A baecation? Just Chill and Shillong It!

17th Aug 2019
Photo of A baecation? Just Chill and Shillong It! by Footloose
Day 1

It was a rainy Saturday in mid August when we started our first journey to the north eastern part of India. The whole journey was a very long flight to Guwahati from Chennai with a lay over at Kolkata. As we reached the guest house in Guwahati, it was night already. The guest house was decent enough with a narrow reception where the huge conical hat (Jaapi) of Assam was hanging near an old frame of Kamakhya temple.

Day 2
Photo of A baecation? Just Chill and Shillong It! by Footloose

We started our journey to Shillong from Guwahati in a shared taxi from Paltan Bazaar. The roadway to Shillong was captivating with beautiful landscapes on either sides. There were frequent twists and turns along with fuel smokes trying to cause a nauseating feeling. The consciousness of the motion sickness which can reappear any time was pricking my inner self. Krishnan was the real savage who was constantly encouraging me to ignore it. We experienced a feeling of being carried away from the warmth of Assam towards the chillness of Meghalaya. We have been enjoying the journey which revealed the beautiful woods and the serene Umium lake until we got stuck at the mid-day traffic in Shillong. The taxi driver left us at Police Bazaar and we hired another taxi to reach the guest house at Dhankheti. That was the very first journey in which I fell in love with Meghalaya.

It was afternoon and still the wind carried a fresh air of chillness. After lunch at guest house, we set out a walk to Lady Hydari Park. The lovely Lady Hydari Park was dynamic that evening. The children were happy souls playing and cheering up each other. Khasis, the biggest ethnic group of Meghalaya are famous for their love towards nature. It was the first time we have been dealing with a population so courteous, tranquil, helping and necessarily uncomplicated. Lady Hydari park was decorated with beautiful stretches of flowers, tall trees and pretty fountains. We walked around the park to find a small zoo and scattered ponds. The trash bins which were ominpresent in the city was something which caught our attention. They were bamboo made conical shaped baskets known as 'Khoh' in Khasi language. As we exit the park, we found a bike on rent for further wanderings. Krishnan took the driver’s seat while I was navigating him using Google Maps. Well, that was the toughest part of any journey especially because I do confuse directions. This time, the confusions were even prominent because Shillong roads were inherently the ‘exasperating farrago’ for anyone new to the place. We managed to reach the horse shoe shaped Ward’s lake when the sun light started fading slowly. There were decorated boats in which the tourists were having a peaceful float. Before going back to the guest house, we had hot momos from a vendor outside the lake entrance. The chillness of Shillong when experienced with a plate of hot momos and spicy chutney was the real happiness. On the way back to guest house, we found the beautiful Dylan’s Cafe. This cafe was themed after Bob Dylan and had ceilings displaying the creative drawings by their customers. It was nice having a cosy retreat with the ‘Good Old Chai’, as the menu card says, when the rain started drizzling in the dark.

Day 3
Photo of A baecation? Just Chill and Shillong It! by Footloose

It was like the rays of light penetrating deep into the eyes. I was worried if we were so late to wake up. When I finally found the phone, the clock showed 5.10 am! I could see a beautiful panorama of Shillong settlements through the window panes. In no time, Krishnan was awake and we got ready for an early morning walk. The walk through Tripura Castle road ending at Don Bosco Pastoral Centre was rejuvenating when it was a sun kissed cold morning. The pine trees were majestically tall to touch the clouds. We spent some time walking around the pastoral centre. Once we were back from the morning walk, we started getting ready for the day’s travel in the rented bike. Our first destination was Shillong Peak, which is the highest point in Shillong. During the travel we encountered steep roads where the bike failed to climb up. Following a series of narrow roads, national highways and broken forest roads, we were advancing towards the destination. The plot of cabbage plantations in the green landscape of hills with cattle grassing around was just like a picture perfect frame. We could see the large radar revolving at the air force base as we moved closer to the view point. After a long journey, we found an entrance which was guarded by air force. As we approached them, they politely denied the entry quoting that civilians were temporarily dismissed to enter the view point from there. They have also redirected us to another gate. At this point, the Google Maps was acting crazy. Therefore we relied on the villagers for finding the new route. Along the road sides, there were small shops where they sell the harvest. Though we spent quite a lot of time in reaching Shillong Peak due to this alternate route process, the travel was exciting. At Shillong Peak, the view was overwhelming. The beautiful pattern of Shillong settlements amidst the emerald green vegetation could be seen shaded by the silver clouds. We were able to get a bird eye view of the city through the telescope provided at the view point. Yes, there it was, the real abode of clouds! There were several shops near the view point marketing the local bamboo items, cloths and accessories. There was another shop where one could dress up like a Khasi man/woman/kid for a nominal rent. The lady of this dress shop was so composed who made both of us ready in the Khasi attire in no time. There was another lady in the shop who helped us in clicking our photos in the outfit. It reminded us of getting clicked in traditional Kerala attire with lots of people gazing around us, exactly an year back! After returning the dress and thanking them, we realized that we were hungry. It was the first time we tasted their pine apples and we became the fans of those juicy and sweet ‘queen’ type pine apples. On the way back, we finished the formalities with guards and set out towards our next destination, Elephant falls.

