25 March 2012

meghalaya: the abode of clouds

It was 30th August, 2011 and a Tuesday. I and my friends (Amit, Sushobhan, Prashant and Vikram) were supposed to leave for Howrah station to take the Saraighat Express for Guwahati at around noon. Only the last day, I was still undecided if I was in for the trip but I would hardly want to miss on such a chance. I had been to Meghalaya in the winter of 2008 but you surely didn’t expect to cover the state, no matter however small compared to the larger states of India, in just one single trip. You need countless number of them and this was going to be just the second. It would be way longer no doubt. Last time I was there for only two days and a night and could only go to Shillong (the capital) and Sohra (Cherrapunji). I was new to this whole travelling thing and hadn’t done much (you can say any) research prior to setting foot on the Abode of Clouds. I was just an excited youth enjoying the various landforms unfolding in front of my eyes but there is much more Meghalaya offers.

view of shillong from shillong peak, 1966m
This time, three years hence, I knew much more about the state and had planned everything meticulously. We knew exactly where we were to go and what all we were supposed to see. Some of the places were totally wild and there was not much information on the internet but we included that too. How else do you expect to spice up your trip? The unknown is always so exhilarating. Everything aside, I was still unsure if I must go. My friends did insist I must come but one of the reasons I wanted to avoid was “the life of debit” I was living. I wanted to save some money but that quite doesn’t happen most of the time. One can unofficially say I serve as the guide in every trip we make but my friends are as much experienced travelers as I am and they know how to find ways out so my not coming wouldn’t have been a handicap as such. Just that, things would be a bit smoother if I come along considering I knew the names of all the places and the routes and that would save time. I had provided them a link where all possible information they would need was available and they had taken printed copies of the same.

kamrup as seen from saraighat express
I also had various discussions with them (on our travel forum) on some of the most amazing places one can see in Meghalaya and I was sure they were fully prepared. But I couldn’t persuade myself not to go to the trip and save money instead. I could also have utilized the free time (we had no office for five days at a stretch) to do some studying and pursuing my hobbies of writing essays and researching on anything under the sun but travelling is no lesser an education. Yeah! I keep saying that to convince myself I am not doing any bad. Finally, after much thinking, I decided I would go.

time pass in the train
Everything in place, I called up Sushobhan and confirmed that I would be coming with them. There were wild speculations that I would not join and they would have cancelled my ticket if I were any late. Though I hadn’t told everyone I would be coming but I knew they were well aware of it. That night, after reaching home, I posted some more photographs of places to visit in Meghalaya and gave them more information and wished them good for their journey. I was playing fool and they were doing the same knowing very well that I was coming along.

kamrup as seen from saraighat express
Coming back to the morning of 30th, from where I had started the post. I finished my work at office and left for Green Wood Park, that famous place where we often begin our journeys from. Amit had returned from office, Sushobhan had skipped office, Prashant was serving his notification period (he was to join a new company at Gurgaon) and Vikram was waiting outside Technocomplex. We packed our luggage, hired a taxi and left for the station. While Vikram was getting baked under the August Sun, Sushobhan had to parcel a gift for his mom’s birthday and by the time we reached Technocomplex, a few miles away from DLF the taxi meter had jumped past 80 bucks. We reprimanded the driver for his faulty meter and got into an altercation but we were getting late. We got down from his taxi, noted the vehicle’s number (we knew we would hardly do a thing after we return but aren’t you ought to do at least that?) picked up Vikram, hired another one and left for the station where we reached quite on time. We all rushed inside, lined in front of the ATMs to pick cash and finally got into the comforts (or rather, the lack of it) of our sleeper compartments.

vikram and them
Train journeys are mostly boring. You just eat and indulge in waste gossips but this time I did read my share of news magazines which I always carry aplenty. Besides, we mostly discussed plans for the full four days we would spend at Meghalaya. By the end of the journey we had finalized our schedule. It would be impossible to cover the places lying on the extreme of Jaintia or Garo Hills but Shillong being almost centrally located in the Khasi Hills, we could at least cover places in and around it and skirt through the other two. We had decided for Shillong, Sohra, Mawsynram, Nongkhnum Island (near Nongstoin and almost skirting the Garo Hills), Mawlynnong and Dawki-Tamabil (skirting the Jaintia Hills). Not to mention the scores of mighty waterfalls in our itinerary. In fact, waterfalls were primarily the reason why I came back to Meghalaya again and wouldn’t want to miss any other chance as well. The list included some major names like Langshiang, Thum, Weinia, Nohkalikai, Nohsngithiang, Kynrem, Beadon, Bishop, Sweet, Margaret, Crinoline, Elephant, Spread Eagle, Dain Thlen and Iapkhne (I came to know the real name of this fall only during this journey. Very few outsiders know of the real name for reasons you will know as you read the post. So, isn’t this one good learning like I had mentioned earlier in the post?)

landed in shillong
After my first journey of pristine Meghalaya (in December, 2008) where I had seen the Nohkalikai, Nohsngithiang, Elephant and Iapkhne my craving for waterfalls kept growing to the extent of acquiring a maddening craze as of now. In the past three years, whenever I have got time, I have travelled particularly to those places where I can be guaranteed of at least a few major waterfalls. I can now confidently say, over the past few years, I have acquired much information on almost all the major waterfalls of India but my quest for such beautiful creations of Mother Nature continues unabated. India is highly gifted with some of the most stunning waterfalls on earth. This time I wanted to see all the remaining ones in Meghalaya (in the region we would cover of course) though I knew it would be next to impossible.

trattoira and its jadoh
Did I bore you to death with all those names and a thesis of sorts on waterfalls? Well, there would be more of it. This post is primarily written to make people aware of the hidden secrets of Meghalaya.
It was 31st and a beautiful Wednesday morning when we stepped out of the train. Vikram and Amit had come to North East for the first time. For Sushobhan and Prashant it was the second time and for me third. Guwahati is a big city, the largest in the entire of North East and the transit point for almost all tourists who can’t afford to directly land at airports. There are other major stations way east in Assam including Jorhat and Dibrugarh but for all practical purposes most tourists end up at Guwahati and continue further in buses or shuttles. We knew where to get the shuttle for Shillong, lying some 100 km south of Guwahati via the border town of Jorabat. Paltan Bazaar lies just outside Guwahati station and you have plenty of vehicles crying out loud and picking passengers for Shillong but today it was different. It was Eid-ul-Fitr and the roads were almost deserted. We nonetheless got one and after getting some fruits set off for the almost three hour long journey to Shillong which had fascinated me the first time I had set forth on it. It was unbelievable. I had finally come to Meghalaya for the second time and it really felt amazing.

