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Please Pray For My Friend Gigi Hawaii

“Gigi-Hawaii” is a blog nickname for Glenda Chung Hinchey, a third-generation Korean-American, born and raised in Hawaii.  She graduated from the University of Hawaii (BA Sociology) and then traveled solo around the world for seven years, living in California, Thailand, Europe, and New York.  She taught English at Thammasat University, Voice of America, and AUA Language Center in Bangkok and was a graduate student in music at Columbia University.  A former Hawaii Public Radio commentator,
she has published an anthology, three memoirs 1 .Like a Joyful Bird: A Memoir  2. Love, Life, and Publishing: A Second Memoir 3. Look for Me in Hawaii: A Third Memoir, and many newspaper columns.  She lives with her husband David in Honolulu.  They have two daughters, a son-in-law, and two lovely grandchildren.I met Glenda two years back through her beautiful blog gigi -hawaii .We are regular at each others blog and many of you must have noticed her in comments.She is a warm ,wonderful ,bright and an  inspiring person. Above all she is a great friend .
 About a week back Gigi had to go to the emergency room as she could not close her left eye and the left side of her face dropped. The diagnosis is Bell’s Palsy. This is her second Bells Palsy attack ,she previously had it in 2004 on the right side of her face. E.R.doctor referred her to neurologist. She is going to see her neurologist on Thursday.
I have been praying for her and would also request all my blogger friends and who so ever is reading this to  wish and pray for her fast recovery and complete cure  .Thanks.
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Magical Mayong Pabitora Festival 2011

The picture at the entrance gate  shows King Of Mayong and his parliamentarians
Mayong a small and beautiful village near Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary in Morigaon district is situated about 40-45 km away from Guwahati. Mayong is famous for its  history of magic,sorcery and herbal therapy. During the medieval period in ancient India, Mayong is said to remain the Indian Capital of Black Magic and Witchcraft. Mayong is full of supernatural stories. .Except for the few most of the magic secrets and spells were not documented but passed
from mouth to mouth from generation to generation.It is said that people came from far off and abroad to learn magic here. Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary  is mainly famous for its great Indian one horned Rhino. Besides Rhino the other animals are Leopard, Wild boar, Barking deer,wild buffalo etc. Assam’s Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary is also home to more than 2000 migratory birds and various reptiles. It is also an Important Bird Area …(info courtesy wiki).
Pics showing the main entrance of the sanctuary ,the way to the event and an interesting cycle parking area.
 To highlight the significance of flora and fauna and other historical aspects of Mayong-Pobitora for the first time, Morigaon district administration in association with local people of Mayong Pobitora and supported by Assam Tourism Development Corporation successfully organised the Mayong-Pobitora festival 2011 at Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary from November 25 to 27.Live exhibition of the rural life of Assam , magic practitionary,cultural procession , traditional food and handicraft,Kayaking events,boating ,elephant safari ,sighting of rhinos and migratory birds were the main attraction of the event
We noticed some migratory birds on our way from car parking  towards  the event area.
The festival was inaugurated on 24th Nov but  because of Friday being a working day we could not attend it  .On inaugural day a cultural procession was headed by the King of Mayong, Tarani Kanta Raja, and Kanak Chandra Deka Raja of Raja Mayong village. Along with them, Braja Kanta Deka, the Raja of Hati Murai Mayong, was also present. Around 200 people participated in the cultural procession.On Sunday which was the concluding day of the festival me and my husband visited the place.After about an hour and half beautiful drive we reached Mayong.The day was sunny and pleasant.The crowd was huge but very well managed by the organizers.
 As we entered the venue the first thing that we saw was this competition of traditional game where the players eyes are blindfolded while they hit an earthen pot with a stick .People from electronic and print media were present in big number.Villagers were kind and sweet enough to give me a spot from where i was able to capture these pictures.Out of about six participants i saw only two girl succeed in breaking the pot .
In the pics ..Bejs/Magic practitioners feel that this event will go a long way in promoting old  tradition of magic.
As we moved further we saw people seeking advice from Tantriks/ magic practitioners ( Bej – in local language).Must read this interesting link if you want to know more on this : A spell of ancient Mayong magic in Pobitora rhino land
 Work of famous local artists were showcased in this handicraft exhibition .Beautiful wood carvings , masks , paintings and other exhibits were on display.
 Look at this beautiful bamboo art work .
The historical remainsof the ancient Mayong kingdom displayed by the conservation society of Mayong.The volunteers told us that some of these were gifts from Britishers .
 Mayong central museum and emporium in the village has preserved some of the ancient manuscript of Black Magic and Ayurveda.You can see old manuscripts ,silver jewellery, coins and other relics.
 Displayed here is one Palki /Dola (Palanquin) used to carry brides .The thick net was used to trap Tigers and Deers. An armour made of Rhino skin .Traditional brass utensils used in King’s kitchen.
 I faced one on my worst fear here …. this friendly TV camera and reporter caught us and we had to say few lines about our  experiences at the event .Hope they don’t air it .
 It took me sometime to recover from that interview shock .We avoided going to the shops that sold local hand loom ,woolen clothes and other items.The other ground was completely dedicated to the ethnic -food. The area smelt of smoked/grilled meat from pork ,mutton ,fish to chicken .Chandan tasted some mutton while i stood there only to take some pictures.
 Other neighboring villages had also participated.Ethnic food of various origin like Assamese ,Deori ,Karbi ,Nepalese was being cooked .The stalls were jam packed.
Post Updated on 29.11.11: Many of you want to know about that white ,round idli like snack in the above picture.This delicacy is known as Tekeli Pitha ,click here to know more about it .
 On walking little further we saw this pretty and small lake where visitors enjoyed boating .
 The event beautifully covered the traditional and cultural heritage of Assam .
 An old way of extracting oil from mustard seeds on display .
 For wild life enthusiasts elephant safari and jeep safari was arranged .
 Traditional Assamese Jewellery designs , bamboo jewellery(unique of NE).
 Brass metal traditional decorations ,wood carvings ,bamboo and cane furniture.
 We had our lunch at this small resort nearby which offered veg and non veg buffet priced at Rs 150(veg) and Rs 250 (non veg).The food was good and was served in this tent  very neatly and cleanly.I was surprised to find there a spacious and squeaky clean toilet .
 Some more colors of the festival. The above picture of ‘My Room’ is featured in my dear friend Clytie’s beautiful blog Random Hearts.Thanks Clytie.
 After spending more than three hours we headed back to Guwahati .We bought two flutes for my kids and really regret doing it now .They played the thing the whole evening.
Here are some pictures of the lovely sights on our journey back to home .

