Villagers are dismantling their own village

Chenini is a small village, maybe 50 houses, along the National Highway 39 in Madhya Pradesh. It’s somewhere between Khajuraho and Panna inside the bufferzone of Panna National Park. The villagers know since many years that one day they would have to leave their homes and find a new place to live. Their houses are built on forest land and some people say, the buildings were illegal. The people have been there for more than 15 years. At least.

Now the time has come. Early in November this year a government official from Panna came to the village and asked the villagers to destroy their houses and he insisted only then they would get the compensation of 10 lakh INR per family. He was litterally asking them to destroy their houses – without having a new place to stay – and then they would get paid. The viallgaers were confused, some of them in deep despair. The officials put enormous pressure on them. Why? No one really knows.

Pappu and his wife, whom I know for many years now, live in Chenini. I actually stayed with them over the last couple of month. So I know the small tiny little village and its people quite well. When this happened I wasn’t there. Luckily Pappu called me and informed me about the situation. I told him NOT to destroy his house and I asked him to convince the other villagers to do the same. I connected him with my dear friend Lokendra Singh, Maharaj of Panna, who confirmed that there is no law which justifies the demand of this officer. Nevertheless the pressure from the collector’s office on the villagers continued.

Pappu – himself confused and under pressure – walked around in the village trying to convince the other villagers not to demolish their houses. But in vain. Today the village looks like a ghost town … the people live in their ruins looking for another place to stay. Which is not so easy to find because in this area there are no places to rent. And the cold season has started. At night the temperature easily drops down to zero degree.



The good news is that they ALL villagers but two have received their compensation. And the money went directly into the accounts to the people – which is a good thing, so no officer could ask for bribe. Pappu whose house is still 100% functional also received their money.  He and his wife are pretty happy about and now the entire village looks up to him.

Seven, eight weeks later most of the villagers still live in Chenini. For me it was very interesting to see what happened when they got their money. Here are a few snapshots:

  • a lot of new motorbikes were bought
  • a huge “cash pay back” started. Private loans among the villagers were paid back with tremendous interest rates: 1 INR for each 100 INR loan per day!
  • landlords from other areas came to the village to convince the villagers to buy land in other areas, of course they were asking for exceedingly high prices
  • and every now and then we heard that the banks refused to pay out the assests – but this was rather a temporarily phenomenon

Above all I was amazed how they dismantle brick by brick, wooden piece by wooden piece and tile by tile their houses. They take all the stuff they can and use it for the next house again. I’ve never seen anything like this!


For me I feel it’s a sad story, especially the part with the government official. The villagers themselves though, now that they’ve got their money, they don’t seem to care so much. It’s just a part of life. It was meant to be like this, they take it and move on!

All photos by Snehdip Biswas

A trip abroad to the “other side”

This year in September/October I’ve taken three young skateboarder from Janwaar and Kovalam, India, to Europe. Ramkesh, 10 years old, Arun 14 years old – both from Janwaar, and Sujin 16 yeras old from Kovalam. We’ve spent five and a half weeks touring Germany, Belgium, France and Spain. Our goal was to interact with the local skateboarding scene, to skate and to explore new surroundings and cultures. It was quite an experience …. as one can imagine.

When Arun saw his mother at the airport in Delhi after he returned back home he was always speaking from the “other side”. He never said Europe, he said on the other side. I found this quite remarkable and it gave me just a glimpse of an idea of what they must have been experienced on this trip and how much different it must have been for these kids to go on such a trip – when you’ve hardly been out of your remote village. Ramkesh packaged it in some very nice words – when he was asked in Berlin: “When they asked me if I want to go to Europe, I thought I’ve never been away from home and now I will go so far away. I was so scared to sit in an areoplane. I kept on thinking and thinking about it … and then it all happened!” …

Here is a short video which provides some impressions from Heidelberg and Berlin … Thank you Decathlon for documenting this and making the video possible! Thank you Blam Studio for bringing these lovely memories all together …

Only recently we asked Ramkesh about his memories … here is what he had to say:

How do you feel about Europe?
Very good!

And how do you feel now that you are back in Janwaar?
Since I am back, I felt the village is deserted but it also felt good to be back.

… deserted?
So many people have left the village for work in other places. No one is in the houses. The village seems to be empty.

