Meghalaya

Shillonging Day 4 – Peaks and Falls

Contd from Day 1, Day 2, Day 3

Ajmal managed to be late citing tire problems as an excuse. My legs were tired too, but D seemed to be even worse off, stooping like an old woman when she walked. I laughed, but my back hurt when I did that! Breakfast was standard – paratha and omelette. The night before, Ajmal had claimed complete ignorance of where Laitlum – one of our destinations for the day – was. Though Chintu also professed no knowledge, he was kind enough to find out and draw a map for us. Google Maps helped too.

We decided to go straight to Smit, and from thereon to Laitlum. Despite the map, it was difficult to find. It was really an ‘edge of the world’ place, and though there was heavy mist, it was quite an awesome view. Unfortunately the damn mist wouldn’t allow the canyon view to pose for photos! It takes just over an hour from Shillong, so it’s really worth a trip, for the silence and awe. :) Ajmal, as usual, had no idea on where the 100 year old house in Smit was, so we had to skip that!

 

 

 

The next stop was Shillong Peak, and it had begun raining heavily again! But it cleared for a few minutes just as we reached the peak, and so we were able to catch the splendid view, though there were clouds and mist. D also got to wear the traditional Khasi costume for Rs.50. While climbing the little watchtower, D suddenly realised that she had developed a fear of steps. 😀

    

Elephant Falls was next. Appearances and sounds were deceiving, and when D realised the number of steps that it would take to reach the third level of falls, she immediately balked. The first level was easy, and I went till about the second level, but from my vantage point, didn’t see a lot of sense in going to the third. I also realised that the place seemed to be a favourite rendezvous for the young Shillong crowd, and didn’t want to disturb their, erm, best practices.

We got back to Laitumkhra after spending close to an hour in Shillong traffic! This time we were adamant about finding Sesame, and finally did! It was in a little building called Shoppers Cove near the Municipal Parking Lot in Laitumkhra! We entered the dimly lit, tiny outlet and discovered that they really didn’t serve local dishes as various stories had informed us! So Pork Chilly Mushroom and a Chicken Chopsuey it was! We then went back to the hotel, totally tired.

We were too lazy to even go out for dinner, so the plan of visiting Cloud 9 in Police Bazaar was dropped. Instead we ate waffle cone ice creams at the Baskin Robbins outlet nearby. 😀 A sweet last night in Shillong.

Day 5: On the return trip, Ajmal was supposed to stop at Barahpani, but didn’t deem it worthy enough. Instead we got to see several man made waterfalls on the road, with truckers being the major contributors. Ajmal seemed to be focused on sending us heavenwards even before the flight, and had a curious habit of accelerating on hairpin curves and places where there were boards that stated speed limits of 20-30 kmph. Have to mention here, that we found a Kerala restaurant at 9th Mile! Seemed closed though. The Guwahati airport does have a couple of options for snacks. At Kolkata we sat at our regular CCD hangout just outside the main building and killed a few hours. Indigo proved to be as 6E as it always is in terms of sticking to time.

The trip cost us around Rs.60000 inclusive of everything – tickets, hotels, meals, taxi. We went through Traveloearth, but really wouldn’t recommend them mostly courtesy Ajmal. Both White Orchid and Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort are functional and clean. The trip was worth it thanks to the day spent at Cherrapunjee,  a couple of really nice people we met – Chintu and Angela, and for visiting a place that a favourite author set her first book in – also her birthplace. I am a huge fan of Anjum Hasan‘s writing, but on Day 1, I became skeptical of her description of Shillong. However, by the end of the journey, I could completely relate to the place in “Lunatic in my head” though it is set in the 1990s. It would seem that Shillong has grown since then, but hasn’t really moved.

Shillonging Day 3 – Rooted

Contd from Day 1, Day 2….

Cherrapunjee had decided to show us why it deserved the ‘wettest place on earth’ tag. Being from Kerala, we were not really wet behind our ears when it came to heavy rains. But this was something else! Many times we saw the sky clear up, but it was like two government departments. The skies never communicated to the rains, and the latter just kept falling unabated. We wondered what we could do since the checkout time was 12. After breakfast, we cancelled the guide and the packed lunch plans, and went back to staring at the rains.