Durga Puja(Sharadiya Navratri) In North East India

A Very Happy Durga Puja (Navratras) To All Of You .

Sharad Navratri is widely celebrated in different ways throughout the India.In Sanskrit the word Navratri means nine nights.In the North East part of India it is celebrated as DurgaPuja.The dates of Durga Puja celebrations are set according to the traditional Hindu Calendar in the month of Ashwin which is the beginning of the winters.It falls in the months of Sep -Oct.As Durga Puja represents celebration of the Goddess as Shakti ,all her nine different forms are worshipped during these nine days.I would like to share my experiences on how i have been celebrating DurgaPuja all these years living in three different states of North -East( Assam,ArunachalPradesh and Meghalaya).With its religious significance this festival
has turned into a huge socio cultural event here.People participate in this celebration irrespective of their religion,backgrounds and beliefs.

You know the Puja is near when you find these Kumars (potters) engaged in making the clay images of the ten handed Goddess that we all worship later.The tradition of clay image making in India is as old as from 18 th century.The above picture is of Lachit Nagar area ,it is the hub of this art here in Guwahati. This job is very hard , lengthy and back breaking .The artist hardly noticed me when i clicked this picture.At a later stage these idols are decorated with beautiful clothes and jewellery.Beautiful pandals are build in different areas of the city(pandals are temporary structure made with bamboo and cloth ,these pandals are used as temporary temple to worship the goddess).While some of the pandals are simple structures, others are often elaborate works of art with themes that are based on history, current affairs and sometimes pure imagination.Pujas are mainly financed by the local people and communities, now a days we see some corporate houses coming forward as sponsors .In many part of Assam and other neighboring states the festival is celebrated in community prayer halls or Naamghar too.

The shops and malls are fully packed up from twenty to twenty five days from the festival as people shop for new clothes for themselves and their relatives.Lot of gift exchanges happens amongst friend and relatives during this time of the year.The festival starts with Mahalaya ,it is the day of invocation of the goddess to ward of evil from this earth.She is invoked by the chants of mantras and other devotional songs.We also pray and pay homage to our ancestors on this day.It is on the sixth day or Mahasashthi that the idols are inaugurated on pandals.It is said that Goddess arrives on this day to Earth accompanied by her children.Amongst the chanting and beats of drum the face of the Goddess is unveiled this day.The main puja takes place on 7th,8th and 9th day which are called Mahasaptami,Mahashtami and Mahanavami.

The above picture is of a Naamghar which has been celebrating the festival since 1935.The picture below shows the unvieled faces of the Goddess and the other Gods which are Ganesha,Laxmi, Saraswati,Kartika.You can see the very familiar pose of Ma Durga unleashing her wrath on Mahishasura a demon .It signifies the victory of good over evil.

Expert priests are appointed to perform the rituals as the whole process is very detailed and complicated.Now the next three days consists of chanting of mantras,shlokas ,aarati and offerings.Red being the favorite color of the Goddess ,one finds the head priest always dressed up in red.On the 7thday  Mahasaptami before the dawn nine types of plants are worshipped as a symbol of ma Durga.These nine plants are of Banana, Cola-cassia,Turmeric,Wood Apple,Jayanti,Pomegranate,Arum,Rice and Ashoka.A tree is dressed up as the goddess and is installed besides the gods and is worshipped.

As the priest continue with their rituals,crowd starts gathering up at the venue for offering their prayers. A welcome speech by the organizers announces the timings of different rituals and other cultural events .Durga is worshiped in the form of cosmic knowledge –Mahasaraswati.
Traditional drummers are called from nearby villages/areas. They are an integral part of puja.The beautiful images ,the sound of sankha(conch shell)the chanting of mantras,beating drums , the smell of scented flowers and incense sticks add a lot of charm to the rituals. Inside the hall/pandal ladies gather to sing durganaam( devotional songs for the goddess). The whole community becomes one family during this festival. During evening hours aarti is performed-it is one of the main attraction as the priest offers the light from the wicks soaked in ghee to the deity in a rhythmic dance like manner .The drummers play the drums non stop throughout the aarti.Aaarti is done in the spirit of humility and gratitude.It symbolizes five elements,earth,wind,fire,water and ether.

