Sohbar raises the idyll bar

Sohbar raises the idyll bar

Perched on top of a hill and surrounded by thick forests,Sohbar village is a hidden gem that is waiting to be explored, Ramzauva Chhakchhuak writes

Located some 12 km away from its famous neighbour, Sohbar has the Wahrew River, the Arch Bridge and a surreal camping spot that is mostly popular with local tourists.

When people visit the state of Meghalaya, the one place that is most certainly included in their travel itinerary is Cherrapunji or Sohra, as it is called locally. However, not very far from this famous tourist place is a village called Sohbar and many wonderful sites around it. Fortunately or unfortunately, these sites virtually live in the shadow of their famous neighbour.

Sohbar is located in the Shella Bholaganj block of East Meghalaya around 50 km away from Shillong, the state capital. From Cherrapunji one has to travel another 10 to 12 km to reach the village.

The drive to the village is sheer joy. One can witness some fine landscapes along the way from the famous rolling hills of the Khasi plateau that turn to steep cliffs, similar to the ones from where the famous Nohkalikai Falls near Cherrapunji runs off. Being near the international border, one can also witness the gradual transition to the plains of Sylhet in Bangladesh as one drives further.

The campsite
The campsite.

 

Vantage point

How did we know we were near Sohbar village? Well, one can see the entire village from a distance. It sits pretty, perched on top of a hill that is surrounded by thick forests. The nearby hills are also covered with abundant greenery. Although we did not go to the village, as a young boy years ago, I had once been there with a few of my cousins whose relatives are from that village. One thing that I could clearly remember about this trip was the sight of broom grass everywhere. Cultivating broom grass is a good source of income for the villagers.

Like I said earlier, there are a number of things to do around Sohbar and one of these is a visit to the Wahrew River, that runs near the village. A very conspicuous orange coloured bridge called the Wahrew Arch Bridge that was completed a few months ago is a place that offers very good views of the river. The bridge in itself is gradually gaining popularity among local tourists.

We, a group of friends, decided to camp by the banks of this river for a night and went on an unplanned kayaking trip upstream to discover villagers with an intense love for fishing, pools of crystal clear water, and some fascinating rock formations.

Getting to the campsite on the banks of the Wahrew River is a bit difficult if you don’t have your own transport. While the roads leading to the village are great, the one hour’s drive to the banks from the main road is quite rough. We had an off-road vehicle that went right up to a part of the river’s rocky banks.

The vehicle was parked here and we proceeded to trek about 400m upstream to our campsite. The place is inaccessible by any kind of vehicle. While almost the entire way to the camp has clear waters, there are stretches that are simply irresistible for a dip. Some of us did the obvious.

Our campsite was located a short walk away from the Wahrew Arch Bridge. In fact, one could see the bridge at a distance throughout the entire trek. The view of the numerous rocks by the river and that of an orange arch on the horizon makes for quite a good picture opportunity. Amidst the numerous rocks near the bank, there was a clearing of grey sand and gravel. Four blue and white coloured tents and some huts made of bamboo slats and thatch roofs were lined up here. We had arrived.

The campsite was managed by three locals, one of whom was a middle-aged man and the leader of the group. We referred to him as Maduh (this literally translates to ‘youngest uncle’ in the Khasi language). A jack of all trades, he cooked, cleaned, was an expert craftsman, kayaker and ace guitar player. He could play Dire Straits’ Sultans of Swing with great ease and many other English songs!

No sooner had we reached, we got engrossed with the inflatable kayaks that were right next to our camps. Two of us rowed in the nearby waters for around two hours and later made plans to venture upstream with Maduh’s guidance and help. By the time we came out of the water, it was already dark.

Wahrew Arch Bridge.
Wahrew Arch Bridge.

 

Ghost stories by the fire

A campfire was lit for us near the huts that served as the kitchen and quarters for the camp staff. Even though it was the winter season, this part of the state was more pleasant than others. Our campsite was also very windy. Maduh turned raconteur and told us about local myths, politics, ghosts, and mermaids (that are very popular around here) as we went further into the night. I must say, the crackling of the fire, gushing sound of the river nearby, cold wind in our ears and faces and dim Chinese lamps around us provided the perfect setting for such stories.

Dinner comprised of a simple meal of some chicken curry, rice and some ground chillies. We decided to call it a night soon after. The next morning we surveyed the river bank till we were right below the bridge. There were campers on the other side of the bank. After eating noodles for breakfast, we started our trip up the river. Two kayaks with three people each (including one guide for each group) made the journey.

Wading through the river.
Wading through the river.

 

Kayaking is addictive

The guide in my boat didn’t seem to know much about what he was doing. We decided to take matters into our own hands and took turns to try and steer the boat. Negotiating the currents, which, although very weak, was quite a task and several times we ended up near the banks over or near some huge rocks. At other times we would move forward but with the kayak in a sideways position rather than it facing the front!

This angered a lot of fishermen who we encountered on both sides of the bank at certain stretches of the river. Rather than still waters, some peace and tranquility, they got a lot of noise and rough paddling that day. We were reprimanded several times when we came near the banks.

Achieving the perfect balance and position required deft strokes and clever manoeuvring of the currents. We got slightly better after a while and it was addictive, to say the least. A friend and I were hooked and were virtually fighting over our turns to be in charge of steering the kayak despite being dead tired from it. We, after all, had just one paddle.

On the other boat, however, Maduh was sitting at the back edge of the boat, smoking his bidis while he paddled the boat all alone, without much effort. It clearly showed that he had done this too many times before.

After a strenuous but exciting hour of paddling, we parked our kayaks, trekked to a small waterfall, took several dips in some pools of crystal clear water, collected rocks with unique formations, and headed back. We finally managed to keep our kayak boat straight and facing the front.