bishop falls, 135m, mawprem, shillong
Jorabat and Byrnihat was still the same from the last time I had seen. There was much construction going around and the place was terribly dusty. Moving along, crossing the sleepy towns of Umling and Nongpoh, I somehow felt the wilderness of the place had rather reduced. Last time, I felt like I had come to a totally wild place with tall areca nut trees on one side and deep wide valleys on the other with swift flowing rivers and forested green hills seen at the horizon. There were so many vehicles now but the place still had a charm and you still feel relaxed having come here far from the din of city life. Vikram was feeling a bit uncomfortable and I had to vacate my window seat for him and had to comfort him throughout the journey till we reached Shillong. We had medicines with us but our bags were kept atop the vehicle. We hadn’t eaten anything since morning and had been travelling non-stop but we were quite used to it by now. As we came nearer to Shillong, the temperature dropped significantly and it felt pleasant. It was quite sunny outside but there was a comforting chill in the air. There weren’t many Khasi women selling pineapples, oranges and bamboo shoot pickle on the roadside as I had seen the last time but the Umiam Lake was still there and so were the beautiful hills, lush with green and majesty. We couldn’t stop and admire the lake, the largest in Meghalaya, albeit man-made, the last time I had come but this time I had planned to come here exclusively. It lies en-route to Shillong but with other passengers inside the shuttle who might have possibly seen it a thousand times over, you wouldn’t tell your driver to stop the car for an hour or so for you the admire the beauty of the lake.

at elephant falls, shillong
We reached Shillong by noon and from where our car stopped had to walk maybe a kilometer to reach Police Bazaar (downtown of Shillong one can say). It is a terribly crowded place but you had all the major hotels, restaurants and shopping complexes in that area and it was tad expensive compared to other cities I have stayed. You also had the shuttle stand there form where you could get cars for almost anywhere within the state and return back the same day. There are other major towns in Meghalaya towards the east and west but Shillong’s central location helps it majorly. Most of the major tourist places lie within a radius of 100 km from Shillong and that definitely helps. So even if you have to go to Nongstoin or Dawki or Jowai you come to Shillong. We hadn’t booked a hotel considering it wasn’t the tourist season yet who mostly start coming a couple of months later but if you wanted to enjoy the waterfalls of Meghalaya the time was now. You would have fog everywhere, you would have to wait for maybe countless hours to get a glimpse of the falls, you would have to walk a lot to see a few of them but it would be worth every bit of it. The waterfalls are quite dry in the winter months.

going to mawsynram
Amit had a friend from Shillong and he helped us get a hotel but it was rather expensive considering our budget. For the time being we decided to stay there and had to cough out 1500 bucks for a room to house five. It was a good room nonetheless. It started raining in no time and the weather was so very fine. Isn’t it amazing to see a city from the window of your hotel while cool breeze is blowing in? We decided to take a bath and have some food before moving out to see around the town once the rain stopped. It was already around 2 PM by the team we got ready and stepped out again on the streets. We didn’t have much of daylight to go anywhere far. We decided we would instead “walk” to Shillong Peak, the state’s highest point and from where one can get a bird’s eye view of the capital city. Sushobhan kept insisting on Trattoria which served one of the finest Jadoh (pork rice) anywhere nearby. It was a small and nondescript eatery with a few benches and a kitchen. You don’t expect a lavish menu or fine décor. You just enter, order your food, eat and come out satisfied and we did just that.

going to mawsynram
I knew Shillong Peak was not walking distance from Police Bazaar but my friends who love walking like hell (and no it’s not because they don’t have money to afford a vehicle. They are just like that. They just walk) wouldn’t believe me. That place was like 10 km away from the city centre (not counting the many more miles to scale the peak from the road) and though you can walk all those miles it would really be pointless given that we would anyway get to see it since it lies en-route to Sohra and most other places where tourists go. We asked a few people for directions but they told the peak closes after 4 PM and since it was already around 3 PM we decided to go for the Bishop and Beadon falls instead. It was located at Mawprem and on the other side of Shillong Peak but it was certainly not walking distance. We did try but when we realized it would be almost impossible to reach there on foot before dusk we thought we would hire a car instead. Though auto prices are fixed bargaining is rampant in Shillong and particularly for tourists whom drivers plunder with élan. I was also supposed to meet my friend Dewark who works as a resident orthopedic at NEIGRIHMS at Mawdiangdiang and that I had decided I would do after having seen the falls. We fixed a car for Rs 200 and reached the falls quite soon. It was located on the outskirts of the city and it was quite desolate a place where tourists don’t often come. It was such an amazing feeling to have come there. There were two falls falling from a height of almost 150 m in a deep valley and fed by a tributary of river Umiam. The roaring sound of the falls was amazing but the water of one of them was quite murky possibly due to the drains that empty in the river. We spent some time roaming around and taking a multitude of pictures. It was about to get dark but before leaving we were gifted with a pleasant surprise. Suddenly the temperature plummeted and the mist from the valley, formed due to the waterfall, started getting condensed and what a sight it was seeing the valley and the falls getting enveloped in a veil of white fog. We couldn’t have asked for more. Thankfully, we had taken enough pictures of both the falls to share with the world. It was already dark and I decided to ask Dewark for a way to reach his place. Not that I was a stranger to the place but I was still a tourist. Dewark did guide me with the route but I decided to go there in the same car we had taken for the drive.

step by step falls, mawsynram
Leaving my friends at the hotel, I left for Mawdiangdiang. The hospital facility was quite on the outskirts of the city and the drive till there was pleasant. I reached there soon and found Dewark waiting at the entrance to receive me. He too got in and we left to get something to eat and drink. I had to pay the driver Rs 150 extra though he instead on 50 bucks more. We had some ice-cream, had our things and then left for the hospital in a bus. We had decided to take an auto in the first place but they are quite reluctant to move without filling their seats. We thus decided for the bus which unfortunately was crowded and also very lethargic to move. Shillong is a small town with buses being a recent addition for travelling within the city. It was a joy ride of sorts. We got down at our place, got something more to eat (basically chips and cold-drinks) and left for our rooms. It was a nice place with beautifully laid garden and buildings. The air was getting colder. Dewark first showed me the out-patient’s department and then after doing a round of his patients we left for our rooms.

mawjymbuin cave, mawsynram
I am not a frequent visitor to hospitals so I was quite glad being there. It was a fantastic place, clean and big and apparently very hi-tech. It looked more like a hotel. I saw an old lady patient of the Apatani tribe while Dewark tended to her. It was really exciting to be there. Another patient with a fractured leg asked Dewark to sign his plaster. Isn’t the life of a doctor so good? We collected some anti-gastric and anti-inflammatory tablets and finally left for our rooms. A friend of Amit had previously warned me not to go to NEIGRIHMS saying it was a bad place simmering with ethnic tensions. I had paid little heed to that gentleman but I did ask Dewark about it. People usually do not talk about it in the open. These are hushed matters in many places in India where you just need a spark to ignite a heavy fire. Most of the hospitals have a non-Khasi majority in terms of people who get employed. Most of the doctors were from Assam. But then, why would you call it a bad and a sick hospital and recommend people not to go there. That is a fatalist attitude. I mean, issues like these are those elephants in the room about which nobody wants to discuss. Maybe, it’s not as simple as I think it to be. That aside, I know Khasis being a schedule tribe recognized by the Indian constitution are entitled to many benefits and it’s up to their elected representatives to chalk out a progressive path for them. Let’s not have grudge for others. It’s a cruel and competitive world and I understand the agony of people who allegedly feel left out.

