An Eventful Trip to Cherrapunjee

One fine morning, we had set off for Cherrapunjee around 11 a.m. from Shillong. It was sunny when my brother-in-law, DilipBabu, enjoying a vacation presently, started his Maruti packed with myself, Shamidi, her daughter Ananya, Boudi and Ayanava. DilipBabu is a CA and is married to my sister Shamidi. We purchased 'Sandesh' from a sweet shop in Polo Bazaar. Already, items prepared at home had been packed and dumped inside the car. We knew there are a few shops in Cherrapunjee, but hardly any good hotel for dining.

Well-prepared, we set forth on our adventurous and discovery trip with discernible enthusiasm. Soon, our car was speeding along the roads, whizzing past Ward's Lake, State Library, Rhino cinema, Rilbong ..... we soon hit the road that led towards Shillong Peak, Elephanta falls and of course Cherrapunjee, once famous as the place that received the world's highest rainfall.

As our journey unfolded, we were amazed at the rapidity with which the weather changed. As we zoomed through the countryside dotted with small villages, the scenic beauty all around had us spellbound. Hardly anyone spoke. All of us were immersed in capturing the idyllic surroundings in our memory to recount at leisure.

A little while later we arrived at Umtingar, a picnic spot and the road bifurcated from this point. One led to Tamabil towards Dawki, the other that we took led to Sohra. Sohra is the local name for Cherrapunjee. After a while, we passed the crossing that led towards Shillong Peak.

As our journey continued, we also crossed another junction that led towards Elephanta falls. All of a sudden, a dense layer of fog engulfed us and driving from this point became extremely difficult as visibility became very poor. Undeterred, DilipBabu continued driving, albeit slowly and cautiously.

A few minutes later we arrived at Somra viewpoint. We halted for a while at this point. There is a big bridge, some shops and a few Kong  (Khasi women) were selling some herbs and roots of some trees, and doing brisk business. The scenery around was simply majestic!!! The mountain range at a distance dotted with pine and other trees looked spectacular from our viewpoint.

Soon we set off from Somra viewpoint. Along the roads we found workers engaged in cutting and making blocks of granite from the rocky hills

"These granite blocks eventually adorn the floors in our rooms. Meghalaya is also rich in coal and huge deposits of Uranium too is found in the state," Shamidi informed us.

It took another hour to reach Cherrapunjee. Along the way we found massive heaps of coal lined across both sides of the road. The sighting of Ramakrishna Mission School from our car on a hilltop signaled that we have reached Cherrapunjee. In a trice, we found ourselves at Cherrapunjee bazaar.

Firstly, we decided to go to Nohkalikai falls. Winding our way through a narrow bylane, we reached Nohkalikai in about five minutes. At the falls, we are greeted with the sight of sozzled gay revelers, a bunch of Army folks. A layer of fog was obstructing the falls from the viewpoint. We were not able to see even an inch of the falls. However, good luck was with us. Soon, the fog miraculously disappeared and ..... What a spectacular sight!!! We were simply overwhelmed by the majestic beauty of the falls and its surroundings. We spent a few minutes, and thereafter, went to see the famous Cherrapunjee caves.

Spelunkers would enjoy this portion of the trip. Strangely, caving is not yet a popular sport in India, though there are many good spots to explore in North and Central India where one would encounter several cave temples. These are not really wonders of nature though. India is estimated to have the largest number of rock cut temples mostly in the Western and Deccan region, most famous of which are obviously the ones at Ajanta and Ellora.

The Cherrapunjee caves ( Krem Mawsmai) are rather big and the cavern has electricity nowadays to help the visitors find their way within it. With little or no knowledge in speleology (the discipline which is concerned with exploration and description of caves),  the caves seemed like a marvel of human architecture and ingenuousness in my eyes. The Khasis believe that the caves have been built by a monarch, who remained invisible and protected his subjects. They believe he used to live in the caves. One needs approximately half an hour to see the caves properly.

We did not venture inside the caves as a recent downpour had muddied the paths within the caves. When we came out, we rested a while in the car and refreshed ourselves with a 'Mango frooti.'

With renewed vigor we proceeded towards the main falls at Cherrapunjee. On reaching the spot we had to be disappointed. The layer of fog was so thick that the falls remained invisible to us. We had our lunch at this spot brought from our house and a lion's share of our meal went in feeding the dogs, goats and sheep that surrounded us. The foggy situation however did not improve. Saddened, we decided to start on our return journey. It has taken us slightly more than two and a half hour to reach Cherrapunjee, and the return journey would take even longer in foggy conditions in the evening.

