Monday, June 14, 2010

Cherrapunji, Meghalaya

By 6:30 our car was winding its way up the hills Shillong towards Cherrapunji a.k.a Sohra. Even though the distance is just about 56km, stopovers at many viewpoints enroute make the journey a prolonged one. From Shillong downtown, our car revved up the pinewood covered mountains which last all the way till head of Eastern Air Command (EAC) headquarters. The uneven landscape of Shillong city evens out after crossing EAC with farms on both sides of the roads, the busy city transforms into a beautiful laid-back countryside in not more than 10Km from its heart.

Our first stop, most tourists' for that matter, was at the Duwan Singh Syiem Bridge near which the forest department has made a view point. That is the first view of the Mawkdok Dympep Valley which extends all the way upto Cherrapunji. One has to be lucky to have a good view of the valley, most times it'll be obscured by clouds. For us the view was pretty clear with clouds kissing the top of the mountains. The name Meghalaya (abode of clouds) will be justified by just one look at this valley. There are shops selling food and handicraft near the bridge.

We went a little ahead of the bridge and stopped over for breakfast on the ridge of the valley. It was one of the most romantic breakfast I've ever had...seated on thin grass cover over the edge of the canyon we had delicious parathas and alu sabji. The panorama was breathtaking, a hazy valley in front of us with cloud-kissing-mountains in its backdrop. Our next stop was at Wahkaba tourist spot, but the visibility was very low and the valley was completely covered by clouds. We could hear the roar of the waterfall but see nothing, we hoped for a better weather on our way back and continued to Cherrapunji.

We bypassed Cherrapunji city and head straight to the one and only eco-park. The entry fee to the park is Rs.10 per person and Rs.20 for parking. The eco-park has paved pathways leading to the balustraded edge of the canyon, few shelters and kids' playing area. The view from the edge of the canyon in one of the most picturesque made up of green canyon walls dotted by waterfalls and on to the right Sylhet Plains of Bangladesh. We walked along the edge of the canyon, the clouds kept veiling & unveiling the valley view and we crossed few streams which fell down the valley in the form of small cascades.

As we reached the left end of the eco-park we heard a roaring of a waterfall but we couldn't see it. On the other side of the fence we saw a river reaching its fall down the valley, we were delighted, we jumped across the fence and descended a small mound and we were at the river. It was a shallow but wide river flowing on a rocky bed and falling off the cliff. My adventurous instincts made me go to the edge of the cliff and photograph the vertical fall of the river, it was scary at the same time breathtaking. My wife held my T-shirt to prevent me from falling off the cliff while I kept clicking. We saw others following our footsteps down to the river but none of them went to the tip of the cliff, we quickly got back to the parking where our driver had dozed off in the car. We had tea and drove off for Mawsmai caves.

Mawsmai caves weren't too far from the eco-park, just about 5 minutes drive. The entrance to the caves cost just Rs. 5 per person and an additional Rs. 25 per camera. The caves is a typical limestone cave with artsy stalactite-stalagmite formations. We had left our footwear in the car knowing that there would be water in the cave and indeed there was water. What I liked about this cave than say Grutas de Garcia or Yellow Dragon Caves is simple fluorescent lighting scheme, which gives a very natural feel. There are few places where one needs to bend and twist to continue ahead. This is one of the smallest caves I've seen, the whole cave could be traversed in less than 10 minutes in case you're not stopping by to see or photograph.

We even went to another unlit cave which was totally dark and devoid of any souls. We lit our torch and explored the cave for a while, but we were not sure if we had to continue for there were no guide, we didn't know how deep the cave was and we just had one torch which was already weak. We renounced any further exploration and came out. We then head to another part of the valley.

It was just the opposite side of the eco-park and the view was completely different from here. We could see lot many waterfalls on the wall of the canyon, but the clouds stopped me from clicking any breathtaking photographs. But it was a great feeling to sit on a high rock with India on one side, Bangladesh on the other and guzzle a can of KingFisher Blue. We spent quality time sitting there and just enjoying the magnificent views Cherrapunji offered. We even crossed the fence and stepped on Bangladesh soil, before we moved on.

I was sick of the same Indian food that you get almost everywhere in India...same old rotis, curries, dhal...those pseudo-Chinese manchurians, noodles and fried rice. We asked our driver to stop at an authentic Khasi place where we could have the local food and he obeyed us. He stopped at a very small Khasi restaurant and the old lady was glad to have some tourists, for Khasi restaurants are frequented by the locals and not tourists. We had delicious Dohkhlieh, a sort of salad made of pork, onions and chilies eaten with rice; cooked dry fish and a very spicy chutney. We were very delighted to eat a very different kind of food. We clicked a few shots of the lady and her granddaughters, paid for the food and took leave.

Enroute we stopped over at Wahkaba tourist spot where the clouds had denied us of any view in the morning. It was all gone now and the valley view was beautiful. The railed pavement along the edge of the canyon is destroyed by landslide, but we discovered a way to get to the top of the waterfall which required few steep slipper descents. It was worth every effort to reach the top of the waterfall, the scenery was just too splendid. We spent about 15min in silence listening to the pleasant roar of the cascade before we started back. From there it was a non-stop drive back to Shillong.

Cherrapunji, which every Indian would have heard in his geography classes, is undoubtedly a must visit. Though the status of "wettest-place" has changed from Cherrapunji to Mawsynram (about 16km from Cherrapunji), it still lives up to our hopes and imaginations that we one would have after reading about it. It's got a pure nature package of valleys and waterfalls, caves and canyons, evergreen misty landscapes and heavy rains. Cherrapunji has other interesting places in store, but this is all we could do. good details about what to see and do in this wonderland.

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