Kuranda – Barron Gorge National Park

Had an exceptional holiday in Cairns, Australia.

Kuranda is a picturesque mountain retreat 25km northwest of Cairns in Far North Queensland, Australia and is surrounded by World Heritage Rainforest, Barron Gorge National Park.

They are more than 120 million years old and are also the oldest continually surviving tropical rainforests on earth. They were home to the dinosaurs as well as several of the world’s first flowering plant species. These rainforests used to cover all of Australia. Today they occupy 900,000 hectares representing just 0.26% of the total mass.

View from the cable car
View from the cable car

They are 1000 ft above Cairns and are the traditional home of the Djabugay people who know Kuarnda as Ngunbay “place of the platypus”. Conditions in the wet tropical rainforest of Baron George National Park are very different as it is a closed canopy rainforest and only 1 percent of light reaches the forest floor. The competition for light is acute in the forest.

IMG_6414-2
Rain forest viewed from the cable car.

Some plants have special features that allow them to survive on the forest floor. Others cannot cope with the gloom and must be more aggressive in their quest for light. They have devised a variety of ways to get closer to the source of life – sun. Some use other plants for support and do not have to use energy to grow thick woody trunks. They are called vines. They have their roots in the forest floor. They scramble, cling to trunks with their roots, twine and tendril climb towards the sun. Epiphytes are plants which live attached to other plants but do not harm them. They do not need to be rooted in the soil. The Basket fern is an epiphyte which can be seen surrounding a number of trees trunks.

IMG_6421-2
Short plants cling to the big ones to catch sunlight.
IMG_6423-2
Trees grow to exceptional heights to catch the sunlight.
IMG_6428-2
Epiphytes, plants live attached to other plants but do not harm them.

In 1876 Cairns was founded and in 1882, Kuranda became attractive due to good quality timber available here. It was also a stopover area for access to the mining site of the west.

From Cairns we drove up to Skyrail’s Smithfield Terminal, a 15 minutes drive and then went up via the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway which traverses the McAlister Range, through the Barron Gorge National Park journeying 7.5 kms between Smithfield and Kuranda Terminals. It takes about 90 minutes to reach but you should allow 2 ½ hours as there is a fair bit to see and explore like the spectacular and uninterrupted views of the rainforest, tropical Cairns, the Coral Sea and the lush Cairns Highlands.

IMG_6450-2
Cable car.
IMG_6454-2
Kuranda Railway Terminal.
IMG_6519-2
Kuranda Scenic Railways.

After exploring the Kuranda village we hopped on to the Kuranda Scenic Railways to Freshwater Station. The train stops at Stoney Creek Falls and then passes through Robb’s monument and ends at Freshwater Station. In 1886 the construction started on the scenic railways with 1500 men completing 37 kms of the track in 5 years in 1891. There are 15 handmade tunnels, 56 bridges and 98 curves. The carriages are pulled by dedicated 1720 class locomotive adorned by colourful Buda Dji’s painting by George Riley.

The Skyrail stops at Red Peak Station (545m above sea level) which has been built amongst pristine rainforest with a 175 m boardwalk providing you with the perfect opportunity to explore the forest from ground level and Rainforest Interpretive Centre at Barron Falls Station where you enjoy spectacular views of the Barron Gorge, a deep chasm lined with dense rainforest vegetation. Beyond doubt Skyrail is the World’s Most Beautiful Rainforest Experience.

To ensure these rainforests are protected and preserved for future generations, they were added to the international World Heritage list in 1988. It was truly an awesome and memorable experience which I would highly recommend for everyone to do before you die.

Jhajjer and its Gurukul

From Farrukhnagar we headed straight to Jhajjar, a town with a history starting from the time of Gori’s attack in 1191 AD to Prithvi Raj’s reign. As a result of this attack, number of people who fled from villages adjoining Delhi came and settled here in Jhajjer. Chajju Jat plead with Emperor Shabuddin Gori to rehabilitate them but his request was turned down so he laid the foundation of a city called Jhajjar.

IMG_0135
Unknown monuments of Jhajjer.
IMG_0136
Unknown monuments of Jhajjer.

During the rule of Delhi Sultanate and Tuglak dynasty a number of canals were dug up in this area and one of the canals bought water from Sutlej to Jhajjar.

After the fall of Mughal there was a turmoil in this area and it changed hands from Rulnudeen to Nawab of Farukh Nagar. He too was defeated by Jats and finally the control of Jhajjer landed in the hands of East -India company. The Nawab of the Jhajjar took part in India’s First War of Independence against the British and that is why this area was neglected by them.

