Monday, 9 April 2007

TAWANG, East Indian Hill Station

TAWANG, perched at a height of over 10,000 ft, is world-renowned for its 400-year-old Buddhist Monastery, one of the biggest in India. The Monastery was founded by the monk Mera Lama, a contemporary of the fifth Dalai Lama. The sixth Dalai Lama was born here. The Tawang Monastery has an interesting collection of Thangkas (Tibetan painting on cloth) and a large gilded statue of Sakyamuni (the historical Buddha) in the prayer hall. The Tawang Monastery, also known as the 'Galden Namgyal Lhatse', is beautifully situated on a spur about 2 km from the heart of the town. Before the establishment of the Monastery, Tawang was a centre of Tantric religion.

Center Of Buddhism,
Tawang is an important centre of Buddhist learning and is particularly famous for its 400 year old gompa, one of the best known in India. The Tawang Gompa houses a beautifully gilded 8 metre high statue of the Buddha and a number of equally remarkable idols, thangkas and murals.

Places To See, there are mountains, deep valleys, waterfalls and almost a hundred lakes. To the south of the town, the Tawanchu river carves a deep gorge as it rages by, while jagged cliffs rise steeply towards the north and snow capped peaks frame the east. To the west of town, the Tawang monastery looms across the horizon, its enormous yellow roof and white walls standing out like a beacon for miles on end.The Tawang Gompa is definitely the high point of the town, perched on a 2760 m high ridge with a commanding view of the splendid valleys beyond. The gompa, also called the Galden Namgyal Lhatse, is a famous Mahayana monastery established in 1643-47 by Lodre Gyaltso, who was popularly called Meera Lama. The name of Tawang means "horse chosen," a reference to the way in which Meera Lama's horse wandered off on its own and discovered the perfect spot on which the monastery now stands.

The 3 storey, fortified monastery is over 140 square metres and has 65 residential buildings, chortens, lanes and by-lanes. The Duknang or main assembly hall has Buddha statues in various poses, while the Parkhang hall lodges the library, with a wealth of Thangka-manuscripts and sacred books. Some of the precious manuscripts have been penned in gold and are quite a treasure to behold! Five hundred monks live in the gompa, chanting, praying, meditating and advancing Buddhist thought. The monastery attracts scholars and pilgrims from all over the world. In spite of being a peaceful and solitary retreat, the Tawang gompa buzzes with activity and its craft centre produces intricately woven carpets. The Dalai Lama renovated the entire monastery in 1997. The town of Tawang itself is modern, with a bustling bazaar and fluttering prayer flags. The best way to enjoy Tawang is to walk around the town. And once you have had your fill, make a trip to Zimithang to see the impressive Gorsam Stupa, the Tatsang gompa, the Khinme monastery and the Singshur nunnery. The Sangeshar Lake, en route, is one of myriad lakes that make Tawang the splendid haven. The ‘Parkhang’ hall of the monastery houses the library which boasts rare hand written and block-printed Thankas or manuscripts of revered books like ‘Tangym', ‘Kangyur' and ‘Sungbhum'. There is also a craft centre, which produces exquisite woollen carpets. Tawang is also suitable for trekking and hiking.

Visiting Time, The best time to visit Tawang is between the months of June and October.
Languages, Arunachali and English
Fairs & Festivals, Losar the Tibetan Buddhist festival celebrated in the month of February–March every year .
Travel Information, The only way to go to Tawang is road, It is connected by road with other towns in Arunachal Pradesh and Assam via Bomdila
STD, 037824

Permits: Indian tourists, visiting Arunachal Pradesh require an Inner Line Permit, which takes approximately three weeks to be issued. Contact The Liaison Officer, Government of Arunachal Pradesh, 4B Chowringhee Place, Kolkata: 700013; Tel: 91-33-2486500, or The Liaison Officer, Government of Arunachal Pradesh, R.G.Baruah Road, Guwahati, Assam: 781021; Tel: 91-361-26544. Foreign tourists, intending to visit Arunachal need clearance from the Home Ministry and a Restricted Area Permit, which takes approximately three weeks to be issued. The Permit is valid for 10 days. A minimum of four and a maximum of fourteen tourists must travel together on a tour arranged through an approved travel agent

SHILLONG, East Indian Hill Station

SHILLONG, Facts and Figures:
Area 10.36 sq km
Altitude 1,520 metres (4,990 feet)
Population 1,31,719
Languages Spoken English, Hindi, Khasi, Garo, Assamese
Religion Christianity
Annual Mean Rainfall 2,954 mm
Maximum Temperature 24.95°C
Minimum Temperature 4.64°C
STD Code 0364
Best Time to Visit October–November and March–April

The romantic city of Shillong has been one of the important tourist destinations in the northeast. It is often referred to as the “Scotland of the East” due to its striking similarity with the Scottish highlands. The city derives its name from “Leishyllong”—the Superpower or God who is believed to reside on the Shillong peak, overlooking the city. Lying in the cradle of the tall pine conifers and pineapple shrubs, Shillong’s undulating terrain is a constant source of attraction for tourists from both home and abroad. The Khasi, Jaintia and Garo tribes add color to this hilly city.

