Stairway to Heaven

Tripoto
13th Apr 2018
Photo of Stairway to Heaven by Vatsala

I still remember the day we had decided to make a trip to Meghalaya, a beautiful state in north eastern part of India. It was one good decision as it took us to places that left us marveling at nature’s magnificence. We had taken a flight from Delhi to Assam and hired a cab to reach Shillong. We halted for a night at Shillong and before the break of dawn next day took a cab to Nongriat, a small village uphill and the place for our next adventure. The four hour long drive from Shillong to Nongriat took us through one of the lushest green and scenic road journeys we had taken so far. We crossed numerous waterfalls and brooks as they welcomed us from their heights leaving us completely enthralled. We had come to the final bus stop Nongriat beyond which we had to continue the journey on foot. No cars could pass further and hence the only option left for us was to take our bags with us and start our much awaited trek.

Photo of Meghalaya, India by Vatsala

We had to climb 3000 stairs, that made us traverse winding paths that could not get narrower and all this in the middle of a thick forest area, where the only sounds one could hear were of birds, crickets and our own footsteps making a soft thud as they landed on the ground spattered with flowers, leaves and twigs fallen from the trees.

Up and down 3000 steps

Photo of Stairway to Heaven by Vatsala

We started going deeper into the forest which happened to be a sacred grove, which meant that one had to be careful of their actions and not defile the land for it was supposed to be home to local deities.

Photo of Stairway to Heaven by Vatsala

We crossed tiny villages that had three to four thatched bamboo houses neatly scattered in the picturesque landscape. As we crossed these village establishments, we were greeted by the local people who had made small shops for selling tea and maggi. There were children playing around us who came to greet us with a “Hello” and shy smile.

Happy children came out to greet us

Photo of Stairway to Heaven by Vatsala

sWe had encountered seven to eight such shops along our way. Each shop had some local wares to sell like key rings, wooden panels made out of bamboo, small jute baskets and boxes. They had also put freshly cut cucumbers and pineapples inside small plastic bags for sale for people trekking up and down Nongriat. One can never forget the taste of those mouth watering pineapples. They tasted as sweet as sugar and had a tinge of sourness, making them a divine nectar of sorts. My mouth still waters thinking about the juice oozing out of those pineapples. We bought some handicrafts made from bamboo and jute as souvenirs for our friends, adding to our luggage that we were carrying on our backs. We also tried their locally made fresh honey. They excitedly showed us how they bred the bees and took out fresh honey and put them in old whiskey bottles without any adulteration and sold them to travelers like us. They were extremely honest and kind people who entertained us with some great stories about the local area. We would have missed out on a lot had we not stopped to talk to them and listened to their stories about the forest, which had its fair share of ghosts and spirits. Some of the stories they told us were about the sacred forest that we would cross on the way to Nongriat. They had recounted incidents that how people had met with grave misfortunes if they had misbehaved in any way in the entire land area marked as sacred. I was shocked to hear how a couple had met with an accident on their return from the forest to the airport in Assam. This couple had disrespected the deities as they stopped and carved their names on the trunk of a tree. This was completely not allowed, along with throwing garbage, plucking flowers or taking back with you anything from the forest that did not belong to you. This defiling of the tree had infuriated the deities and the couple was punished for it. They met with a small accident as their car skidded and hit a tree on their way back to Assam. There were no injuries and casualties reported but the message was delivered. We recounted these stories as we continued our trek through the sacred grove and walked with extra care to not bear the wrath of the gods.

I was taken in by the sheer beauty of nature and the sensibilities of local people with which they cared and protected their forests. They guarded them against any encroachment from plastic bags, empty liquor or soft drink bottles and ensured that even a small sweet wrapper should not find its way into any other place but the hand-crafted jute dustbins that were mounted at every nook and corner possible. This was in stark contrast to how dirty similar places are up north India. We never cease to smear the beauty of the hills and Himalayas that make for a beautiful landscape in northern parts of the country. It would take humongous effort and time to clean these areas and make them as clean as north east India. What is also required is developing this awareness that automatically stops people from littering the surroundings, leaving the grandeur of the place intact.