girls playing outside the mawjymbuin cave
Dewark is also a civil servant aspirant and it was great discussing with him the various aspects of societies and reservations and a lot much more. He was to participate in a debate on the futility of providing reservations and other benefits to vulnerable sections of the society and for that reason we discussed the topic for quite long, interspersed with gulps of Smirnoff and chili chicken. A gentleman came and gave us a bucket of chicken curry and I was told he belonged to the Rabha tribe. Dewark got a phone call from a patient who requested him to come and collect some pork curry which his family had brought for him. Such is the life of a doctor! We collected the curry and had a talk with the patient. He was an old man who asked me what all places I have seen in Meghalaya and told me to keep visiting the beautiful state. I happily obliged and left. We had our dinner at the canteen.

on the way to nongkhnum, near mawkyrwat
It was a huge hospital but there weren’t many resident doctors and everything looked spacious and vacant. We were not alone in making merry. Some people were celebrating on the terrace of the hostel building. Dinner was ordinary but good and after that we left for a round of the hospital. Walking through the concrete roads under the starry sky and with a cool breeze blowing I wondered how life is different from Kolkata. There was so much of silence everywhere. We sat on a wall that overlooked a road at least 50 ft below and chatted about so many things, ranging from life in these parts of India, environment conservation and people and places. We didn’t even realize it was well past midnight. We decided to call it a day and left for our rooms to have a good night’s sleep. We had fixed the same driver for the next day, 1st September, and he was supposed to pick me up from the hospital early in the morning. I woke up much before time and readied myself and the driver came only after many a calls to him and at least an hour late. There was a small yet beautiful waterfall that I could see from the window and I wondered if things could get better than this but isn’t the grass always greener on the other side. Dewark, a late riser, had to wake up early and before seeing me off gifted me a Bodo muffler. With a promise to visit again, I left the place and reached Police Bazaar where my friends (Amit, Vikram, Sushobhan and Prashant) were already waiting. We had some tea and left for our destination, Mawsynram and Cherrapunji, both alleged to be the wettest places on earth with the former having firmly placed itself as the number one.

mawsynram
It was an almost sunny day when we left Shillong with the air having a slight chill. We were definitely excited and sat huddled in the car. It was a Maruti Suzuki 800 and we were six of us including the driver so one can well imagine. We had decided to go to Mawsynram first and then Cherrapunji. Mawsynram didn’t have much to offer except for a few limestone caves and a couple of nondescript waterfalls but the very fact that we would visit the rainiest place on earth was a reason good enough. We stopped at a place and got some chocolates and biscuits to last for a few hours. The drive was expectantly beautiful. We first came across a beautiful waterfall that the driver called Step By Step falls. I was sure the local name was different, if at all it had a name, but there was absolutely no one around to corroborate the fact. It was almost dry and was fed by local streams from the cliff beyond. It was beautiful nonetheless. We halted for some shots and to relax for a while. Prashant, as obvious, tried to scale the waterfall but we were sure it was not climbable without any aid and had to press him for a while to let go of the idea.

ye rastein
We continued on our journey and soon arrived at the Mawjymbuin caves, famous for a monolith shaped as a Shivlinga. The entire place was terribly foggy and perfectly suited the notoriety of the place. A board at the place requested tourists not to light incense sticks or to offer puja at the Shivlinga but who would stop crazy Hindu pilgrims from at least chanting hymns to appease the mighty god of the universe. The population of Meghalaya is primarily Christian and such Hindu propaganda (if allowed) wouldn’t probably go well with the local populace. The cave was small and beautiful but the adventurous lot of us decided to explore the cave, as much as we could. The inlet was very sandy and we could see a batch of tourists praying at the Shivlinga. We lit our torches and got inside the cave. We could hear a small stream deep down the floor but the crevice was too narrow to allow us go down. It was dark and damp and water kept dripping from the roof of the cave. It was great fun scaling down the depths of the cave which ended in a small chamber full of human waste including food packets, plastic bottles and beer bottles. We collected the whole of it and came out. A girl from amongst the still-praying family of tourists asked us in anticipation if we were researchers. We answered in negative, showed them pictures from inside the cave, asked them where they were from (to which they said Kanpur) and moved ahead. Like always, it was Prashant and Vikram again to be attacked by insects (leeches in this case).

near jakrem
We had earlier decided to spend an entire day for Nongkhnum considering it wasn’t a popular destination and we would have to trek a lot to cover the island and the waterfalls but while fixing our plan for the day we came to know that one can go to Nongkhnum via Mawkyrwat, the road to which goes a few miles away from Mawsynram so we dropped Sohra for the day and decided to head for Nongkhnum. That was perhaps the biggest mistake we made in our entire trip. The driver was almost sure of the entire route but we had lost almost half of the day’s light and that was to become the greatest handicap for us later in the day. None of us had a bath so we stopped at a river, the name of which I couldn’t find yet, and decided to cleanse ourselves. The view of the entire area from the road above was spellbinding to say the least. What a beautiful place it was with the fast flowing river, the clear sky and the forested hills. All except Vikram, the driver and me discarded their clothes and had a holy dip and I am sure that must have been very comforting. Meanwhile I was tasked with taking their pictures while they were frolicking in the river. It was one of the highlights of the day.

near jakrem
Next was the hot springs at Jakrem. The family which managed the ticket counter also had a small shop that catered to hungry tourists. We ordered for six plates and decided to see the spring first. We had to take an enormous flight of steps, up and down, to reach the spring which, as we found out, was rather ordinary. We had seen a natural spring at Darang and that was good. This had been turned in to a sauna complex of sorts with rooms to take shower with taps connected to the spring which had been rounded off with concrete. Not worth the pain! The river flowing near the spring with those huge boulders was exotic nonetheless. The meal was quite bland but very tasty and even more satisfying. We could recollect a similar meal we had at Nag Mandir Bazaar while in Arunachal Pradesh which was followed by fresh pears from the nearby forests. The day was turning bright and we liked that. Soon we reached Mawkyrwat and that was when we realized that the route the driver had thought he would originally take had been closed for repairs. That was shocking for sure but we still had time and more over the place was so divine we obviously couldn’t complain of anything. Every square inch of the state was worth a visit. There isn’t this concept of destination here. Every place is so soothing for the eyes and the soul. It was around 2.30 in the afternoon and a weird race to beat the dusk started. The driver had no idea of the alternative route and we had to bank upon people’s direction, which were few and far in between. Thankfully the driver knew a bit of Khasi language and that relieved us a bit. He was a Bengali whose family had settled in Shillong for generations. He had taught us many Khasi words all along the journey.

near jakrem
Though people in Meghalaya understand English, Hindi and even Bengali (besides other languages including Axomiya) nothing beats talking to them in the local language. The drive got longer and longer and the roads even worse but the country side was so amazing. Wherever we looked, it seemed so calm and green and so far away from any trace of the maddening civilization one gets to see in cities. The people here lived amidst such bliss. It felt we would never reach Nongkhnum but we kept moving ahead. The sun played hide and seek and the moment it went behind a few dark clouds we thought that was the end of day light. We had, after all, no idea what the whole island would be like and how much daylight would we need to see all those magnificent waterfalls. The place was remote no doubt but tourists do come to this place we knew. The driver had told that we were the first bunch of tourists he was taking to Nongkhnum in maybe a decade. That was surprising but good to know!