The capital of Meghalaya, Shillong lies on the eastern part
of the state. Perched at an altitude of 1,520 meters (4,990 feet) above sea level, the city stretches for about 6 km on an elevated tract. It is situated on a plateau bound on the north by the Umiam gorge, on the northwest by the great mass of the Diengiei Hills that rise up to a height of 1,823 meters (6077 ft.) above sea level, and on the northeast by the hills of the Assam valley. The Umshyrpi and the Umkhra rivers, which finally merge and form the Umiam River, water it. Shillong is at distance of 104 km from Guwahati, 295 km from Kaziranga, 578 km from Siliguri and 658 km from Darjeeling.

Shillong was a small village until 1864, when it became the new civil station of the Khasi and Jaintia hills. It remained the summer capital of Eastern Bengal and Assam for many years. In 1874, on the formation of Assam as a Chief Commissioner’s Province, it was chosen as the capital of the new administration. An earthquake destroyed the city in 1897, necessitating its complete rebuilding. In January 1972, Shillong became the capital of the newly formed state of Meghalaya.

Shillong is subject to vagaries of the monsoon. The monsoons arrive in June and it rains almost until the end of August. The climate is hot and humid during summers but quite cold during winters. October-November and March-April are the best months to visit Shillong.

Waterfalls, The Crinoline Falls is about 12–13 m in height and lies to the west of the Survey of India Office. There is a swimming pool at the base of the falls. The Gunner’s Falls 1 is about 24–26 m in height and is near the military establishment on the Upper Shillong road. It is about 1.6 km from the GPO. The Gunner’s Falls 2 lies a km away from the Happy Valley amidst picturesque locales.The Spread Eagle Falls or Sati Falls is located about a mile away from the Polo Ground. It is a famous picnic spot.The Sweet Falls (also called “Weitden,” in the native dialect) is the most beautiful of all the waterfalls in Shillong. It lies about 5 km from the Happy Valley and is about 96 m in height. The Elephant Gait and the Elephant Falls are located near Upper Shillong. These are beautiful sights especially in the rainy season and are favorite picnic spots among the locals. Beyond the Elephant Falls, one can also view the Upper and Lower Elysium Falls.The Beadon Falls lies about 2 km from Bara Bazaar. There is a hydroelectric powerhouse at the base of the falls. The Bishop Falls is also nearby and together they mingle and flow into the Umiam River.

Peaks, Shillong Peak, the highest point of Shillong, is located 5 km to the south of the city and is 1961 meters (6,433 feet) in altitude. Being the highest peak in the district, it is often surrounded with fog. The peak itself is not steep, but rather semi-circular like that of a crown placed on the flat and extensive top of the Shillong Hill. The peak is accessible via the Upper Shillong or Jowai Road.The Sohpetbneng Peak is 1,343 m in altitude and is regarded as sacred by the Hynfiiewtrep tribe. It is a picturesque location.The Dingei Hill is situated near the Umiam stream. Two paths lead to this hill from Shillong. One is the narrow tract that leads straight to the gorge through Umiyangka village. For a height of 1,000 ft on either side of the stream, the gradient is very steep and precipitous and makes for excellent mountain climbing. The second route begins at Barapani on the GS Road, about 16 km from Shillong. During the upward journey, one is provided a captivating view of the Bhoi district, which lies 300 ft below the summit of the Dingei Hill.The Dumpeep Peak is the highest in Swer and is 5100 feet above sea level. The Kyllang rock lies 78 km from Shillong. The rock is a steep bare cliff of granite, 200 m in height and rises abruptly from plain grassy downs.

Lakes, The Ward Lake is an important tourist site of Shillong. It is a horseshoe-shaped artificial lake lying beneath the Raj Bhavan (Governor’s Residence) and the Accountant General’s (AG) Office, with little isles and a bridge over it. The lake abounds in fish (grass carps) and feeding the fish from the bridge is a favorite pastime of the tourists. It is said that a Khasi prisoner, who requested for any kind of work to get him out of his cell, initiated its construction. The lake has a charming winding walk-a-way in the midst of rolling flowerbeds and fairyland lighting with gradually undulating grounds, hemmed in by lush greens. Boats are also available, while the cafeteria provides refreshments. Seventeen kilometers before Shillong is situated Umiam or Barapani—a large lake formed after a hydroelectric dam was built across a stream. In recent years, this has become an increasingly popular place for outings and weekend visits. The Orchid Lake Resort, designed by the famous architect Charles Correa, and constructed amongst pinewood, overlooks the lake. There are facilities for water sports here: from kayaking and water skiing for the adventurous to water cycling and simple boating for the less brave. The Orchid Lake Resort, run by the Meghalaya Tourism Department, has pleasantly appointed rooms with balconies, a restaurant and bar.

