Within 2 ½ hours we made our way to Mawlynnong - touted as the cleanest village in Asia, on the border of Bangladesh. Of course you notice –how impeccably clean – the village is. The cement pathways and bamboo bins are common and justify the truth that Mawlynnong indeed is India’s and Asia’s cleanest village. Honestly it didn’t feel like a village at all -more like a park with flowers! They even had a bamboo cottage on top of a tree to offer a ‘view’ of Bangladesh from afar. This was my second experience of a border town with a neighboring country! We were warned not to stray close to the border area as it could be risky
We tasted local fruits here - Meghalaya has abundant flora fauna and the fruits were naturally nectar like - large red grapes, pineapples, sweet oranges, sweet blue berries - all very yummy. Some of the locals we met spoke fluent English - our driver informed us that people in this village were all literate and had a high awareness about environment. Sweet place.
Our next halt in the day was Cherrapunjee, the ever present mist continued to waft across this town making us feel like we were passing through dream like vistas. Dominated by colours green (ravines, forests) and white (the mist, the clouds, the waterfalls) – It is touted as the ‘wettest place on earth’. Soon the mist gave way to a sunny hot day with no cloud cover whatsoever! No rain either. Btw the reason Cherra receives so much rain is because the rain laden clouds travel unhindered for 100’s of kilometers before they crash into the Khasi hills. The topography (funnel like shape) captures the rain and keeps Meghalaya so lush! The sad part is once the rain water is captured- it needs to find the earth eventually –so the waters move into the stupendous looking plains of Bangladesh below - which is why we hear of floods in Bangla-land often.
The day was getting warmer, equipped with good walking shoes we had a 7-8km walk ahead. Steep steps looked daunting and I nearly turned away not sure if I would ever be able to climb back on return. With some nudging and motivation from others and even in parts had to go barefoot on the slippery granite places – I overcame my inhibition and (as much as I hate walking) with much anticipation moved ahead- almost as if something were calling out to me. Full of excitement not knowing what lay ahead, I walked onwards, sweat trickling down the forehead and back, legs quivering with the climb up and down, we heard the water from a nearby river, heart beats accelerated! Sure enough a little distance ahead stood the first of many living root bridges that dotted a hamlet deep inside the forest.
Since their discovery in the Cherrapunjee region, Living Root Bridges seem to have become quite an attraction. What a mechanism to cross a stream flowing beneath. Fichus or rubber trees are planted on both the banks, as their roots grow, they are entwined around bamboos to shape them up like a bridge. It is a very slow process taking hundred years or more but the end result is an amazingly sturdy bridge.
We were abuzz and borderline ecstatic when we saw this mammoth Living Roots Bridge. A 200 year old rubber tree whose roots had been trained to grow across the stream -gushing water underneath the bridge - as I gingerly walked over it, testing its strength!! The roots hold strong in a glorious organic network. What an experience! There are plenty of root tree bridges in this part of the world. We even saw the 'double deck' living root bridge that is unique (the only known double decker in the world - another record for India).
A tip for those who may venture into these parts at some point: Remember, there are people living here in the forests. If they can climb up and down those steps, cross the waters on this living roots bridge so can you...enjoy it, respect it and love it!
Posted by Mee at 00:19
The beauty of Meghalaya lies in its rolling mists in the valley, the undulating rivers, waterfalls, sparkling mountain streams, emerald green lakes, precipitous ravines, the massive hills, the vast expanse of skies, the deep forests – all of natures elements surrounded us, shielding us from the crazy urban jungle we had escaped from
Meghalaya is overwhelmingly beautiful, where everything is impossibly green and alive. Another thing that fascinated me were these giant group of trees standing together majestically at many places we drove past. These are called – law kyntangs- dedicated to forest spirits, along-with several monoliths (our resort had many too) that supposedly serve as memorials – are symbols of good energy.
Added to this natural magic is the culture of the state contributed by the Khasis who are a matriarchal tribe. They can be identified by their beautiful smiles and the cloth tied over their left shoulder called - jainsem- covers them from head to toe, in a graceful sweep.