On the 8th day or Mahaashtami ,devotees gather again to offer pushpanjali (flower-offerings).Kumari puja is performed where little girls are worshipped at the goddess.Important sandi puja is performed later to interlink ashtami and navami .

It is also the time when we prepare Boloy,a yellow colored holy wrist band made of cloth which contains rice grains,mustard seeds,aparajita leaves and durva.Boloys are distributed on the day of Dasahami amongst the devotees. You can see yellow cloth and the ingredients that are used in making of a Boloy. On morning hrs outside the pandals/prayer halls one can notice many stalls where ladies group sell their home made sweets ,clothes and other handicrafts. To encourage the young kids for more active participation various competitions are held .After aarti and prasad distribution people enjoy cultural evenings.Evening also includes visiting various pandals of the city/town. The 9th day or Mahanavami is the concluding day of puja.As usual chanting of mantras and puja is offered to the goddess.A bhog is offered to the goddess which is later distributed amongst the devotees.Another attractive feature of puja is Khichuri prasad on the day of navami .It is a dish made with a mixture of various lentils and rice grains. Dashami or the 10th day is the day when the devotees bid a tearful farewell to the goddess.It is a very highly emotional day for all. Goddess is prepared for her departure — sound of drums,chants,devotional songs and offerings of flowers and the rice grains are showered at the images.

As the goddess is finally lifted the roaring sound of Durga Ma Ki Jai almost deafens ones ears.Moist eyes are norm .Finally the idols are carried in a procession around the locality and immersed in a nearby river or pond.Devotees bid her farewell with an invitation to come back again the next year. With tearful eyes and songs we say goodbye to her !

  Will be away for two weeks from blogger as i am visiting my mom and my brother’s family .Until then Happy Blogging .

Related Link : do check this link if interested to know more on Durga Puja  Evolution Of Durga Puja

Finding Them A Home

It is with great pleasure that i introduce you to one of my closest and dearest friend Rupa. Ruprekha Mushahary is working with ICCW (Indian Council for Child Welfare), New Delhi, as a life member as well as the  Secretary of the Council’s Assam State Branch. She passionately works for child rights and causes. Being a keen observer of the world she believes there is so much to learn and so much to do that there is no time to lose. Her hobbies include reading, writing, traveling, gardening, blogging, needlework/embroidery and of course cooking.Her interesting blog Feelings  is also a treasure trove of Bodo indigenous recipes.I thank her for sharing here  a true story that is  most close to her heart. 

                                       

                                       Finding Them A Home


pic courtesy : photohome.com
 I had almost completed my walk in the morning that day when the phone rang in my pocket, jerking me out of my reverie. My hand mechanically entered the pocket of the sweat shirt I was wearing, but ‘wait’, I told myself, should I or should I not answer the call ? Being too sure  of the fact that a call in the wee hours of the morning or middle of the night can carry either a very good or a very bad news, hence, my reluctance to pick up the phone. The last time I received a call at 3 in the morning was not one to cheer me in any way..

Perking myself on the cane sofa of the balcony where I usually take my much needed morning cup of tea after the walk, I reached for the phone. I could still hear the pounding of
my heart clearly. Now I could see that the calls were from Anita, the coordinator of our SAA, Sishu Greh. A message from the coordinator of Child line, Sanjeev too was waiting, which relieved me of all my worries instantly. I knew why Anita kept calling. “A new born (girl) found in the municipal garbage dump, serious, big ants found feasting on her head, neck and legs” was what the message said. I jumped out of my sofa, one more baby, how wonderful it feels to be a mom ! I Stood up, to get started, had a long day ahead . I only prayed that God be kind and let the baby survive !


As I drove to the hospital that morning to see the baby which was by then rescued and shifted to the hospital after informing the CWC(Child Welfare Committee), I was wondering, what might have happened to the mother, what made her throw the child away to die on a cold winter night ! Was she unwed, was the child taken away from her  by force, had this sad incident occurred only because it was a baby girl ? The baby was in a critical condition  with some portion of the head injured severely and wounds of insect bites all over her tiny body. Passing by a garbage dump I shivered at the thought of the baby lying there the whole night. My heart cried out. I realized my vision was blurred with tears, so slowing down the car I wiped my eyes and said a prayer “My good Lord,  just save this child, give her life and I promise you, she will never be without a home.”


While wondering why had the mother left the baby to die in a garbage dump, the face of Dipali came to my mind which softened my heart. The faraway look in her eyes always disturbed me, as if her eyes searched for someone in particular in the distance. She rarely smiled. I saw a faint smile the other day when I once wore a saree on one occasion and probably mistaking me for her mother she pulled the pallu of my saree calling out “maa…maa..”. Turning around I had picked her up that day in amusement, asking her to say it again. Smiling the same faint smile she repeated once again, but soon went back to her original quiet smile less self again.

