The number of times I have traveled to Haflong last year would be more than thrice the number of times I have visited the place before till now. And the reason behind the frequent travels was the second edition of Judima festival.
Interestingly, I went to Haflong to attend the maiden edition of Judima festival as a tourist and an outsider. And when the team behind the fest decided to go for the second edition, I got an opportunity to be a part of the organizing team.
Unlike the two days of first edition of Judima festival which was held in the month of January last year, the second edition of Judima fest was a three day long affair which ensured more coverage, more activities and music, and much larger crowd than what I witnessed in the first edition. And even in the midst of nonchalant protests by a meager section of people to ban the fest, the festival pulled a large number of crowd from both local and tourists alike.
The Chief Minister of the state was to inaugurate the fest but he couldn’t make it due to some last minute exigency. However, a few ministers from his cabinet graced the inaugural event of the festival.
Nonetheless, our cities and for that matter any part of the country even being the remotest of the regions can get a face-lift if an important leader makes their visit. And Haflong being the only hill station of Assam got its fair share of makeover too.
I just wonder how it would have been if the CM’s cancellation of visit would have been announced even few days prior, say at least three days in advance- no need to guess, the roads and beautification would have been left incomplete in the middle.
However, in spite of the absence of the CM, the fest started off well. A few ministers from his cabinet graced the inaugural function.
The first two days of the fest was really warmer than what normally the temperature would have been around this time of the year. The fest started with Dr Ronald Bathari’s singing of “We welcome you to Dima Hasao”, this welcome number from him was raw and refreshing at the same time, I guess that’s where the uniqueness of the place lies too.
They even have an interesting and very nicely made YouTube channel, click the link below:
Conventionally any given day the fest in this part of the world starts with a welcome speech, the speech by the guests and a customary vote of thanks. But what got my attention as always was the prayer offered to Barai-Sibarai (Goddess Shiva) by the elderly village head to mark the beginning of the festival. However, I felt the prayer recitation was not flawless unlike last time.
The showcase of ethnic cultural dance and music was initiated by 100 plus Dimasa drummers and dancers assembled together. It is indeed a sight to witness this synchrony live, and perhaps I now understand better why your feet starts to tap and your arms want to sway the moment you listen to Khram-Muri (Dimasa drum and flute).
There was a Judima tasting experience for the tourists, however, at the same time the second edition also ensured that no wine was being sold to any minors. It is a symbolic step as Judi in Dimasa community is intrinsic to the everyday use in offerings in rituals or offered to the guests at home as a gesture of respect.
Dancers and singers from various other tribes and communities added more charm and shades of various colors with their performance. The surrounding hillocks echoed their rhythm.
(Photo credits: Dr Chandan Sharma & Mr Bankim Phonglo)
Although the day was very sunny, the pleasant winter evenings compensated for all the complaints, and made the ambience ready for some scintillating time ahead. From Daniel Langthasa’s (Digital suicide’s front-man) satirical take on the current socio-political guitar solo to Koloma’s folk fusion kept everyone wanting for more. While the former presented some intelligent slapstick through his music and the latter performed some refreshing Thripra songs to listen to (it is their second performance in the fest).
Another fusion rock band from Guwahati by the name ,Celestial Way, performed Steppenwolf’s ‘Born to be Wild’ and indeed made the crowd go wild with the energy to warm up the night. And when it was time for the show stopper rock band from Dimapur- Dima Project to perform, I was waiting for them to play my favorite number ‘Lailangkha’. They reminded me of the rock bands from the 90’s. The last day of the event saw completely two opposite genres performing, one was Rain in Sahara- a hip-hop fusion band and the other was the veteran of Blues- Spreading Roots. And only one thing was common between them- their electrifying performance!
The festival was thronged by lads and damsels with their enchanting spirit and beauty, and it was an ocean of rainbow all the way. Spellbound!
The other attractions of Judima were the trekking events and heritage walk to the abandoned railway track (another unique tourist attraction which is yet to be utilized to the fullest by the tourism dept of DIMA HASAO).
Apart from the above itineraries, there were fun and thrill filled sport activities for young and old alike, like boating, zip-lining, burma-bridge, and wall climbing which was well supported Assam mountaineering association and Climbing circle group.
For trekking enthusiasts both the treks to Barail hill range, and Trek to the picturesque Samparadisa was successfully organized. It not only gave the nature loving tourists a taste of varied flora and fauna of the region but also introduced them to the typical Dimasa village and a peek into their daily lives.
Interestingly there was a section of people who were against the celebration of Judima festival as according to them this celebration is parallel to promoting consumption of liquor amongst the youths. And as I write this piece these handful of people are still wondering how to handle the progressive and inclusive nature of the present generation who are already tired of the hypocrisy and double faced political leaders.
Fortunately, their negative publicity could not deter the much awaited second edition of Judima fest which was celebrated in the right spirit without any untoward incident eventhough this place is known for its political and social disturbance in the past.
My mother urges me to work for the development of this community which has a foundation of rich culture, and I too empathize with her. Only thing that concerns me is the lacklustre attitude of the so called leaders who are busy reaping the public fund and ill informed people who are yet to understand the inclusive all round development of the region and the community.
With the belief that I will be able to contribute more to this lovely initiative taken by the Judima fest team and the beautiful people of Haflong, I am positive that things will change and Haflong will be visited more by the rest of the world.
