Places

Cave In or Fly Out

Abhilasha Ojha 11 Jun 2014

It’s the holiday season and there’s no better time than this to head to the Northeast. With tour operators offering fabulous packages for the region, NE Travel and Life puts together some of the more adventurous, fun stuff that you could look at doing during your vacation. Not only will these adventurous trails help you give an adrenaline rush, they’ll also introduce you to off-beat places, quieter dwellings and pristine surroundings. So, grab your essentials, pack your bags and head out to some of the lush green off-beat destinations that nestle in the NE.

Down Under in Meghalaya

Imagine a dark, mysterious world that’s hidden beneath rocky stones and caves. Imagine being in the lap (quite literally) of limestone rocks, perfectly rounded boulders, bright crystal stalactites and stalagmites while you crouch on your stomach gazing at the natural wonder. Imagine attempts at saving yourself against the jagged edges of rocks, adjusting to the cool temperature inside a grotto and feeling a rush of excitement at discovering algae, plant, and insect species inside these magical caves.

This summer season, head to Meghalaya, home to some of the deepest and the longest caves in India. In fact, the Siju cave is the first limelight natural cave in India. The Khasi, Jaintia and Garo hills, in fact, are home to some of the world’s best caves. Any surprise then that in Meghalaya, the tourism authority has begun promoting ‘caving’ in a big way. Mawsmai, for instance, are limestone caves that have -- thanks to the state tourism authority -- enough light and boards with information for the tourists who want to consider ‘caving’ as an intrinsic part of their holiday.

While the Mawsmai caves are definitely beautiful, if you have a little more risk appetite and don’t mind ending up with some bruises, you should head to Krem Mawmluh, one of the longest cave systems in India. Reaching the mouth of the cave is an experience too; hiking across tall grass, crossing mountain streams, navigating through a fairly steep climb, you reach the destination. It’s the ultimate paradox, really, considering you reach the destination from where the journey begins.

Inside the caves, it is dead quiet, dark (the light on the helmet helps you navigate your way), serene and pure. You hear nothing but your breath and the movement of your body that  crawls its way to find light while admiring the natural beauty of the grottos.

If there’s a sense of achievement you want to feel, go ‘caving’ in Meghalaya. You won’t regret it. Ah! Take a deep breath.

Getting There

Nearest airport: Shillong airport
Nearest railway station: Guwahati (110 km away)
Stay: Polo Orchid Resort (www.hotelpolotowers.com), Ri Kynjai (www.rikynjai.com), Lakkhotaa Lodge (www.lakkhotaalodge.com)
Caving Tours: Polo Orchid Resort makes arrangements.

Also check www.megtourism.gov.in for more information
Best Time To Go: March To June


Flower Trek in Dzukou Valley Verdant valleys, carpet of blossoms radiating in the sunlight, hills that are deep green in colour, faint strain of the water from the nearby stream, lush forests that hold you raptured to the bountiful beauty of nature... trekking won’t feel strenuous in the valley of Dzukou, a place that borders between Nagaland and Manipur at an altitude of 2438m above sea level. The name of the valley comes from a Mao tribe word; Dzu meaning ‘water’ and ko, which means ‘cold’.

A treat for nature lovers, Dzukou valley is a magical journey into self-discovery -- the serpentine stream of the Japfü river that flows nearby, the flora and fauna, the breathtaking views from the Japfü peak will allow you to pause, introspect and make you realise that in the lap of nature, everything is perfect, everything is pure.

The trail, thankfully, is not very difficult even though there are 3-4 kms of the journey where the climb gets steep with rocky pebbles and stones. The celestial charm of this place will leave you mesmerised -- the pink lilies, the blood red rhododendrons, the perfect buttercups, the breezy blue skies, the olive green hills, the crystal clear waters -- and your first thought will be to think you’re witnessing a page from a fairytale romance. Interestingly, the panoramic views of the valley also offer a glimpse of the tallest rhododendron tree in the world, which is also listed in the Guinness Book of World Records!

Another pleasing aspect of the expedition is the warm hospitality given by the locals at the Viswema village. Interestingly, the village is a good place for you to experience the tribal kitchens of the region and sample the local cuisine, which is rich in taste, oil-free but spicy in flavours.

