I followed the approach of my plane towards the Lengpui Airport in Aizawl keenly. Its wonderful to land amongst the hills..The drive to Aizawl from Lenpui was about 1 1/2 hours and a young Mizo taxi driver approached me and proceeded with my baggage towards his van.I started speaking to him in Hindi and I was given a blank look.I asked him "English or Hindi?" ."English please Ma'am" was his reply.
Biker dude shot from far above(my room)
Aizawl's skyline is dotted with numerous churches and as we wound up the hairpin bends,the bustling city greeted us.Aizawl is another bike crazy city. Both men and women are extremely fashion conscious and don't mind paying hefty amounts to stock their wardrobe with the latest clothes and accessories, from Gucci, Fendi and D&G copies, impeccably replicated from Bangkok,Hong Kong, to the smartest boots and stilletos which have featured in Vogue(atleast immaculately copied). Women are stylishly smart and walk around in boots with Burberry-competing trench coats.(It wasn't winter when I was in Aizawl but it had gotten pretty cold due to the rains).The booty is however overpriced in Aizawl as compared to its counterparts, Shillong and Kohima. But of course very very worth the money if you had to shop for the same things back in Delhi or Mumbai.
Young women own fashion and accessory stores and I was first greeted in Mizo before they realized I wasn't a Mizo.Then they would rumble on in English. I tried to bargain a lot but its pretty useless. The maximum they'll bring down the price is a 50 bucks on a pair of shoes.I picked up yellow stilletos,criss-crossed ballerinas, a royal blue bag that reminded me of the Lady Dior and a couple of tops which were neo-styled. A young gal about my age showed me a couple of rings,earrings and chains at her store and as I was trying to recollect where I had seen similar stuff,she read my thoughts and said "Aldo?".That was it..!
I stayed at the Hotel Ritz in the executive room with the best view.The number of pictures I've taken of the same view in its various hues, tints and cloudbursts is not funny.I would just go on clicking and the next second I would realize I haven't captured the vista enough. Tinntinnabulations from far away churches, another of my favourite tunes in the world,sounded so exotic with the clouds bursting into my windows and the soft strains from 'Wavin' Flag' drifting in from the lane which was far below as the hotel stood on a winding road few 100 meters above the lane below. The populace is football crazy or rather the'd be called 'football fanatics' with incidences of people punching their TV screens if their favourite team lost!Though the city closed down by 9pm(shops by 5:30pm), the football frenzy went on until the 'wee hours' of the famed early north east Indian nights.
Food habits are very similar to Arunachal and Nagaland with lots of smoked foods,pork,bamboo shoots and boiled vegetables. I sampled the curries with fish and chicken and went about the town on foot. Its a wonderful way to get to know a place that way.Theres a whole new pleasure in it..I saw a tiny fast food joint with a couple of stools as seaters and a non-northeast Indian man and Mizo woman behind the counter.The menu was simple:
Egg Chicken Roll
Pork Roll(If I'm not mistaken)
Each for about a 30 bucks.The joint clearly had a large clientele as both the young and old crowded in and stood by the side walk to await their orders.A middle aged man walked in(he must have been a Marwari) and asked for the veg roll.The man who was frying the wraps behind the counter dismissed the order saying "Veg nahi milega"(U won't get vegetarian food here) in an exasperated tone. The man looked around lost,and headed out of the joint;clearly he'd come in seeking the famed rolls..
I picked up a roll and was impressed..Theres a small cafe near the Chanmari Church called Glenary's which is a cosy hangout.I met Mimi there who's a pretty Mizo belle with an air of friendly consonance .We caught up over coffee and she apprised me with city trivia and all things Mizo. The aroma of warm ginger cookies and the glass panelled walls that provide a view of the street make it a comfortable haven to admire the rain and people busily moving up and down the street. The lanes are pretty narrow and the traffic jams in the city are a common sight especially in the market areas.
I had to push off to the airport early next morning.My taxi driver(who had driven me to Aizawl) had requested me to call him for the ride back.He had very politely confirmed with me the previous evening via a text message -"Miss,its tomorrow morning 7 am,Ritz Hotel.Right?".Sure enough he arrived on time as I was checking out.The airport staff arrived with the keys to the airport 15 mins after I had arrived at the airport.We'd passed them hanging onto a rickety bus on our way there.Slowly one passenger after another arrived and my driver bade me goodbye"Please come again Ma'am,and I'll be here when you come next" :)
I met the same airhostesses and pilot on my flight back from Lilabari to Guwahati. He seemed Mexican, a la-Santana with a classic wool packer hat and trendy wraparound sunglasses.He had stepped out of the plane to stretch his legs and walked back the aisle from the back of the plane,ready for his next flight. After the emblematic security rehearsal, we were airborne.