Unfortunately no information is available for the old monuments we saw in Jhajjer.

IMG_0137
Unknown monuments of Khajjer.
IMG_0148
Unknown monuments of Jhajjer.
IMG_0146
Unknown monuments of Jhajjer.
IMG_0145
Unknown monuments of Jhajjer.
IMG_0144
Unknown monuments of Jhajjer.
IMG_0143
Unknown monuments of Jhajjer.
IMG_0142
Unknown monuments of Jhajjer.
IMG_0141
Unknown monuments of Jhajjer.
IMG_0140
Unknown monuments of Jhajjer.
IMG_0150
Entrance of the Gurukul.
IMG_0153
Chyawanprash
IMG_0159
Inside the pharmacy store
IMG_0156
Preparing the Chyawanprash.
IMG_0155
Preparing the Chyawanprash.
IMG_0154
Chyawanprash is ready, waiting to be bottled.

Jhajjer also boasts of a Gurukul, which was set up in 1916 by Pt Vishambhar Dutt on the outskirts of the town on Jhajjer-Rewari road. The Gurukul has been set up in 80 acres of land comprising of School building, Hostel, Balidan Bhawan, Guest house, Pharmacy, Canteen, Library, Gymnasium, Yagna shalas, a cow shed and an Archaeology department, solely managed by children. Part of the land, about 4 acres is used for cultivation and bulk of the food that is consumed here is grown here too. The Pharmacy produces a number of Ayurvedic medicines such as Chyawanprash etc.

IMG_0161
Inside the Gurukul.
IMG_0162
Inside the Gymnasium.
IMG_0163
Part of the land is used for cultivation as Gurukul produces its own food.
IMG_0164
Yangnashala.
IMG_0165
A student cleaning his own plate after the meals.
IMG_0167
The Balidan Bhawan.
IMG_0168
The Archaeological room housing a treasure of old artifacts.
IMG_0169
The Gurkuk from inside.

The Gurukul follows the ideals of Arya Samaj and is affiliated to Maharishi Dayanad University, Rohtak. It provides free education from 6th standard to Acharya degree (post graduation) to boys. Although it has no links with Gurukul Kangri, it too lays an equal stress on Guru-bhakti (reverence for the teacher) and the virtues of manliness through exercises, particularly in the akharas.

Once a year in the month of June, a ten day leave is granted to all students to visit their respective homes.

Special efforts are made to prepare an ideal Bramchari (Pupil) and all boys are kept under the Van Parasthi, Sanyasi guru’s guidance, who rules the roost. The day begins at 3.50am, after the morning chores all students have to come down from their hostel room for prayers and breakfast. Thereafter their classes begin and wind up at 2 pm for lunch. After a compulsory half an hour rest, students finish any tasks which are assigned to them. They are also expected to work one hour per day as shram-dan.

For the uninitiated, what is a Gurukul?
A Gurukul is a type of ancient Hindu residential school in which students and the teacher live in close proximity. Here the students are treated as equals, irrespective of their social standing. The students learns from the guru and also help the guru in his day-to-day life, including the carrying out of mundane chores such as washing clothes, cooking, etc. At the end of a shishya’s study, the guru asks for a “guru dakshina,” since a guru does not take fees. A guru dakshina is the final offering from a student to the guru before leaving the ashram. The teacher may ask something or nothing at all.

A place worth visiting if you are arround NCR Delhi.

Forgotten monuments of Farrukhnagar

Forgotten monuments of Farrukhnagar

Yesterday I went out with friends, to Farrukhnagar & Jhajjer to check out some not so popular historical monuments. One of them, Vikramjit Singh Rooprai is kind of an authority on monuments in Delhi and surroundings.

It was an amazing day and we had a wonderful time knowing about the history of these not so well known monuments. We started at 9 am and drove straight to Farrukhnagar.

IMG_0111
Dilli Darwaza

History of Farrukhnagar
It is a small town about 30kms from Gurgaon. Faujdar Khan, a governor of Mughal Emperor Farrukhsiyarin established it in 1732. Till 19th century this town flourished for its salt trade due to its proximity to the manufacturing base in Sultanpur. However during the British Raj it was abandoned, as after the acquisition of Sambhar salt mines, traders found it expensive to trade from here due to high taxes.

