For the last five days, I have had conflicting emotions. On one hand, I was relieved that the crazy month of April was over and I didn’t have to work at odd hours to schedule my posts. On the other hand, I missed reading and interacting with fellow bloggers who have now become a part of my extended virtual family. To spare myself the state of confusion, all that I have sincerely done since 2nd May is to catch up on my sleep. Today morning, when I saw the link for a reflection post, I jumped in to share my experience of an eventful A2Z challenge this year.
After my first successful Blogchatter A2Z challenge last year, I had written about my experience through a post filled with learnings, gratitude, and nostalgia. Last year, I had no plans in place. I was undecided on the theme until it was time to reveal it. Not a single post was based on predecided topics or written in advance (I didn’t even know that there was an option called schedule). This year I had decided to be a bit more organized in my approach since I had been waiting for the A2Z challenge for months together. I wanted to have a theme ready, wished to sort out the topics of the posts and even considered writing a few of them in advance. But old habits die hard. The plan to plan my posts stayed only in a state of planning as I dashed towards my usual last-minute execution mode.
When I started thinking about a theme two nights before the day of the theme-reveal post, I considered all the possible categories that I write about. Unfortunately, nothing seemed interesting. It was Sr. T’s idea that I write about the most relevant situation in my life at that moment which was all about Tuneer’s school admissions. I didn’t want to make the articles sound boring or coated with advice. In fact, I am the kind of flawed mother who would perfectly fit into that category of clueless parents seeing advice from the experts. So I thought of turning my harrowing experiences into humorous ones. All that I was worried about was how to stretch a topic so narrow into creating twenty-six posts. Yet whenever I sat down to write my post of the day, the fun element in reminiscing those memories helped the words flow effortlessly into a draft.
Hello travelers, hope you are enjoying the ride on #XploreBharat express that has covered eight destinations until now with the most recent trip to Kashmir by Saba yesterday. Today it reaches a part of the country famous for its natural beauty and unique customs – Meghalaya in the mesmerizing North East.
The backstory –
In 2002, my first post-graduation took me to Delhi. My address for the two years that I lived in the city was the North Eastern Students Hostel/House for Women. It was here that I was introduced to the variety and richness in our culture. The North East stands out from the rest of the country for being a matriarchal society where the man leaves his premarital home to stay with his wife and her family and also takes up her surname. It took me more than one and a half decade to start exploring this part of the country but I am glad that it began with a family trip to Shillong in Meghalaya in Oct 2017.
In Sept 2017, two things happened – I started this blog and my son turned two. While junior T has been traveling with us since he was one and a half months old, it had mainly been to sea beaches and places of historic significance. So, my husband and I decided to make Shillong as the first hill station destination for him. Needless to say, the excitement of an unexplored destination was equally appealing to both of us.
The journey –
Shillong has a fully functional airport though Air India is the only flight operator that connects Shillong to a handful of cities. Though there was a direct flight from Kolkata airport to Shillong, we felt that the best way to travel was to take a flight to Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport in Guwahati first and then cover the rest of the distance by car. It takes three to three and a half hours from Guwahati to reach Shillong by road. Most of the resorts usually arrange for a pickup and drop facility on request though cabs are also available on hire. The journey is quite comfortable because of the four-lane roads which never get too steep. Also, the entire stretch is filled with a gorgeous view. There are a couple of eateries on the way for a quick meal like Jiva restaurant.
The stay –
While there were multiple options available within the Shillong city namely Hotel Polo Towers, The Habitat, Tripura Castle among others, we decided to stay in the boutique resort Ri Kynjai(clickhere for detailed review) in Umiam district, a little away from the main city of Shillong. The location of the resort is its biggest asset. It is just opposite Lake Umiam also known as Barapani which is one of the main tourist attractions in the state. Overlooking the Umiam lake and mountains, the resort had all the modern amenities without compromising on the feel of royalty and tranquility.
Places to visit –
The places for sightseeing includes
Umiam Lake– It is also known as Barapani and offers boating facilities to visitors.
Don Bosco Museum – The Museum houses and documents the various indigenous cultures, arts and crafts of North East India.
Elephant Falls – It is also known ‘The Three Step Waterfalls’ because it consists of three falls in succession.
Shillong Peak – It offers a panoramic view of the city.
Shillong golf course – It is one of the largest golf courses in Asia.
