other.
We must have pushed too
hard, the supporting branches collapsed and the huge log dropped quickly to the ground. We jumped out of the way, me not in time. One of the supporting branches was trapped under the log and the branch fell hard on my ankle, forced into me by the log. I screamed in pain, after 20 seconds or so the guys ripped it off of me. I had worn good hiking boots, the metal eyes were completely straightened out by the force. The fact that the eyes were there and the boot came up above my ankle, probably saved me from a broken ankle.
My heart was thumping. Besides ruining these guys' sawing platform, I had almost had a real accident. My ankle was really sore. I could walk but I knew it would get worse. We got to Nongriat village and rested. The guys wanted to hang out a little bit. I knew my ankle would only be getting worse and that I would have to move much more slowly than the others. Knowing this, I grabbed a bamboo walking stick and headed slowly up the trail myself, thinking with a half hour head start, we would make it just
about the same time.
I was doing okay, just moving very slowly. Thank God I had water, I needed it. The hike back up the 2500 stairs was brutal. That number of stairs may not sound large to you but you have no idea how tough it was, probably 2000 feet elevation gain. The stairs provided almost no break. It was demoralizing to look up at them as they seemed endless. My ankle was throbbing. I got in a zone, just looked down at the stairs one at a time. I am glad I was in good cardio shape for the trip, after a seemingly endless slog I finally got to the village at the top. The walking stick helped a lot, my ankle hurt but could have been worse.
I pulled off my shirt and was greeted by a pack of local kids. I broker out some ponytails and bouncing balls and they were all smiles. They seen in these parts to have a strangely clear knowledge of WWF fake wrestling, I learned later that lots of people watch it on TV. Anyway, I flexed for them and did my best fake wrestling imitation, as did my
friend Todd when he got up to the top with me. All the kids screamed with laughter and said "John Cena, John Cena", who is a massive wrestling star, not that I know much about him.
I collapsed my tired body into our car, we all had a joyous ride across the plateaus on the way back to Cherupungee. We passed a massive cement factory, I guess one of the biggest in India.
We rolled into the little town of Cherupungee, cool air outside, now about 2PM in the afternoon. We walked through a little market, lots of fruits and betel nut for sale. We ducked into a little food place through a tiny little door. The food was excellent, lots of fish, pork, potatoes and greens. The three cups of tea perked me up.
We zoomed an hour and a half or so back to Shillong, the air was very cold and preparations for Diwali, the festival of lights, were in full force. This town looked prosperous and I learned that this is true. We sadly said goodbye and dropped off Banjop and Colton. It is hard to believe that we spent just 24 hours with them.
The intensity and breathtaking quality of our adventure made it seem that we had known them for much longer.
Now it was just me, Todd and our driver Sanjip Momin. This was amazing, the driver for our friend Gunn Marak had stayed with us for two days. Thanks Gunn! We had a tea at a roadside stand and stretched out in the car for our 3 hour drive back into Guwahati. I napped for awhile. We had found out that our friend Alva Sangma was going to be at a small apartment that she keeps in Guwahati with Gunn, we had been invited to stay in one of the rooms. This would be great as we had a flight the next day from Guwahati airport.
We rolled into the large town of Guwahati. Being a more Hindu area, people were excitedly preparing for Diwali, Vibrantly colored orange marigold flower were everywhere, banana trees were being sold and put in place in front of all the businesses. Excitement was in the air. Sanjip Momin's phone wasn't working, we borrowed someone's phone on the street and called Alva.
We got to the apartment, Alva had an amazing meal ready for
us of fish and chicken curry, rice, cauliflower and tea. Delicious, we had a nice visit and then I collapsed and slept hard.
The next day was Diwali, a huge holiday in India and with Hindus all over the world. Diwali marks the end of the harvest season in most of India. Farmers give thanks for the bounty of the year gone by, pray for a good harvest the year to come. Traditionally this marked the closing of accounts for businesses dependent on the agrarian cycle, the last major celebration
before winter. Lakshmi symbolizes wealth and prosperity, and her blessings are invoked for a good year ahead.
