STRETCHING THE RUPEE AND GOING THE DISTANCE

   

 Backpacking the N/East : 3 months / 4 States and a limited budget!!

NORTH EAST JOURNALS – PART 4 of 5

MEGHALAYA:  “Abode of Clouds” (13 days)

PLACES VISITED :

Shillong:

Crinoline Falls, Police Bazaar, Lady Hydari Park, Polo grounds for the Archery competition, Don Bosco Museum, Bara Bazaaram), Ward’s lake, Botanical garden .     Cheerapunji : Mawsmai Caves, Thangkharang park, Khoh Ramah, Seven sister’s fall, Eco Park, Nongriat living root bridges, Nohkalikai falls, Ram Krishna Mission museum, Local Bazaar.   Mawlynnong : Skywalk, Balancing boulder, Niriang waterfalls, Riwai Root bridge, Bangladesh border at Lynghat

PLACES STAYED IN :   Shillong : Hotel Indiana (Dormitory Rs. 600/- for 4 bed room) and Summit guest house (Rs.1,000/-)     Cherrapunji: Coniferous Resort (Rs.1000/- per day)

 Mawlynnong : Mawlynnong Guest house (Bamboo houses on stilts)  
 Day 1 
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After landing at Guwahati we boarded a shared taxi from the airport to Shillong, capital of Meghalaya (Rs. 300/- per seat), a journey of 4 hours. Having reached Shillong around 6PM we were walking with our backpack for nearly two hours searching for a decent place to stay, but being a major tourist destination, nearly all places were overbooked. It came to a stage where we asked somebody for directions to the nearest temple, hoping we would get some sleeping space in their pilgrims rest house. Enroute we found a very rundown hotel and booked their dorm (Rs. 600/- for the 4 person Bed dormitory).
Day 2
Resumed our search for a better accommodation. Although there are heaps of hotels and inns around Police bazaar and surrounding areas, all of them were fully booked. Finally got lucky when we called Summit guest house. This family run guest house situated in Upper Lachumeire is beautifully located, away from the hustle and bustle of the main town area and yet within walking distance. The guest house sits besides the main bunglow of the owners, in a beautifully landscaped garden. It has undoubtedly been one of the best places we have stayed in during this trip.
Day 3
Visited Crinoline falls, situated very close to U/Lachumiere. The walk through dense wooded pines away from city crowds is quite pleasant. Then visited Lady Hydari Pak and the attached zoo which is very well maintained. In the afternoon visited Bara Bazaar.
Bara Bazaaror Iewduh market is another unique experience and an ideal place to see the effect of the matrilineal system followed in Meghalaya, as nearly 80-90 percent of all the stalls were seen to be operated by women. This riotous, colorful and noisy gathering of peddlers who gather here from all across Meghalaya, selling anything from natural fibre loofahs to large riverine fishes to exotic fruits, and all within the narrow dim-lit alleys with innumerable steps, is an experience not to be missed. One prominent factor we noticed in the entire Meghalaya region is that nearly every person is addicted to betel nut and paan chewing habit, and this reflects in the amount of stalls at Bara bazar dealing in sale of these leaves and nuts.

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Day 4:
Visited Police Bazaar area, the hub of all activity for placing bets on the archery results for the evening

The Siat Khnam is a legal form of betting and works something like this: Each day at the Polo grounds, at around 4:15 PM a group of archers get around a stationary target (a hay-stack) in a semi-circle. On the signal, they start shooting continuously. Some arrows fall to the ground, some over shoot and some get imbedded on the target. After about 5 minutes the master of the ceremony blows the whistle and all shooting ceases. A white cloth is raised covering the target and then comes the process of counting the arrows which is done in plain sight and with a couple of persons involved in the actual counting. If for example the total count of arrows on the target has been 382, then the winning number for this game is 82 (Betting numbers being from 00 to 99). This is called a single bet and an amount of Rs. 10/- could fetch you Rs. 800/-, if your bet was on 82. There is another bet placed on the last ending digit, 2 in this case and a bet of Rs.10/- can get you Rs.95/-.  At around 4:30pm there is another round of shooting and subsequent counting. The earnings on the bets are lesser than in the first game. However the largest possible earning comes in predicting the forecast of both the games. If for example the arrows counted in the second round were 159, then the winning number is 59 and the forecast for this day is      82 – 59. If you are able to get this right, than an amount of Rs.5/- can get you a jackpot of Rs.23,000/-    