Butterfly Museum – It is a delight to take a tour of this museum
Cathedral of Mary Help of Christians also referred to as Shillong Church – The Cathedral is the principal place of worship of the over 300,000 Catholics of the Shillong Archdiocese which covers RI Bhoi and East Khasi Hills district of Meghalaya.
Lady Hydari Park – This place offers a spectacular view of flowers, birds, and animals. A portion is allocated to the Zoo that houses animals like bear, deer among many others. Fishes in the ponds, variety of birds and a colorful and well-maintained garden with flowers in full bloom is a sight to behold.
Local market –
No visit to Shillong can be complete without a visit to the local market known as Police Bazar. Shillong is famous for its bamboo handicrafts, cheap electronic goods, and woolen clothes. This market provides ample option for each though I would like to advise that almost all the prices are negotiable and thus bargaining is a virtue to shop here. The market also has a huge sweet shop Delhi Mistaan Bhandar that caters to the taste buds of people from every corner of the country (their jalebis are definitely a must-try). There’s also a movie theatre Gold cinemas at the end of the street.
Local cuisine –
While Sao Aiom, the in-house restaurant of Ri Kynjai provided us with the option of a Khasi cuisine along with Indian and Chinese varieties, we ended up having Bengali cuisine like Prawn Malai Curry instead. In fact, there are multiple restaurants in and around Police Bazar that serve different varieties of dishes, especially Chinese and Tibetian. One place that is a must visit is Cafe Shillong overlooking the buzzing Don Bosco Square with a beautiful ambiance and serves the best Irish cafe along with a host of continental dishes (I loved the steak here). Another place that serves good pork dishes and momos is Cafe Shillong Heritage inside the Tripura castle.
The road trip from Shillong to Cherrapunji takes approximately two to two and a half hours but for someone like me who gets enthralled by the beauty of nature quite easily, I ended up asking the car to stop at frequent intervals for capturing some gorgeous sights. This is the kind of experience that stays with one forever because the emotions felt while walking amidst the clouds is something that goes beyond words. The entire stretch of the journey is picturesque with the Sun playing hide and seek. Cherrapunji has multiple waterfalls worth, notable among them being the Nohsngithiang Falls, also known as the Seven Sisters waterfalls. The double-decker living root bridgeis the next most sought after tourist attraction. Cherrapunji also a few accommodation options like Hotel Polo Orchid along with a bunch of home stays.
Two more places around Shillong that deserve special mention are Asia’s cleanest village Mawlyngong and the crystal clear Dawki river.
Best time to visit
The best time to visit Shillong is between October to April. Ideally, the weather is most pleasant during October-November and in the month of Feb – March. We traveled during October 2017.
Recommended Itinerary –
A trip to Meghalaya can best be scheduled keeping two days for Shillong, one day for Cherrapunji, one day at Mawlyngong and the last day, rather a night for camping near the Dawki river.
Shillong gets quite crowded, especially during the peak tourist season and the roads are filled with traffic, causing an unnecessary delay in movement. Hence it is advisable to start the trips a little early so that the crowded roads can be avoided before vehicles start crawling at the pace of a snail.
My two cents
Shillong will always be memorable on a personal level for being the first hill station journey of my toddler. However, the emotions run a little deeper since it is the simplicity of the Khasi people and the serenity of the place that has ensured a permanent place for Shillong in my heart.
Hope this destination leaves you with a smile on the face and a desire to plan a trip to this city very soon. Tomorrow the express will leave for its next destination as Sanjota take control to direct it towards Hampi. Until then, have a safe journey and don’t forget to read, comment and share this post.
“Travelling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.”
I was five years old when I went on my first trip to Darjeeling with my parents. Higher studies and corporate stints made me a resident of cities like Delhi, Bangalore, and Mysore. This was also the period when I traveled with my gang of girls to places like Chennai, Pondicherry, and Ooty and groups of friends to Pune, Khandala, Lonavala, Panchgani, Mahabaleshwar, Ahmedabad, Agra, and Goa. Once I discovered that I was essentially a nomad at heart, my solo trips took me to Hyderabad, Mumbai, Mangalore, Coorg, Madikeri, and Chickmagalur.
When T and I got married in 2011, it was a delight to discover that we shared the same enthusiasm for travel. Munnar was the first place that we visited as a married couple.Unfortunately, I lost my mother in the same year and life came to a stand-still. In 2012, an impromptu road trip from Trivandrum to Varkala and Kanyakumari helped me get a grip on my life again. Together we managed to visit Thekkady, Periyar, Alleppey, Athirapally, Cochin, Wayanad, Goa, Coimbatore, and Kodaikanal.If writing helped me cope up with my mother’s loss, traveling gave me the reason to live.