By 10.30, it had reduced to an irritating “won’t go away and won’t let you go anywhere either” level, but we decided to get out anyway. That was when Angela completely lived up to her name. Our plan was to drop the Double Decker Bridge trek plan and see the Single version, but Angela said that the path to the latter was made of stone steps, and thus more slippery, so we should attempt the former, and the longest Root Bridge and a Single Root living bridge were anyway on the way. She gave us a detailed map for us – till the point the car could go, and the longer stretch beyond. To top it, a little gift from them, and a Perk each. (we were as delighted as kids!) Then followed another example of thoughtfulness and concern when she said that we should carry plastic bags to cover our heads, and promptly gave us a few. She also advised Ajmal – no easy task – on the car route. And thus we bid adieu to the wonderful Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort.

Despite Ajmal’s best efforts, we reached the starting point of the trek. Telling him to wait there, and have a quick lunch (and come back soon) if absolutely necessary, we started out. 2500 steps, the signboard warned. Yes, we knew that when we signed up. The first 1.5 kms, Angela had told us, were the toughest, and boy, it was! Steps after steps, and steep ones at that. I gave up counting after 15. It was either my balance or the balance number I could focus on, since the steps were slippery thanks to the rain. Handrails exist for a tiny stretch much later, but at several points, you get a clear idea of how deep your final fall would be! Walking down, I remarked, was tougher, since the chances of slipping were higher. So I led the way. Staring at the map Angela had given surprisingly did not reduce the length of the trek! I wish they had some ‘you are here’ mechanism in terms of the number of steps. We finally reached the village where the right turn would take us to the longest root bridge and the left, to a single root bridge, steel rope bridge, the double decker root bridge and the end point, with natural springs. Even typing it seems exhausting! We went right and reached the longest root bridge fast enough. The mandatory photo op done, we retraced our steps, and then continued on the ‘left’ path. The cement steps feature was no longer available, and after the smooth stones threatened me a couple of times, I took my slippers in my hand and continued.

 

The steps continued to be steep, and the rain became nastier, so after several “we’ll go till the next corner and then decide” we finally decided to go back. :( Though I’d decided not to look up, I did, when I reached the village, and massively shuddered. Since I wanted to catch D in case she slipped, I erm, bravely let her take the lead. I began strongly, humming ‘how many steps must a man take before he can reach a car’, but soon had to spend more time trying to figure out when and where my next breath would come from! At one point, I even contemplated settling down in the village below, and waiting for the day a car could make its way there. D dealt with it much better. An old woman coming down said something when I smiled at her. We both understood the need for minimal communication. We successfully lost our way in the last 100m, and came upon a sight that I had come close to seeing several times in the 2.5 hours we had been trekking- God, in the form of a church. We retraced our steps and found that the great man had gone for lunch! Thankfully he deemed it fit to return soon and we asked him to take us back to the hotel. He wondered if we were talking about the Cherrapunjee one!

This was also the day that we were supposed to see the cleanest village in Asia  – Mawlynnong, but thanks to our tour operator’s excellent planning skills, it was not possible, since it was too far away! On the way back to Shillong, we also realised that the word ‘resort’ was used loosely here, and these places could actually be considered only as a last resort! Angela’s Perk was lunch! Shillong’s traffic jams reminded me of Bangalore’s worst, and we finally reached White Orchid at 5ish.

  

We asked Ajmal to come by around 6.30 since we wanted to explore Police Bazaar. That sortie turned out to be a futile one, as neither the Police Bazaar, nor its adjacent roads – GS Road, Jail Road, actually led to anything interesting.

We decided to go back to Laitumkhrah for dinner, and since the search for Sesame again proved futile, and Munchies was full, had to visit Café Shillong again. Shillong Chicken cutlets, Khao Suey and Shillong Noodles with Chilly Chicken followed. Unsurprisingly, the cutlets came after the Khao Suey (they gave us dried shrimp with it and D identified it before I killed myself again) The noodles and chilly chicken was a spicy combination, I quite liked it. We asked the restaurant manager for the directions to Sesame, and he did try to help us, with ‘look down for the signage’ and ‘near the Police Station’ being the best tips.

 

We finally returned to the hotel, knowing fully well that the next morning would be full of aches!

