We had been cautioned, forewarned and discouraged. But if there was one thing that we wanted to do on our trip to the north-east part of India, it was to walk on the Living Roots Bridge at Cherrapunjee. The name itself drew enough curiosity and the four of us were armed with little more than that.

The trouble maker really was the driver and local guide we hired at Shillong. We ran into Raja, a betel-nut chewing cab driver, in between our trips to the bargain shops at Police Bazaar in Shillong. In near perfect English, the Khasi man informed us that the trek leading upto the bridge with extremely small steps was difficult and he would take no responsibility for it. We tried ignoring Raja’s warnings on the two hour drive to Cherra.

Cherrapunjee was once known as the wettest place on earth but in recent times had this title stolen by a nearby village called Mawsynram. It is still teeming with numerous waterfalls, rivers and streams. We noticed many small village settlements strewn along the hills, connected only by narrow steps leading to the main road.

Raja drove us to Sohsahrat from where the trek to the bridge began and involved going about 4 km downhill and climbing about a 1000 feet uphill. We had to cross three bridges and Noriyat village before we would reach our destination.

Throwing caution to the wind and waving bye to Raja, the four of us jogged down broad sandstone steps. With forest on either side, we observed the tall trees blooming with colourful flowers and kept our eyes out for orchids to take home. What we spotted instead were huge spiders with silvery webs glistening in the sunshine that came through the trees.

Suddenly, the 400 odd sandstone steps twisting around the hill came to an abrupt halt. What we then saw below looked like stones thrown one on top of one another. They were infact moss covered stone steps laid out carefully but narrowly to form the remaining path. We weren’t so sure anymore that we would make it to the end and back.

Huffing and puffing along silently, we stopped every few minutes to catch our breath or stare at the tall trees around us. Several locals glided by us as though they were taking a walk in a city park. The trek is used by the villagers of Nongriat, Nongthymmai and Mynteng daily in both sunshine and rain.

We could always tell that we were nearing a bridge if he heard the sweet noise of water gurgling. But each time we thought we had arrived we discovered a shaky steel rope bridge hanging precariously over a stream. Bridges were crossed and stone steps braved to absorb such sights as a turquoise coloured natural swimming pools and vegetation like citrus fruits and milkweeds. The dried milkweed pods when picked up and turned release many white furry seeds dispersed by wind creating a most dramatic moment. Raja later informed us that the sap was used by locals for many medicinal purposes. It seemed as though a science class was finally coming alive.

After a two hour trek down and round the hill brought us to the Living Roots bridge, a most solid structure, made by taking numerous secondary roots of the Indian Rubber tree growing alongside the river.

Bio-engineered by ancient Khasi people, we were told, the roots were directed using betel nut tree trunks, sliced in the middle and positioned according to the requirement of the bridge. The roots of the Rubber tree are then passed through these hollowed out betel nut tree trunks. The roots grow towards the directed end and are allowed to take root in the soil on the opposite bank. Much stronger than the shaky iron rope bridges we had previously traversed, the bridges are known to carry 50 or more people at a time. Raja informed us that, “these bridges take upto a decade and a half to become functional but their life span keeps growing every day”.

Far away from food, modern amenities and a washroom we couldn’t help admire the applied science of the village folk. Our minds broadened, limits stretched and lives changed forever we wondered how human life can not only adapt to inhabit any place but thrive while co-existing with all that is natural.

(Top and Bottom Photos Courtesy: Jyoti Somani)


My Two Cents on Ujjain

Posted: April 17, 2011 in Travel
Tags: ,

Here’s a little piece I wrote on Ujjain for oktatabyebye.com. Hope it works for you, incase you’re planning a trip.

I asked…

Posted: July 12, 2009 in Writing
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LL_LogoDear Literary Ladies,
Where do you go looking for plots? Did your stories once begin with just a title in your head? Did you have a mundane thought that you somehow developed into a plot? I enjoy writing and am satisfied with my craft but sometimes feel that I must be really dull or lack imagination. I might add that I am especially fond of children’s literature and  fantasy.

 Read the response I received from Madeleine L’Engle on a wonderful blog called Dear Literary Ladies.


The sight of snow in the month of April, as temperature in Delhi soared to 43°C, was spectacular to say the least. I felt dizzy with excitement as though high on ecstasy or some of the local stuff that was being sold a few slopes below.

Bitten by the adventure travel bug and charmed by photographs of snow covered hills, two of my friends and I planned a trek this April. Our three day weekend plan, in a gist, had been to reach Mcleodganj, trek for 4 hours up to Triund, pitch a tent there, trek for another 2 hours to Laqa Got, have a snow ball fight there and then run down hill to catch the last bus home. We live to tell the tale.

Triund is a grassy plateau at a height of 2975 m above sea level, approx 9km from Mcleodganj, in Himachal Pradesh. From Triund onwards trees diminish and hills covered with burnt grass lead to Laqa Got, 3350 metres high. From here on, shepherds and trekkers can move on to Indrahar Pass to cross over to the Chamba Valley.

