Every autumn, we think of visiting a hilly region because in summer and monsoons there is always a threat of landslides and roadblocks in the young mountain paths of the Himalayas.
This autumn, we decided to go to Meghalaya. Unfortunately just before the trip started in the first week of October, there was unusually heavy rainfall which caused landslides and deaths. The reports on landslides and the destruction it caused worried us to no end. In fact, at one point of time we thought of cancelling the trip.
However, our travel agent Sudipto Lahiry, who runs an outfit called The Explorer Tours & Travels in Kolkata (www.explorertours.in) urged us not to cancel the trip since the national highway between Guwahati and Shillong had been cleared well in time.
Guwahati: We reached the city around 2 pm and began our journey to Shillong by car and drove through Assam, awaiting excitedly for the cool autumn breeze of Jaintia Hills.
The distance between Guwahati and Shillong is 125km. We stopped at a small town —- its name eludes me —- to have a light lunch. Thereafter, we drove through green mountains, thick Himalayan foliage and enjoyed the pollution-free mountain air. We drove past hamlets, small eateries, schools and a beautiful water body. I asked the driver Babla, a Bengali and a resident of Shillong, the name of the lake: “Barapani or Umiam lake”. It’s not a natural lake but a dam, he said.
Later when I Googled, I found that it is indeed a reservoir and an artificial lake and was created by damming the Umium river and covers about 220 square km. This is first hydro-power project in this part of the country. Barapani is a major tourist attraction. Plenty of photos are available on the web.
We reached Shillong late afternoon. I was very excited, keen to find Shillong of my dreams: hills, fern, orchid and low cloud. Unfortunately, the sights and sound of the city did not match my imagination.
We drove past the crowded Police Bazaar area, the assembly and the polo ground and reached a quieter part of the town called Upper Lamthumai. Our hotel, Roseville Hotel, is located there.
Roseville Guest House: The hotel, more like a home stay, has cottages for guests and a well maintained garden. I identified Pine and Birch trees and some flowers. It has an old world charm. The property is famous for beautiful rooms and heritage rooms and was earlier managed by ITC Welcom. The tariff: Rs 3,000+25% tax per day.
Rooms: Clean, spacious with an anteroom. The bathroom was cleaned daily and linen was changed every other day.
Food: The breakfast was complimentary — juice, cornflakes, toast, butter and jam, egg to order, tea or coffee and puri bhaji. Every day, enjoying the glorious autumn morning, we would have our tea sitting in the balcony.
Elephant Falls: We drove to upper Shillong past the clean and green cantonment area and the air force station. The Elephant Falls is very picturesque. Youngsters went down a flight of stairs to get close to the falling stream of water making a pool below.
Shillong top: It took us half an hour through deep and dark words to reach this point. We climbed a flight of stairs to have a view of a wooded valley, cloud and mist. The wide horizon offered a panorama of muted grandeur, making sure to lift the draping of fog every now and then to let us see heavenly scenes. Shillong was visible amidst Pine Oak, orchid and rocks. Acorn or oak fruit added to my repertoire of physical geography. It was an incredible experience. I wish I could stand there for ages to witness the colour of nature’s wonder.
Later, we had Meghalaya tea, tasty pineapple and hazel nuts.
Don Bosco museum: The DBM showcases the history and culture of the seven sisters of the North-east. The displays (photographs and clay artifacts) reflect the evolution of early man to the present time. The exhibits show the everyday life of the tribal groups of the seven states. There is a brilliant video show with music putting across the salient features of the region. DB is very clean and well-maintained. Don’t miss the sky walk to get a view of Shillong.
Next to DB is an ancient church of Catholics.
Golf Course: It is the largest in India and many important tournaments are held in the course.
Ward’s Lake is a natural lake and one can do boating.
Driving through the twists and turns past the mountain forest was a thrilling experience. At present owing to deforestation, the area in the east Khasi hills prefecture does not enjoy intense rainfall. On the way to Cherapunjee, we stopped to see a rope-way, the only link across a gorge to go to a settlement. It is a thrilling activity and ideal for adventure-loving young people.
SEVEN SISTERS FALLS: Seven streams fall from a hill into the gorge offering grace to the scented wild surrounding it. The sight and sound were captivating. The falls called Norhrkalikal falls in the wild of Cherapunjee is poem-like-fantasy and along with the silent hills that kiss the seemingly low cloud offer an impacting picture.
(https://www.facebook.com/pages/Saimika-Park-Resort/206322682769832): This resort is a modern resort but does not tamper with the surrounding wild and is spread over six acres. The cottage(there are several) was clean and was decorated with local material. The resort has a power back up and food is tasty but not inexpensive. While they have a dining room, food is also served in rooms. The ambience is friendly and warm and the manager. Anupam Barua, is very caring.
One must not visit the naturally formed bridge of ancient entwined roots in Cherapunjee.
Ramkrishna Mission: The RKM runs a school and does a lot of social service for the poor. There are interesting exhibits connected with anthropology.
Towards the end of the holiday week there was bad news: landslides had blocked the highway again. The driver asked us to leave early and after Barapani our car was diverted to another route, which added extra 90 kms to the 125-km travel. Though strenuous, the drive through dense Himalayan forest and beautiful villages added to our wonderful experience of Meghalaya.