There are two legends that associate the worship of Lakshmi on this day. According to the first legend, on this day, Lakshmi emerged from Kshira Sagar, the Ocean of Milk, during the great churning of the oceans. The second legend (more popular in western India) relates to the Vamana avatar of the big three Vishnu, the incarnation he assumed to kill the king Bali. On this day, Vishnu came back to his abode the Vaikuntha;so those who worship Lakshmi receive the benefit of her benevolent mood, and are blessed with mental,
physical and material well-being.
This morning my ankle felt quite tender but a little better. After some delicious leftovers from the night before, Alva took us out to see the Brahmaputra River, really nice vistas over this massive body of water. She took us up to Kamakhya Hindu Temple, which sits on a plateau near the river. This ancient temple in very important to Hindus and many many come here for pilgrimage. The way it was described to us is that it is a very important center for tantric worship of female sensual power associated with the Hindu goddess Sati, this link explains if you want more info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sati_%28goddess%29.
Many people wait for the better part of a day to get into the inner sanctum of this temple. We weren't going to do that but thought we would have a look around. Alva stayed in the car, Todd and I walked over to this little temple near the main temple. We saw about 15 people on a the little temple grass sitting on the ground and having food served to them. Cows were ambling by, one came up and kept playfully nudging hard into me. What the heck,
we sat down and got served some naan bread and dahl. One of the organizers came over to us and said hello. They asked us who we were and they smiled and welcomed us. All of the organizers came over and had photos taken with us. It turns out that the organizers were members of a well-off housing development who each year come to feed the poor. We all got a good laugh and visited with the organizers and the people eating the food. It was one of those totally unplanned great moments.
We walked over toward the main temple, lots of souvenir stands, places to buy holy items. We checked our shoes and then were approached by an intense looking holy man, I think a priest of some note. He stayed with us for the next hour and toured us around the grounds and temple, asking nothing from us except that we honor where we were. He told us that this temple is so old, so revered that people don't even speak of how old it is. We walked near the inner sanctum of the temple, saw sacrificed buffalo and goats. It was intense, the smells, sights and
The architecture and setting of the temple was breathtaking, people all around.
As we walked away from the temple, dazed, people kept coming up and asking to have their photo taken with us for their memories. Foreign tourists are rare here, we didn't see any others.
We walked back to the car, Alva looked amused with our escapades. We drove to the Guwahati airport, which wasn't that far away. It had been a great morning. We waved goodbye, walked through the airport doors and easily made it to our gate in time. For Diwali, there were decorations in front of the check in counter and at the gate. People were in festive mood. WE had another tea and a nice chat with a doctor while waiting for our flight. He was from Bangalore
and on his way to do some medical teaching in a remote part of India.
We boarded, getting lots of looks again as we were the only foreigners on board. We lifted off and flew 45 minutes to the east northeast over the mighty Brahmaputra River. WE could see the Himalayas off to the north. We touched down in Dibrugarh, everyone saying "Diwali Mabarak!"
or "Happy Diwali". We had come to this town of about 100,000 to have a real Diwali experience and as a gateway to some more adventures in the Northeast of India. We came out from the airport to a bit of chaos, rickshaw drivers all trying to get fares from us and other passengers.
We hopped in with one of them and sped off to town. On the way, tea plantations were stretched as far as the eye could see, this is the tea that Assam is famous for the world over. The plantations hearken to British colonial times, well kept buildings from this time could be seen.
I picked Dibrugarh off a map, not really knowing anything about it. No one else seemed to either, perfect. Besides being the jumping off point to head up farther into the Himalayas, it is a region known for tea, universities and some commerce. Before we came and knowing Diwali might be busy, we held a room at a place called Rajawas Inn. Just for fun when I booked the room, I mentioned in my email that if anyone knew of any local Diwali parties we would love if they would tell
us. So we drove into Dibrugarh with no plans but excited.
We checked in to our room, the place was pretty nice actually, AC and flat screen TV, very very comfortable. We walked around this vibrant town, caught a ride out the the train station and back. We heard there were a few pubs in this town, we went investigating and found mostly dark, seedy places with gangster looking people inside. Todd wasn't feeling well, it was now about 4PM. We had some good room service food and some local whiskey and coke. We kicked back and luxuriously watched soccer on TV, Todd caught a nap while I wandered outside and checked the internet.