myself
Crossing many a sylvan fields, leaving behind many a green hills and having asked almost a dozen people for directions we finally came across a board that asked us to take a left and drive straight for the island and the falls. The road straight would have taken us to Nongstoin in a few minutes, the headquarters of West Khasi Hills. In another half an hour or so, we came across another board that gave directions, all over again, for the island and the falls. It was around 4.30 PM and we had at least an hour of daylight more. We got a bit excited having reached thus far and the fact that it still hadn’t gone dark but the spoiler was to come now. The road precisely ended there and what followed to the island and the falls was nothing but a muddy trail of red soil. That was disappointing and heartbreaking. The island and a couple of falls were at least 6 km towards the left. I had come there, of all the things, for the Langshiang falls, allegedly the tallest fall in the state and the 3rd tallest in India (of the ones known and publicized). It was a quiet place with a couple of shops, a few local men chatting and just one more car with a bunch of tourists who might be returning with their sojourn of the island anytime soon. The board didn’t give directions for Langshiang. The driver told it was towards the right but almost 10 km from there. All hell broke loose. We just didn’t have that kind of time to explore the area on foot.

at jakrem hot spring
We had, after much difficulty, come to one of my most cherished destinations and the end was to happen like this. I felt very sad but there was no alternative. Our driver did try to take the car towards Langshiang across the muddy trial but a few meters ahead we saw a truck laden with sand stuck in the mud. The truck driver and a couple of helpers were busy unloading a few of their bounty to ease the truck of its load. They told us it was impossible for a Maruti 800 to drive till the island and a trek of 10 km at this time of the day was next to impossible. We sat down in disappointment but realized maybe this was what God wanted and there is always a next time. The confusion over the place was no more (I simplified this statement because I realized the place is far more complex than one can realize but yes I now have an overall and simplified idea of the falls and the island). We had come so near to a dream destination and such an abrupt end. I felt like staying there and not going back to Shillong but we had to turn back and there was no point sulking like a kid. I had read on the net that the place required a good deal of trek and to explore the beauty and the bounty of the place one had to arrive early but you obviously don’t get to recollect everything while on a trip. I would thus like to share a very important piece of information with my readers. If you intend to visit Nongkhnum island and the riverine beach and all those waterfalls therein including the mysterious Langshiang start your day from Shillong well before day break and taking NH44E from the city. It shouldn’t take more than 3 hours to reach Nongkhnum via Mairang, Kynshi and Nongstoin. You will have the entire day for enjoying the place and don't dare miss the Langshiang.

on the way to nongkhnum
Many tourists these days are visiting the island but they give this huge fall a miss. Don’t do that. This was precisely our plan but as karma would have it. We took back the same road we had taken to come here to go back to Shillong. On the flip side, like I had mentioned earlier, the journey in itself was very complete. We soon indulged in merrymaking and before we could realize we were debating on why I didn’t like Zindagi Na Milegi Doobara. We had a long journey back home and we had to indulge in some waste talks and that was it. My friends insisted that I had been brainwashed by a girl not to like the movie. It was impossible for a guy not to like a movie on a road trip and full of so much adventure and shot in Spain. They didn’t buy my idea of the movie being classy and elitist. I didn’t like some portions of the movie including the dramatization of the emotional sequences plus one can get to see diving and parachuting and running of bulls and that tomato throwing festival even on You Tube and Nat Geo and Discovery. Why buy tickets for a movie showing the same. To add to it, this concept of not being sure of whom you are in love with right till the very end doesn’t come to me as something virtuous or what I relate to. My friends were hell bent to change my mind. They told it wasn’t elitist since we ourselves in our capacity had saved money for the tour we were presently enjoying. Spain might be elitist for me but a 4 day long trip in a hilly state would surely be elitist for others. Fair enough but that comparison was invalid because that comparison of elitism was with respect to me and not with others. That is a weird reason not to like a movie but then why force yourself with something you didn’t like. I simply couldn’t relate with such extravagance and for what? Simply because you are tired of your rich lifestyle and one of you is going to get married. That debate continued for quite a while I remember and it ended, as usual, in a stalemate.

on the way to nongkhnum
Henceforth, it was a long and a boring drive for quite a while. Soon we zoomed past Mawkyrwat and the driver picked up speed. A few minutes hence he started off with figments from his childhood. He was a young lad, slightly younger than the whole of us but was quite lively. We continued to laugh for the next half an hour or so. His stories included his various trysts with his numerous girlfriends, his days from school and a few observations he had of the local population. He used to hate school and bunked it so often. Teachers used to hate him but he nonetheless got good marks in his exams and amazingly that was only after a few hours of rote on the day of the exam. Well, there is much that I can’t write here but we laughed to the point that our stomach had an ache. We got down for a cup of tea and some local cookies a few miles away from Shillong. It was so refreshing. In another half an hour we reached our hotel and almost the entire city had slept by the time. The driver came to our room with us. We had another two days of tour with him but what happened next was another bad way to end the day. We had fixed the driver for Rs 1800 a day but he had something else running in his mind. When we handed him his balance he expressed the wildest of shock.

it felt like heaven
I really can’t describe the entire brawl that ensued but to sum it all he wanted Rs 3500 for the day. That was unbelievable. Agreed that compared to what he would have covered in Sohra the distance to and back from Nongkhnum was greater but then to be asking for something as phenomenal as Rs 3500 was way out of the blue. His counting was based on Rs 1800 for Mawsynram and much the same for Nongkhnum. Our hearts skipped so many beats. Despite making so many reasons with him that he had said Rs 1800 for both Sohra and Mawsynram he wouldn’t come to terms with it. After a long battle of words which was about to end into a fistfight we gave him Rs 1200 more and told him not to come for the next two days. That was when the driver got some sense and returned Rs 300 but we had had enough and had already decided that he was not going to be our driver for the next two days. Ideally he wasn’t charging hefty just that out of excitement or otherwise he had quoted Rs 1800 for Sohra and Mawsynram both which was much lesser than what other drivers would have quoted. We were tourists and not supposed to be well aware of the charges and would obviously bank on what he had quoted in the first place but in any case Rs 3500 for Mawsynram and Nongkhnum was far too much. It was around 10 PM and almost every shop had pulled their shutters down and we still hadn’t our dinner. We nonetheless decided to check our luck and it did work. A small restaurant serving rice, dal and sabji was open and we thankfully got to quench our hunger. It was here that we asked the owner how much a driver should ideally ask for only Mawsynram to which he said around Rs 1200.