Shillonging Day 2 – To Cherrapunjee

Continued from Day 1

Day 2 was slightly kinder as we got up at 7.30 and had plans to start off for Cherrapunjee by about 8.30. Breakfast was paratha and omelette, served at 8. We were slightly delayed though, but set out just before 9. The journey took us through some extremely picturesque landscapes and we stifled the urge to tell Ajmal to stop the car so we could take snaps. We were secretly afraid that he might continue without us. We stopped at Duwan Sing Syiem on the way to Sohra, and then at Nohsngithiang falls before continuing to Cherrapunjee. Soon, it was easy to understand why Meghalaya is called the Scotland of the East. It has to be those endless meadows.

 

 

It was immediately after that, soon as we passed the Mawsmai caves, that Ajmal got it into his head that we had to see the Indo-Bangladesh border. Of course he had no idea where it was. So he just vaguely drove around for a few hours, despite several suggestions from us that we turn back. I have a feeling that his ancestors must have come from Bangladesh, that is the only plausible explanation for his extra bout of madness. It passed at about 11.45 and we got back to the caves. That was another bizarre experience as we splashed into the cave with another large set of tourists. Slippery as hell, the only way out was to just keep plodding ahead, amidst shrieks from kids and their parents alike. Ignoring Ajmal’s suggestions to eat at a restaurant there, we decided to proceed to our hotel, following spirited little yellow signboards along the twisty, curvy way that had some amazing views.

The Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort, about 15 kms away from the main road, is an establishment that’s totally unique. We reached just in time for for a late lunch – Pork Chilly, Chicken  Neiiong and Butter Tawa Rotis. There is something very homely about the place – the people, the large hall with the computer, common television, and photographs and handicraft items on the wall. We rested for a while in our clean and functional room. A musty smell was mostly solved by the freshener that the staff sprayed just before we got in. :) There are  costlier Executive rooms too, but we had an awesome view from our room. D went out to take snaps while I napped. Around tea time, we were given a little file on local legends, and the treks we could go for. THE thing we wanted to see was the famous double decker root bridge, unique to this part of the world. But that was for the next day.

Sipping tea, watching the sunset and a view that’s one of the best I’ve ever seen, we chatted about the resort itself. The main building had a bungalow feel to it and we wondered if it was government owned. I had become a fan of the place – the little yellow signs on the approach road, the way the staff interacted with us, the copious documentation available on various aspects about Cherrapunjee, their efforts on sustainable and inclusive tourism etc- and told D that I sensed a smart and creative mind behind this. As we strolled, an oldish gentleman stopped to chat with us. We gathered that he was in charge, and wondered if he was probably a government employee, a very amiable one at that! :) Probably an IAS officer who had chosen to skip the bureaucratic rat race? It was only a few hours later that Google pointed me to the amazing love story of Denis P Rayen, who owns the place. The love in this case for not just his Khasi wife, but for Cherrapunjee itself. :) Suddenly, everything we were seeing around us, had an explanation. I kicked myself for not recognising him from the photo in the little office room and having a longer chat, which would undoubtedly have been an interesting one! Several times on this blog, I have written about the purpose of life, I think this guy has at least gotten close to nailing it.

Meanwhile, the view progressed further on a scale of awesomeness, and even the two noisy couples (and their noisier children) couldn’t take away from our experience. It wasn’t just the view – mountains and plains and the tiny town on the hill nearby, or the lights far away slowly flickering on as the sun set, it was the entire ambiance, the spells of silence…. It was magical, and by far the best part of our trip.

 

 

(more pics)

Dinner consisted of Pork Dohkhleh (highly recommended) and a Jadoh Stem Chicken, which seemed like a regional variation of the Biryani. We also made elaborate plans for the trek the next day – a guide, packed lunch – and were guided perfectly by the staff. Sometime during the night, I was awakened by a loud noise. It was a thunderclap, Cherrapunjee had just said hello. But that’s a story for the next day.

Shillonging Day 1 – 4 states

To protest against people being unwillingly sent back to the north east, we decided to willingly go there. Actually, we had booked the tickets quite a while back. :) It had been a while since “Gang talk” happened, and since D seemed to be acquiring the taste from Zingron, we thought now was as good a time as any to go Shillonging!

