The North East is home. The tall trees, the lakes,the rivers and the people make it all the more alluring. The fact still stands that I haven’t explored as much as I should have. As embarrassed as it makes me feel, I have taken it upon myself to explore in 2017 the North East in all its entirety.
I took a good thirty days to be in northeast which included parts of Assam and Meghalaya. Guwahati was transit and brought out the party animals in us.
Every trip has its agenda and mine was to show my friend, Maryann, my part of the world. She is the one with the eye,the penchant of logic and as we are business partners now, she definitely needed to know more than being my first editor.
Guwahati is always full of too much energy. Old friends who are family now make you feel at home in the blink of an eye;the landscape of the place makes you nostalgic and the changing scene makes you proud of the achievements of the ones who you entered adulthood with. Having said that,I surprise myself every time especially with the reconnection with the old souls.
Three quick days in this crazy city and we were joined by Ryan and Tamara who were also traveling the North east for the first time and were beaming with their Kaziranga tales in the wild. Clubbed with her birthday, I now have also taken responsibility of their entertainment. Ryan’s demeanour and quite nature was the settling feeling in this quadruple. The three of us women, had an opinion on everything! Fun was inevitable.
I took a day to show them Guwahati. After many hours of chilling at the Coconut Grove (quite literally) we planned to visit the smallest inhabited island in the world, Umananda the next day; not before we went for an elaborate Assamese lunch of duck meat which is a delicacy, pigeon meat, rice, dal, aloo pitika (assamese rendition of mashed potatoes), mixed vegetables, rice pudding. We then hired an entire boat, which otherwise fits almost thirty people. Taking the boat to the island first,we were able to catch the sunset on the river Brahmaputra and make a memorable day out of it.
My friends were disappointed with the city but this did cheer them up. Food does play an important role while I travel and another scrumptious meal at Ziya, we were content and called it a night. It was Meghalaya tomorrow and Tamara’s birthday too. We met in the morning and started our seven hour journey to Mawphanlur in West Khasi Hills. A road trip to start the birthday across scenery unseen and brilliant company, I guess she did have a good one. As she kept checking the temperature continously, her laughter did give me company throughtout the way.
The sojourn was a part of a group with three more people and those were not of any match to our repertoire and enthusiasm. We reached Mawphanlur after a seven hour drive amidst fields, rolling mountains and old school rock music. What I could gather at that hour was that probably we were the only ones in the entire valley and that feeling is almost an adrenaline rush. We sat by the bonfire, drank rum, ate Khasi food, discussed bizzare stories of the supernatural at lenght before calling it a night. The temperature at that time was six degrees and cosying up in the room is the most marvellous idea ever. We awaited for the morning light with bated breath.
The valley was endless. With three lakes and infinite rolling hills,the possibility was unimaginable. I started with tea. Even though it was just 6 in the morning,the sun was warm and the view made the feeling warmer. Miles of walking and catching the village of Mawphanlur wake up to life, was definitely a brilliant way of starting the day. The rest of the morning we kayaked in the lake and took in the beauty that is Meghalaya.
Mawlyngbna was jungle life personified. The cottage in the midst of the jungle became our cosy spot immediately. As people freshened up or passed out, I built my apetite and went for a traditional meal in the tiny town. Every place you stop to eat, tingles different taste buds; Meghalaya was starting to get me ecstatic gradually.
The day of adventure finally starts today. Early morning walk to the fossil park was completely worth the sun shining bright on our heads and our capabilities of finding spots in the middle of nowhere.
Sometimes it was the crystal clear waters and sometimes the story of the hump of the camel, the walk just kept getting better. It ended with a waterfall with water so clean that it was almost a dream, as India and garbage go hand in hand almost everywhere you go.
The day had just started. A scrumptious lunch at our jungle home and we were off to canyon the river that ends in a reservoir in Um Kha Khoi.Now canyoning is something none of us had done before and everyone had their assumptions. The brief that I heard was”shoes will get wet” and “life jackets will be given” and I am easy like that to deal with. I enjoy when life surprises me and I don’t have too many qualms. Doesn’t travel mean to learning to embrace life as it comes! As pleasantly shocked as we could be, canyoning was following the stream of a river. We had to swim, slide, walk, crawl and get completely drenched just to cross the river.
With the new wave of locals who take up the responsibility of showing their vicinity to enthusiasts very seriously, we had the best of all. ‘Nomads’ https://www.facebook.com/NomadsShillong/ as they called themselves were a group of five. One was a mountain biker,the other was a cliff diver, one was a kayaker, one was a caver and one was a photographer who captured all their adventures in the most surreal way. Ours was the cliff diver and he didn’t walk; he was only running from cliffs, in meadows, on waterfalls. Literally everywhere. He was my life jacket and he did play the part specially when we were canyoning. I was hanging on to him for the love of my own life and he was so patient and helpful. Rightfully named Ialamphang, which meant Pathfinder, Phang was definitely my favourite person in the entire state.