Agartala is a pretty big city. The best hotel in town was the Ginger Hotel .If tourism is to be developed in the north east(which has tremendous scope),more investment needs to be brough in. It is a pretty expensive city with prices of vegetables like cauliflower costing upto Rs 150 per kg!I met a descendant of the royal family who despite his medium height, had a regal air and a handsome face. He reminded me of the director Ang Lee.I have hardly come across any Tripuris in my stay and journeys all over India so Tripura was a mystifying and unknown state for me.
The Ujjayanta Palace(now the Assembly House) is a lovely white building in the heart of the city. In fact Tripura has numerous tourist destinations if one had an itenerary of a couple of days.Neermahal,an imperial lake palace in Udaipur,53 km from Agartala is only one of its kind in Eastern India. People look and speak Bengali and Tripuri.For lunch, it had to be authentic Tripuri food so I walked into a local restaurant where the men served me with a smile never once leaving their lips. I hogged on rice, a tangy dal curry and a hilsa and mustard curry which is out of this world. Its very similar to the Bengali and Manipuri preparation of the hilsa with mustard. The waiters were so happy seeing me eat so savouringly ,they brought me more curry and I didnt have the heart to resist because it was delicious!
Slumping onto my car seat,I asked my driver to take me to the Bangladesh border which is very close to Agartala.I was dozing off when I heard loud honking and an array of trucks right in the middle of the road. I got off and headed out to the border check point on foot. It was fun standing at the border line. I was getting on the nerves of the BSF guard who kept asking me to stay on the Indian side of the border. I was too excited to care and kept 'accidentally' stumbling onto the Bangladesh side of the border much to his annoyance. I fulfilled a bucket list wish of 'Being in two places at once' at the cost of the enraged guard whom I thanked profusely as I was leaving. There was an Indian side with the tricolour fluttering away and the Bangladeshi flag just a few meters away,heralding the inconspicuous path to Bangladesh that looked not an iota different from its Indian counterpart.I wondered about the philosophy of having borders at all..
My evening flight out of the city was another highlight of my trip with my rendezvous with the same airhostesses yet again whom i met for the third time over 4 days and who instantly recognized me. As I took off, the gleaming border lights on the fencing between the two countries,sent me an inkling to come back to explore this undiscovered territory..
I flew down to the Lilabari airport in Assam from Guwahati in a rickety ATR.We were only 8 passengers and we could choose our seats according to convenience.I like always took the window seat.One of the airhostesses quickly served us a coleslaw sandwich with a pretty descent Air India brownie while the other gave us a quick security protocol demo and we were airborne in no time.
The flight was about 45 mins and before I knew it, we were preparing to land. The Lilabari airport was deserted since we were the only passengers who'd arrived and the handlful of airport staff after receiving us,started packing up for the day. The plane took off with another smattering of passengers and the airport was closed down for the week.The airport supported only 2 flights per week so..
The deserted airport with my shuttle
I stepped out and couldn't see a taxi or rick in sight.The locals whol had arrived with me had a relative or friend to pick them up so I was stranded.The staff offered me the airport shuttle(which was an old Armada) which was dropping the lady who performed security checks(on the return trip to Guwahati,she'd come to work only for me),the 2 baggage incharge boys and me now to Itanagar for an extra 400 odd bucks. The drive along the northern Assam countryside was lovely with plains of fields all around.I have a habit of getting lost with my surroundings,especially on long drives. As we approached Arunachal, one could see the contrast in terrain as we started the climb. Young guys on attractive yamaha fazers were zooming past on the highway. As we were climbing a slope,I saw a young biker fidgetting with his moving bike and before I could realize what happened next,he stood on his seat and gave me a stylish salute as we flashed past him on a slope.I was floored! :)
I love people from the hills.Theres always a simplicity and innocence that the hills preserve in its people. Though we need permits to enter the state, I pulled of a stint of an Arunachali gal with her driver and swished past the staring policeman at the security check point.We were in proper Itanagarsoon after. I had chosen the Hotel Donyi Polo for my stay which is one of the best in the capital though its maintained by the Government. Donyi Polo is a sun worshipping religion that the Arunachalis have adopted. They are not staunch about their religion and are basically worshippers of nature.
