To the land of momos and mountains: Meghalaya & North Sikkim.

Tripoto
17th May 2018
Photo of To the land of momos and mountains: Meghalaya & North Sikkim. by Preetha Vijayan
Day 1

Since the time geography textbooks acted as my "lonely planet", visiting the North East has been a dream. So this trip was literally 'dream come true'!

We basically covered Meghalaya and North Sikkim as we had just 8 days.

Day 1 obviously started with a flight from Pune to Guwahati. Then from the airport itself, we took a cab to Shillong.
Word of advice: Deal with cab drivers outside the airport directly. They are very reasonable. Don't involve shady agents waiting to loot you for commission.

I must say the lush green route from Guwahati to shillong felt a lot like Kerala. Look out for the slant roofed beautiful houses which is a feature you can find in any region with heavy rainfall.

On the way to Shillong, do make a stop at Umiam lake. The place looks extremely picturesque at sunset.

We finally reached Shillong around dinner time. Near the taxi stand at Police bazaar, there is a hotel called the Bramhome Guest house. If you don't have a pre booking someplace else, like we did, I would recommend you to stay here. The host, Mr. Mukherjee, could help you a lot. He has a library full of literature related to the north east. Also the stay will cost you Rs. 750/night. (It's a steal!)

Hence a mere visit to use the restroom stretched to a full blown one hour conversation with Mr. Mukherjee, a girl from Thailand and a guy from Holland. But isn't that the beauty of travelling? Meeting people from different walks of life, making them a part of your story and being a part of their story!

Pune to Guwahati

Photo of Police Bazar, Shillong, Meghalaya, India by Preetha Vijayan

Assamese avengers I guess! ????

Photo of Police Bazar, Shillong, Meghalaya, India by Preetha Vijayan

Enroute to Shillong.

Photo of Police Bazar, Shillong, Meghalaya, India by Preetha Vijayan

Umiam lake.

Photo of Police Bazar, Shillong, Meghalaya, India by Preetha Vijayan
Day 2

We started early from Shillong to our next destination, Cherapunjee.

On the way, we took a break at Nohkalikai falls. It's definitely worth a visit. Also the last 1-2 km leading up to the fall is absolutely beautiful. It will remind you of the old default Windows XP wallpaper. The place is serene with just the roaring sound of the waterfall.

Trivia: It's the tallest plunge waterfall in India.

Another thing you can observe is the fact that hotels in Meghalaya have waitresses, a rarity in our country, which is also a reflection of their matrilineal society. They are extremely pleasant, patient and there is something very maternal about the way they offer food.

From there we reached cherapunjee base. So here is the thing, there are 2 ways for you to do this.

1. Base --> Double Root bridge --> Base:
It's a walk of 1.30-2 hrs one way. There are about 3500 steps (including descent and ascent). When you reach double root, there is a stream and a small waterfall. You can spend some time in the water and head back to the base before it gets dark. This is what most people do.

2. Base --> Double decker bridge --> Rainbow falls --> Base.
We took this route. Basically this will require you to stay over at one of the two guesthouses near the bridge. You can pre book your room.

Details:
• Chaali - Chaali's Guest house - 8575787340
• Byron, Serene Homestay
   +91 961 5252 655
   +91 878 7570 552

Disclaimer: The place is not luxurious in the conventional sense. For example, you need to fill your buckets from the front yard tap if you want to use the washroom. So you get the picture. Having said that, the place is very clean and cozy. And chaali is a great host!

You can start from the base around 2-3 pm. Reach the living root bridge before sunset. Keep your luggage in the room. Head back to the stream free handed and what else! Just jump into the water. By sunset, people usually clear out the place so you can have the stream for yourself, if you are lucky.

The silence and privacy bestowed by the jungle will make you realize how far away you are from the so called 'civilization'!

Nohkalikai Falls.

Photo of Cherrapunjee, Meghalaya, India by Preetha Vijayan

Hanging bridge.

Photo of Cherrapunjee, Meghalaya, India by Preetha Vijayan

View from the hanging bridge.