I stopped by the front desk and was told that the owner of the hotel wanted to talk with me on the phone. I though "did I do something wrong?", funny "I've been caught" type feeling. Clearly I hadn't, my worst transgression was running the AC on really cold and having a whiskey in the quiet of my room. I picked up the phone, the owner was calling from her villa nearby. She and her husband invited us to a private Diwali dinner at
her house with friends and family. They wanted to send a car for us at 7. Of course I said yes, fantastic!
I went back to the room, roused my sick friend Todd, told him he had to rally to dinner. He somehow pulled it together, the car came for us and we were off. The owners' villa was about 4 miles outside of town, down a quiet little lane. It was a two story quite gracious home, lots of beautiful hardwood and polished marble floors. We were welcomed graciously, met a number of friends and then had a lovely dinner. It turned out that this family had businesses in hospitality, air conditioners, organic tea plantations and a number of things. They were amused by the stories of our journey so far and we all had a great meal. After an hour or so, they said "let's go!"
We all hopped in cars and raced back to the hotel. Soon I was to learn why. On the night of Diwali, each business sets off fireworks in front of it. Also, there are many tea lights and lanterns in front of each place, and the banana trees I mentioned
before. The fireworks were serious, big ones that exploded way up in the sky. It seemed that each business was competing to have bigger fireworks. It was raucous, a bit dangerous and very fun.
We walked down one of the main streets, people grabbing us left and right for photos and smiles. It was almost a gauntlet of fireworks to walk through, many of the kids running bravely through it. We hugged the side of the buildings, loving the energy but a bit fearful of the chaos. We made it back to the room, said goodnight and slept soundly until morning. I think the fireworks went on much of the night, judging by the piles of debris in the morning.
This trip was turning out to be one great day after another. We woke in the morning, this was to be the day we headed for Majuli Island, another place I was fascinated with. We had a really good breakfast in our room, visited the home and office of a local tea merchant and plantation owner. We packed our bags, said a few goodbyes, my ankle was feeling better. We hopped a ride with a couple Muslim guys
with huge smiles on their faces. The roads were somewhat rutted on the outskirts of Dibrugarh, soon we reached roads that were in better shape and cruised fast for a few hours, all the time they were loudly blasting Indian music that had a Hispanic sound to it. We stopped for tea and food, rolling past endless tea plantations.
The rocking Indian techno continued, we passed many rice fields, brick factories, the sun was burning bright in the sky. Everyone in these parts seems to chew betel nut so we thought we would try it. Our drivers thought this was hilarious, we wrapped chunks of the nuts in the green leaf with a little white paste that they gave us. This is supposed to be a mild stimulant, to me it was bitter and made me drool. I spat it out, my drivers were howling.
As we reached the next city, called Jorhat, our driver started driving even faster through congested areas. It was hair-raising, sometimes you just have to trust and believe. WE turned before Jorhat and headed out a 4 mile road toward the Brahmaputra River. WE passed more golden rice fields, little huts in the
field, more smiling people. The land was very fertile as we reached the river basin. Our destination was Nimati Ghat, we got there soon after.
We asked directions, hopped on a ferry and then thankfully and quickly realized it was the wrong one before it left. We drove on a bit more and got to the main ferry terminal, bustling with activity, buses, hawkers, food stalls. We hopped out of the car, waved goodbye to our boys and people hustled us down to the main afternoon ferry to Majuli, which was about to leave. We got our tickets and were just about the last ones on the heavily laden boat, crammed in the midst of cars, motorcycles, goats, cows, food and people everywhere, probably 200 people. The men upstairs, women below out of the sun. We crammed in amongst people toward the bow, the masses parted welcomingly just enough for us to throw our heavy packs down and sit on them.
On our boat as we pulled away, we noticed once again we were the only visible Westerners on board. As always, people came over for photos, bought us cups of tea, lots of smiles and backslapping. This
island we were going to was the origin of an old form of caste-free Hinduism, on the island are very important temples which we hoped to see. On our boat there were a number of holy Hindu priests, they smiled gently at us. The indigenous Mising (not missing) people of Majuli Island were all around us, again quite Himalayan looking.
We chugged slowly out into the Brahmaputra River, the air was nice and refreshing. We passed loads of sandbars and fishermen, some very big fish come out of this river. After an hour or so, we saw Majuli Island in the distance. We turned up a small inlet and after an hour or so more, our overworked boat pulled up to the port of Majuli Island which was an eroding riverbank. Ropes were secured, big planks put lout to the ferry and in a flurry everyone rushed to get off. We thought about waiting but then jumped into the fray and made our way up the steep grade.