It wasnt a star rated hotel but the view from my room made it totally worth it. The weather was absolutely amazing. June is a wet season in all northeastern states with frequent rainfalls. Incidentally in Arunachal unlike most north eastern states,most people are comfortable with Hindi rather than English.
The women are petite,flawlessly complexioned and move around in stylish mekhlas. I knew that Itanagar was also one place where u get good Bangkok stuff like in other the states of Manipur, Nagaland , Mizoram and Meghalaya since the latest stuff comes in from Thailand,Malaysia and Myanmar via the borders.I have actually seen fashion trends originating in the northeast reaching even Delhi much later.I had a local friend named Michael who took me to a local restaurant where I wanted to savor the local cuisine.We ordered for a fish curry for me with bamboo shoots, boiled vegetables,some rice and an aloo chutney which is made with potatoes,small fish and lots of chillies(they of course toned down the chillies for me). Michael preffered to have pork in a similar curry.The flavours are more suited to acquired tastebuds. The curry was boiled and it was a very healthy spread indeed. It was similar to food in Manipur. That's how we eat most of our foods-lots of boiled stuff and lots of fish. Saumf was served after the heavy lunch and i picked up a few packets of yak cheese to chew on for long journeys.
I then headed out to the shopping arcade in the city centre to do my bit of shopping. There were new styles from Hong Kong and Bangkok and some stuff from other parts of the country as well. Some styles are only suited to the petite slim figures and looks of northeast Indian women and they carry it off with amazing panache. Looks straight out of Korean movies (which are popular throughout the northeast are copied effortlessly. Its sometimes hard to find stuff that caters to women with generous figures like me since Bangkok also caters to their slim petite women, but I dug out a couple of tops and picked up stylish clutchpins for a 100 bucks which otherwise sell for 600 bucks or more at stores like Forever New and Aldo(I love their stuff too but u get the latest styles at throwaway prices here!!). There weren't too many stores with clothes and shoes and I was saving for Kohima and Aizawl.
The monastery site
I met another friend who's the Additional Secretary for Sports and Youth affairs. He comes across as a cheerful young man of not more than 27-28 yrs in age, but he's about 35 and has 3 young kids. :) He took me to a small monastery in the heart of the capital. The monastery is pretty small once u've seen the ones in Sikkim and Leh. The monastery is perched on a hilltop and the view around it is breathtaking. The prayer flags flutter in the evening breeze and the oil lamps in the dark room in one of its corners flicker with the breeze without going out. The smell of Tibetan incense and the oil lamps is one of my favourite smells in the world. Its absolutely ethereal. The twinkle of lights at a distance slowly increased in number as the clouds enveloped the monastery and the sun settled down for the day. The settlements on various hill slopes in hill towns is another enchanting sight. Tibetan and Buddhist curio sold here are overpriced as compared to Buddhist towns and cities like Gangtok or Leh.
The next day I visited the lake situated in the lap of surrounding hills, a few kilometers away from the city centre. The spot was deserted again except for a bunch of young girls and boys taking pictures and heading out. It was drizzling and I quickly made it around the lake,touched its waters and headed back. There are thickets and tall trees everywhere and a million bugs noisily chattering away. The whole city is a tourist spot as there are views and beautiful sceneries at every nook and corner. The changing weather and the clouds only enhance the beauty of the whole place.
On my drive back to Lilabari, down the hillslopes, I saw a river beautifully taking a u turn around a settlement of houses. It was an interesting sight!
The 'U turn' river
Tawang was left out in my itenarary but thats the main tourist spot with its monasteries and the Chinese border as attractions. There are choppers operating from Itanagar and Guwahati which are a good option as there are daily choppers flying to Tawang and other remote areas.
I'll remember Arunachal mostly for those brightly coloured bikes with their stylish bikers. My friend told me that even though some of them might have mud houses, theres always a stylish bike parked outside every house...