At around 4 p.m. we began our journey homewards. As we were returning, we could catch a glimpse of some smaller falls in the neighborhood of the main falls. True to our expectation, the fog was very dense and Dilip Babu had to drive with headlights switched on at 4 p.m.

 For the next hour and a half, we relaxed in the car while Dilip Babu continued driving cautiously. I sat besides him warning him about bumpers on the road ahead. Earlier in the day, we had run into a couple of dicey situations when we were cruising along ignoring the bumps and then barely escaped without any major accident when suddenly one of them cropped up from out of nowhere.

Rainfall apart, one gets the feeling that the stark scenic beauty of Cherrapunjee has never been fully appreciated. With rolling hill ranges, glens, moors and vales, the lush greens are offset by the dark open coal pits. The green of the hills are a beautiful contrast to the majestic silver of the waterfalls in the mighty gorges. The landscapes are forever crowned by clouds and mists which is how Meghalaya got its name. To the city bred traveler, men and women carrying oranges in canonical baskets to the local market came as a refreshing sight. Cherrapunjee’s orange honey, a sought-after product, is distilled from the juicy oranges of its groves.

In the past, the town had enjoyed great importance as the seat of power of the great Ahom kings, being a one-time capital of undivided Assam, and by being a great administrative center in the last century. Some impressive ruins of places-of-the-past and administrative buildings still speak of the past glory. Famous for being one of the wettest places on earth, the famous ‘Slap bah Sohra’ (Sohra’s rains) is quite well known even among Bangledeshis who live along Cherrapunjee’s border, for its ferocity.

We knew we were quite close to Shillong when we sighted the Eastern Command Headquarters. DilipBabu. who hardly spoke during the journey said "This place is no less beautiful than Switzerland!" And truly, the surroundings with its spotless roads and breathtaking scenery all around certainly looked as if we were in some foreign country. There was a majesty to the place, the likes of which I had never seen before.

And then it happened. Barely after crossing the Eastern Command 101 Area ..... Whoosh!! The car became static. Inspite of DilipBabu's best efforts, it refused to move. It was gradually becoming dark, and DilipBabu looked concerned. It appeared that he would not be able to fix the problem

"Shami, catch a taxi and go to Shillong, take Boudi and the kids along with you," DilipBabu opined.

Two local youths, who were eyeing us all this while, came to our help without even our asking. Shamidi, Boudi and the kids began looking for a taxi.

I remained with DilipBabu. The two youths tried their outmost but failed to start the car. They informed us that the nearest car fixing shop was around 3 kms away. The car needed a push, and the two youths and I got into this job while DilipBabu controlled the vehicle. For the next 15 minutes, I was desperately pushing the car along with the two local youths. We reached a slope, and from this point the car was going downhill and so no human effort was required to move the sliding vehicle. The two local youths conversed in their language and occasionally spoke to us. Soon, we reached the shop.

Troubleshooting began almost immediately. Nearly half a dozen mechanics began fixing the car. As I did not know the ABC of car machinery, I asked DilipBabu to stand besides them and keep a vigil. My suspicion was that they might aggravate the damage. In such a situation, we will be stranded for the night!! I was proved wrong, and soon DilipBabu was able to start the car and our homeward journey began after paying a hefty sum of money both to the technicians and the two local youths who helped us.

As we were approaching Shillong, DilipBabu said "Did you see Shami, Boudi and the kids going off in a taxi?"

I said "No."

DilipBabu said "Shall we go back to that place and check for ourselves. Just in case...."   I suggested "Let me ring up and find out whether they have reached home."

After a while, we found a military cantonment and could make a phone call from its canteen. When I contacted home, I was informed that Shamidi, Boudi and the kids have not yet reached home. They are, however, safely waiting near Anjali cinema. My elder brother has taken his car to bring them.

On hearing this piece of news, DilipBabu was somewhat relieved. "Where is Anjali cinema?," he asked. "Very soon we will be there," I told him.

We did reach Anjali cinema shortly.

"DilipBabu!," we heard a shout. Standing at the other end of the road, we found all the members of our family trying to grab our attention.

Shamidi was crying. We were told that all of them were deeply concerned for both DilipBabu and me. When they tried to contact somebody to arrange for a heavy vehicle to bring our car, they were informed by a lady officer that the particular area where our car had broken down was infested by goons and criminals. Promptly, they lodged a FIR in a police station, and since then Shamidi was inconsolable.

DilipBabu said ‘It was such an enjoyable trip, and only if the car had not broken down .....’

I tried to assuage him and said ‘All's well that ends well.’

‘Yup. All's well that ends well,’ DilipBabu concurred.

Eom  (I wrote this sometime between 1995 - 2002


More by :  Subhajit Ghosh

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