Garo hills - trip report and information

#1 Jan 8th, 2015, 20:44
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  • zvika_mr is offline
#1
I spent 3 weeks traveling across Garo hills last November and enjoyed a lot. This region deserves to get many more tourists (I met none).
A word of warning - there is violent insurgency going on. As for November 2014 most of the country was safe, I was adviced not to visit only a couple of places (Nokrek national park and Tura peak). Better to check the current situation before going there.

Tura - not particulary interesting, but a good base for exploring west Garo hills. The small local museum worth a visit. I stayed at Shalom guest house, a small, quiet and very nice place near Hawkana Baptist church, about 20 minutes walk from the center.

Wangala festival - held every November (starting on the first Wednesday of the month) at Asanang, 20 km from Tura on the main road to Guwahati. The 3 days festival includes interesting religious ceremonies, indigenous sports competition, traditional dance competition etc., and gets to its magnificent climax with the Hundred Drums performance. The festival is celebrated in the traditional way by non-christian villages (see bellow) during October.

Trekking among traditional villages - a few villages in west Garo hills still preserve the indigenous religion and traditional way of life of the Garos. A 3 days hike among those villages, not far from Tura, was the highlight of my visit to the Garo hills. You can ask for a guide at the helpful tourist office (Located near the museum in Tura), I hiked with knowledgeable Bibhop A Sangma.
We took a bus to Garobada, a big village about 25 km from Tura to the west. It was the market day (held every Tuesday), so we could see many villagers selling their crops and buying cloths, dry fish, knives etc. There is a nice bamboo bridge on the river near the village.
Then we Jumped on a pickup to Rondekgre village, there we saw traditional bamboo houses, few Kima Songa (traditional Garo totems or memorial posts erected in honor of the dead), bamboo altars with leftovers from curing ceremonies, the headman house, and fields of jhum cultivation. We stayed with one of the families at their house. The next couple of days we visited 7-8 villages, met many local people, saw bachelor houses, cashew plantations, traditional beehives, bamboo baskets making, building with bamboo, etc. We participated in a drinking party, and watched a ceremony of curing a sick man by sacrificing a piglet and a chicken to the ghosts, after building a decorated bamboo altar. We ended the (easy) hike in Babadam (A weekly market is held there on Mondays) and took a sumo back to Tura.

Chandigre and around - I spent few nights at Chandigre rural tourism (Located 3 km to the south from Oragitok, on the main road Tura-Wiliamnagar), a very nice lodge with good rooms and the best traditional Garo food. There is a daily bus from Tura (1.5 hours).
It is the Hoolock Gibbons country here, there are 4 families residing near Chandigre and neighboring Sasatgre village. You can hear them singing every morning, and if you follow the sounds cautiously you can watch those amazing creatures jumping from tree to tree. [The interesting Huro Programme, an NGO that saves Gibbons from captivity in order to release them back to nature, is located near Chinabat on Tura-Wiliammagar road, about 20 km from Chandigre.]
A couple of nice day hikes are possible here: Daribokgre village at the foot of Nokrek range is 7 km from Chandigre, there are great views all around, and the Simsang river source is near by. The village has a lodge, but the villagers adviced me not to stay as the night belongs to the rebels...; Arabela peak is just 2 hours walk from Chandigre, the views are great, and near by Gondeggre village has an interesting non-christian part with a beautiful headman`s house.

I will add a post about south Garo hills soon.
#2 Jan 8th, 2015, 21:15
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  • karikor is offline
#2
Well done. Very interesting post. Keep it up. Looking forward to see the pics.
#3 Jan 10th, 2015, 17:52
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  • zvika_mr is offline
#3

South Garo hills - Baghmara, Balpakram, Siju

Baghmara is a small, sleepy town about 3-4 hours drive from Tura by bus or sumo. The market is nice, and you can see the endemic pitcher plant Nepenthes Khasiana just near by, on the small cliffs beside the road to the market (ask the locals about Memang-Koksi, which means "the basket of the devil" in Garo language). I stayed in a nice tiny guest house attached to the baptist church.

Balpakream national park - you need to get a written permission from the forest department in baghmara before entering the park. The daily bus to Maheshkhola leaves Baghmara around 12 AM and reaches Hatisia gate of the park after 3 bumpy - but beautiful - hours (it goes the other direction around 7 AM). It is possible to stay in the forest rest house here, they can arrange a guide. It is an easy 12 km walk to the amazingly beautiful canyon rim through the forest (one way), or you can get there by jeep. We could hear sounds of elephants, deers, hoolock gibbons, hornbills, but managed to see only a glimpse of the gibbons, and many butterflies. The guide told me that it`s better to visit during spring time, just after the first rains, when the grassed plateau is covered by carpets of wild flowers. There is a trail going down to the canyon floor, branching from the jeep road about 7 km from the gate.

It is possible to reach Shilong from Maheshkhola (just 20 km from Hatisia to the east) in one (long) day (much shorter than going back to Tura and then heading to Shilong), by taking the early morning bus to Ranikor, just about 50 km away, and then a sumo to Shilong.

Siju - few daily sumos heding to Wiliamnagar can drop you at Siju village (about 2 hours from Baghmara to the north). The famous cave and the rest house are located near the Simsang river, 5 km walk or drive from the main road. The near by Eco camp is under renovation and will start operate soon. Blinder Marak (the manager of the Eco camp, tel 9436786057) guided me into the amazing cave - an underground river with narrow passages here and there and some swimming. Bring a good flashlight and leave everything ahead. The next morning i went (with a guide from the forest rest house) into the Siju wildlife sanctuary on the other side of the Simsang river, there are wonderful rock formations and the forest is nice.

Butterflies watching - if you like butterflies, like me, then you reached paradise. Blinder from Siju sold me the book "Butterflies of the Garo hills", which contains photos and descriptions of more than 300 butterflies species. The book, which contains also good maps of Balpakram NP and its surroundings, mentions some recommended hot spots for butterflies watching, most of them just near Baghmara. According to the book, the best spots are around Gongrot (at the edge of Balpakram NP, 17 km drive from Baghmara), Karwani (a village at the edge of Baghmara reserve forest, just 5 km walk from Baghmara), and Siju. the best seasons are spring (May) and autumn (Nov). It`s a magical feeling to have so many butterflies flying around you while walking around those places.
#4 Aug 18th, 2016, 22:23
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  • naturebuff is offline
#4
Very informative report ... thank you for sharing!
#5 Oct 25th, 2017, 22:53
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Mumbai
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  • offisapup is offline
#5
Very informative. Planning a trip between the Khasi and Garo hills, so this information should come very handy. Thanks for posting this.

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