Meghalaya - The Abode of Clouds

 


We all have our own bucket list with all the fancy places we want to visit and experience by our own. I also have one, but to be honest, Meghalaya was there but not in my Top 3 destinations. I am more of a beach person who enjoys lazing at the quiet beach holding a beer under the sun looking at the waves. My wife though, wanted to go anywhere other than beach. Meghalaya is one destination we agreed on instantly. One of my friend also decided to join us along with his partner a day later.

Booking tickets and hotels didn't take much time, but deciding what all to cover in Meghalaya took lot of time. We had limited time and list of places to visit was huge. We spent lot of days in designing the itinerary and finalizing the places we would be able to cover within the limited time we have and trust me, this was most difficult part. Although we did cover most of the places, but if we had more time, we would have enjoyed a lot more. 

Finally, the day came and we left to catch our early morning flight to Guwahati from New Delhi. Guwahati, Assam is also known as Gateway to Northeast and is the most efficient way to reach Meghalaya. From Guwahati, one may hire a taxi to reach Meghalaya. 

Day 1

We took self driven car which we picked up from Guwahati airport - Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport. Also, there are many options available in taxis to reach Shillong, Meghalaya at a reasonable price. As a car enthusiast, I prefer driving and enjoying the road trip. The route to Shillong is beautiful and it started to rain as soon as we crossed Assam border and entered Meghalaya. Road was amazing and all greenery around us made the journey even more beautiful. The radio on the car kept shuffling between Assam's FM and Meghalaya's FM till few miles. The roads were curvy and required full concentration specially hair pin bends which were quite a few. Just stay alert and don't over-speed and you will be fine.



The journey from Guwahati to Shillong is approximately 3 hours, but it is worth the drive. We stopped in between for some snacks and specially bananas which looked different from what we get in Delhi. They were much smaller in size and tasted more sweeter. In between, you will also come across Umiam lake. The Lake is one of the biggest artificial lakes in Meghalaya that is situated about 15 km from Shillong. It is also known as Bara Pani, and is spread across 220 sq km. The surroundings add to the majesty of this vast lake, which was created when the Umiam river was dammed to store water for hydroelectric power generation. Though it was initially established as a dam or a reservoir, it is now a popular tourist attraction. It is also known for water sports and adventure facilities such as kayaking, water cycling, scooting and boating. When we stopped there, it was drizzling and was cloudy, so we did a quick photo shoot and then left for Shillong. 





As we entered Shillong, there was a huge traffic queue which I did't expect. We were moving at the speed of a snail and it was still raining. Passing through narrow lanes, we finally reached our hotel in Shillong around lunch time. After checking in and settling, we stepped out for lunch. The restaurant was right next to the hotel but most of the dishes in the menu were not available due to low in demand or required lot of time to prepare. We ordered Chinese cuisine after taking the recommendation from the restaurant's staff and soon regretted the decision. Apparently, they use chilly in extreme amount. I had to re-order with no chilly at all and it was better the next time.

We were tired and with our tummies full, we thought it would be good idea to take a nap. Around 3 in the noon we slept and I woke up with a noise of a car honking (some guest was trying to park his car in the hotel). It was dark outside I thought it must be too late, but then I looked at my watch and it was 6 in the evening. I rubbed my eyes and looked at my cellphone to confirm the time and it was same. I looked outside the window and it was totally dark and very, very limited movement. Sun sets early in the east, and perhaps people sleep early here, I thought.

I  stepped out of the hotel to get a sense of life around there in the evening. Most shops were closed or were about to close. Only groceries and restaurants were opened. I checked in with few locals if Police Bazaar (Market) would be open at this time? They said that yes, you can go now. Police Bazaar is the main attraction point of Shillong located at central point with many options to shop and eat. Street food is yummiest there specially if you're fond of non-vegetarian delicacies.

We got ready and took our car to Police Bazaar. By the time it started to drizzle and when we parked we took out our umbrella. It was getting bit cold. There's nothing that can stop a girl from shopping and my wife wasn't different. I looked around as she was on her shopping spree. I was eyeing on street food, roasted chicken, egg rolls and deep fried mutton. As soon as she was done with her shopping, we got our food packed and returned to our hotel and slept after having our delicious meals.

                                               A local movie at a theater at Police Bazaar, Shillong


Day 2

Next morning was a packed one. Since this was the only full day we had in Shillong, we had lot to cover. We woke up early, had our breakfast and left for Elephant falls, a 3 step waterfall. With lot of stairs, you climb down to get a view of the falls, and further down to get a view of second step and then third step of the falls. 