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Bettings begin around 9 am at the innumerable stalls across Shillong. Once the results are out, it is flashed to these betting counters who then display the results until the next day.

The small bet, we had placed in the morning gave us a vested interested in seeing the game later in the afternoon. We did not make any killings but did enjoy the experience.
The walk from Bara bazaar to DonBosco cultural museum was through one of the cleanest, quietest and pristine neighborhoods I have ever seen. The tastefully done bunglows, the beautifully landscaped gardens and the complete absence of any hurriedness I have come to accept as common place in today’s world was an absolute joy to behold.

The Don Bosco museum or more correctly, Centre for Indigenous Cultures, is a must see for anybody who comes to Shillong. All of seven storey it gives an insight of all the seven states of the North East and also of Sikkim. The entire museum is extremely well laid out and has a lot of interactive tools like touch screen computers for additional information, life size creations of village houses and large theme galleries, covering all aspects from weapons, costumes and ornaments, housing, religion. Some of the highlights are the 28 x 25 feet relief map of the entire N/East., the large library and a section of a 250 year old tree (claimed to be 100 feet in circumference) displayed in the Agricultural section.    

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Day 5- Visited Ward’s Lake and Botanical garden. Later spent some time at Police Bazaar. After 5 days of rest and local sightseeing it was time to head to Cheerapunji (Sohra)(The wettest Place on Planet Earth, although the title now is shared with nearby Mawsynram).

Elev.-4500 feet / 56 Kms. from Shillong.

Day 6 –

  Boarded a shared Sumo (Rs.50/-, 1.5 Hrs.) from Anjalee Cinema taxi stand in Shillong. The drive was through scenic landscapes with rolling hills giving way to green valleys and gushing waterfalls. Quite frequently we would get enveloped in a thick layer of fog as the rain clouds, trapped between the hills would eventually float onto the roads. It is quite frightening but admirable to see these drivers push the pedal even in zero visibility as if seeing what’s coming up ahead was not really a part of their equation!

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After a brief halt at Upper Sohra it then leaves for lower Sohra which is just 8 Kms further away the final stop. From here we walked it out a further 1.5 Kms to Coniferous resort, which is on the way to Mawsmai caves. Location wise this is an ideal place as all the local sightseeing, with the exception of Nongriat Root bridges, are closer from here than Cheerapunji resorts, the other established resort. It is run by a friendly couple Ila and Bor who are extremely helpful and go the extra mile to see to the guest’s comfort. There are presently 8 rooms and a terrace but they are working on adding an extra floor. The rooms are very nice and cosy, with dish TV, hot water and room service. The food above all is excellent with generous portions enough to fill even the largest belly.

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For local sightseeing Ila and Bor recommended to do the following points in one day as they all lie in the same direction : Ecological park, Mawsmai caves, Nohsingthiang falls (Seven sisters fall), Thangkharang park and Khoh Ramah View point. In a cab the entire circuit could be covered in half a day. Charges around 600/- for round trip with waiting. But we had different plans…

The same evening we walked it out to Mawsmai caves, about 5 kms. away. This is a well-managed system and is a good place to get an insight of the caves in Meghalaya. It is more of a tourist friendly cave complete with lighting and well-marked routes. We would have loved to do some more serious caving (or potholing) however it is not recommended in the rains as the system starts filling up. It is recommended to come to this cave in the late afternoon to avoid the hoards of noisy day tourists who come from Shillong during the day. On the way back we got a lift from some of the local boys who have a restaurant near the cave.

