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Why a visit to the world’s largest river island is a must

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Bamboo house of Mishing tribe

By Natalia Ningthoujam

Kamalabari (Majuli), Feb 5: Assam’s Majuli faces flood fury — and the threat of erosion — whenever the mighty Brahmaputra river swells. So take a break from your high-tech lifestyle and hop on that double decker boat to live the simple life in the world’s largest river island before it loses the title.

Cruises on luxury vessels can take you to your destination, but to understand the locals’ lives, it is best to travel like them on a rickety motor boat, which can also carry cars, bikes and anything that can’t swim, from Neemati ghat to Kamalabari ghat.

First timers might fear for their lives but for the frequent travellers, it’s like any other public transport. Some are so carefree that they even play cards.

After the half-hour ferry ride, you will reach the shrinking island, which is located over 300 km from Guwahati, Assam’s main city, and is home to approximately two lakh people consisting of Brahmins, Kalitas, Mishings, Deori and more.

Visitors can stay in various resorts, which might remind you of your hostel days due to availability of only basic amenities, or limited homestays.

While driving to your accommodation, you will see paddy and mustard fields, and bamboo plantations along the roads.

Out of the various house forms, the bamboo stilt houses — with an open fireplace in the middle — of the Mishing tribe, are quite unique, and you will see women working on looms made with bamboos and a cycle’s wheel.

Unlike the people of Sualkuchi, a silk-weaving village in Assam, Mishings here make “mekhela chador” and other traditional outfits only for their own use. And men use their physical strength to make beds out of bamboos or other furnitures, when they are not farming.

Majuli, a hub of the Assamese neo-Vaishnavite culture, has many satras (religious and cultural institutions).

“Earlier, there were over 60 satras in Majuli but due to erosion, there are currently just 32 satras here. Auniati Satra is the biggest one in Assam. The land measures up to 500 bigha,” Anant Kalita, the satra’s museum guide, told this visiting IANS correspondent.

“We don’t call ourselves monks or pandits. The ones who stay in satras are called Vaishnavs. We worship lord Krishna. We dance, pray and do dramas, which were created by (saint-scholar) Sankardev,” he added.

The satra is open to all — Brahmins, Kalitas and people from other communities of Assam.

“Even Muslims can come. Ladies can come but can’t stay in the satra. After marriage, people need to stay out of the satra.

“There are 350 people in the satra. Vaishnavs and bhakhts stay in satras, the ones who are outside are called disciples,” said Kalita, who has been here for the past 18 years.

The Samaguri Satra, on the other hand, has kept alive the tradition of mask-making.

Its studio houses numerous masks, like those of Narasimha, Ram and Laxman that are used during festivals and Bhaona, which is a traditional form of entertainment through which religious messages are shared.

Explaining the process of mask-making, popular mask artiste Hem Chandra Goswami’s brother Tilak Goswami said: “The masks are made of mud, cotton cloth, cow dung and vegetable colours. One mask takes about 15 to 20 days to make.”

“Our entire family knows how to make masks. We have been making masks for the last six generations,” added the 65-year-old.

After learning the craft here, some even go to Dibrugarh or Guwahati.

It’s not just the people at satras who are warm and welcoming. Once the local children spot new faces, especially with DSLR cameras, they will happily follow you and strike a pose.

You might have to use a lot of hand gestures while communicating with the locals as they aren’t fluent in English or Hindi, but they will leave you overwhelmed — irrespective of their financial condition, they will not let you leave empty handed.

A cup of tea or a plate full of home-made sweets (rice flour pitha) is the least they can offer, and a request: “Please visit again.”

IANS

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Religious tourism in India: Royal Orchid Hotels opens a new property in Somnath

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With the growth in religious tourism in India, Royal Orchid Hotels one of the fastest growing hospitality chain in India adds a new property ‘Regenta Central’ in Somnath.

Nestled in the coastal city of Somnath, Hotel Regenta Central is suitably located on the main highway of Veraval and a 5 minutes’ walk from main Somnath temple. Hotel is well linked and located within 5 km from Veraval and Somnath Railway Station.

Regenta Central offers a comfortable stay in well-appointed rooms which incorporates the highest service value along with unique design and modern facilities. The hotel offers spacious banquet halls and plush lawns which can accommodate up to 2000 people for various occasions such as large scale family social gathering, business presentations, seminars and confidential corporate meets. The guests can also indulge in various relaxation activities at the hotel’s gymnasium, spa and swimming pool.

The hotel includes two restaurants PINXX and Sugar N Spice. PINXX – a multi-cuisine restaurant, serves vegetarian and kathivyadi delicacies. Sugar N Spice – is an à la carte multi – cuisine restaurant offering a delicious range of fast food and quick bites.

Somnath meaning “Lord of the Soma”, an epithet of Shiva, is first of the twelve Jyotirlinga shrines. It is located on the western coast of Gujarat and is one of the oldest temples of the country. Reconstructed in the Chaulukya style of architecture, it portrays the fine skills of the oldest and best temple architects. The modern day Somnath Temple was built over five years, from 1947 to 1951 and was inaugurated by then President of India Dr. Rajendra Prasad.

Apart from the magnificent temples of Somnath, it is also known for its picturesque beaches. Somnath beach which is located at the southwest end of the Arabian coastline is a perfect way to enjoy a serene evening after a long day of travelling. Both the locations are just 6kms away from the hotel, providing travelers the perfect blend of divinity and serenity.