Our next stop was Sacred Forest, Khasi village in Shillong. Maintained and taken care by Khasi tribe, it is home to many rare specie of flora and fauna. It is believed that if anyone takes anything out of the forest, even a leaf, misfortune will follow. We were told all this by the guide who offered a tour to this beautiful forest. The tour can be chosen as per your stamina, either you can opt for half track or full track. Its bit of walk, but very, very beautiful. There is a river stream flowing within the forest which you can only see of you opt for full trek. You will see lot of plants which have many medical benefits but again, you can't take anything out of the forest. 






It started to rain and we decided to move out of the forest. Despite all the walking, we were so refreshed and charged, could be due to the fresh air. We sat in our car to head back to our hotel. It was an hour's drive and by that time my friend had also arrived and was waiting for us in the hotel. 

Our second half of the day was reserved for Laitlum Canyons, which is situated 2 hours drive away from Shillong. If you ever want to visit Laitlum Canyons, either reach there by 7am in the morning or in the afternoon by 4pm. Else you will only see clouds and nothing else. We were the unfortunate ones, when we reached there, we couldn't spot anything except clouds. It was 5pm and soon it started to get dark and really really cloudy. We stopped at a cafe nearby and had gorgeous lunch or evening snacks, whatever you want to call it. Dimsums, noodles, fried rice, soup, everything was delicious.

With our tummies full, we drove back to Shillong. We stopped at Police bazaar and again it started to rain. We got our food packed for dinner and bought our favorite drinks for the night. We spent the night at cozy terrace of our hotel which didn't have much guests and also ordered late night pizza from Dominoes, the only restaurant which was taking orders online late at night.

Day 3

Next morning, we all got up early - by early I mean 9am. Got ready, had breakfast and took off for Dawki and Cherrapunji - the wettest place on earth.

It was a beautiful sunny morning and we kept our jackets aside to enjoy the sun. One thing I would like to highlight here is that traffic is really really bad in Shillong. So it is advisable you leave earliest in the morning to avoid all that delay. Once we hit the road to and left Shillong behind, roads were clear and the weather started actin up. The black clouds all around and the mountains really made the view astonishing. The roads were in perfect condition despite all the rain that place gets and with beautiful views, we all were enjoying. We stopped at several places on the way just to do photography.




It was almost lunch time and we were about to reach Dawki - The India-Bangladesh border river which is famous for its clear water and boating. But soon, my kid puked on me due to all the curvy roads we were on. Luckily we had our stuffs packed as our next night stop was Cherrapunji. I quickly cleaned him up and then cleaned myself and changed the clothes at the road side and then we were back on the road. Within few minutes we reached Dawki and damn it was beautiful. Water was clear, but we were told that it is even more clearer but it wasn't then due to monsoons, but I still found it pretty much clear. We hired a boat and to take us to the other side where it is India-Bangladesh border and we noticed at Bangladesh's side there were lot. a lot of people and I think we were the only few at Indian side. We met with the army men on duty and he explained about the area and how is life around in this part of the country.








                                                            People at Bangladesh side of Dawki

After spending some time, we left for Asia's cleanest village Mawlynnong. The drive was bit rough to reach at this village and roads were not that great, but it was totally worth it. The village is so scenic and so clean that all big cities can take the inspiration from it the way it is kept and way people are aware about importance of cleanliness. 

To enter Mawlynnong, there's a nominal fee that one has to pay per visitor. Once you enter, you will be amused to see how self sustained that village is. We spent some time there exploring every corner of it. One can also choose to stay at one of the homestays available there. 






Nearby the village (2 minutes drive away), there is a living root bridge - 'Jingmaham' or also known as 'Living Root Bridge, Nohwet'. You have to walk some distance on a bit uneven and climbing and descending path to reach the bridge. You come across a make shift ticket counter. After paying Rs 40/-per person and Rs 20/ - for the camera. 

At first sight, you will not be impressed. You go around looking at it from various angles, you read a plaque unveiled on '24 November 2016'. The plaque gives information about those who were mainly responsible for the idea and creation of the bridge. The trees were planted around 1840, that is almost hundred and eighty years back!! Gradually the Bridge, which had not impressed you at first sight now changes your perception completely. You cannot even imagine the enormity of the project and the dedication, hard work, patience and perseverance of the generations who were responsible to take it to completion. Living Root Bridge is a living monument to dedication, hard work and perseverance to Human Spirit and Khasi people of Nohwet village.