Majuli Island was a place I had discovered months before when researching Northeast India. In my reading, it took on a mystical quality to me. I didn't know why I
was been drawn there so strongly. I would soon find out. Majuli is the biggest river island in the world, used to be 1200 square kilometers. In the 1950s, there was a massive earthquake that many believe altered the direction of the BrahmaPutra River, the island has now eroded to 700 square kilometers, only half of its former size. Many of the temples, called satras, have had to be relocated. Every year during the rainy season, the floods wreak havoc on this island, somehow they hang on.
I give you this for context: Krishna, the popular Hindu god is supposed to have played here with his friends. While this is speculative, the locals speak in the Assamese language. However, what is certain is Mājuli has been the cultural capital of Assamese civilisation since the 16th century; based on written records describingthe visit of Srimanta Sankardeva— a 16th century social reformer. Sankardeva, a pioneer of the medieval-age neo-vaishnavite movement, preached a monotheist form of Hinduism called as Vaishnavism and established monasteries and hermitages known as satras on the islet.
The embankment was buttressed with sand bags and boards, this is a non-stop struggle to fight the river. The bank was sandy and steeply sloped. The motos and cars sped up the slope, we followed. At the top, it was horribly sandy and dusty, like being in the middle of a desert during a sandstorm. We hopped on a minibus heading in the direction we thought we wanted to go. Dust was everywhere, we had no room, no plans, all we could do was laugh. The road was extremely bumpy, our heads were being smacked against the ceiling. On the ride into town, we found out that there was a huge festival the next day, we would be fortunate to find any room.
We had met a few guys on the boat, one of them a young man about 20 years old named Pranzit. He was a university student near Guwahati, had come out to Majuli Island to see his girlfriend. He hopped in the minibus with us and asked if he could share a room with us on Majuli. We happily agreed, he was also wonderful when it came to translating. His English was quite good and not many people on Majuli island seemed to speak English.
We passed through the first town, this island was incredibly scenic, mostly rural. We got to the second town, called Garamur, we had heard that we might be able to find a room here. It was a long shot, we checked in a few places and then finally found one place that had space. The manager brought us over to very cool looking rustic thatched structure. He said "I might have room in the dormitory room", we didn't know what he meant but were in no position to say no to anything. He opened the door of this very cool structure, it was excellent.
There were four beds, $4 each, in each corner of the room. We paid $12 and kept one bunk open in case any one else came. Thatched hut, bamboo floors, shower stall outside, mosquito net stretched over hardwood bed, goats bleating and chickens crowing outside. We were home!
We stretched our legs from the day's craziness, threw our things down and took a stroll outside.
The people who ran our little place brought us some milk tea, then called us over to dinner in
a little native tribal hut. Food was cooked over a fire vented through the top of the structure. It was dimly lit inside and really cozy. We sat at little bamboo tables and were served a delicious meal, eaten with our hands, of rice, fish, fish soup, more fish and veggies. There was an older couple from Holland in the hut with us who didn't talk much. I'm glad I like fish. Nice meal, the manager asked me if I wanted some local rice wine and brought over a jug of it for free. We were in a pretty rural setting at the edge of Garumar town. It was very quiet. After dinner, Todd and Pranzit crashed, Todd was still fighting being sick.
I walked outside, heard some noises from one of the other huts on the property. I walked up to one hut, recognized a guy from New Zealand who had been photographing a lot at the Wangala Festival. He was talking with two Brits, Ollie and Sophia. They were a couple traveling around the world for one year together. The Kiwi guy had taken stunning photos from all over India and was sharing them on his laptop. He was a very gifted photographer. I had way more rice wine than I needed so I passed it around. I said goodnight and hopped in bed for a hard sleep.
I was up early the next morning with my ankle feeling pretty good. Todd was still sleeping, Pranzit and I took a morning walk for about an hour down little lanes, through farm fields, past an old temple and a local jail. It was a great walk, it was just so peaceful on Majuli, miles away from the crazy Diwali celebration of a couple days ago. We had a tea near a bustling little fish market close to our place, went back and roused Todd for breakfast. We sat in the dimly lit thatched hut, more tea brewing and roti being cooked over an open flame. I gave a bouncing ball to a little girl in the family, she was quietly playing with it in the corner. Breakfast was the roti, milk tea, potatoes cooked with yummy onions with eggs.
