When we deboarded our flight at the Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport, all we had in mind was to get to Meghalaya as soon as possible. But we took a detour to Kaziranga National Park as we had to wait for a friend who was reaching there later to accompany us to Meghalaya.
Kaziranga Park was nothing like I expected it to be. Well, what I expected was to may be sight Rhinoceroses from a distance, or to just wait and wait to catch a glimpse of them. To my astonishment, we could easily spot the famous one horned Rhinos at the Rhino point on the road to Kaziranga National Park. On taking the elephant safari which is much better than the jeep safari, we could watch Rhinos at an arm’s distance from us. And there were so many of them. The babies were extremely cute.
A tip for people going to Kaziranga: Carry as much cash as you would need, and more. There are no ATMs in the vicinity and the people there don't accept cards.
We left for Shillong the next day. The road from Guwahati to Shillong is one of the busiest. Shillong turned out to be a beautiful city. The weather was pleasant throughout the day and slightly chilly in the nights. We stayed in Shillong and started exploring mesmerizing Meghalaya.
We came across the cutest kids in town, some were shy, some were all smiles while some were without pants!
The first trip was in and around Shillong. We went to a number of places like Elephant Falls, Spread Eagle Falls, Sweet Falls, Bishop Falls, Umiam Lake, and some beautiful churches. The Don Bosco Museum served as a window to the North Eastern states and enlightened us about the same. What I liked most was the Butterfly Museum. It was the first of its kind I had ever seen; built by a man who loved butterflies and collected and preserved them. It is maintained by his daughter in the basement of her house.
An unusual thing or rather a custom we saw closely in Shillong was the archery stake. It is a kind of gambling where people bet on numbers between 0 to 99. This winning number is decided by archers who shoot arrows on a barrel and then the last two digits of the number of arrows that struck the barrel. The total number of arrows is fairly counted and recounted in front of everyone. We had bet on a whole lot of numbers and went to see the archery show. This is a total local affair and very seldom tourists like us wander to the game spot. We owe this one to our super cool chauffeur Aibor and our inquisitiveness.
The night was spent in Shillong, and the view from our hotel’s rooftop was enchanting.
The next day we finally saw the most awaited sight, the living root bridges. It was a sight to behold. Meghalaya is famous for these bridges where tribals plant two trees on both sides of a stream and form a bridge using the roots.
There was a viewpoint at a walk of around 45 minutes, which was a bamboo bridge overlooking a valley, a waterfall and the Bangladesh border area. It was built by a man single handedly who also happens to have created a facebook page for his viewpoint, in an area which does not even have a mobile network.
The next destination was Mawlynnong- touted as the cleanest village in Asia. The place was beautiful but a bit commercialized. There were huts made of bamboo and thatch, and bamboo dustbins at every few steps.
On the way to this village, we climbed up a tree house. The vista from the top was of a beautiful church. We went inside the tree-house owner's place and she coyly exclaimed, ‘Oh! My house is so dirty.’ Her house was immaculate. That’s when we knew we were approaching the cleanest village. We also spotted a pitcher plant in the house garden, something that we had seen only in science textbooks.
Dawki is a village bordering Bangladesh, at a distance of 2 km from our neighboring country. The main attraction is Umngot river. The river can be crossed by a suspension bridge that connects the two nations. There were numerous fishermen’s boats in the emerald-green river. The river is famous for its clear water that is rumoured to to be so clear that the shadow (not reflection) of the boat can be seen in the bottom of the river.
The next day we went on a cave expedition. The lesser popular and hence lesser crowded Arwah caves were our first destination. A first time experience, the caves were spectacular. We found some fossils in the rocks of the caves. As they consisted of limestone, the water was salty in the caves; and consequently there weren’t any snakes or other animals. The Mausami caves which we visited later were more tourist friendly, and equally adventurous.
We stayed at Chherrapunjee for the night. Cherranpunjee used to be the area with maximum rainfall, now surpassed by Mausynram. It continues to be one of the wettest places in the country. The drive to Cherrapunjee was spellbinding. We understood the etymology of Meghalaya and why it was called so. We could almost touch the clouds, hence it was even better than being in an aeroplane.
Another adventurous and tiring day awaited us, as we went to Nongriat. It is the place which has the most remarkable living root bridge. The double decker bridge was stupefying. However, we had to climb almost 3000 steps up and down to get to see it, and walked about 4.5 km. Worth it!
After returning to Shillong, we went for a bit of trekking in the pine forests and came across a marvelous waterfall. Thanks to our wonderful Aibor.
I forgot to mention that apart from the natural beauty that entails the state of Meghalaya, the beauty of the thousands of butterflies we saw here was incredible. The butterflies were as always beautiful, but the myriad of them was exclusive.
I was reminded of the quote by Ruskin Bond, ‘and when all the wars are over, a butterfly will still be beautiful’.
I am assured, so will be Meghalaya!
Photo credits: Shalini Gupta and Rushwanth Raghuram