Dipali was not thrown away by her biological parents like many heartless ones in the garbage dump or abandoned in the hospital. Her helpless, young mother who was under aged to bear a child was betrayed by her lover and left her to fend for herself once she got pregnant. She lived for sometime with her father and step mother, but was soon thrown out on the street with a year old Dipali in her arms as soon as her father died of an accident while at work. During this time she had befriended a man who wanted to marry her but wouldn’t take Dipali in. After a lot of pleading he did finally let Dipali too be carried  along when she entered her husband’s home. But soon he started torturing both Dipali and her mother. When it became unbearable she came to us with Dipali to surrender her, perhaps that was the only option left before her. There was absolutely no alternative. After a month long counseling and producing before CWC, the procedure was completed and Dipali was surrendered for ever. In just all of eighteen months, Dipali’s world came crumbling down in such a harsh manner that she probably couldn’t react to the situation. With the same faraway look in her eyes she kept staring towards the road as her mother left, never to return  to see how her daughter grew or how she looked in the last two years. Dipali never got an opportunity to smile. Although in Sishu Greh she gradually learnt to smile her faint smile, her lost faraway look remained in her eyes, no matter how hard we tried to cheer her up.

Parking the car out side, I ran up the four flights of stairs to the floor where I was told the baby was kept. Could barely make out anything as I looked through the glass door of the ICU, she was just a tiny bundle with a bandaged body and several pipes going in and out of her. Oh, what had the little thing done to suffer so ! The doctor assured me, he would do his best, yet probably unsure of himself, added, “…but you never know, outer injuries have been tackled well, although only the test reports will confirm of any infection or inner injury.” Two days later I was informed she was suffering from jaundice too. There was nothing we could do but pray and wait, never losing heart even for once.

After almost a month finally she was allowed to leave the hospital and come home, come to the home where we bring them up with all the care and love these infants were denied by their biological parents for reasons best known to only them. Carrying her in my arms as I came out of the hospital to get into the car, she saw her first sunlight and shut her eyes hard finding it too bright. I choked in happiness, planting a kiss on her eyes I sat in the car securing her on my lap, holding her firm, and whispered in her ears, “you are safe now sweet heart …. “

Everyone in Sishu Greh was over enthusiastic to welcome the newcomer in their midst and in finding her a suitable name. Supervisor, helper, ayah all flocked around the baby with their usual chirpy and loving inquisitiveness. Mira said, “Mirinda”, Latika said, “Lata”, “Ah, so you want her name to match yours, no, Mala sounds much better”, said Malati. Amused at their quest in finding a name for her as they playfully argued with each other, I sat smiling, listening to them. Finally they seemed to give up and decided I might as well come to their rescue finding her a nice name. The first name that came to my mind was Tora, as the irresistible sight of her blinking her eyes once in the bright sunlight and closing hard like a small yet bright twinkling star was still fresh in my mind, Tora was all I could think of, so, Tora she would be !

I carried Tora around to introduce her to Junak, the naughty fellow who was now a year old and everyone’s pet, Lily who won us all by her pretty smile at barely seven months of age, Dibya showing off her two little teeth with pride when lifted up from her cot and Naina, at nine months had already found loving parents, home, grand parents, who came often to play with her till all papers, formalities were completed and Naina could be finally taken away to her home where she can grow well, never to be thrown away or abandoned .

All this while two and a half year old Rahul,jumped around Tora cheerfully and would not leave Tora’s side even for a moment. I could see that a bond had already been established, a bond that was out of any human power to decipher. He pulled me towards the cot which was waiting for Tora, ready with fresh new sheet, small side pillows and blanket in pastel hue. Oh how I love this sweet fresh smell of the baby room ! He gestured me to put Tora in the cot with his tiny pink fingers. Doing exactly the way he had directed me, like an obedient student, I lifted him up now in my arms after laying Tora gently down on the cot, kissing his pink fingers.


My mind raced back to that particular day looking at Rahul’s full round face with chubby pink cheeks, eyes now smiling his brightest inquisitive smile, all exited at the arrival of a new baby. How could I forget that day when our Childline team had rescued a new born baby boy from the railway tracks and had brought later to Sishu Greh, whom we fondly named Rahul. It was a humid summer afternoon, although it had been raining for the last two consecutive days. Most of the roads in the city were over flowing with flash floods, electricity was almost  non existent and poor telephone net works played havoc with our lives. That was the day when following a phone call, our Childline team with the help of Police personnel had set out to rescue the baby, lying on the railway track  for God knows how long. Walking several kilometers in that heavy downpour wading through water, the team rescued Rahul. During his treatment in the hospital and the following months of care at Sishu Greh were like ages, but slowly yet certainly, Rahul did recover, to be fit enough today to welcome yet another beautiful ‘God’s gift’ who was unwanted/abandoned by the person who brought her to this world, to our home of love, care and life, Sishu Greh.

While many Rahuls, Junaks, Nainas and Toras happily grow up in Sishu Greh, under the loving care of a trained team of doctors, nurses, supervisors, helpers and ayahs, another team gets down to some hectic job of planning their future in a new home with adoptive parents. Sishu Greh is a Special Adoption Agency(SAA), as per provisions of the JJ Act, licensed by CARA(Central Adoption Resource Authority), for in-country adoption, under the Ministry of Women & Child Development, Government of India.

Through a systematic procedure and guidelines notified by the Government of India, we move forward with our aim of turning these orphaned, abandoned, surrendered children into the legitimate children of their adoptive parents with all the rights, privileges and responsibilities that are attached to a relationship.

We go through endless number of PAP(Prospective Adoptive Parents), give per-adoption counseling to couples, followed by registration, submission of documents, our team’s home visit and finally selection of PAP. Then the selected couple is invited to Sishu Greh to mingle with the children and pick the child of their choice. The rest of the procedure then follows, medical test of the child again if the PAP so desire, per-adoption foster care after signing of deed between PAP and SAA, filing of petition in the court of the Session’s Judge within ten days of pre-adoption foster care and appearance before court on evidence date. The formalities are complete once the honorable Judge gives his order for legal adoption. Our job doesn’t end here, even after two years of follow up when we practically have nothing left to do with a child, as he/she gradually settles down in the new home, with his/her adoptive parents and the family as such, the bond that binds us together doesn’t get snapped so easily.