After breakfast, we did some laundry in a bucket, lay in the sun for a nap. We found out where the festival is, it is called Palnam at one of the main temples. We have heard that there are people from all over Assam and saw evidence of that on our ferry. We walked into Garamur town, caught a crowded bus into Kamalibari town then took another bus out to the festival.
We parked and walked toward the festival, our bus couldn't go anymore because the roads were crowded. There were people everywhere, brilliant colors, festive atmosphere. It was fantastic! We saw a museum, had food with a large group of Hindus, walked over a bridge along with many people over to the main temple. I estimate that there were 10,000 people at this festival, not another Westerner in sight. We were with our buddy Pranzit and got to meet his girlfriend. It was cute, they were very shy together. She was from a pretty conservative family, the festival would be one of the only times they would see each other.
We went inside the temple, I lost Todd for about an hour. The inside of the temple was packed with festival goers, some getting blessings from the priests who poured water on their heads. The inside of the main chamber of the temple was filled with smoke from incense, a whirlwind of candles, loud chanting, praying and kids shouting religious verses, guided by older priests.
Fun, fun, fun. We had some tea on a corner and a variety of local snacks. We hopped on a very overcrowded bus and hung off the sides with the air on our faces as we headed back to town.
We got off in Kamalibari, I got an amazing haircut and straight razor shave, drawing a huge crowd at the barber. I got onto the internet with a surprisingly good connection.
We got back to Garamur town, Todd went to rest some more. I got some great photos and then hung out with a little group of kids who were playing a joyous game of tag. I can still remember their voices "kibati, kibati, kibati". I walked down a long lane, the sun was getting low in the sky and reds and oranges were showing. I visited with some policemen at a station, many of the guys who worked there were playing a pretty serious game of volleyball. Farmers waved at me from the rice fields, I made my way back toward my room and was surprised by a nasty group of monkeys fighting with each other, jumping through the giant bamboo trees next to the road.
I took a big, big two hour nap, we all had yummy dinner in the little thatched eating hut of fish, rice, chicken, veggies, lentils. The Brits were staying right next to us, I really liked them. It turned out that we were both going to leave the island two days later and chatted about sharing a ride. Todd and I sat around and did some planning for the next day and then it was sleep time.
The next morning was the 16th of November, I was feeling so relaxed and in a good travel groove. Todd and I walked into Garumar town with Pranzit to say goodbye, he had to go to the ferry. It was sad to leave that kid, as it had been with everyone we met on our path. I had milk tea, roti and lentils for breakfast with Todd. Todd and I rented rickety old bikes for the day, threw on daypacks and hit the road. We had an idea where we were going but had no idea the fun we were about to have.
We rode out toward the other side of the island, supposedly there was a ferry that crossed to the mainland on the north side of the river. We rode down little roads that turned into trails that turned into paths. We stopped to see some local Mising tribal people fishing in a shallow pond using traditional methods of burrowing a bamboo basket in the mud and trapping the fish in it when they came up. They were initially shy but became quite welcoming as soon as we brought out some of the ponytail holders and bouncing balls. Some of the fish were surprisingly large.
We kept biking down a gorgeous little lane, stopped to look at fishing boats and take photos. We were passed by a few bicycles impossibly laden with blankets and other things for market. We were waved over by some Mising tribal guys who were sitting on a corner under a little bamboo structure to stay out of the sun. They were taking a break, having been out fishing earlier. The broke out the rice wine, called "Apong". We had a few drinks with them, I gave them some fish hooks, sinkers and line I had brought along as a gift.
We went down a long path over palm fronds layed across the sand until we came to what we thought was a small river. I will never forget the little ferry, almost like an over-sized bamboo raft. The ferry was drawn across the small gently flowing river by a hand drawn rope. We stopped for a quick tea on the other side, then biked many miles through little villages close to the river. The path was hilly in places, we biked under massive stands of bamboo and giant rubber trees.
We surprised a number of people in little settlements and surprised ourselves to learn we were on the mainland on the north side of the river. We had no idea that the north side ferry would be so small or so short. We decided there must be a bigger ferry so carried on for awhile, asked a few questions. No one spoke English over here, we kept saying the name of the ferry "Lohit Ghat", until we found it. It was fun being lost for awhile, we finally found our ferry and crossed back with our bicycles to Majuli. It had been a great day and it was barely noon.
