Off to market

Off to market

Off to market

There is something fascinating about a market. And when that market is in a foreign country, the attraction is even stronger…

Most of us like to include one or two shopping opportunities on our holiday, whether that’s exploring high-end shops in elegant galleria or perusing home-made wares spread out on a tablecloth on the ground in a Maasai village. But you don’t have to be intent on a major shopping expedition to enjoy visiting a market – it’s a fabulous way to see what daily life is like for the locals as they shop for essential supplies or sell their artisan crafts. It doesn’t have to be a ‘general’ market either – fish markets are fascinating places to visit for example, with the added bonus that there will usually be some excellent fish restaurants close by!

A  market can be colourful in more ways than one. Whether it’s table-upon-table piled high with pyramids of vibrant spices or fruits and vegetables, racks of brilliantly-coloured woven goods or simply the local colour provided by such a bustling environment as you’re surrounded by the indigenous languages and customs, a trip to a market is bound to be memorable. Just don’t forget to take your camera!

 

Images above – header image © Shutterstock – Curioso, inset image © Shutterstock – Dendenal

The vibrancy of Latin American markets

The markets in Latin America are every bit as vivid as one would expect. The Plaza de los Ponchos (Otalvo Market) in Otalvo, Ecuador, sells everything from weaving tools to fresh fruit, while the Flower Market in Lima, Peru, is a gorgeous explosion of colour and scent. Unmissable!

The Bolivian city of La Paz has a range of markets, from the Mercado Lanza food market (a great place to try a salteña – a Bolivian empanada), the Ayni artisan crafts market and Comart Tukuypaj, where you’ll find beautifully-made alpaca and llama goods, to the intriguingly-named Witches’ Market (see photo below). This latter sells herbs and traditional medicines, and fortune tellers will happily read your palm, but it also sells lovely leather goods and woven items. Haggling is fine in Bolivia, so you may get a bargain!

Ferias (farmers’ markets) about in Costa Rica. In addition to farm products such as cheeses many sell honey, wine, clothing and crafts. But even if you’re not in the market (so to speak) for plantains, eggs or balls of string cheese, if you get the chance to visit a feria while in Costa Rica, do go. You’ll find ferias in many towns, with particularly good ones in or just outside Tamarindo, Quepos and San Jose. The Tamarindo Feria (Saturday mornings) sells a lot of organic products and chocolates, cheeses, flowers etc.  and there are often live music performances. The Feria Verde de Aranjuez in San Jose is a large, organic gourmet market and the perfect place to spend a Saturday morning.

 

© Shutterstock – Saiko3p

“The markets in Latin America are as vivid as one might expect.”

While in Chile, look out for local fruits and vegetables such as lúcuma and chirimoya, as well as leather, silver, lapis lazuli, alpaca and wood crafts. Angelmo, the coastal bay just outside Puerto Montt, has a superb seafood market – you couldn’t get fresher fish! It is THE place to try curanto, the South Chilean delicacy of seafood, vegetables and meat cooked over hot stones.

Santiago has plenty of markets, the most famous being Mercado Central, which specialises in fish. Don’t miss trying a traditional fish stew in one of the local restaurants! A short walk from Avenida O’Higgins you’ll find the Santa Lucia market, with a wealth of gifts and crafts on offer. You’ll also find excellent local hand-made goods in Pucon’s Mercado Artesanal, while Valparaiso’s Mercado El Cardonal features great piles of fruit and vegetables, all housed in a historic market hall. Make sure you also visit the fish market in Valparaiso; check out the pelicans, seagulls and sea  lions hovering around hoping for scraps as the fishermen unload their catches.

“You’re surrounded by the indigenous language and customs.”

Local colour in Peru

The town of Pisac in Peru’s Sacred Valley is famed for being the Valley’s highest settlement, for the Inca ruins above the town and for its bustling Sunday market, when traditionally-dressed members of the Cusco region’s indigenous Quechua communities gather to buy and sell produce and supplies. However, there is also a daily artisan market in Pisac, so whichever day you visit the town you be able to buy crafts and gifts and capture all that local colour in some great photos.

In addition to the afore-mentioned Flower Market, Lima has a number of markets to explore, ranging from the Feria Artesanal craft market to Terminal Pesquero, the daily fish market and Mercado de Surquillo, a superb food market. Peru has some 4,000 varieties of potatoes, so the potato displays alone are incredible in Peruvian markets! And if the idea of the Witches’ Market in La Paz appealed, you could well find Mercado Modelo in the Peruvian town of Chiclayo equally fascinating, with its stalls selling essential ingredients for potions and spells.