With their infants tied on their backs, covered by the checkered cloth, mother and child look like a single entity. The women are independent and always busy. Drying clothes, caring for children, working around the agriculture produce, running business and shops – they are the bread earners for their families.
Lest I forget , the Khasi women do not like being photographed - they are an extremely private people. I always requested for a picture – and only some would oblige.
Gambling. You thought it is a vice? Think again - its legal in Meghalaya! And how novel is their gambling! Promoting a sport and motivating the archer! Wow! Lottery by archery - dozens of archers form an arc and shoot at a haystack for 4 exact minutes. The number of arrows is counted and the last 2 digits are announced. Bets are placed daily on what the day’s number may be. One could bet as little as 1buck which could earn 8bucks in turn, if you are a good guesser. There is no upper limit so bets can go as high as the individual demands. We placed moderate bets for the thrill and infectious banter, on the last day, but did not hit no jack pot
Days were merging and gliding into an amorphous state of time – we lost sight of the calendar, nearly missed the date of our flight as we were badly mixed up on the days and dates! Sometimes it felt like my o-my-God have we over estimated the time we need to spend here, and sometimes it felt we had very little time and needed to extract every bit from this vacation:)
Posted by Mee at 21:41
We were excited and nervous about Ri Kynjai: the resort where we were booked for the next many days. (a) We didn’t know anyone who had been to this resort or even the state of Meghalaya! (barring one colleague who absolutely loved Meghalaya) (b) Were very nervous about the service and expectations at the resort if the online reviews were anything to go by. On the other hand we were very excited and looking forward to being far away from the city chaos, in mysterious Meghalaya which is also known as Scotland of India – in the lap of cool climes.
Ri Kynjai, the resort which was to be our home away from home, was delightful! Serenity by the Lake - ‘idyllic’. Once we were shown into our cottage we were left alone to enjoy our haven! Ensconced in the beautiful large cottage, sitting out in the spacious balcony overlooking the lake Umiam (also known as Bara Paani) – watching clouds gather, I wished for rains. As if on cue a light rainfall seeped through gently from the clouds at first, soon the sky darkened, and serious unabashed rains took over the evening. We were happy to be bound indoors, enjoying the glorious new experience- the feeling is indescribable –almost spiritual – a peace, calm and stillness had taken over.
BY nightfall we stepped out for dinner to a rain drenched earth. Windows rolled down, moon light in the sky, the air cold, crisp and refreshing! With anticipation we headed towards Centre Point Cloud 9 (central market area of Shillong)
To our delight the 60year old maverick musician Lou Majaw (who is to Meghalaya what Madonna is to America) was in the house and that evening cannot ever be wiped out of our memories. What energy! Not for nothing is Shillong known as the rock capital of the country. Many International and homegrown bands perform here and we now understand why : )
Over the next many days we experienced delightful places. Lady Hydari Park was pretty, Ward Lake was blooming with vivacious colorful flowers, we even spent some time sitting on the well manicured gardens and sipping coffee. Joyous! Cannot remember the last time I must have sat in a park like this in Mumbai- hang on do we even have such parks in Mumbai?!:)
The Elephant Falls were touted as one of ‘the sights’ in Meghalaya! We reached there to realize they were small trickles flowing through ridges, but marketed well by Meghalay- after all tourism makes the world go round! We folks living a tired life in the urban jungles are never mindful or ever appreciative of our natural surroundings. Its people living away from the humdrum of city life who take delight even in the smallest waterfalls ( this was’nt like an ‘o-my god-sight’) they have amidst themselves – but it is most definitely was a tourist spot! Small streams accumulate at the pinnacle of the hill and come trickling down the terrain to rebound again, only to cover a short distance and once again leap into a daunting gorge. It is a natural pandemonium that one witnesses – and the joyous part for me was the surrounding basin sheltered by the sky like green vegetation providing a perfect backdrop to this enchanting picnic spot.