We took a long probably ten mile bike ride past Garumar and all the way to the outskirts of Kamalabari town, our asses aching from broken down bike seats. We visited a very ancient satra (temple) called Uttar Kamalabari, met the priests, young disciples and got to see the inner temple and spartan rooms where the priests live. We biked into town, had a big lunch of rice and lots of fish. We checked internet, Todd left before me to head home, it was getting too late. I stayed a bit too late and had to haul quickly on the way back. I got to a scenic bridge I had seen earlier and got some stunning photos of a fisherman on the netting of a boat in a dramatic sunset with mountains in the background. I rode very quickly through the approaching darkness back to Garumar town. I was very sweaty, the bucket shower felt great when I got back.
My mate Todd and I had a trip chat when I got back, decided to fly to Calcutta 2 days earlier than we had planned to preserve substantial time in Bangladesh to let us have a real Sunderbans experience and perhaps even find a beach on the Bay of Bengal. We made plans to share a ride the next day with the Brits, I was hard to sleep by 8:30PM and woke early the next morning at 4:30AM. When I woke, I lay in bed under my mosquito net for some time. It was quite chilly this time of year out here on Majuli Island, one blanket was hardly enough. The early morning light was filtering in through my hut in little specks and streams and looked pretty.
Todd and I went for an early morning walk, saw loads of monkeys, they were a little too close for my comfort. Okay, we packed our bags, grabbed a quick bite, said good bye to our kind hosts and hopped a ride with Ollie and Sophia in a car headed for the ferry. We were excited to travel. The ride there was considerably less dust than I remembered when we arrived, which seemed so long ago. We just missed the first ferry, had some morning tea on the riverbank and caught the next one. It was packed to the brim just like the one we came over on, I guess all of them are like that. Ollie and Sophia went below, Todd and I sat on the deck and caught sun all the way to the mainland, shirts off to the amusement of the locals.
We were surrounded as usual with inquisitive faces, got in on a game of cards they were playing as we chugged by massive sandbank islands. Tea was purchased for us again, it often seemed to come out of nowhere. This river is truly massive, saw some river dolphins in the distance. We edged closer to Nimati Ghat and the mainland. I was surprised that people seemed to get off in more of an orderly fashion than when we reached Majuli. Our fellow passengers offered to help with our bags, we strolled off the boat and hooked up with Ollie and Sophia. The scene at the top of the ferry ramp was chaotic, we found a driver to ride share with the Brits for a good price.
We were off to Kaziranga National Park, the jewel of Assam and famous the world over as a place of great natural beauty, A World Heritage site. This incredible park on the south bank of the Brahmaputra is 166 square miles, the best place in the world to see one horned rhinos and maybe if you are lucky, a Bengal tiger. Our driver was the fastest driver of our whole trip, I held my breath most of the ride. Most of the ride we looked out at tea plantations, rolling hills with the Himalayas distantly viewed to the north. Todd slept, Ollie and Sophia and I had a nice chat about their crazy travels all over India. These guys were about 25 years old, they had worked hard in jobs to save enough money to travel for a year. I liked their vibe and spirit.
We rolled into Khohora (the town closest to Kaziranga) about noon, the driver stayed with us until we found a room at a place called Bonhabi, about 1.5 miles east of the Rhino Gate and entrance to the park. The rooms were little cottages, the eating lodge in front was made to feel like days gone by, lots of hardwoods and open air, classic safari photos on the wall. The rooms were cozy, we got cottages right next to Ollie and Sophia. Originally we had talked about going out on safari this day but the Brits were feeling sick. We decided we would all go the next day, Todd and I headed into town to explore.
This town of Khohora had the most touristy vibe of any place we had been the whole trip. It wasn't bad, kind of fun actually. Many people who come to Assam just go here and not many places more. Most of the tourists were Indian nationals, for sure a few Westerners sprinkled in though. Todd and I gathered info on the logistics of going on safari, had a great meal of thali with chicken, pork, veggies, dahl, roti and tea. We got a really good internet connection and were actually able to change our flight reservation to Calcutta, great news to have that sorted.
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