Cusco and Chinchero have ecellent markets and, for something absolutely exotic, there’s the market adjacent to the floating shantytown of Belén, Iquitos, where jungle village residents sell their wares. If you have a hankering to taste fried leafcutter ants or Amazon worms, this outdoor market in the heart of the Peruvian Amazon is the place for you…

Coast to winelands

There are some great markets to be found in Africa too, from the sophisticated establishments in Cape Town and the Cape winelands to Maasai markets in Tanzania.

The Cape Winelands have some terrific markets in stunning locations, such as the Friday evening market at the Boschendal wine estate in Franschhoek. There’s great food and drink and incredible mountain views. And you get some  amazing views of the South Peninsula at the weekly Cape Point Vineyards Market. Sit here at sunset, marvel at the views, and chow down on wood-fired pizza as you sip a glass of the CPV’s own award-winning wine before browsing for jewellery and crafts.

In cosmopolitan Cape Town you will find a host of markets with a lovely relaxed atmosphere, and you can usually enjoy some fabulous food there.  Oranjezicht City Farm Market on the V&A Waterfront is operated by the innovative team behind the urban farms project. You can buy wonderful breads, honey, fruit, herbs and vegetables here and find specialist stalls selling chocolates, vegan food etc. The market has gorgeous views of the ocean, and is a great place to wander around, enjoy a pastry or crepe etc. The Waterfront’s Old Power Station now houses the V&A Food Market, with more than 40 food and drink stalls, including one with 23 varieties of South African gin!

Cape Town’s Good Company Market (Sunday), based in the Company’s Garden and near to the Art Gallery is fantastic for all the family, with food and craft stalls and plenty of family activities such as pony rides,

Don’t miss Elgin’s Railway market, an Art Deco delight in a converted apple warehouse.  Live music plays as you explore the clothing, jewellery, food and ceramics stalls, and there are some great cafes and restaurant. If you visit on a Saturday you can even travel to Elgin from Cape Town on board a historic stream train, then ride it back to Cape Town after a day at the market.

If you head out to Hout Bay you’ll find more than 100 stalls inside an old fish factory next to the ocean at the Bay Harbour Market. Musicians and street performers do their thing, the air is fragrant with the enticing aromas of freshly-baked bread and, in the distance, Chapman’s Peak presides over it all like a benevolent market manager.

From Maasai crafts to curios within earshot of the Victoria Falls…

Every Thursday afternoon hundreds of Maasai converge on Mto Wa Mbu village, close to Tarangire National Park and Lake Manyara in Tanzania, for the vibrant weekly Maasai Central Market, with an even bigger market held there on the 22nd of each month. It’s a really interesting break in your safari itinerary as you taste Maasai food, shop for their crafts etc. There’s also a Maasai market selling crafts and curious in Arusha, and the lively Kariakoo market in Dar es Salaam, which is hot chaotic and fascinating. It is very crowded though, so perhaps think of it more as an experience than a shopping opportunity!

Malawi’s roadside Lizulu Market is aimed firmly at the drivers and passengers in the passing cars and buses, giving it quite a different feel to many other markets. With its piles of fruit and veggies, it’s a definitely a place to get some memorable holiday snaps. There’s also a market in Dedza township. It’s not aimed at tourists, but among the essential items for everyday life here you will also find stalls selling straw hats, clay cooking pots and lovely woven and printed cloth. If you’re in Dedza you’ll probably also want to take a trip to the pottery, which has its own shop selling beautiful items – which can be personalised.

If you can tear your eyes away from the majestic Falls themselves, head to the Big Curio Open Market in Victoria Falls town (on the Zimbabwe side of the falls) where you will find crafts of all kinds, includig Shona sculpture.

Spicing it up in Dehli

As for India, well, there’s not enough room in this blog to do justice to the wealth of markets in the sub-continent! However, if you are in Dehli, pick up your camera and head to Khari Baoli, the largest spice market in Asia. You’ll find it near the historic Red Fort, and the market itself – which takes up the whole street after which it’s named – is a historic institution, heaving with endless shops and stalls selling spices, herbs, dried fruit, rice, tea and nuts. It’s colourful, incredibly highly scented and unique. Fabulous!