IMG_0117
Gaus Ali Shah’s octagonal Baoli

In 1923, the office of the salt superintendent was shut down, and all the mounds of salt was thrown back into the wells thereby destroying the economy of the whole town.

Nawab Ahmed Ali Khan, a descendant of Faujdar Khan took part in the freedom struggle and there is monument in his Sheesh Mahal commemorating the event. Jhajjer Fort was built around the octagonal town with five gates. Sadly only one of the gates survives today apart from the Fort, which has now been restored. Later the Jats took control over the town.

As Faujdar Khan took part in the freedom struggle, the British confiscated his jagir in 1858 and made it part of the British Empire.

IMG_0132
Sheesh Mahal
IMG_0131
Inside Sheesh Mahal darbar
IMG_0130
Ceiling of the Sheesh Mahal
IMG_0129
Sheesh Mahal
IMG_0128
Sheesh Mahal viewed from the entrance
IMG_0127
Sheesh Mahal
IMG_0125
Memorial of 1857 struggle for independence
IMG_0124
The other surviving gate of Jhajjer fort.
IMG_0123
Intricate ceiling in Sethani ki Chatri
IMG_0119
Sethani ki Chatri
2015-12-18 12.50.00
Sitaram mandir Gurudwara cum mosque

Post independence the town became a municipality but the government’s efforts to revive the salt mining failed, as the slat thrown earlier was watered down after a massive flood in the 1970.

With Gurgaon’s development the land prices here have also shot up making some people of the town very rich.

Among the monuments we saw in Farukhnagar were the

1) Dilli Darwaza, one of the two remaining gates of the Farrukhnagar Fort,

2) Jhajjari Darwaza the other gate of the Fort,

3) Sheesh Mahal, a double-storey structure with a baradari built in red sandstone and local Jhajjer stones, which appear as spongy in nature. It had decorative interiors of elaborate mirror giving it the fort its name,

4) the restored Ghaus Ali Shah’s Baoli, a large octagonal step well with staircases also built in stone,

5) Sethani ki Chhatri, an elaborate two storeyed memorial cenotaph at the entrance of the town, built in Rajasthani architecture. Each floor has eight arched openings on each floor with floral motifs on walls and ceiling. From the frescoes it seems to be built in late 1800s.

6) Sitaram Mandir-Gurdwara, built in a mosque. The three domed mosque in the center of the town was abandoned when the Muslim residents moved out. It was later converted into a temple and later a part into a Gurudwara, truly representing India’s diversity.

For Jhajjer read my new blog.

Life in a Naga Village

Nagaland has 16 Government approved tribes like Angami, Ao, Chakhesang, Chang, Kachari, Khiamningan, Konyak, Kuki, Lotha, Phom, Pochury, Rengma, Sangtam, Sumi, Yimchungi, and Zeilang. Though these tribes similar cultures and traditions, yet they are very different when it comes to cooking and dialects and languages such as Sumi, Lotha, Sangtam, Angami, Pochuri, Ao, Mao (Emela), Inpui, Rongmei (Ruangmei), Poumai, Tangkhul, Thangal, Maram, and Zeme.
20151208_112309
To bring them all together Nagamese Creole has been developed which they use between tribes and villages. Most of the population depends on agriculture or animal rearing and lives in villages.

To get a feel of Naga village life we visited Jakhma village which lies on NH29 between Kohima and Mao in Arunachal Pradesh. Here the literacy rate compared to all of Nagaland. Jakhma Village is administrated by an elected representative called Sarpanch.
IMG_0041

IMG_0042

IMG_0044

IMG_0045
Although we saw a number of Maruti Alto cars in the village the condition of the roads etc was not good. Only a few house were “pucca’, rest were all typical Naga houses.
IMG_0055

IMG_0056

IMG_0057

IMG_0058

IMG_0054

I also did not find any local dressed in their traditional dress. Almost every home we saw reared pigs, as they provide meat. In the kitchen over the fire place Nagas hang their meat to smoke it. This way the life of meat increases up to 1 year. IMG_0053

IMG_0052

IMG_0051

IMG_0049

IMG_0048

IMG_0047

IMG_0046

One disturbing fact common with rest of India is that modernisation is slowly eroding the values which represented a villages as a social unit. This has brought about dramatic changes in the values, lifestyle, and social setup of the people.

Among Nagas fidelity to the spouse is considered a high virtue and marriages within the same clan is not permitted, as it considered to be incest.

They follow the system whereby the male offspring inherits land and cattle.