Our Tora soon grew up to be a sweet little darling, winning everyone’s heart with her twinkling eyes, the habit of shutting her eyes hard, pressing both the eye lids remained with her, making her smile irresistibly beautiful now. How time flew, soon Tora was a year old, and as per procedure left us for her new home with her adoptive parents. I couldn’t witness the moment of her departure from Sishu Greh, couldn’t put her on the lap of her adoptive mother with these very hands which so lovingly,  carefully brought her  from the hospital a year ago, these very eyes which were fixed tirelessly on the bandaged bundle that lay in the tiny cot of the ICU of the hospital from outside the heavy glass doors. Why, why did I feel the way I did ? Wasn’t it what I wanted, wasn’t it why our whole dedicated team worked so hard ? Didn’t we want a home, parents and family for every Tora, every Rahul ? Then why did I cry every time when each of them left ? This was one of those days I would quietly sneak out, shut the door of my room and weep like a child in sorrow of losing, yet, blissfully happy and contented in finding a home for a child, till exhausted I fell asleep. “God, do keep the twinkling smile on her face always.”

Dipali’s look still says she waits for someone, yet forces a smile when someone appreciates her drawings, which she paints mostly with black or pale shades. Tora visits us with her parents on occasions like Bihu or Durga Puja bringing lots of gifts for new babies in the Sishu Greh.  She is looking prettier with each passing year, and God, couldn’t believe my eyes, she looked so much like her adoptive mother ! Rahul cannot visit too often as his father is posted to another district now, although he mails me the pictures he draws in the computer. Last time Naina visited us, she insisted that we attend her birthday party and we did. Her happiness knew no bounds seeing us at her home. “Junak came first in his class this year, after all he is my son”, declared his proud father. This is bliss, ultimate bliss, I told myself.
The journey continues …. bless those parents who give a home, a family and lots of love to these Toras,  Rahuls, Dibyas and Nainas…….

Post Updated on 22 .09.11
Ruprekha replies :
Thank you all for your kind words of appreciation. While writing this piece, I was wondering where to start and where to end, as during my association with this organization over a decade now,I have come across so many children each having a different tale to tell. Every day some where some one is abandoned or orphaned. On the other hand, there are so many parents who want to adopt a child but actually do not know how to go about it the right way which is adopting legally. Govt of India is giving utmost importance in this field to curb child trafficking and abuse. Our effort and main concern is to hand over the baby to the right parents, the right way.


Naw – Khel : The Annual Boat Race Of Sualkuchi 2011

Apart from it’s silk Sualkuchi (also known as The Manchester Of The East ) is also popular for its annual boat festival.Sualkuchi is among the places where this indigenous sport still survives.This race is organized to commemorate the death anniversary of Srimanta Sankardev ( 1449 -1568) .He was a scholar -saint and a great social-religious reformer.  Srimanta Sankardev is considered as a colossal figure in the cultural and religious history of Assam.In the year 1965 a rowing competition committee was formed not only to revive this old age tradition but also to strengthen the harmony ,unity and integrity amongst the people belonging to different cast and communities of the area. Both Hindus and Muslims participate

in it with equal enthusiasm.

A View Of Mighty Bhramaputra From Babaji Parbat Gondmow Assam Tourism Cottages Sualkuchi
We had planned for this in advance .Tuesday is a working day for us so to adjust the work load we worked overtime for the past few days.I had contacted Kishore Bharali  a young energetic and extremely helpful member of the organizing committee through a cell number provided by the regional language newspaper .He told me that the race would start at around 2 in the afternoon.He asked me to give him a call once i reach Sualkuchi.Our destination was just an hour away from Guwahati. As we started early from Guwahati ,we had some time in our hand to visit this hilltop named Gondmow ,a tourist spot just three kms before Sualkuchi.The view from the hilltop was a pleasant surprise .Later at Sualkutchi we came to know that very few people know about it .
Saraighat Bridge Guwahati : A View From Gondhmow Cottages Sualkutch
The day was probably one of the most hottest day of the year .The Sun was too bright so we had a very clear view of  Saraighat Bridge .We left the place after ten to fifteen minutes .
 The lanes of Sualkutchi are very narrow and are often used more by pets than by the people.
 I walked most of the road while Chandan drove very slowly .It was my job to clear the road by patting away these beautiful creatures .I missed my kids ,they would have loved to help me. 
  Kishore gave us directions through the phone .After initial greetings he took us to the house of this wonderful couple Mr .Hemchandra Bharali and Mrs Dipali Bharali . Mr . Bharali had served for Govt as an  Asst . Director Of Sports and Youth Welfare Dept .He is the key member of the race committee .He told us a lot about this race .What i understood from him was that the idea of  this race is based on the principles of Sankardeva who was a great social reformer. All the existing communities/tribes have different festivals of their own to observe. This race  is a common event  that can be enjoyed by  all the people irrespective of their caste ,community and tribe .Because this year Eid fell on the same day as Sankar Dev Tithi there was no participation from Muslim community .Number of participating boats were very less this year because of that.
Women used to participate the event before but not anymore because of lack of interest .How sad. According to Mr. Bharali another worrying and alarming reason of less participation was the changing level of the depth and banks of Bhramaputra river . For the last few years the water has been shallow and not enough for using bigger boats he said.After some nice  refreshment offered by Bharalis  we joined this procession which lead towards the venue . Can you locate me ?
 All of them sang Naam ( devotional songs ). I have got great video clips that i will upload on You tube  and update the link to this post at a  later time.
 The chief guest a high official of State Bank Of India ( a co sponsor of the event) opened  the event.
 The venue , the banks of the river Bhramaputra was packed with the spectators as well as the participants.We saw TV Crew of  some of our popular regional TV channels .
 This is cameraman Manab from NE Tv news channel. He was busy adjusting his camera but spared a moment to smile for my picture.
 Colorful audience .
 Anna influence was noticeable here (my non Indian friends might not know about Anna ,they can check the link  if interested ) . Many of the participants wore Main Anna Hun (I am Anna )Caps .
 Each boat had either a coconut or some fruit plus incense sticks lighted on their boats.
On the left side the committee was having a tough time hoisting the event flag because of a sudden occurrence of strong wind.The wind was so fierce that it caused big ripples on river water and my camera too fell of my hands. The volunteers tried their best to retain the tent but that too finally  fell .
 We saw women running back to their houses ,the reason was to collect the washed clothes from clothesline . But soon they joined back .
 Boats started taking positions .There were several rounds of race.The wind was not favoring the event but the participants were least bothered.
 The cheerful crowd roared every time a new  rounds started .
 I no longer took pictures .Here is a video clip for you to see one of the round.The clip takes little time to appear on the post .
After spending  more than two hours we  decided to head  back to Guwahati so as to avoid the expected traffic jam once the event was over. We had such a great time there .
One final shot from the venue of this plane which was about to  land at   Guwahati airport .