Let Tribes take you to market!

Many of our trips include the opportunity to visit a local market or two, and if we tailor-make a trip for you then we can craft an itinerary that takes in just exactly what you require in the market department.

Our Golden Triangle trip, with its tour of Old and New Dehli, is a great way to experience the scents, sights and sounds of the Khari Baoli spice market, while many of our Peruvian itinerarys, such as Classic Peru will include a visit to the famous market at Pisac. Peru for Foodies is a market-lover’s delight, featuring market shopping in Lima –  where you sample the local produce and buy the ingredients you’ll be taught to prepare for lunch – in Pisac and in Cusco, where you will be stunned by the huge variety of potatoes and other produce on offer in San Pedro Market.

Itineraries such as Costa Rica Coast to Coast include free time in San Jose, where you could fit in a market visit, while our Costa Rica Self-Drive Holiday takes you to Tamarindo, and its farmer’s market.

If you’re intrigued by the concept of the Witches’ Market in La Paz, our Bolivia Authentic Experience will do the trick for you, and our Trekking and Culture in Otalvo holiday puts you right in the heart of this Ecuadorian market town.

Those planning to take in the glaciers, deserts and cities of Chile will find visits to Santiago and Valparaiso markets possible on our Chile, Deserts and Glaciers trip, while no visit to Cape Town and the Winelands is complete without at least one (but probably rather more!) market explorations. Try our Cape Town and Winelands holiday or Cape Town, Coast and Mountains.

Our Maasai Culture and Wilderness holiday takes you to the Maasai market at Mto Wa Mbu and finally, if you’re drawn to the idea of market shopping to the thunderous audio accompaniment of the Victoria Falls, our Victoria Falls in a Nutshell Zimbabwe trip will deliver exactly what’s required!

Into the wild

Into the wild

Into the wild

From pangolins to fossas, and shoebill storks to red pandas, we know where and when to send you to give you the very best chance of seeing these incredible species. 

Our colourful new brochure ‘The World’s Top Wildlife Experiences’ brings together some of the incredible wildlife experiences that we are delighted to organise for our clients. Here is just a snapshot of some of the content – plus details of how to acquire your own copy to peruse at your leisure…

Wallow and yawn – the hippo pool

I watched as a lone hippo tried to muscle in on the pool. Hippos are territorial, and dangerously aggressive with it, but Katavi National Park hippo pool attracts hundreds of hippos which come to wallow cheek-by-jowl in the springfed mud. There was a gloopy ripple in the pool as the other muddy bodies grudgingly gave way for another incomer.

This behaviour is unusual. Far more likely is that you will see them in pods in rivers or lakes. South Luangwa is a fantastic place for hippos. You’ll see them wherever you stay here, but hippo-lovers should especially consider Kaingo or Mwamba camps for access to their hippo hide. And of course, most keen photographers are waiting for the hippo shot: the yawn.

 

“On the prowl…”

  • Cheetahs © Shutterstock -Stephanie Periquet
  • Chilean Puma © Shutterstock – Joe McDonald

On the prowl with the cats of Africa…
You might be in the Masai Mara or Serengeti witnessing big cats taking advantage of the wealth of the wildebeest migration. You could be here when three cheetah brothers race off their viewing mound towards a herd of impalas, or when your guide spots two tiny leopard cubs on a rock in Zambia’s South Luangwa. Being in the bush with Africa’s top big cat predators is exhilarating and touching in equal measure, and a joy that, once experienced, must be repeated!

Meeting the Latin American cats
Jungle cat and mountain lion –  big cats that have been persecuted for generations due to their conflict with domestic livestock. But in places without livestock, such as riverbanks and remote areas, they have posed little threat to the livelihoods of fishermen and the likes. As man’s focus has recently changed to think more about conservation, these big cats have had something of a renaissance. Some are even habituated or at least comfortable enough not to run away from humans.

As a result, if you know where to go – and we do – we can take you to places where you will almost certainly get great sightings of these magnificent jaguars and pumas.

In search of big cats in India
Searching for tigers and leopards (let alone the vastly more rare snow leopard) is not easy, but when you see these incredible big cats, I promise your heart will sing. They are mesmerising.

There are under 4,000 tigers left in the wild, most of these are Bengal tigers found in India. There is thought to be a similarly low number of snow leopards, and though the Indian leopard is more numerous it is still at great risk. Come and see them.