so near yet so far
The next day, 2nd September, was yet another sunny day. Despite the entire ruckus that the last day’s driver had created we still thought of calling him but he wouldn’t pick up the phone. We tried several times but we didn’t have the luxury of waiting for the king (the driver in this case) to arrive at his will. He had told us the last day that he earns good enough and spends a lot on hard drinks and was a later riser. We decided to hire another car for good. This time we got another Bengali driver who was originally from Tripura. We fixed the car for Rs xxxx and it was decided he would show us all the major waterfalls and caves at Sohra and if time permits would take us to Shillong Peak and Umiam Lake as well. Most tourists miss out on certain things and though drivers have a chart with locations marked under various groups (like 5 Point, 7 Point, 12 Point, etc) corresponding with their tour cost many actually decide on the basis of their pocket. Every package would nonetheless contain at least a few waterfalls, parks and caves so not that it should matter for ordinary tourists. We, on the contrary, wanted to see everything the place had to offer. I had seen Elephant, Iapkhne, Nohkalikai, Nohsngithiang and Mawsmai (cave) on my earlier visit but hadn’t got time to see Kynrem (though I knew of it the last time I was pretty clueless of its location and moreover our driver was very reluctant to take us around), Dain Thlen (had no idea about this one) or visit any of the parks (didn’t know there were parks in Sohra during my last visit). There are quite a few including Thangkharang (for a view of Kynrem) and Eco (the Nohsngithiang falls from an edge of this park) and several more but parks don’t excite us and we were majorly targeting the falls. There were living root bridges in Sohra (including a double decked near Nongriat) but they were inside some private resort (clarify?) and we didn’t have the money to splurge. Moreover, we had planned to see them specifically the next day near Mawlynnong.

early morning view from hotel
We had our morning tea at Police Bazaar and left for the journey with fingers crossed. For quite a while our driver kept asking us silly questions and when he was well assured that we had no intention whatsoever to laugh at his silly PJs he thought of staying quiet for the rest of the journey. There is a cable-stayed span bridge (Duwan Sing Syiem Bridge) that falls in the way to Sohra where tourists stop for a view of the breathtakingly fantastic Mawkdok Dympep canyon which from thereupon runs parallel to the stretch of road that goes right till the border of Bangladesh. Our driver later told that many Bangladeshi smugglers enter India via the gorge manning the whole of which would be a logistical nightmare. The English elite of India knows this gorge better as the Green Canyon. The scenery and landscape changed abruptly henceforth. We left vast stretches of rolling green hills and sun-burnt grasslands to rugged terrain with an almost marked difference in the weather as well, which was now foggy and chilly. The drive down the road was such a delight. We halted at the DS viewpoint for a view of the gorge and some photographs, had our breakfast (Maggi) and after looking at the overpriced souvenirs, which we had no intention of buying, moved ahead for Sohra.

tourists at duwan sing syiem view point
The actual village of Sohra, called Sohra rim (rim means old in Khasi) is some miles south of where the Britishers made their headquarters and called the place Cherrapunji. The Iapkhne falls came first but unlike the last time where I had halted at the Wakhaba viewpoint, from where the fall was almost invisible, we got down at a different place (thanks to our driver). It was early in the morning and the entire fall was covered in a blanket of white mist but we could faintly see it and it looked so surreal. We took some pictures and decided to halt while returning back, which we probably knew was not going to happen. Moving further north, amidst a divine drive across the mystic landscape, we came across the Ram Krishna Mission located atop a small hillock. During my last visit, I had skipped the place. The place had a small yet bustling market nearby and the most famous spot in Sohra, the Nohkalikai falls, wasn’t far away either.

mawkdok dympep canyon aka green canyon
Reaching the Mission, which ran a school for local kids, we were ganged upon by some kids from the nearby villages, who sold cinnamon from the nearby forests. We somehow managed to go inside the mission-cum-school. We were right on the time when the kids in their green and white uniforms were assembling for the morning prayers. There was a small gallery of sorts with beautiful pictures from this part of the world and it was here that I got to know, from a huge photograph, that the fall one can see (or can’t) from Wakhaba is actually the Iapkhne and that was quite enthralling to say the least. There was another gallery which had pictures and graphs and other meteorological details exalting the place as one of the wettest in the world. There was also a small temple dedicated to Swami Vivekananda as also a few enclosures housing rain-gauges that routinely measure the bountiful amounts of precipitation the place so famously gets. Moving out, we continued our journey for the Nohkalikai falls, the crown-jewel of the day. This place is famous for its cement factories and the amount of coal it produces. From the road that led to the Nohkalikai, we could see a coal mine to our right, and a huge cement factory, far towards the horizon, to our left. The landscape was quite flat here and the grasslands had been replaced by plantations of pineapples. Our excitement soon died when we were engulfed in another cloud of milky mist. What if we couldn’t see the Nohkalikai?

nohkalikai falls, 335m
I had seen it earlier, but the whole point of coming here for the second time was to see it during the monsoon, voluminous and roaring like a lion. But patience is one big virtue which our group had in oodles. We got our tickets and decided to wait till the time the mist withers away. We could hear the roaring sound of the fall but not one thing could we see. My friends went to explore the grassland that stretched beyond the viewpoint towards our left and I, meanwhile, decided to sit facing the fall and tried pacifying my restlessness. Very soon, the sun came out from its hiding behind the clouds and I got a glimmer of hope and soon enough, the white layer started to thin out. I called out my friends and they came running in no time and lo and behold, it lay right in front of us, the most beautiful thing man could possibly see, the exotic Nohkalikai falls, falling down a steep cliff and forming a beautiful rainbow at the base of its turquoise blue pool. In a whiff of excitement, I started clicking, like the last time, countless photographs of the fall. I would stop to look at it with amazement for a while and then back to clicking pictures all over again.

an indoor sports complex at sohra
A little left to the viewpoint is a bevy of stairs that leads to a small concrete platform where one can see the falls from a little closer. We did just that. The stairs end abruptly and thereafter one can trek amidst thick foliage for a few miles to reach the base of the canyon where the majestic waterfall continues as a small stream. Most of my friends readily agreed to do the trek but I thought it wasn’t proper. There wasn’t a track per se to reach the base but surely villagers, if not tourists, go to the base. It was definitely possible, albeit difficult but if we decided on the trek, it would take us a minimum of three hours to come back to the viewpoint and we would lose on many other things Sohra had to offer. Not that I didn’t want to trek to the base (it had always been a dream) but now was not the time and moreover, we weren’t prepared to trek across a thick unknown jungle patch with no one to assist us. We could have asked for help from a localite but we decided otherwise. We stood for a while admiring the fall and after a couple of group photographs went back to our itinerary for the day. We had some boiled eggs and mudhi to quell our hunger and moved forth. The driver had surely waited long enough but he might, by now, be used to people staying at this particular fall for long hours. Driving back we decided to head for the Thangkharang Park and the Kynrem falls which was located almost 10 km from Sohra. The driver stopped midway and showed us the plains of Bangladesh clearly visible from there. Wasn’t it an amazing sight? For nearly the entire stretch from there till we reached the base of Kynrem via a narrow winding road we could see Bangladesh, to the point that we had enough of it.

motrop near thangkharang park
One can see Kynrem from Thangkharang as well but we decided to go right till the base. It was a deserted road with a few trucks passing at long intervals. High ridges to our right stood like sentinels of the mountains and to our left was a sloping ridge that ended in the plains of Bangladesh. The first glimpse of the Kynrem was fascinating and another dream come true. It was a tall fall, falling from a height greater than 300 m and emptying with a roaring sound into a stream that emptied into Bangladesh from across a bridge where we stood at present and looked at the fall. Like always, my friends decided to take a bath at the fall and I was their photographer. It was perhaps the third day in a row that I hadn’t bathed but thought of continuing the stretch. It wasn’t such an unusual thing for me because the climate was cool enough and there was no requirement to bathe daily as such. My friends surely had a good time. Imagine bathing underneath a fall that was one of the tallest in the entire wide world. Kynrem was a tiered fall of three steps with the last step of around 80 m falling across a huge dome-shaped cliff. It surely wouldn’t have been possible to bathe below a single-drop fall of 300 m (and above), the kind of which was Nohkalikai.

