Why you will fall madly in love with Meghalaya?

Wild romance with nature…

The love affair begins in the flight to Guwahati as your gaze is transfixed at the snowy outline of the Himalayan peaks in the far distance. You ignore the silent protest your neck makes from being subject to a weirdly obtuse angle. Its the only way you can successfully trace the entire length and width of that unbelievably massive waterbody miles below you. No, being called a river just doesn’t do her justice, you conclude decisively. Brahmaputra is in a different league altogether.

The rose-colored lenses don’t come off for a moment of the 4-hour drive to Shillong. A light drizzle, an idyllic mountain road, a comfortably wide, four-lane curving smoothly through generously packed forestry all the way. Stop keeping count of the flora and fauna…there are hundreds. As a huge cantonment area and stream of traffic approaches, you know the city is near. Focus on its inimitable character…profusion of purple bougainvillaea, quaint houses with slanting roofs, hedged front gardens and pine-tree lined roads. Meghalaya’s capital has some lovely elements, but more than that, its your base for exploring the vast and verdant East Khasi hills. So tee off into the greens without further ado!

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Row a boat

Roll down your car windows and let your hair get impossibly entangled in that pure, fresh mountain breeze. Draw deep breaths, fill your lungs. It’s an addiction…you can’t take your eyes off the shroud of vibrant green that enveloping you. Miles of surprisingly impeccable roads snaking along vast, flat plains, undulating valleys, deep canyons and broad plateaus, the drive is rife with variety. Catch the quiet villages as they slip by, watching locals sit in companionable silence. Notice the randomly scattered monoliths…symbols of tribute to the dead. Observe the tombstones and crosses on tops of small hillock and locate old churches somewhere nearby. 

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Crossing dozens of seemingly deserted villages hidden in the thick forest cover, the now-narrow road affords enticing peeks of the Umngot River and the Bangladesh plain. Halt at the little town of Dawki, where enthusiastic boat-hawkers gang up, offering their best deals. Here a suspension bridge over Umngot river connects India and Bangladesh. You can’t take your eyes off the turquoise-emerald shimmering waters dotted with slim fishing boats, even as you gingerly negotiate the rocky, makeshift path down to the shore. Step onto one of the boats, grab an oar. Float ethereally over that stunning, transparent water, allow yourself to be amazed by those colors. Glide past the gigantic rocks glistening with delicate trickles, the smooth stones gleaming under the river’s surface and the sun dancing on the waves. And just be. Three-hour drive? Worth every micro-second.

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Walk over roots

At Riwai village, trek a rocky terrain through the thick forest in search of a fascinating natural wonder…a living root bridge! Locals have indigenously moulded aerial roots of this rubber tree such that they have grown to form a bridge over the stream flowing underneath. Hundreds of intricately entwined and tangled roots! No rope, just mud and stones inserted into gaps for sturdiness. Messy, but good enough to hold upto 50 people. Click away, but no touching please! A lovely waterfall gurgles over flat rock-slabs studded with natural cavities…like stone flooring in a man-made pool. Linger. Hear the sounds of the water. Envy the villagers’ natural habitat.

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2 kilometers away, be a guest at Asia’s cleanest village, Mawlynnong. No ‘show village’, its for real! With just 90 families and a flood of visitors. Revel in the simplicity of the image…traditional bamboo-wooden houses, paved walkways, even a picturesque church. Pretty gardens overflowing with flowers, butterflies and birds. meticulous plant arrangements, trimmed hedges, neat backyards, conical bamboo waste baskets at every few meters. Chat with friendly, smiling locals…know how the high cleanliness standards started after an outbreak of cholera more than a century ago, and turned into an enduring lifestyle. Sample authentic food at one of the dozens of eateries or explore a home stay. Buy a straw souvenir.

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Kiss clouds

In the height of the monsoons, one would expect to get drenched in the wettest place on earth at any time of the year. But in Sohra, more popularly Cherrapunji (‘land of oranges’), rains are becoming less debilitating and waterfalls scantier due to deforestation. Not all is lost, though. You can still gloat over the region’s eye-candy. Lush, green meadows, interspersed with rocky, stone terrain. Squeaky clean landscape, laundered by constant spells of rain. Sleepy villages dotting endless farmlands. Tin-roofed houses tinged with colorful wildflowers in purple, pink, red and yellow. Lazily grazing sheep and cows and  children playing with mini bullock carts. Think about the matri-linear society of the region as you see a group of sarong-clad Khasi women walk by.