Though the two main streams freeze in winter (lending it a completely different look and feel), many tourists brave the weather and experience the valley’s charm even then. But no matter which time of the year you choose, (summer months are better), you will come away feeling more radiant, fresh and alive. This summer, a trek to Dzukou Valley is what you need to rejuvenate. Getting There
Nearest airport: Dimapur. One can take a bus or taxi from here to reach the valley.
Rail: The nearest railhead is at Dimapur.
Road : The NH 39 is close to the Dzukou Valley. One can easily reach there by bus or taxi. The NH 39 connects Nagaland to rest of India via Guwahati (Assam)
Stay: The Heritage (Kohima); Khonoma (home stay), Kisama heritage village (homestay). You should book well in advance
Trekking Tours: Shikhar Travels organises special treks to Dzukou (shikhar.com). Check www.tourismnagaland.com for more information. Viswema village is the base from where the 17 km trek starts. You can extend it to Zakhama (another 15 kms) before heading back.
 
Best Time To Go
June till September (avoid the monsoons)


Arunachal Pradesh’s Milky Way

Rafting enthusiasts will rejoice when they navigate the rapids and feel the rush of the water while wading through the milky white waters of the Kameng River. Only recently has the Arunachal Pradesh government allowed permission for this adventurous activity and trust us, rafting here is not going to let you down.

The unexplored river is phenomenal in that it is challenging and demanding given the volume and flow of the rapids. Surrounded by rainforests and tribal settlements, Kameng, considered one of the very few places in the world that hasn’t been explored, is breathtakingly clean, crisp and precious. Given that the state invariably records above average rainfall every year, challenging the rapids while rafting in this river is even more adrenalin pumping. Clearly not for the faint-hearted, rafting and kayaking through the largest and longest river in the west of Arunachal, there’s a lot that’s waiting to be discovered here.

Given that adventure tours to raft and kayak have only been recently opened here, the expedition showcases miles of beautiful scenery, pristine beaches and deep river gorges. You get a glimpse of old growth forest, warm-hearted tribal people with their unique traditions and customs, wildlife, including fish habitat. Getting There
Nearest airport: Guwahati. You drive five hours to reach Bhalukpong can take a bus or taxi from here to reach the valley.
Rail: The nearest railhead is at Guwahati.
Stay: Book hotels in Guwahati. From there, tour operators will guide you to home stays since the area only opened recently for adventure sports
Trekking Tours: Himalayan River Runners (hrrindia.com); Expeditions India (expeditionsindia.com); arunachaltourism.com
Best Time To Go: January-February and November-December


Fly Away in Sikkim

If there’s one place that is fast gaining the reputation of being the most preferred paragliding destination, it is Sikkim. Adventure lovers from different parts of the world are making a beeline for the state for this thrilling experience in the foot hills of the Himalayas. With excellent paragliding launching sites and ridges (in February, 2014, Sikkim also hosted its first Sikkim Paragliding Festival), the state tourism ministry is doing all it takes to promote this sport. While the four-day event in February saw the participation of around 60 Indian and foreign paragliding enthusiasts, the state government also sponsored 30 local youths for basic paragliding training and to promote adventure tourism in the state. With the aim to have certified instructors and safety requirements in place, Sikkim promotes paragliding in three sites, including Bulbuley Dara, Ranka and Chakung. Sikkim is also developing modern paragliding sites at Yumthang and Soren at a cost of Rs10 crore. What’s more, the state government is also working overtime to identify more spots and sites for this sport. This season, fly away….

Getting There

Nearest airport: Bagdogra near Siliguri, 120 km from Gangtok is the nearest airport to the state.

Rail: The nearest railhead to Sikkim is in New Jalpaiguri near Siliguri at 117 km from Gangtok. Overnight trains can be boarded from Kolkata to Sikkim that reaches New Jalpaiguri Station in the morning. Another railway station at Siliguri is also well connected with Gangtok in Sikkim. From railway stations, taxi's and cabs are easily available for tourist service.

Road: National Highway no. 31 serves as a connecting link between the state capital Gangtok and Siliguri, one of the major towns on the northern fringe of West Bengal. Gangtok is also well connected to Kolkata (721 km) and Darjeeling (139 km) with a good network of roads. Kalimpong is another well connected destination with Gangtok. However the NH no. 31 is the most famous route between Gangtok and Siliguri. There are regular buses plying between Siliguri to Sikkim and vice versa. Tourists can reach various towns of Sikkim through easily available cabs/taxi.

Stay: Hotel Polo View; Mayfair Spa Resort; WelcomHeritage DenzongRegency

Paragliding Tours: adventuretourism.sikkimstdc.com;  sikkimparagliding.org

Best Time To Go: March-June and November-December

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