Sacred Grove : Law Lyngdoh At Mawphlang

Sacred Grove Mawphlang
As a part of their cultural and religious beliefs the people of Meghalaya practice an age-old tradition of preserving primary forest patches near their settlements .These forests are a deep insight into the history and religious beliefs of the people of Meghalaya .A Sacred Grove is a  rich patch of undisturbed forests that serve as a natural habitat for many endemic, rare and valuable   plants. I had never heard of Sacred Groves until few years back . Located about 25 km from Shillong after an hour of beautiful drive one can easily reach Sacred Grove of Mawphlang , one of the most famous grove that attracts botanists and naturalists from all over the world.This grove has also been named as Nature’s Own Museum as it has a varied form of plants,flowering trees ,orchids and butterflies.Sacred groves serve as Gene Bank of the ecosystem in modern times .
 
This young boy named John at this ticket check point stopped us .The grove is open to visitors on all days from 9 am to 4.30 pm .After issuing  the tickets John drew our attention to this sign board .Most of the forests of Meghalaya are owned by communities or individuals.
 Khasis have very strict rules and regulations for those who enter the sacred groves and they have been following this for ages.They believe that their Sylvan deities live inside them so any harm procured to the plants or the animals would offend them.No one is allowed to enter SG without prior permission.Vehicles are not allowed after a certain point.Littering is strictly prohibited in and around them.Cutting,peeling ,chopping of any tree or plucking of flowers ,orchids is not allowed.One can not enter the SG without an authorized guide.Hunting ,trapping or killing of living creatures inside the grove is strictly prohibited.
 We also saw another new sign board ready to be installed .It too had many important points to follow. John agreed to be our guide for the tour . He asked for Rs 150 /hour ,to which we readily agreed. .John knew few English words and fewer of Hindi .Pranab and Chandan had little knowledge of Khasi words.Together all of us made an interesting team.From the check point John boarded our car , after covering a distance of approx 100-150 mt  he asked us to stop and  park the car in the nearby grassland.
 As we got down he firmly instructed us  ‘Chalo’ ( meaning Walk — his favorite word through out the tour).We could see  SG from distance , the grove proudly stood in sharp contrast to their surrounding grasslands .These groves have an outer edge of  a densely grown  Castanopsis kurzii trees, which forms a protective hedge which stops the intrusion of Khasi pine which  otherwise dominates all areas outside the sacred groves.The contrast is clearly visible in the picture above.

 We noticed several  ancient monoliths ( Mawbynna in local language) erected in the memory of the departed  respected community members.

 After ten minutes walk we reached near the entrance of the grove which would have been difficult to guess or locate without John’s guidance.

 As we entered the grove it felt like stepping into another world .Words fail to express that feeling ,it was magical. The tall trees cover the area like an umbrella .There was a considerable difference in light ,it was dimmer. The forest really looked untouched .It strongly reminded me of the Florida Disney world Dinosaur ride.There was one strange thing though ,we heard no bird chirping .

 As we looked around in complete amazement John’s CHALO startled us .Where are you taking us i asked him in broken  Hindi “Kidhar zata ?” To which he replied Bhagbaan ( we assumed that he meant ‘Bhagwaan’ the Hindi word for God ).I once again asked him “kitna dur “( how far it is ) to which he replied  “dus minute”(ten minutes).Later we realized that everything was just 10 minutes away according to John.He knew the path by heart .He stressed that we do not loose each others sight .
 The trunks ,branches of the tree and shrubs were loaded with many ferns ,orchids ,lichens and mosses

.The green Foliage of the Sacred Grove changes from deep green to light green, depending on the seasons and availability of rainfall.John told us the best time to come here is spring when the forest is covered with blooms.

