3 – 10 September 2015.
Madness. Chaos. Work pressures. A super – early flight. Rubbing the sleep out of eyes. Collecting friends en route the airport. Backpacks dumped, one upon the other. Pune – Delhi – Guwahati. A flurry of activities all around. Whew!
Fresh air. Good roads. Grey clouds clamouring in the sky. A light drizzle staining the car windows. A sense of peace slowly pervading through. Relaxing each inch of the body. Phew!
Such a massive transition. Within less than 12 hours, we had travelled from the noisy streets of Pune to the serene winding roads of Meghalaya. The mind was slow to catch up, where the body had already reached. It is amazing, what technological progress can do to mankind. How we had crossed the breadth of the country within such a short span of time. How we had gone from honking horns to dreamy valleys. Welcomed with an Assamese “gamcha” at the Guwahati airport by our local help for the next 8 days, our journey finally kicked off, in the true sense.
It was an idea floated rather casually within friends a few months ago. The idea of exploring the North – east. An area that quite a number of people are unaware of. We were bombarded with questions like “Are you done with your visa?” “What are you going to do for 8 long days there?” “Wouldn’t you be better off visiting some tourist- friendly place instead?” It surprised us, it baffled us…..that the people around us were that ignorant about such a beautiful part of our own country.
It helps to have a husband who works in the travel and tourism industry. It helps even more to have travel companions with the same goals and objectives of the trip. And thus, the four of us booked early-bird (and dirt cheap!) tickets to Meghalaya. And that is where our planning began and ended! It was going to be a spontaneous trip, with our feet, hearts and stomachs guiding us.
After the months of anticipation, failed attempts at planning a basic itinerary and random coffee meets instead, there we all were….sleepy-eyed but excited, with lighter hearts and even lighter backpacks. We were headed to the Abode of Clouds, to bring back the rains, wrapped in sheets of memories…
Our first stop was Shillong. A city not too different from Pune. Traffic jams met us at every nook and corner. But what surprised us was the discipline imbibed within the Shillong traffic. Cars lined up silently one after the other. Drivers switched off the ignitions and waited patiently for the roads to clear up. Hill-stations are often sleepy towns, we had heard but this was a level of patience we were not prepared for. Especially since we came from a city where every vehicle is in a state of constant competition with each other. But then we discovered the secret behind this discipline that prevailed through Shillong. At every possible juncture, boards reading “No overtaking. Fine Rs.500/-“, “No Parking. Fine Rs. 500/-” and other such threats were put up. And why not? The threats worked! There were traffic jams but none where cars were stuck for ages. Our journey was slow, but steady. As the sun set on our first day in Meghalaya, we reached the Assam Guest House, our home for the next 2 days. Economical and a luxury, the rooms were a treat to our sore backs. A quick stroll through the city, dinner at Cafe Shillong and we had hit our beds. The next day was spent in exploring Shillong. A rather typical tourist city, we visited the Elephant Falls and got a bird’s-eye view of Shillong from the Shillong peak. We spent hours admiring the work and history of Don Bosco at the Don Bosco Museum, enjoyed a sky walk amidst a beautiful drizzle and gaped at the enormous and private collection of butterflies from all over the world.
A bustling city, Shillong was beautiful….and yet the travellers within us were restless. Where were the clouds lying low over the mountains? Where was the dense greenery? Where was the crisp air? 2 days later, our luggage was back in the hired car and off we headed, toward Cherapunjee. A name straight out of Geography textbooks. The place of highest rainfall. And there we were, visiting it in the monsoon. Our main objective here was trekking down to the Double Decker Living Root Bridge. A UNESCO site, this bridge is a tangle of massive roots…strong enough to hold people and carry them back and forth. [A separate blog dedicated to this wonder coming up soon!]
We also visited the Nohkalikai Falls near Cherapunjee, known to be the tallest plunge waterfall in India. Beyond this noteworthy statistical information, witnessing the waterfall was an entirely different story altogether. Imagine this : You are standing atop a mountain. Looking down. A waterfall, highlighted by a sliver of sunshine. Sparkling bright. Crashing down into the depths of the valley and yet flowing smooth as silk.
Heading on to Mawlynnong – the cleanest village in Asia – we gorged on local food and visited the single living root bridge there. Then off to Mawsynram, the place that now holds the record for the highest rainfall. Back to Shillong. On to Guwahati. Our plans were guided by the weather. The rains and floods tried to ruin our plans, we were one step ahead by embracing whatever was possible.
We made our way through clouds, we struggled with language barriers, we faced disappointments, we had minor disagreements. And yet, we greedily devoured fresh pineapples being sold by the roadside; we participated (and even won!) at ‘legalised’ archery gambling; we walked down the starlit streets of Shillong; we warmed ourselves at the fireplace of Cherapunjee; we walked along the Dawki river and peeked over into Bangladesh; we argued over who last had the deck of cards; we also cruised the mighty Brahmaputra to hungrily gape at the 5 captive Golden Langurs upon the Umanand island….
We loved and lived each inch of Meghalaya that was available to us. We yearned and wished for the rest of the North – eastern states. We came back from a vacation but with lingering memories. Our bodies are back but our souls left behind a promise. That we would be back. And soon. To explore the nooks and crannies of the diversity even a few states put together can offer. To taste the variety of cuisine these states offer. To soak in the multiple languages and dialects being spoken here. To just breathe in that pollution-free air.
We spent 8 long days there, and yet so much remains unexplored. A beauty that keeps tempting you back, that is the ‘Khasi’yat of Meghalaya…