8th March 2016, Tuesday…Day (18) Shillong to Nongriat 78 km
Never seen this ever before.
It was 5am morning and the Police Bazar Shillong was abuzz with full throttle activity. Good looking Meghalaya women and men were up with their stalls serving hot tea, coffee both with veg and non veg snacks. Surprisingly paan and betel nut seller were up as well.
I slept like a baby inside the car that night. The morning scenes outside the Police bazar were a pleasant surprise and so were the clean and non stinking public toilets. Whatever time I have spent in Meghalaya, I noticed that the people of the state are very orderly, fun loving and gentle.
Meghalaya, the abode of clouds, the land of Garo, Khasi and Jaintia hills, bordering Bangladesh is one of the smallest states in India and with over 70% forest cover, it is the wettest state in India. English is the official language of the state.
After freshening up and a cup of hot tea I set off for Cherrapunjee. On the way I saw a Sikh gentleman waving for lift. He was in hurry and was to reach a Gurudwara for his voluntary duties.
The Gurudwara was little off the main road, dropped the man at the gate and returned back on the main road. It was good to know that a sizable sikh community was settled in Shillong.
The road from Shillong to Cherrapunjee was amazing. Nice two lane road, properly marked, mist and greenery, wonderful clean homes, villages, churches all around, surely it was one of the best drives I have ever had.
It was still 8am when I reached Duwan Sing Syiem Viewpoint. There was a restaurant and a shopping complex right after crossing a bridge. No one was at the place, the boys at the restaurant were still in the process of opening the restaurant. Tea and few snacks were available though.
Pretty soon taxis and private started stopping at the viewpoint and the place started looking like a popular touristy point. Majority of tourists were from neighbouring West Bengal and Nepal.
A series of steps drop down to a visitor’s platform from where one can see the beautiful Mawkdok Dympep Valley. The V shaped views were vast, breathtaking and engulfed in mist. Zip Lining was yet another attraction over here.
Safi helped me in dressing like a Khasi warrior and clicked many pictures. I think she charged just Rs.50- for this and also served me a complimentary cup of tea, such a nice little girl.
The road, landscape and the drive became even better after the Duwan Sing Syiem Viewpoint. It was like a dream. Never in my wildest of dreams had I ever thought that one day I would be driving solo on this amazing strip.
Wah Kaba falls was right on the highway. There was nice and spacious parking cum viewpoint, besides a small restaurant and traditional dresses shop. I paid a parking fee of Rs.20- and walked down a series of well paved stairs right at the top of the falls.
Although the falls were not as spectacular as one would wish yet the surroundings were just amazing and resembled like a canion. The best time to see the falls in Cherrapunjee is in the rainy season. The entire area is rainfed and hence the glory of the falls depend on the rainfall.
Cherrapunjee, historically known as Sohra, situated at an average altitude of around 4900 ft ASL and on a plateau overlooking the plains of Bangladesh, is a town in the state of Meghalaya. The place is famous as the wettest place on Earth, however, the record is currently being held by another town of Meghalaya, the neighbouring, Mawsynram.
Cherrapunjee gets rains for eight months a year from March to October and surprisingly, most of the rain occurs in the morning hours. Despite perennial rainfall, Cherrapunji faces an acute water shortage and the inhabitants often have to trek very long distances to obtain potable water.
Most people living in the area are Khasis and follow matrilineal culture. After wedding, the husband of the youngest daughter goes to live with his wife’s family, who own the property of the family, while others live on their own getting a bit of the share. The children take on the surname of the mother.
Cherrapunji is also famous for its living root bridges. Centuries ago the people in Cherrapunji have developed techniques for growing roots of trees into large bridges. The process takes 10–15 years and the bridges typically last hundreds of years, the oldest ones in use being over 500 years old.
After exploring Cherrapunjee town a little, drove 12-15 kilometers further and reached village Tyrna, the starting point for trek to Nongriat, the village famous for two living root bridges, one being a double decker. There was a wide area just before the beginning of cemented stairs, which I was told was the parking place for vehicles.
A young boy and woman at the place told me to pay parking fee of Rs.40- and leave the car at the spot which was safe and everyone does it. They also told me that Nongriat has sufficient night staying and eating facilities.
Meanwhile I saw two boys climbing up the stairs. They were huffing and puffing, out of breath and looked too tired. Narrating more in gestures than in words, they told me that the trek was too tiring but well worth it and that there were some staying facilities at Nongriat and being solo, I would sure get one.
Thus assured, I paid parking fee of Rs.40-, covered the Lalpari with car cover, placed a brick on the cover so that it did not blow away, had cup of tea from Bro’s N Sis’s shop and off I go down the 3500 or 3 kilometer stairs to the double decker living root bridge.
It was 4pm afternoon and what I gathered from everyone, it was going to be tough. Mainly because I was solo and at 53 found climbing the mountains very hard during last few attempts. Furthermore these being steep cemented stairs, surely would take a toll on my knees.
Since evening was setting in and I was not very sure of whether I would be able to charge my camera batteries at Nongriat, I used the camera sparingly and focussed more on steady progress. Enroute I met many tiring fellow travellers climbing the stairs, confirmed the worth of the effort.
Although it was jungle all around and at times the surrounding became little scary for the solo traveller yet I noticed the people in the village enroute were living in good conditions. There was a church, electricity and phone connectivity available in the village. Not many locals I met on the way, knew Hindi or English.
The stairs for a kilometer or so till the first village, which has the longish single living root bridge, descended steeply. Another kilometers or so lead to a hanging iron bridge, the path thereafter was little flatter and after crossing 2-3 scary looking bridges over partially dried up rivers and forest, ascends steeply before ending at Nongriat.
When I reached quant little village Nongriat tucked deep into the forest at 6pm after walking solo for over 2 hours, I was totally exhausted. My legs were trembling with fatigue and was barely able to walk. Darkness was setting in. The first guest house that I reached (Serene homestay) was full with the visitors. I was told the place was packed and that I should try another one near the double decker bridge.
The man at the other place, the community rest house told me that the place was fully packed, however, he would accommodate me in the common room and would provide a coat, a bedding and food. It was enough for me.
The rest house had very interesting group of people that night. It included a French couple, a Canadian young man, an Irish lady, an Englishman and a man from Israel. Besides me, we had yet another traveller from India, Arijit from Shimla, travelling solo on a low budget using public transport.
Evening was spent having lively discussion on various travelling places, means of travel and lots of stories and experiences. Me and Arijit went out, sat in the open listening to the orchestra of insects oozing out of the forest while discussing all kind of things including politics, travel and living…………!!!