मेघालय (Meghalaya) = मेघ (Megha) + आलय (Alaya)। Megha means clouds, Alaya means a temple or a sacred place. I love clouds, jungle, mountains, rains. It was obvious to me that I had to visit Meghalaya sometime. However, the plan to visit it this year during October’s last week was made in a hurry because I was fortunate enough that I was able to find (convince) two of the best companions I could find for this trip: my father and my maternal uncle. I quickly booked flight tickets from Kolkata to Guwahati and chances of cancellation of this trip reduced even more. I didn’t make detailed plans for this trip. My plan was: Kolkata-Guwahati-Shillong-Mawlynnong-Dawki-Cherrapunji-Guwahati. I planned our trip from Guwahati to be on self-driven two-wheelers (to be rented from Guwahati). No advance booking of hotels or even renting vehicles. I took this risk because I had my father with me and he is very good at negotiation and people skills.

Kolkata

To be frank, I wasn’t much looking forward to travel around Kolkata. But this city surprised me. It has a unique vibe with its yellow sodium street lights, ambassador taxis, distinct style of architecture and educated (as it appeared to me on the first impression) people especially women on the buses. Compared to New Delhi, Mumbai which are too modern and too urban for me, I liked the cultural, retro vibe I was getting during my short stay at the city of joy.

Guwahati-Shillong
As soon as we landed at Guwahati airport (11 a.m.), we boarded a taxi directly to a two-wheeler renting agency. Renting vehicles took a bit of our time and it was clear to us that we couldn’t go ahead of Shillong on that day. Time started feeling a lot different here. We started around 3 but it felt like it’s already 4:30. Sun sets before 5 in this part of our country, 90 minutes before Jaisalmer. Our country is huge. 
As soon as you get out of the Guwahati city traffic (which is actually not too hard on two-wheelers), the road to Shillong is four-lane, well maintained national highway and within first 5 minutes of driving, I was overwhelmingly filled with joy. “This is so much better than traveling on four-wheelers!!”

“Traveling on a four-wheeler is like traveling inside a cabin of a big ship. Traveling on a two-wheeler is like traveling on an open boat in the same river. I will always choose the latter. It’s way more joyful and I can breeze through traffic while a guy on a four-wheeler may be stuck there for hours.”

And this is what happened. We breezed past long queue of vehicles and reached Shillong quite easily.

On the way to Shillong: Umiam lake at sunset

Hotels at Shillong are expensive, food, on the contrary, is quite cheap. Shillong is a bit similar to other big cities on Himalayan hills such as Gangtok, Shimla. Small lanes, large elevation, and slope on roads. Rush on market (Police Bazaar). As I was strolling through Police Bazaar at night, I saw all kinds of people: couples, locals selling all kinds of products, travelers from North, South, East, West, outside India. Guys were walking with a swag while some girls were wearing shorts and walking with confidence (even though it was cold). When I think about it for a while, I started remembering so many details. Observing random strangers is fun. There is a thin line between observing and staring though.

Next day, we checkedout from our hotel early morning. The plan was to use google maps and navigate to few tourist spots around Shillong before heading for Mawlynnong. These tourist spots are Elephant falls, Shillong view-point, and Laitlum canyons. It took a while to explore the first two spots and we, kind of lost our way in between but still, no one was complaining and why complain when even just driving on the roads was giving us views of fields, hills, greenery, local happy faces. Sadly I broke my camera phone that day and to add salt to the wounds, my father dropped the phone in Elephant falls. Its touch started misbehaving and I was very disappointed. I love that Nokia phone so much even though its 4 years old and has a dead operating system.

 Shillong city from the view point

We were about to reach Laitlum when the weather took a sudden twist. Mist started coming down to the ground level. After a few minutes, it felt like we were driving through the clouds. Visibility was less than 15 m.

Our visit to Laitlum canyon was wasted. We headed for Mawlynnong. The weather was same everywhere. It started getting worse. We were facing tiny water droplets while driving in between cloudy mist with less than 15m visibility. It was chilling cold. It was challenging, adventurous. I kind of liked it and my mood was uplifted when I saw a group of boys playing football at those weather conditions. My kind of people!
Around 4 pm, when we reached Pynursla, the weather became clear. Sun was already going down in saffron, red colors. Clouds were still there. We had come down to a lower level. Low hills, plains with yellowish large grass. I suddenly remembered a scene from James Bond’s Skyfall movie when Bond took her boss to his old house. It felt like Scotland as shown in that movie (Britishers nicknamed Meghalaya “Scotland of the east”). Sadly, I have no pictures of that moment as my phone was misbehaving that day. However, here is a picture of that place from the other day.