What has changed for you?
What has changed for me is that earlier I used to just roam around in the village and do nothing. I didn’t go to school regularly. In Europe we had a routine. We kept on doing things. Coming back, this has become my habit. When I sit at home I think why not got to school instead. So now I go more to school.

So, what about school?
Much better than earlier. I study at school even during break time. I hang out at the school with the kids and play. After school I go to the skatepark. Then I go home and I do the work I have to do there. That’s it!

What is the difference between your village and Europe?
In Europe there were a lot of cars. My god! At one place there were so many cars I thought they could not even fit into Janwaar. I never thought that this could be possible. In Janwaar we don’t have many cars. And it was colder there. When I came back it was really hot. In Europe it was raining. Here, we didn’t had a single drop of rain.
And the time difference. When it was 11 am in the village it was very early morning in Europe. So whenever we were talking back home, I would ask what is the time back home. They said 11am. We told them we had just woken up and it was early morning. Everyone wondered, the sun comes up from the same side, but why this time difference …?

So when you came back, did you wake up in the middle of the night?
In Europe I would wake up at night, here in Janwaar, no. When I sleep here, I only wake up in the morning. In Europe you could call me any time at night, I would always answer. In Janwaar I sleep tension free.

Whom do you remember from Europe?
The best person was the guy who drove us in France, Jerome. The guy who had this funny dog, Choko. I got sick in Biarritz. I was crying a lot and I don’t remember what was actually happening. He really took good care of me. Finally when we reached our place Barcelona, I rested and immediately got better 🙂

Choko – best skateboarding dog in the world!
Choko – best skateboarding dog in the world!

Do you want to live in Janwaar or outside?
Outside. Outside there are so many different things to do, places to see. For example, here it will be like going to Panna one day, to somewhere else the next day. I can live anywhere.

What do you like about Janwaar, that you didn’t like in Europe?
Food 🙂 The fish, chicken – everything was different. I didn’t eat much (remark: still he gained at least 3-4 kg).

What do you think about Deepa’s and Priyanka’s trip to Australia?

Now they already know that the food will be different. So they’ll be prepared.

If you have to tell them something, what would you say?
I’d tell them that there must be a different currency there. So they should bring some of those to show it to the people.

…something that helps them?
The better should learn English so that they can interact with more people. Arun was pretty good. He would talk more to people than me.

Who will bother us the most in between Deepa and Priyanka?

Priyanka for sure. She talks a lot, fights, runs, you’ll go mad 🙂
Deepa won’t bother that much. She will bother in a different way. For food, calling home, these will be her issues 🙂

The Power of Comics

In November we had a “Comic Workshop” in Janwaar. Sharad and a colleague from World Comics India were with us. First the kids learned what comics are all about. Then they created their own stories and brought drawings and words together …. it was great to see them “work” and getting their stories out. Our government teachers were involved and deeply intrigued by this learning technique! What a week it was! These comcic workshops are highly recommended!

The kids have already presented the comics at schools in Panna and Noida (NCR) and they’ve shown it at the MakerFestMeerut! They were pretty proud telling their stories to others.

And we’ve made a nice little comic book out of it. Have a look!

Finding your own way

A few days ago I gave a TEDx talk at TEDxWomenFlanders – below is the text, the video isn`t out yet. Enjoy reading 🙂


Some people say I am privileged.
They say I am always in the right spot at the right time.
No, I don’t think so.
The older I get, the less I find that my life journey is a blend of coincidences.
Over the years I’ve understood much better what was guiding me and why things kept happening the way they did. And the Internet contributed its fair share to this. Understanding the Internet helped me to understand myself better.

But first things first.
I am a native German.
I come from a middle class family and I was the first in the family – and so far the only one – who went to university. I studied economics. Somehow I was the black sheep of the family. Because I never walked down the “safe and secure” way. The way my parents were hoping I would.
I played basketball pretty well – I was part of the German national team – but I stopped when it became too commercial. I didn’t feel like being “used”.
I was offered a well-paid job at a German TV channel but I didn’t want to commit myself to something I wasn’t really convinced of.
And frankly speaking – I wasn’t convinced about working for any company … and I never did in my entire life.
I always did my own thing – and looking back, it was always about connecting people.
Building bridges.
I never followed a steady straight line but I feel I’ve always had an unflappable sense of direction.