sylhet plains from motrop view point
Going back the road we headed for Thangkharang Park but before it would come we saw from the road below a huge and fascinating cone. It was named Motrop and had a beautiful legend behind it. Going up the road we also stopped at the head of the cone for another view of the monolith from behind. A small stream dropped beside the cone forming a beautiful waterfall but that was visible from down the road and not here. One could also see yet another view of Bangladesh and a lot more clearly from here. Driving further, a few miles from there, across a thin patch of forest we reached the gate of Thangkharang. We had our lunch at the gate and it was pathetic. Our driver had warned us earlier of the bad quality of food here but we were too hungry to say a no. The park was small and boring. If one had seen the Kynrem from the base one need not necessarily come here. One can get countless views of the entire Kynrem from the road that leads to it. But since we had come we spent some time going around the beautifully landscaped park maintained by the state forest department. A couple of newly married couples, obviously oblivion of the fact that the fall they were taking photographs of was one of the tallest in the world, kept giggling. For them it was just a waterfall but for me it was a fulfilled dream. Though the view of Kynrem from the park was definitely good.

kynrem falls, 305m, seen from thangkharang
Moving out we headed for Krem Mawsmai, a major hit with tourists who come here. On the approach road to Mawsmai, we stopped at a place from where we could see the beautiful sun-lit Nohsngithiang, more popularly known as the Seven Sisters Falls. The name of the fall translates to “kiss of the evening sun” and true to its name, the rays of sun kissing the many threads of water dropping down gave it a fantastic golden hue and it looked so brilliantly heavenly. The fall was dry the last time I had seen it and even today it didn’t have much water but good enough to call it a fall and it was mighty high. It is worth noticing that it is rare perhaps, in the entire world, to have three major waterfalls in such close vicinity, all with an unrivaled and unique beauty of its own and luckily, as of now, we had seen them all.

nohsngithiang falls, 315m
We next drove towards our final destination in Sohra, Krem Mawsmai, one of the largest limestone caves in the area. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t remember the route we had taken to come here the last time. When we finally reached I tried looking for the view point from where I had seen the dry Nohsngithiang the last time but it wasn’t there. I just couldn’t believe my eyes. I was sure I had come here earlier but I simply couldn’t connect the places. How can a viewpoint disappear in a matter of few years and there was absolutely nothing that suggested the breakdown of a viewpoint. It was all pristine and there was lush greenery all around. My friends wouldn’t obviously care at my restlessness. I asked the driver if we could see the Nohsngithiang falls from anywhere near to which he gave a reply in the negative. This is one puzzle I haven’t been able to solve even many months after having visited the place. I thought of putting speculations to rest and headed inside the cave after having taken our tickets.

saimika park
I was shouting out loud that there was no wildlife inside the cave as the information boards claimed. I hadn't got to see any the last time. I saw the cave map a bit better this time but couldn’t inclusively comprehend that it was double storied. We followed the usual line of tourists who had gotten inside with an eagerness to cross the cave with a flock of kids and even just-born babies. The main passage was well lit and wooden planks were placed at critical junctures. The stalactite and stalagmite formation was incredible no doubt but we were looking for something different. Prashant, the wildest lad in our group, a born explorer and an enthusiastic guy, soon disappeared and informed us all later that there was a dark passage where no one was obviously going. We had our torches and decided to explore the section. It led to a near vertical iron ladder which opened to a huge chamber. Imagine seeing a cave chamber in real, about which, one had so far only read about in books and seen in movies. The place was slippery and with utmost care we went around every nook and corner of the second floor. It was an amazing experience and thanks to Prashant. The rocks were full of animal droppings and the air smelled pungent and when we flashed our torches to the roof of the cave we were in for a surprise. It was clogged by hundreds and thousands of bats, huge and black. We decided not to disturb them and when the entire exploration was done and we had no more to see, we came down and when out of the cave gave a satisfying look to each other. Meghalaya has way much larger caves in the Jaintia hills but that we would exclusively plan for some later date.

dain thlen falls, 60m (approx.)
The only thing left was the Dain Thlen falls which like every natural phenomenon here had a beautiful story behind it. For going there one needs to take a turn towards left at the board which directs to the Saimika Park, while driving back for Shillong. The sun was about to set and we hardly had an hour of daylight left so we needed to hurry. The road was bad but the drive was wonderful. The place had opened up and had beautiful streams crisscrossing vast grasslands. It was a long drive and we patiently waited, looking at the sun lit plains, for the final fall in our itinerary to come and it soon did. I had read about it in a friend’s blog and knew there was a bridge near it and when I finally saw it I knew we had arrived. The place was far more beautiful than I had imagined and looking at the number of people one could conclude it was a picnicker’s paradise. Prashant, as usual, got down and along with Sushobhan and Amit, ran helter-skelter while Vikram and I, trotting along the small sinkholes flushed with crystal clear water inched closer towards the fall. Our driver followed and no sooner did we reach the fall he insisted taking our pictures. The fall was stunning but we could see it only from sideways. It was a dangerous place with fast flowing streams falling in a ravine. We were standing on the top of the fall and one silly mistake we would drop 60 m down with hardly any chance of survival. The others came soon and we explored the place a bit more. The major stream that formed the fall was quite wide and Sushobhan slipped a little when he jumped across it. One step in the stream and you go straight down into the fall. I took the risk and jumped across and missed landing into the stream by almost a hair’s breadth. A few yards away we could see the entire fall very clearly and it looked gorgeous with the rays of the setting sun falling on it. A few clicks later we decided to call it a day and headed for Shillong.

on the way to mawlynnong
We had found a lost wallet near the edge of the fall and though it would seem as likely as not, it belonged to a Cognizant employee from Kolkata who had come here with his friends. The edge of the fall had an iron railing and one needs to jump over it to go nearer to the boundary of the fall. In doing so probably the wallet must have come off. We tried calling the number but the network coverage wasn’t good enough here. It was such a beautiful way to end the day with the sun about to retire too. We hit the roads soon and after a while, cutting across the air, which had gone quite cold by now, we called that guy once again and this time he picked. We told him to collect his wallet from Police Bazaar and he couldn’t sound happier. All his identity cards, plastic money and some cash had after all landed in safe hands. The driver had many stories to tell about his brother, who had suffered many a losses and how much in dire needs he was. He requested us that the next day we go with his brother instead. In such a brutal world, it was heartening to know of an elder brother, with a family of his own to look after, sacrificing another day of sure earning for his younger brother. We let him know that it was absolutely fine with us, though the car which would be a bit smaller, would definitely be a botheration.

spring or a waterfall?
We went to our rooms, kept the little luggage we had and left for Police Bazaar where we duly handed over the wallet to its owner. Prashant felt they weren’t thankful enough and could have, at least, invited us for a cup of tea. Well, perhaps! We had decided, on Sushobhan’s insistence, to dine at some Naga House, located at Laitumkhrah. Hiring a cab we left for the destined place, known for its plush localities and beautiful girls. After much scouting when we finally arrived at the Naga restaurant we found it closed. We walked for a while looking around the place and true to what people say, every second girl was prettier than Katrina Kaif. We decided to dine instead at a restaurant closer to where we were staying. Reaching Police Bazaar we went to a Chinese restaurant (Shanghai) where we had a fantastic and quite heavy a meal after so many days. Most of the city had closed, so after a short walk, we too decided to go back to our rooms and sleep before the excitement of yet another day breaks in.