Near Pynursla

By the time we reached Mawlynnong, it was completely dark. There was no electricity in that village at that time. It took a while for us to find a homestay. Owner of our homestay allowed us to cook dinner for ourselves. What more can anyone ask for!

Mawlynnong: The cleanest village in Asia
After a tiring and cloudy day, the next day couldn’t have been any better. My camera phone started working again. It’s a Nokia. It was expected. I went for a walk around the village. It was so peaceful, silent, beautiful and obviously very clean. Sounds of different creatures were so clear in the jungles nearby.

Mawlynnong

Funnily, while roaming in the nearby jungles, my mobile received a message from Jio Grameen- Bangladesh. Yes, I was getting reception from mobile towers of Bangladesh. We were indeed quite close to Bangladesh. The brother of our homestay owner agreed to show us around and travel with us today to Dawki. His company with us means no looking for maps, asking locals. He helped us visit the end of Indian road, Bangladesh viewpoint, living root bridge.

We next headed for Dawki. Our path was near to Bangladesh and we were driving parallel to the borders. The difference between the two countries is quite contrast in terms of geography and demography. Kids, there make fun of someone by telling him that he is a Bangladeshi. I definitely got an impression that locals mostly aren’t a big fan of Bangladeshi citizens (incidents of theft and illegally crossing the borders). Anyways, our army as always is there, working hard and making sure to take care of illegal smuggling and intrusions. 

However, the best part of Dawki is definitely the Umngot river. This river is quite famous because, on a sunny day, one can clearly see the river bed from the top. Water is very clear and pure. Best time to visit is in December but even on a slightly cloudy day, we could see the river bed while boating in the river.

I wasn’t however happy with the rush on the roads due to this place becoming a tourist destination and people throwing plastics, garbage on the roads and even on the river banks. I saw some plastic cups on the river also. It made me a bit angry and sad at the same time. This place is nothing short of a paradise. We humans have a habit of ruining natural paradises.

Cherrapunji (Sohra): The wettest place on the planet
The next day, we bade farewell to our hosts of Mawlynnong and headed for Cherrapunji (locally known as Sohra). Weather was pleasant and sunny. I will reiterate again, the joy of traveling on a two-wheeler especially on a sunny day in a place like Meghalaya is unparalleled. Roads are in excellent condition. Villages on the way having beautiful houses with colorful flowering plants outside their homes, kids playing on the roads, vast plains meeting vast hills. This road-trip was so colorful, full of contrast.

Cherrapunji receives the highest annual rainfall in the world (along with Mawsynram, another place in Meghalaya). It is not very hard to understand why it is so. Heat and evaporation lead to the formation of huge clouds over the Bay of Bengal. Those clouds travel across Bangladesh without precipitating and they encounter the low pressure, hilly, green areas of Cherrapunji and surrounding places. Clouds suddenly feel like staying here. More clouds means more water. A lot of water. We luckily didn’t encounter any rains during our visit. As much as I love rains, it would have made our trek to Double Decker living root bridge a lot harder. About Sohra, the place is spread out and scattered instead of a conglomerated locality. We were able to find an affordable homestay. That day itself, we visited some of the most famous waterfalls of India. Obviously, October isn’t the right month to visit these waterfalls. One can’t have everything.

Nohkalikai falls

Even in October when rainfall is quite low, we could see the clouds hovering over us all the time. It did rain for a while at night.

NIT Meghalaya campus under-construction at Sohra

The next day, we had to do trekking for Double Decker living root bridge. We were excited. We headed for Tyrna village quite early in the morning, though it was already sunny at 6:15 am.

Picture taken at 6:10 am

Tyrna village is the starting point of the trek and although many local guides would insist on hiring them, a guide is not needed for this trek as the trail is well-defined. There are three main spots in the trek: the Double Decker living root bridge, Natural swimming pool, and the rainbow falls. It can take anywhere from 5-8 hrs to complete this whole trek depending upon your speed and how much time you’re spending at each spot. I was physically well prepared for this trek as I do regular workouts which include a lot of stair based workouts. I was a bit concerned about my father and uncle but it turned out they are also quite fit compared to regular people we encountered on the way. My father is also regular in his workouts and my uncle is a farmer. Being physically fit is always desirable and a big bonus if you want to travel and explore nature especially Himalayan (Khasi) hills.
Start of the trek is a big descent. I was particularly enjoying the descent overtaking everyone on the way, though I knew very well that climbing these stairs on the way back would be very challenging. We were crossing wire bridges, jungles. I already mentioned I love jungles. I was in the middle of one. We reached Nongriat village. This is a remote village with no direct road connection, hence no vehicles, no garbage.