Three years back after my son was born, the trips became more planned and less on an impulse. From Goa and Mumbai in Central India, Mandarmani, Tajpur, Shankarpur, and Digha in the East, Delhi and Noida in the North to Guwahati, Shillong, and Cherrapunji in the North East, the three of us have explored both the tranquility of nature, humdrum of the city, sea and mountains alike.
I have always been a little old-fashioned when it comes to embracing technological advancements. In my family, I was the last one to own a smartphone. Seven years back, my senior citizen father chose to welcome his new Samsung smartphone as a treasured possession while I still preferred my qwerty keypad mobile. Strangely, today I can’t even think of surviving without my smartphone since it has become such an integral part of my existence. In the present scenario, innovation in science and technology is essential for survival in a rapidly evolving environment. With the changing times, products which were earlier considered as luxury goods eventually decided to rebrand or reposition themselves as essential commodities.
Smart Security Camera – touching many lives
One of the first smart products (other than the aforementioned smartphone) that made its foray into my house was a smart camera. A couple of years back, our rented apartment in Bangalore had been burgled. Despite the fact that our complex had CCTVs installed within the premises, the images weren’t clear enough for the police to nab the criminals. After moving back to Kolkata for good, my husband’s remote posting required him to travel a lot. Since I had ventured out to start my home office as a blogger while also taking care of my newborn baby, I had to ensure that the security and safety factors of my flat were well taken care of. We purchased a Godrej camera which gave 360 degrees horizontal and 90-degree vertical view. The picture was of HD quality which meant that the images were clear even if the lighting was poor. Over the years, I have been thankful for taking the decision of purchasing this wi-fi enabled camera at home. Because of my writing assignments related to travel, we take a lot of trips throughout the year as a family. It is such a relief to be able to check for the security arrangements on the go without having to lose my peace of mind.
I have enjoyed getting into this throwback mode and pulling out the best moments of 2018. In the last post of both the recap series and this year, I talk about December – the month of joy and holidays and bring forth my goals for 2019. The previous posts related to this series is available here.
Orange Flower Award shortlist – Category :Humor
Orange Flower Award shortlist – Category :Travel writing
In this month, I was delighted to have made it to the list of top twenty writers in the categories of Travel Writing and Humor at the Orange Flower Awards conducted by Women’s Web. To be shortlisted among 1600 writers was nothing short of a dream come true moment for me. While I might not have won the award this year, it gave me the right kind of boost and motivation to stay focused and work harder.
This was also the month when the Indiblogger #TheBlindList contest winners were announced and I was pleasantly surprised to find my name and post in the list of winners.
August has always been about my mother’s birthday and my motherland’s independence day. Till date, I celebrate her birthday by cutting a cake hoping that her soul finds peace in her heavenly abode. But this year, August became a landmark month in my life after winning the Lights, Camera, Chattercontest by Blogchatter. As winners, we had the opportunity to perform our pieces live on camera. Through this forum, I transformed from a story writer to a storyteller this year. I have been thinking of doing this more often through my some selective storytelling sessions on my YouTube channel in 2019.
On 13th Sep last year, when I took the plunge to switch my career choice from being a corporate employee to a solopreneur with this blog, I honestly hadn’t expected this journey to be one of the best experiences in my life. After moving back to Kolkata in 2016, I had decided to take a sabbatical. The purpose was to step back from the jazz of being a high-profile Banker and analyze what made me the happiest. Between being a hands-on mother to an infant and reading every single book that I could lay my hands on, I realized that I looked forward to the quiet time every night when I gave a structure to my thoughts by writing them down in my diary. This had become my coping mechanism to deal with my mother’s sudden demise and then a routine that I enjoyed the most.
I also have an honest confession to make here. I doubt if I could have broken the mold and ventured into this new territory hadn’t I taken some time off to get used to the phase of salary credit messages not arriving every month end and rewards and recognition parties not happening every quarter. Also becoming a mother had suddenly brought about a spectrum of change in my priorities.
I really didn’t have a plan when I started out. I wrote on topics that I was fond of like food, travel, movies, and books. Either the narrative was based on my personal experiences or it was of the nature of a review. It felt great when celebrities, authors and restaurant management appreciated the efforts through a message or a re-tweet. The personal journey category came next and it is still one of my favorite corners of the blog. Just before my toddler started his preschool, I decided to write about parenting based on the current stage in my life. It took me a while to write about topics closest to my heart like normalizing breastfeeding, the taboo associated with menstruation and gender stereotyping as part of my social issues column. They were all based on my perspective and experience. My confidence got a boost when multiple articles were featured and trended on portals like Women’s web, Youth Ki Awaaz, Momspresso among others.
