I signed up for the Meghalaya trip blindly due to my faith in Wonderful World (having done the unforgettable Bhutan trip with them) and the trip leader and good friend Sejal.
Ganga and I at Kolkata airport waiting to board our flight to Guwahati
Ganga and I landed in Guwahati at 18:00 PM. I always fancied having someone stand at the airport holding a placard with my name on it. So eagerly I scanned the jostling placards…no luck…apparently I am quite recognizable… not sure which vital statistics of mine were described to the charming guide Kulen who was waiting.
Serpentine roads, pleasant weather and lots of wine bars dotted the 3 hour journey to Shillong. I suffer from motion sickness and sure enough began to feel nauseous. Prayers to Goddess Hygieia (health) and we reached the charming Aerodene cottage; our stay in Shillong. We could not meet the rest of the group who were out exploring Shillong as we were the last to arrive (why…a story to be told for another day…do I hear Sejal sniggering as she reads this). A simple yet delish meal awaited us. Got introduced to the vegetable squash and I am a fan for life.
Aerodene cottage – a charming British raj era bungalow
Come morning and looked like the rain gods responded instead of Goddess Hygieia…you think proxy works in the heavens?? The skies opened and heavy rains showered. My heart sank…all my lovely clothes more suited for the beach were now in vain. Out came the really ugly rain poncho which made me look like a cross between superman and bat man. I am vain and make no bones about it. So the rain poncho gave me a lot of grief.
At breakfast we met up with the rest of the group. Few were WW repeaters. Over the course of the trip we bonded over our fondness for laughter, wit, travel, tomfoolery, food…the list is endless. We were 12 in total split between 4 Innovas. The incessant rain accompanied us to the Mawphlang Sacred forest. The entrance is guarded by megaliths or giant stones believed to be centuries old. These are protected forests and a lot of stories and legends abound the area. We walked in to the canopy of trees and were transported to a different world – the velvet moss covered fallen logs, little brooks, shrubs glistening with water droplets, ancient burials and the veil of the mist was a picture to behold. We spied a pine tree (I forget the name) an endangered species which seeds once in 300 yrs. It is now 273 years old.
The guide updated us on the Khasi culture. I asked the guide if he would wear the traditional attire for his wedding, he said, “Nope! I will wear a tux.” J So much for traditions!!!
Fellow travellers at the David Scott’s trail
We then decided to embark on the David Scott trail which is a 16 km trek….. Too ambitious, the rains had made the grounds slippery…we lost a couple of members as they had encountered the ground rather painfully and decided to return to the warmth of the vehicles. The rest of us decided to trudge along. The valley looked lovely and I am sure it would have been awe-inspiring on a clear day. But this trek is probably not for amateurs. We collectively decided to abandon the trek, took the obligatory pictures and returned to our vehicles.
We lunched at Café Shillong Heritage, Tripura Castle. Great ambience, good food (Bastenga- local food) and totally recommended. I got talking to the manager and was told that the Tripura prince loves dogs and the castle is home to 147 mongrels. It’s a dog’s world I guess!
Post lunch some opted to repose and the rest visited one of the oldest churches in Meghalaya – All Saints Cathedral, a charming church rebuilt in the early 1900s. We also visited Shillong Catholic Cathedral but we could have given it a miss unless we wanted to sound out the Weather God.
We dined at the rooftop nightclub Cloud 9. Live music, good food, whiskey sours (thanks Shilpa J) and laughter – great combination so fun times it was.
The weather was the same…rains…by now we were getting kinda used to it. After breakfast, off we went to the local market, Bara bazaar. It was wet and dirty. Only the vibrant vegetables added color to the drab atmosphere. Plus in the narrow alleys, I was trying to maneuver with a large golf umbrella and ended up dripping rainwater into the local folks’ hot chais…the dirty looks I got…I scuttled out pretty quick. Stopped at Bata for rain proof sandals as both my sets of shoes were sodden and stank to the heavens.