Note: All the pictures are the property of the photographers, the featured image is also being clicked by Pappa Raozza Karigabxa
It was when the bus reached Palampur bus station I initiated the conversation with this guy from Israel. “My name is Dudu Elbaz, Dudu as the milk” he introduced himself, there was a moment of pause, and the very next moment we were laughing our gut out. I was meeting someone from Israel for the very first time. There are many rumors that surrounds an Israeli who visits India, like some are run away soldiers, and lead life of a wasted, some are just charsis, and yet some are involved in illegally supplying the ‘green diamond’ internationally. It is also rumored that Israelis are actively involved in the cultivation of hashish with the support from the locals. It sounds both intriguing and thrilling to me. Truth might have different layers of shades to it but I couldn’t care more. With some broken english he said, “ I go mmmm..Dharamshala first time, then I go to McLeod Ganj and go Dharamkot” Trying to match his broken English, I replied, “I go there too the very first time, don’t know where to stay”. “May be we can stay together for tonight, if you are ok with that”, he replied, “Ookay”. It was seven in the evening when we reached Dharamshala bus station. We two were the last one to get down from the bus, there were countable people in the station, nonchalant buses stranded there in the dark and resting after a long day on the road. We sat on the concrete pavement near the tikki wala. Dudu took out his hand bag, mixed some charas with the bhang and rolled a perfect joint. While he smoked his joint he said, “Don’t worry we look a room and stay”. He offered me a puff which I denied for later. He finished his joint, ate another snickers gleefully that I offered him. McLeod is around 4 km north of Dharamshala and I could not see any vehicle nearby in the station which was going towards McLeod. Always take help of the locals! We did the same, and after walking for few meters in the dark we reached the taxi stand. Whatever fare the taxi driver quoted we agreed, soon we were passing through narrow steep lanes. It was a drive of under 20 minutes and he charged us 200 bucks, basically 100 bucks each as we shared the fare. Everything in the valley costs double.
McLeod town is just like any other commercially abused hill station in India.Full of tourists, small shops that are fighting to breath, and various cafes. But still it had some magical charm with its monasteries, and the lanes full of monks, yoga parlors and Tibetan refugees.
The moment we got down from the taxi, few guys approached us, “Hotel?” We said, “Yes”. We two followed the guy who was showing us the room, the first one was located just beside the busy street, we wanted to make sure that the room is situated in a distance away from any noise, and with the clear view of the valley. Dudu was in fact very specific about these two concerns more than me.After rejecting couple of lodges we were guided for the third lodge which was located down the never ending concrete stairs. After descending through the stairs, passing by couple of yoga parlors we reached Victoria guest house. The guest house was mainly occupied by few Europeans, and other foreign nationals. Ramu, the guy who guided us to the guest house informed that the room at the top floor has already been occupied the moments before we reached, he can give us the room the very next day they check-out. Elbaz was very specific with what he wanted, a quiet room with a picturesque view of the valley. Sensing our disappointment, Ramu showed us another room in the opposite building, we were not impressed either but decided to take it and stay for the night. We thought of taking a shower before we climb those steep stairs again and head for a late dinner considering hill station standards. A shower always work wonders after a tiring journey, but it rapidly speeds up your hunger too. We climbed up the stairs again to reach the intersection and search for a place to have our meal. There are ample number of cafes and restaurants to choose from. Tibetan, Indian, Israeli, English etc. You name it and you shall find it. We decided to check the Chinese restaurant that served Tibetan dishes as well. The place was quite upkeep and upbeat. As there were only westerners and non-Indians who were dining and drinking and at the restaurant the place was quiet. Dudu ordered for ‘chicken saute in black soy’ with plain rice, I went for a bowl of ‘thukpa’, and two bottles of Tuborg. That late evening I had the best joint of the valley mixed with hash (I am not encouraging substance abuse here). It had these intense but soothing after taste.When your tummy is happy you can have the best-est of conversation in the universe, and if you have a knowledgeable company nothing can beat that intellectual pleasure. Dudu is a student of psychology and is still pursuing his studies. Our only medium of communication was English and his verbiage and stock of words were not many, he was carrying a pocket-sized book which was helping him to translate the words and sentences of daily usages from Hebrew to English. But he had picked up the language fast as it was only a month back that he started learning English. I would use sign language and through body movements made him understand anything if he couldn’t any. He would ask me the reason of so off tuned music being played in Indian channels, he was talking about the numerous ‘devotional channels’ where various ‘gurus’ were playing their own music which didn’t strike any chords of the heart. At times he got annoyed with himself when he could not think about the right words to express himself, we would simply laugh out and leave the expression as it is.
Next day we woke up late, and we didn’t had to rush anywhere, neither I had any work to get ready for, nor he had any classes to join. Morning in the hills and valleys are generally always pleasant, what makes it more appealing is the aroma of loafs and pies being baked, and a subtle rhythm of guitar being strum in some distance. The mountains that are thickly covered with snow appear to be so close, but no one seems to know how far-fetched they are. The never ending sky at times turning blue and as clear as fresh set of paint being done on it, and within moments it will be covered in thick clouds ready to pour down on all the things that are living and the dead, and the next moment it will come to a halt, be drop dead, and quite. These metaphors are simple enough to explain why men and women fall in love in the mounds easily, because they fall in love with the ‘self’.
