Mawphlang Sacred Forest

About an hour’s drive away from Shillong , is the sacred forest of Mawphlang. The Khasi tribe revere this site and narrate stories of its importance for rituals performed  to appease divine forces, especially before war and at the time of epidemics.

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A few feet away from this sign board , one can hire the services of a guide and opt for a one hour quick informative tour or a leisure walk into the grove which might last a little over two hours. We opted for the latter. Before one enters the forest , the guide warns us against taking away anything from the forest , not even a leaf . They believe it brings bad luck and has proven to be fatal .

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Years ago ,we are told , this site was frequently visited by men of the tribe ,  once they had crossed a certain age and only if they sported a beard . These men would make their first halt at what is now called ‘ the preparation site’ to check if they had with them all they needed to perform their sacred rituals . Once this site was crossed , there was no turning back without the successful completion of the ritual as they believed it would anger the divine and bring them ill luck.

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The stones in the picture above mark the place of preparation. As we walk towards the sacred site of rituals ,  we are shown the Khasi pine , snake like plants , a variety of mushrooms and rhododendron trees . The largest among 200 sacred groves in Meghalaya , Mawphlang is a treasure trove that attracts botanists and nature enthusiasts from around the globe.

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Khasi pine

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Our guide ( who insisted we call him ‘wish’ , since his Khasi name was a tongue twister that none of us could get right ) kept pointing out to little mushrooms peeping from dark nooks and wet branches and explained the botanical names of each , none of which I remember !

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‘Wish’ was my wish come true . Unhurriedly , he let us marvel at trees , feel , stop and question. He patiently answered us , helped pick us up when we slipped and struggled with our raincoats and let our two year old pretend she was spidey climbing trees horizontally or splash around in a stream we discovered behind the thicket.

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The picture above is one of the sacred sites for the sacrifice / rituals .

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Someone had arranged these leaves on a stone and I couldn’t resist clicking them. For me it sums up Mawphlang , like the different colours of the leaves , Mawphlang has something for everyone – history , tradition , stories ,  the enchanting forest , bird song , mushrooms , colours , silence and peace and for our two year old , this was better than any jungle gym in the world .

With bruises , a few bites and mud stains all over , we left Mawphlang feeling blessed .

Mawphlang magic to continue ….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On a hill , in the woods

What happens when a quaint hill station extends an inviting hand to you and you accept ? You soak in the old world charm , sit in a heritage toy train ( remembering Noddy all the time ) and come back with stories written in red mud on the soles of your shoes .

The toy train is also called Phulrani ( Queen of flowers )  , it meanders through the mountains at an extremely slow pace and that is how everything moves in Matheran – slow and unhurried .

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The UNESCO heritage hill railway toy train in Matheran 

Walk , walk , walk and walk some more . One is never alone , there are monkeys and langurs to keep you company always.

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And this reminds me of Babes in the woods
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Langur’s vantage point 

The Sahyadris always have surprises to offer. The protruding part of this hill (left ) looked like a human face to me.

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Not many flowers around here , but I spotted a few.

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There are plenty of ‘points’ to see when in Matheran, but we skipped that bit. Long walks , fun swims and listening to the sound of silence ( interrupted by the chatter of monkeys and the shouts of excitement when the little one spotted a monkey ) dominated my time spent here.

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My daughter was in no mood to leave and wants to go back to see the monkeys , while I will go definitely go back for the automobile free , noise free experience and for the greenery .

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Matheran is a little piece of green haven ! The monkeys endorse that 🙂

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Green Matheran Sign board with an enthusiastic supporter

 

 

Malshej Ghat : Not just a monsoon destination

If all you want is rolling mist , the trill of birds , green pastures with cattle grazing and if you have a high tolerance for volatile weather , then Malshej is perfect . Most websites suggest a trip to Malshej after the initial monsoon spell has washed the rugged Sahyadris clean and the benevolent mountains ( that is what Sahyadris are called ) wear their prettiest greens .

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Driving towards Malshej

July is when tourists throng to Malshej to take a dip in one of the innumerable waterfalls that bring this place to life . Since we were travelling with our 16 month old , we thought it better to travel before the peak monsoon season and landed there in the second week of June .

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Thankfully , when most places have long lists of things to do and things to see , Malshej is an exception. Do what you want , see what is there to see – the broken ranges , the dark clouds looming over them , trees dancing in the breeze ( it can get extremely windy ) , drive down to the dam at Pimpalgaon ( about 5 km away from MTDC , Malshej ) , sit and feel at peace . These are things that I did , am sure you will find your own sights to see and experiences to have once you get there .

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Towards the lake . The narow road to get to the lake .

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The white particles you see , strewn over the rocky shore, are mollusc shells .

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Walking around
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I had my Heidi moment

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The place behind MTDC , the view from my room.

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On the last evening there ,  I saw one of my favourite images – an old couple walking hand in hand to enjoy a few quiet moments with the mountains. It made me feel happy and hopeful 🙂

For me , Malshej was not about the magic of monsoon , but about my little girl watching the majesty of the mountains in awe , her clapping when she saw a bird fly by and  her giggling when the breeze made her curls tickle her cheeks !

 

 

Emerald lake , Ooty

The closest I might ever get to the Emerald city in the Wizard of OZ – the emerald lake , Ooty !

In the silent valley surrounded by tea gardens , emerald lake is another pristine place in the Nilgiris. It is an extension  of the Avalanche lake , I was told .

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This is as close as we could get. The access to the lake had been shut for a few days owing to some maintenance work near the dam.

Upper Bhavani lake

Avalanche forest , Ooty .

The shola forests guard the upper bhavani lake and it is quite a journey to get there to spend a few blissful moments watching this shimmering beauty from a distance. It must have been about 30 km from Fern Hills in Ooty and we commenced our journey at 6 in the morning , not wanting to miss the first trip inside . Private vehicles are not allowed inside the reserved forest area and one has to choose from among two options , a jeep or a mini bus , to take you through the forest upto the lake.

We reached the place at around 7.30 and had to wait for about two hours for the first trip to commence . They waited for a group of 20 to let the first bus in and the jeep service wasn’t functional on that day. The canteen doesn’t open until ten , so if you do plan a trip , make sure to carry a few munchies or have a hearty breakfast before you leave. With my 13 month old quite restless , we decided to amble around and spent an hour in the pine forest just near the entrance of the reserved area. DSC_0827

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The bus journey is extremely bumpy, but once you’re up at the upper bhavani point , you forget the dread that awaits you on the way back.

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Each group is given approximately 25 minutes to soak in the beauty of the upper bhavani lake . It was my 20 minutes of peace in a very long time , with the baby refusing to leave her dad and excitedly screaming ‘water’ , I left the two behind and enjoyed the magic in front of me .

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Nilgiris : The home of the queen

Ooty or Udagamandalam is aptly called the queen of hill stations. She’s a beauty adorned with emerald lakes ( there is one actually by that name a little away from Ooty) , wears corsages of varied hues , is guarded by sturdy pines and the air of her royal abode is redolent of eucalyptus .

We zeroed in on Fern Hills to ditch the crowds and it was absolutely serene . The new garden , spread over approximately 40 acres , is developed by the Karnataka department of horticulture in the state of Tamil Nadu . A fine collaboration in times of conflict between the two states.

The Siri Horticultural Garden is amazing and I loved ambling around the various sections . Flowers in full bloom , a section for succulents , a maze garden , topiary and the sound of silence – the garden has it all . Will post about the garden in detail later , but for now let’s meet the queen .

Ooty !

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View from the hotel 

 

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Home in the hills ! The hotel we lived in @ Fern Hills