Day 7-
Started early on foot hoping to cover all points on foot in one day. We hitched a ride again in one of the passing trucks. First stop was Thangkharan park, situated 12 kms from lower Sohra, which is a small well maintained park, spread over 0.055sq.kms, offering an almost 180 degrees view of the Bangladesh plains and of the famous Kynrem falls.
After this walked to Khoh Ramah (or Mot Trob) about 2 Kms away another viewpoint jutting over a natural waterfall and a natural rock formation looking like an upturned basket, 200 feet in height, perched precariously on the very edge of the cliff. According to local folklore, it was once food basket of a huge giant who used to trouble the villagers no end. They finally got rid of him by feeding my crushed glass mixed in his meal.
Later we managed to get a shared cab (Rs 20/-) heading back to town and hitched a ride to Seven sister’s falls, 6 kms away from the resort we were staying in. Once again as there was no urgency to get back in the cab and move on, we sat down leisurely waiting for the clouds to lift off until finally we got a glimpse of the grand vista. The entire cliff forms a horseshoe type basin, starting from the EcoPark area on the far left and curving away to the other end ending up at a small local village on the very edge, a road distance of at least 8 to 10 kms in circumference. There were seven major falls and a couple of smaller falls. Equally dramatic was to see the hills end so abruptly, as if a hot knife slicing a slab of butter and throwing off the Bangladeshi side of the slab off the table.
We then walked it out along the curve of the cliff into the Eco Park area, which is more of an open park offering grand edge of the cliff views of the Bangladesh plains. There is a mysterious “Missing” waterfall worth seeing.
The most rewarding part of doing this entire circuit at our own pace was we evaded the mass of tourists at all these points (except for the Eco park) and so could explore them at leisure.  We even managed to visit the local limestone mines and saw the entire process first hand. The travel expense for the entire day was only Rs.20/-.
Day 8:
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 We had booked a cab to the village of Tyrna, 14 kms away. This is the point where you also pick up a local guide to take you to the living root bridges. The cab driver, a good friend of our resort owners, was instructed to bargain for us and get a good guide. This was very much required, as even with him talking to the villagers in the local language was initially told that a guide would cost Rs.1,000/-. Somehow we managed to convince one of the guys, who did not know any English or Hindi, to take us there for Rs. 300/-. From Tyrna, it is another kilometer down towards the starting off point to Nongriat double decker living root bridge. The trek is just 3 Kms, However it is, for the most part, a series of concrete steps going on and on. You basically have to get down to the valley cross three wire-rope bridges and climb up concrete steps again on the other side. In the rains, which is nearly all the time, these tend to get slippery and the steepness of the climb is a bit grueling. However getting a glimpse of the living root bridges is really worth the effort. People who brave this trek are rewarded with two root bridges, one of them, the world-famous double-decker at Nongriat. Crafted by hands of the local Khasi tribals over centuries, intertwining and weaving together the aerial roots of the banyan tree, these bridges one atop the other (59 feet and 83 feet) link the other side of the stream filled gorge and are strong enough to support a small car, if one ever got there that is! In a way I am glad that this place is not so easily accessible, as it keeps foot count of tourists down and helps maintain the sanctity of the place.
Day 9 –
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We hired a taxi to take us to Nohkalikai falls (Rs.200/- including waiting), stated to be one of the highest falls in India, standing a full 335 meters in height. It is just 45 minutes drive from Lower Sohra. The View point is more of a long stretch of the cliff with guard rails and a few viewing decks along the entire length of the well-managed park. A board inside the park claims this to be the fourth highest falls in the world. Once again, patience is the key, as at this time of the year, you have a lot of clouds moving in all the time, obscuring any view. But wait just a bit long and one is greeted with the magnificent sight of these majestic falls and the entire horse shoe cliff. We even walked to the edge of the park which curves away from these falls and moves on towards the left to merge with hills further away. From here we could again get a glimpse of the Bangladesh plains spread out below.