 

Pura Vida in Costa Rica

Osa Peninsula is treasure trove for nature and wildlife lovers. It is home to at least half of the species living in Costa Rica – about 140 mammal species and over 400 bird species – many of these living in Corcovado National Park within the peninsula. Much of Costa Rica teems with wildlife, but if you are a true enthusiast and want the very best wildlife experience in the country, Osa is the place to come. National Geographic called it: “the most biologically intense place on earth.”

Osa’s 700 square miles is almost entirely covered in rainforest (with about 700 tree species) reaching right down to the Pacific coast. It’s rare to find anywhere on the planet now where rainforest meets the sea. You come for this incredibly rich forest habitat, but you can also enjoy the coast, see whales in the Golfo Dulce, and go snorkelling at Cano Island.

 

 

  • Resplendent quetzal: © Shutterstock – Ondrej Prosicky
  • Whale breaching: © Shutterstock – nuriajudit

“Two million animals on the move…”

Witnessing the Great Migration
It’s hard to get your mind around 2 million animals on the move. The world’s largest mass land migration is just this though. Vast swathes of wildebeest, as well as huge numbers of zebras, plus Thompson’s gazelle and eland make the arduous journey from the Serengeti to the Masai Mara and back again. They constantly follow the fresh grazing afforded by the rains. This circle of life includes birth, joyous moments of youngsters learning to play and love life, heart-in-mouth river crossings, dramatic narrow escapes from predators, and sadly, death. It’s raw, it can be emotional, it’s an incredible sight.

 

  • Migration: © Shutterstock – Jurgen Vogt
  • Lion: © Shutterstock – nwdph

“We are all nature lovers and we travel for the joy of what each new adventure might bring.”

© Shutterstock – Longjourney

Step into the wild with Tribes

Wildlife-loving world travellers are always planning the next trip and considering what they’d like to see next. Here at Tribes, we’re no different. We are all nature lovers and we travel for the joy of what each new adventure might bring. Since travel is not just a job for us but also a passion (especially when it’s linked to conservation and species and habitat protection), we love talking to people who are equally besotted by the world and its wildlife.

Tell us what you want to find next. The chances are that we might already know, but if we don’t, we will find out for you and hopefully find a way to get you there.

If you’d like your own copy of ‘The World’s Top Wildlife Experiences’, you can download a digital copy here or, if you’re based in the UK, contact us and we’ll post one out to you. Or pick up a hard copy at one of the shows Tribes is attending this year:

 

On the right tracks

On the right tracks

On the right tracks

Header image © The Blue Train

Side image © Imvelo Safari Lodges

There can be a romance in rail travel in foreign countries that’s hard to find in the 11.05am from Ipswich to Liverpool Street. From luxury trains crossing South Africa, Peru or India to  switchbacking up and down an almost sheer cliff face in Ecuador, there’s something rather special about taking to the tracks on holiday.

Image © Belmond

First class all the way…

Cocooned in elegance, spectacular landscapes viewed through picture windows as an attentive waiter proffers a glass of champagne, a fine afternoon tea or splendid silver-service dinner before you retreat to your peaceful, sumptuous cabin, to be lulled to sleep by the rhythm of the rails… a luxury train journey is a thing of beauty.

Thanks to a certain Agatha Christie book and the subsequent A-list star-packed films, the iconic and exotic train that immediately springs to mind is usually the Orient Express. However, let me present some others for your consideration…

The Belmond Andean Explorer  is owned and operated by the same organisation that runs the Venice-Simplon Orient Express and there are clear echoes of that famous piece of rolling stock to be found in what was the first luxury sleeper train in South America.

“Coccooned in elegance…”

Images © Belmond

One of two distinctive, midnight-blue Belmond trains running in Peru, the Andean Explorer is a glorious way to travel from Cusco to Peru’s famed ‘white city’ Arequipa or Lake Titicaca, stopping at points of interest en-route. You get an amazing view of the glorious scenery from the observation car and can even relax with a massage in the spa car.

The Belmond Hiram Bingham is an unforgettable way to travel in classic style to Machu Picchu. Fantastic, 1920s-style elegance transports you back to a time when polished brass and wood were the norm and Pullman carriages were the only way to travel. Crossing Peru’s Sacred Valley, heading to the iconic ‘lost city of the Incas’ on board this superb train is something that’s definitely on my personal bucket list. They take it slow, so you get to enjoy around three and half hours of refined style and impeccable food, wine and service as you look out onto cloud forest, mountains and valleys and ancient towns and villages.