Chander K. Baljee, Managing Director, Royal Orchid Hotels at the launch of the hotel said, “We are excited to add another property to our portfolio, continuing our ambition of expanding hotels across India. With a constant surge in domestic travelers, not only we are benefitted but also the consumers have an advantage of having affordable stay with finest facilities and services.

The current year looks promising for the hotel industry and we plan to make the most of it by expanding our brand all over India.”

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Travelling to US this summer? Apply for visa early

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Travel-to-US
Photo Credit: New Media Travel

New Delhi, April 17 (IANS) The US Embassy here on Tuesday said that Indians planning to visit the US this summer should apply early for visas due to heavy demand.

In a statement, the Embassy said that applicants across India may have to wait 30 days or more for a visa interview appointment to become available and that it expects this wait time to continue for at least the next few months

“Mission India’s non-immigrant visa workload is one of the largest in the world, processing over a million visas a year,” the statement said.

“In the last five years, the demand for visas to travel to the United States has increased by over 60 percent.”

According to the statement, the Embassy in New Delhi and the four Consulates across India “are constantly working to improve service and meet demand, but applicants should be aware that the summer is a peak travel season and there will be delays in getting visa appointments”.

It also advised applicants are to beware of scams and fraud and reminded them that the only way to get a US visa is through official channels.

“Someone can either apply and have an interview at a US Embassy or Consulate, or if they have had a visa before and meet certain criteria, they may qualify to have their visa renewed,” the statement said.

“Anyone claiming they can guarantee a visa in exchange for a fee is attempting to defraud you. Applicants should be smart and apply the right way,” it added.

IANS

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The unexplored Indian paradise

While travelling through the North East, also experience a safari with a difference on yaks. Get a chance to explore the breathtaking beauty of Sikkim on one of the colourfully-adorned yaks, an experience definitely beyond compare!

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Sikkim Tourism

When you end up with some time for yourself, an escapist spirit awakens among many of us. Such is the chaos of our cities that we cherish even minor respites from it. One such respite is the Spiti Valley in the Himachal where the journey is just as blissful as the destination.

Once you hop onto your bike, you can choose between two routes to reach the scenic town of Spiti. The first option is entry from Manali via Rohtang and Kunzum La. Once you have passed Rohtang, it’s truly a heavenly experience, with the highest point being the snow-covered Kanzum pass with a breathtaking view of the Shigri Glacier. Alternatively, you can also opt for the more comfortable, yet longer, road from Shimla.

An absolutely breathtaking land, Spiti is a treat for all travellers, but especially bikers, with the majestic Himalayan landscape, amazing views, rich history and warm and friendly people. Also, be prepared for an overnight stay along the way preferably at Reckong Peo which is known to be a calm and serene stopover.

A ride through the beautiful barren landscapes of the Himalayas is the biggest draw of the valley. Another highlight of Spiti is the magnificently rich cultural past that is still alive in the ancient Gompas (monasteries) of the region and the enlightened monks that reside within them. Though they can be reserved initially, your curiosity for their culture and few smiles can win their hearts enough for them to offer you some refreshing cups of teas and insight into the Gompas like no other could. Amongst others that you might choose to visit, Key Gompa, Saskyagongmig Gompa and Dhankar Gompa are a must visit. If your curiosity for the local culture still refuses to subside, head over to the Tabo Monastery. 50 Kms from Kaza, it is one of the oldest functioning Buddhist monasteries in the world (est. 996 AD), with extremely well-preserved wall paintings and artifacts!

The Seven Sisters, as the North Eastern Indian states are commonly known, are where lush green forests, picturesque valleys and vibrant cultures come together to create magic. Each state has something special to offer and we are sure that these places will be the high points of your trip to the vibrant North-East.

Starting with Arunachal Pradesh, the Siang River is a must visit. A tributary of the mighty and ferocious Brahmaputra River, it’s a great spot for river rafting, an adventure that few can match up to in terms of thrills.

Moving on, situated in the valley of the Tawang River in the northwestern part of Arunachal Pradesh, Tawang Monastery is the largest monastery in India and second largest in the world after the Potala Palace in Tibet. Founded in 1680-1681 in accordance with the wishes of the 5th Dalai Lama, it is known as in Tibetan as Galden Namgey Lhatse, which translates to ‘celestial paradise in a clear night’. Surrounded by lush green hills, the monastery provides a visually colourful contrast with the colour-rich murals on its walls, exquisite architecture and vibrant atmosphere. With peaceful serene atmosphere so strong, the monastery possesses an otherworldly quality to it that drives away all worries and stress you had.

From the ferocious avatar, we move on to Brahmaputra’s calmer side in Majuli. The biggest river island in the world, it is home to a number of tribes, each with a colourful vibrant culture that will enchant you on your visit here. While there, you can enjoy yourself with fun activities like pottery making, mask making or just soak in the natural beauty of its magnificent sunsets.

Talking of Meghalaya, you have your pick of nature with lush green hills and breathtaking views, quite a refreshing break from the city’s chaos. But look closer and you’ll find an experience that much richer. Littered among these hills are limestone deposits and a number of caves that will enthrall the explorer in you. Considering that many of these caves are some of the longest and deepest found in India, you are sure to feel all Indiana Jones during this once in a lifetime trek.

While travelling through the North East, also experience a safari with a difference on yaks. Get a chance to explore the breathtaking beauty of Sikkim on one of the colourfully-adorned yaks, an experience definitely beyond compare!

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