on the way to mawlynnong
The 3rd of September was the last day of our stay in Meghalaya. Since we hadn’t yet seen even Shillong Peak or the Umiam Lake and the day had been fixed for Mawlynnong and Dawki-Tamabil, which involved a total drive of almost 160 km, we decided to leave early. It was around 5.30 in the morning when we arrived at Police Bazaar. We are notorious for being strict with time and it’s almost always the case that we are the only ones following it but this time amazingly the driver was already there. This is what I call professionalism, of which I am such a devotee. We had a gulp of hot tea, rather bland and tasteless, and left for the final day-long tour of our itinerary. We ensued on yet another fantastic drive along the lush countryside, rich with green and an uneven terrain. The road was good but densely covered in fog for at least an hour or so and we could hardly see a thing. When the fog thinned out and the sun shone a bit brightly we could see one of the most impressive scenes one could possibly behold. One side of the road had lofty cliffs and the other a deep canyon. The slope of the canyon was rather weird and resembled huge elephant legs with prominent toes. It was all green for miles and quite mesmerizing to withhold the rate with which the landscape changed. From cliffs and canyons with their mystic streams and waterfalls to cosmic sylvan grasslands with their tiny little country huts to rock outcrops washed away by torrential rain. Sleepy little hamlets kept passing by with a few having magnificent churches located atop hillocks.

the turn for mawlynnong
The Garo hills had given way to the relatively lower Jaintia Hills and some 70 km from Shillong lies a small village, Pongtung, (via Pynrusla) from where one needs to take a detour towards the right and drive straight for 18 km to reach Mawlynnong, a settlement known for its cleanliness and though one takes these kind of rankings with a pinch of salt, has featured in the Discover India magazine as the cleanest village of Asia in 2003 and then again in 2005. There are living root bridges at nearby villages and a pair of balancing rocks too but tourists majorly come here to have a dekho of the village, and let me tell you, no one goes back disappointed. The drive from Pongtung was mostly bumpy through a narrow gravel road bounded by thickets and tall elephant grasses on both the sides. It was around 8 in the morning when we got down for the root bridges at the village of Riwai. We had to walk for a while through the village to reach the magnificent gift of nature, carved with a little help from man. Taking a cue from Mawlynnong, most villages in the vicinity were absolutely clean, following the model followed by their far more popular neighbor. I could see a mixture of traditional bamboo and modern huts. It was a Saturday and children didn’t have to go school and many were playing on the village road with beautiful and colorful kites. Khasi and Jaintia societies are matrilineal and the womenfolk are the commander of the house doing a majority of the work. Men are usually found helping their wives in the kitchen. It was wonderful walking through those villages, asking for directions in broken Hindi and English. We came across a stream surrounded by thick vegetation on both sides. It was early morning but the place was quite dark. The tall trees didn’t allow much sun ray to penetrate the forest floor.

final road till mawlynnong
What an amazing view it was. A series of stairs (known as the king’s way) carved out of huge stones led to the root bridge that spanned a narrow stream some 40 or 50 feet in width crossing which the trail continued into the jungles connecting possibly other villages. To think that the bridge was fragile would be silly. We took some photographs of the bridge and after admiring it from every possible angle decided to leave for the balancing rocks. They were not far away. Cropped out by a wall and bounded by a small iron grill was a pair of rocks balancing on a small tip. Nature has its own little ways of telling that they are the real magicians. Moving along, after a few minutes of drive, we finally reached the village we had come looking for. We were quite hungry and decided to have some tea and something to eat. Much like I had heard, the village was strikingly beautiful. The roads were clean and lined with bamboo dustbins to collect rubbish and everyone did their part to keep it spotless. There were people assigned to collect garbage, keep the plants trimmed and unsoiled, pick up scattered leaves, etc. Most houses serve tea and some eatables (there are provisions for home stay too but we had come only for a few hours) for an ordinary price and that is the best way to enjoy the place and interact with locals.

at a living root bridge, riwai
Our driver took us to a home where we ordered tea and Maggi. The homes were small but marvelously divided into small rooms and the waiting room had many beautiful pictures from the place. While the mother, father and daughter got down to prepare for us, I went around seeing their home. The two sons, both kids, possibly studying in primary school, were watching Bollywood songs and humming it along. I then sat down with my friends at the waiting hall waiting for food to come. We all almost agreed to the fact, that given a chance, we would permanently settle at such a place. I quite liked the way the village functioned. After having our tea and Maggi, we set out for a bamboo tower from where one could see the plains of Bangladesh, which must have been like 5 km from there. The heavy onrush of tourists, both domestic and foreign, had weakened the bamboo poles and they were getting replaced by one made of concrete. We were lucky enough to climb atop the original bamboo one and have a view of the distant plains.

khasi kids enjoying a saturday
Probably, the next time I would come, if at all, I would find the bamboo one gone. Such are the hazards of tourism. There was a bamboo hut with an attached chamber made of bamboo and resting on tall bamboo poles situated beside a stream, meant for honeymooning tourists as also otherwise. The hut was brilliant and very moderately priced. I had a look at the visitor’s log and was enamored by the good words tourists had to say of the place. I felt glad that there exists such a place in my country. A brief tour around the village, seeing children playing and women and kids cleaning pathways and tidying up the gardens we finally arrived at the village courtyard for one last time. We paid a small donation at Dorbar Shnong Mawlynnong for the “protection of their natural resources and betterment of their village” and moved on with such contentment that I can’t speak of.

naturally balancing rocks
Driving back to Pongtung we headed straight for the Bangladesh border, some 20 km further straight. We passed through far more villages now and the hills kept getting shorter. Under the scorching sun, laborers were busy blasting rocks to make way for roads or to quarry them off to the neighboring country. I kept, like always, looking for waterfalls and indeed I got to see a board pointing to the Byrdaw falls, about which I didn’t know from before. We had a tight schedule for the day and my friends had seen enough of waterfalls the last day so they wouldn’t obviously, for my sake, go looking for that fall, though I was pretty sure I would get to see it somewhere from the road. And that indeed did happen.

byrdaw falls, pomshutia village
Some miles before Dawki, I saw the Byrdaw and it was beautiful, falling from a huge cliff, spread like the wings of a mighty bird. The view was fleeting and unclear and I decided, while returning, at least for a while, I would stop and have a better look at it through the obstructing trees. I had seen pictures of Dawki, popular for a 1932 suspension bridge over river Umngot, which itself was notorious for its teal color and had, since then, wanted to see the place in real and that was about to happen. We were in for some amazement when we finally came across the Umngot and couldn’t believe we were actually at the place. Isn’t it thrilling to be really coming to a place you had so long only imagined? The water was brilliantly colored and much like the pictures I had seen in internet, there were fishermen and bathers and picnickers all around. Our driver showed us a crowd of Bangladeshis at a distance enjoying at the banks of the river. It was festive season (Eid) and since majority of people from Bangladesh are Muslims they had come to enjoy a day out.

