Day1: An early morning IndiGo flight was all set to take me to My dreamland. Scared like a kid, till 11th hour, i was unsure about travelling alone by flight that too to an area like Assam which was so Latin-Greek to me. Leaving this tension back in Mumbai, i finally took off for Guwahati! After a two hour flight via Kolkata, with the view of mighty Brahmaputra running along the aircraft's path, the flight landed safely at Guwahati Borjhar's Lokapriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport! Wow! So I was finally here.... As searched on the internet for so many days, Guwahati's Paltan Bazar was where I was supposed to get most number of budget hotels options, markets as well as best transport options to take me around. As i reached the fairly clean arrival terminal of the airport, I rushed towards the prepaid taxi counter and booked myself a cab till Paltan bazaar in the heart of the city around 20 kilometers away from the airport. I hopped into one of the many taxis waiting in the taxi stand and started a friendly conversation with the taxi driver. His name was Manoj and he agreed to take me to a few hotels in the Paltan bazaar and see whichever suits my budget. I was gonna roam around in the city all day so i was looking for more of a lodgish accomodation where i could just dump my stuff and start exploring Guwahati. Sarai lodge in the main Paltan bazar chowk priced at 600 rupees/day turned out to be the best and cheapest option with good ventilated and clean rooms with TV. In the meanwhile I told Manoj to show me around the city and take me to all the tourist places the day after. He agreed to charge me 700 for the same and left for the day!.. An empty evening provoked me to get out on the streets and walk down the roads and discover this city aptly called the ' Gateway to Northeast India'.. Guwahati has similar types of cycle rickshaws like in Delhi..Sat in one of them and asked him to take me to the ghats on Brahmaputra river. After 10 minutes of ride, he dropped me in front of this small temple called Shukleshwar temple near Fancy bazaar riverfront for mere 10 bucks. I did darshan in the temple and prayed for a safe and enjoyable study tour. After the temple it was time for a quick stroll around the Brahmaputra (regarded as the only male river in India) Only a few footsteps away i saw a similar crowd of the people who call for Your attension to sell u tickets for ferry rides at Mumbai's Gateway of India! Whoa! So Guwahati had this one as well..I was completely taken by surprize. This ferry ride (or cruise ride as is called here) costing about hudred bucks takes you for a 45 minutes ride in the middle of Brahmaputra to show sun setting across this 4 kilometer wide river in Guwahati. With the clean waters of this holy river, sweet Assamese music running in the background and romancing innocent couples around, this one by far remains the best sunset I have ever 'experienced'! Day2: As punctual as he was about the timing, Manoj turned up in the hotel reception to tell me that he was waiting with his taxi to show me around his beautiful city!... Without having to tell him, he straight away first took me to 'Shrimanta Shankardev Kalakshetra' one of my most important casestudies. In year 1986, Govt of Assam decided to set up a complex to serve as a centre of activities in the field of dance, drama, music, fine-arts, literature etc. with a view to preserve and promote the cultural heritage of the people of Assam. In the same year, a tentative plan for the cultural complex was prepared and later, named as ‘Srimanta Sankaradeva Kalakshetra’ and its foundation was laid on 2nd Feb. 1988. This very beautiful and extremely well maintained complex, along with a cultural museum has portrait galleries, audio recording studios, art studios, galleries on the danceforms of Northeast, a children's park, a doll museum, an amphitheater for outdoor performances and sculptures and life sized models of tribal huts scattered all around the complex. From cultural importance to religious importance, next destination was without a doubt, Assam's most famous landmark- one of the 51 shaktipeeths of mother goddess- the Kamakhya temple. Perched on Nilachal hill, 8 km east of Guwahati, this temple is one of India's most important pilgrimage destination. As the legend says, the burnt body parts of Goddess Sati- the first wife of Shiva- fell to the earth. Each of which have now been sanctified by major temples. This very temple marks the place where her vagina fell, and is therefore believed to have special powers associated with energy and creation. Even today an important center of Tantric activities, the animal sacrifices and scarily creepy tantric babas wearing black robes all around, this place might scare the shit out of a weak hearted. With an equal amount of horror after i was being started in the eyes by a baba with big eyes filled with kohl, i rushed out of this 17th century beehive shaped temple! Today's last place was the Umananda temple on the peacock island in the middle of Brahmaputra. (We decided to see the rest of the places tomorrow on the way and after coming back from Palasbari- where i had my site for the thesis of cultural complex that i had taken) I hired a small boat all for myself for 150 bucks return (shared seats for 20 bucks also available), and headed to this temple located enchantingly on the lush green peacock island. Unlike most other religious places, this less crowded and serene holy island gives such immense peace of mind and tranquility much needed to a pilgrim. The island filled with langur monkeys is an amazing place to stand and watch the deceptively slow Brahmaputra river with swift undercurrents.