It was time to explore McLeod. For breakfast we stuffed ourselves with sandwiches and a slice of a carrot cake with cappuccinos. We took a stroll through the narrow lane full of cafes, hand-loom and handicraft shops, the place is packed with tourists, and backpackers. We would just pass an occasional gesture of greetings to the fellow strollers whenever our eyes would meet, unlike Indians who are generally not used to this habit of greetings, in fact when two strangers pass by and their eyes happen to meet they generally end up frowning. I remember back home when I tried to pass by a stranger with a smile, he stared back at me with some silly suspicion. But I believe these unconditional gestures can change the world. Smile is the panacea to a broken heart and contagious enough to heal the world. Unlike for a typical hill station, temperature was quite sunny and humid. We headed towards Bhagsu waterfall which is again a steep trek, on the way we crossed through Bhagsu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. I saw people changing clothes and jumping into the water reservoir which looked more like a swimming pool, I am not sure whether they have some sin cleansing effect on humans or not. On the other hand foreigners from the west were busy being curious to know the temple architecture and history, some were equipped with sophisticated camera and other gadgets, likely some travel crew. And yet some were busy bathing, and may be cleansing their soul, seems to be a tough job anyway. After witnessing some mundane melodrama we trekked to Bhagsu waterfall. Nothing extraordinary, the trek itself was more tiring but that’s the thing about nature, it is very ordinary and nothing can match or can come close to that ‘ordinary-ness’. On the way a hawker offered us saffron (crocus) at a very cheap price, and he tried his luck by offering ‘shilajit’ (an Indian herb for improving vigor and potency) by insisting us that we will be stronger and be good in our beds. Dudu replied, “I am sttrongg my frriend”. When we reached the waterfall it was a sheer disappointment as it was littered by beer cans and lousy tourists. We witnessed the While coming back we stopped to listen to ‘banjaras’ playing a tune from Bollywood movie Raja Hindustani on their four-string. We sat, smoked a joint and decided to trek towards Triund, 2800 which was a 9km gradual trek. It was a moment spent in leisure without any intention of the worldly affairs, sharing thoughts and expressions, exchanging and learning words of each others language, that’s what we did while passing the curvy and narrow road across the hills. We would give a nod of satisfaction and a high-five to each other when we could pronounce the newly-learned words correctly. On the way to Triund there’s a serene and quiet place- Dharamkot, the village situated in this beautiful valley is occupied by seasoned travellers, and backpackers. Tushita meditation center and Vipassana center is also located in Dharamkot, later we decided to come back for a guided morning meditation in Tushita the next day.
To my pleasant surprise I saw Morgan’s place which is owned by Muruggan (my former partner in PCB whom I had outsourced the kitchen when we introduced the Italian cuisine), this place makes the best Schnitzel in the town, I know. After enthusiastically walking for almost two hours Elbaz lost interest in going any further, we decided to walk back, we straightly went to Morgan’s place. We had the world’s best Schnitzel and Buschita there, my favorite is the dip though, the Hummus, in fact I don’t mind having the whole bowl of Hummus dip to myself.
We tried searching for another room from where the view of the valley was the way we wanted but couldn’t get one. Either the place was noisy or it was way out of our budget. We decided to stay at the same place until we get some other suitable alternative. That evening we did some juggling and engaged ourselves in some leisure games. It took me back to the good old days of innocence. Afterwards we went for a stroll in the town. I would say, this time it was more of a discovery of human interactions rather than exploring the valley. I had tofu with chowmein for the night, and Dudu tried his taste buds on Indian thali.
Next morning we woke up earlier than usual. We had to attend the morning session of meditation in Tushita. However, by the time we could just pull ourselves up from the bed and finally get ready it was already 9:00, and the session was about to start at 9:30. We rushed and after quickly climbing the stairs, we went for a quick bite and a cup of coffee. It was already 9:20, we took an auto and took us there in 10 minutes. We followed the signs and entered the room, it was packed, we were late by 5 minutes. Somehow, we adjusted ourselves in the little space that was left. A tall, bearded guy with a pony tail, must be in his late 20’s was leading the meditation. Perhaps he was an European as one can make out from his accent. Moreover, he was dressed just like us, so it was probably easier for the crowd to relate with him as well. We started by concentrating on our breathing, when our minds became distracted and restless his voice guided us back to our breath. Starting from the breath entering the nostrils and going to different parts of our body. The second phase of meditation guided us to being aware, and aware of being aware. Third part was concentrated on dissecting our anger, being aware of our anger, what is making us angry-is it the person, situation, or is it the reflection of our self. During the meditation he gently stroke the bell after regular intervals which created an ecstatic vibration striking deeply within. It was a productive session. Dudu had a mixed response to the session, he enjoyed the meditation, and at the same time he became a a bit agitated because he could not understand most of the things spoken. I was to leave for Delhi the next day in the evening and we wanted to utilize the whole day exploring Dharamkot. I regret staying in McLeod, after walking down the narrow lanes and the very feel of the place, I was sure I missed some great experience by not coming to Dharamkot before. It was quite, clean, bereft of loud tourists. On the contrary there were many tourists from Israel, Europe and many other countries. I saw people lost in their own world, engaged in some lively conversations, some trying to learn new scale of music in their six strings, yet some were trying to come out of their confused state of slumber. I also saw an Israeli dressed in their traditional attire and a three-storied building dedicatedly build for them. Soon, the day was over and we sat still in our chairs listening to the various echoes of the hills, gradually time was shifting and I had to go back. The next day we went to Dharamkot again.