After my studies I took a year off. I bought a one way ticket to New York City to visit my aunt and explore more of the US.It was pretty exciting. I went cross country by car and visited almost every state in the Union.I got stuck in the northern bay area.In Sausalito to be more precise.Just across the Golden Gate Bridge when you leave San Francisco.

I met an Austrian who answered my question “Is this beach private?” with: “It’s all yours!”I took him at his word and we got married one year later 🙂

It was him who opened the door to the world of networks for me! He introduced me to The Well.The Well was the first online community worldwide. It was launched in 1985! And I opened my first email account in 1987.
A whole 7 years before the Internet got pictures.
The Well used to have their office just one street below us.
And whenever the sweet sweet smell of grass was drifting up, I knew we were on!

I was never interested in all the technical stuff.I really wanted to understand what makes the Internet different from what we had so far.
Lucky me, during my time in Sausalito and thanks to The Well, I met a handful of characters who were digital natives in a much more radical sense than their date of birth might imply. In conversation with them it was easy for me to forget about set agendas and fixed outcomes and I could easily follow wherever the dynamics of open processes might lead.

I truly fell in love with this concept of open processes …

I was open, curious and I always had a clear set of values which determined my actions. No matter what I was doing. And no matter where I was doing it.
During my life I’ve travelled to more than 120 countries.
I’ve worked in big cities and small villages.
I’ve worked with governments and organizations.
In war zones and on so-called safe ground.
With top managers, head of states and very, very ordinary people.

To illustrate this, let me tell you one story now about the NATO Summit in Chicago 2012. I was asked by Stefanie Babst, who was then head of public diplomacy at NATO to help her prepare the NATO Summit in Chicago. Her idea was to connect NATO with the online world and with activists mainly in connection with the “Middle East” and Afghanistan.
I thought ooooouuuuups! What a bold move!
It gave me a couple of sleepless nights before I made the decision and finally accepted the offer.

So. There I was.

On the one side NATO. Strict and rigid hierarchies. 14 levels of them – from the humblest employee up to Rasmussen, who was Secretary General in those days. Everything was mapped out.

And on the “other” side “my people”, activists from the Middle East and Afghanistan, people who had an outreach into communities where NATO had no standing at all. It wasn’t easy to convince them to take Steffi serious and support her move. Stefanie made some remarkable statements in an interview I did with her on how she was planning to open up NATO.
She called it creating a greater “WE”.
She knew that this project – “we_NATO” – would challenge the NATO institution. She was convinced that NATO needed such a challenge.
And she got things going,

So for the summit itself she set up an internal team of some 30+ plus people from various fields of NATO. A matrix organization, a tiny little creative cell, within the strict NATO hierarchy! It felt like a little playground … Most of the people involved felt pretty excited about our mission to connect activists with NATO ambassadors.

We launched the platform we_NATO four and a half months ahead of the summit.It was a live stream discussion between Joichi and Stephanie …And it was then that the NATO machinery really started to roll.
Outside the matrix.
The PR department kicked in.
The departments involved kicked in.
The NATO Ambassadors kicked in.
Everyone played their “normal” role which they were there to play.
The lines were pretty well defined in the hierarchy.
And it all worked perfectly well.
Against us.
I hate to say this but.
we_NATO, the way it was set up, crashed.
And I told Steffi beforehand that it would crash.
And I told her exactly why.

At NATO only 2 people are entitled to make statements in public … And coordination among all these hierarchies does take time. Far more time than online is willing to allow …This couldn’t work.It simply took way too much time.This was one reason for the mess – lack of time. The other reason was that no one was interested in reading “polished” comments and answers – where you feel like this is a compromise and not an “honest” answer. In short: Public diplomacy 🙂

Yet even though we_NATO crashed, I never called it a failure.
Working on/with this project straightened things out in my head.
And allowed me to be much better at what I had already started.

A new endeavour in rural India!

Janwaar Castle

Janwaar is a small village in the heart of India. It’s a village where girls get killed because their families cannot afford to pay their dowries. It’s a village where women have no rights. Where tribals are suppressed by caste. Where almost every family makes less than 1 Euro a day!