The road to elephant falls hardly confused us and the ride was smooth. The waterfalls had three stages flowing majestically amidst the thick vegetation. At the third stage, one could witness the splendour of waterfalls flowing through the elephant leg shaped stones to ultimately fall into bottom pond. There was a crowd of tourists taking pictures and playing with the clean water. After lunch, we planned to visit the Umium lake which we already got a glimpse on the way to Shillong from Guwahati. As we travelled towards the lake, the fog showed up even in the afternoon. Temperature became really cool and finally it started raining. We took a halt at a Dhaba which was less than 10km from Umium lake. We had tea and hot momos while it was still raining outside. Since the rain was persisting, we left the idea of visiting the lake and departed to Shillong while it was still drizzling. In the city, there was no rain and it was warm. As we need to hire a cab for the next few days, we tried to catch up with a start up for cab services in Shillong which showed good reviews. After dealing with them, we went back to the guest house and took a small break to the day’s wanderings. It was already evening by then and we need to return the bike at the rental. As we finished the second plate of momos for the day, the broker at bike rental showed up. The vehicle was handed over and he verified it for any damages. We got into a taxi to Police Bazaar to roam around the market and watch the city night life. When the day ends, happy first wedding anniversary to us!

Day 4
Photo of A baecation? Just Chill and Shillong It! by Footloose

The next day, taxi driver showed up at 8.30 am in a Maruti Alto. Most of the Shillong taxis are Maruti 800 or Alto which could easily be driven along the twists and turns of this terrain. As we started the journey, we got stuck for a while in the morning Shillong traffic. Once we left the city, the way to Cherrapunjee was green and picturesque with blurs of fog playing hide and seek. I often got alarmed when the driver could not see what was coming opposite to us in the misty road. But our driver was turning the steering with such an ease and heedlessness while chewing the pan masala. The first stop was at Mawdok valley view point which revealed a beautiful sight of valley with a touch of fog and light rays. After enjoying the view, our next destination was Wah-kaba waterfalls. It was the first time we were standing at the top platform of a waterfall. We could see how the bulk of water jumped down the rocks and spluttered into millions of droplets. There were lots of fellow tourists enjoying the charm of the falls. As we touched the flowing water, we could feel an electrifying chillness. The whole area was still foggy so that the people standing at one or two feet beyond us were just partially visible. We left Wah-kaba falls soon to reach the Mawsmai caves. After finishing a plate of momos, we walked towards the cave entrance. We left our shoes at the ticket counter since the caves were having layers of water. Most of the people didn’t go deep inside the caves since it was watery, slippery and had narrow splits to pass through. It was interesting to touch and feel the years old textures of the interior cave. The interior of caves often reminded me of the Dutchman of the film, Pirates of the Caribbean. One would feel if someone like Bootstrap Bill Turner can come out of the walls by uttering something like ‘part of the crew, part of the ship’. The experience was awesome.

The driver took us next to the famous seven sister waterfalls. Unfortunately, the view was hindered by the thick fog. We could still listen to the sound of the water flow, but the view was totally missed. After hanging out for a while, we headed towards Eco Park. We took a walk along the park just to find ourselves soaked in mist. It was just within minutes the fog got cleared to disclose the greenery of Eco Park. As we proceeded, we could see that the fog got lifted in the road as well. Therefore we asked the driver to take us back to seven sister falls which was around 1 km from the park. Ultimately we found that the fog was lifted everywhere except at the area of waterfalls. We had to accept that we had a miss on that. After lunch, we reached at Nohkalikai waterfalls, which is the tallest plunge waterfall of India. We did hope to see this, but fog was steady. We thought of taking some photos for the memory of being there. As the photography was going on we could see that the fog was slowly diluting exposing the concealed falls. We were jumping out of happiness when the Nohkalikai falls was completely visible for us. It was a tremendous view from the distance. We were staring at the falls for so long until it was faded by another patch of fog. But in no time, we got to see the full view of falls again with even better clarity. When we left the place, the falls were still visible with excited tourists staring at it. As we travelled back, I had a curious journey where I was constantly waiting for nature and people to turn up with surprises. I often turned back out of the window to register a missed sight. We stopped at a hut shaped cafe to have a nice coffee when the chillness of fog was still outside.

