Saturday, April 22, 2023

A short trip to Meghalaya - Dawki and Mawlynnong

I meant to write this but just did not get to it and now it has been close to 3 months since my trip to the Northeast! We had a family wedding to attend at Guwahati, Assam and hence wanted to extend the holiday to visit nearby areas. We had already done Shillong, so the other options were Kaziranga, Cherrapunjee, Dawki, and Mawylnnong. 

We only had 3 days on our hands, with having to return to work soon. If we had a couple of days more, we would have surely added Cherrapunjee to the itinerary. After a lot of planning, research and asking around, we decided to do Guwahati to Dawki, Dawki to Mawylnnong, and Mawylnnong to Guwahati with a quick halt at Shillong.

We left Guwahati early in morning around 7am and halted at Jiva Restaurant on the way for breakfast. The roads are pretty decent, if you are someone who is easily sick in the car, you can inform your driver to drive at a slower speed. Do be mindful, if you're travelling with urban kids, the entire patch from Guwahati till you reach your destination does not have public bathrooms, there was a decent one at Jiva restaurant, but apart from that you will only get Indian toilets and that too with no facilities.

Our first pit stop was at Phe Phe Falls, which is a one-hour trek to the first waterfall, and another 30-40 minutes down the steps to the main waterfalls. The entire experience was cherished by us, walking through the different terrains, climbing down the steps and getting treated to the clean blue icy water! Highly recommend getting a guide, as you may not be able to find the way on your own. Also, having trekking sticks helps!  

There are no shops at or near the waterfall, so please carry water, and some snacks/dry fruits but keep it light as climbing back uphill can feel like a task! But what a beautiful sight, see for yourself. It took us a bit longer here, and then we got some more delay due to all the trucks on the narrow roads and finally reached our camping site at Dawki River around 8pm. Which was ok, because it is dark in the NorthEast from 5pm onwards anyways, so we would have not been able to do any water activities that day.

We were very tired since it had been a really long day, so got fresh, had an early dinner (expect simple vegetarian food like dal rice vegetables) and relaxed for a bit at the bonfire (roasted some marshmallows, yum!) and were off to our tents. The washroom facilities were very decent here. They also had solar panels to power the entire area, and there was a common charging area where you could charge your phones.

The next morning we had a nice breakfast of omelette and bread, Maggi and tea/coffee and headed for some water activities. There are a lot of activities you can avail - kayaking, boat riding, cliff jumping, zipline, snorkelling and more - you can ask your campsite and they will guide you. Everyone in the NorthEast is very kind, and you know what, they do not accept any kind of tips. Where else do you see such folks?

We opted for a boat ride in the clear river, where you can see the stones, rocks, and some fish inside the water! The water was not 100% clear as what you see in the ads, but it was still very clear to see everything. The ride is mesmerizing. I also attempted snorkelling for the first ever time and started enjoying it once I got a hang of the equipment. We wanted to also do the zipline, but by the time we reached they closed for lunch, and we couldn't wait as we had to leave for Mawlynnong. The Dawki Bridge itself is an experience, suspended across the river.

We left for Mawlynnong, which is the cleanest village in Asia, which is a couple of hours from Dawki. This village is famous for its root bridges, the old-world charm of village life, a 100+-year-old church, and a sky point from where you get the entire view of Bangladesh. (The Dawki River itself is shared between India and Bangladesh).

The weather throughout was very pleasant and got cold in the mornings and evenings. We stopped to see one of the root bridges, checked into our hotel (expect all stays to be very humble and basic) and then went off to the local market to shop because the next day was a Sunday which is when the entire market is shut.

The village has a bounty of flora, so many beautiful flowers and so much greenery everywhere! After picking up some souvenirs, we came back and had dinner at our hotel (again, basic dal rice vegetables, no options). We woke up very early the next morning to see the sunrise, see the remaining spots and then left to come back to Guwahati to catch our flight. In fact, we had a bit of a time-check scare because our phones automatically switched to Bangladesh time, which is half an hour ahead of India. 

We took a pit stop at Jiva restaurant again on our way back, and also a quick stop to see the Umiam Lake from the top. (If you have a day, there is a boathouse at the lake, which you must go to, we really wanted to but did not have the time). And finally reached the airport well in time for our flights.

Overall, Jio and Airtel have better network coverage, and Vodafone does not at all. And everyone in Meghalaya speaks English, they do not understand Hindi too well. Next, I really want to visit Arunachal. I tell you, the northeast is rich and there is so much to see each time you visit!

To save ourselves from all the hassles of booking our car, hotels etc separately, we opted to get the entire package curated from GoSomewhere. They took care of our short trip end to end. Highly recommended.

Saturday, January 7, 2023

A day at the Mumbai Zoo - Veermata Jijabai Bhosale Udyan And Zoo - Review

The Mumbai Zoo at Byculla was renovated a couple of years back and ever since it has been on my bucket list to visit with my kid. The zoo is very close to Byculla railway station, and they also have parking within the premises so you can choose your mode of transport accordingly.

Before I tell you more about the experience at the zoo, here are some things you should carry:

  • A refillable bottle of water. There are many points across the space where you can fill your bottle. Avoid carrying/buying/discarding plastic bottles - to help reduce waste.
  • Cap/Sunglasses. Make the kids wear caps as they will be walking for 3-4 hours and Mumbai noons and afternoons are hot throughout the year. 
  • Some food for your li'l one. If you have a small kid and you don't want them to eat outside, you can carry food for them. Per the official rules bringing outside food is not allowed, but no one checked when we went.
  • Taking photos using a phone camera is free, if you're carrying a professional camera you need to pay Rs.100 for the same. I suggest you carry your power bank too since the battery may drain over the hours.
  • Wear comfortable clothes and shoes as you will be walking a lot.
  • The ticket counter and all other food courts/stalls mostly accept cash, make sure you're carrying change. 

Now, here is what we liked at the zoo:

  1. The zoo is well maintained and was not dirty, even after being crowded. There is a map at the entrance which makes it easy to navigate your way through the area. 
  2. There are nice trivia and information regarding the flora and fauna - easy to understand for kids as well. Both in English and Hindi.
  3. Plenty of places to sit to get some rest when tired, also a cafe outside and a cafe inside the penguin area, should you want to grab a bite.
  4. The animals and birds are given ample space and water bodies, and activity areas so it doesn't feel like they're caged, even though they are.
  5. The cost of the ticket, and food overall is very reasonable and doesn't pinch your pocket.

Here is what we think could improve:

  1. It was very crowded, especially with school groups at the zoo. Ideally, tickets should be given in hourly slots so that there is not a huge crowd at attractions like the Tiger and Penguins.
  2. I couldn't find too many staff members or helpers to guide or manage crowds. A few attractions like Lion's area were under renovation but there was no board to inform you regarding the same and you just waited around wondering if the Lion is there inside.
  3. The penguins have a special air-conditioned area, and here I felt the most disappointed because first, you need to get into a long queue and then you're only allowed a few seconds of glimpse and the security yell at you if you take pictures and ask you to quickly move ahead. Very much like how it is in famous temples. I guess they don't have an option on crowded days, again, maybe they should allow in hourly slots.
  4. You cannot book tickets online or in advance, and can only buy them at the ticket counter, so if you're going on a weekend, you will have to spend some time in the queue. I did not have to, there was a separate line for ladies. Also, Fridays, kids go free.

All in all, try to go on a weekday morning when they open, for the best experience! (They're closed on Wednesdays). If you found this helpful, do comment and share!