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And did I mention the ‘all-the-time, anytime’ clouds that Meghalaya (abode of the clouds) is loved for? How can you resist an inevitable walk in the clouds? Feel the coolness in the air and the caress on your cheeks? Dreamy mode on…this is as true as it gets! Before you head to the crowning glory of Cherrapunji, Nohkalikai Falls, India’s tallest plunge waterfall. Disappointed by the thick cover of mist and clouds? Have patience…it will clear in minutes, as unpredictably as it appears, slowly revealing her in all her majesty. Dropping from a sheer cliff 1115 feet high, the falls foam softly into a clear turquoise pool, before flowing on into a gentle stream far below. Thrill, awe, love, wonder…and a myriad other uplifting emotions will run through your veins, despite the tragic legend about a local woman who jumped off the cliff, that give the falls its name.

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Smell pine

Mandatory stop at Barapani or Umiam Lake. A large, clear blue lake, dotted with small grassy islands, and bordered by pine-covered hillocks, is an easy 20 kilometers short of Shillong. Opt for a boat ride or a walk along the banks. But better still, check into Ri Kinjai, a 45-acre resort, your passport to ‘serenity by the lake’. The cottages are inspired by Khasi architecture and rooms have balconies with views you can only imagine. Interiors styled with bamboo and thatch straw, indigenous musical instruments, local artefacts, plates of pine cones, natural wood branches and local wall hangings will add to the calm. Witness a surreal sunrise over Umiam Lake at 4.00 am, let your camera capture the ever-changing blues, mauves, greys, pinks of the sky and the lake. Chase the clouds…fluffy, floating, misty clouds that traverse the mountains in the distance and transform the hues of the glassy waters. 

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Then, invest your morning in a nature trail. Catch the reflection of tree branches in rain water puddles. Ponder on the delicacy of dewdrops on leaves. Stroll through the pine forest. Gather fallen pine cones to take back home. Smell the fragrance, inhale the freshness. Feel the softness of the sun bless your skin. And breathe!

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As you leave Meghalaya, the one image that will stick in your mind like a screensaver, will be of intense green fed by water. And an acute awareness that water is the driving force of this region, and indeed the lives of its people, in more ways than one, in its multiple avatars…wilful falls, sparkling rivers, gurgling streams, placid lakes, mystic mist and of course, the all-pervasive clouds. 

Itchy feet, yes?

 

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Explore the lush natural beauty of Meghalaya, India

Stroll in a cemetery that is worth a thousand pictures

Zagreb’s most surprising architectural gem…

Lovingly encased within seven acres of lush landscaped gardens, Miragoj Cemetery figures as one the top 20 must-visit places in the Croatia’s capital, Zagreb. The final resting place of 300,000 souls from diverse religions, created by architect Hermann Bollé, is one of Europe’s most beautiful cemeteries. 

A mere 10-minute bus journey from Kaptol in Zagreb’s Upper Town will take you conveniently to this remarkable landmark. The ogling will commence even as you roll along that endless, monumental brick wall draped with green-red ivy leaves. And as you cross the street towards the entrance, you will have to peel your eyes away from the 20 gorgeous onion-shaped lime-green onion cupolas crowning the wall. Be careful not to stub your toe on the sidewalk or knock over a dustbin. Indulge your eyes with the sight of the central dome of the Church of Christ the King that dominates the entryway. More drama waits to unfold inside.

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Beyond the gate, for nearly a half a mile to the left and right, lies a stunning Neo-Renaissance arcade. Pause at the elegant archway visible through the thick clumps of ivy carpeting the wall and let your eyes travel all the way to the end of the arcade. Your feet will guide you further. Impossible to resist a closer look at those decorative tiled floors, fine cast-iron lanterns, carved columns and graceful statues….all classic reminders of a museum! Pinch yourself as a reminder…this is a cemetery!

As you step outside to admire the entire structure yet again, consider the miracle…all this survived the massive earthquake of 1880, when more than 1700 houses in the neighbourhood were heavily damaged!

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But the real treasure of Miragoj lies in its sprawling gardens. What a stroke of genius that the city council not only acquired this stunning property from Ljudevit Gaj (Croatian reformer and poet), for use as a cemetery in 1872, but also retained and expanded the green expanses. 