It was quite late in the evening and we were way too hungry by the time. We checked out few places nearby, and then settled at a restaurant in Mawlynnong village itself. The food was very basic and was very spicy but at a very nominal rate. It was pretty dark by then and with our tummies full, we left for Cherrapunji.

The drive was about 4 hours and after the rough road patches as we left Mawlynnong, we were back on the main driveway with the help of GPS. The people are so nice out there that we received a call from our hotel's manager from Cherrapunjee that if we will be arriving or not, I told him that we're on our way and will reach by 10ish.. to which he replied that hotel's restaurant will get closed by 9pm, so he can take our order now and he will have it stored. We gave him the order and continued our drive.

Around 10 in the night, we reached the hotel, parked our car and settled in our rooms and post dinner, we called it a day!! A very long day!!

Day 4

Next morning, we woke up late and when we looked outside, we were astonished by the view from the terrace. I could also spot few small waterfalls as well. But we had a bigger task at hand. We were waiting for it for so long. Nohkalikai Falls, the tallest plunge waterfall in India. Its height is 1115 feet (340 metres). Nohkalikai Falls are fed by the rainwater collected on the summit of a comparatively small plateau and decrease in power during the dry season in December - February. Below the falls there is a plunge pool with unusual green colored water.


The waterfall is so beautiful, but has an unfortunate story associated with it. According to legends, in a village called Rangjyrteh, upstream from Nohkalikai Falls, a woman named Likai resided but had to remarry after her husband's death. Ka Likai (Ka is the prefix given for the female gender in Khasi) was left with her infant daughter with no means of income. In order to sustain herself and feed her child she had to become a porter herself. Her work required her to leave her daughter unattended for long intervals and when she would be at home she would spend most of her time taking care of her infant. She realized that raising a child required both parents, so Ka Likai married a second time for the sake of her daughter. However, being a mother to an infant, her daughter needed her constant attention so could not give to her second husband the love he thought he deserved. A fit of jealousy grew in her husband which manifested to hatred towards Likai's daughter. He killed the infant in cold blood and cooked her flesh after throwing away her severed head and bones to hide all trace of the murder. When Ka Likai returned home, she noticed that her house was empty and nobody was home. A meal that had been prepared but she did not find anyone around. She wanted to go look for her daughter but she was too famished from all the labour she had been doing so she ate the meal till she could not eat anymore.

Ka Likai usually had a betel leaf after her meals but she found a severed finger near the place where she usually cut betel nuts and betel leaves. Ka Likai realized what had happened in her absence and went mad with anger and grief and started running as she swung a hatchet in her hand. She ran off the edge of the plateau and jumped to her death as she could no longer bear the thought of cannibalizing on her dead daughter unknowingly. The waterfall where she jumped from was named Nohkalikai Falls as a grim reminder of a tragedy that befell an unfortunate woman.

An unfortunate story associated with such a beautiful place. Also, you've to be lucky to spot the waterfall as clouds cover the place in no time and we were lucky to get a full view of the falls. We continued exploring rest of the waterfalls within Cherrapunji and our last waterfall that we visited that day was Seven Sisters waterfall, but the water wasn't enough, but we did get a great view of Bangladesh from there.



While on our way back to hotel, we stopped at naturally formed limestone caves. We boys tried to enter, but given our height we found it pretty challenging, but the girls did went ahead. We meanwhile had coffee snacks while waiting for them to return. After spending some time, we returned back to our hotel and bought some snacks and drinks along from nearby local market. 

We spent the rest of the evening relaxing and chit-chatting.

Day 5

Our last day in Meghalaya and we had our flights in the night from Guwahati. We had to cover a long distance. After breakfast, we checked out from our hotel and left for Guwahati. We stopped at Police Bazar as we reached Shillong and again it started to rain heavily. We did some shopping at the mall and soon left the place. We had some time in hand so we also decided to stop in Guwahati main market. It was also the first day of Navratri (9 holy days of Goddessess) and market was pretty full. We didn't want to get stuck in traffic and get late for our flight, so we decided to leave immediately. We were hungry by then so we also started to look for a restaurant. We spotted a live Durga Pooja pandal with some live performances and food stalls. We decided to stop there have some snacks. Without wasting much time, we left for airport, handed over our companion for the trip - our car Innova Crysta, and flew back to Delhi, our home, much much late at night - Thanks to the flight delay! 


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