Photo of Cherrapunjee, Meghalaya, India by Preetha Vijayan

Chaali's guest house.

Photo of Cherrapunjee, Meghalaya, India by Preetha Vijayan

Living root bridge.

Photo of Cherrapunjee, Meghalaya, India by Preetha Vijayan
Day 3

We woke up around 4.30-5 am. But it legit felt like 7 am. Today, there was only one item in the itinerary, Rainbow falls, the reason why we stayed back.

It takes around 1-1.30 hrs of walking from double decker bridge. Don't worry, there are stairs. This time they are stony and earthy, basically not the concrete kind we saw yesterday from base till bridge. You can't find a single human soul on the way so a pro tip to not get lost, stick to your left! There will be two confusing diversions on the route (one around 30 min after you start and one towards the last 20 mins of the walk). Take the left one in both the cases.

Right when my legs started to bail on me, there it was, the best kept secret of Meghalaya!

The fall is breathtakingly and undescribably beautiful!

It was not a cutesy, small, shy waterfall like the one near the bridge. This was nature in all its glory! Roaring unapologetically, pounding on the big rock, flowing with a mind of its own yet caressing and cleaning every rock and boulder on its way. It's not an irony that we personify nature as a Mother.

Although it might look difficult to climb down the sharp slippery rocks, but with some careful gauging, it's possible. Beware of the depth of the water when you get down. The clear-till-bottom pristine blue water might trick you to underestimate the depth and under current.

Once you reach the bottom, you are free to swim, float or take a dip!

After a refreshing swim, we went back to the guest house, packed our stuff and started our trek back to the base. The last 30-45 mins is preetttyy steep climb. It's a task even on a normal day. (It's way worse than a leg day at the gym!) Since we had already walked an equivalent of 10-15 km since 5 in the morning, the last 30 minutes tested every muscle in our body.

Pro tips:
1. If you are not in a hurry, stay back at chaali's for another hour or two, sleep if you can, and then head back to the base. We had a train to catch, that's why we had to do it this way.

2. Take breaks according to your stamina while climbing. There is no shame in being considerate to your body. Carry enough water. May be some snickers. :-)

3. Keep an extra polythene to store your wrappers and bottles. It's a humble request not to litter the path or the fall. As humans, we definitely cannot make such places artificially, the very least we could do is to preserve them!

4. This is an extension of the third point. If you see a wrapper, or a bottle lying around, pick it up! It won't belittle you. On the contrary, you will feel very good about yourself. ☺

Finally after some strenuous climbing (read crawling), we reached the base. And it started raining. A perfect sunshower. What an ideal way to end the cherapunjee trip!

Then we hurried back to Guwahati from where we had a train to New Jalpaiguri. (NJP is the nearest station to Guwahati.)

On the way to rainbow falls.

Photo of Nongriat, Meghalaya, India by Preetha Vijayan

Climbing down.

Photo of Nongriat, Meghalaya, India by Preetha Vijayan

Look at the colors!

Photo of Nongriat, Meghalaya, India by Preetha Vijayan

Last few steps to the base!

Photo of Nongriat, Meghalaya, India by Preetha Vijayan
Day 4

Day 4 did not go according to our plan.

The actual Guwahati - NJP train was supposed to arrive at 10.30 p.m (i.e the night of day 3) and we were supposed to reach NJP at 6.30-7 a.m. But we didn't know that the train we booked was notorious for being late.

Long story short, we boarded the train around 1 a.m and reached NJP at 3 p.m! You can connect the dots for what might have happened. So a small tip, check whether your train is on some kind of notorious list before booking the tickets.

Now we had to go to Gangtok so that the next day we can start our North Sikkim trip.
Two things to note about NJP:

1. If you don't have a pre booked tour: 

There are a lot of travel agencies from which you can choose. Things to consider before booking a package:

• Route: Whether it covers the places you wanted to visit. We wanted to visit Gurudongmar lake, Kaala pathhar and Yamthung valley.
• Pace: In how many days are they completing the route. There are basically two kinds, 'rush-rush' and comfortable. So decide according to your schedule, budget and health condition. (Because acclimatization to high altitudes requires time for some people. In that case, 'rush-rush' is a bad idea!)
• Space in the vehicle: Whether there is enough space for you and your luggage. Do not try to cram yourself, it can get extremely uncomfortable for such a long journey.
• Stay and food: This one is just to be on the safer side. Opt for a package which includes stay and food because Lachen and Lachung doesn't have many options for accommodation. 'We will cross that bridge when it comes' might not be the best approach here.