Early we woke – 3.45ish – to catch the cab at 4.15 and reach the airport in time for the 6.40 AM flight to Kolkata. 6E is known to be punctual to a fault and we had no intention of taking any risks. We arrived early enough and true to form, the flight took off right on time. Kolkata airport was exactly as we remembered it, but then 2 years is hardly time enough for that phenomenon to change! We thankfully didn’t have long to wait since the connecting flight to Guwahati was just a couple of hours away. Breakfast was at Subway! Kolkata is not the kind of airport that gives you a wide array of choices, so you can probably stop smirking now!

We had been informed by the tour operators that a person would be at the Guwahati airport to collect the balance amount, and with him we would find our driver, Ajmal. We saw a person carrying a placard with D’s name. In just 5 minutes, we were able to establish, with the help of a passerby, that D was indeed the D he was waiting for, and in turn, he was reasonably sure he was Ajmal! Introductions done, we started our journey towards Shillong. From the massive bovine presence on the road, we figured out how Cowhati got its name! Lots of greenery dotted with brick kilns and markets. We seemed to have arrived just in time for one of their celebrations, which involved people trying to spit on moving vehicles, including our own. White cars were given preference – probably more points.

The person who was supposed to meet us for the payment finally met us outside town, and wished us a pleasant journey after he counted the money. We stopped to fill petrol at a station that had its own complex patterns of how differently sized vehicles should exit. Just to spice it up a bit, they also used a larger board for smaller vehicles. But Ajmal was smarter by a league, and used the entry path to exit. Ha!   In fact he was so good that we didn’t even know that we had already crossed into Meghalaya. 4 states in about 6 hours. 2x Chetan. We stopped soon at the L.C Woodland Dhaba and dug into rotis and Chicken Butter Masala, which actually turned out to be quite tasty. My friend from previous travels – the splitting headache  -announced itself immediately after. Ajmal celebrated by playing Silsila. (Hindi, not Malayalam)

We slept most of the way to Shillong, though we did wake up in time to catch the amazing scenery as we climbed. Though the journey is a 3 hr one, we took double that. Part of it was the last mile traffic jams in Shillong. That’s a story in itself! Once we crossed that hurdle, it was time for Ajmal to do his bit. Having no idea of where our hotel White Orchid was, he promptly took us to Orchid, parts of which were white in color. It was also the home of the village idiot who proclaimed that he had been living in Shillong since 1979 and there was no place named White Orchid. He played the same sentence in a loop until I said I could pay him to shut up. While he considered that, we called up the hotel. They were very helpful and gave Ajmal directions to get there. But Ajmal, whose IQ cannot be measured by petty human standards, rebelled against directions, and stopping near a petrol pump gave that as the landmark to the hotel people. The hotel staff said they would be there in a couple of minutes. In subsequent calls, he also created a fantasy world nearby which had a hospital and a bridge. I used Google Maps and urged Ajmal, but he silenced me with a glare that would have made internet watchdogs proud! Finally I made him move in the direction that Google gave me and voila, there was another petrol pump. Ajmal complained about what the world was coming to when a town could have two petrol pumps.

White Orchid was a tiny guesthouse but we were given a warm welcome by Chetan Kumar (aka Chintu bhaiyya) who would prove to be a godsend many a time in the next few days. We skipped dining there and asked for directions to one of the many places on our list – Sesame in Laitumkhrah, just over a km away. We used the most common transit form – the Rs.10/head taxi, but just couldn’t find the place. We finally settled for Cafe Shillong.

A cosy little cafe on the first floor, a few buildings after the famous Jadoh. We were the only customers though the only big table had a ‘Reserved’ sign. Tiny tables on the balcony gives you a good view of the street. From the not-so-elaborate menu, we asked for a Pork Momos with soup, and for the main course, a Shillong beef steak with mashed potato and a Chicken Bastenga. The soup was thin but flavorful and the momos, tasty, though not a match for the Delicacy ones in Bangalore. :) The Shillong beef steak was well, a beef steak in Shillong, with a tangy sauce and well cooked meat. The local rice wasn’t available for the Bastenga, so they used white rice instead. It had a spicy chutney and a very strong bamboo+other shoots flavour and smell. To wash it down, we asked for a Hot Chocolate, a reasonable drink. The bill came to about Rs.700.

 

 

We took the taxi back to Malki Point, home to White Orchid, and slept in a spartan room after watching Kung Fu Panda for a while. :)