Dudu decided to stay back for another couple of weeks, we searched for a room which we bargained it for 400 bucks a day.
It was time for me to leave. It was an overnight return journey. I booked a seat in a Volvo bus and reached the bus station on time. It was time to say our goodbyes. Dudu came to see me off and with some broken expression of ours we exchanged few words, we hugged. I knew he would miss me like I would miss him. There was a sudden flow of emptiness as he left and I boarded the bus. God knows when we would see each other next, or perhaps would loose each other in oblivion only to meet someday all of a sudden. Soon, the bus was occupied with people ready to return home or wherever they were heading to. An Israeli girl came and sat next to me. I was soon lost in my thoughts, thinking of the journey that I undertook and the journey that I will take in some time to come.
Well, I did not find my purpose in the journey, but I have grown manifolds again, grown as a person and experienced the different aspects of life, meeting new people and learned from them. Hills and mountains have always had a deep impact on me, I am always at peace within and without here.
Thank you for reading through and being a part of the journey.
The streets were getting lonelier, and few of the shop’s were already shut.Some travellers had just arrived here like me, but they seemed to know where they were going as their stay for the night I thought was sorted. But I was yet to search a shelter for the night, and my tummy was screaming to be fed. I was too exhausted and thought before searching for a room I ought to have something else I would die of starvation. There were several cafes, restaurants and German bakeries in the area, but you call it intuition or gut feeling I thought of climbing few stairs and check in to Richik’s cafe. Richie is the owner of the cafe and hence the name.
The cafe is divided into two parts, the first one is the typical sitting area where you can grab your meal and chill there, although I like the other half of the cafe. There are mattresses and cushions with comfortable blankets in case you doze off. He greeted me with enthusiasm, and after exchanging greetings he made me comfortable in the other corner of the cafe. I just realized then it was really freezing outside and I was in my floaters and wearing a sweat shirt accompanied by a trek pant. As my concentration was on searching for a place and fill my tummy I didn’t realize it till then. I asked for mushroom soup and a penne pasta in white sauce. I was a hungry animal ready to devour anything that was thrown at me but I clung to remain human and rather order something which can be quickly prepared and served to the table. I asked Richie if he could help in arranging a room for a day or two. He said, “No Problem Sir, there are several lodges and motels available, I will send Kamal to ask on your behalf. Kamal is a young man, may be around 20 years of age and is an employee of the cafe. “I don’t want to spend much, 500 for a day at max.” “Don’t worry” he said. I quickly put my focus back on the meal which was served steaming hot, the pleasure of food can only be felt when you are starving. By the time I finished my respective dishes Kamal came back with an arrangement of a room in the nearby lodge named Yik and Yak, he said, “Sir, the room has been arranged at 500 bucks a day plus it has a television, a balcony and a geyser too”. I thanked Richie, tipped Kamal, paid the bill and left for the lodge. Kamal helped me to locate the place, the room was big enough for two individuals, it had no doubt a big television and other facilities stated. Apart from all the amenities mentioned the television didn’t run, not that I plan to watch it but some times when you are all alone by yourself this idiot box can act as a cushion, that can be true for someone who is an urban dweller. Other than that the carpet laid on the floor was unkempt and and covered with dust. I am not sure but I think I have an OCD to take shower if I am sweaty and sticky but did not had to chance to take one. It doesn’t matter the temperature outside is in minus and your geyser is not working or functioning at below par when all you want is the million droplets of water to calm you down. I had a tiring journey after all.
When I woke up the next morning it was raining. The rain had made the temperature drop by another one degree Celsius. Due to rain the snow-covered mountains in the distance was lost amidst fog. It was freezing, with nowhere to go for the moment I thought of spending couple of hours at Richik’s cafe. He welcomed me with enthusiasm again, I learned the cafe was only seven days old but looked quite promising. He played tracks from yesteryear consisting of Uriah Heep, John Bon Jovi, White Snake etc. I recalled my days with Pink Cherry Bubble, I sighed. After stuffing myself with potatoes tossed in red sauce with shredded chicken, egg poach, club sandwich and two cups of coffee I retired to the other corner of the cafe and utilized my time in writing journals. It was freezing, and Richie was kind enough to lend me his gloves and also sent Kamal to buy woolen socks for me. He even gave me a piece of paper where he jotted all the nearby places where I can either trek or take a cab. I even thought of renting a bullet but it was coming too expensive. Sensing disappointment in me Kamal offered his new Pulsar and insisted that I can keep it as long as I was in Manali. Soon the rain came to a halt, I thought of taking an auto-rickshaw to a nearby hill called Vasisth. Vasisth is a temple dedicated to Hindu God Rama, and named after sage Vasisht, this place is famous for hot spring waters. People visit this holy shrine to take bath in the ‘holy’ spring waters which is believed to cure various physical ailments. The autowala said, “It would be 150 rupees to Vasisth”, “I want you to take me back here too”. “It would be 300 rupees then”, he said. We agreed and the auto took me to Vasisth. Too many people, crowded, and flocks of regular tourists in every corner. The driver suggested me to take bath in the shrine too but I already made up my mind not to.Temples as tourist destinations has never been my suo moto and too many people discourage me from visiting them. I guess in a country like India when a family witness a guy alone and all by himself they consider him a prey to click pictures for them. “One with the temple door please” the husband with a heavy south Indian accent instructed me. While I was taking few snaps of the intricate designs of the temple entrance the newly married couple caught hold of me and ‘requested’ me to take pictures for them. I clicked half a dozen pictures for them until they were satisfied. Vasisth temple is believed to be more than 4000 years old, sounds older than ancient.