Belmond never forgets that this is a Peruvian adventure. Enjoy a Pisco sour, take in traditional local music performances on board, and savour fine Peruvian wines and local delicacies with a sophisticated twist.

PeruRail…

PeruRail’s Vistadome train, which travels between Cusco, Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu, allows you to enjoy contemporary Andean style and elegance. On board you’ll also be treated to a fashion show demonstating the newest trends in alpaca clothing, together with live traditional dance performances. The rail carriages  have vast expanses of glass, wrapping up to the roof, to help you make the most of the panoramic views.

PeruRail’s Titicaca train crosses the Andes between Cusco and Puno and features 1920s-style Pullman carriages and an open-air observation car which is ideal for photographers looking to capture shots of the jaw-dropping landscapes.

 

 

Traverse South Africa in style

In South Africa you have a choice of luxury sleeper trains between Cape Town and Pretoria and vice versa; the Blue Train and Rovos Rail.

The Blue Train has operated since 1946 and the 1,600-mile, two-night journey is unforgettable. Think of it as a five-star hotel on wheels, with a glorious and ever-changing view and the finest of South African wines and haute cuisine. Oh, and your own butler on call.  The Blue Train also travels to Kruger National Park, and I can think of no finer way to arrive on safari.

Equally sumptuous, Rovos Rail is another wood-panelled piece of handsome rolling stock. Before you even step on board, the exclusive Rovos Rail pre-departure lounge at Pretoria station puts you in the frame of mind for the opulence that lies ahead.

 

Main image and top side image © The Blue Train

Bottom side image © Rovos Rail

“Game viewing as the train trundles along.”

Imvelo’s Stimela Star is a private sleeper train running from Victoria Falls to Hwange National Park. It may not hit the luxurious heights of Rovos Rail or the Blue Train, but, with its cheerful and endlessly helpful staff, recently-restored retro accommodation and excellent food, it’s immensely charming and a great addition to your safari holiday without busting the budget. If you’re staying at Imvelo’s Bomani Tented Lodge or Camelthorn you can extend your rail journey on Imvelo’s Elephant Express, an open-sided single railcar that provides game viewing as the train trundles along the tracks to the lodges.

 

Elephant Express and Stimela Star images © Imvelo Safari Lodges

“A fantastic way to travel across a country famed for its rail tradition.”

Palace on Wheels images © Nav Jyoti TV Studio

See India from the Palace on Wheels

How about an eight-day sleeper train ride through Northern India? The Palace on Wheels maintains the longstanding Indian tradition of rail travel, taking in Agra, Bharatpur, Dehli, Chittorgarh Fort, Jaipur Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Ranthambore National Park, the Taj Mahal and Udaipur en-route. It’s a fantastic way to travel across a country famed for its rail tradition, with guided tours of the famous stopping places.  Of course, there’s a huge choice of rail journeys in India and our consultants often book overnight trains for our travellers; they’re a great way to travel between the game parks of central India for example. These aren’t luxury trains, but are a very convenient way to travel and a fantastic way to see another aspect of day-to-day Indian life.

If you’re a narrow gauge railway fan heading to India, make sure you talk to us about one of the ‘toy trains’, which operate on a number of routes including from Kalka to Shimla or Ooty.

 

All aboard the Ecuador Cruise Train

Here’s something new and a little different – Tren Ecuador is not a sleeper train but a way to see Ecuador at a leisurely pace by rail while stopping at hotels and lodges en route. Two levels of travel are available, Luxury and the upgraded Gold class, with the difference being in the hotels or haciendas you say in on the journey. You’ll travel on the same luxury train, through incredible ever-changing scenery, stopping at fascinating places and meeting local craftsmen and women, visiting markets and enjoying traditional cuisine.

The route includes the dramatic switchbacks along the Devil’s Nose route (see images above and below) – and if your itinerary won’t allow for the full six-day experience, you can board the train just for key sections, including the Devil’s Nose. There’s also the Tren de la Libertad, which crosses bridges over steep canyons and through seven tunnels between Ibarra and Salinas, where its arrival is greeted with the tune ‘La Bomba’.  Salinas is home to the Afro-ecuadorian people, and a visit to this town, with its colourful murals and fascinating museums, is a great way to spend a day.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the available train journeys so, if you fancy getting on the right tracks on your holiday, don’t forget to ask us about the opportunities for rail travel in your chosen destination!