Stroll along the numerous walking paths of this magnificent park to experience it in all its glory. Trace the shadows as the sun plays hide-and-seek under the tall chestnut, lime, maple and spruce trees. Find the birds that chirrup from among the dense bunches of leaves and feel the gentle breeze that ruffles your hair.

Chapels and mausoleums lie scattered around. Scan the lanes and lanes of graves, big and small, some enclosed within decorative grills, some with steps leading up, some mentioning multiple names of family members. Some graced with candles and flowers left by loving family and friends. Others as if they had been unvisited since years. You may identify tombstones of Franjo Tuđman, the first president of the Republic of Croatia, basketball player Drazen Petrovic. Many prominent citizens including poets, scientists, writers and politicians, are also buried here. 

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Depending on how you look at it, the walk is calming or disturbing. You certainly cannot ignore the fact that its a burial ground. Thousands and thousands of graves, spread over acres of lovely gardens. You wonder if visitors ever get lost in here…there don’t seem to be many directions or signboards. 

When you finally exit the Cemetery gate, maybe you will encounter a hearse arriving quietly, accompanied by a procession of solemn faces. The guard at the gate will ring a rope-bell to announce their arrival. You wait for them to pass through and the overriding thought in your mind is this. Miragoj is peaceful, artistic and graceful…like the rest of the city. And why not? The deceased deserve it!

 

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Miragoj Cemetery, as one the top 20 must-visit places in the Croatia’s capital, Zagreb

 

Get drenched in the stunning beauty of the Calanques cliffs

An unmissable experience off the coast of Marseille

Cut to 600 BC. Greek settlers from Phocaea step onto newly discovered shores, founding France’s oldest city and centuries of maritime activity. ‘Massalia’ goes on to attract a whopping 18,000 merchant ships each year.

Cut to today. A stunning U-shaped promenade, a pretty marina with yachts, sailboats, speedboats, fishing boats, and a terminal for tourist boat excursions. A nautical vision in blue and white surrounded by elegant, lemon and sand-colored mansions and rows of cafes. To the left, a gentle hill, crowned by a magnificent basilica and up ahead, two sprawling forts at the gaping mouth of the bay, which opens up into the vast sea. Massalia morphs into Marseille. Have you added the most unique city of Southern France to your itinerary?

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Warning! These two villages will make you go Dutch! 

Find your slice of quintessential Holland

Dreaming Dutch? Enterprising merchants, labouring engineers, seafaring sailors and slogging farmers in wooden clogs? Fine ships sailing the high seas? Black-and-white bovines grazing on lush grasses in a windmill-studded countryside? Make the dream a reality,  just 20 minutes away from bustling, cosmopolitan Amsterdam. Impressionist master Claude Monet’s Blue House masterpiece derived inspiration right here. Dare you to miss the opportunity!

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Are you fired up for lively, lovable and laid-back Lisbon?

Feel the vivacious vibe of Portugal’s capital…

If you’re arriving in Lisbon from South Portugal by coach like us, you will probably be riding the cable-stayed 17 km long Vasco Da Gama bridge straddling the Tagus River. While you make a mental note of the fact that you’re on the longest bridge in Europe, are you unconsciously cooking up an image of Portugal’s capital? Don’t do it…let it reveal itself in all its glory!

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You need to risk a dangerous road for this ethereal vision. Game?

One of India’s highest glacial lakes…

From your tiny window on the plane, peer out far in the distance; till your vision hits that wall of white…the mighty Himalayas clad in snow…across the entire horizon as far as you can see. Somewhere in this 2400 km long ‘Abode of Snow’ is the Kanchenjunga, the world’s third highest peak…try spotting it. 

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Soak in the most stunning Austrian countryside ever

And also relive your ‘Sound of Music’ memories…

Your inspiration for visiting Salzburg may not be ‘Sound of Music’ (one of the world’s best-loved movies shot in and around here). But you can’t resist total recall, because all over this picturesque Austrian town, there are posters of ‘Sound of Music’ excursions that will appeal to the ‘classic movie’ lover in you. All this hype is more than justified…after all, the blockbuster grossed more money than any musical in history and even bagged five Oscars! Not only is it a fun opportunity to relive scenes and locations of the song-and-dance sequences starring Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer and seven chirpy children…but a fabulous way to soak in the stunning Austrian countryside. So, are you in?

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