For some unknown reason I was in hurry that day and I could not properly explore the place as I could have. The auto driver suggested that I can visit Jogini waterfall if I want to and he would wait for me till I come back. I found Manali to be traveler friendly and very comforting. I took his suggestion and started trekking towards the waterfall. The view from the narrow lanes of the snow-capped mountains is enchanting, it is needless to say but I can never get tired of the view, it gives me so much of peace that I can die gazing at them.
As funny it can get I never reached Jogini waterfall, I realized that later when I was checking the pictures of the place in the internet. I somehow doubted it when the auto driver asked me, “Did you even go to the waterfall, how come you returned so early?” I said, “I did not spend much time there”, looking perplexed he didn’t ask anything much. So what happened was I did reach a waterfall and another trekker probably from Britain must have thought the same as we sat near the waterfall for some time. I did not see any path ahead so I clicked few pictures and returned. Later, I picked a swarovski for Megha from a nearby crystal and precious stone shop. That was it, I returned to old Manali, had my lunch in one of the German cafe, and went straight to Richie’s cafe, by that time the sky was all clear and blue.
“Richie, would you tell me little bit about Malana, all the rumors that I’ve heard is it true?” He replied, “Yes sir, Malana village is a solitary valley, they consider themselves to be the descendants of Alexander”, “I’ve heard that they don’t follow Indian law and they have their own set of rules and procedures”, he replied, “They actually consider themselves superior to the rest of the people and fellow citizens, they don’t appreciate someone talking to them directly or touching them, or entering their household.” Malana of course is known for its hash, the premium cream it produces, its not a secret anymore. Richie also tells me that there are drug portals very much active in the valley and they supply the hash internationally. I have never smoked a joint properly in my life and my desire to taste the premium hash became stronger after such thrilling intro to the mysterious valley. Sometimes what you wish for comes alive in such a manner that you feel the old man from up above was just eaves dropping you.
I could never visit Malana though, next day in the morning in spite of so many places to visit in Manali I immediately decide to leave for Dharamshala. I heard a lot about the place but knew that its a commercial place. However, I felt I should be heading towards it anyway as I was sure I would be meeting new people and experience something new. I bid my farewell to old Manali, the same autowala took me to the bus station, I bought four snickers and got inside the bus. This time I made sure the bus was going directly to my destination. When I inquired, the bus-conductor told me that the bus will reach Dharamshala at seven in the evening. I glanced at the my watch, it was nine in the morning, I sighed. It turned out later that I was the first one to board the bus and also the last one to get down. The bus again took me through the zig-zag, across the valleys and hills, people getting up and getting down at different stands. It was 12:30 in the afternoon when the bus entered Mandi bus station, the conductor asked me, “Where would you have your lunch, in Mandi or Joginder Nagar?” As if I have a fair idea of the places, I replied promptly, “Joginder Nagar”. “Good, we will have our lunch there too, we will inform you, we can have our food together.” Later, I realized the distance between the former and the latter was 72 km, and my tummy rang several bells before I could fill it.
When the bus made its halt in Mandi for fifteen minutes, I saw a guy who was not from India but at the same time did not appear to be from typical west got inside the bus. He was traveling alone and seemed to be backpacking like me. He had a curly hair which was giving his look a Seurat’s painting kind of appearance. I count on my intuition and they were telling me, “You need to strike a conversation with his guy”. The conversation did happen and I initiated but not before we reached Palampur. Soon, i came to know he was carrying the hash from Malana. In the next three days we would not only be smoking joint together but would also sharing thoughts on philosophy, culture, teaching languages to each other and laughing out loud. Salom to David (Dudu) Elbaz. Contd…
The bus was small, and since it was morning it didn’t had many passengers either. But the vehicle was going at a speed which I thought was not appropriate, it was going too fast, speeding at the sharp turns where it should have slowed down a bit. I hold on to my guts and had to put my faith on the driver. We reached Ghatasni by 8:00 am in the morning, quite a speed. The bus stops at a market place after half an hour, and the people in the bus rush towards the bus stalled in front. Confused, I asked the driver, “was it not a direct bus?” “Yes, go to that bus” he said. I did what he told me to. I see the bus and the driver have changed, the conductor remains the same. I don’t know but it is for some reason funny for me. The plan was to reach Mandi by 9:30 am where Megha and six of her friends would be joining from Delhi, and another four from Dehradun. At first, I was unsure about joining them as crowd always suffocates me, then I thought, why not? Its alright to be with friends, anyway at times its good to know people during a trip.
