Short form of the feedback:
Starting July 11 thru' 17, '19 we had a memorable tour of NE India (mainly Meghalaya & a bit of Guwahati). We enjoyed every moment of it. Many thanks to Nikita from Reify/Itvaar Travels for putting together the overall package, detailed planning and for her constant support right thru' the tour.
Here is a link to the our pictures from the tour: https://flic.kr/s/aHsmFj8TeG (click the 'play' button to view in slide-show mode).
Long form of the feedback:
It was the worst of times and yet the best of times .. In many ways.
Promises and credible relationships were available only at a premium, that which invariably breakdown despite the best of intentions, when working at breakneck speed since the beginning of the year on a high-profile project, that which we were terribly behind and that which we had run out of considerations to not deliver. We were now effectively playing a test match game at T20 speed. Who knew if we would end up at 500 for 1 or would be all out below 100. If one batsman got out in the high-profile chase with time running out, then the next one in line had to pick up the gauntlet and step up his or her game. As Lord Tennyson so eloquently wrote in Charge of the Light Brigade, “Was there a man dismayed? Not though the soldier knew, Someone had blundered. Theirs was not to make reply, Theirs was not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die, Into the Valley of Death …”.
It was the worst of times and yet the best of times .. To be associated with our project execution team.
Such pressure invariably spills over onto the family which, though understanding, cannot quite fathom the necessity of an all-out war-room 24x7 work environment. After one especially contentious call, my wife asked me if I’m okay. Say I, “Yes, its just that I was practicing the ‘Raga Deepak’. Pretty normal under the circumstances. Logical thinking was at a premium.. But things took for a worse, family wise, when we had to cancel a much-awaited vacation to Iceland, mainly because, well you guessed it, work took precedence. But our vacation window for the year was closing. Our son, who is due to start his Master’s program this coming fall, gave us a 2 week window in July of his availability to join my wife & I on a vacation together. Also wanted to visit his grandma. Rescheduling to Iceland was off the table and we turned our sights to India. The 2 week window brought a clarity of purpose.
Workwise, it was finally possible to see the light at the end of the long project tunnel, particularly after a quick dash to our co-developers on-site. That was good. Also, India was a good choice since I could quickly join up with our work team in India. A proposal for a workation (work + vacation) in India was quickly approved. We now turned our attention to picking a vacation spot in India. Not much time to figure that out. A new deadline. So, what’s new?
It was the worst of times and yet the best of times .. To plan a vacation.
July is monsoon time in India. We considered a few drier spots, the western & northern parts. Vacation spots in Gujarat, Himachal, Punjab were in consideration. But none seemed to gel well enough. And then an idea. Why try to avoid the monsoons at all? Why not pick a spot particularly well known for its monsoon rains: Cherrapunjee? That which has the reputation of the rainiest spot on Earth, or atleast that we hadlearnt during our school history lessons. If we could follow Darwin to the Galapagos, our first and only trek of significance into the Himalayas and the Indus Valley Civilization to Harappa, then following the monsoons into Cherrapunjee while impractical, did sounds just about right. Hey, and don’t’ forget the possibility to douse ‘Deepak Raga’ with ‘Megh Raga’.
It was the worst of times and yet the best of times .. To take a monsoon vacation in Cherrapunjee.
Cherrapunjee is in North East India. Organizing a vacation in India requires some level of ground support, particularly when coming from the US. Normally, we get ground support from relatives or friends who have provide contacts, or better still do the reservations & bookings on our behalf. But the North East is a different pickle altogether. None of our contacts knew much about the North East. What exactly to see in Cherrapunjee, or thereabouts? Other that its place in school history books, was it a place worth going to? A quick research on the web alleviated our initial concerns. The more we read, the more it seemed that we had stumbled on a hidden gem, just like Pokhara Nepal that we visited a couple of years back.
But finding our way around there was still an issue. We normally self-organize our vacation travels. To do this requires enough lead time. In this case, we did not have that luxury. Nor, did we get enough leads from the web on how to self-organize one either.
We were now down to Plan C: Contact a few travel agents that we could find on the web. The first one sent back a somewhat vague reply. After waiting in vain on them a few days, we tried the next one. Travel Triangle. Travel Triangle gave an immediate response back, forwarded our request to Nikita from Reify/Itvaar, an agency that specialized in the NE region. Nikita was a game changer. She is truly a responsive travel agent. After a short chat on WhatsApp, Nikita quickly understood our requirements and within a day put together a tour package that was close to what we might have put together ourselves.
By this time word had got around that that we were going to the NE. A few close relatives were intrigued enough that they wanted to join us. An initial party of three quickly turned into a potential party of eight or nine. We settled down to a party of seven with one late joinee.
Yet could we rely on an unknown agent from an unknown agency that had our contact from yet another unknown forwarding agent? What might be the chances of broken promises. Is Reify/Itvaar another fly-by-night operator? It came down to simply my judgement on how credible Nikita herself was. She was simultaneously responsive and insistent enough to raise our confidence in the agency. It was obvious enough that Reify/Itvaar wanted our business. But it was her responsiveness and sufficiently detailed plan that convinced us Reify/Itvaar was a credible enough agency. Our relatives joining us seemed overall fine with the proposal & pricing. Then after 3/4 modifications, that which Nikita was very quick to help work thru’ on, we finalized on 7day/6night proposal.
We now had a day-by-day schedule, a vehicle with driver reserved and hotel bookings over a week or so. The schedule included the towns of Guwahati (in Assam), Shillong, Mawlynnong, Dawki and Cherrapungi (the last four in Meghalaya). We quickly learned about Shillong’s reputation as the Scotland of the East, Mawlynnong’s as the cleanest village in Asia (no kidding!) and Dawki’s as a town bordering Bangladesh. More hidden gems, for sure.
It was the worst of times and yet the best of times .. Cherrapunjee was ON, and more.
To get in meant a 40+ hour journey from Philadelphia to Doha to Delhi to Guwahati. The last leg of our outbound journey from Guwahati airport to Shillong would in a Tempo Traveler van included as part of the overall package.
The Tempo Traveler and its driver, Tapeshwar would be our constants thru’ the tour. This was the first litmus test on the quality of the arrangements by Reify/Itvaar. The van was good sized 12 seater with plenty of space for our bags and in very good condition. Plenty of room for all.
We would start our tour from Shillong, with Guwahati the last stop on our way back. One relative joined us at Guwahati airport. The others joined us the next day in Shillong. Given the itinerary, it was mostly a tour of Meghalaya, just a day to visit around Guwahati.
Thru’ the week, Tapeshwar was both our driver and guide thru’ the tour. A soft spoken and ever smiling Assamese, knew his way around and ever ready to adjust per our needs. With a good vehicle, Tapeshwar (literally) at the front end and Nikita at the back end, we had an amazingly good support system to take us thru’ the tour. Nikita was ever available thru’ the entire tour to help us as required. We created a WhatsApp group for the tour. The WhatApp group was very useful too, particularly to share pictures with each other. Nikita, though not on the tour, was also in the group. And she was ever attentive to all messages that required her help.
With Nikita & Tapeshwar, we had a memorable trip and enjoyed every moment of it. Overall hotel arrangements were very good (except the last one in Guwahati, where both the room bathroom and breakfast arrangements were sub-par). Our one regret is that we do not have a picture of either. We neglected to take one with Tapeshwar (not sure how that happened). We never met Nikita. We can only imagine what she might be like. But both will be in our thoughts, every time we reminiscence about the tour.
It was the best of times .. thanks to Nikita & Tapeshwar & Meghalaya.