Day3: Morning 9ish after a quickbreakfast, me and Manoj left for Palasbari- a small village- culturally important for the local Assamese for the annual Durga puja festival held here. This village is located another 20 kilometers ahead of the airport along the banks of Brahmaputra. Even though this one isn’t exactly a tourist place, a drive away from the hustle bustle of the city through the greenery and along the Brahmaputra river would satisfy any nature lovers thirst! On the way back Manoj took me to see the remaining places left to see in Guwahati, first of which was the Basistha ashram- 12 km southeast of Guwahati. It stands on a pretty spot that marks the confluence of 3 streams with a waterfall and groves of trees around it. This is said to be the site of the ashram of sage Vashistha- a famous character in Ramayana. Next was the Assam state museum- the largest in Northeast which was gonna provide me a lot of useful info about the tribes and their culture for my thesis report write up. The museum which is just east of the railway station, has fine reconstruction of tribal villages and a comprehensive collection of local handicrafts and a gallery of medieval stone and bronze sculptures which were excavated from Ambari- an archaeological site in the heart of the city. This state museum has the best collection of tribal wares, sculptures, musical instruments, cane work, jewellery, masks etc etc. After visiting the science centre which had nothing that I had not seen in the numerous science centres that I had already visited in many cities, I had a quiet stroll around Guwahati’s Ambari area for some handicrafts shopping in the Govt emporia in this area followed by a walk in Dighali Pukhari Lake Close by.
Day4: Today's plan was to move to Shillong- the capital of tiny Meghalaya. This was the first time i was really really really excited about going to any place. Guwahati with its closeness to mainland India, Hindu majority and fairly spoken Hindi hadn't exactly made me feel out of the place but Shillong i knew was surely gonna do the honours! A mix of tribal population, tiptop young boyz and girls, fiery footballers in this so called Rock music capital of India was exciting me so much -as much it was scaring me. A 200 rupees/head share taxi from Guwahati's paltan bazaar continuously keep moving to Shillong during mornings. One of these 2 hour drive along mist shrouded hills, pine forests, pineapple plantations, lakes and waterfalls finally got me to Shillong's prime area- the Police bazar. (ofcourse after a tea break in Nong-poh- administrative centre of Meghalaya's Ri-Bhoi district- famous for its various pickles including pineapple, amla and bamboo shoot) Now again the real task started! The task of searching for a good hotel! Waise toh I had spoken to one of the hotels in Shillong from Mumbai itself but didnt really expect them to reserve a room for me just on the telephonic conversation. After checking out 2-3 hotels coincidentally i landed up in the same hotel that i had had talks with regarding booking a single room and voila! they really had a special single room booked for me! I was so happy and also glad coz the hotel owner was a nice sardar old man belonging to Mumbai who after retirement settled in Shillong and ran his hotel business. (hotel embassy, AC Lane, Police bazaar, Shillong-793001 phone number 09774150093) After settling down and freshning up, i left the room to get some fresh air in this foreign looking Indian city! With almost a full day in hand i made a random 11th hour decision to hire a cab and go on a city tour. Thankfully getting a city cab wasnt difficult at all. For 500 bucks, a cabbie agreed to show me the city the first point being the Shillong peak- the highest point in Meghalaya named after Khasi deity- Ushyllong. Shillong peak with its 1964m (6447 ft) height, offers an amazing view of this beautiful town which still retains its distinctly colonial ambience along with its countryside charm. Some pineapple eating from the local khasi vendors is a must do at Shillong peak! After Shillong peak, next was the turn of Shillong's most famous watrefalls- the elephant waterfalls 11km south of Shillong. These falls flowing over ferns and rocks in 3 tiers are the most famous and beautiful landmarks of Shillong. After roaming around the falls for an hour, and after clicking hundreds of pictures, i saw a stall where the local Khasis were charging a few bucks for dressing up people in their local ethnic costumes and taking photographs to take the memories back home...so i tried this one! Surely have never looked so awful in life! But its fun :D Only a few kilometers on the way back from Elephant falls was the airforce museum. Shillong