I have grown a lot as a traveler. With every trip of mine I try not to create the same nuisance I had previously been despised for, by my fellow co-travelers. Be it cutting down on my sleeping hours as I used to miss the most fascinating sights on the way, crying for food or water after every dozen milestone passes or simply flooding the waste bags with my frequent throw ups. To just give you an idea of how much nauseated I used to get, my parents carried extra newspapers in case the bagsful of polythene packets weren’t just enough.
Talking of queasiness, I remember this Shillong trip of mine. God! I was like, just hit by a 100 degree farenhite fever last night, every chance of it to be a viral and so not ready for a 3 hour long snake-road trip. I was with my College friends, most of us on a pursuit to wash of every post-midsem woes off our minds. We had no idea how excruciating yet exciting the trip would turn out to be.
This was my 2nd visit to the Scotland of North-East- Shillong. Last time I was here with my parents when I was just a kid. But the freedom of being with your friends, gives you a much blither outlook to explore fresh dimensions and discover forbidden territories. It’s strange because each time, I have had some pleasant surprises in store for me, in the form of new places to visit, striking weather variations or simply out of the ordinary experiences that I can narrate for hours together.
Shillong is a mere hill station in the North-Eastern state of Meghalaya- or Home of the clouds, for those who have just read about it in books and encyclopedias. But the people who have lived here for years, the ones who make their contribution to its development and upbringing, who share the gentle breeze coming from the hills of Khasi and Jaintia with 3,00,000 other residents, for them Shillong is no less than a paradise. 200 years ago this place was nothing more than hills, valleys, forests and oodles of clouds hovering above. Very few could have thought that someday in future it’ll home one-third population of the North-Eastern India. The beautiful city is a craftsman’s delight, with the hills being precisely cut, chiseled and designed to perfection. Who said Switzerland is in Europe?
The most tiring part is the journey to Shillong. It’s a strenuous 3 hour drive from Guwahati even though the 1st milestone in Assam read 75 Kms. The twists, turns and bumps would roughly let your car reach a double-digit speed. We were at least fortunate enough to rent a fairly comfortable Tavera; better to avoid vomitizers-Sumo or Jeep. The most unfortunate ones board the killer buses. But if you are a true nature-enthusiast, even those bumpy rides cannot stop you from capturing the scenic visual glee on the way. As our car moved through the rainforest canopies, the chords of my heart and mind were struck with the awe aspiring beauty of this enchanting place which is indeed a treat to my eyes. I gasped at the aura of the cascading waterfalls, the golden sun-kissed snow clad mountains when suddenly a cool misty breeze just brushed past my cheeks whispering into my ears “Welcome into the lap of Nature” in Shillong. The gigantic heaven-touching Khasi and Jaintia hills stood nirvana quiet creating an effervescent bond with nature on both spiritual and emotional note.
Apart from the much talked about natural picturesque, exquisiteness of the city there are many man-made attractions in Shillong as well. Like the Lady Ward Lake and park where you can boat and spend a peaceful evening, the famous Shillong Catholic Cathedral church, the Shillong peak and the Elephant Falls (my personal favorite). The vivacious turquoise blue stream of the Fall was swirling and springing over the rocks carrying with her the soft twigs of the forests of the mountains from where she originated. She looked like a sheet of blue satin sequined with silver and white threads. The entire place was mystically beautiful and I wanted to drink it in one gulp.
The Umium Lake has one of the most breath taking view. It is a manmade lake covering an area of 221 sq kms. We went for a boat ride to embrace the beauty of the lake. The birds were playing an orchestra of songs with their dulcet voice which perked up my spirit to capture every picturesque beauty of the place with my camera.
We had no plans of moving into a lodge. We had to wrap up Shillong and the adjoining Cherrapunji visits by evening. So we headed straight to the wettest place on planet earth. As we moved more deep into the woods, nature unfolded its secrets by benevolently bequeathing us the bewitching sight of wild flowers with the brightest hue bestowed upon by God. Even the clouds seem to acknowledge our presence by gathering together and making out lovely welcome shapes.
Cherrapunji is all about lofty waterfalls, caving experiences, deep canyons, subterranean gorges and abysmal valleys that surprisingly home tribal settlements.
My favorite place in Cherrapunji would be the Mawsmai Caves opened for tourist expedition. The mouth of the dark grotto looked deep and unfathomable. And it only gets darker and darker as it gobbles you down to its underside. Once you’re in, the picture is spectacular. It’s exactly how heaven might look under the night sky. The stalactites and stalagmites made beautiful art pieces. The stream with freezing water moistened the huge sparkling pebbles and marbles on the floor giving the most spectacular sights under the dark contrast of the cave. It was awesome. Another place of attraction in our list was Laitlum Canyons. Laitlum means “End of Hills”, is truly a paradise to visit. Located in the Khasi Hills, it gives a panoramic view of hills and valleys.
Finally it was sunset and the sun started dipping behind the crest of the cold hills. As the bright crimson rays of the setting sun spread across the forest, the entire place was basking in the beauty of the sunrays which changed from pink to peach-purple like a smoothie in the sky. The shimmering golden rays of the setting sun encased me in the aura of shining light. I was marveled at the sight of birds flying in flocks, they were like a swirling cloud in pulses of enlargement and diminution. I was looking forward to this place, which I metaphorically identify as the end of the world. Standing at the tip of the hill, the view is of an endless sky, clouds that would tempt you into disappointing attempts of grasping them. The light wind tenderly caresses your face and makes you forget all the woes you might be carrying along. Finally the plum velvety night came from the east with tiny stars sliding into their places with the moon looking like a lump of delicious cheese shining bright up in the sky and disseminating its silver rays into the pitch dark blanket.
Mesmerized by the tranquility of the place, we retired back to our Tavera. No one spoke a word for the next 15 minutes.