I had heard about Guntur in Andhra Pradesh.I always thought it was a small remote town. Its a pretty big city! I drove down to Vijaywada from Hyderabad. The route was comfortable with the Film City and Pochampalli village,of the famed sarees with the same name, falling enroute. I made it to Vijaywada in good time and headed to the Gateway Hotel where I was putting up.Vijaywada along with Guntur are twin cities in the Guntur district. The first thing that I noticed about the city were the women with beautiful dusky complexions, clad in fine heavy silks with jasmine in their thick long plaited hair and the men clad in lungis and chappals,casually stepping out of their mercedeses and bmws to dine at the hotel.
I walked down the MG road and went into the local stores displaying bridal couture. The stores boast of all kinds of silk and heavily embroidered sarees and dress materials visually appealing and equally heavy on the pocket!I wondered if I should pick up a saree or two for friend's engagement parties but decided against the heavy silks.. I had a field time during meal times with the best of south indian preparations blended in coconut and exotic spices, the mainstay of south indian gourmet.The curries,rasams,appams,hyderabadi biryanis made me feel like i was in food heaven. I remembered my geography teacher in class 4, who once while describing the food habits of south Indian people told us that the locals in south India eat so much coconut that their sweat actually smells of coconut!No hard feelings!
I saw a guy at meal time whom i recognized from a roadside movie poster to be an actor. He must have been.He was quite attractive with a tall stature and lovely curly hair. I wonder why we haven't seen him in bollywood yet!
Reading up on the city,I learnt that the only Indian family on the Titanic was from Guntur!Work took me to the Nizampatnam port which stank of dried and salted fish and had truckloads of fish spread out across the port for sunning.There were numerous fishermen boats lined up in the crowded bay, wobbling with the waves.A little away from the port, one could see the fizzy white waves of the sea crashing in onto the bay area. The countryside was beautiful with endless stretches of green fields,coconut trees and hoards of bright red chillies just harvested.These hoards of chillies can actually be seen from air when one approaches the city by plane during harvest time.
Roadside refreshments were loads of coconut water and for me with my 32 sweet teeth,the kheers and mysore paks, which is actually a speciality of Karnataka,were more than welcome.
I am pretty excited about new places all the time and love interacting with the locals.I spoke to them in Telugu dropping a 'Ni per ante?' and 'Nuvu Ami Chestano?' around ,meaning 'What's your name?' and 'How are you?' in Telugu, leaving many in awe and excitement.
Machilipatnam, another port in the Krishna district was similar to the Nizampatnam port except that the fishermen were friendlier.With a little tourist charm and Telugu to my rescue,the smiling fishermen offered me a boat ride and i grabbed it without a thought.Two fishermen untied a fisherman's motor boat and we headed out toward the sea.I was awfully excited!There were thick mangroves on both sides and as we sailed out further,I saw twobrightly coloured lighthouses at a distance,on opposite sides as if they were forming a gateway to the the waves of the Bay of Bengal.It was a lovely sight!And then,I saw the beach!My heart was beating fast as we moved onto the shore and the fishermen helped me out of the boat.
I am a beach person and just love the beach,the sea and the endless walks that make me lose count of time..After a quick facebook snap next to the lighthouse,I walked towards the beach barefoot.The beach was deserted with not a single soul in sight.It wasn't a tourist beach anyway.I saw patches of red across the beach and from the corner of my eye,suddenly saw them moving..The fishermen ran towards the patches and i realized they were crabs!They were beautiful bright red creatures,sunning themselves on the beach in the warm sun! One of the fishermen brought me one and i posed with it for another snap.The beach was endless,beautiful,unpolluted and awesome, a fascinating undiscovered spot.
The walk had to be cut short since we had to head back as the tide was coming in soon.The breeze and the waves were all there was to talk to.The sun was setting and the sky was a flaming orange as we sailed back to the port.
The lighthouses,the beach, the coconut trees,Guntur chillies, the women with jasmine in their hair and of course the South Indian actor...lovely memories from Krishna-Guntur..
I decided to start a blog for no specific reason. I'm no great writer nor do i have strong opinions on a subject.I did want to share my discoveries of the lesser known or 'less travelled to' but amazing parts of the country. My travels have taught me lessons, made me discover the place from a whole new angle and given me beautiful memories. I'm a big foodie and a shopaholic who's been on a 'Shopping diet' for a long time now since i left my full time bank and PR job. My current work as a consultant has taken me to the remotest corners of a state, one otherwise wouldn't plan on for a trip or vacation. I discovered remote fashion capitals, beautiful beaches and met wonderful people along the way...I hope i can keep up with this.