2. If you have a pre booked tour (like we did):

Don't go with ANY travel agents/drivers poaching around the station. They can be extremely mean and greedy. The actual cab fare from NJP to Gangtok is around Rs. 3000 (for a six seater). But these drivers were charging around Rs. 5000 because they have a union and no one will take you if you say no to even one of them. They will literally gang up against you.

Also they have West Bengal registered vehicles so most of them can't even get you into Gangtok city as they don't allow non Sikkim registered vehicles inside their perimeter.

In our case, we found a Sikkim registered vehicle who was dropping someone off from Gangtok to NJP and he was charging reasonably. But these 'union guys' threatened the poor fellow saying they will harm him physically and destroy his vehicle! We didn't want him to get into trouble for us. So we simply apologized and left. 

A pro tip to avoid all this 'jhamela' would be to take an auto to the next nearby taxi stand around 15 mins away from NJP station and get a (Sikkim registered) vehicle from there.

Finally when we reached Gangtok, it was past 10.30 p.m! Mind you, we were supposed to reach Gangtok before lunch so that we could take their ropeway tour or visit a monastery.

Q.E.D : Day 4 DID NOT go according to our plan.               

Day 5

We started our journey towards Lachen around mid morning after some wandering in M.G market.

The Gangtok part of the route is home to vibrant, colorful houses with cute terrace gardens and beautiful women with impeccable fashion sense! (Also cute babies who can make your uterus flutter! 😅)

We also observed a general atmosphere of  cleanliness all around us. But it takes meticulous efforts from the locals to keep it that way. For eg. almost all restaurants (small/big) have structured mechanisms to collect and dispose their waste. Every cab has an inbuilt pouch to collect wrappers and bottles so that no one throws it out. And my personal favorite, if you pee on the roadside, passing drivers will shame you publicly (in the most civil way, I must say).

The most endearing thing I heard a driver shout is, 'Hum tumhare ghar me aake aisa Kare to achhaa lagega tumhe Kya?' (If I do the same at your 'home', would you like it?). He considers the whole place his home! They have a collective sense of community which we city folks clearly lack.

Needless to say, the route is majestic. Do make frequent stops to have some chai and enjoy the beauty around you. If it's a clear day, you can even see some snow capped peaks.

Pro tips:

• Carry Id proof (with address), some copies of the same and passport size photos for the permit. (Permits are not given to non Indians though)
• It WILL be cold. So pack accordingly. A small trivia, heat escapes your body through head and feet so make sure you cover them properly.
• Keep medicines for travel and altitude sickness handy. Diamox is a good option. You can have half a tablet every 12 hrs. It will help you adjust to the oxygen level difference.
• Save one or two beverage bottles (the coke, Sprite kind) as Bisleri bottles are banned in North Sikkim. You will be fined if you are found with Bisleri bottles.
• If you are a dog lover, carry some extra biscuits. You will meet some adorably fluffy guys on your way. You know what, chuck that if-a-dog-lover condition, carry them anyway!

The first sight of snow!

Photo of Lachen, Sikkim, India by Preetha Vijayan

The river was too mainstream.

Photo of Lachen, Sikkim, India by Preetha Vijayan

Meet fluffy!

Photo of Lachen, Sikkim, India by Preetha Vijayan

Staring contest.

Photo of Lachen, Sikkim, India by Preetha Vijayan
Day 6

We started from Lachen around 4.30 a.m. We had to leave so early as it was suggested to us that we should return from Gurudongmar lake by noon because as the day progresses, it becomes more and more difficult to breathe in that altitude.

