Meghalaya: The abode of Clouds
Floating clouds, verdant forests, gushing waterfalls and warm people – Meghalaya feels like a comfortable serene home tucked away from the cacophony of our everyday urban homes
Literally translating into the 'abode of clouds', Meghalaya boasts of charming scenery and serenity. Aside misty hills, valleys, sparkling lakes and rivers, this heavenly state of India is also endowed with numerous gorgeous waterfalls. From creating sacred forests and building bridges of living roots to garnering beliefs in forest spirits and stone monoliths along with boasting of some of the cleanest villages in Asia, people of Meghalaya share a fascinating relationship with nature.
As a child, I was always fascinated by the beauty of Shillong and Cherrapunji. The hills, clean and bountiful rivers, lakes, virgin forests (known as sacred groves here) and waterfalls, few of which could be seen even from our small home, are some of my fondest memories. My native place, Shillong, never went out of my memory even after more than three decades of living in Delhi. The reasons were obvious – its charm and unending beauty.
I happily packed for a trip to Shillong when my husband offered me to accompany him on a business trip. The promise was to take him around some unexplored places of Shillong and Cherrapunji. We took an early morning flight from Delhi to Guwahati and proceeded to Shillong by car, which took us around 2.5 hrs.
Visiting Shillong after a gap of three years, I noticed that the roads have widened to four lanes, shortening the journey by an hour with enhanced driving comfort. Our first stop was a viewpoint from where we could see Barapani or Umiam Lake, nestling among pine trees. After capturing a few shots and savouring the sweetest slices of pineapples, we proceeded further. The road from here onwards winds through picturesque pine hills, a treat to the eye.
We reached our hotel around noon and after a quick lunch, we set out for sightseeing before dusk set in at around 5 pm. Our first destination was Wards Lake situated at the foot of pinewood hill. The highlights of the lake are the hundreds of fish below its iconic wooden bridge. We threw popcorn and, soon, innumerable fish came to gobble them. We then proceeded for Lady Hydari Park, a well laid-out park with vivid varieties of flowers and orchids. The weeping willow swaying lazily in the breeze adds to the serenity of the park.
In the evening, we enjoyed a glimpse of traditional Meghalaya dances. There are three primary forms of dances performed in the state by three respective tribes, Khasi, Garo and Jaintia. The Khasi dancers performed a Thanksgiving Dance, Shad Suk Minsiem. While the girls wore traditional silk dhara (a yellow silk festive dress) and gold and red beads jewellery, the men were in traditional shirts, jackets and dhotis. Chad Sukra or sowing festival dance of the Jaintia tribe was also performed. The Wangle dance of the Garo tribe to the rhythm of long tribal drums induced us to sway to the beat.
Next morning, after an early breakfast, we started our journey to Cherrapunji known as 'Sohra' by the locals. We stopped at the Shillong peak and enjoyed a panoramic view of the city below. From Shillong peak, we headed straight to Cherrapunji. On the way, we reached a dense forest where our guide Gregory Warjari informed that we were heading for a three-tier fall recently discovered by locals.
The walk to the falls was tough. There are spots where one has to go down at a 900 angle. Makeshift bamboo ladders are used to tackle the steep trek. The gruelling journey was forgotten once we confronted the majestic three-tier Weisawdeng falls. Nestled in the thick of green vegetation were three pools of emerald water. We spent some time wading our feet, trying to imbibe the jungle sounds and gargling water.
After the arduous trek followed by lunch, we left for the Mawsmai caves. These are wonderful lime caves with mesmerising stalactite and stalagmite formations. These caves are well-lit and it is quite adventurous to walk, crawl and slide through the caves.
After this, we drove a few kilometres through rugged rocky landscape to reach the Nohkalikai Falls. The falls has a height of 1,115 ft. But as it is rain-fed, there was less water during March. The small shops lined along the viewpoint of the falls had an array of local products like cinnamon, bay leaves and berries. It was amusing to note that these small shops, like other roadside tea shops and eateries, are 'manned' by ladies. Being a matriarchal society, women occupy a very respectable place in Meghalaya's social structure. As dusk set in, the clouds descended and it started drizzling. In the evening, we enjoyed music around a bonfire.
The next morning, we were awoken at 5 am by bright sunlight pouring through the wide windows of our room. After a quick breakfast, we set on our way to Dawki, a three-hour journey towards the Indo-Bangladesh border. The vegetation had by now changed from pine to more tropical as we were heading towards the warmer areas of Meghalaya. We decided to go a little further from Dawki to Shnongpdeng. The water of River Umngot is so clear at this point that the bedrocks are visible as are the fish swimming through the rocks.
Going by its name, once again, the bright sunny day quickly became cloudy and it began pouring. But the rain receded by the time we reached the famous Living Root bridge. It was again quite a trek to reach the root bridge. But it was worth every bit. What an amazing example of coexistence of man and nature!
Ancestors of this land faced tremendous problem crossing the river during monsoons when water gushed down in great speed. The bamboo bridges they constructed were either washed away or decayed. So, they came up with this idea of living root bridge. They planted rubber trees on either side of the river and then laid a bamboo bridge across the water. To this bridge, they entwined the roots of the rubber tree. With passing time, when the bamboos decayed, the roots had already grown and replaced the bamboos and formed a bridge. These bridges are still widely used in the interiors of Meghalaya.
Our final stop was Mawlyngong, the cleanest village in Asia. This hamlet located in the East Khasi Hills is referred to as 'God's own garden'. The entire village replicates a garden, with flowers of the most exotic varieties blossoming all around. Every nook and corner has a traditional dustbin made of bamboo hanging from a tree or a post. Positively, with more inflow of tourists to this village, the income of villagers is increasing. But, as a result, the simple humble abodes are being gradually replaced by concrete houses. Wide roads are replacing narrow lanes. With modernisation, the essence and the old charm of the village is fast disappearing.
For us Delhiites, this trip was very refreshing. It was a visit to a place so different in culture, language, food and dress. Yet, we did not feel as if we are in another world. That's the beauty of unity in diversity of India.