11th March 2016, Friday…Day (21) Dawki-Mawlynnong-Jorabat 268 km
When I got out of the car that morning in Dawki Sun was out and most people were already up and busy in their day to day chores. Like the previous night at Cherrapunjee had wonderful sleep inside the car parked at road side in Dawki.
Dawki bazar was buzzing with activity. A number of taxis were parked on both sides of the bazar. People were seen moving hurriedly from one place to another. There was a sense of urgency in everyone’s movement.
Situated on the banks of River Umngot and West Jaintia Hills District, Meghalaya, Dawki is a border town between India and Bangladesh. Some 500 trucks loaded with coal cross the border everyday during peak season.
The border is not fenced and very friendly. River Umngot flows into Bangladesh. The invisible border line running across the river is very difficult to establish while boating. Tamabil, in Bangladesh, is just 1.5 kilometers from the border.
After a hot cup of tea and a piece of bread, I walked down the main bazar towards Umngot River observing life of the people living in the area. The woman had a role to play in all spheres of life be it doing business or any day to day activities. They looked to me to be more freer and safer than in our area. Everyone seems to be chewing betel nuts or something like that.
Suddenly I noticed a huge colorful crowd, mostly women, chuckling below on the left of the road among tall betel nut trees. It was the site of weekly tribal paan bazar. I walked down the passage and intermingled with the crowd. Everyone was looking at me with curiosity and smiled back looking at the camera in my hand.
I was walking on the suspension bridge thinking about what to do next and hoping to find a mate for the boat ride when I bumped into a youngman walking towards me. He smiled and so did I, bemused as I knew I have found the one I was thinking about.
He was Jacob, a scriptwriter from Bangaluru, hitchhiking solo, just arrived from Mawlynnong after hitchhiking and trekking in Annapurna area of Nepal. And like me he was too looking for a company to share a boat ride.
Thus finding each other, we looked for another one and found a wonderful local boatman for Rs.400-. The man did not know hindi, could still understand us and rowed the boat skillfully through the crystal clear emerald green waters of the river. Rowing below the bridge, he took us to a pebbled shore.
Jacob took the lead and showed me the way. He took off his clothes and began swimming in the cool crystal clear waters of the river. Thus inspired I too took off my clothes and jumped behind him. We enjoyed swimming for about 10-15 minutes, one of the most enjoyable moments of the trip.
I asked the boatman for another boat ride and requested Jacob to click some pictures from above the road and suspension bridge, taking advantage of newly found friendship. Jacob was kind enough to walk all the way over the bridge and clicked some memorable pictures.
I was told the waters of the river are even more clearer in winters and one can even see the bottom of the river while rowing, giving a feel as if the boats were flying over the river and not rowing.
After having memorable time boating, swimming and clicking pictures in the river, we had simple lunch from Dawki bazaar and then drove to Indo-Bangladesh border.
Of having lived most of my childhood in my native border village just 2 kilometers inside Indo-Pak border, the place did not excite me as much. The army men from our area were happy to see me drive all the way solo from Amritsar. After having some nice time with them and clicking few pictures, we drove back to Dawki bazar.
It was Friday and the hectic activity that I noticed in the morning was because there was a weekly Friday market. The people from all over the place come to buy their household requirements and merchants from far of places come to sell them. Shops and pavements are used to showcase the merchandise.
We walked through the busy bazaar on the upper side of the road observing merchandise, the sellers, the buyers and their lifestyle.
Jacob was to catch a train from Guwahati the next day and was looking for a shared taxi to Shillong/Guwahati. When he did not find one, decided to accompany me to Mawlynnong even though he was already there that morning.
Mawlynnong, a village in the East Khasi Hills district in Meghalaya, is famous as the cleanest village in Asia, the label given to it by Discover India Magazine. While going through the board above, one would imagine how much value the people of the village put on upkeep and cleanliness.
After driving for about 20 kilometers on Dawki-Shillong highway there was a 18 kilometer V turn to Mawlynnong. The road all along was quite good and passed through a beautiful countryside.
Neatness and cleanliness was quite evident as soon as we entered the village. The village had a large open compound right in the middle and we were allowed to park the car after paying a fee of Rs.50-.
Since Jacob had already stayed in the village for few days, he went to meet the family he had stayed with. I chose to have a round of the village though.
The streets, homes and everything was so neat and clean. It was hard to find any garbage whatsoever. Clean dust bins were hung everywhere. I was told cleanliness habits comes naturally to the Khasi people, in fact it is their way of life.
There were many homestays cum restaurants in the village, surprisingly they were all way overpriced. Few eateries were serving basic snacks and drinks. The village had a private tree house and after paying a fee of Rs.20- one can enjoy thrilling climb to the top of the tree and enjoy amazing views all around including Bangladesh.
The family with whom Jacob had stayed the previous two nights were very warm and welcoming. Especially the children who loved playing with Jacob and made him feel like a member of the family.
I climbed the tree house and enjoyed the thrills and mesmerising views all around. Thereafet, we drove around 8 kilometers to yet another beautiful and clean village Riwai, the site of another living root bridge and a tree house.
The living root bridge at Riwai was huge and real beauty, much bigger than the two bridges I saw in Nongriat and enroute. The surroundings were magnificent too. After walking for around 300 meters from the main parking area and paying a fee of Rs.20-, steep slippery stairs lead to the base of the bridge.
It was getting dark and I did not feel like staying in any of the villages Riwai or Mawlynnong and drove to Dawki through another route which runs along the Indo-Bangladesh border.
We reached Dawki at around 8pm evening. On the way we met BSF men from Haryana, who were surprised to see a PB number car being driven in their area.
I had a plan of driving to Jowai the next day but since Jacob was with me and was to catch a train from Guwahati the next day and since no other means of transport was available, I decided to cut short the trip and drive to Guwahati instead of Jowai.
We began from Dawki at around 9pm night. Guwahati was some 170 odd kilometers away. The road was smooth and devoid of any traffic. I, nonetheless, love driving in the night but that night I had a good company too. Jacob and I talked a lot, about many subjects, sang songs and enjoyed every bit of the drive.
Jorabat is a small town and a junction on the outskirts of Guwahati. It has some dhabas that keep open throughout night.
We reached Jorabat at around 2am morning and found a nice dhaba which keep open throughout night. I was feeling very sleepy and so was Jacob but the problem was only one of us could sleep inside the car.
We parked the car on a side of the dhaba, had a cup of tea. Jacob told me to go and sleep inside the car and that he would find something to rest and wait till the dawn……………….!!!