Travel story contributor: Shoma Abhyankar
When it rains in Cherrapunji…it really RAINS! The green gorges, valleys, forests become a richer shade of emerald; the streams and rivers gurgle away; the overcharged roaring waterfalls cascade down the hills bringing the whole landscape to life! However our plans of vacation in north- east India came to fruition only in January when there was hardly any rain! In fact, the place was facing a dry spell! Would you believe it? It was a cold January evening with temperature dipping to 4 degrees when we reached Shillong so we headed straight to our room at Army Holiday Home. A flaming fireplace made our room just the perfect cozy retreat and few swigs of brandy warmed us enough to battle the biting chill. With two days at our disposal, we planned to dedicate one day to Cherrapunji, 56 kms from Shillong!
Originally called Sohra, the name Cherrapunji, meaning ‘Land of Oranges’ was given by the British. Located on the Khasi hills, it was considered the wettest place on earth, however, now the nearby village of Mawsynram holds the record.
Later that evening, while roaming the streets of Shillong market gorging on fresh steaming hot noodles, soup and spicy chicken momos at the wayside stalls, we inquired for taxis and hired one for Rs 800. The next morning, taxi arrived promptly at 9 in the morning and we set course for the very famous ‘double-decker living root-bridges’ of Cherrapunji. Root bridges are made by passing the thin hanging roots of ficus through hollow bamboos across the stream and intertwining with the roots of tree at other side of the river. After a few years the roots thicken and grow strong resulting in a strong breathing-living root bridge. These bridges are a lifeline for the villagers during heavy rains when the streams are in full flow and hazardous to cross.
However, half an hour later we realized, that the taxi driver had no clue whatsoever about the root bridges. After a heated argument, we directed him to follow a local group of students who seemed to be heading to the same destination.
We drove along the long winding road, flanked by ferns, pineapple farms and bamboo trees on one side and deep green beautiful valley on the other side. The drive that should have ended after forty five minutes seemed never ending.
Finally, the taxi stopped at a village with neat huts and lanes. Faint strains of hymns could be heard from a hut which was a church. To our surprise however, we had reached “Mawlynnong” and not Cherrapunji as originally planned! *Sigh*!
92 kms from Shillong, “Mawlynnong” village, is on Indo-Bangladesh border. It is also known as “God’s own Garden” and the cleanest village in Asia. There, swathed in dense lush green foliage, down in the valley was the hundred year old single root-bridge or “Jhinken Jhri” in local language. Though it wasn’t what we aimed to see but was definitely equally majestic and worth visiting.
With more hours lost than intended, we cut short our itinerary of the day. Setting course towards Sohra again, we passed many gorges that had the tell-tale signs of waterfalls but were unfortunately absolutely dry at the time.
We did make a stop at the much visited Elephant falls though. To my daughter’s delight, a photographer had put up his shop near the waterfall site and was renting out native tribal dress to kids for photoshoot. Dressing up as Khasi tribal princess, she got herself clicked to her heart’s content.
Later we visited Ka Khoh Ramhah also known as Motrop, a rock which looks like a cone basket of an evil giant. Here, beyond the parapet, down the slope, we could see the green plains of Bangladesh. The lime-stone natural caves at Mawsmai with their weird shapes and rugged insides were the last thing on our list of to-do that day. Though I stumbled in the dim light and narrow passages at some parts, but the caves are perfect for caving activity if claustrophobia is not an issue.
The ‘Seven Sister States’ are rightfully called ‘Paradise Unexplored’ and our misadventure as far as the double-decker root bridges is concerned has definitely left me yearning for more!