Day 5
Photo of A baecation? Just Chill and Shillong It! by Footloose

It was going to be a long journey to Mawlynnong. We stopped at a view point en route to enjoy the sight of lush green valleys mingled with occasionally active waterfalls. The long ferns were omnipresent which made the roadway even more beautiful. As we approached Mawlynnong, there were roads which were in partially broken condition, but embraced by thick array of broad-leaf bamboo plants. Before going to the village, we had a visit to the living root bridge, which could be referred as an artificial natural marvel. A warning board displayed not to stand on the bridge. The root bridge was constructed by local tribes using the aerial roots of trees. The roots were grown across a stream and would get strengthened as the time passes. It was nice simply sitting upon the scattered rocks amidst the stream to wonder about the people who created the bridge. While climbing up the steps towards the entrance, we grabbed two packets of our favourite pine apple slices.

Once we were back in cab, the next destination was Mawlynnong village, Asia’s cleanest village. Our entrance tickets read ‘God’s own Garden’. We roamed around the village to find their life, plantations, schools, bamboo made bridges etc. After lunch, the next destination for us was the Dawki river famous for its crystal clear water. It was afternoon and river Dawki flows 40 km far from where we were. Once we reached the river side, the view of its bluish green water body was beautiful to watch from above. It was a serene experience to boat along the Dawki flowing between the tall natural cliffs rich in green vegetation. The locals were fishing in their own small boats. On the way, we took a stop at an island with white sand spreading all over. As the journey was resumed, we drifted towards the border of Bangladesh. We could hear the group songs of Bangladeshi tourists at the other end. When the boat hit at the sand of Bangladesh, we heard the whistles of a BSF soldier directing us not to step out. We took a view of our neighbouring nation just sitting in the boat. Copying Krishnan’s words, “How weird it would be for this boat-man to think that the people at the other side is a foreigner and the people like us who hail from miles away are the domestic fellows.” Having a thought on this, we reached the shore where we started. As we were driving back to Shillong, the light has already started to diminish. The return journey was as long as 80 kms, with a single halt for tea.

Day 6
Photo of A baecation? Just Chill and Shillong It! by Footloose

We would like to have our next day to be cosy and easy. Our destinations were chosen such a way that we would be just chilled out for the day. Unlike the previous days, the journey to Mawphlang was short. As soon as we got the entry tickets for Mawphlang sacred groves, we were advised to hire a guide which was compulsory there. I could see the vast forest patch in front of us opposite to which was the Khasi Heritage Village. We found a guide who was a local person speaking fluent English. He introduced himself and started guiding us towards the sacred groves. Being originated from Kerala, we were never new to the sacred groves. Therefore we had prejudices because of which we decided to have the shortest trek there. Before entering to the sacred groves, the guide was warning us not to take anything from there and not to leave anything behind there. The warning was very strict, still polite. As we entered, we could see the trunks of small and big trees randomly grown up into a forest. If we look up to see the top of the trees, it would be somewhere indistinguishable in the hodgepodge of the foliage. The guide started saying that animal sacrifices were performed in olden days within this 200 years old forest patch spreading across 70 hectares. According to him the sacrifices were performed for their deity locally known as Labasa who inhabits the forest. They believe that Labasa protects their kingdom and punishes anyone who violates nature. He also explained that they always had a King who was elected by the people of their kingdom. The king was just like him and us who dresses ordinarily and lives in a normal house. We came to know that their current King passed away recently and the people of Mawphlang would be electing a new king from the available candidates soon. The candidates could be people who belong to a unique clan. The tales of the guide and the beauty of the sacred groves; we didn't know where to concentrate! He said the tourism activities and preservation related to the sacred groves were completely taken care by their society. He showed us precious trees and plants of the place with a short description on how they were important, sometimes along with the botanical names. We could hold the fallen down Rudraksh from the tree, but should leave at the same place as we continued walking. While walking around the forest, we could listen to the hysteric chirping of autumn crickets. One could see that the fallen trees were not even moved from the place of collapse. They were left to perish by themselves. As we became more interested in this walk, we asked him to extend the trek to the longest. He showed us a group of moss covered rocks in which the preparations of sacrifice were carried out in past days. He also showed us the sacrifice chamber which consisted of dwarf stones arranged in a circular way. A stone plate was placed above the circle which was used as a covering lid for the area of sacrifice. During the ceremony, a leopard was believed to appear which would be an auspicious sign of the divine presence. The sacrificial ceremonies were conducted before any battle as a devotion to Labasa. He mentioned about one such battle in which the victory was for the kingdom of Mawphlang. He also showed the area where the king would be crowned. In addition to the King's seat, there were four more stone seats, dedicated to the four ministers of the kingdom. During the ceremony, only men with moustache and beard were allowed in the forest and women were never allowed. He also showed us a tall pledge stone where the crowned king used to take an oath by placing his hand on it. We stayed near beautiful stream in the forest for a while to feel the ambience.