Naga village life

20151208_112309

IMG_0041
A Naga man in his mood
IMG_0042
A typical Naga home in the village.
IMG_0044
A village kid.
IMG_0045
Hen keeping her chicks warm.
IMG_0046
Smoked Pork.
IMG_0047
A typical Naga kitchen with things hanging over the fireplace.
IMG_0048
Dried Corn.
IMG_0049
Dried Garlic.
IMG_0051
Smoked Pork.
IMG_0052
Cane storage unit for wheat.
IMG_0053
Dried Pork meat.
IMG_0054
A Naga house in the village preparing for Christmas.
IMG_0055
Young boys painting their house roof for Christmas.
IMG_0056
A lane in a Naga Village.
IMG_0057
A Naga house.
IMG_0058
A village street.
IMG_0059
Most Naga homes rear chicken and pigs.
IMG_0060
A pig sty.
IMG_0063
An ariel view of the village.
IMG_0066
A Naga village women.
IMG_0067
A Naga village women.
IMG_0068
A Naga village women.

My date with Naga food.

In Nagaland the sheer diversity is mind boggling with 16 recognised Naga tribes and over 150 which are not.. Each tribe speaks a different dialect and cooks its food in a different way.

Naga food is simple as they use only 4 spices or ingredients such as salt, tumeric, black pepper and garlic. Bamboo shoots are extensively used together with various local beans.

The vegetables are generally boiled and Nagas are rice eaters. Their rice, called the sticky rice is different both in looks and taste than what we are used to in north of India.

There are no restaurants which serve Naga food though all along the highway you find Rice Hotels which offer pork and rice. When a Naga wants to eat out he will often call on a friend as each tribe has a different way of cooking pork and other meats. They are excellent hosts and guests are offered everything from frog legs, Mithun meat, steamed bees and fried bats to barrels of rice beer and wine.

A traditional Naga home has its kitchen outdoors because fire is one of the most essential components of cooking. Above the kitchen fire there are pieces of meat (both pork and beef) hanging to smoke the meat which dries out slowly. Roughly it takes weeks or sometimes much longer for the meat to be ready.

I tried two items in the Hornbill Festival and instantly fell in love with the Naga food, specially the smoked pork which was crispy on the outside and real soft inside.

2015-12-07 16.43.22

2015-12-07 16.40.07

For starters I tried Wokoso Rarahum (skewered pork flavoured with Naga basil) and in the mainr course I tried Wokoso Rhujak (port with sun dried bamboo shoots gathered from Yamkha jungle).
20151207_150919

20151208_134218

I also visited Mao town which is border of Manipur and Nagaland and tried fried fish curry with rice and Naga dal, which was also yum.

Kohima War Cemetery

Though on a short visit, we did not get much time to explore Kohima but still managed to visit one of the most important landmarks of the city, Kohima War Cemetery.
IMG_0086
Right in the middle of the city, a short walk from Japhu Hotel are graves of several hundred brave Indian and British soldiers who sacrificed their lives for a better tomorrow for us.
IMG_0093IMG_0094IMG_0092

Formerly this was the grounds of Deputy Commissioner’s bungalow and you can still see the white lines representing the tennis court.

During the Second World War, in the Battle of Kohima, 1420 Commonwealth soldiers, 330 Indian soldiers and 8 flyers from Australia & Canada laid their lives and prevented the Japanese onward movement. It was one of Greatest Battle Britain fought and is often called ‘Stalingrad of the East’. At the highest point of the hill stands Kohima Cremation Memorial where 900 Hindu and Sikh soldiers were cremated.
IMG_0090
The Japanese came from India Myanmar (Burma) border and while they consolidated their position, Indo British 14th Army was formed to defend them. In Mar 1944, Japanese launched an offensive into Manipur state and their 1st attack was on 4 Apr 1944 after dark. The village was besieged and the defenders were pushed to the Garrison Hill. Air supplies which were dropped were also captured by the Japanese and as a result water had be rationed to 1 pint per soldier per day.
IMG_0091IMG_0089
Very heavy fighting took place near the Deputy Commissioner’s Bungalow so it is often been called Battle of the Tennis Court.
On 18 April 1944 shortly after the day break reinforcements from 2nd Infantry Division arrived and together with 161st Indian Brigade the British were able to end the siege.
IMG_0084

2015-12-09 12.43.02
On the terraces of the sloping ground there are the stone markers of the names of the soldiers and their family who waited for their return. On either side of the hill are two huge crosses.

There is an epitaph in the cemetery which reads ” When you go home tell them of us and say that for your tomorrow we gave our today.

