"I can’t believe we are doing this!” “Whose idea was this, again?” “Are we really going up a bamboo bridge?” “Yes, I know he said it could take the weight of an elephant, but I don’t really believe it!” It was day three of our 15-day journey to Meghalaya and Sikkim, and I was hardly in the mood of falling off a ‘bamboo skywalk’. Yes, that’s what it was called. A walk to the sky. At the very top, I was standing easily about 70 feet off the ground, which approximately means the seventh floor of a building. We could catch a glimpse of Bangladesh from this viewing area.
But as all good things should start, let’s go to the very beginning. In our fortnight-long trip to Northeast India, we had planned to cover only Meghalaya and Sikkim. The first half of the trip was reserved for a place that has earned the moniker, ‘abode of the clouds’, Meghalaya. We had our itinerary carved out. Our first stop was its capital, Shillong, fondly called the ‘Scotland of the East’. Followed by a homestay in Asia’s cleanest village, Mawlynnong, and, finally, the rain capital of India, Cherrapunji!
We arrived in Shillong after a three-hour drive from Guwahati. On the way, we stopped by this absolutely divine lake called Umiam Lake. Do not go by Google pictures for this lake. None of them do any justice to it and you might be tempted to skip it, too. Our driver asked us to halt here and thanks to the weather and very few tourists, we had a wonderful time. There are plenty of water sports activities for you to indulge in, and a small snack shop that sells some amazing puffs and cakes at a very nominal price. We ended up spending a good three hours here and almost forgot that we have a hotel check-in, and that we need to explore the Shillong market too, besides Ward’s Lake, both a stone’s throw away from our hotel. By night, Shillong city is abuzz with activity. Loads of restaurants to choose from, and ample shopping to do.
The next day, we were off to Cherrapunji, the wettest place in India. But before we reached there, we had planned a detour to the Bangladesh-India border. Not to see the border per se, but to experience a rather popular boat ride in the Umngot river at Dawki village. Your first impression of the place will hardly be great with people chasing you to take their boat and you having to trek down a narrow rocky path to the river. But once in the boat, there is a change of heart. The water is so clear that you can see through to the riverbed, and at times, even catch the reflection of your boat. Brace yourself though; these aren’t, by any stretch of imagination, the safest boats! On the ‘other’ side, the boatman claimed we were in Bangladesh, but I could see Indian soldiers on patrol. I bought the tamarind-and-berries-jhaal muri, and it was finger-licking good!
That night, we stayed at Mawlynnong. Mawlynnong has earned a name for itself as not just India’s but Asia’s cleanest village, and this I had to see to believe! There are about 90 families that inhabit this village, literacy is 100%, and almost every family has either a homestay or a small tea stall or restaurant to cater to the steady stream of tourists. And believe me, this place is wonderfully clean and green.
The next morning, it started raining heavily while we were on our morning walk. As we waited for some hot tea at a small teashop, we saw the three women who had been given the job of cleaning the entire village braving the rains and working away! The villagers were even collecting rainwater in bottles and transferring it to the washrooms via pipes. We loved the super comfortable homestay and simple home-cooked meals. The place also has some shops where you can buy local artefacts and jewellery.
Here was where we walked up a skywalk, 70 feet in the air, to take in some great views. Needless to say, the walk down was more terrifying. We also marvelled at the beauty of the single living root bridges, at a short distance from the village. These are spectacular. The roots that have grown since centuries have been fashioned into walking bridges that were strong enough for us to walk on.
Finally, we headed to Cherrapunji, armed with raincoats and umbrellas for good measure. After a night’s meal at a local restaurant, and a dark and stormy night, we was greeted by sunshine the next morning. While we were at breakfast, it turned really cold and then by the time we were at Elephant Falls, it began to rain heavily. Good time to have Maggi at a tiny eatery. Peppered with Khasi chillies and accompanied by lal chai, the noodles are instant mood lifters. Locals say that Cherrapunji experiences four weather changes in a day and we experienced that. When we were at Mawsmai Caves, we were sweating!
Cherrapunji is dotted with several waterfalls, the best being the Seven Sisters Falls, the Nohkalikai Falls, the Dainthlen Falls, each boasting of a backstory gorier than the previous. On my way back to Shillong, we made a detour to Laitlum Canyons. Must have been our lucky day because no sooner than we had a glimpse of these ‘end of the world’ canyons than the clouds covered it completely, and we were sitting in the middle of the clouds gazing into nothingness. Our only company? A cup of lal chai.