Other Attractions, The State Museum is located at the State Central Library complex in Laichumiere and visitors can catch a glimpse of the heritage and lifestyle of the Khasi tribe here. The Butterfly Museum at Riatsamthiah holds a rare collection of butterflies and moths.The Botanical Garden near Ward Lake has some species of flora of the region. A better place is the Orchidarium of the Botanical Survey of India. It has a rare collection of orchids and is a treat to the nature lover. Near the Botanical Garden, one can find the celebrated Golf Course, called the Gleneagles of the East. The Golf club retains the colonial touch and is the first 18-hole golf course in Asia.Behind the Shillong Civil Hospital, near the Pine Mount School, is the Lady Hydari Park. It has a small museum, a small zoo, an aviary, and a deer park among tall cedars and pines.In front of St. Edmund’s College, one can visit the fruit garden, maintained by the Department of Agriculture. During spring, one can see the trees in full bloom. There are many reservoirs filled with natural spring water that have the dual purpose of watering the gardens and functioning as a nursery—known as “Fishdale”—for the raising and breeding of fish, notably hill-trout and carps. Shillong is also famous for its churches. The most beautiful church is that of the Cathedral of Mary Help of Christians. Directly below the hill is the Grotto Church. The All Saints Church opposite the State Central Library is an attractive structure made out of wood.

(Events and Festivals)
The festivals vary according to the tribes. Christmas, Easter, Good Friday and the New Year Day celebrations are the most important. Ka Pomblang Nongkrem, or the Nongkrem dance, is one of the most important Khasi festivals. Shad Sukmynsiem is another important festival of the Khasis. Behdiengkhlam, the festival of the Jaintias, is celebrated in July. Wangala is the festival of the Garos and is dedicated to the Sun God.

The main shopping areas are Police Bazaar, Bara Bazaar and Laitumukhrah. On Iewduh, the first day of the eight-day long Khasi week, people from all over eastern Meghalaya come to sell their products here. In the centre of Police Bazar, on the corner of Kacheri road, there are shops selling finely woven baskets of all sizes. For hand-woven shawls, handicrafts, orange flower honey and cane work, one can visit the various emporia like Meghalaya Handicrafts, Khadi Gramodyog and Purbashree.

(Daylong/Weekend Trips)
About 56 km from Shillong is Cherrapunji village (East Khasi Hills district), now called Sohra. Located on the Shillong plateau about 55 km southwest of Shillong, Cherrapunji and Mausynram (another village nearby) are reputed to be the wettest places in the world. The heavy rains here often swell the waters of the Nohsngithiang waterfall. The town is famous for its limestone caves and orange honey. It has the oldest Presbyterian Church. Krem Mawmluh is a 4.5-km-long cave near Cherrapunji.A little further down the road to limestone caves, there is a graveyard where British missionaries and their close relatives lie buried. The visitors are awed by a series of giant pillars or megaliths that have been erected near a stream. Such megaliths are to be seen in different parts of the Khasi and Jaintia Hills and are usually erected to commemorate great deeds or to honor dead chieftains. Accommodation is available at the Circuit House. The summer capital of the Jaintia kings, Nartiang, is about 65 km east of Shillong. There is a park of megaliths, some of which are as high as 8 m. A 500-year-old temple of Durga is another attraction at Nartiang.En route Nartiang, 64 km from Shillong, is the small lake of Thadlaskein. It is a beautiful picnic spot.About 13 km from Shillong is the village of Nongkrem. It is the seat of the Syiem of Nongkrem, whose estate extends up to Shillong. The traditional Nongkrem Dance festival is held here around autumn and draws large crowds of visitors.Sixty-four kilometers from Shillong is Jakrem, a popular health resort having hot springs of sulfur water, believed to have curative medicinal properties. Dawki, a border town, 96 km from Shillong, provides a glimpse of Bangladesh. The colorful annual boat race during spring at the Umgot River is an added attraction. At a distance of 140 km from Shillong is Ranikor, an angler's paradise containing a huge population of carp and mahseers.Jowai is a popular and prosperous town situated on a beautiful plateau 1,500 m above sea level. Three sides of this plateau slope sharply down to the Hai River and contiguous areas are rich in coal deposits. It is also an important station on the route to Silchar and Agartala.

The nearest airport and railhead is Guwahati in Assam. The Guwahati–Shillong Road connects the two cities. Pineapple plantations and pine trees on both sides line the road. There are buses every half an hour to Guwahati. Taxi services (Ph. 223895) are also available at cheap rates.

(Travel Resources)
The Meghalaya Tourism Office (Ph. 226220) on Jail Road in Police Bazaar conducts trips to Cherrapunji. The Government of India Tourist Office (Ph. 225632) at GS Road may also be contacted for help. Travelers’ cheques can be exchanged easily in Shillong.