The experience at Mawphlang would be incomplete without a description of our guide. We don’t remember his name, but will always remember him as a genuine host of his kingdom. He was the one who resolved our several questions on Khasi culture and language where Google was helpless. We also discovered that he was an excellent photographer. While we were capturing the pictures of the wildness, he made a heart frame out of a fallen yellow leaf. He used our mobile camera to capture the photo within the heart frame. He also created a natural frame for us by orienting the camera in such a way that our image was confined within a square shaped root growth of a big tree. He made crowns out of long ferns, separately for Krishnan and me. It was fun walking around the woods wearing those crowns. We didn’t forget to keep them back within the forest before leaving the place. When we neared the exit, he made us pose like jumping. As we did it, there he clicked one of the best photos we have. We didn’t forget to take a selfie with him, which we realised later as blurred. He pointed towards an yellow five petalled inflorescence spread in patches as we walked back to the cab. He said that finding a four petalled flower would be leading to fortune. After his remark, our eyes were searching for the fortune lying in a tiny yellow flower bloomed somewhere in the path. Followed by a mistaken flower by me, it was the guide who finally discovered the actual four petal one. At the nearby tea shop, the guide was busy showing the lucky flower to his acquaintances while talking something in Khasi language. We were wondering about the joyfulness they showed to us. Their happiness didn’t have any limits while they pursue the simplest of lifestyles. As we left Mawphlang, our hearts were still cherishing the blissful smiles and tales of a kingdom.

Though the initial plan was to visit Latylum Canyon followed by Mawphlang, the roads to the canyon were in broken condition so that the tourists could not access the place temporarily. Instead of Latylum Canyon, we decided to visit Air Force Museum and Don Bosco Museum. We had a quick visit to air force museum which showcased things related to the Indian Air Force. The Don Bosco Museum was constructed in seven floors exhibiting the cultural and local artefacts. It was a good visit to know better about the details of population and ethnicity of seven sister states. After finishing with the museums, we asked the driver to leave us in Police Bazaar. We walked along the busy streets of Police Bazaar to find a restaurant. The sky was cloudy threatening us with a heavy rain. While we started having food, it was raining outside. We had to stand under a shelter since the rain was quite heavy for a long time. Post lunch plan for shopping was quite disturbed with the rain since vendors could not display their items uncovered. As the rain weakened, we walked along the path to discover stuffs that we could purchase from Meghalaya. After finishing the shopping, we had the last plate of momos from Shillong when it was already sunset.

Day 7
Photo of A baecation? Just Chill and Shillong It! by Footloose

We were ready for a walk in next morning, just like the very first morning walk. Near the Don Bosco Pastoral Centre, we had the morning tea in a small shop. Upon finishing the tea, we walked back to guest house. Everything was packed up for leaving Shillong. We started the journey to Guwahati, which was the halt for the day. Within the cab, both of us were silent. We didn’t look at the phone, but were sitting simply watching the people and places.

We took a break near Umium lake, which was calm and beautiful. At the view point, we gazed at the lake with a packet of pine apple slices for Krishnan and a fried corn for me. We finished the journey at the guest house in Guwahati with minor confusions due to Google Maps. After lunch, we paid a visit to Kamakhya temple. The temple is known for animal sacrifices where the goats and pigeons were offered. Since the queue was long, our plan for Darshan was dropped. Soon we left the temple to reach the Alfresco Grand to experience sunset river cruise in Brahmaputra. A pair of seats in the upper decker allowed a fascinating view. The misty rain clouds, mighty Brahmaputra, evening cold breeze and melodious Hindi songs! That could be called a perfect conclusion. It was already dark when we left the cruise.

Day 8

Already, Chennai calling! We booked a cab to drop us in airport from guest house. We moved on, travelling back to Kolkata, from there to Chennai. When it was, Kurinji, deep breath and home finally!

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