Saturday night, we had to check out how the uber cool Khasi people party. Coincidentally, the usual DJ night which happens once every year was happening that night. As surprised as we were, the EDM beats that blared the speakers was relished by everyone equally. Kids had flocked the dance floor and chairs were laid for the elders to tap a feet. Many of them were even sitting on their porches and having their own scene. We revered their energy quotient and went back to our jungle home gearing up for camping by the river for the next day.
While traveling in groups, you should be considerate of everyone’s time. This part is tricky for some and the company we had was the worst of the lot. Three superficial pseudo from Nashik who had no sense of basic travel etiquette. One of them was the organiser and slowly we discovered that apart from Daddy’s money, he was absolutely nothing. He was studying to be a CA and gave that up to start http://www.travalong.in/ https://www.facebook.com/travalong/ and dupe vendors. It was very unprofessional of him to praise the boys about the spots they took us and the service and hospitality and then go back to not recieving calls and finding faults with the trip that was already taken.
The usage of time on a road trip is a critical . Today our schedule required us to wake up early and reach Shnongpdeng for zip lining, kayaking and camping. Thanks to our organiser, we were three hours late and couldn’t even explore the spot to our heart’s will.
Camping was the ideal way to take in the enthralling beauty of Shnongpdeng. Our tents were already pitched and we didn’t waste any more time and went for a boat ride on the Umgot river. Water so clear,we were mesmerised by everything around us. The reflection made sacred geometrical shapes and I was turning to believe in the power of the supreme. The kind boatman let us choose a spot and take in all this exuberance. As we clicked photos and followed rituals, it was quite unbelievable.
Early next morning, we left for Sohra. We were exploring the calcium cave at Mawmloh which is the fourth largest cave in Asia. With gears and the works, we crawled into the cave and head lamps had to be switched on immediately. The ropes were tied and we were human-pulleyed further inside. The walk started and it got darker and colder. Our gum boots helped us to balance and not care where we were stepping. We had to walk through water supporting ourselves against the wall, so we don’t fall into the 20 feet water hole. A seven kilometer route inside the cave and we touched the natural formation of calcium and banged our heads a million times, but the feeling of walking into the unknown terrain and walk back out with tales of the dark side was quite exciting to say the least.
On the ride back to Shillong, we were quite tired and as the breeze hit us, we parked at Pine Air Bed & Breakfast and in no time,we were home again. Owned by a local resident, it was all wooden and had the perfect vibe of a mountain home. We met James there, who was born in Shillong but was of Canadian descent. The youngest one, he moved back to Canada at age six only to immigrate to Shillong at thirty one. He got married to a Khasi lady and now three sons later, they all live in Mawphlang and own home stays around the state speaking fluent Khasi. Shillong surprises you with progressive culture and modern day thinking so nonchalantly that reasons to change for the better seeps in automatically. A morning chat with James about how important it is to choose the right individuals to let rooms to; knowing that fact as I myself own a homestay in Goa, agreed to his thought. That evening, he left us the entire place in the trust that we won’t hamper his property. We met the cafe owner Wanphai, who uses art for creative upgradation and he had some interesting things going on there. He was always creating some piece of art.
With the pseudo travelers gone, the four of us still were not done with the picturesque Meghalaya. We wanted some more of the blue sky and the rawness of this matrilineal state.
The Double Decker bridges of Nongriat are the only ones in the world. Legend is that the villagers couldn’t commute because of the river and they planted two trees on either side and days after,the trees grew into each other forming a strong bridge for villagers to commute easily. The bridge is still growing, making it a must visit for anyone who is experiencing Meghalaya.
Three thousand steps downhill crossing three mountains and three villages, Nongriat was a reminder of the marvels of nature and why we should be preserving it with all our hearts. The walk uphill was a little strenuous and our legs were hurting the next day,but it was worth all the sweat.
We spent the last day in Lumpongdeng Boathouse which was situated on an island on Umiam Lake and we had the entire island to ourselves. The brilliance of this plan was the right amount of solace before Ryan and Tamara could go back to their life in Goa.
Three days in Shillong; we did some shopping and ate some amazing food at a friends place who also took us around Police Bazaar and got us bargains of a lifetime. The Meghalaya chapter was coming to an end and Assam was waiting for us.
Guwahati again had mixed emotions. While Maryann despised the city, I tried convincing her of the joy of company. She adjusted well as she met my friends and they took charge for her entertainment. Apart from the catching up sessions at my most favourite spot, we were dancing on bro trap and downing Jaeger Bombs and Long Island Iced Teas. After parties were a way of life here and I gave in to all kinds of temptations happily.
Two days at my home town and I was elated to show her my space and also the people who makes life worthwhile. Home is synonymous with Great food and amidst duck meat, mutton, fish, the famous road side snacks and lots of tea,we were back to Guwahati to bring in a dear friends birthday before we could go back to our lives.
The last night was a perfect time in every way. The dancing and the discovery of my tune for the trip, we stayed up all night to party and the synchronisation was all I could ask before a month long of adventure came to an end. North east is home and after this journey I am more proud and more motivated to explore the beauty that is the North East and of course it’s people who win your heart, every single time.