 

Kaziranga and the Big Eight

Kaziranga and the Big Eight

Kaziranga and the Big Eight

AMANDA MARKS

“We have our own Big Five here: the one-horned rhino, elephant, swamp deer, wild buffalo and tiger. I think we should have the Big Eight though, and include the Hoolock gibbon, Malayan giant squirrel and giant hornbill.”

“A tiger just swam across the lake and went into the elephant grass over there”

Our guide, Hrishi, was obviously proud of his park, but I had come with few expectations of what we might see here; perhaps one or two rhinos if we were lucky and maybe a wild elephant – I would be happy with that. I assumed a tiger sighting wouldn’t even be worth hoping for since, although the park has one of the highest densities of tigers, they’re not easy to see here; you’re far better off in central Indian parks such as Ranthambore, Kanha or Tadoba for tigers.

We headed off with a guide and driver in our Gypsy. These are the jeep of choice for Indian wildlife parks since they’re small and light which makes them suitable for the narrow tracks, though if you’re used to African game vehicles you might be slightly shocked by the lack of suspension and space.

We didn’t care though. Within three minutes of driving through the central gate we saw our first one-horned Indian rhino … with a baby! We stopped and Hrishi pointed out that there were also 3 other rhinos in the distance, plus an elephant and three hog deer (one of the three species of deer in the park – swamp, hog and barking). 

“Within three minutes of driving through the central gate we saw our first one-horned Indian rhino … with a baby! ”

AMANDA MARKS

 

As we carried on along the earthen track that wound through a pretty area of broadleaf woodland, we stopped again. A handsome jungle fowl assiduously kept his back to us but there was no missing the striking plumage of this ancestor of our domestic chickens.  Less obvious was the little owl hiding deeper within the foliage but, as it turned out, our guide was a good spotter and didn’t miss much.

The park was a mix of grasslands, swamps and lakes, and wooded areas. It was mostly very flat but, on the western edge, the Burrapahar Hills offered a hazy backdrop in muted tones of grey. As we reached a lookout tower near a large lake, there was definitely some excitement in the air. A group of six people were training their binoculars on a stand of tall grasses at the edge of the water.

“A tiger just swam across the lake and went into the elephant grass over there,” said Hrishi. We had just missed seeing it. A matter of moments earlier and … But no, it wasn’t to be.

 

“We left Kaziranga very happy to have seen seven of his Big Eight!”

We might not have seen a big cat, but we were really lucky with our sightings of wild elephants. Sometimes they hid shyly in the tall grasses, but one family came to splash in a muddy lake and it was joyous to watch them. Wild elephant numbers in India are dropping at a staggering rate and it’s thought there are now only around 27,000, with 1900 in Kaziranga.

The following morning we went to the far west gate and the sound of gibbons echoed round the forest. I hadn’t realised just how rare Hoolock gibbons are, and this is the only ape to be found in India. They weren’t easy to photograph, but you could definitely see them and hearing them was no problem at all. It felt like a privilege to stand beneath them as they peered imperiously down at us.

But it was the rhino sightings that surprised us the most. In two days in the park, taking morning and afternoon game drives from our lodge on the edge of the park (Diphlu River Lodge), we counted 65 of these armour-plated mammals!  Kaziranga has 2400 Asian one-horned rhinos, which is about 70% of the world’s population, and that number is slowly growing. It is the best place to see them, and what an accolade for the protection teams working here; they are doing an incredible job.

Hrishi was disappointed that we’d missed the tiger, but that definitely didn’t spoil our visit as we’d not really coming expecting to see one. In fact, we left Kaziranga very happy to have seen seven of his Big Eight!

Remote North East India trip

If you would like to explore the forests and unique living root of bridges of Meghalaya followed by safaris in Kaziranga National Park, home to two thirds of the world’s one-horned rhinos, click here to view this unique trip.

See Amanda’s blog about the Living Root Bridges of Meghalaya, also in northeast India. 

Living Root Bridges

Living Root Bridges

Living Root Bridges

 

AMANDA MARKS

It’s rare that you come across anything on this earth that hasn’t also been thought of by someone else in a totally different region. However, the living root bridges of Meghalaya are a uniquely special entity found nowhere else. As a tree-lover, I just had to go and see this for myself. It’s a long way to go to see a bridge though — would it be worth it?

