Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Travel Diary: Dec 18 - 22, 2010

I returned recently from a 17 day trip to Assam, Meghalaya and Mizoram. As before, I kept a travel diary and I'll be putting up my entries online, beginning below.

Day 1 - Saturday - Dec 18

RG & I take a cab to the airport at 9.30 am. We reach reasonably quickly, and well in time for our 11.20 am flight. The 2 hour flight to Delhi and the connecting 2.5 hour one to Guwahati are painful. Major earaches. Maybe it's because I've not flown in over a year. Also, an additional 1 hour delay to our 2 hour stopover at Delhi airport means we only arrive at Guwahati airport well into late evening.

It's cold outside. And dark. I'm wearing a T-shirt and a heavy jacket, along with my warm skull cap. Our friend RB meets us at the airport. He used to live and work in Mumbai, among other places, in our colony in fact, which is how we met him. He's now returned to Guwahati to set up his own business. We take a rick to a circle in Guwahati (the airport is way outside town) for Rs.300, where RB's cousin picks us up in his car and we drive around for a little while. He tells us about this idea he has for a houseboat on the Brahmaputra river.

We're dropped off at RB's house, a large beautiful place, where we meet his parents and my friend ZP, who travelled here by train, leaving Mumbai 3 days ago, and only just reached Guwahati early this morning. Greetings are exchanged. I have a bath, and then a special dinner, that's absolutely delicious.

It gets colder as the night progresses. The floor is to cold to walk on barefoot. ZP and I share one bedroom, while RB & RG share another. We plan to go to Cherrapunjee tomorrow, in a car that RB has hired for the day (for Rs.2500), where we've booked a couple of tents at Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort for 2 days, and see a little of Shillong en route.

ZP and I have a lot to talk about. We're up till 4.00 am.

Day 2 - Sunday - Dec 19

We wake at 7.00 am today. I've not had much sleep, but feel fresh, excited.

Even though Guwahati and Shillong are the capitals of two different states, Guwahati being located close to the border of Assam to the south, and Shillong close to the border of Meghalaya to the north, means that they're only around 3 hours apart by car. And the good highway connecting them makes for a lovely drive.

We set off at around 9.00 am, after tea & biscuits. Guwahati's roads are dusty. We soon leave the city and the drive to Shillong is beautiful and peaceful. We stop to click pics at Umiam lake on the way to Shillong, and have a little pork snack. Pork is very common here.

We reach Shillong. Most of the city is closed because it's Sunday. No shops. No people. No nothing. But it seems like a nice place, and we make good time because of the absence of any traffic. We go to Ward's lake, which is a kind of picnic spot. Some people are here relaxing on the nice lawns, but the lake itself is brown. We don't want to spend too much time here.

Shillong seems like a nice place to walk around. There's nothing 'touristy' as such here, no clickable sights, it's more a place to take a walk in. We drive to the Cathedral next. It's grand. Lovely. Something clickable. It's past lunchtime now but we go to Shillong peak next. It's this hill really high up on the hill station that is Shillong from where you get views of the whole city. It's literally bone chilling up here, and the view is just O.K.

We drive to Cherra, all of us feeling sleepy in the car. The drive from Shillong to Cherra is again short, just about an hour or so. The scenery is very beautiful. The place is green even in winter. It's essentially a huge valley, much larger than Khandala, and stunning. We stop for a late lunch at Cherrapunjee town. Cherrapunjee is also called Sohra. The restaurant we stop at is called Halari. It's close to the petrol station, and they also offer rooms for 800/night.

Lunch here is delicious. We have 2 plates of steamed pork momos, 2 plates of pork dry fry (the best), 2 pork potato chops & 2 plates of rice, all for Rs 150/person. It gets close to twilight. Because these places are so far east, they're really in a different timezone altogether, but because they follow IST, sunrise and sunset both happen much earlier here. Sunset in winter, for example, takes place at 4.30, with it growing completely dark by 5.00 pm.

Our resort is about 15 kms away from Cherra town, along an inside edge of the valley. The narrow bumpy road means it takes a while to cover these 15 kms. We arrive, and check into our tents. They've set up the 2 huge army tents in a thatched room on the first floor of an under construction building next to the present resort. The tents each have a double mattress and blankets, and the temporary thatched room is somewhat cosy with moody lighting, tables & chairs, & gives us some privacy. A great place to chill out. The room is easily accessible via an external staircase and we have access to external bathrooms too.