Tip: Have a diamox before you leave. It will help you acclimatize better without the risk of altitude sickness. Also keep some popcorns for the road. They can also help you with the altitude. (I don't know the science behind that. But it worked nonetheless.) Most important, drink a lot of water!

The route was intriguing more than anything else. When we started, we were surrounded by green forests. As the climbing started, there were just small bushes with small leaves. This apparently is called the tree line threshold. Finally we reached a point where we could not find any kind of vegetation. It was an endless stretch of brown barren land. But that doesn't make it a bland view though! For the lack of other analogies, it will remind you of Ladakh. It was serene and melancholic in a strange way.

Warning: If a person gets severe mountain sickness which won't go even after the meds, you need to get that person to tree line. That is, as a thumb rule, bring him/her to an altitude where there are plants.

You will definitely develop a heightened sense of respect for our military during your trip. You will get a taste of the extremities they face on a daily basis. We saw some officers clearing out a tree which had fallen as an aftermath of previous night's downpour .. while singing songs!

The last stop before Gurudongmar lake was a place called 'Sarvadharma stala'. According to what an officer told us, every big military camp has their own version of Sarvadharma stala. Our country's defense comprises of people from different faith so instead of building separate temples, churches and mosques inside the cantonment, they believe that all the Gods reside at that one place. There by, the religions don't split them, it unifies them.

Nearby Sarvadharma staan there is a small military run canteen. Do try their momos and black tea, even if you are not a fan of black tea  (it is that good!)

Finally we reached Gurudongmar lake by 8.30-9 am. It was extremely windy and cold. It will almost make you not want to step out of your car. But the view is worth every strained breath you take! That still clear water with the backdrop of snow clad mountains bordered with infinite number of Buddhist prayer flags is what dreams are made of!

Tip: There are stairs available to go down near the lake. Climbing down is easy but while climbing up, don't exhaust yourself.

After spending 30-45 mins there, we left back for Lachen. But our lovely driver, Vinay bhaiya suggested us a detour to a place called Kaala pathar. Now this place is at around 15000 ft and according to locals, it snows almost everyday there. What a coincidence! I am 23 and I had never seen snow in my life. So better late than never. ☺

When we reached there, it was almost snowing. The first thing I did was to remove my goddamn gloves and feel the snow. I won't lie, it was overwhelming and some happy tears were shed.

After playing in the snow for sometime (and a few failed attempts at snow man making), we found a small tea stall there with Bollywood songs blaring. Who would have thought, we would be listening and dancing to crass Punjabi songs at 15000ft! After some futile attempts at convincing us to get into the car, Vinay bhaiya also gave up and joined us in the dancing.

When we finally said our good byes to the lady running the stall, she sang 'Pardeshi Pardeshi Jaana nai' for us! I mean, Come-on! Who does that? Ab rulaoge kya!

On the way to lachen, when I was listening to 'Kahaan Hun main' from Highway, I had an epiphany that maybe Bollywood has a song for every human emotion!

....Sochoon Na Kya Peechhey Hai
Dekhoon Na Jo Aage Hai
Mann Yeh Mera Poochhta Main Kahaan ....

(I don't think of what I have left behind.
I don't look for what's ahead of me.
My heart is asking me, where am I?)

Adding color to the bland.

Photo of Lachung, Sikkim, India by Preetha Vijayan

Momos at 15000ft.

Photo of Lachung, Sikkim, India by Preetha Vijayan

Room with a view.

Photo of Lachung, Sikkim, India by Preetha Vijayan

Tranquility!

Photo of Lachung, Sikkim, India by Preetha Vijayan

Kaala pathhar.

Photo of Lachung, Sikkim, India by Preetha Vijayan
Day 7

Today's destination was Yamthung valley, the last leg of North Sikkim. It is supposed to be North East's valley of flowers. Spoiler alert, there were not many flowers in the valley itself (maybe because of the heavy rain) but the route leading up to the valley made up for it.

As April- June is the flowering season, throughout the route we saw rhododendron, poppies, roses and a lot of flowers I could not identify. Some grazing yaks were also spotted.