was earlier the capital of Assam before its Khasi, Garo and Jaintiya hills together achieved statehood under a common name- Meghalaya. Hence Shillong has always been a stronghold of army and air force also considering its proximity with Bangladesh and other international borders. While roaming anywhere in the city, it keeps reminding one of the place being an important army cantonment in the region. The airforce museum has come good collection of war archives, letters, photographs etc. also in its open front yard, it houses few of the models of weapons used during the past wars. Another landmark of Shillong is its 18 hole golf course spread over a huge area. Every corner of this picturesque golf course offers amazing frames to the eye of any photographer. The lush green golf course and narrow winding tar roads justify the why Shillong is aptly called the scotaland of the east. Next was the Shillong state museum which is very close to imposing blue coloured Shillong cathedral- one of the most beautiful areas in Shillong. State museum here is a much smaller version of state museum in Guwahati which mostly revolves only around the lifestyle, customs and culture of Khasi, Garo, Jaintiya and Hajong tribes of Meghalaya. Along with jewelry, equipment, weapons and clothes used by the local tribes, the museum also displays some scenes of day to day life recreated in its glass shelves. After a 15 minutes drive in Shillong's narrowest bylanes, we reached the 'Don Bosco museum of entomology' in Shillong's Mawlai suburb. A fullfledge museum totally dedicated to the tribes of North-east! It has a gallery for musical instruments, gallery of people, gallery of clothes etc etc. People's gallery is the most unique gallery found in this museum which exhibits lifesized models as well as busts of people of different Northeastren tribes like Rabha, hajong, Tripuri, Lushai, Chakesang, Konyak, Adi, Monpa, Nishi, Sherdukpen, Kuki etc etc. It shows how every tribe's physical and facial features differ from eachother even thou all Northeastren people look similar to a mainland Indian's eyes. After enlightening myself, i reached the topmost floor of the museum which is an AV room which showcases special AV shows made for the visitors to take them through a quick journey of Northeast and its glimses. Ground floor of the museum has a souvineer shop which sells CD's and plethora of books produced by its inhouse production written by scholars on different tribes of Northeast. Fore more information visit http://www.dbcic.org/images/DON%20BOSCO%20Museum%20Brochure.pdf Close to Mawlai off the Guwahati road is the spot which offers a clear and unobstructed view of Beadon and Bishop falls 100's of meters away. Lady Hydari park which also houses Shillong's mini deer park is situated just next to the heart of Shillong city - the Ward's lake. Hydari park is a ticketed small maintained garden but having seen many similar gardens in Mumbai and Delhi, it didnt have anything to attract someone who has seen good enough number of gardens in his entire life except for the deers and various species of orchids planted here. After coming out of the park, i couldnt wait to have a boat ride in the Ward's lake. Just when i entered the lake area, i couldnt help fall in love with it! Everything so very exotic! The people, the landscaping, the surroundings! And the musical fountains in the middle of the lake were playing English rock songs! The whole environment felt so romantic! sighs..only if i had someone along..... After having a half an hour ride and after feeding popcorn to the ducks in the lake, and of course after promising myself to come again to the lake befrore i go back, i left for police bazaar.. A stroll in this bustling bazaar is the best thing to do when in Shillong. Now one of my favourite markets, it has everything to offer every type of person. From the bangcock imported goods, young Khasi ladies selling exotic orchid plants, imported wines to tour operators and amazing roadside food. Dilli Mishtann just at the starting of Police bazaar is a must must must visit place in Shillong for its Chhole Bhature and jalebis. Just a kilometer's walk from Police bazaar takes one to the Bara bazaar which is Shillong's all women's market which come from allover Meghalaya to sell their stuff from pickles to spices, from saplings to flowers. Bara bazaar also has a flea market held on an around a pedestrian bridge which is locally called Burmese market. Later booked myself a ticket at Meghalaya tourism devlopment corporation's office for a Shillong- Cherrapunji- Shillong day trip for the next day and had tasty sizzler in one of the restaurants in police bazaar and then settled in the hotel room for the day.