This was the place where I built a skatepark.
In an almost surreal setting.

Why skateboarding you might think?
Skateboarding culture is counterculture!
Against the mainstream. It’s all about disobedience, resilience, finding your own way.
Exactly the opposite from this village.

So my simple assumption was:
Could this skatepark, if set up as an open process, trigger change?

Today I can say: Yes, it can!

This skatepark has built bridges over deep, deep chasms.
Caste barriers have broken down.
Gender equality, at least in the skatepark, is within reach.
Programs have emerged which no one would have thought of earlier.
I hear from parents that their kids now have choices for the very first time.
I hear that the way the kids speak and express themselves has become much more precise.That the number of fights in the village has gone down.

And that they all stand together – tribals and caste – when their skatepark or me come under attack!

This is proof of concept!

So what have I done?

Well, we set a couple of golden rules:
Girls first >>> meaning that whenever a girl wants a skateboard, she will get it first.
And No school, no skateboarding …. !
And we walked our talk and treated everyone as equals.
This was the framework I started out with.
I understood my role always as an observer. I’ve never understood myself as leader or the one who has the say. Whenever a kid or a family started “to move”, I guided them. All these are very individual learning paths.
Not programs which are designed as a “one size fits all” quick fix.Many “development aid” projects fail exactly because of this. They are designed FOR the villagers, not WITH them.

My job in this village is designed so that I eventually will become obsolete.
The day these kids and villagers act and move for themselves by themselves, this is the day when I leave.

Off to the next open sandbox.
Wherever it or that might be.

Thank you!

A Model School For Rural India

The model school concept is one of my most ambitious projects in Janwaar. If successful, it will transform schooling for the kids and slow down rural/urban migration.

An honest look at schooling in Janwaar isn’t promising. A badly equipped school, miserably trained and motivated teachers practicing outworn teaching methods in an authoritarian style. And no questions allowed. But that’s only one part of the story. The other is that parents don’t encourage their kids to go to school, they much prefer to let them work in the fields or in the house. And most of the kids aren’t even eager to learn because the benefits from schooling aren’t obvious, and it’s way too strict and boring as kids are made to sit quiet for hours. The midday meal might be the only inducement which makes school attendance worthwhile. The outcome of such a system is unacceptable. The kids can hardly read and write – they’ve never been encouraged to find out what they are good at and are unprepared to tackle the challenges of village life. They will either be unemployed or continue to do what their parents and grandparents have done! A few might migrate hoping to find a “better life” in the cities.

So the outlook is cheerless and dark. That’s the situation in Janwaar.

What we lack is a school which suits the needs of the millions in rural India. A school which provides fun, empowers the kids to live better lives and allows them to do very practical things which make daily life easier and which might even become a source of income. What we need is a school which is kid- not teacher-centric, cherishes diversity not uniformity and prefers emergence to authority. Based on our work in Janwaar and with the help of partners, we’ve started such a school and put it into practice. We learn and improve as we move forward.

Our school has five pillars. The first pillar is our government school where we focus on enriching the official curriculum with learning labs, we improve teacher quality, introduce better ways of learning and make the classrooms more appealing. The learning labs are organized in small groups, off the regular school schedule and are very hands-on. A lab is only created when kids articulate interest. It’s designed together with the kids. Sometimes they last a few hours, sometimes a few days, depending on the subject. Currently they are small in number but they’re easy to scale. To the mark sheet we add a detailed evaluation for each kid, describing in what the kid is good and not so good at, and how she/he has evolved over time. We’ve done workshops with the teachers trying to replace ex-cathedra teaching with interactive methods; group work was introduced and theatre plays performed. We’ve taken the kids on trips where a lot of informal learning happened. We’ve built two libraries in the village with open access to books for all. And the school has finally got electricity and fans.

