Saturday, 25 December 2010

Living Bridges of Meghalaya

Nitoli and Sidsel on one of Meghalaya's Living Root Bridges

It is time for me to take on a very special sight, which to me is grotesquely overlooked as a tourist attraction in India: The living root bridges of Meghalaya located in and around the villages in the hilly area south of Cherrapunjee towards the Bangladeshi border.

Not many people  have even heard of these marvellous creations of man and nature combined. And that goes equally for Indians and foreigners. I find that to be a big mistake, as the bridges - to me - are extremely ingeniously designed and aesthetically fit to appear in any scene written by Tolkien. I can just so clearly visualize a battle between humans and orcs taking place over control of one of these bridges.

The most famous of the living bridges - the amazing double decker allowing traffic in both directions simultaneously

The bridges alone make this area worth the major journey, which is required to get there. But on top of everything else, the hike to reach the bridges is very appealing as well. The hike is very strenuous, but this is actually good for the few tourists that do make it here since it means that the bridged are not crowded with hordes of day trippers, which they would most likely be  if they were a bit more accessible. To get here from Delhi, you must first fly to Guwahati, then drive about 5 hours through Shillong and Cherrapunjee and then walk for several hours to reach even the first bridge.

The double decker seen from the opposite side. At the time we visited in late November there was barely a small trickle of water, but in monsoon season this would be a gushing stream

Basically the story behind the bridges is that some very smart folks figured out that they could guide the roots of the tree Ficus Elastica to grow across the many rivers and streams of the area to form comfortable and sturdy bridges allowing villagers to cross safely. In other words the bridge is grown, not built. A living bride can last for hundreds of years and only grows stronger with the years. According to what I was told, it seems that the practice of using living trees to make bridges was developed over 1000 years ago.

Sadly the practice of creating living bridges has died out now in favour of cheap and fast but ugly steel wire bridges. We have probably lost the vast majority of the many bridges that once covered so many of the streams and tivers of the area. However, the wonderful owner of the Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort where we stayed is working hard to conserve, promote and restore the dousin or so remaining bridges. I don't normally make hotel recommendations on my blog, but here I'll gladly make an exception and recommend everyone to stay there. Not so much for the resort itself, which is ok, but especially for the wonderful folks running this place. It is also by far the best base for reaching the bridges.

The actual walkway. The path you walk on is enforced with big flat rocks,
which the tree grows around

Nitoli and Sidsel on each level of the double decker

Sidsel - our friend (and my colleague) - on the lower bridge
This is a bridge which is under restoration or construction - not sure which. It grows over a steel wire bridge and will over time completely eat up the steel bridge

The bridges come in all sizes - here is a minor one which crosses just a minor stream. You might not even notice that it was there if you were not looking for it

A 3-section bridge crossing a major river (dried out in this picture) via two small islands in the river. You can see two of the sections here, but sadly the middle one has fallen into such a state of disrepair that you have to cross using a nearby steel wire bridge

It's a tough hike down to the bottom of the canyon where the bridges are. The steps seem to have no end. It gets even worse on the way up, and we only barely made it back before dark. And not without some tears of pain being shed!

After the steps there is a flatter stretch through the thick, lush jungle
One of the ugly new bridges you cross on the hike to the living bridges - but look at the colour of that water! I have not manipulated the colour on this picture, if anything it's even better in real life

Nice tri-colured fruit. Anyone got any idea what this plant is?

You pass through a few small village on the way to the bridges - here is a family in Nongriat Village where we stopped for a tea break in the small shop owned by the man int he picture, Andreas.

Andreas gave us some complimentary fresh oranges plucked right off the tree. So sweet!

Beautiful wild flowers near the village

The hike ends at some nice natural swimming pools

Sunday, 5 December 2010

A Girl and her Cake

This is a picture from the 2-year birthday of, Rovi, the daughter of two of our friends. In the picture above she is looking with awe and wonder at her beautiful lady bug birthday cake. I think this picture in a way conveys the magic time that is early childhood.

Below are a few snaps from my own son Valdemar' first birthday - an event he won't  remember, but at least he'll have the pictures to remember:

Being the centre of attention can be a bit over whelming!
Valdemar also had a cake - then the mood improved a bit

Monday, 29 November 2010

Mighty Tughlaqabad Fort

Tughlaqabad Fort, with modern South Delhi visible in the distance

After more than 4 years in Delhi I finally got around to visit the largest of Delhi's many historical monuments: The mighty fort of Tughlaqabad!