So we sit around drinking as dinner time approaches, talking and planning our next day. RB & ZP do most of the drinking from 7-9, and RB keeps us laughing with his stories, after which we go down to the resort to eat. They have an excellent menu, and we have 2 pork jadoh stems (sort of like a pork biryani) and pork neiiong (a spicy pork curry). Heavenly food. I eat a lot of pork in Mumbai, but nothing like this.

ZP and I decide to do a trek to the double decker living root bridge at Nongriat village tomorrow. It's a full day trek. He wants to spend the night at a village guesthouse there, and I would too, but we're on a tight schedule here, so we decide to make it a 1 day trip. RG & RB decide to stay back and stroll around tomorrow.

There's an American here, TP. He did the trek yesterday and gives us some tips, like taking photos on our way up instead of down since we'll be taking more breaks going up anyway. He was here for 2 weeks last year, and went caving. He's done a lot of Alaskan treks, and is used to the cold. He tells us to say hi to Andreas at Nongriat tomorrow.

There's a campfire set up outside the resort, which we use to warm ourselves before retiring for the night.

Day 3 - Monday - Dec 20

The plan today was to trek to the double decker root bridge. We had originally planned to leave at 8.00 am. We finally leave at 8.45, after a breakfast of 1 paratha for me and omelettes for the others. The resort has fixed us up with a guide for Rs.500. His name is Bat. RG decides to join ZP and I at the last minute.

We start walking from the resort. What we need to do is follow the motorable road leading down from the resort to the nearest village, and then to a second village, and it's a proper trek from there. This road is about 3 kms, and we begin walking, taking a few pics along the way. It's so green, it feels as if it's rained only yesterday. We manage to hitch a ride all the way to the second village.

We walk down many many steps from the village, seeing some beautiful spiders on the way, before making it to the bottom of the valley, from where I change into something lighter, and we take a short detour to the first root bridge, which is the longest one. It's a sight to behold, and we walk across it. It's scary at first, but we soon get the hang of it. It's pretty sturdy. We return and get on the trail to the double decker root bridge. This involves crossing a couple of steel cable bridges, where we run into a group of guys from Shillong who've been here many times, and another small wide root bridge, before ascending a few tiring steps to the village of Nongriat, where the double decker is located.

We relax at the village. This trek down has takes us 3 hours, and I'm soaked. I had set out in full warm gear - 2 t-shirts and a jacket - and our guide is now helpfully carrying most of that. We meet Andreas, a local primary schoolteacher there, with whom we arrange lunch with and then walk to the double decker root bridge. It's awesome, like the others. They're even guiding the tree roots in a way that will make it a triple decker in some time.

We have lunch at Andreas' place for Rs. 60 each, and then do the long walk back to the resort. It's much harder this time because of all the uphill climbing, though they're only steps and not an actual dirt track. We make it back up to the village where we take a shared vehicle to the resort which we reach by dusk. So the trek took 8 hours in all, quickened by hitching rides, though I think ZP & RG slowed me down by at least 1 hour with all their extra breaks.

We freshen up, relax and ZP & RB drink while I warm myself by the campfire. We have dinner - pork meatballs, chicken & pork jadoh stem, dal in mustard leaves, and a dessert of apple cubes in cream for RG.

After dinner, ZP and I arrange a cab from the resort back to Sohra for Rs. 300. Travel is really expensive here. It pays to have your own vehicle. Shared or cheap public transport isn't always readily available. We discount any other travel plans here, like hiring a cab for the full day to visit the waterfalls and caves, because of the expense, but we'd really like to return to do some caving & exploring.

ZP and I chat with TP for a while, before retiring. RG and RB are already fast asleep. RB had the whole day to himself here, and he spent it walking around and watching a football match. People here (the Khasis) are really football crazy.

Day 4 - Tuesday - Dec 21

We wake at 9.00. Our bodies are aching after yesterday's trek. Have a breakfast of parathas, omelettes and orange juice. The resort restaurant is really good, and we've all eaten well. ZP orders a masala omelette, but gets one with onions and no masala. He queries this, and we discover that's how they make masala omelettes over here.

We pay up and leave by 10.30. Our cab drops us at Cherrapunjee (Sohra) town, from where we take a shared taxi to Shillong for Rs. 50 each. Though they're close, and the ride is scenic, it seems to take us much longer than 2 days before. The approach into Shillong especially is hell. Too many bottlenecks and too much traffic.