Our major partner in all of this is Prakriti in Noida. With their help and expertise we also design the learning labs for the other four pillars of our model school. These pillars include subjects the government school does not cover and our kids love them: sports, the arts, farming and a maker space. Our main sport is skateboarding. All kids are self-learners and they’re among the best skateboarders in India. The sport labs include repairing and maintaining skateboards, and eventually building them. Some of our kids are ”hidden” artists. At Art Ichol’s ceramic center they learn everything about clay. They create tiny little skateboards which every visitor loves as a souvenir from Janwaar. This has become a source of income for Karan, one of our elder boys. In creative labs the kids design postcards out of plastic garbage, paint skateboards to auction them as “artboards” and they learn how to take photographs. In our Kisan labs – 90% of all the villagers are farmers – we build kitchen gardens and set up a community compost heap for organic waste. The manure which can be made from this helps to grow the kitchen gardens and the trees we plant. We also run experiments to enrich water. Our labs are MAKER labs – the kids literally build things. This way they learn how things function and immediately see the outcome of their work and its benefits. Very often the labs happen in our maker space, the Bamboo House, right next to the skatepark.

The model school provides a 360 degree learning experience – it starts in the village and comes back to it – and broadens the kids’ understanding of what learning is all about. Learning can be fun and is NOT restricted to textbooks and classrooms. The kids explore and experiment without the pressure of exams. This empowers them to become more complete human beings, to build a stronger village culture and to make a decent living in their own village.

It’s all about disobedience

I was recently nominated by a young Indian man for an award which is called “Disobedience Award”. I have no idea about the results and I do not even dream of having a chance to play any significant role in the outcome – I just love the text he has written. From my point of view it really captures perfectly what we’ve being doing over the last two years in Janwaar. This is why I decided to publish it here on my own blog.

The reason why he nominated me: “I’d like to nominate Ulrike Reinhard (Janwaar Castle) for this award. She has lived her entire life without complying to the rigid norms of society and has utilised the power of the network to promote growth in a truly emergent manner. Her work with Janwaar Castle in India is a true reflection of the same and I’d like to nominate her for it.”

And what follows is his text … The most important paragraph for me is the last one about identity.

What disobedient work are they doing or have they recently done?

Janwaar Castle is an idea that sparked in the heart of rural India in a small village called Janwaar. A skatepark is built to be the central piece in this open sandbox project that aims to bring exposure to a village in the extremely backward Bundelkhand region. The construction of the skatepark started in December, 2014 and the skatepark was open by April, 2015. In making Janwaar Castle work, Ulrike has had to constantly fight against the norms of this very challenging society. Norms that she has had to work against include:

Breaking the existing caste barriers

India has a well-documented history of being a very discriminatory society, with caste being the forefront of it. Some of the worst affected castes are the tribals in various states. The Janwaar region also has two castes – Yadavs and Adivasis (tribals) – with the tribals being stigmatised against. Ulrike and Janwaar Castle have had to persistently disobey the existing structures to break these barriers and ensure that the tribals and the Yadavs would see eye to eye – something that spread from the skatepark to the entire village.

Being a woman leader in a heavily patriarchal society

In the village, the role of a woman in a family is typically limited to being the caregiver of the family. They do not step outside without covering their faces. The chief of the village who happens to be a woman in many villages (because of a quota laid out by the government) often just tend to be figureheads controlled by the husband. In such a society, a woman being treated as an equal is a rare occurrence, let alone her being listened to as a voice of change.


For someone from outside the country, not just from outside the village, to come in and advocate changes in existing structures is an extremely challenging process. Tie this to an uprising of nationalism and it isn’t uncommon to find people asking her regularly to go back to her own country. In what I can assume to only be a gruelling everyday battle, Ulrike has disobeyed every single voice that has tried to discourage her – via threats of violence or general causticity – to see through the vision that she had for the village.

In other villages, these core challenges are surrounded by many contextual challenges depending on the landscape of that part of the country. Having created a model with Janwaar, Janwaar Castle has begun working on the same concept across villages in different parts of the nation, and continues to disobey norms and unspoken rules laid out by society to act as catalysts for change.

How is their work making the world a better place?

With the skatepark being the catalyst for change, the children of the village are now exposed to possibilities that they would never have dreamt of. Some direct outcomes of the project include:

Increased attendance in schools

The children of the village embraced the skatepark immediately. And with the ‘No school, no skateboarding!’ rule, it meant that the children needed to attend school more regularly in order to be able to take part in their favourite activity. This resulted in huge increases of attendance percentages within months, which is crucial in a country where illiteracy and dropouts are a major hindrance to the growth of the society.

