Wednesday, April 24, 2013


By Anushka Margret (Guest Writer)

Meghalaya is a perfect example of unadulterated beauty and culture, says INN Correspondent after visiting Cherrapunjee, Mawlynnong and Shillong

I breathe in fresh, moisture-laden air as I look down the lush green valley below me. My eyes scan the vast expanse of green that lies ahead. It appears never-ending... rich... dense... My eyes follow the trail etched by a meandering river, one that crisscrosses through the vale connecting different mountains. How deceptively tame it appears from up above where I am standing. To my left is the site from where seven falls are known to plunge in full spate over the top of limestone cliffs of the Khasi Hills during the monsoon. Called Nohsngithiang Falls, these are symbolic of the seven sisters or the seven sister States that define India’s Northeast.

At a distance I can see the clouds form. They seem to be gathering steam to build up that dark anger, conspiring to beat down the terrain which is known to us as the wettest place on the earth. When in Cherrapunjee, can rain be far behind? This is after all the high seat of the abode of clouds or Meghalaya as we all know. A place that enjoys the tag of being the wettest spot on the earth. All you have to wait is five minutes before getting soaked by a freak shower! The air here forever smells of wet earth and fresh rain.

At a place as beautiful as this, it is as easy for poetry to build up in the head as it is for clouds to take shape in the sky. “Would you like to go to the other side, where the falls gather?” asks my guide Nanda Kirati Dewan. I quickly nod, without thinking twice. These are after all the fourth largest falls that cascade down a height of 1,033 ft every year during the rainy season.

Later in the day, we travel 92 km from Cherrapunjee to Mawlynnong, which is famed to be the cleanest village in Asia. The little hamlet is so clean that you would really have to set out with a magnifying glass to hunt for a slip of trash. Little bamboo baskets and a local Khasi girl or two sweeping the narrow lanes lined with beautiful wild flowers and exotic green hedges make for a constant spotting at any time of the day.

Mawlynnong’s other claim to fame is that it is a walkable distance from Bangladesh border (only 3 km, perhaps even less). You can see the Bangladesh plains from up a makeshift bamboo log tower perched some 60 ft high atop the tallest tree in the village.

My home for the night is a Khasi bamboo hut. It is a part of the guest house called Sky View, owned by Rishot Khongthohrem, who is also a member of the village council. Like no trash, I am surprised at the absence of any insects in the area.

Trees, and sturdy ones at that, make for the lifelines in the Northeastern villages of India. Their strength has been tested time and again in the Living Root Bridges that the area is so famous for. These are no ordinary bridges. Living and breathing with their strength, these roots cling on to each other tentacle like, connecting the two land patches over a gushing stream or a fall or a river. We drive down to Riwai, a village nearby that has one such bridge. I take to foot once we reach Riwai, watching my step as I climb down the old, uneven rocky pathway. In the absence of any approach roads, these pathways connect the remote villages of the Northeast. At one point, these pathways made for the trade route to transport betel nut and kept the economy bustling.

The Living Root Bridge at Riwai is a natural phenomenon. About 500 years old, this bridge was formed by the twisting of pliant roots of the Indian rubber tree in a way that they grew into an elaborate lattice. Riwai is as clean as Mawlynnong. I see children playing football at every nook and corner. The parents, I am told, are mostly away at work. My eyes detect clean pay and use public toilets at various vantage points. I marvel at the culture of cleanliness in this remote part of India and wonder why we can’t emulate it elsewhere in the country. Lack of will is the only reason I can attribute it to.

If it is cleanliness at Mawlynnong and Riwai that wins me over at the fringes, I find myself totally smitten by the cheerful Sunday dressing in Shillong. The city is indeed the heart of Meghalaya, every bit its capital. It is Sunday, the day I land here. The roads are more or less empty but I see plenty of well-dressed men and women heading out for Sunday mass.

The Cathedral of Mary Help of Christians is one of the most beautiful churches of Shillong. Located in the Laitumkhrah locality, it stands out with its high arches and stained glass windows. The head priest of the church is holding the Sunday mass in Khasi. Directly below, in the Grotto Church, carved out of the hill, another mass is being held in English. I break away from the peace at the church with much reluctance. I have a packed day of sightseeing.

My next stop is the Ward’s Lake, a beautiful patch of green and blue in the middle of the city and very close to the hotel where I am staying. A beautiful man-made lake, it is a favourite morning walk destination for most locals and a popular evening hangout. A wooden ornamental bridge adds to the charm.

Another great patch of green in Shillong is its golf course. It is said to be the first 18-hole golf course in India at an altitude of 5,200 ft. Also referred to as the Gleneagles of the East, the course enjoys the rare distinction of being one of the few natural golf courses in Asia. Immersed as I am in trying to get my perfect picture, I almost miss a warning shout. I duck just in time as I feel the ball swoosh by my left side, past a monolith-like structure in the middle of the course built to commemorate the 1986 visit of Pope John Paul II. I spend another few minutes watching a group compete before leaving the place.

“For the best view of city, you have to visit the Shillong Peak,” suggests Dewan. And with that, we seal our next destination. Driving past the impressive Eastern Command, we reach the famous Shillong Peak. About 10 km from the city and, 1,965 m above sea level, this spot is the highest point in the State and is known for its panoramic view of the scenic countryside.

Cameras are not allowed as this falls in the defence zone. You are, however, allowed a click at the highest point set by the administration. The sight is one to behold. It is a clear day and there is a play of sun and shade overhead. A fellow traveller passes the local paan, taamul. I breathe in the fragrance of betel nut as I fold it in my mouth. This one’s packed with a punch and I have started to like it given the number of times I have it over the five days that I have spent in this part of the country. As for the heady feeling, whether it is from the view or the paan, I don’t think I would ever really know.

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