We get off at the shared taxi stop and take a local cab to Police Bazaar to drop Ravi off for his bus to Guwahati, and then continue on to Mizoram House to get our permits for Aizawl, the capital of Mizoram. ZP has discovered that there's a direct bus leaving for Mizoram every evening from Shillong, and we're aiming to get on one of those. We've already made some extra passport size photos in Sohra town this morning for Rs.60 each.

Mizoram House is almost deserted when we arrive at 3.00 pm. We have to go looking around for someone, and when we finally find someone, they're just leaving, but get us our permits without much hassle. The permits cost Rs.120 each, and require 2 photos and you filling out 2 forms with your basic info, one of which serves as your permit and the other which they keep for records.

That done, we take the cab to the area where buses leave for Aizawl and visit a couple of travel agencies to get our tickets, but one of them only has seats available for the 22nd evening (the other one doesn't have any), which means we'll have to spend a night in Shillong.

So we return to Police Bazaar and, after searching for a long time with one of us guarding our bags and the other 2 heading off in different directions to inquire about rooms), get a nice room at Stay-Inn guesthouse for Rs.1000 for the 3 of us. We dump out bags and roam around PB.

It's like this huge city centre, a central node on a little incline, with around 5-6 streets tapering down and off from the centre in all directions, like spokes on a wheel, each little street housing numerous hotels, restaurants and different kinds of shops. It's nice, not the cleanest, but nice if you like busy. It's crowded, everyone Christmas shopping, everyone busy. Most of the locals are very smartly dressed. Everything's lit up and decorated.

We haven't had any lunch today, we're all hungry, and it's getting to be dinnertime. We walk to a highly recommended restaurant nearby - Centre Dhaba - but that turns out too expensive and has been mostly booked out for a wedding reception. So we keep looking, find a Bengali section of PB, and then a local restaurant called Travellers Point, where we order chilly pork, mixed special fried rice, and rice & chicken gravy for Rs. 265.

RG goes to bed, while ZP and I walk about checking out the nightlife. We go to Cloud 9, a lounge bar here in PB. Posh, but reasonably priced. Also a bit small, and almost empty. We check out another bar at just after 9 pm, but they tell us they've just closed. Few bars here, and they're either deserted or shut by 9.00. Everything seems to close early here. Even the restaurants shut by 9.00. One of the places we check tells us they take their last order at 8.30.

It's getting progressively colder as the shop lights go out and the night goes on. Shillong is the coldest place we've been to so far in the N.E. We walk around for a bit just talking, watching PB shut down, before getting back to the guesthouse.

Day 5 - Wednesday - Dec 22

We get up late deliberately, skipping breakfast. We've earned it. Check out of the hotel at 12.30 but leave our bags behind to pick up later. We begin walking to the Don Bosco museum. We figure we'll go there as it's supposed to be good and we have a day to kill.

We walk a fair distance before realising it's really far and then manage to take a shared cab the rest of the way. The cab driver is playing Scorpions. We reach the museum and discover it's closed from 22-25 Dec due to Christmas. We walk down the street from the museum. This is nothing like PB. It's an area/district called Mawlai, a quiet beautiful locality with lovely bungalows. We catch a cab back to PB by 3.00 pm and look for lunch.

We go to a Manipuri restaurant for lunch. We had first seen it last night. We figure we'll try some Manipuri food here since we're not going to Manipur. And for Rs. 60 each we eat some of the most delicious chicken curry, fish curry & rice we've ever had. It's 4.00 by the time we're done. The owner tells us he used to run a Taikwando school in Colaba.

We kill time for 2.5 hours, first listening to some open air carol singing, which turns out to be a preview to some more serious worship, then shopping for supplies - biscuits, alcohol and chocolate - our next few meals on the bus to Aizawl, and then finally chilling out at a coffee place that's a dead ringer for CCD. I call a Mumbai friend who's Mizo and currently in Mizoram. He helps with some info.

At 6.30 pm we collect our bags from the hotel and catch a shared cab to to the designated bus stop. The bus is late coming in from Guwahati. Damn Shillong traffic. It finally arrives at around 8.30. We leave. No dinner tonight.



Kimberly said...

I see you noticed good highways in Assam and that made the trip lovely while driving the car. When I travelled to Argentina, I rented one of those Buenos Aires apartments that was so nice and lovely that it made me feel happy and comfortable the whole stay! Those little things can change everything, including the mood!

M.D said...

which resort did you stay in cherra..you forgot to mention it in your article.. i plan to visit coming july with a few friends. Can you suggest?

Hot-Steppin' said...

Brought back great memories of my Meghalaya trips :) The root bridge trek was amazing and those little pools are great to swim in.

Post a Comment