Cherrapunji was the last stop of our North-East trip. After this the softness of the mountains in our eyes was to be replaced by the brightness of streetlights. I was told not to expect too much from Cherrapunji. That it wasn't beautiful anymore and it doesn't rain too often. I was told wrong. It rained enough during our stay to remind me of my geography lessons in school, which gave this place ‘the rain capital of world’ title.
Cherrapunji was 56 Kms from Shillong. The sun was shining boldly above our heads when we started our journey. However, the heat was not biting but rather a pleasant sensation on our skins. I was gladly reading my Nora Roberts when I heard the pitter patter of rain on my window. I looked up and realized that the mountains that I had taken for granted as my travelling partners were bowing down to small hills and flat plains. The sun had also disappeared behind the veil of dark clouds. The soft yellow of the day was thus transformed into the light darkness of a young evening.
I put my hand out of my window and felt the sting of a hailstorm. I smiled at my friend and we both put our heads out, literally hanging out of our cars. Soaked till our bones we arrived at Nohkalikai Fall, near Cherrapunji. It’s a different matter altogether that we weren't able to even get a glimpse of the fall. As the fog was wrapped around like a thick white blanket around us.
Although we weren't able to see the fall, its history we did hear. Local lore spoke about a mother’s love for her child who was killed by her second husband. The mother driven by her grief jumped from the fall.
The mist, the dew drops sticking on my face and the quietness of the place was instrumental in bringing out the most repressed feelings of my being. Contrast presented itself when I also felt peace. I was wet; I was walking in the fog and was lost in my thoughts. Smell of tea and a friendly smile across the road caught my attention. I walked over and after having a cup or two we were again on our way to Cherrapunji.
The outskirts of Cherrapunji felt like it was frozen in time. The landscape was green, the roads were fresh and the weather was always pleasant. Your eyes would fail to capture the vibrancy of the flowers but your heart will feel their gentleness. The houses stand alone and proud, not too far off but enough to mark their own place in that world.
‘Yeh raaten yeh mausam…’ was being played in my car when we arrived at Mawsmai caves. We were told to take off our shoes and fold our pants up, as there was water inside. I being a little claustrophobic immediately started getting images of too many people, water, no space and darkness. My friend nudged me from behind and I started moving in.
The cave was well lit but as we went in deep, crouching, we realized that at some places only one person can enter at a time. The stones were covered with moss and thus quite slippery as well. I will confess that I was terrified for at least a moment. The fact that I shouted ‘mummy’ must have been a clue for my friends for they helped me out hurriedly.
Well as hurriedly as possible with the queue waiting to leave.
One of the best ways to fight your fears is to concentrate on something else. I did the same and my point of concentration was the stalagmite and stalactites all around the cave. As I had never seem them before they seemed quite fascinating to me. I smiled remembering how I used to struggle to pronounce their names as a kid and walked out of the cave.
We ate a sumptuous meal at a dhaba of sorts next to the caves and continued our journey. We reached Cherrapunji Hotel resort by mid-afternoon. The place is tucked away at the edge of a hill and one can see Bangladesh on the other side. The flowers are blooming around the house, there is a small half- broken wooden bench in the front of the cottage where one can sit and look at mountains and clouds and butterflies.
With a cup of tea in our hand we all looked as if we are posing for Fredrick Williams, the famous painter. Once we were done posing we set out to see ‘The Living Root Bridge’. With shafts in our hands and no clue about the path we started following each other. The following was transformed into a full fledged trekking in about 20 mins. Considering I have never trekked before, it was surely an experience. It took us nearly two hours to reach the bridge and yes it was worth every aching bone in my body.
Although these bridges are natural, there is a human hand in their growing. According to Oddity Central (http://www.odditycentral.com/videos/the-living-bridges-of-cherrapunji.html) The Khasi tribesmen, using hollowed-out betel nut trunks, are able to direct the roots in whatever way they like. When the roots grow all the way across a river, they are allowed to return to the soil, and over time, a strong bridge is formed. It takes up to 10-15 years for a root bridge to develop, but it becomes stronger with each passing year and is known to last for centuries.
The one we visited was right at the start of a waterfall. I never imagined myself standing at the starting point of a waterfall and that was quite a thrill. But to see something so beautiful and strong also made me aware of the insurmountable strength of our mother nature.
Drinking some water from the stream we made our way back towards our hotel. Moon graced us with his presence halfway up the trek and dark shadows of the trees were then bathed into shimmering moonlight. The jungle sang its nighttime song and the light rain played the music. I forgot that I was tired and smiled at the unknown melody around me.
Finally we reached our hotel, took a bath and settled down for the local music sitting arranged specially for us. It was interesting to hear familiar tunes tangled with foreign language. After this we ate our food and settled down for the last time as a group, for this trip was over.