Singing in the rain

Monsoon madness

Singing in the rain

Monsoon is the time when nature renews its contract with life. Gustasp & Jeroo Irani give us six destinations in India that capture this life-affirming truth.

Cherrapunji: Nature’s very own water theme park

Wet and wild! Long before the phrase came to be associated with fun and adventure, nature had been running its own water theme parks in Cherrapunji, a little back-of-beyond region in the northeastern state of Meghalaya. Every school-going child has probably heard of the place, which receives the highest rainfall in the world, but few know that it has much more to offer, including the amazing living root bridges. These remarkable works of bio-engineering, which are crafted by training the secondary roots of the Indian rubber tree over swift rivers and streams have a life span of 600 years, are up to 30 m long, and can carry as many as 50 people at a time.

Apart from the living root bridges, Cherrapunji is an adventure junkie’s delight. Here they can crawl deep into the bowels of the earth and explore uncharted limestone caves; rappel down canyon walls streaked with waterfalls; relax in natural rock pools at the head of Dainthlen Falls; trek through Sacred Forests where only tribal doctors may harvest ingredients for their traditional medicines, or visit the Ramakrishna Mission Ashram. Indeed, it is quite surprising that a well-known wet spot like Cherrapunji still protects her secrets like a jealous mistress.

Contact Meghalaya tourism at www.megtourism.gov.in

Raneh Falls & Khajuraho: An aqua spectacle

Tourists on a whistle-stop tour of the famed temple town of Khajuraho tend to forget that there are some enchanting spots in its backyard too. Most train their sights on the erotica sculpted on the facades of the 22 temples that were built in the 10th century.

Post a temple tour, head for the Raneh Falls, just 20 km away. Here a five-km-long, over 30-metre-deep gorge of pure crystalline granite dramatically unscrolls in front of the visitor. It has been formed by the Ken river, gushing over the oldest rocks in the world — the Vindhya basalt. Sheer vertical granite and basalt rocks, most misshapen, rise from the floor of the ravine, as though strewn around in a fit of fury. The aura of menace is part of the charm. A wan sun shines on the exposed rocks, making them glow a shade of dove-grey, green, pink and red, and pools of green water reflect the snarling crags, giving the landscape the aura of a Chinese water colour. This is said to be one of the most remarkable expanses of water erosion in the country. Yes, you may gape at man’s handiwork in Khajuraho and that of God’s at Raneh Falls, located it would seem, on the edge of nowhere.

Contact Madhya Pradesh tourism at www.mptourism.com

Jog Falls: Roaring & thundering

Raja, Rani, Rover and Rocket — the four siblings of the Jog Falls in Karnataka are at their fiercest best during the monsoon months. The Sharavati River is not content with creating just one of the highest waterfalls in India, but believes in doing so in grand style. The spectacular 253 metre drop is split into four aptly named cascades of thundering water. A stairway of around 1,500 steps leading to the foot of the falls is hewn into the cliff and it allows visitors to take in the spectacle from different angles, including one directly opposite the curtains of roaring waters.

Come evening, and the falls delight visitors with a musical fountain and laser show. Drowned by the roar of the falls are the calls of a large variety of birds that roost here. Their songs are more distinct at the nearby Muppane Wildlife Sanctuary that embraces the banks of the reservoir formed by the damming of the Sharavathi River. Another must-visit place close to the falls is Honnemardu, a small village that overlooks the backwaters, which is the base for a number of water sports and trekking trails.

Contact Karnataka tourism at www.karnatakatourism.org

Udaipur: The playground of love

Udaipur is one of those fabled cities where fairy tales come true. In this Rajasthani city, where lakeshore palaces gaze at their own reflections with a touch of self-love, the rains impart an other-worldly sheen to its royal abodes of marble and sandstone.
In the monsoons, the city’s limpid lakes fill up rapidly, reflecting the blue of the sky.

Lake Pichola fields the reflections of the massive girth of the City Palace complex and across it, of the petite Lake Palace. Tourists glide up in shikaras to the fantasy in white marble or cruise to that other pleasure palace — Jag Mandir — where they may dawdle over a sun downer in the bar and watch the sun set in a blaze of colour over blue waters. Apart from palace-hopping, tourists generally head for Sahelion ki Bari, an alluring garden where you may hear the pitter-patter of rain year-round. This space was created by a doting Maharana for the amusement of his daughter and her friends.

Udaipur has a soft feminine appeal, but in the rains it exudes the evanescent beauty of a Rajasthani belle, clad in a shimmering skirt and veil. The legendary city sings a siren song of love and longing, of victory and betrayal; of battles won and lost. But most importantly, of a valorous people for whom honour was more important than a king’s ransom or worldly treasures.

Contact Rajashtan tourism at www.rajasthantourism.gov.in


Ajanta & Ellora: Monsoon magic

The cave temples of Ajanta and Ellora (100 km apart from each other) in central Maharashtra are art galleries of the gods. Each year, with the coming of the monsoons, nature adds her own spectacular touches to the vast canvas. The landscape explodes in green hues and dramatic waterfalls tumble down the cliffs into which these caves have been excavated. The seven-level fall in the horse-shoe canyon of Ajanta is particularly impressive.

The 30 caves at Ajanta were excavated between 2 BC to 7 AD and the 34 caves at Ellora between 5 AD and 11 AD. Over a period of centuries, monks have dipped into the holy scriptures — Buddhist, Hindu and Jain — for inspiration and have filled the dark recesses of the caves with murals and sculptures that are amazing even by todays’ artistic standards. These masterpieces capture details ranging from ants foraging in the forest in Ajanta to the raw power of hundreds of sculpted elephants supporting the Kailash Temple in Ellora, the largest monument hewn out of a single rock. The cave temple circuit includes Daulatabad, a palace fortress, which sits on a mountain that has been chiselled on all sides; Khuldabad, the final resting place of Emperor Aurangzeb: Grishneshwar Jyotirlinga Temple; Lonar, the world’s largest meteorite crater in basaltic rock, and Bibi-ka-Maqbara in Aurangabad. Contact Maharashtra tourism at www.maharashtratourism.gov.in

Ladakh: A heavenly retreat

Like a peacock unfurling its glorious tail feathers in the rain, Ladakh too poses and preens for tourists between May and October. Snowbound the rest of the year, this scenic sliver of Jammu and Kashmir state exudes a stark beauty, but has multiple shades and facets that pop and explode in these months. Barricaded behind high mountain ranges and crossed by some of the highest passes in the world, the region is a world unto itself. The snow-crusted Himalayas and the Ladakh Range, at ease with their hugeness, glow in an understated palette of colours — brown, dark  brown, rust, beige, dull green, and their texture is rough and striated as though slashed by giant finger nails.

Narrow cliff-hanging roads wrap themselves across the swollen bellies of the mountains and in some valleys, the rivers Indus and Zanskar flow, creating oases of lush green. The intrepid ride the turbulent backs of these rivers in fragile rafts, screaming with delight. Or they hike up to white-washed hilltop monasteries. Within, butter lamps flicker and tangkhas glow while the chanting of monks sounds like the low hum of bees. Outside the hilltop monastery of Likir soars a gold Buddha that seems to reach for the blue skies above while the cobalt-blue of lakes like Pangong Lake prompts thoughts of having wandered into a place that is half way to heaven!

Contact Jammu & Kashmir tourism at www.jktourism.org

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