It is unexplainable, the feeling you get when you are in the midst of the bounty of nature. The north-east region of India, which comprises of eight states – Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura, has always been on my bucket list of places to visit. It is in movies and in travel articles that I have seen, read and been left awestruck by the beauty of the region. And somehow, my dream came true. Everything came through. It was as if we were destined to experience it. A long weekend coupled with reasonable flight rates made us jump at the opportunity and zeroed in on Cherrapunjee, the second wettest place on planet Earth, located in the state of Meghalaya which translates to ‘The abode of clouds’. We booked a flight from Kolkata to Guwahati, Assam. From Guwahati, we would avail the shared taxi service till Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya.
Our flight to Guwahati was at 5.20 am. It was essential that we reach Kolkata the previous night itself so that we would be able to reach the airport before 4 am. Pooja, our friend from the Sunderban trip, offered to provide dinner and accommodate us for the night. We reached her home around 11 pm, our stomachs growling with hunger. As soon as we reached her house, we were given a delicious dinner which we gobbled up hungrily and out we went for a midnight walk under the stars. The midnight walk was a first for me and I thoroughly enjoyed it. After a measly sleep of just two hours, we were off to the airport. The flight journey went on uneventfully and we landed at Guwahati at 7.20 am. After extensive research on the internet, we had decided to take a shared taxi to Shillong and from there, another taxi to Cherapunji, where we would spend the next two days. After asking around, we finally got into a taxi, the driver charging us Rs. 500 per person. It was shared by one other lady who graciously offered the back seat to us. She was a missionary worker, who is a surgeon by profession and has been working in West Bengal for the past 40 years. I could guess that she was a Malayalee with the slang and I was not wrong. The saying “You will find a Malayalee wherever you go”, seemed to be proving right again!
On the journey we decided to rent a bike at Shillong since we felt renting a cab would become very expensive for us. My husband called up the bike rental shop owner whom we had already searched for and booked a scooter. The car driver stopped at a motel for breakfast and we had a very filling breakfast of aaloo paratha and chole bhatura, which we later realised to be a mistake (never fill your stomach when you are travelling in a hilly area with too many road turns. NEVER!). Our travel mate generously paid for the both of us as a gift and we accepted happily.
At around 1 pm, after getting stuck in traffic for close to an hour, we reached Shillong. The driver then hired us another taxi for us to reach the bike rental shop and off we started. By the time we were finished with the formalities of renting the bike, it was around 2.30 pm. We rented a scooter charged at Rs. 800 per day, which came to Rs.3200 for 4 days. Even though it was past lunch time, we did not wait to have lunch and started to Sohra (Cherrapunjee is locally known as Sohra). We half relied on Google Maps and half on the local’s help as we went through a number of beautiful villages with a number of curious onlookers staring at us. The journey to our lodge was beautiful and scenic and we stopped at few places to admire the beauty of the place.
At around 5.30 pm, we reached Sohra View Lodge, the place where we had booked online at Rs. 800 per day. The room was sufficient for us and a good one at this price. We requested tea and asked them for food since we had started to feel hungry. We dozed off waiting for the food to arrive and at 7.00 pm, we woke up to find that the food had still not arrived. It had started raining by then and we were waiting hungrily for something to eat. Around 7.30, we got our food – roti, dal, potato fry and had a good night’s sleep.
My husband woke me up asking me to guess what time it is. I looked out, saw that it was bright and guessed it would be around 7.30 am. But it was just 5.45 am and the sun had already risen. I was amazed on seeing such an early sunrise but that was not enough amusement for me to stay awake, so I went back to sleep. We woke up later, got ready and started to witness the famous Living Root Bridges of Meghalaya. We decided to rely on Google maps for this and started from our lodge. On the way we encountered places so beautiful, that it cannot be expressed in words, and not even through photographs. We came across a waterfall – Dainthlen falls. It was indeed a beauty, but since we had gone in the month of March, there was not much water in the falls. Still, it was an enchanting site to witness.
We had Maggi for breakfast at a small shop near the falls where we met a gentleman who struck up a conversation with us. As we were done with the breakfast and were about to start, we decided to confirm with him as to whether the way that we were going is right and we were disappointed to know that it was not. We had to go back all the way to our lodge and go the opposite way. We wasted no time and started towards the way we had come.