Ducking so we could get a peak of the Elephanta falls
We proceeded to Elephanta falls which is a waterfall in three stages. Due to the rains the falls were in full force. The falls are lovely but the crowded area, touristy and cemented look around it took away the beauty. The weather was a bit of a dampener so we circumvented and did a quick tour. Sonia and her daughters Nadine and Mallika hired the traditional costumes and made a colourful picture.
Sonia and her girls in Khasi attire
Cherrapunji: I was excited…my geography lessons and now I get to see the wettest place on Earth and it totally lived up to its title. We lunched at Orange Roots which was a South Indian restaurant. Being from the South, I was like… seriously rice and sambhar in Cherrapunji!!!
We reached Polo Orchid Resort our accommodation for the next 2 days. This resort is located opposite the famous Nongsithiang Waterfalls (also called Seven sister falls). A breathtaking sight I am sure but the heavy mist totally obscured our viewing. The hotel had comfortable large rooms but lacked the character of Aerodene Cottage. The food was good and the staff courteous. That day was wasted due to the heavy rains. We were a bit tired from the road trip. By this time I had discovered Avomine tabs and my serpentine journeys were now enjoyable. In the evening, we grouped in one of the rooms as was our customary habit to chill and listen to Dia belt out yet another song which was always a delight. Another day ended.
This day turned out to be one of the most memorable days for us. At 6:00 AM we ventured out to see the Seven Sister falls. For our luck there was a break in weather and briefly the veils of the mist parted to give us a glimpse of the magnificent falls. I could see about 5 strands before the mist covered the view. But I was elated.
We then proceeded to see the fourth highest waterfall in the world. Falling from a height of 1,100 feet, Nohkalikai Falls are spectacular. But no luck, the mist decided to play hide and seek. Armed with hot chais, we stared intently in to the mist hoping for a glimpse but the viewing proved elusive.
Disbelief that we managed to squeeze through the narrow cave opening
Our next stop, the Mawsmai caves. The tourists are allowed to access up to 150 mtrs of the limestone caves. The caves were not lit so we used our mobile flashlights, kicked off our shoes though I hung on to my “Bata” sandals and entered the caves. It involved a lot of body contouring to proceed through…I thanked my yoga teacher…to his horror it took me a month to touch my toes J We all loved the experience and the challenge. The stalactites formations were interesting. Hats off to Jyothi who lugged her heavy camera in to the caves to take the pictures.
We returned to the hotel, breakfasted and set off to view the double decker bridge. The double-decker and single-decker root bridges are unique to Meghalaya, some are believed to be about 500 years old and are grown not built!
Now, I had not done homework before I embarked on my Meghalaya journey. So I went to see the living roots bridge with no pre-conceived notion which according to me is the best thing I have ever done. Usually I read up or do a lot of research before a holiday that I am constantly correcting guides and get dirty looks for my earnestness.
We reached the starting point of our trek. We were told that to reach the bridge we need to cross 3500 steps. Gulp!!! A sprightly young guide Frederick joined us. He has sometimes made the journey more than a couple of times a day. Goodness!!
Stairway to living roots bridge
Rough cemented steps are created for the tourists. But I am thinking they miscalculated the average foot size and I found myself walking sideways. The steps are almost vertical on the way down and if you look at it…your head may reel. So we literally just concentrated one step at a time. Mild showers helped cool us down. Liane who is in to fitness and I whose idea of exercise is looking at other people exercise went ahead. The vista was fantastic and the climb challenging. Not many tourists attempt this climb so most times we were alone in the rain forests. After about an hour, we came upon a steel cable bridge. It was a sight to behold. The rapids and rocks that we could view under the bridge were scary. I set off and the bridge got wobbly. I absolutely loved it. We crossed yet another cable bridge.
Steel cable bridge
We began to tire and just when we thought we need to rest and take a breather…through the branches of the trees…we suddenly had our first glimpse of the double decker bridge. We instinctively looked at each other and with a renewed burst of energy scrambled up the steps to view the bridge.