Day5: According to the plan, all the passangers were supposed to congregate outside Tourism dev. corporation's office at 9 am, and so was everyone. Next moment a mini bus stood in front of us to take us to this would be memorable journey to the rainiest place on earth- Cherrapunji! As the bus started, a beautiful girl- Mary- in her early 20's introduced herself as our guide for the day! After a quick introduction of all the passangers with eachother, Mary started telling us about Meghalaya, Shillong, Khasis and their customs. With her beautiful smile, she made sure noone would get bored even for a fraction of second. As we came out of Shilliong, the road started winding around the beautiful but shallow valleys of pine forests of the Khasi hills and then happened the best thing that could happen at that particular time....it started drizzling! Here i was experiencing rain in Cherrapunji! Wow! After about an hour's bus ride, we reached our first point which was the Duwansyngh Syiem point 15 kilometers before Cherrapunji which offers an amazing view of lush green hills of Cherrapunji. As Cherrapunji started approaching near, the roads started occupying themselves with thick cover of fog and mist, something of this kind which i was seeing for the first time from so close! An experience that i will fail to put in words. Another half an hour ride through hamlets of weirdly long names (sounding like random alphabets stacked together), many sacred Khasi monoliths and n number of churches, we finally reached Cherrapunji's Ramakrishna mission school. One of its kind, the school is located in one of the most beautiful parts of this small town, with deep down valleys surrounding it on the rear side. School has a massive playground done with beautiful rose and orchid plantations overlooking the valley. A small museum is opened for visitors on its first floor showcasing the local culture. What one will surely spot while on a visit to this school are the local kids selling cinamom packets running behind the visitors. Even thou its a matter of choice, the cinamom tastes too bland for the spicy tongue of the mainland Indians hence certainly unsuitable! Next point where our bus stopped were the extremely beautiful - Nohkalikai falls, named after a mother who commited suicide from the same place when she realised her step husband killed and cooked her baby for food after she consumed it without knowing about it.. These are the second highest waterfalls in India. Afternoon after 12 is the best time to view these waterfalls as 50 percent of the times, the whole area is covered in thick fog which makes the falls completely invisible to the naked eyes. A few kilometers away was the Mot-trob. A huge huge really huge monolith rock considered sacred by the local Khasis. This incredible rock with its massive size is surely a natural wonder worth a visit. Just across the rock a few miles away, one can see a view of Bangladesh border demarcated naturally by many rivulets flowing in the area. From mot-trob, the bus went to Cherrapunji's eco park. An artificial park developed overlooking valleys which is the starting point of many waterfalls including 'missing waterfalls' which runs under the park surface and jumps down into the deep valleys. Eco park which also has a small resort for overnight stays, offers a panoramic view of the surrounding pine and oak forests and thousands of small water streams and falls carving their way down hills till they meet river waters. On the way to and fro seen are the Seven sisters watrefalls also called Nohsngithiang falls named after the seven northeastern states of India. Again you need to be really lucky to spot these seven falls clearly through Cherrapunji's thick clouds. Next and the second last location was the Mawsmai limestone caves- one of the many found in this area. A walk..sometimes a crawl...even some creeping along the ups and downs and narrow mouths of the slippery limestone cave is nothing less than a mini adventure. At