It was a long weekend holiday for us. An overnight train and a bus brought us from Delhi to Mcleod. After purchasing essentials at Mcleod, dividing food amongst ourselves and not feeling very light we started walking. We had the option of taking an auto or a taxi to the point where the trek begins. We however decided to cut through a pine forest on foot and reach the same spot. No regrets regarding the decision now but back then we huffed, puffed and cribbed.

A gradual climb of 1500 mts from McLeod Ganj leads to Triund. There are two ways of reaching this high ridge. The regular, well-established path used by both tourists and the local Gaddi people runs through the Dharamkot village, 3km from Mcleod. Another route leads up from the Bhagsu Nag waterfall through dense wilderness.

We took the road most often travelled by. However, having started late in the day we didn’t notice any other trekkers trudging the same path. We did meet a lot of people returning from Triund top though. On having enquired we realized that some of them had left Mcleod at 9am. An ideal time to begin if you intend returning by 7pm or so because one doesn’t want to be caught in the dark on an unknown territory with sharp stones.

The trek is typically supposed to take 4 hours. But it took our group an embarrassing 7 hours to get uphill. I would like to believe that’s it because each of us were carrying bags stuffed with food and blankets and we took turns carrying the tent which slowed us down a great deal. The truth probably being that our city smoke-filled lungs and unaccustomed legs simply could not perform better. More regular trekkers, a large number of them being foreigners, were seen practically running up and down the hill.

Our cause was not helped by the fact that I made it a point to stop at every turn to shoot a picture of what lay above, below, in front and all around.

Triund being one of the more popular treks for first time trekkers and casual adventure seekers, we possible encountered a good representation of the human population. We met locals, foreigners, middle-aged couples, student groups and families with kids not more than 10years old. With the sheer number of foreigners in Mcleod and the areas around we had to make a conscious effort to remind ourselves that we were still on Indian territory.

Our journey was broken up by short breaks of increasing frequency to catch our breath and fuel our bodies. We guzzled down peach ice teas and chomped on cheese slices. Sometimes, I think, we agreed to move our muscles only because we looked forward to the next fuel stop.

Finally, after what seemed like eternity we came across the “oldest chai shop; since 1984 – exactly halfway between Mcleod and Triund”. Maggi and bread-omlette serve as staple diet for trekkers at these heights. The 5 cafes we encountered, including the ones at Triund and Laqa, all specialized in these dishes. Easy to source and cook these dishes give maximum energy and keep hunger at bay the longest.

With increased demand and limited supply, prices of goods had almost tripled on these hills. However, as one of the shop owners observed, `it is no mean task to fetch supply from a town more than 11 km, set up shop at and serve customers at 3000 meters high to make a living’. We were most grateful they made us feel as comfortable as possible.

We reached Triund top well after dark. After sun set, two torch lights and some loud laughter were our only guide to the top. Most excited about the tent we had carried all the way up, we pegged the tent as soon as we reached.

After a hard day’s work we entered one of the only 3 shacks at Triund to feed on omelettes and Maggi and after the 3 course meal we sat down for a chat with the shack owner and a couple of other locals. About 50 trekkers had come to Triund top that day we were told. In winters, when the area receivs heavy snow, mostly foreigners attempt a visit along with their special gears.

Sitting around a fire, we talked with the boys for a while about our experiences and theirs. One of them had been to Rajasthan, far, far away from Triund, and spoke eloquently on the differences between life on the hills and city life. He said, due to the conditions on the hills `if anyone is in trouble here people will go to extremes to help. But it is not so in the city. A man could be dying and people wouldn’t be bothered.’ Having planned a weekend escape from Delhi and charmed by what we had seen so far we couldn’t agree more.

As the night progressed, the wind got cooler and stronger on Triund top. The temperature would dip to 4C that night, the local shop owner told us. It had snowed here just two nights ago.

I could not believe how cold it was outside nor how cozily we lay inside the tent with two blankets beneath us and two blankets tucked around us. The cold was easy to deal with. The roaring wind straight out of Wizard of Oz, however, was another matter altogether. It was difficult to sleep with the wind hitting hard against our tent covers all night. Even though I knew the tent had been securely pegged down, the thought of the cover being ripped off from over our heads seemed plausible and not very pleasant.

Around midnight, I restrained myself for as long as possible from stepping out to answer nature’s call . Finally, cloaked in a blanket, I unzipped the tent door and stepped into the powerful and chilly swirling mountain wind. What a sight! Twenty odd steps ahead of me the plateau came to sudden halt. On the other side, beyond the Kangra valley, lay the snow covered and moonlit Dhauladhar range – `white mountain’. Not a sole stirred. It was the kind of sight you capture in your heart and believe you have experienced something special that no one else has.


More to follow….

big business reported in The Statesman, New Delhi

JRD Tata as remembered by RM Lala in The Statesman

Published in The Statesman, New Delhi on 2 Nov, 2004

Derrida lives on

Posted: December 18, 2008 in Literary
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Article on Derrida published in The Statesman, New Delhi

To begin with…

Posted: July 12, 2008 in Literary

When the last living thing
Has died on account of us,
How poetical it would be
If Earth could say,
In a voice floating up
From the floor
Of the Grand Canyon,
“It is done.”
People did not like it here.”

– Kurt Vonnegut