“How long does it take to grow a bridge? About 15 to 20 years!”

If you’re anything like me you’ve probably never heard of Meghalaya. Last year was the first time I became aware of it, and I’ve worked in international tourism for over 30 years. This small state in north east India was born in 1972, one of the so-called Seven Sisters States along with nearby Nagaland, Arunchal Pradesh, Tripura, Mizoram and Manipur. Sikkim has since been given separate statehood too. All these north-eastern states were previously part of Assam.

Meghalaya means ‘the abode of clouds’. Sitting just to the north of Bangladesh, it is largely covered by the Khasi, Jaintia and Garo Hills and is known for its green, forested landscapes. The Khasi are the main tribe here, though there are also smaller numbers of Garo and Jaintia tribes. It isn’t a densely-populated region (just under 3 million people), and the inhabitants mainly live off the land, be that small-scale farming or quarrying for limestone and granite in their many hills.

The state experiences unusually high levels of rainfall, with one town, Cherrapunjee, taking the prize for being the rainiest place in the world! The average rainfall here over almost the last fifty years is 12 metres per year. You can imagine the fierceness of the rivers in the rainy season (April to October – with June to July and sometimes August taking the brunt of the downpour), and it is this natural phenomenon that led to the creation of the bridges that drew me here.

 

A few hundred years ago, some bright spark decided to harness nature — Indian rubber trees (ficus elastica), to be precise — to help the community cross the swollen rivers. A length of aerial root was taken from one of these long-lived, fast-growing trees and trained across the river with the aid of bamboo or betel tree scaffolding. Over time, more and more roots were encouraged from bank to bank and interwoven to create strength and stability. This was no quick task. A bit like planting trees, this was a work-in-progress that future generations would reap the rewards of. How long does it take to grow a bridge? About 15 to 20 years!

 

You might think that with modern methods of construction such a natural and traditional solution to a problem would no longer be used or valued; it is sadly so often the case. However, you’d be wrong in this instance. In this harsh terrain, a bridge built of modern materials lasts perhaps 30 years with luck. The rivers smash into concrete and steel with unforgiving force. They hammer unrelentingly on the bullish pride of twentieth century workmanship and, before long, the waters begin to undermine and erode. Living root bridges, on the other hand, have the capacity to bend and give. Inflexibility in the face of nature’s power is not for them; they go with the flow and accept the attentions of the rivers with a strength married with tolerance. They endure, and they grow stronger with age. It is believed that root bridges can live for 500 years.

Meghalaya has 80 living root bridges in its hilly forests, 11 of these in the Cherrapunjee area which is where I came. The longest is about 50 metres. The oldest is thought to be about 250 years old, and the most unusual is the ‘double decker’ at Nongriat (presumably built because the villagers were still getting their feet wet on the lower level in the rainiest months!).

 

Being part of the forest, this botanical architecture blends in seamlessly with the surroundings. The bridges have no sharp edges, and no incongruous colours nor expanses of flatness to flag their presence. They look like something that Tolkien would have dreamed up; I didn’t see any hobbits crossing them but I wouldn’t have been too surprised if I had. I was almost on top of my first bridge before I saw it — its organic gnarliness seemed to appear magically in front of me. Tentatively setting foot on it, I half-wondered if the knobbly walkway of roots might recognise the footsteps of a stranger and twist its shape to block my entry: ‘You shall not pass!’ 

I stayed with my bridge for at least an hour. Only one farmer crossed in that time, and there were no other visitors. The forest breathed peacefully, butterflies and birds busied themselves around me, and I just looked. I had travelled many miles and for many hours to get here … to see a bridge! Am I crazy? Perhaps, but by the time I left I felt like I was leaving an old friend, and I’m sure you’ll agree that old friends are worth the effort. 

INTERESTED IN SEEING THIS FOR YOURSELF?

Currently, the two easiest areas to see such living root bridges in Meghalaya are Mawlynnong and Cherrapunjee. Some bridges get more visitors than others – there were perhaps 30 people at the bridge near Mawlynnong when I was there. At Cherrapunjee I was lucky to get so long without other visitors when visiting the bridge described above.