Building a common playground for life

For all children, skateboarding has now become the common religion with the skatepark being the temple. This religion has no untouchables and no hierarchy – the young teach the old; the girls teach the boys; the Adivasis teach the Yadavs. The ‘Girls first!’ rule specifically ensures that if a girl is ever on the skatepark without a skateboard and asks a boy for his, then he has to give it up.

The children of previous generations grew up in rigid mental frameworks that were divisive. Janwaar Castle is ensuring the rise of a more accepting generation.

Exposure & Ambition

With the network model that Janwaar Castle incorporates, everyone who wishes to contribute or carry forward the idea of Janwaar Castle can do so. This directly results in limitless opportunities for children to explore opportunities they would never have dreamt of. Children of Janwaar have made money from their own art exhibits, have attended concept schools in different parts of the country, are familiar with technology, and have even visited countries other than India.

Skateboarding has also become more than just a hobby for some. A few children have found new dreams of becoming professional skateboarders. The children of Janwaar regularly travel to other skating destinations in the country to interact with skateboarders from across the country.

Janwaar Castle therefore is also building an ecosystem by getting in the right schooling, infrastructure, and nutrition to enable children to pursue their dreams – skateboarding and otherwise.

Clean drinking water & clean energy

The village usually runs out of drinking water in May, which forces the women to walk an extra 4.5 KMs to get drinking water, and that too of poor quality. Via the network of supporters for Janwaar castle, self-sustainable water systems were constructed that pump up 5000 liters of water twice a day. These water pumps are powered by solar energy and there are filters in place ensuring clean water supply.

Internet Connectivity

The process has begun to make the village completely internet enabled. Computers and tablets were already present in the village but the lack of internet access was limiting their potential. Within the next 3 months, 20 MBPS lines will have been setup and connectivity dependent ideas such as the ‘school in the cloud’ will begin running via contributors of the Janwaar network. This will truly open up the village to the world.

An identity

Most importantly however, it gave the village an identity. The villagers are now proud to be a part of Janwaar. Migration from rural to urban areas has always been a problem. With more than 700,000 villages in the country, it is important for the economy of the country that the villages thrive. This is a step towards ensuring that the villagers are proud of where they’re from, and make an additional effort to build the economy of the village.

All of this made possible with just the vision of one woman, with multiple people across the world believing in it, and having the willingness to execute it.

Kaziranga – lost with the one horn rhinos and elephants

I love elephants – close to where I live in Madhya Pradesh, at Hinauta Gate at Panna National Park, we have an elephant camp. There, all the working elephants of Panna National Park “live”. I go there frequently, sometimes I even stay there – they have cottages and tents. On February 25, 2017 a baby elephant was born there. I saw her when she was two days old … still very fragile.

Baby elephant at Hinauta Gate, Panna National Park
Baby elephant at Hinauta Gate, Panna National Park

When I arrived in Assam I was pretty ignorant – I have to admit. I didn’t know anything about Kaziranga, never heard of it before. A world heritage site, the home of two-thirds of the world’s one-horned rhinoceros. The “Royal Bengal” tiger lives also in Kaziranga – but it’s rarely seen because of the high grass, even though density is high.

The moment people told me there was no doubt that I wouldn’t go there. And I didn’t regret. It was so beautiful. The landscape along the Bhramaputra, the lawns, the forests, the tea plantation, the grass – stunning. And so clean.


Travel details

Distance from Guwahati: ca. 240 km
Travel time: 5 hours plus pauses, easy ride
Type of vehicle: Royal Enfield 350 ccm
Rental: INR 1250 / day (Guwahati)
Road conditions: For the first 100 km very good (4 lane highway), then good.
Network coverage (Airtel): 3G all the way.
Places to stay: Plenty of places just off the main road in Bagori, Kohora and Kaziraga itself. All price ranges.
What to bring: Binoculars
Costs: Entrance with jeep into the National Park INR 2.500-3.000, depending which gate you will enter.
You can enter until 10 am in the morning and then in the afternoon, from 1.30 – 3 pm.
Other things to do: Visit the tea plantation and the orchid park.


When you reach the area of Kaziranga National Parl area the landscape really becomes stunning. The park area is between the Bhramaputra River in the north and the AH1 in the south over a strech of roughly 40-45 km. Heading towards Kaziranga from Kaliabor there are plenty of tea plantations on the right hand side of the street. Lush green colors (in late March).

