As the Khasi Hills of the Indian state of Meghalaya merge into the plains of Bangladesh, some of the evening scenery of cold winters in Dawki are stunning. But Shnongpdeng ups the game by being more serene, more picturesque and less touristy.
Meghalaya (literally translating to ‘the abode of clouds’) is a fascinating mountain state with mysterious caves, beautiful rivers and gorgeous waterfalls. Most people would suggest a visit during the monsoons. The clouds that get trapped between the hills seem to be within one’s arm’s reach. But there are unconventional destinations that are best enjoyed in winters. Although weather may be chilly cold, the water of Umngot River stays crystal clear. It unarguably becomes the hotspot for Insta-tourists!
Dawki is about 82-85 km from either Shillong or Sohra (Cherrapunji). Hence many tourists make day trips to the place. An unfenced border between India and Bangladesh runs right through the riverside at Dawki. A huge boulder separates the territories guarded by BSF and BDR on two sides. It is a peculiar region where visitors can essentially be in two countries at once.
Borders have always fascinated me; because from that point onwards, I couldn’t travel freely to the other side. “Although we speak the same language and enjoy the same food, our passports are of different colour” – an amiable officer from across the border reflected.
Dawki, although exceptionally beautiful, has essentially become a noisy and congested mess of a town. It being a major centre of trade between the two countries, hundreds of trucks ply across the Tamabil Border. Burdened with countless shops selling groceries to meat, and innumerable hotels and restaurants along the road, Dawki wouldn’t appeal to the traveler wanting to experience something novel.
Looking forward to a destination that was pristine and alluring, we had booked our night-stay at Shnongpdeng. A guide from Sohra had introduced us to Jonathan, a young man, who would become our host for the night. Incidentally, he had come to Dawki Market to shop for vegetables and meat (for our dinner). We met him and he guided us away from this now-touristy town to a sleepier village.
The 8-km stretch of road from Dawki to Shnongpdeng was awful. But horror awaited us at the parking area. Jonathan asked us to abandon our car and descend some 50-odd steps to the village. My mother was in no mood for a “trek” in the dark, but we had to comply. While we panted as we walked down, Jonathan literally galloped ahead of us. He showed us to a bamboo cottage, which was certainly not as convenient as a hotel. I was anxious about how my mother would react to the arrangement. Surprisingly, she took a liking to the hint of a little adventure.
There are a couple of campsites in this village and barely any crowd. Beetlenut Restaurant, a little further away, is the most sophisticated restaurant in the vicinity. Food is available in shacks that double up as restaurants here. We enjoyed a cup of hot coffee in one of those places, before ordering for dinner. Non-vegetarian meal was prepared by a family of two sisters.
We ate to our heart’s content and retired into our room. While the Umngot River was hidden under an impenetrable cover of darkness, its swishing noise broke the quiet of the night. Soon, we dozed off!
Mesmerising views greeted us the next morning! It was nothing like anything we have ever seen. We found hills covered in lush green forest on the other side of the river. The riverside was filled with rocks – big and small. And the emerald-hued river glittered in the light of the Sun. The unspoiled beauty was like a page out of a Disney movie. The food-stalls were not ready with tea or breakfast yet. So we wandered around the quiet village, lazily. We checked out a beautiful Church right beside our hut. We then walked on a rickety-looking bridge across the river. Made of cane and bamboo, the bridge did not actually connect the two sides of the river; it disappeared into the shallow riverbed on the other side. We stood on the pebbles in the middle of the stream and clicked photographs. Our driver then lead us back from the other side along a very high, pedestrian suspension iron bridge. I had the fright of my life as it swayed in the wind.
I was inspired about the place by Instagram photograph of boats that seemed to float in the air. This was a curious phenomenon that could be experienced only during the months of December – January. With no rains, the river would turn impossibly clear and render the round colourful pebbles on the riverbed visible. The green of the river shone and it was accentuated by the colourful canoes that lined its shore – the view from the bridge was awesome. Tourists engage in adventure sports like kayaking, snorkelling, cliff jumping and zip lining. Since my mother wasn’t very keen, we skipped trying any of these. Stalls had started serving tea and Jadoh already. Jadoh is a Khasi cuisine prepared with rice and meat. We had tea and biscuits in the same stall where we had had dinner the previous night. A steaming cup of tea as the wind caressed our faces and ruffled our hair is perhaps the best thing that we experienced here.
We returned to our hut and packed our bags. We walked up to the parking and got into our car. As the car travelled keeping the beautiful Umngot River to the right, we bid farewell to this little piece of #GoneOffbeat paradise in Meghalaya.