It was 9:45 when I reached Mandi, Megha and friends were yet to reach but they forwarded me the number of Mr Biswajit. Mr Biswajit, his wife Monalisha, and their friends Bhaskar and Suru came from Dehradun to join us, they were already waiting there for the group in Mandi. The duo call themselves ‘Monajeet’, I am talking about Mr and Mrs Biswajit, they seem to have traveled across Himachal and trekked through various hills and mountains. We instantly stroke some common chords. Soon, Megha and her friends joined us. They all looked sleepy and hungry after the overnight journey from Delhi. Everyone agreed on heading straight to Prashar lake. Prashar lake is located 50 kms north of Mandi, and the drive from Mandi would take almost two and half hours to reach there. I already saw some majestic pictures of the lake when it snows here. There’s no snow at this time of the year (during April), but no doubt the place and the view itself will enchant me. Situated at a height of 8960 ft above sea level, the three storied Pagoda like temple is dedicated to the sage Prashar (Wikipedia). The drive till Prashar itself is mesmerizing, the valleys and hills again greet me. Pragyan and others were following us in the other car. Pragyan is one of the many special friends Megha is blessed with, when I last saw this guy in a busy street of Fancy bazaar in Guwahati he was picking something for his sister. That was some six years back, now he is all grown up into a man. He keeps things to himself and doesn’t talk much but I like his company, after all an introvert can open up before his own kind. We stopped somewhere in the middle to fill ourselves with something, and what else better than a bowl of Maggi noodles with half-fried egg (poach). We all had more than a bowl of Maggi and I’ve lost the count of egg poach we had. Basically we filled ourselves like greedy hogs and soon ready to charge the lake. From here it was another 20 minutes of drive to Prashar lake. It was late afternoon when we reached Prashar, everyone looked a bit tired and took their own time to freshen up and get ready. Well getting ready to nothing, we were still confused whether to stay in our tents, or book couple of rooms in the nearby guesthouse but we were running short of a tent to provide shelter for 13 people.
The lake is surrounded by hillocks and the moment we reached near the lake I leave all my belongings to climb one with Pragyan and Bipin (friend from Himachal). The climb to the hillock looked easy, but when I reached the midway of it I could feel my chest was pumping out blood to every inch of my body, I could no longer breath and felt as if my heart is going to pop out from my mouth. Took some breather, caught my breath again, and finally reached the top of the hillock. I could hear the wind, see the whole Dholadhar mountain range and the lake, the three storied Pagoda looked so ancient, the place itself must be thousand years old. Someone told us that once a researcher from U.S. came here to study the lake and measure its depth. She came prepared with all her equipment’s and gadgets but eventually had to leave without any success. One can feel the intense energy surrounding the lake provided you have the ears to listen to it. The priest of the temple shared a story with Pragyan where his great grandfather once dived into the lake and discovered a cave beneath the lake, he went on to meditate there for a week, I would like to believe in that fairy tale.
Soon the sun sets and we fix our tents, since there is very less vegetation its difficult to get firewood, so we could not start any bonfire, and therefore no merry making. I was alright with that as my eyes were fixed on the starry sky, the star seems to take over the sky when its pitch dark and there’s no moon to be seen. My elders are right when they say never to compare the beauty of the nature between the day and that of the night, what might seem to enthrall you during the sunlight might appear creepy and scarily mysterious in the absence of the light. The whole place went quite, only the occasional giggle and vague sounds coming from the trekkers who were camping in some distance. As the night progressed I could hear some noise from the temple, it happened to be the ‘bhajan’ which would continue throughout the night. I was quietly lying down in my tent and listening to this magical noise coming from the pagoda. Megha fell asleep early as the terrains were too tiring for her. I couldn’t sleep that well that night for two reasons, I didn’t want the moment to slip by in the hills in my sleep, secondly, I felt as if someone was standing near the tent, and I had to stay alert. The night was freezing, and only thing that saved us from it was the tent and the blankets which we rented from the temple sources, you can borrow it for a cheap 20 bucks for the night.
Everyone was still sleeping in their tent when I woke up. I was too sluggish to do the morning chores so I sat down on the rock nearby gazing towards the temple. As some moments pass by I see flock of people in the open pavement near the temple. Gradually I see some people with a fully grown Himalayan goat moving inside the temple entrance, they together repeat some mantra after the priest, I could only hear the echo of it. I was just waiting to witness the obvious. After some time they took the animal to one corner of a nearby hillock, with a blow its head was chopped off, I sighed. The spell broke loose when Pragyan greeted me, he brought me prasad from the temple, the prasad was suji (semolina) made with ghee and it tasted delicious, he told me that he was there witnessing the whole affair. People started to wake up from their slumber and we begin to fold our tents. Before we leave, I took a parikrama of the lake with Pragyan. I could feel the soil near the lake is pretty spongy, I could just imagine how it would be to take a dive beneath the surface of the lake and reach the lake-bed. I quickly freshen up and changed my undergarments into fresh ones. People would depart and leave for their respective destinations, some would leave for Dehradun, some for Noida and Delhi, and I just decided to leave for Manali after reaching Mandi. Mr Biswajit suggested me to stay in old Manali as it shall interest me with less crowd and various cafes. After spending there for a day or two I could decide my next destination. I nodded to myself.
