India is not easy to define, because this vast land is as diverse geographically and demographically as it gets and there are rituals and the traditions that vary virtually from village to village. You will be surprised to know that are over a hundred major languages in addition to nearly two-thousand other minor languages in the country. So even if you are a linguist, you need to be a magician to be able to master all these languages.
The geographical difference among its different parts is also pretty apparent, as on one side you have the magnificent Himalaya, while on the other side it is surrounded by oceans and seas. Then there are deserts and alpine forests that are scattered across the country giving the traveler a terrible choice to decide what to include and what to leave out when he visits this wonderland. For the uninitiated, India is also the land of spirituality, with yoga being its most import to the western world. Let’s check out some major destinations:
Mizoram One of the sisters of the seven sister states, Mizoram with its rolling hills, meandering valleys, gurgling rivers and sparkling lakes is no less than a paradise for the nature lover. The state is dotted with no less than 21 mountain ranges of varying heights which are home to a wide range of animals and plants. The dress worn by the local population is also strikingly different from other parts of the country, and so is their food and culture. Even in this day and age they lead a lifestyle that is symbiotic, which is why you will find pristine greenery everywhere.
Nohkalikai Falls, Cherrapunji Waterfalls with their unfettered flow tends to free us of our man-made rules and urges us to be wild and be ourselves. When you visit Nohkalikai Falls, which is located near Cherrapunji, the wettest place in the world, you will understand what I am talking about. The falls is one of the tallest in the country and you will be left awestruck by the force with which the water cascades down the high cliffs. Nohkalikai Falls in the Khasi language translates to "Jump of KaLikai," and has a popular legend associated to it. It is believed that a local woman by the name of Kai after being struck by a family tragedy took her life by jumping off the cliff next to the falls.
Nubra Valley, Ladakh One of the most amazing valleys in India, Nubra lies to the northeast of Ladakh valley. The high altitude and the unique weather of the region are the cause of rare precipitation and scare vegetation seen here. But despite being a cold desert, the villages are irrigated and one will find heat, barley, peas, and mustard besides a good number of fruits and nuts, including blood apples.The unsurpassed beauty of the region and availability of a number of adventure sports are a few of the many reasons why visitors keep trickling into the valley.
StokKangri, Ladakh For the adventure fanatics who love mountains, StokKangri is just tailor made for you. With an elevation of 6,153m (20,182ft) it is the highest mountain in the Stok Range and is a prime attraction among the visitors who trickle in from across the world, not only to enjoy adventure sports, but just to take in the majestic view of the snow-draped mountains; however, if you come around late July and August, the summit peak may not be covered with snow, but the rest of the year it is.
The Tea Gardens of Munnar This hill station-cum-town is perched 1,600 metres above sea level and is famous for its rolling tea gardens which look incredibly beautiful; visitors should take a stroll through the tea gardens and feel the ambiance of the place. Believe you me; the moments will stay with for a long, long time. The flora and fauna of the region is thriving and you will get many subjects of interest to keep yourself busy!
Key Monastery This Tibetan Buddhist monastery is a prime example of Indian plurality and the celebration of the human spirit. Perched atop a hill at an altitude of 4,166 metres (13,668 ft) above sea level, the gompa is close to the famous Spiti River. Being the largest monastery in the Spiti Valley, it is an important center for religious training of the Lamas. The origin of the monastery dates back to circa 1008-1064 CE, when Dromtönis said to have founded it.
Andamans If you love water and water sports, Andaman’s should make your bucket list. This group of islands is positioned at the meeting point of the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea and is famous among travels across all ages. The vegetation is mainly dominated by tropical trees, with rainforest canopy being a common occurrence, and is composed of mixed flora. Among the popular animals, the saltwater crocodile takes the cake.
A little more than a year back, while on a Caribbean cruise, I (along with my wife and sister) decided to head over to Dunn's River Falls on my birthanniversay (birthday and anniversary). Leaving behind my daughter and my parents are the wonderfully named Mahogany Beach, we took a taxi to the Falls. It's a good idea to inform the taxi driver not to leave the parking. As it happened in our case, thinking that we would take longer than we did, he decided to go someplace else in the meantime, and after waiting for him for a good 45 minutes, we eventually took another taxi back to our ship.
Dunn's River Falls is one of the primary tourist attractions in all of Jamaica, yet it was not over crowded. A ticket of $20 USD got us in and into a group led by a couple of guides. There are lockers inside the property to leave your valuables, and it's advised that you use them because the falls can be a bit challenging at times. Also, available on location are water shoes which can be rented for a small fee. Once again, it is advisable that you rent the water shoes as the rocks, while climbing up, are very slippery.
As a tourist attraction, the whole arrangement is well organized. There are groups of 12-15 people that are taken by two guides. It's essential that you use the service of the guides (included in the entrance fee) on your first trip up because they point out the plunge pools deep enough for you to take a back flip in and importantly the corners that should be avoided.