Day 10 –
Bid farewell to our gracious hosts, Ila and Bor and boarded a shared sumo from lower Sohra taxi stand to Shillong. (Rs.50/- per seat). Reached Anjali cinema stand at 9 am and spent some time in the canteen as the connecting sumo for our next destination, Mawlynnong was to leave only at 1 pm.
Mawlynnong, a small hamlet, having only about 82 houses, is rated to be the cleanest village in Asia. It is about 90 Kms. away from Shillong and the journey took us about 4 hours. Pynsurla is the main transit hub for this place beyond which there are not many options by way of transport. This portion of Meghalaya is more lush and thick in vegetation and sees much lesser influx of tourists as compared to Cherrapunji. However this is soon changing as this place has been added on the itinerary of the day tourists coming from Shillong.
There is not much by way of accommodation, the only choice as of now being the much talked about house on stilts. We had done a pre booking to this place from Shillong itself. The guest house has two rooms, both separately built on stilts. The larger room houses 6-8, whilst the smaller room that we were in houses 2-4 persons. Apart from that the construction is almost similar. The entire structure is made of Bamboos and covered with thatched roof. There is a nice sit out and a small observation platform. The constant sound of the nearby gushing waterfall adds a very therapeutic feel to the entire experience.
The manager, Henry is a young guy in his mid thirties and is in charge of the whole show, including taking the guests sight seeing.
Day 11 –
This was a day of exploration of the hamlet and surrounding areas. The place is very well maintained and has well-earned its reputation of being spick and span, though if one asks me, even the small hamlet called Mawkhar – (Riatsanthiat) I walked through whilst in Shillong, on my way to Don Bosco Museum is equally worth praising.
Visited the Skywalk, a large bamboo platform atop a few trees in one corner of the hamlet, on top of which you get an amazing view of the Bangladesh plains.
Later in the evening we came face to face with the carnivorous Pitcher Plant which was located in our neighbor’s garden.   
Day 12 –
We again got lucky with transport, as there was a big group that had checked in and they had their own vehicle and invited us to join them for the day’s sightseeing. Covered Niriang waterfalls, Riwai root bridge (just as impressive as the one we saw in Cheera) and a natural phenomenon of a 8 foot x 6 foot balancing boulder.
Later in the day after saying goodbye to the group who were leaving the same day, we went for a walk to Nongietniang village, where there is another guest house quite similar to the one we were staying in. From this village is just a half hour walk to Lynghat the border town and the crossing over point to Bangladesh. From the guest house we got a clear unhindered view of the Bangladeshi plains, beginning just a stone’s throw away and stretching far away.
Day 13 and 14  –
Being a Sunday, there was no shared sumos leaving from Mawlynnong, so we had to hire a cab to take us to Pynsurla (400/-) from where we got a shared sumo back to Shillong (Rs.50/- per seat).
Once here, we boarded the bus (5 star travels) to Siliguri (We had pre booked the tickets for Rs.400/- each).

It was a good 17 hours journey and reached Siliguri on 7th June/0700 Hrs. Once again we checked into our good friend Raju’s, Hotel Tiara. For more photos check out next post or follow link  below:

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Meghalaya

NOTE (BACKPACKING NORTH EAST INDIA AND BASIC MOUNTAINEERING COURSE) (06.APR.2010 TO 26.JUN.2010): MY SEQUENCE OF TRAVEL WAS AS FOLLOWS : DARJEELING – HMI BASIC MOUNTAINEERING COURSE – STAY IN DARJEELING – ARUNACHAL PRADESH – MEGHALAYA – SIKKIM

ALSO CHECK OUT FOLLOWING POSTS AS A CONTINUATION OF MY ENTIRE N.EAST TRAVEL EXPERIENCE  –

1) PROLOGUE TO NORTH EAST JOURNALS

2) DARJEELING

3) ARUNACHAL PRADESH

4) SIKKIM

5) HMI, BASIC COURSE

Next and final destination state was Sikkim.

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