After reaching Mandi I quickly departed for Manali. Ideally where it should have taken some odd three hours to reach Manali from Mandi, it took almost five and half hours to reach the place. Being the conductor of Himachal State Transport he should have been more responsible in telling that the bus is going to Kullu and not to Manali, rather he tells me that I can get another bus from Kullu and would take responsibility to get me one. I said, “OK”. It was not a bad decision though, I was anyway not in any hurry. I thought in a way I could also get a feel of Kullu.The road from Mandi to Manali can be tricky for drivers who are new to the valley, with sharp turns things can go pretty rough if you are not alert enough. We pass by Pondoh dam which looks serene and quiet for the moment. There’s also a tunnel which is around 2.8 km in length on the way. I love tunnels, last time I remember the excitement while crossing the tunnel near Maibang with a Royal Enfield. I was trying to look through the window the size and the feel of the tunnel, it was cold and huge. It took some minutes before we could see the light of the day. The bus finally reached Kullu, the conductor helped me to locate the bus which would take me to Manali. I made myself comfortable and when the conductor of this bus said, “Sir, this bus can only drop you till Manali road, you will get another bus from there which would drop you till Manali”, I could have got down then, then I thought it would be fun to see at what time I reach Manali.I finally board the bus which would finally drop me to Manali, we passed by many restaurants and food joints, I was a lot hungrier to see them. I also pass by many rafting points beside the river Bias. I would like to try rafting next time I visit Himachal again. The bus finally comes to its final halt in Manali. The place seemed to be crowded with various shops of different interests, people who appeared to be tourists from different states and people from different nationalities were flocking everywhere. I got down from the bus, it was almost 8 in the evening, I knew where I should be heading to, I ask the autowala, “Old Manali?” “90 bucks” he said. We bargained at 70. Within 10 minutes I was in old Manali. I got down near a Tattoo parlor after crossing the bridge. With no arrangements of stay for the night I started to search for a room, but first I need to kill my hunger. Then there in the distance some few meters away I saw Richiek’s cafe. Contd…
Mountains and hills have a magical impact on the soul. And like many others, it never ceases to enthrall me and I always find my inspiration amidst the gorges and clouds.
For me at least, a sudden travel plan always work wonders. However, it’s not that often that your impulsive urge to travel brings you ecstatic feeling when you go through your memories later.
The last weekend was not ordinary as we witnessed the first ever Judima festival was being organized in the picturesque Dibarai village of Haflong. I belong to Dimasa tribe, and obviously Haflong is one of the important natives of the tribe. However, before this I had been here only twice. Once, to attend a funeral function and on the other occassion for work.
But this time I wanted to be a part of it, not just to have fun but also wanted to experience my own culture. Being born and brought up in Guwahati and having stayed outside for work have only necessitated the urge more. They say, one needs to return to their roots. I thought of starting with Judima Festival.
We planned the perfect plan- The perfect plan was we didn’t plan at all. I just told the HR head that I am taking a break for some days, for me Christmas holiday started early. Shubhadeep, my office colleague was more excited than me, he never tasted Judima before. This was his maiden chance!
Judima is the traditional brew of the Dimasa kachari tribe, I won’t call it rice beer because it ain’t so! It tastes like wine, the old the better. Judima is prepared with Bora or waxy rice which is indigenous to the region. The maiju variety of rice is considered the best for premium quality Judima. The yeast needed to prepare Judima is from the bark of a plant called Thembra (Acacia pennata).
Anyway, after the last minute hassle we boarded the direct train to the New Haflong railway station. Earlier we had to reach Lumding to catch the ‘Hill Queen’ meter gauge train to reach the hill station. They say it was one of a kind experience as the train makes its way through narrow gorges and 37 major tunnels. I never had the chance to experience it. Pheww!
With the total duration of 8 hours the journey is smooth, and you would not like to miss the scenic beauty of these majestic hills by dozing away after you cross Lumding. The rendezvous with nature when the train is trying to make its presence felt while crossing the bridges over the stream, passing by the dark deep tunnels, one can feel the sorcery of the hills working on you.
Fifteen minutes’ drive from New Haflong station and we reached Dibarai high school field where the event was to take place. Lush green field and the aroma of smoked pork was awaiting us.
When I was elaborating about Haflong I asked my friend to keep his expectations to the minimal because you really need to allow this hill station to sip in to your nerves before it starts giving you pleasure and that takes some time. In fact it can be compared to Judima which needs undivided attention of yours to touch your taste buds and senses. And when it does it can give you the unforgettable hangover of a lifetime.
The first ever Judima festival is a result of the collaboration between YADEM and Dibarai Mahila Samiti with the focal point being to discuss the true potential of Judima and its commercial aspects, and also to promote trekking, cycling, and also to create an avenue for sustainable eco-cultural tourism by creating different infrastructure facilities. Also, the need to obtain the GI(geographical indicator) rights of Judima for Dimasa community for successful exploration of future commercial benefits for the indigenous Dimasa people. (Source: Bankim Phonglo). I believe this can be a backpacker’s wonderland and an untapped potential of being the hot spot for adventure sports.
It was time for fun now! The festival started with some traditional flair followed by dances and folk tunes by different tribes. However, we were waiting for the official opening of Judima stall to start relishing the taste of wine.
