Instead of sweltering in the intense heat on the plains during the hot Indian summers, it is always wise to escape to the hills for some cool respite. I have always had a yearning to go to Meghalaya but have never had the opportunity to visit this beautiful destination. So, last summer we decided to give it a shot.
On landing at the Guwahati airport, we headed straight to Shillong. The travelling time is comparatively less as compared to the other hill stations that we had visited so far. On the way, drove past the beautiful Umiam Lake, locally known as Barapani and decided to get down there on the way back.
Reaching the hotel, I lashed my luggages down and hurriedly came out to have a look around the town. The sun was about to set and the streets were already bustling with people. Since it was a touristy season, I could see a multitude of vendors busy in their pop-up shops. As the stuffs were available at a throw away price, there was no dearth of buyers. However, amid such chaos we didn’t miss the opportunity to frame in the evanescent beauty of the setting sun. Finally, I also joined the crowd and followed suite.
Early next morning we went to the Meghalaya Tourism Centre to purchase tickets for a bus ride to Cherrapunji, this famous town is also colloquially known as Sohra. The ride was exhilaratingly beautiful. As our bus drove out of Shillong, leaving the din and bustle of the town behind, the journey became more enchanting.
Cherrapunji was once considered the wettest place on earth, but no more so. Nonetheless, as our bus was approaching the beautiful town, it started to rain intermittently. On enquiring a local, came to know that it rains more or less all the year round but presently the highest annual rainfall in the world has been recorded in Mawsynram, a village located only fifteen kilometers away from Cherrapunji.
The bus pulled over by the Mawkdok valley, we got down to grab a quick breakfast. To our dismay, the entire valley was filmed over by clouds; still we had a fun time striking poses and clicking selfies.
The next destination was the Nohkalikai falls. The journey enroute was mesmerizing; the surrounding verdance soaked in the rain water appeared even greener. The landscape is at par with that of the highlands of Scotland; the resemblance is so strikingly similar — no doubt why Meghalaya is called the Scotland of the East. We were taken to a lofty hill to enjoy the wonderful view of the Nohkalikai falls. The water plunging down from a thickly forested hill and forming a crescent pool is a wonderful artwork of nature; one can unceasingly stare at this beauty and forget about all his worldly worries.
Next, we stopped by at the Mawsmai caves. Some of the co passengers including ourselves opted out to venture into the caves; instead we spent the time talking to each other. However, these are limestone caves and attract a lot of enthusiast all the year round. Inside, the stalactites and stalagmites caves have a variety of sizes and shapes that are bound to spellbind the visitors.
The mighty Nohsngithiang (Seven Sisters) waterfall is undoubtedly one of the best waterfalls in India and captivates the beholder by its overpowering beauty and charm. The waterfall stretches from one end to the other, gifting the travellers a panoramic view of its vast stretch; to enjoy the enthralling beauty of the place one must visit in the monsoons when the flow of water is in full bloom.
Next, we were dropped at the Eco Park, it is situated near the Seven Sisters waterfall and is one of the popular places in Cherrapunji. Keeping the tourists in mind, the government has designed the park in such a way that one can get a splendid view of the green canyons of Sohra and the waterfalls that lie around it. On reaching a point in the park one can get a bird’s eye view of the Sylhet plains of Bangladesh as well. From the Thangkharang park we yet again had a good view of Bangladesh; the Kynrem fall passes through the park and gushes down in several levels to join a distant river.
Early next morning we ventured out to visit the famous single-decker living root bridge in Mawlynnong; the village is situated in the East Khasi hill district of Meghalaya. This place is famous for its cleanliness and the cleanest village of Asia is located here. Luckily, we had the same bus at our disposal and the same group of passengers as well; so it was an added excitement for sure; it felt like a group of friends going for a picnic together. After getting down from the bus we took a flight of rocky steps down the road to go up to the living root bridge. The road being slippery I was wary of the dangers of falling down and on top of that the encumbrance of a heavy backpack was adding to my discomfort. After elbowing through the crowd, we finally made it to the bridge.
The sanctity and beauty of the place was actually marred by some over enthusiasts, shouting and killing the peace of the place. However, I was in awe to look at the man-made marvel. The iconic bridge is actually handmade from the aerial roots of rubber fig trees. The roots snake up a creek and bridge it over, entwining as many times as possible to strengthen its capacity. Its counterpart, the double-decker living root bridge is a must visit too; we decided to come back again during an off season and relish the natural beauty of both the places in quiet and solitude. However, I dabbled my feet in the slightly brackish water and also fished out a few pebbles to carry back home as a memento.
The cleanest village was a little difficult to get at. Due to a lot of vehicles on the narrow mountainous road the traffic was thrown out of gear. Finally, on reaching, I could make out why the place attracts so many tourists from far and wide. On arriving I could see young boys footling around; happiness was palpable on their faces. Hard working men were fining down woods that are needed for their quotidian chores. The older men sat basking under the sun with smile on their wizened faces. The whole village is spotlessly clean, with flowers blooming around every household, birds bursting forth into songs on the trees. The tribal locals were hospitable and catered to all our needs. They served us lunch on bio degradable plates and that was a very conscious gesture on their part.
Then we proceeded to the Dawki border crossing; it is one of the border crossings between India and Bangladesh in West Jaintia hills. The Umngot river that flows through the Dawki village is a photographer’s much coveted destination. The Dawki bridge adds to the beauty of the place. The water in the river is so crystal clear that the underneath is visible from the top.
The following day we buckled to, did up our luggages and left for Guwahati. On our way downhill, spotted the splendid Umiam lake from quite a distance. The lake is a major tourist attraction; it is also a popular destination for water sport activities such as water cycling, kayaking and speed boating.
The reservoir was initially built by the Assam State Electricity Board in the early 1960’s to store water for hydroelectric power generation. Because of its overwhelming beauty the lake was thrown open to the tourists eventually. The best part was while hanging around the lake, we noticed dark clouds were gathering in the sky. I could also hear a brattle of thunder; the sun went in and suddenly rain began to pelt down. The fury of nature, with the dark skies rumbling and the blue water splashing about was a fearful experience but an exciting one. Everyone scuttled off for shelter under a shade and waited for the nature to calm down.
Finally, we reached Guwahati and boarded a flight back to Kolkata. It was indeed a wonderful experience to cherish for a lifetime.