 John pointed at this plant telling us that the snakes come here to eat this fruit . I was not very sure if the information was true .Chandan asked him what would happen if one tries to eat it .John pointed at a monolith nearby . His answer was loud and clear.
Many monoliths were scattered through out the forest .The vertical ones are for men, while the horizontal ones represent women.John described each monolith with words like father ,mother,son,daughter .( which meant male ,female ,male child ,female child).

 We saw many beautiful orchids there .

Nobody collects anything from the forest, not even fallen branches of trees .The humus-covered grounds likewise harbour myriad varieties of plant life, many of which are found nowhere else.

 John showed us this spot which we at first thought was again a cluster of monoliths.He said ‘ye bhagabaan'( meaning here is the Gods/Diety). All  three of us removed our shoes ,sat down on the ground in front of the dieties and paid our respect .
We spent about forty five minutes inside the SG exploring more .John wanted to show us something more .As i saw Chandan and John leave the SG ,it almost felt like i was looking at them through a secret forest window .Once again bright light hit the eyes and we were back to our usual world.
 We had no other option other than to follow John’s ‘Chalo’ .Only ‘dus minute'(ten minutes).It took us more than twenty minutes to reach the spot he wanted to show us .We crossed this ground where local festivals are celebrated by the villagers.
 We looked back at our car  that was very far away .Soon we reached the highest point over a cliff from where this beautiful view awaited us.
The point offered a breathtaking view of  villages nearby .We had many rounds of ‘Dus Minute Chalo’ afterwards . Saw many similar views over the area .
As we moved back to our car i once more captured Sacred Grove in my camera .
 We thanked John for his company and dropped him at the check point .There are many sacred groves in Meghalaya hills.I hope they remain untouched and  protected and not fall prey to urbanization.Sacred groves harbor great genetic diversity. Sacred groves act as “lungs” to the surrounding areas as well, providing much needed   environmental cover.

A Day In Mawlynnong – The Cleanest Village Of Asia

Contd from Part 1 Shillong to Mawlynnong
                     Part 2:Living Root Bridge Of Riwai
                     Part 3 :Sky View Mawlynnong
Mawlynnong of Meghalaya has won the acclaim of being the cleanest village of Asia in 2003 by Discover India Magazine and also the cleanest village of India in 2005.Cleanliness is almost like an inborn  trait of the residents of this  more than hundred years old village .All its residents can read and write .As you can see in picture – bamboo dustbins called Thapa in local language are placed in every nook and corner of the  village.Every single piece of litter and fallen leaves /flowers are collected here which later are shifted to a pit to be used as manure by the villagers.The village has a very strong and strict council.Smoking is completely banned here.

 The main occupation of the villagers is agriculture and also selling of broom sticks. They mostly grow areca nut. About 82 to 85 families live in Mawlynnong.
Lush greenery all around ,beautiful flowers makes this village a picture perfect place.Like i said in my previous post ,it was like visiting a well maintained Botanical Garden.The council has imposed a fine for anybody found guilty of throwing litter or cutting tress unnecessarily .Each and every house goes through a strict inspection at regular intervals for their sanitation facilities by the village council.I loved walking on these narrow pathways surrounded both side by trees and flowering plants.

 The cute looking  bell at local school.

There was this board mentioning that the village is adopted by this particular bank.As a response to many queries regarding travel information i am providing here few link .1: Ri Kynjai -Serenity by the lake : it is one of the best resort of the state praised by many for it’s  beauty and good services.You can check their rates and eco -tourism based packages  2 :The official tourism website of Meghalaya  3:Hotel Polo Towers : a four star hotel that also offers great eco-tourism based packages I am sure that there are more such options available. I also highly recommend this article written by internationally renowned photographer Timothy Allen , here is the link  Timothy Allen : Living Root Bridges .Henry (i will tell about Henry later in my post) suggested me this link.

The local church which is under some repair work at present .

 We entered into the church campus and looked around.

 Saw some women  most probably local volunteers chatting after performing their regular sweeping and cleaning job .Through out our visit we never heard any loud voices.Residents were very polite and soft spoken.

 Beautiful little cottages – some had installed modern amenities like dish tv antenna .

We tried our best but failed to find any litter anywhere.The place was impeccably clean.My blogger friend Irfan had been to Mawlynnong few weeks back .I thank him for sharing with us his views on that trip here .This is what Irfan expressed -“Honestly speaking before reaching Shillong I didn’t had any idea about Mawlynnong. All I knew in Meghalaya was Cherrapunji as the wettest place of world and some near by tourists places. It was only after reaching Shillong that I came to know about Mawlynnong, “the cleanest village of India”. And the adjective “cleanest village” made me curious to know little more about the place.Because when we think of village, there comes an image of being muddy, dusty and unkempt struck by poor hygiene. Therefore something like cleanest village, that too in such a remote area of India was simply unimaginable to imagine.

The trip to Mawlynnong was just like any trip with in Meghalaya – SPECTACULAR! Breath taking beauty around every turn and in between one can enjoy the views of rock formations, streams, water falls, river beds and the best of all – Lazy village scenes.Once we reached Mawlynnong, I was immediately awe struck by its cleanliness and aesthetic beauty. On first view it was like a fairy tale place that too in India. The view from the 80 ft high bamboo platform is something which has been captured on my mind’s eye. Though it’s not that easy to goat the top and come down but once you reach at the top then it’s a breath taking moment for any body. Imagine yourself swinging with the wind at a height of about 80 ft from the ground. Believe me it’s a life time experience”.

lWe also saw many pineapple plants .The area smelt of pineapple and jack fruit.