Hornbill Festival, Kisama, Kohima.

I will be honest, I had not heard of the Hornbill festival till last year, when one of my friends posted some pictures on Facebook.

I was told that this festival happens in December and if you want to avoid disappointment you have to book your Hotel and Air tickets way in advance. Apart from Air tickets, accommodation etc, I had to look for a suitable company who will be free to go with me as I am interested in a photography. Finally we booked tickets in Rajdhani as Indigo ticket was priced at 30K and left for Kohima on a Saturday afternoon.

Earlier I had travelled in train up to Bombay and Calcutta but this was something different, a 35 hours journey, one way. The train left New Delhi on time but reached Dimapur an hour late. There is not much to say about the journey as in 1st AC we were quite comfortable and an exclusive pantry kept us well fed. Met a few very interesting people on board.
2015-12-07 10.12.53

After reaching Dimapur, the largest city in the state, past 10.30 pm, we headed straight to Hotel Jal Mahal which is actually a stone’s throw away from the railway station. I mention the time because in North East in winters, nights sets in really early and 10.30pm looked like past midnight. Jal Mahal was a decent hotel but did not have twin beds and my friend found it was quite a task to climb the bed from the side of the wall.

Next morning we took a cab to Kohima, capital city of Nagaland, 74 kms away.

The capital city

India’s diversity is well known and North East is a jewel in that crown. There are 16 major tribes and an equal number of sub-tribes in Nagaland, who maintain their own distinctive cultural traditions and customs, through various forms of performing arts. Each tribes has its own way of cooking which can be very different from another tribe even though the ingredients would be almost the same.

Each tribe wears colourful clothes and intricately designed jewellery made out of beads. The traditional attire is also different. The headgear is made of finely woven bamboo interlaced with orchid stems and decorated with boar’s teeth and hornbill’s feathers. In old times each Naga warrior had to prove to his tribe that he was capable of wearing them.

Nagas are expert warriors and are also famous for their colourful folk dances in which they sing songs praising the brave deeds of ancient warriors and their folk heroes.

The Festival
IMG_036420151207_130100IMG_0423

IMG_0414
About 85% of the population in Nagaland is dependent on agriculture for their sustenance and mostly they get a single crop in a year. Agriculture is also inter twined with festivals and to bring all festivals and tribal celebrations together the Government of Nagaland set up the Hornbill festival, in the year 2000, where all tribes come together and celebrate Naga culture and also pay their tribute to the Hornbill, a bird greatly admired by the Nagas for its alertness and grandeur.
IMG_0405

IMG_0401

IMG_0392

IMG_0373
The festival is organised by the Tourism Department between 01Dec -10 Dec in Naga Heritage Village in Kisama, 12 km away from Kohima. The festival attracts both foreign and Indian tourist in large numbers.

This year it was the 15th year and it’s festivities involved traditional cultural performances, music by local and international bands such as Helloween (German band), fashion shows, sporting events, crafts bazar, flower festivals, kid’s carnival, food courts and a Motor Cycle rally.
IMG_0033

IMG_0029

IMG_0026

IMG_0015

IMG_0012

IMG_0005

IMG_0001
On a short visit to the state I managed to visit a very important landmark, The Kohima War Cemetery and sample some local food, which I will cover in my next blog.

Overall I had a great time in my maiden North East visit. Hope to do it once again.

Mao market of Kohima

Kohima has a very interesting market bang opposite the Japhu Hotel, on way to the Bethesda Hospital.

Here you will find fresh farm products such as vegetables, fruits & flowers and non farm products too such as insects, dried fish, fresh fish, tadpoles, chicken, pork and even fresh Mithun (cattle of the mountains) meat. IMG_0101

Mithun is an important bovine species found in North-East and is a massive animal primarily reared for meat. It’s meat is considered more tender and superior over other meats. Mithun also provides milk, though in less quantity, but of high quality. The skin of this animal is used to produce leather which is superior to cattle.
IMG_0076IMG_0078IMG_0077IMG_0100

IMG_0099

IMG_0098IMG_0108

IMG_0107

IMG_0106

IMG_0105

IMG_0104

IMG_0103

IMG_0102

Earlier the Mao traders from Manipur used to come to Kohima to sell their produce. However, now with increased tension between two states the number of farmers visiting Kohima has dwindled.

I was told by the locals the Governments of both states are trying to work this out.

I do hope things work out as planned as we must preserve this traditional market of Kohima.