Carrying a video camera, the guides also make a video of your whole "expedition" up the falls which can be yours for $40 USD. A bit expensive, we gave the video a miss, but the guides were not at all pushy about it. They were friendly and as expected flirted with the girls, at the expense of the guys, but then that's a given almost anywhere in the world.
Dunn's River Falls is one of those attractions that you would want to say "Been There, Done That". The areas where flow of the water is too much, the climb a bit steep, or the rocks are really slippery; there are handle bars on the sides to support you. Moreover, walking in a group, a human chain is usually formed again to provide support for everyone.
Although I saw people of all ages go up the falls, I would advice the really young and the really old to skip climbing the falls. There is a good chance most people will end up with tiny cuts and scratches by the time they reach the top, but that is not to say that this is a dangerous activity.
Our climb up the Dunn's River Falls was refreshing and something I definitely recommend for everyone visiting the region. Once you have had your guided climb, you can always go back down and climb up again if you desire. There is also a small beach at the bottom of the falls which is fun for the younger and older members of the family. The organizers are not at all pushy and you are free to take or not take the photographs and videos they make without any hassles.
I would however apologize for my photographs not being of the best quality (and thus not doing justice to the Falls), but in my defense these were taken by a waterproof single use disposable camera.
If you should find yourself near Arenal Volcano, be sure that you visit Venado Cave, which is located about a 45-min van-ride south of La Fortuna. Officially known in the cave registry under its original local Indian name, Caverna Gabinarraca (well, what has been explored so far) consists of over 2,700 meters and is believed to have been formed about 20 million years ago.
Although these caves were not discovered until 1945 it was almost 30 years later before any extensive exploration was done. Even to this day there are still unexplored portions, as you can see from the map below.
Any of the local La Fortna hostels / hotels / resorts / excursion companies can arrange it for you once you are in town. Hell, they will all be fighting for your business, so don’t waste time and money and extra fees pre-booking ANY excursions online. We booked through our hostel Arenal Backpackers Resort and paid $50/person despite hearing online that others were being charged as much as $70 each. Another blogger managed to arrange transportation both ways via pirate taxi, acquire supplies and pay their tour guide all for a grand total of $30 for his entire group. However that enterprising young chap was unable to fully enjoy his part in the expedition, as he was forced to translate for the rest of his group.
The drive up there is only 15 miles or so but will probably take around 45 minutes or so given the road quality towards the end. The final segment is slow going but then the home stretch is a glorified dirt rut and thus super-slow going. It is a pleasent Alajuela drive though, up through farm country and then past a couple small villages, and provides you with an opportunity to see a variety small houses and farms.
After arrival — well, technically upon signing of the waiver — you are provided with rubber boots and a hardhat with attached light. Just a forewarning: those who have a shoe size above 12 (US mens) may have some difficulty here. I am a size 13/14 depending upon the brand and only with water to help lubricate and the assistance of an employee were we finally able to force my boots on one at a time. They were painfully uncomfortable the entire expedition too, but I survived. Once everyone was suited up it was a brief hike past a field of cows and down the trail on into the valley below, where the first cave entrance lies in wait. All the while we struggled to listen as our guide described the history of the cave system. I was the first person behind our guide and as such was the only one able to catch more than the occasional word, so for this expedition try to get the guide with the loud booming voice if possible!
Upon reaching the entrance we paused to listen to the stereotypical introduction and warning spiel from our guide, as well as information on what type of creatures we could expect to see once inside. Basically this cave includes the usual spiders, bats, and bugs, but thanks to the water there is also an assortment of fish, crabs, frogs, and other small forms of aquatic life.
From the first few seconds in all the way until the end, this cave was basically non-stop amazement. I've explored a couple cave systems before but this one by far was the best! First off, they failed to mention just how much water you really see. From the start you are standing in 6-12 inches and the water level only goes up from there. Several times you are fully submerged and swimming to the next cavern. It was exciting and a lot of fun, to say the least. Definitely beat out traditional dry spelunking.
The whole thing took about an hour-and-a-half and included lots of waterfalls, stalactites, bats, and other interesting shit. Our guide showed us some interesting rocks that appear solid but are actually luminescent when hit with a flashlight, as well as others that sounded like metal when tapped (if only I could remember what they were called).
But there are also several crawl spaces that you need to make it through, so I will warn you with this: if you are taller than my 6'2" and/or weigh more than 250lbs, you probably should avoid this excursion. Even if you could make it through all the spaces, trust me, it will not be an enjoyable squeeze. I'm tall and relatively thin yet there was this one part in particular which I barely made it through.
Additionally, the caves do close periodically due to high water levels, primarily after heavy rainfalls during the wet season.
Below are a few photos from our expedition. Been spelunking before? What is your favorite cave system?
Have you been to the Venado Caves before? Know of any other hidden sights worth visiting that are nearby? Share your thoughts with us!