On the way to the living root bridge, we passed through few local villages which were all very clean and looked like they were straight out of a book. It made me feel that maybe one day I would come and settle down here. At 1 pm we reached the place where we park the bike and start our trek to the bridge. There started one arduous journey that I will never forget.
We initially planned to go to both the longest living root bridge and the double root bridge. But by the time we reached the longest one, I was too tired to carry on and we dropped the plan of visiting the double decker root bridge. The living root bridges were indeed a sight to behold. I remember seeing a feature on Discovery channel as a kid about these bridges and to witness this in real was an unforgettable experience. These bridges are made by tying up the roots of Rubber Fig trees. The younger roots are tied up together and as they grow older, they eventually gain enough strength to withstand human weight. Built to cross creeks, these bridges have an average life span of 500 years.
The trek to the double root bridge extends from there further to an hour or so but we decided not to. If you would like to visit both, it would be better to stay in a home stay nearby and set aside two days to cover both the bridges.
The creek that was supposed to flow with gushing water had just a trickle of very clean, delicious water. We went down there and filled our bottle with the water which would be required for us to climb the 3000 steps. We spent a good deal of time enjoying the place and listening to a local singing beautifully, as he washed clothes in the creek. We decided to start from there and there it started – the long, testing walk back. For a person like me who doesn’t exercise at all and has no stamina whatsoever, it was a very difficult task. The humidity was high and it added to the difficulty. The only good thing was that we had brought our portable speaker along with us, which managed to egg me on. Halfway up, the weather changed and we got the actual feel of being in Cherapunjee – it started raining heavily. Being caught in rain in a forest is an experience that I have never experienced before and I don’t think I will again, anytime soon. We finally reached the top to our scooter at 4 pm and we immediately started back to our lodge in the rain since we wanted to reach before it got dark. We were both shivering as we passed through a village, hoping to find some food to eat. We had just had our breakfast, and not a heavy one at that, and the trek to and fro, took up all our energy. But sadly, the day was Good Friday and not many shops were open. We finally spotted a restaurant and we were about to go there when we saw them putting up the ‘Closed’ sign. We asked them if we will get anything and he asked us to get in and we had a delicious lunch for the day at 4.30 pm in the evening.
The rain had stopped by then and we started to our lodge, our clothes dripping wet. As we reached the entrance, we had the chance to witness a stunning sunset which made us forget how cold we were feeling and just stopped to admire the beauty of it. As the sun went down, we rushed into our room to get off the wet clothes. It took us close to 45 minutes to stop shivering. We had bread with jam and butter and settled down to a well needed sleep.
The agenda for the day was to visit the Arwah cave, that was located just 1 km from our lodge and then check out and start to Dawki. It was raining heavily when we woke up and once it reduced a little we started to the cave. The way to the caves was very well maintained and it provided spectacular views of the valley.
We hired a guide, a school going boy who was doing this as a part time job. He was passionate about the caves and explained to us the minerals (Limestone, Salacite, Mica) and fossils that were present in it. It was first time experience for me and it again turned out to be something that would be etched in my mind forever. We stepped out of the cave and had our breakfast at a restaurant nearby which turned out to be owned by the lodge owner.
It was noon by the time we checked out of the room and started to Dawki. My husband being an avid photographer wanted to click the famous pic of a boat on the clear Dawki river (Google dawki boat photo and you will know what I am talking about!). It was as if he planned the whole trip for that one photo.So you can imagine how excited he would have been when we started to Dawki. We had it all planned. We would reach Dawki by evening. We had already spoken to a person regarding home stay there, so we would rest for the night and the next day, we would visit the river and Krang Shuri waterfalls. But it was not to be. All that proper planning we did went for a toss as something which we hoped would not happen, happened. Just one hour into the ride and our scooter tyre got punctured on the way, in a desolate road with no shops whatsoever nearby.