A bridge on the way to Nongriat village
Nongriat village

And walking for a few more minutes and we reached the Double Decker living root bridge. “This wasn’t so hard”, I thought.

Double decker living root bridge

The bridge itself is very strong and stable. Plus its alive! A stream of water flows below the bridge, though one can imagine the situation in monsoons when the water might reach as high as the first decker quite easily. There are fishes in the water stream and if you put your feet inside the water for a while without moving, those tiny fishes come and take a bite at your skin. It’s nothing harmful, just tickling and very exciting. After clicking a lot of pictures, and spending peaceful, calming, refreshing 50 minutes there, we moved on to the second spot. Again, waking through jungles, rich flora and fauna along the way. And we reach to the Natural swimming pool with crystal clear, flowing, glowing water.

My father

We were there, admiring the beauty and purity of the place when suddenly one guy started taking off his clothes went for swimming. My father joined him very quickly. Soon, another group joined them. And then, me too. Why not, though I had no spare clothes or underwears, but it’s not like I will get a chance to take a bath in such a pure natural spot anytime soon. And it was worth it. This was without a doubt, the most refreshing bath of my life. Water was cold, but it was sunny. So, I didn’t mind much.

              I was drinking and swimming in the same water!

Water was as tasty as it looks. Diving inside those waters, everything looked so clean, clear and pure.

Most refreshing bath of my life

After the bath, standing almost naked in the sun for 15 minutes and I was almost dry. We then, headed for the third spot, the rainbow falls. The trek is a bit more challenging to the rainbow falls. But its totally worth it. Rainbows aren’t always visible but we reached the falls at the perfect time.

After spending some time, we started our journey back which proved to be the most challenging task of our whole trip. I decided to move at my own pace as the more slowly I move, the more difficult it becomes for me to move up the trail. Everyone has their own comfortable pace. A lot of people on the way were struggling and asking about the distance to the rainbow falls, many even returning back. Many of these were young individuals who were struggling compared to my father and uncle. Fitness is important. The most challenging part, however, is the climb to Tyrna village from the Nongirat village. This climb is very steep and there are I think more than 3000 steps.

Climbing few hundred stairs, relaxing, repeating and I finally reached atop at Tyrna village. My clothes were completely drenched in sweat, I was thirsty. So, I sat on the side of the road on grass, drinking water, relaxing waiting for my father and uncle. After some 90 minutes, they arrived, tired but feeling a sense of accomplishment. And they should because they had completed a trek many young individuals I know would shy away from. Although at night, we were feeling the after effects and struggling to walk to dinner restaurants nearby.

The next day we headed back to Guwahati, enjoying the final ride to its fullest. It took us 3 1/2 hrs to reach from Cherrapunji to Guwahati (including stops for breakfast on the way). We stayed at Guwahati that day and visited Kamakhya temple the next morning. By the way, I couldn’t sleep that night due to mosquitoes. There are a lot of mosquitoes in Guwahati. I should have prepared to face them.

Nehru park, Guwahati

On reaching back the Kolkata airport, I was looking at taxi fares to Howrah. Fares in the range of 600! We had already spend 650 during our onward journey. I thought for a while, there must be a bus service to Howrah. Followed few people who were walking hurriedly out of the airport and reached the bus stop to board a nice bus to Howrah just in time. Rs. 50 per head with Bengali version of old Hindi songs playing on the bus. Just the way I wanted my whole journey to be ended (not quite though as we had to board our train to Durg, but we mostly slept on the train anyways).

I was so delighted in this whole trip, even happier because of the company of my father and uncle. They were even more excited and they still can’t stop talking about it after so many days. After doing so many treks, travels in the Himalayas, I was looking for a different flavor of delight and traveling Meghalaya on two-wheelers more than fulfilled my desires and expectations. It created a lifelong happy memory. More than worth the money we spend and I will definitely visit Meghalaya again maybe after 10 years from now in the monsoons.

A short video, I made of the trip.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TfXWAK7j9dI

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