While Indian visitors come to the hills of Meghalaya throughout the year, including in the monsoon season, most international travellers tend to visit in the dry months from about October to March when there is often little or no water in the rivers.

You need to be fit enough to deal with a reasonable amount of walking up and down steep steps. There is one fairly accessible bridge (about a 15-minute walk from the car drop-off point) but others such as the Double Decker require a roughly 4-5 hour round trip hike down and up 3500 steps with a descent of about 750 metres.

Accommodation near the bridges is limited; most of it is very simple and some (which we don’t offer) is extremely basic. Please talk to Tribes Travel’s Indian specialists for our best advice on where to stay.

It’s easy to make a wonderful trip in this region. Have a look at our ‘Remote North East India’ trip suggestion or talk to us for other recommendations of what else to combine with the living root bridges.  I combined it with a trip to Kaziranga National Park in Assam. Read about that trip here.

Remote North East India trip

If you would like to explore the forests and unique living root of bridges of Meghalaya followed by safaris in Kaziranga National Park, home to two thirds of the world’s one-horned rhinos, click here to view this unique trip.

On your bike!

On your bike!

On your bike!

Whether you’re a regular cyclist or haven’t turned a pedal in years, heading off on a jaunt on two wheels can add a whole new element to your holiday.

You don’t have to be a lycra-clad cycling enthusiast to add some pedal power to your holiday. There are plenty of low-key options available that let you get a new dimension on the destination you are visiting, while providing gentle exercise for travellers of all ages. Of course, if you are a keen cyclist and want to get a more vigorous work-out that’s doable too! Just let us know what type of cycling you’re comfortable with and we will do the rest.

A saddle safari

If you fancy riding past elephants and zebras and pedalling your way to a sundowner break, there are plenty of opportunities to saddle up in Africa. Cycling in the Great Rift Valley and Ngorongoro Conservation Area in Tanzania would be a memorable part of any holiday. Or how about cycling along the beach in Zanzibar, following in the tyre tracks of the local fishermen and enjoying cooling breezes from the turquoise waters as you make your way to a seafood restaurant?  A trip that includes opportunities to do both could make a brilliant family holiday!

At Tafika Camp on the banks of the Luwanga River in Zambia you can go mountain biking in the bush or ride to the local village and school, while the Laikipia Plateau in northern Kenya is a glorious place to explore by bike, with lodges such as Borana and Kicheche Laikipia offering the chance to enjoy wildlife viewing by mountain bike.

The luxurious Mashatu Tented Camp and Mashatu Lodge, set in a private game reserve in Botswana, have bikes available for guests to go on rides along animal tracks with guides, and also offer mountain biking safaris that last for several days. And how about taking a ‘fat bike’ onto the iconic dunes of Swakopmund, Namibia? Fabulous!

 

Visiting South Africa? The Cape Winelands offer some stunning cycling routes, with good roads making them easy for even novice cyclists, while a bike tour is a fantastic way to explore the charms of Cape Town. You could do both on our Cape Town & Winelands holiday! Tribes’ consultant Sinead Bailey had a wonderful holiday in South Africa with her family last year, and her sons had a whale of a time on bikes in the Winelands, and also loved  wheeling down Signal Hill and Table Mountain on fat-wheel scooters!

You can also take a two-hour eco-friendly cycling adventure around the Soweto township of Johannesburg, cycling past historic landmarks, enjoying a delicious traditional South African meal and really getting to experience the community.

Delhi by bike

Tribes’ Alex Neaves and his fiancée had a hugely enjoyable cycle tour of Delhi last year, getting up early to avoid the crowds and whizzing along through narrow streets getting a really fascinating picture of the city waking up for the day, its shops and street vendors preparing for business. It’s a great way to get off the more obvious tourist routes and see the ‘real’ city.

Forests, glaciers and more…

Central and South America offer some wonderful cycling opportunities. Costa Rica is a great place for taking to two wheels; wildlife and flora-spotting in Manuel Antonio National Park from the seat of a bike for example is huge fun. Or why not explore Chile’s beautiful Lake District by bike?

Here’s a treat for lovers of stunning landscapes and ancient history! Mountain biking through Peru’s Sacred Valley, stopping at Inca sites en route and gazing out at truly glorious scenery. Now that’s pretty hard to beat, but what about biking on Easter Island, cycling up to those huge, enigmatic statues, or wheeling your way through Patagonia’s iconic Torres del Paine National Park?