Double-decker bridge – handmade from the aerial roots of living trees
The sheer rawness of nature, the stark beauty…. I do not have words to describe the visual treat, the click says it all. The rest of the team joined us at varied intervals. We soothed our feet in the swirling waters. The trek back to the starting point was a test to our endurance. Climbing 3500 steps….I was lucky to spot an eighty year old man ahead of me and with this inspiration I was able to reach in record time. Arpita was the last to reach but a hot cup of tea revived her pretty quick and she was back to her bubbly self. Needless to say, that was our last activity for the day.
After the trek the previous day, we were in agony, unused muscles made their presence known. Most of us were walking in a disjointed manner. Even lifting the foot to take a step forward involved a lot of effort. We left Cherrapunji and drove to Langkawet a remote village. We stayed in rustic cottages and bonded over hot food.
The Retreat – Langkawet
Baccardi resulted in “new” friends much to Suprr’s disgust. J The rains followed us. Some opted for a short trek in the rain. I opted for the warm bed and sank in to oblivion only to be rudely awakened two hours later by Sejal because she was bored and wanted to talk. I had a good mind to push her out in the rain and continue with my sleep. But I am ‘sweet’ as is often told to me, obliged and probably bored her with my outbursts J
During the trip, my aunt often referred to me as ‘Princess’ which loosely translated to – get off your high horse and come down to earth girl. But the term caught on and I was teased mercilessly. I have a problem… if someone gives me a pseudo name I begin to act like one. So many had to put up with my “princess” behavior but I am not to be blamed. I was just living up to my name J I am now called pumpkin but optimistic me is behaving like Cinderella at the ball rather than look in to the mirror and get a reality check.
Day 5 was at leisure which is good after the amazing treks the previous day.
We proceeded towards Shillong. En route we stopped to see the single living roots bridge. It is a short trek and the bridge is spectacular. We visited the cleanest village in Asia; Mwallynong. It was a lovely stroll through the mist. I fell in love with the quaint church there. The cute children playing in the lanes warmed our heart. We had the option of trekking to an abandoned village but by now I had removed the word ‘trek’ from my dictionary. I was like there must be a good reason that the village is abandoned let us respect that and keep away.
At Mwallynong village
Post lunch we reached Shillong. The rain had lessened and we had brief dry spells. Evening we roamed the bazaars for keepsakes for family and friends. A good night’s rest followed by breakfast, it was now time to bid goodbye.
Until we meet again…
Umiam lake – Mesmerizing
As we sped to the Guwahati airport, we glimpsed the impressive Umiam lake which is a reservoir. We stopped at Ri Kynjai, a luxury getaway resort. The unusual architecture, interiors and scenic beauty makes it a must visit. We had authentic Assamese food at Paradise in Guwahati.
At Ri Kynjai (in Khasi it translates to serenity by the lake)
I like travelling and now that I do not have as much responsibilities as my kids are all grown up I indulge. I had never been to the North East of India and Meghalaya seemed like a good start. I came away with a lot of memories. Yes, the rains inconvenienced us…yes…our clothes and shoes were constantly damp…yes we could not view some of the falls which was a bummer. But what I experienced was a way of life. As we sit in our AC cabins and crib away at little things, school kids brave the rains and go to school. They have 2 sets of clothes with them always; wet and dry. People are out in the rain doing their chores. Wheel barrows are fashioned out of wood and used. Bridges are grown. The roads are so well maintained. If there is a landslide within hours it is cleared. I never imagined that I would do the 7000+ steps in record time, I totally impressed myself. Of course it does not take much for me to get impressed J but I surpassed my expectations. Old friendships just got stronger. The visual treat that is Meghalaya was soothing to the soul. I appreciate vegetarian fare now. I learnt from my fellow travelers and have tucked away all the little memories which will remain etched in my memory for a long time. I did not think I would miss my hideous rain poncho but I did.
So thank you WW for providing yet another memorable holiday and so much more…muahhhh!
Blog credit – Sona Kalappa