Until this period, I rarely read or interacted with other bloggers. I realized my approach was incorrect at different levels I participated in the Blogchatter A2Z challenge in April. It involved a lot of dialogues and suddenly I was exposed to a wonderful community of bloggers and their fabulous work. My blog had started receiving a good number of visitors as well. This was also the period when I heard of other blogging communities like Indiblogger and BlogAdda.
The next best thing happened in May when I turned an author with my debut Detective novella ‘Deal of Death’ as part of the Blogchatter Ebook carnival. From a blogger, I had transitioned into a published author. June brought along the Write Tribe festival of words followed by Bar-A-Thon in July. I had finally discovered my love for writing fiction and flash fiction posts. It was thrilling to weave a story around a prompt in a restricted number of words. Quite a number of posts made it to the featured section and the top posts in Indiblogger. August brought in a pack of surprises. All the posts written on WOW prompts won the WOW badge by BlogAdda. But the best was when one of my stories made it to the nine winning stories in the Lights, camera, Chatter contest by Blogchatter and I went on to narrate it live on FB. I wrapped up the month winning the Muse of the Month contest by Women’s Web.
September began with a positive note as I won the first prize in a blogging contest. But what I really look forward to is the new journey that I am about to begin as I take on the role of an invited speaker guest at the Women’s web Breaking Barriers event in Kolkata this weekend.
Overall, the experience has been extremely satisfying and humbling. Summarizing my learnings in just six points, I would say –
1. Read, reciprocate and engage – I would call this my biggest takeaway for the first year. When I started out, I would publish my post and wait to be discovered. I rarely visited or read others. It is essential to understand that without engaging in a meaningful conversation with others, there’s very little that we can achieve in the blog-o-sphere. Do note the word ‘meaningful’ here. It goes beyond the great post, well written, nice story kind of comments.
2. Optimum utilization of social media for promotions – As much as it is necessary to write, it is also important to promote it on social media for wider reach. However, I would suggest not to overdo it. I have received good response using FB and Twitter as a medium. It is only recently that I have started focusing on Instagram and Pinterest still seems like a far-fetched dream. Having said that, I would emphasize the fact that great content definitely gets rewarded eventually.
3. Do not hesitate to seek help – During the initial months of blogging, I had been snubbed by a senior blogger for asking some ‘frivolous’ questions. We have definitely moved beyond that incident today but this bitter experience conditioned my mindset in a way that I stopped seeking out help. It was only after I met Maya, my closest friend in the virtual world that I realized the technicalities of blogging isn’t so difficult. I will also be eternally grateful to another close friend of mine Ashvini for being a great support and introducing me to the wonder-woman of the blogging world Shailaja. It is really difficult to meet a person as helpful and knowledgeable as her. I have met so many amazing bloggers and writers of late that I realized how vibrant the blogging community is.
4. Take your time to find your niche – Despite the fact that I got a lot of appreciation for my movie reviews and recognition for my articles on other portals, it was only after ‘Deal of Death’ released that I figured out where my heart lay. I started putting my heart and soul into my stories as I transitioned into a fiction writer. In the near future, I have plans of starting a YouTube channel dedicated to the art of storytelling and narration camera.
5. Explore other possibilities in the same domain – I always prefer to call myself a writer because that covers both aspects of being a blogger and a published author. Now I also add the term storyteller to describe my profession and I am looking forward to donning the cap of a speaker next. I have grabbed every relevant opportunity to explore something new and it has turned out to be beneficial.
6. The long-term vision of sustainability – When I started out, my tagline read ‘Embarking on a new journey’ because that described my state. With time, I realized that my blog was basically very high on emotions. Recently, I redefined the tagline as ‘Words, photos & emotions’ summarizing what this blog is all about. Whether blogging is a hobby or a full-time profession, there needs to be a purpose of its existence. As a matter of principle, I don’t do promotions irrelevant to my blog. I have lost out on the financial gains but it makes me happy.
It has been a great year with the booming stats, awards, and recognition. I hope to work harder and bring in stories of wider variety in the future. Thank you for the continued support and love. I’m planning a surprise as part of the birthday celebration very soon, so stay tuned for further details.