Monday, November 24, 2014

North East diaries - Meghalaya, you beauty!

Day 1 | Day 2(morning) | Day 2(the rest) | Day 3 | Day 4

Nov 6th, 2014. Cheerapunji, Nongriat, Meghalaya

Fortified by a quick breakfast at the cottage, I hired a taxi, thanks to help from the lovely owners of the cottage, and headed out to Cheerapunji.

A picture taken on my way back

Super solid breakfast earlier that day
While the "world's rainiest place" is supposed to be a fabulous visit during the monsoon, this time of the year also offered some fantastic sights.
My one single aim for the day however, was not to look at the view points and the sights, but to head to the living root bridges that are a trek away from Nongriat, a small village near Cheerapunji.

Some sights enroute to Cheerapunji
If you are traveling with family or unable to do the trek, you can still go see a living root bridge at Mawlynnong, which is supposed to be Asia's cleanest village. I however wanted to see the bridges right in the valley.

Now when I got to the village from where one begins the trek to the bridges, my understanding was as follows:

1. The difficulty of the trek was obviously overrated by wimpy tourists. It was sure to be a simple walk to the bridges.
2. Getting a guide may help me see some of the unexplored places in the forest. So I MUST get a guide.

I was WRONG on both counts. I did the mistake of taking a guide, who was fairly useless for anything other than to be a walking companion. He did not point out anything of interest, nor did he bother telling me any stories or anecdotes that these guides normally tend to recount (I love those!).
Also, the entire route to the bridges is paved with concrete and steps, so there is no chance of missing your way. My guide also did not let me wander off the pathway until I sternly told him that I needed to go down to a stream on the way. So hiring a guide here is a waste of money.

However, a guide in general is a great idea in most places. They make temples and other monuments come alive by pointing out some details which you would have otherwise missed. So we normally make it a point to hire a guide in most places. On this trek, though, the guide was a mistake.

On the way, I had stopped to look at a beautiful iridescent green beetle. "Cockroach!" my guide proclaimed. I was about to point out that it wasn't a cockroach. But then, he was the guide and I  was the visitor, so a "cockroach" I let it be. Point made I think, about this guide.

Secondly, the trek was quite strenuous. Though there is a walkway, the steps in the initial part of the trek are very steep and the walk isn't straightforward. 
Since I wanted to get there quick, we did the walk there with no breaks and were able to get there quick as planned.

Halfway through, the path forks, one leads to what is called the "double decker root bridge" and the other to a closer root bridge called the "Long root bridge". I decided we do the double decker one first as it was further away. 

Along the way we met some uncles and aunties who had taken the brave decision of risking the trek , and were now mid-way and seemed to be in a lot of trouble. I gave away my last bottle of water to one such couple who seemed on the verge of collapse.

The walk to the root bridges is wonderful! While the Double decker was the destination, along the way we saw a couple of more root bridges and some metal and rope, man-made bridges over streams of bright blue water. These views themselves make up for the trek to the bridges.

One of the many waterfalls along the way
A panorama of one of the hanging bridges
A small root bridge we encountered on the way
So, it took us just under an hour to get to the double decker bridge. The bridge itself was nice, but there was a family who had somehow gotten there and they had decided to undress to their underwear , and were screaming and frolicking in the water.
There is something that attracts pot-bellied uncles to waterfalls in India. Rarely do you go to a waterfall without encountering some pot bellied uncles. So much so, that I give most waterfalls a miss, just to avoid the glorious sight of uncles bathing under the waterfalls like they have never bathed in water before. So much for the images that the Liril girl ad left us with.

So with the peace and calm of the forest shattered, I only spent about 45 minutes at these bridges before heading back.

The Double Decker Bridges
The Double Decker bridge apparently is the only one of its kind on the planet. Two bridges from a single tree one above one another at two levels!

On the way back, I headed to the Long root bridge and this was wonderful! Not because it was more beautiful, but because there was no one around and it was like finding a bridge all to myself in the middle of the forest.

These bridges have been made by shaping or encouraging roots to head to the opposite side of the stream and then having them take root there. Over the years, and these take decades to form, the bridges just become stronger and stronger. The ones I was on were super sturdy and seemed immovable. Fantastic!

The fantabulous Long Root Bridge

Here again I spent about 30 minutes, just going down all the way to the stream, sitting by it, feet immersed and thinking of nothing much :)

The climb back was tougher than the way down. Much tougher. I managed the entire trip in 3hours and 45Minutes, including the breaks I took at the bridges themselves. On the way up I needed a lot more breaks. My taxi guy was surprised to see me back sooner than he expected.

I would say if you trek and have a decent fitness level, then the entire thing should take you between 3-4hours for a single bridge. Including the long root bridge, it would take you an additional 45 minutes.

The red highlight marks where the double decker bridges are versus where I was
I pushed myself to finish faster, as I thought I would want to go see more things in Cheerapunji, but my recommendation is to try and focus only on this, when there.
As you can see from the picture above, which I clicked on the way back up, the Double decker bridge is right across the valley on another mountain. At this point I was still about 30minutes away from getting back.
I heard horror stories of some folks taking 6 hours and more to do the entire trek. But that would be an extreme I think. Still, be prepared for very tired calf muscles at the end of the day.

Other than this, Meghalaya is filled with caves and waterfalls. Some of the waterfalls that I saw in Cheerapunji and Shillong were breathtaking. I can only imagine how they must look in full glory during the monsoons.

The Sylhet plains of Bangladesh

Fairly well maintained and picturesque roads
 To my amazement, a full moon was up by 4:30pm and to the west  there was a beautiful sun melting into the mountians. These are times when I wish I have those snazzy cameras with wide angle lenses and the like which can take super pictures. But I had my Nexus5 mobile phone and it would have to do.
The Moon rises over the valley

The sunset and the many hues it cast over the evening sky
It was all very surreal. On the way back we did head to a cave, which was very touristy as it was lit up from inside. Interestingly enough, I met the same gang who was in Kaziranga on the elephant safari, inside the cave!

I promised to share pictures of the root bridges with them, but soon got bored and got out of there. As we were heading back, my cab guy was more than happy to stop at many places where I just wanted to stand to look at the sun set or the moon over the valley. At one point he himself stopped and led me walking by a couple of abandoned buildings(pictured below). While I was slightly unnerved by this, we were soon at the cliff's edge.
The moon provides surreal lighting
There by the moonlight we could see one of the most beautiful waterfalls that I have ever seen!
The entire scene reminded me just like the waterfall from "Up" the movie.  The towering cliff (at which we were level), the water falling all the way to the bottom in a single free falling stream. Again I did not have the camera that was good enough to capture this view. But it is imprinted in my head and that, to me is good enough, until I visit the next time.

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