We called up the person from whom we rented the scooter and he suggested that we take the scooter to a village nearby – Mawjrong where we would find a mechanic. And so began the actual journey which gives us the reason why it is essential to travel to new places. After much difficulty (which involved my husband taking the bike to the village in a mini truck, me waiting in the deserted road with two huge bags, he coming back to take me to the village and us getting a lift from two complete strangers…It’s a long story!), we finally reached the village. But the mechanic there was not of much help since the tyre tube needed to be replaced and the tube needed to be got from Shillong. The locals there tried to help us in every way possible, trying to call people coming from Shillong to get a tube and what not but nothing worked. They took us to a local rice and tea shop where we got our lunch and when we realised that we will not be able to continue our journey that day, they helped us find a place to stay. The locals offered to go to Shillong, buy the tube for us and come back.
We stayed at the ‘Black Bridge Cottage’ for the night. The owner, Mr. Lana O Kharkongar, was a fun person who loved talking and enlightened us with some local stories. We retired soon for the night and in the middle of the night, we were woken up by the people who went to buy the tyre tube for us. We thanked them profusely and they told they will come back early in the morning to fix the bike.
At 6.45 am, we were woken up by a knock on the door. The locals were back to help us fix the scooter. My husband went with them to fix it and was back in no time. We took a walk in the area around our cottage and it was beautiful. We were given breakfast of bread, jam and eggs and we bid goodbye to the people there as we finally started to Dawki. The journey from Mowjrong to Dawki made us bow down to Mother Nature and made us wish for this to never end. The beauty of the place coupled with the songs from the speaker as we rode through one mountain to another made it a truly remarkable experience.
The place that we had booked for our stay, Halatong Homestay in the Shnongpdeng village, was 6 km from Dawki and the river extends till there.We reached there at noon but since it was Easter day, the owner was in church for his prayers and we had no way to contact him since there is absolutely no network coverage there. After asking around, we found his house and his elderly mother opened their shop for us to keep the luggage in, for she did not have the keys to the cottage allotted to us. She directed us to the bathroom for us to change and as we were ready and about to go down to the river, the owner turned up. He asked us if we would like to stay in the room in the village or would like to stay in a tent beside the river. Though skeptical at first with regards to staying in a tent, we decided to go for it since we had never experienced anything like that before. We saw the place where we would stay and went for kayaking, which was charged at Rs.200 per person for an hour. It was again a first time for us and it was a wonderful experience. The water in the Dawki river was crystal clear and we could literally see the river bed below.
After an hour of kayaking, we finally made our way back to the tent, walking over hundreds of huge boulders. The owner soon brought our luggage down from the village and also two life jackets if we wanted to swim in the river. We swam in the river (well, my husband did) for a long time, went to the village to have some snacks, ordered dinner which the owner would bring to the tent and went back. The owner came with us and arranged for campfire. And the night that we spent there, with the fire in front of us, the river gushing beside us and the stars shining above us, is a night which we would never forget in our life, ever. We sat down by the river side, switched on the speaker and played our favourite songs and watched the stars twinkle. Soon we were joined by the beautiful moon as it started rising in all its subtle glory. We lay that way for a long time watching the stars and the moon, drinking in the scene around us, feeling in touch with nature, etching it in our minds so as to not forget it.
We started from the Shnongpdeng at 9 am. We had initially planned to visit the Krang Shuri waterfalls on the way back but we realised we would not be able to make it. With a heavy heart, we started our return journey to Shillong, from where we would take a taxi to Guwahati and a flight to Kolkata from there. And my husband finally got what he wanted – the pic of a boat on the Dawki river, seemingly floating in air. We finally reached home the next day morning at 4 am, tired physically but enriched mentally.
That’s the thing about travel. It is not just about the place that you visit. It is about the experiences you go through, and the people you meet. It saddens me to say that there is a prejudice against the people from the north east in India– just because they look different. And India is a supposedly diverse and secular country. There have been instances where they have been asked to leave the country. But the people we came across and interacted went beyond their way to help us out when we were in need of it. The people in the places we stayed were extremely hospitable to us. In short, Meghalaya is a beautiful place filled with beautiful people. Visiting Meghalaya would definitely be an experience you will remember forever.
There is a question that gets asked often – “If you had to choose between a house by the beach or a cottage in the mountains, what would you choose?” At this point of time, I would say a cottage in the mountains. What would you choose?