The fort was built by Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq in 1321 and abandoned just a few years later - according to myth due to a curse from contemporary Sufi saint Nizamuddin. Tughlaqabad is not in the best conditions and not very well maintained - shrubbery grows over the ruins everywhere. But it's still an imposing sight especially when taking in the size of it - more than 6.5 km in perimeter. It must have been nothing short of a spectacular sight in its 6 short years of use some 700 years ago. Today it's located right smack in the middle of South Delhi.

Below are a few pictures of the fort and the tomb of Tughlaq, located just outside the walls of the fort.

Tughlaqabad is protected by massive stone ramparts. The downfall of the fort was not due to lack defensibility

Our friends Lone and Troels in one of the huge water tanks providing fresh water to the inhabitants of the city

Locals exploring the ruins (and in the process providing a reference of scale)

The aesthetically appealing tomb of Tuglaq

No matter how mighty they are, they all end up the same way - Tughlaq
was allegedly helped to his destiny by his son who orchestrated an
  assassinationagainst him

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Weather Changes

Sudden rain temporarily interrupting a company party, Gurgaon
Being from Denmark, I am not used to very dramatic changes in weather - it's just pretty much cloudy and drizzling all year round. Delhi gives you a bit more bang for the buck with sudden rains, sudden sand storms and dramatic dark clouds suddenly coming in the middle of the day.

Sunshine after the rain

A picture taken from my office window in the middle of the day and in the middle of the summer. In less than 5 minutes it went from a normal bright day to as dark as night - only in the far horizon was there any light to be seen!

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

My Best Goan Bird Shots

Brahminy Kite in flight near the road from Candolim to Panjim

In my final post from Goa, I want to share the few best of my (many) bird pictures from the trip. Most of them were spotted in the garden of the villa we had rented or just nearby.
Asian Paradise-Flycatcher, rufous male
Black-Lored Tits
Not sure if it is the best of the pictures, but perhaps the nicest sighting: A Crimson Sunbird

Purple-Rumped Sunbird

Brahminy Kites in Palm Tree

Monday, 22 November 2010

Dolphin Spotting off the Goan Coast

A pair of dolphins off the coast of Goa

Those who know me - or follow my blog - know that I have a strong affinity for observing and photographing various animals in the wild. So naturally I couldn't go to Goa without organising a trip to go out to sea looking for the dolphins living in the Arabian Sea. Some of you may remember I also went dolphin spotting in Hong Kong.

It was an OK trip. We had a couple of decent dolphin sightings - although I am yet to experience the classic scene of dolphins jumping out of the water and flying through the air. We also enjoyed seeing the Goan coastline and the cooling ocean breeze giving some respite from the heat.

My family on the lookout for dolphins in our surprisingly large boat

There were other people also looking for dolphins but in much smaller and faster speed boats. Ironically, though, we got much better sightings than they did since the Dolphins seemed to dislike these boats and hide from them

Nice coastal scenery

A colonial building converted into a prison. It's a location worthy of a five star hotel, yet I don't think you'd want a vacation here

Prisoners looking out to see, probably longing for freedom

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Spices of Goa

Being welcome with flower petals at Sahakari Spice Farm, Goa
Virtually all tourists in Goa spend a major part of the time one the beach sunning themselves, while sipping drinks and watching the kids try para-sailing and jet skiing. But when they get tired of the beach and want to do something the next most touristy thing to do is to go visit one of the several open-for-visitors spice plantations located a few kilometres inland, complete with dining halls, visitor centre, souvenir shop and guided tours.

Each plantation is visited by hundreds of visitors each day, so you can debate the "authenticity" of the farm as an actual commercial spice farm rather than as a tourist spot. Nevertheless, it actually still makes for a very interesting trip. The plants and spices are real enough and the guides at Sahakari Spice Farm (at least ours) were knowledgeable and friendly. My mother in particular enjoyed seeing the origins of the many everyday spices, like cardamom, pepper, coffee, ginger, cinnamon and many others that come in little glass bottles back home in Europe.

Our guide showing us a type of nut
Plantation worker demonstrating
how to harvest coco and cashew nuts

Turmeric fresh out of the ground

Vanilla as it looks when still on the tree

Coffee Plant

Cocoa plant popular with red ants

The plantations are homes to countless of these huge but harmless banana spider

My sister sampling the locally brewed cashew nut-based liquor, Feni

Rikke and Ole took the opportunity to take a ride on the plantation elephant