this point i was so glad i made it to Cherrapunji coz this place just in 3-4 hours gave me some of the most beautiful experiences and moments of this trip. Wondered what more this 'soon to end' trip had to offer me. This afternoon halt at caves also had our lunch break included. With no proper Indian food available around (even if it was i doubt if i dared to eat shahi paneer made by a khasi lady pewwk) other than maggi, I decided to settle on some local khasi meal which included chicken curry with eggs, dal and lots and lots and more and even more of rice!! Pretty tasty i must say! Our last destination today was the Thangkhrang park..the most beautiful in Cherrapunji. This park faces many of the important waterfalls in the area including the earlier spotted Nohkalikai falls. This extremely clean and out of the world park has a mini orchid nursery which grows Orchids to exhibit to the visitors. I was lucky enough to see a few of the species blooming in their pots. Following this visit to Thangkhrang park, we were done with all the point in Cherrapunji hence started our journey back to Shillong. After an hour or two, our bus dropped us at Police bazaar. It was just 5pm and pretty much sunny. After saying goodbye to everyone and Mary, I started walking towards the Ward's lake. Adjacent to the lake on the other side is Shillong's almost abandoned Botanical park. Had a quick walk in the park with almost no one around eating the so very sweet pineapples of Shillong and headed towards the hotel thinking how this beautiful trip so quickly came to an end as i had my flight back to Mumbai lined up day after tomorrow's early morning.
Day6: Today I had to bid adieu to Shillong and Meghalaya to go back to Guwahati so that i could catch the very early morning flight back to Mumbai. Hail No! Not so easily! The cabbie that showed me Shillong proposed to me to take me to and back from Mawsynram latest by afternoon. Mawsynram as described by him was far far more beautiful than Cherrapunji and completely unspoilt as hardly anyone even bothers to hire a special cab and go all the way to see nothing but just nature! Because of the pre trip research that i had had, I obviously knew what and where exactly Mawsynram was.. Mawsynram today is considered the wettest place on earth after it recently year after year broke Cherrapunji's record of havingg highest rainfall. Even thou a stone's throw away distance from Cherrapunji but still divided by deep valleys, both these places have completely different approach roads from Shillong and hence become impossible to be covered together in one day. A 60 kilometer taxi drive got me to this enchanting place called Mawsynram! Really this place had an unmatched beauty. Nothing like ever seen before. Not even in Cherrapunji. After entering Mawsynram, the driver stopped the taxi at this breathtakingly beautiful waterfall. Its origin so high that it was not traceable to my eyes and whatever i could see also simply refused to fit into one frame!..Simply marvelous.... As told by the driver, the main attraction (for those handful who manage to come to Mawsynram) is the naturally formed Shivlinga and Gomukha (which appears to be offering abhishek to the lingam) inside a limestone cave called Mawjymbuin cave. As my driver had told me about the cave and the lingam in advance, i had given him some money to get some milk, flowers, water and incense sticks along with required pooja saman, since as mentioned by him, aroudn atleast 20 km of the radius of the cave, there is not a single shop not even a roadside stall. the naturally formed Shivalinga and Gomukha inside the Mawjymbuin cave After performing the pooja and abhishek and clicking pictures of this enigmatic natural formation, we started our journey back to Shillong. As scheduled, my cabbie dropped me till the police bazaar taxi stand from where i cought a shared cab back to Guwahati. Day6: Back to Mumbai! Wow! What a trip!
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