welcome to mawlynnong
I had always wanted to see an international border. I have crossed it once while going to Lumbini in Nepal but that was so long ago. This time I was far more anxious. Crossing the bridge over the river we drove further to go to Tamabil where the road further leads to Bangladesh. Dawki was bounded by the river and we could see BSF personnel (as also BGB personnel) posted there and manning the border. We decided to see the border gate first and then stop at Dawki while returning. There was a huge line of trucks making their way to the neighboring country and bypassing them all we reached at the check gate. Ah! That was the moment. We got down and sped towards that virtual line demarcating countries which has been, since the onset of humankind, the cause of much animosity and bloodshed. The BSF personnel stationed therein showed us the pair of pillars between which is the no man’s land and we were told not to go beyond the pillar closer to Bangladesh. But during peace time, even if you accidentally cross over in full view of the BGB personnel, they obviously won’t shoot you down but why would anyone do that anyway?

sahi baat hai
The Indian flag was fluttering high and a bevy of people from Bangladesh were anxiously looking at us. A board facing Bangladesh welcomed them to India. There was a similar board on the other side too. We took some photographs and looked around the place and at the Byrdaw falls that was visible amidst the foliage at a distance. A woman from the other side dressed in a gaudy orange sari came rushing with her toddler towards the no man’s land and told her to pee. I could gauge the sense of achievement she must be feeling. India is such a phenomenon for our little neighbor. We bid a bye to the BSF people therein and took leave. Stopping at Dawki we asked a house of BSF people if we could go to the river. The river served as the natural boundary. A thick rope running perpendicular and then parallel to the farther bank divided the two countries. The BSF people were drunk and apparently excited at the prospect of hosting tourists. I am unsure if that was such an odd thing to happen. People rarely ask for permission to go to the border perhaps. The man who was cooking lunch was a Bengali from Dunlop and knowing that we had come from Kolkata and that I knew Bengali in particular expectantly got excited. He got emotional and insisted me to have some fried fish and not to leave before lunch. I could gauge their loneliness. It was a really difficult job to do.

friends and myself at the indo-ban border
The commander therein told his subordinate to take us around the river. Going down the embankment we could see hundreds of people from Bangladesh enjoying in the blue waters. Bathing children and jaywalkers occasionally crossed into the Indian side of the border but were hurriedly called upon by their own border guards. We shook hands with the BGB personnel therein and they were visibly happy at that. The people on the other side, in a fit of enthusiasm, started taking our pictures and many said in chorus, “Thank You India!” That was really incredible to hear. We took some pictures and after admiring the place for a few minutes left for our cars but the BSF personnel wouldn’t let us go. They made us sit in a room, offered us sweets and water and told us to have lunch. We were getting late so we politely refused and promised to come sometime again. They thanked us for coming here and told us how their life was and that, of all things, we were supposed to be very respectful and obedient towards womenfolk, particularly our mother. We couldn’t agree any less.

bangladeshi picnickers at dawki
Driving back to Shillong was fascinating no less. We did stop for a while for a look of the Byrdaw but sadly it was mostly hidden behind tall trees and I couldn’t get a nice photograph. A couple of people driving towards Dawki asked us for the way to Mawlynnong. We were surprised for sure but told them they had left the particular turn miles behind. We told them to turn the car and follow us but for some reason they didn’t believe us and continued further towards Dawki in the search of Mawlynnong. Stupid people! Driving past Pongtung and beyond the green plains, forested hills and beautiful streams we came at the base of the Shillong Peak. It had just rained and there was a slight chill in the air. Coming to Shillong peak wasn’t as exciting as the first time but nonetheless I always enjoy the pakoras and the pineapples sold at the top plus the view of Shillong is definitely a bonus.

river umngot at dawki, meghalaya, india
No sooner did we reach the watch tower it began raining heavily and continued for quite a while. The sky was dark with shining rays of the sun falling down through pockets of torn clouds. What a view that was. This time I decided to locate the various sections of the city I knew but failed badly but the Umiam Lake I certainly could make out in the extreme left. We decided to leave for the lake once the rain stopped. We had good amount of daylight still left but decided to return after Umiam. I had thought of seeing the remaining falls too (Margaret, Crinoline and Sweet) but that looked quite unlikely. I wonder why drivers demotivated travelers tagging places with names like this is dangerous, that is far away, this is not worth a visit and all that crap? Driving down from the peak we saw a stunningly beautiful and distinct rainbow at the horizon.

friends with BSF personnel
There was a mini traffic snarl of sorts in the city and it took us quite some time to reach the lake. We had planned for some water sports but on finding that the only “water sport” they offer was a tour of lake on speed boats and that too for Rs 400 we decided to simply stand by the lake and enjoy its beauty. Umiam is a huge man-made lake created by damming the river Umiam in the late 1960s to generate electricity and store water. It was the largest water body in the state and renowned or its glorious beauty. A round of the lake would have definitely been fine but we had run out of money by the fag end of our journey. We spent quite a while there clicking pictures of the thundering cloud, an island in the middle of the lake and the distant horizon and by the time we reached Shillong it started raining quite heavily. We paid the driver Rs 2000 and took shade under a city bus stand. When the rain stopped we left for our hotels, had our dinner in yet another restaurant and retired to sleep for the last night in the majestic city.

speed boating at umiam lake
We woke up early next day and left for the shuttle stand. We were lucky to get a car early and left for Guwahati. I slept for most of the journey. We had our train at around 1.30 PM but prior to that I had some engagements in the city. We reached Guwahati by 10 AM and I decided to wait at RBI for my friend Himjyoti while my friends left for a movie (I found out later that they couldn’t find an apt movie timing and waited at the station instead). I then left with Himjyoti to Memma di’s home and after having a sumptuous breakfast and some talks with all of them left for a quiz on Bhupen da. I was fascinated by the proximity the people of Assam share with each other and their love for safeguarding their culture and icons. The quiz was a vivid example of the same. I met my long time friend Ibu and some other people from the place and it was a pleasant experience.

bhupen da quiz at guwahati
I surely must have spent more time with them but I had my train to catch so I took leave. The railway station wasn’t far from the quiz hall. I reached the station quite in time to find my friends having their lunch at a Janata Ahar restaurant. The room was hot like an oven but I was hungry. Our train was thankfully on time and we had to attend office the next day. The train journey was ordinary except for Prashant fruitlessly trying to explain how one can find their direction if one is lost in a desert or a forest or anywhere bad. I tried hard to get a grip of what he was explaining but soon got directionless. It wasn’t long before we were at Howrah station and back to the dal chawal life.

5 comments:

  1. Wonderful description... Would consult you before planning for East India tour. Btw.. aap ghar pe hi hon na... or moved to other city ?
    Nice Blog... all the best!

    Thanks
    Rahul

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  2. Amazing Pictures!!

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  4. Very interesting blog. A lot of blogs I see these days don't really provide anything that attract others, but I'm most definitely interested in this one. Just thought that I would post and let you know.

    ReplyDelete
  5. The Lingaraj sanctuary - the biggest of these is an exceptional example of the Orissa style of sanctuary building.
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