As the time started catching up and the day began to ripe a little we were joined by new friends and we were smitten by the hospitality of the people around us. The lady of the house where we staying as guests gifted us a bottle of Judima. We were delighted!
The real deal was on the second and final day. Best thing to do in any trip is to be there without any expectations it boosts the rush of excitement when you get to see the unexpected. Thanks to the brothers for a free breakfast and to the Highlander bikers for a free ride to different magical spots of Haflong.
The throttle of Highlanders was making each moment count and the knowledgeable and the warm gesture of the riders made these experience all the more richer. It was four hour ride to various places starting from the mesmerizing Muolpong watch tower, Devi mandir, the Lover’s point- Fiangpui with wholesome meal of Puri Ghugni at the boat house, to the mysterious hills of Jatinga and finally concluding the ride at the New Haflong railway station.
We were simply thumped by the unexplored beauty of Dima hasao. If Shillong is the ‘Scotland of the East’ then Haflong is considered as ‘Switzerland of the East’ but then I would say forget about the comparisons and just be ready to get enthralled because I don’t have any adjectives nor metaphors to define it.
Music is in the soul of any hill station, and especially it stands true for any region of Northeast. So the evening concert saw the right spices of music -from traditional songs of the tribe to folk fusion by the band Koloma from Tripura. Then it was the time for ‘No Boundaries’ to play some covers from AC/DC to Iron maiden. Special mention to Mr. Hagjer who played along with No Boundaries and enchanting the crowd with his harmonica. It was followed by Nishant Hagjer’s drum solo and after hearing him live for the first time I have no doubt why he is regarded as one of top ranking drummers who are high-flyers of India.
And yet the biggest gift of the evening was yet to come in the form of Soulmate- the blues band from Shillong and internationally renowned for their genre. We didn’t miss this opportunity to get high over blues and tripped from every song to the other, set me free, voodoo woman and Go, Johnny, go was just apt for the mood to set ablaze the floor. We danced, we tapped, we waved and we sang along. Blues off to Tipriti and Rudy!
Finally, it was time to say our goodbyes. We had to skip that late night invitation for a bonfire jam by our friends as we had a early morning bus to catch. Nevertheless, it was one of those unforgettable weekend escape which leaves you with memories to cherish and some fresh ideas to hover upon. Look out for this festival to grow big and become a tourist destination. Until I am ready for the next trip to the magical hills of Dima Hasao its three cheers of Judima to all my friends in Haflong to both the old and the new. Peace & Love!
How to reach Haflong from anywhere:
More or less you have to reach Guwahati first, this is for those who are travelling from North.
A total of 5 trains ply between Guwahati to New Haflong station.
The most punctual train in this route is Kanchanjanga Exp with an average delay of 6 minutes.
The least punctual train in this route is 15602 NDLS SCL PSK EXP with an average delay of 5 hours and 46 minutes.
Minimum fare from Guwahati to Haflong is Rs 110 in second seater, and maximum up to Rs 1160 in First AC.
Disclaimer: The writer holds no responsibility for any discrepancy of the timings and name of the train. The data is as per the update provided by Indian Railways.
Note: This post is the writer’s experience from the maiden Judima festival held in the month of January, 2016. Rajiv is a life coach, and writer and will be heading the session of guided meditation in the second chapter of Judima Festival!
It was a much needed vacation after slogging hard for the past 6 months. After a lot of speculation and avoiding Shillong as our holiday destination we ended up there. Even after visiting this hill station ample number of times my romance with this place never fades away. Another reason for being biased for this place is because this is where Megha and me started our courtship, and we never looked backed except for some pauses which we would just scroll back to revisit some of the beautiful memories that we created.
Shillong, in this time of year comes all the more alive as you can hear Christmas carols being played, aroma of the plum cakes getting baked and not to forget the cheerful people greeting you with a smile while you take a stroll through the busy streets of Police Bazaar.
Away from the busy and noisy suburb we decided to stay in upper Shillong, this part of the hill station is my favorite with its beautiful landscape that provides a scenic view of the whole of Shillong. However, the temperature dips down more than usual in this part of the station after dark.
We stayed in a small but cozy inn, and since we were the only guests we knew that it was going to be a pleasant and peaceful stay. The moment we reached, we knew that we would like to come back to this place time and again. However, our stay was mixed with a strange behavior of the caretaker of the property. Except for the fact that she was a great cook (she did the cooking as well), she was kinda rude to us. We have been to almost all the guest houses and inns in Shillong but don’t have distasteful memories with any. This was a different experience though, the lady was almost dictating us, and she abruptly denied to give me a piece of lemon when I asked for it after having dinner. As the rooms are built adjacent to the terrace we have to go down every time if we need something. On the first day seeing her working alone we in fact offered our help in the kitchen and she replied with a cold ‘no’. The whole affair tells a lot about human interaction and behavior, and how it goes on to form our opinion about people. If we have to empathize with her, we would like to assume that something must have gone wrong or may be she was upset with something which lead her to behave like that.
I believe your interaction with your surroundings says a lot about you, and I don’t think a little gesture of kindness and love will cost us much. This small glitch didn’t deter us to have a gala time there. We did loads of shopping for our loved ones and of course for ourselves, not forgetting the priceless times we had.
Hereby, wishing all my readers and friends a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!