Tea plantation close to Kaziranga National Park
Tea plantation close to Kaziranga National Park

I stayed in Kaziranga itself and I entered the park through the east and center gate. The safari jeep picked me up at the hotel. Besides the driver no other guide is needed. The safari takes a bit more than two hours, the roads are quite bumpy. Sights are plenty. The one horn rhinos you see often, though only three of them I saw close. Very majestic, just like rocks, always eating. The driver said they eat 16-18 hours a day!

Wild elephants we haven’t seen that many, all in all five and only from the distance.
You also see many birds … I am not very interested though in birds.

It’s mostly marshland inside. Many water spots, hight elephant gras …

elephant gras

One horn rhino
One horn rhino
Three rhinos grazing
Three rhinos grazing
Evening ambient – just before we left the park
Evening ambient – just before we left the park

Paradise is here: Umngot River, Meghalaya, NorthEast India

Quite some people have asked me to write a bit about my travels, maybe provide some tipps … so I decided to give it a try. I am currently cruising India’s Northeast on a rented motorbike – this might be a good start! Let’s see how long it will last and if it will help a few people 🙂

It has been a dream for a while now, I always wanted to travel to the Northeast of India and here I am now. And I love it!

So here are fotos/details of my trip from Guwahati, Assam to the Umngot River in Meghalaya. I encourage you to follow the links as well.


Travel details

Distance: ca. 200 km
Travel time: 5 hours plus pauses, easy ride
Type of vehicle: Royal Enfield 350 ccm
Rental: INR 1250 / day (Guwahati)
Road conditions: Very good, except 15 km just before Dwaki
Network coverage (Airtel): Pretty good all the way
Place were I stayed: Shnongpdeng, bamboo house, INR 500
What to bring: torch, towel, bathing costume and warm jacket for crossing the Shillong peak


The ride from Guwahti to Shillong (110 km) takes 2.5 hours – it is an easy ride once you are out of the city. Slowly you climb up the road and you pass through completely different fauna and flora on your way. Just out of Guwahati you have light green colours. Bananas, pineapple you will find along the streets. Maybe 20 km before Umiam Lake the scenery is changing. Coniferous forest starts.

Umiam Lake – view from above
Umiam Lake – view from above

And it really became cold. Shillong’s elevation is roughly 1500m, Shillong peak is almost 2000m high. It was surprisingly cold in mid march. One really needed a warm jacket. From Shillong down to Dwaki the India / Bangladesh border, it takes another 2.5 hours. Beautiful road except of the last 15 km down to the border town. It gets narrow and bumpy … dancing over pot holes!

The way down leads you through the Khasi and Jaintia Hills with stunning views. And it gets warmer again 🙂

view on the way

The moment you reach the banks of the river the “catch-a-tourist” guys try to sell you a boat trip … very hard to resist when you see this water …

Umngot River at Dawki, India / Bangladesh border
Umngot River at Dawki, India / Bangladesh border

… but you really should wait … it only gets better. Drive through the small city (no hotels/homestays available) and take the road towards Shnongpdeng. It’s 10 km … 3,4 km out of Dwaki you have to make a left. The road leads you through rainforest, it’s jungle. Lovely. We’ve reached Shnongpdeng when it was dark … so all we did was to check in. There a couple of very basic homestays available – on the main road as well as down at the river. We opted for the one at the river – it is good for 3 people, better for two though and costs INR 500 per person. Wash- and bathroom is 20 m away. Clean.

Bamboo guest house right next to Umngot River
Bamboo guest house right next to Umngot River

The next morning it was very windy, only around 10 am the wind stopped.
The view was stunning and the water EXCEPTIONEL. Just have a look at the following fotos.
No more words needed.

Suspension Bridge over Umngot River, inaugaurated in 2016
Suspension Bridge over Umngot River, inaugaurated in 2016
Bamboo bench right next to the river with pretty good network coverage! 2 bars of 3 G!!!
Bamboo bench right next to the river with pretty good network coverage! Two bars of 3G!

The following foto I’ve taken from the suspension bridge …


And the next two fotos I’ve taken from a local canoe – it’s a 1.5 hours trip and costs INR 100 a person. A must when you are there!