To sweep the roads ,clean the drains and water the plants the village council have specially appointed hired help but the free volunteers i.e.residents of the village take turns to sweep the road .We saw this little girl cleaning the playground behind the church.This was  such a contrast to the behavior of some of our city kids who in spite of going to expensive schools throw chocolate ,candy ,chips wrapper just anywhere.
Here we met Henry the best guide and the most helping person around the village.He greeted us with a great smile and asked where have we come from.After knowing that we were there for few hrs he suggested us to come in the month of September for trekking experience.If you ever plan to come here and want to know  more about local site seeing ,trekking and also about accommodation ,you can contact him here at this number  –09615043027 ( *speaks  English/Khasi ). For accommodation you need to call him at least ten -fifteen days before you plan to visit the place.He has helped me many times with information while writing this series.In fact last week he was the one who suggested me to look for Timothy Allen’s article .I can’t thank him enough for that.Timothy Allen too has mentioned him very fondly in his article .

 I loved this cutting tool which was unusual in shape hence took the picture.

 He took us inside his kitchen and showed this barrel like bamboo made thing that they use to dry their washed clothes when there is no Sun in rainy days.

 The heat from the kitchen wood fire helps the drying process he explained.I have seen something very similar in Arunachal Pradesh where people keep their meat mostly goat and beef over the kitchen fire to give smoky flavor .

 A tea addict that i am i was delighted to see this board.

 The board lead us to this tiny cottage .The villagers also rain harvest .We saw few water reservoirs like this there.

 Because they were hungry Chandan ordered lunch for three of them .It was Monday ,my fast day so i just ordered some tea.The cook asked us to wait for twenty minutes as everything was freshly prepared there.

 With their permission i peeped inside the kitchen and was happy to see a clean and nicely arranged working area.
 I still think about the tea that i had that day there – it was perfect .While three of the men waited for lunch i was busy looking around .It was then that i saw Brian standing nearby the guest house.We greeted as we saw each other .He asked me where have we come from and thus the conversation started.I came to know that he was living in Mawlynnong for the past one month .He had arranged a photo contest for the villagers where they can use his camera for clicks and the prize was a basic digital camera.Soon Chandan too joined us in conversation.
 After talking for sometime came to know that we had one thing in common — both of us were bloggers.Let me tell you more about Brian .He is a fresh off finishing a Masters from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. After two years in Washington, DC,as he says in his words ” i am shaking the ants out of my pants with a trip to northeast India and southeast Asia”.Recently his write up on Bhramaputra Dam was published in our local daily Assam Tribune (4th June 2011).You can read more about his Indian and other travel experiences in his interesting blog(do check it) which has an equally   interesting name Jalebi Yatra.Why he named it so …..

To which he replies -“Literally, ‘sweet journey’. Yatra means journey, often to a religious pilgrimage site. Journeys have paths and, if my past paths indicate future ones, then the circular, overlapping shapes of the Indian sweet jalebi  is a good representation of my likely path on this journey. I also love to eat jalebi and expect to have many along the way”.After exchanging contact details we said bye to each other and shook hands twice one as farewell and another for our  common love towards North East .Right now he is in Thailand , got a mail from him this morning where he told me to feel free to use his pictures on my blog .Thanks Brian.

The lunch was ready – it had  chicken curry ,a mixed vegetable preparation , a tomato based chutney with lots of fresh coriander and some rice and dal .The food was simple but cooked and served very neatly.We paid a total sum of Rs 270 for the tea and lunch.Very reasonable.Now we wanted to see Machaan the tree house we had heard so much about .

This lovely lady from a nearby house smilingly offered her help by sending her cute little daughter to guide us to the Machan.
Here emerged sweet Theba ( she had a long name ,i shortened it) .
Awed by her manners and confidence we followed her .
She pointed at the board .Before she went back to her mom i gave her the biggest chocolate bar that i had with me and in a very sweet voice she thanked me .
From distance Machan looked like this .It is also a guest house with a bamboo double bed ,clean linens and a clean bathroom too.
 This is the entrance
 A connecting hanging bamboo bridge
 I noticed these decorations at many houses in the village.
 The dining hall … the smiling care taker .
 The tree house is suspended approxm 60 -80 ft in the air constructed and supported by bamboos .This is the extended balcony again connected by a hanging bridge to the machan.
 We sat there for only few minute as the day was too hot and sweaty.
 Mrs and Mr Saharia .
 We moved back to the parking lot where noticed many cars .We rushed to see the natural balancing rock .

Balancing Rock (Maw Ryngkew Sharatia) was an ancient Khasi shrine that pre-dated the advent of Christianity in Meghalaya.

 A beautiful natural phenomenon of a boulder balancing on another rock.
 Another strange thing that i noticed was that some tree had this foamy appearance .Chandan,Pranab and Dulal all brought up in Shillong told me that they always kept away from such trees in their childhood as the elders told them that it was ‘Jokhini’s Thui’ meaning Witches Spit .lol.
 The day light was getting softer and it was time to head back to Shillong .Soon we left Mawlynnong
(a cavity or dent in the rock) with a wish in our heart to come back again for the trekking experience we missed this time.