The beauty of the trek intensified as we kept seeing extremely uncommon and striking sights which we had only read about. The first such sight was that of the single living root bridge.

Single Living Root Bridge

Photo of Stairway to Heaven by Vatsala

I had never before seen a phenomenon like this where the living roots of trees were entwined to make bridges for people to cross rivers.These bridges made from the living roots of tress were crisscrossed, entangled and closely resembled the knotted long hair of a woman that are tied together, to form a narrow walkway.Though being centuries old, the bridge was extremely sturdy and allowed people to cross through and move up the hill. The single living root bridge definitely gave stiff competition to the commonplace cement bridges that we are accustomed to using. Moving through this landscape one could actually think himself/herself to be in the forest setting of James Cameroon’s blockbuster movie Avatar.

The beauty of the place gave us more and more to be mesmerized with, while our legs wailed for rest and lungs gasped for breath. We crossed rivers overflowing with water on narrow bridges, tip-toeing behind one another holding the rails of the bridge. It is advised to not look down into the roaring river to avoid a panic attack, especially if you are fainthearted or have a fear of heights.

Photo of Stairway to Heaven by Vatsala

Though being centuries old, the bridge was extremely sturdy and allowed people to cross through and move up the hill. The single living root bridge definitely gave stiff competition to the commonplace cement bridges that we are accustomed to using. Moving through this landscape one could actually think himself/herself to be in the forest setting of James Cameroon’s blockbuster movie Avatar.

The beauty of the place gave us more and more to be mesmerized with, while our legs wailed for rest and lungs gasped for breath. We crossed rivers overflowing with water on narrow bridges, tip-toeing behind one another holding the rails of the bridge. It is advised to not look down into the roaring river to avoid a panic attack, especially if you are fainthearted or have a fear of heights.

The bridge shook with every step we took

Photo of Stairway to Heaven by Vatsala

But if you are courageous and adventure seeking then you would even love to run slowly through the bridge, that shook with every move, like my companion who gave no sign of nervousness at this task. He plainly sauntered smoothly like he was walking in a meadow.

We kept moving, taking in the fresh air and waiting for the final destination, the end point of our trek. I was wondering if the journey had been such a delight, what the final destination would have to offer to our seeking souls. The excitement was at its peak as we were nearing the end of our arduous trek. We were not disappointed after the completion of our walk as we climbed the last flight of stairs, which took us to the place where we supposed to halt for the night. We had decided to stay at the house of the person called Byron who had started renting out the rooms of his house to travelers who came to the village. He had put up boards before his house stating, “rooms available for rent.” He had spent his entire life in this village and now had a family of his own with his small children who loved running small errands in the house for the guests. We had got the number of Byron from one of my friends who had visited the place a few months back. We had spoken to him when we started our trek and he had kept a room with two beds and a small window overlooking the forest ready for us. We put our bags in the room and quickly gulped the tea which he had prepared for us. We then took leave to complete the remaining 500 meters of the trek, the icing of the cake. We walked the short distance from Byron’s house and that is when we saw the two living root bridges. This time it was not a single bridge hanging between two trees. Instead, there were two bridges one above the other, giving it the name, the double decker living root bridge.

Double decker living root bridge

Photo of Nongriat, Meghalaya, India by Vatsala

The bridges came out from the same tree and overlooked a waterfall coming down with flow from the opposite hill. We climbed both the bridges and walked across it multiple times to enjoy the wonders of nature until we were finally tired of the game.

Plunge into the clean, fresh water at Nongriat

Photo of Stairway to Heaven by Vatsala

It was a perfect meditation spot for the quietude it offered with the background music of water falling on the rocks. We sat by the waterfall, took our shoes off and dipped our soar feet into the cold water. This was the prize awaiting us after the arduous trek, sitting under the bridge with our feet soaked in water that had fishes coming out to greet us by nibbling at our feet. The nature had reserved its welcome gift, giving a foot spa to our tired feet and calming our minds for an enlightening experience in this place hidden away perfectly from rest of the world.

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amazing!
Sun 07 01 18, 01:05 · Reply · Report