Driving Amongst Clouds : A Brief Road Trip In Meghalaya
Have you ever been stranded in a jungle on a rainy night? If yes, well I’ve recently joined the club. If no, then do this. Imagine yourself on a jagged staircase; there are trees as tall as the buildings of metro cities around you. Close your eyes, and open it slightly once in a minute. That’s the moon peeping out of the clouds once in a while. Now block all noise, and focus your mind onto faint whispers, chirping of crickets and hoots of unseen birds. A slither here, a rustle there and your heart beat. Let me take you to the night of an adventure that cannot be easily forgotten.
I was on a trip with colleagues. Better know them as friends than colleagues actually. They came without the awkwardness of office folk on an unofficial trip. The agenda was attending a friend’s wedding and giving ourselves a short break. We intended to laze about in the rain, maybe catch a couple of drinks on the balcony of some resort. It’s safe to say that things turned out just a little different. Not that we didn’t do what we intended to, but we got much more than that in return. That’s the beauty of travel, every jaunt has something quite different planned for you.
The wedding was in Dibrugarh, which is in Assam. But there’s so much to say about the state that I just do not want to fuse it into one post. So more about the wedding and the mesmerising Assam later. We took the Shatabdi to Guwahati from Dibrugarh in Assam and got on our way to Cherrapunji by road.
The Roadtrip Through Clouds
A Sister’s Woes : Lake Umiam
Our first halt was at the Umiam lake just before Shillong. The 221 sq kms large water body is a man made lake that is the source of water and fish for Shillong. The name literally translates to “water of the eyes” in Khasi language. The name of the lake is associated with a folklore. According to the story, two inseperable sisters descend from heaven. While one reaches Meghalaya, the other gets lost on the way. The lonely grief stricken sister cries in her sibling’s memory, so much so that it fills up the lake. The lake is a marvel to look at and explore with the option of boating available as well.
Sunshine Amidst The Clouds : Cherrapunji
Most of you would think me crazy to be visiting Cherrapunji, historically and locally known as Sohra, in the month of July when monsoon is at its crest. I had the same opinion of myself, still do. But like I’ve said before, Meghalaya had different plans for us. We were welcomed with freshly brewed sunshine and a vestige of the perilous showers the place is known for. For the most part of our stay, we got clear views of the valley and its numerous waterfalls. We took a peek down the limestone cliff at the Seven Sisters Waterfall view point and a stroll through the Eco Park. From here we headed on to a lesser known waterbody, the Dainthlen Falls.
A Monstrous Legend
The Dainthlen Falls is one of the many Meghalayan waterfalls with a dark legend attached to it. Once upon a time, a cave near the falls was lair to a monstrous serpent. The Thlen, meaning serpent, devoured a large number of people belonging to villages nearby. They were required to cross a bridge on their way to the market and met a gruesome end in the process. The serpent was eventually killed. Some say people drove it to it’s death down the falls. Others believe that a hero slyly fed him a piece of burning hot iron.
It was then cut up into pieces and eaten by the locals, lest it reincarnated. However, one piece remained and came back to haunt as a malevolent spirit, as was feared. The spirit is said to terrorize the Khasis even today. It has given birth to keepers and guardians who appease it by presenting it with human blood, known as the Nongshohnoh. Knowing the history attached to the falls makes it sound sinister. But a visit to the edge from where it plunges into the forested gorge helps you look past the stories. It is absolutely stunning.
A Quest To Nongriat
Tired from our journey and a rendezvous which ran well into the night, we all woke late the next morning. We were to travel to Shillong and stay there the night. But leaving Cherrapunji without visiting the root bridges is comparable to gross misdemeanor. We thus started off to the famed village of Nongriat. Lying in the heart of the Meghalayan forests, the village is inaccessible by road. The closest you can go by car is to the village Tyrna and the road to it looks right out of the movie Jurassic Park. We drove up to Tyrna with halts to admire the beauty around. We had to be really careful as the road was narrow, filled with U and V turns, and had a cliff on one side and a drop into the valley on the other.
The Trek To Paradise
Once we managed to reach the parking lot, we assigned ourselves a guide and prepared for the descent of 3000 steps to the double decker root bridge. I will always cherish the look of horror that flashed across the faces of my fellow travelers when they realized they will have to climb all the way up as well. But determined as we were, we started the trek. Our courage didn’t let us stop even after we met groups of people coming back and claiming the feat to be impossible.
The trek is one of biggest reasons why the village is untapped in terms of tourism, and thankfully so. However, for people who have time to spend in Nongriat, it has small houses available for guests maintained by the locals. The path is lined by small shops offering food and energy drinks to the few travelers who take up the daunting trek. We passed a single root bridge on the way along with four other suspension bridges, each of them precariously dangling over gushing waters. We were surrounded by unparalleled beauty. Everywhere I looked were age old trees who’s stories I would have loved to listen to. Butterflies and caterpillars of colors I strongly believed to be impossible to produce by humans. The smell of wet earth, droplets of water constantly falling from the canopy of trees above us and sounds of the jungle mesmerized us all the way.