Near the valley, there is a small market place (where we found the best momos of this trip!). A general observation you can make is when they sell these cute chinese tea cups, they don't pair it with saucers but with lids to keep the drink warm for longer period.

On our way back, we made a quick stop at a hot spring. The place stinks of sulphur but I really couldn't care as the water was really hot and I was freezing up!

After that we had a long journey ahead of us till Gangtok. So we started nagging our driver, Vinay bhaiyya to tell us about Sikkim culture. Turns out, eloping is so common there that they have rituals around it. For eg. the groom has to go to the girl's house after 3 days of eloping with 2 bottles of Tongba (a local alcohol) and the girl's family has to accept. However, he was flustered when we told him about Tinder and how we find 'the love of our life' online! 😅

He also told us how people of Sikkim have great love and respect for tourists because it's their livelihood. Most tourists visit during April -June or September- November. This is when Sikkim comes to life. Drivers, hotels, souvenir shops, restaurants - they all earn during this period. Off seasons are pretty hard for them as there is no steady income. Frankly, that's when I decided to document this trip. Some word of mouth could help them a little maybe.

While talking to him, I noticed how the people of North East have a very simple world view. They see everything in black and white. Also by the time we reached Gangtok and bid adieu to Vinay bhaiya, I was convinced that he is one of the most genuine souls I have ever met in my life.

Childhood scenary drawing came to life.

Photo of Yumthang, Sikkim, India by Preetha Vijayan

Tea, anyone?

Photo of Yumthang, Sikkim, India by Preetha Vijayan

Hot spring.

Photo of Yumthang, Sikkim, India by Preetha Vijayan

A color blind person's nightmare.

Photo of Yumthang, Sikkim, India by Preetha Vijayan

Ye Haseen vaadiyaa..

Photo of Yumthang, Sikkim, India by Preetha Vijayan

Phool or kaante.

Photo of Yumthang, Sikkim, India by Preetha Vijayan
Day 8

The last day of the trip. We had no particular agenda for the day. So we took this as an opportunity to sleep in till mid morning since we have been waking up before 5 am for the past 7 days.

After a relaxed breakfast, we headed out for some archetypal shopping. The only thing on my list was the budhhist prayer flag. It is one of the noblest religious symbols according to me. Buddhists believe that it does no good to the one who's buying it. The one buying it has to gift it to someone and that someone gets to wish for something.

It teaches you selflessness at its core. It teaches you to think of someone else's good before your own. We can only hope that someone receiving the flag will wish something for us. You just have to believe that you have that much good will out there.

(Or... You can play it safe like me. Buy it for your mom because that is one person who for sure will wish for your good. 😛)

Then we went to the taxi stand near MG market to find a cab back to NJP. There are counters where you can book the cab (for very reasonable price) and you will be allotted a number to wait on. It can get real crowded after lunch. So reach there accordingly.

Finally on my way back home, I was rewinding my whole trip wondering what has stuck with me after these 8 days?

Was it the famous double decker bridge?
Was it the unexplored rainbow falls?
Was it the tranquility of Gurudongmar lake?
Was it the snow at Kaala pathhar?
Was it the beautiful flowers that I couldn't even name in Yamthung?

No! It was the people whom I met! I am not saying the above mentioned things haven't stuck with me but the people associated adds meaning and value to that experience.

We wouldn't have heard about rainbow falls if it weren't for Mr. Mukherjee. Or Chaali who was the embodiment of the phrase, 'Ghar me nai, Dil me jagah honi chaiye'. Or just the sheer pleasure of getting to know Vinay bhaiya. Or that lady at Kaala pathhar who danced with us to celebrate my first snow.

I might have been there for the momos and mountains this time. But I know it in my bones that I will keep going back for the people there.

... "Like all travellers, I have seen more than I remember and remember more than I have seen" - Benjamin Disraeli.

Well, that's me looking back at the trip, I guess!

Photo of Gangtok, Sikkim, India by Preetha Vijayan
1 Comment(s)
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A great kaleidoscopic post depicting life of North East India. Well done! Keep it up.
Tue 07 17 18, 20:00 · Reply · Report
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