One of the other disappointing views which was touted hugely by the locals was at Lire Kor – a beautiful winding long drive to reach the highest point of Shillong. One gets practically the whole view of Shillong city from here. It was a dump a far as I was concerned. Filled with tourists, buses, cabs etc- if you are looking for serene alone time then please stop short of this touted view. Because the view from many parts of this drive- affords one the whole of Shillong city- panoramic, pretty, nestled in the mountains-minus the crowds.
Shillong the city was a slight surprise by day time. A hill town, with narrow winding roads meeting big city with its buses, choked traffic and teeming office goers. We were delightfully surprised to realize it is a big centre for education (boasts of IIT & IIM) –but the traffic jams are so so so not pleasant! There is no way of avoiding the jams as there is just one road to cut thru to go in and out of the city.
Evenings would see us soaking in the golden sky from our perched balcony above the Umiam lake - bird calls resounded in the natural amphitheatre while butterflies fluttered here and there. We’d be transported to Alice in wonder land; completely lost in our own world once again.
One post is simply not enough to speak on Meghalaya- so the next one coming up soon I promise.
Posted by Mee at 04:02
From Darjeeling early morning 345am drove to Bagdodra and boarded a flight to Guwahati 830am and were en route to Kaziranga by road thereon. The onwards drive was like a thriller movie, clutching the edge of our seats, we were a mass of jangled nerves free wheeling down the highway at break neck speed. We even had a couple of near misses with stray dogs and hens and a cow. Nobody drives peacefully here- I mean where is the fire?! And if this was not enough to scream the car driver kept receiving calls from some persistent boss of his till finally we barred him to answer his mobile, which made him very upset with us. He drove even more faster now! But talking on the mobile and driving through winding ghats was non negotiable. We reached the national park by 430pm, ate some food and explored the park by jeep – in the evening safari. We were safe and secure (in one piece) in Rhino country!
Once inside the reserve we had a good up close look at the Indian one horned rhinos growing healthily in numbers here. Poaching tho continues to be a problem as rhino horn is much sought after in the far east of India, where organized gangs go to great lengths to try and kill for loot.
Our safari driver educated us on the rhino – when a rhino opens its mouth wide enough- it can fit a 4 foot tall child inside! These are aggressive ill tempered towards humans and before the start of the safari we were sensitized to jungle etiquette! The rhinos teeth are 20inches tall! And they use it for tearing apart the enemy; In the distance far away from where we were parked on a lonely trail, we could see a couple of rhinos roaring and lunging at each other- to understand from our safari driver- that was a battle amongst the kin for food- they had a new kill which they needed to divide amongst themselves.
Exhausted from the long journey of the morning we camped the night at Dhansiri Eco owned by Gautam Saikia, the wildlife film maker. His place is in the midst of nowhere (especially by night) - complete wilderness! Solitude took on a new meaning in these surroundings. Moonlit sky and stars, not a vehicle or house in sight, a clear quiet night, with night creatures whirring and nothing much else! Fatigue gave way to dreamless sleep.
The next morning safari we saw a variety of wildlife - wild buffalo, magnificent swamp deer, hog deer, wild boar, hollock gibbon even langurs. No luck with the tigers- we were told not to expect any sightings either as they reside deep in the center of this jungle. We all joked a tiger could always turn up wherever we are – and mentally I did a quick knock on wood, crossed my fingers and had a side chat with God and told him I was joking! :)
This morning experience was one that will live with us forever. We had opted to go via the nearby reserve Nameri National Park and it is here we had a a close shave with a herd of elephants. And to think I was praying to be saved from the tiger! The herd was barely few feet away from our jeep- snorting and blowing lose dust around themselves- having sensed us. Not only were they warning us of their presence, they were fiercely protective of their little baby elephants whom they immediately drew to their inner circle so that they wouldn’t wander away. The safari driver hissed under his breathe to hold still- we all stopped breathing! After an eye to eye battle the gigantic elephants must have realized our knees were knocking and we were about to collapse with fear, they moved past us allowing a rush of air to our lungs!
Back at the Eco camp bound by the misty blue hills of Barail and Karbi Anglong to the south, it was relaxation time – time to mull over the force of nature and the raw power of animals in the wild.
Posted by Mee at 23:35