The Double Decker Living Root Bridge
The double decker root bridge is nothing like you will imagine it to be. Living root bridges take at least 15 to 20 years to form. The bridges are grown from the roots of the Indian rubber tree found abundantly in the region. They are grown by the Khasi and Jaintias as a means to cross the numerous rivers and streams in the region. The bridges hang over a small pool in front of a waterfall which acts like a natural Jacuzzi. Away from the maddening crowds usually found at places like Mawlynong, Nongriat gives you an experience of a lifetime. We spent close to an hour there, soaking our feet in the refreshingly cool water while sipping delicious tea offered by one of the locals. It was almost 4:00 pm by the time we left, unwillingly though, as we had to reach Tyrna before dark.
That Fateful Night
It happened on the way back up to the parking lot. Before relating the incident, let me tell you that my fellow travelers, who got dragged into the spirit of adventure, are regular office going folk who are not used to climbing 6000 steps, to and fro, at a go without preparation of any sorts. By the time we reached the 2000th step on our way back, it was already dark. Even our guide was tired. I remember him telling us that he wasn’t used to completing the journey as most travelers gave up mid way. Our group got divided in two halves with four people who lagged behind. We were climbing 10 steps at a time and taking a break.
One of us was so tired that he laid an open challenge to the bugs, snakes and other invisible creatures that we could hear around us. They could bite, sting and crawl on him as much as they want, but they could not make him move any faster. Our phone batteries were dying out so we avoided using them as torches. It was pitch dark. I was standing at the end of the group, looking around, trying to figure out the shapes of the trees around us. There was a constant drizzle and we were all soaked to the skin.
An Encounter In The Dark
I was musing about the legends of Meghalaya while looking to the sky, hoping the moon would show. Fear of and belief in ghosts, added to my nervousness. There was no one behind me. We halted for a while. Our guide had gone ahead and we, who remained, were busy catching our breath. It was eerily silent, we could hear each other breathe. The moon was about to come out from behind a cloud and that’s when I felt it. Something or rather someone brushed against my back. My heart pounding, I froze and tried to hear what was behind me. I could hear some shuffling and sharp breathing. I jolted around to see a face right before mine and stifled a gasp. The moon was out.
It was a bunch of locals carrying some large bags on their heads. The man had two of his front teeth missing, but he smiled at me apologetically. We made way for them to pass looked at each other trying to fathom expressions in the dark and laughed. We didn’t stop after that, not before we reached our car.
A Halt In Shillong
We drove all the way to Shillong the same night. We were to leave for Guwahati the very next day from where we would head back to Kolkata. Shillong is a city which looks like it is preened to perfection with winding roads, smiling and beautiful faces everywhere and, prim and proper layout of buildings. Not having much time on our hands, we spent most of it at the Cathedral of Mary Help of Christians, the Ward’s lake and the bustling Police Bazaar.
It rained in Shillong that night. Where we were staying was in the center of the city but didn’t feel like. We navigated to it with immense difficulty because the area was a maze of gullies threatening to get narrower by the turn. I was the unfortunate navigator. The discomfort and the urge to scream at me was evident on my friend’s face, the guy who was driving the car was actually having a tough time.
By the time we were to leave, we couldn’t help but turn back and look upon the few days spent in Meghalaya, and wish we had more. One thing is for sure, there’s much much more to the land than we were able to touch upon. The trip left me wanting to explore not only Meghalaya, but more of the north east soon. Well, I guess I just have to wait for the north east to call me back. Problem is…I’m bad at waiting.
Planning a trip? Let us help you out!
Best time to visit: The State can be visited all year round considering that it rains there for most months of the year, June – October roughly. However, visiting Meghalaya in the winters is a good idea, you get to see the crystal clear waters of Dawki.
Network and Internet Connectivity: Connectivity is available in major cities only. Very difficult to find it as you move towards Cherrapunji and beyond towards Mawlynong or Mawsynram.
Language: Everyone understands Hindi and English. Language is not an issue at all.
Commute: The Shillong Airport is located about 40kms from the city, at Umroi. Another convenient airport is at Guwahati, 100kms away from Shillong. Incase you have not hired a car, be rest assured as Meghalaya has a good network of Meghalaya Transport Corporation buses, plying the states well connecting roads.
What else to put on your list of places: It would be great to keep in mind places like Nohkalikai falls and Mawsmai Caves in Cherrapunji, the Dawki river, and smaller villages like Mawsynram and Mawlynnong whenever you visit Meghalaya.
Shopping: Shillong is undisputedly where you’d want to be if you want to shop. Being an educational hub, Shillong is teeming with a young populace. Resultantly, the city has developed a tendency of staying upto date with what’s trending in fashion.
Food: You will face no problems if you’re a vegetarian. However, non vegetarians are in for a treat. Most local dishes include Pork, and they are mind-numbingly delicious.
Miscellaneous: Carry an umbrella no matter when you’re visiting. Also, in case you’re driving yourself, please be wary of the traffic rules. Meghalaya is one state that takes traffic rule breaking very seriously (Thank goodness for that!).
Photographs by Arunabh Dey
Thoughts to words by Ishita Ganguly
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