Mawlyngbna – Hits & Misses

Our initial excitement of traveling in the yellow-coloured shared Tata Sumo was now replaced by impatience. It’s been an hour since we boarded and the driver was waiting for 9 more passengers. Having seen these typical yellow Sumos from early childhood, it felt somewhat surreal to be seated in one. Another 30 min passed by and no other passengers arrived. These Sumos pack 12 people in one go and are the primary mode of commute to Shillong for villages located in the outskirts.

I was with my sister and we were off to Mawlyngbna. It was a Saturday and we had made the plan just 2 hours back. We were already late and could wait no longer, so we decided to pay for the rest of the 9 people and asked the driver to start – Rs. 100 per person it was.

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Pic 1: Somewhere at Mawsynram along the way
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Pic 2: Mesmerising drive to Mawlyngbna

At about 75 Km. from Shillong, Mawlyngbna is a scenic village in East Khasi hills, nestled atop a hill overlooking the Bangladesh plains. It shares space on the hill with three other villages – Lawbha, Mawtepiew, and Umtyllun. Locals say Mawlyngbna is a rain-blessed village. Not surprising. It’s just 15 Km. away from Mawsynram, the wettest place on earth. Besides waterfalls and natural springs, this village is home to the endangered unique predaceous pitcher plant (Nepenthes khasiana). Most importantly, Mawlyngbna occupies a coveted place on the geological map because of remarkable fossil imprints.

We arrived in the village at around 2.00 PM in the afternoon after an amazing drive through lush green bountiful hills which played hide and seek with the clouds that sometimes appeared from nowhere whitewashing everything all around us. There’s a lot for one to do at Mawlyngbna – trekking, kayaking, canoeing, fishing, camping, and so on.

Here’s an account of what we did at Mawlyngbna accompanied by our guide, Chest Pdah.

Trekking to Waterfall

Um Diengkain and Ar Phalat are the two waterfall treks we did at Mawlyngbna.  I have written an elaborate post on the two and will not get into the details once again. You can read it here.

We had started our Mawlyngbna trip with Um Diengkain waterfall, where my sister had a slip and hurt her arm. It didn’t seem to be too bad at that time but eventually it limited our experiences to a very large extent as we had to curtail our original plan.

Walking up to Bangladesh Viewpoint

It was around 4.30 PM when we were back from Um Diengkain. It was too late to trek Ar Phalat, so we settled down for some sha dood (milk tea) and jingbum (snacks) at a Kong Shop in the village square. Thereafter, we took off on a village stroll. A large field where young boys were practicing football, a bunch of playful children laughing and giggling just outside a village home, a few cows and goats here and there, a local bus loaded with people going to the next village  – some things that I recall now.

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Somewhere up in the hill we noticed a place that looked like a viewpoint. We called up Chest and asked him to take us to the viewpoint as we weren’t able to figure out the route. Chest was himself unsure and took us up the hill through sections of leech-infested grasses that were as tall as us. Finally, we landed on a moss-covered pathway that led upto the viewpoint. Surprising that the viewpoint was built but not used even though it had fantastic views of the village and Bangladesh plains.

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Trekking at Split Rock that Didn’t Happen

We spent a lot of time sitting at the roundish and flattish comfortable rocks around Umseiniong River on way to Ar Phalat waterfall. My sister’s arm pain had worsened the night before and we decided to take it easy. The situation also led to my cousin sister and brother-in-law (BIL) coming over to Mawlyngbna all the way from Shillong to pick us up. As we waited for them, there was no better way to spend time than at the quietude of Umseiniong River with nature as our only companion. However, after about an hour we realized that we had some more time before they arrived. My sister started feeling better too – the Khasi traditional massage oil had done its trick.

We decided to go and visit a place called Split Rock, which was located at Mawsiangjroi, a few kilometers away from the village. And, off we went hiring a local taxi.

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Pic 10: In quietude alongside Umseiniong River 

Split Rock turned out to be unique and extraordinary. It’s a huge rock split into two from top to bottom. So, two flat rocks sat parallel to each other separated by about 2 meters. The two rocks are as high as a 4-storied building. One can trek through the narrow passage between the two rocks that leads to a very narrow cave.

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Pic 11: The gap between the two rocks – Split Rock

We maneuvered our way through rocks and boulders towards the narrow passage and landed at a place where we had to climb down a ladder. The ladder was slippery due to the rains that had been happening during that week. Climbing down didn’t seem like a great idea and we decided to give it a miss.

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Pic 12: Chest and the driver of the taxi lead us towards the entry point of the Split Rock.

Besides Split Rock this place had a viewpoint known as Thalaw viewpoint. It’s a picturesque viewpoint with greens of all shades, clouds floating down, and the Thalaw village perched somewhere in the hills amidst the greenery.

Umakhakoi Reservoir

Umakhakoi is located somewhere near Split Rock. However, BIL and cousin sister had arrived at the village by then. We went back to the village and came back to Split Rock and Umakhakoi with them. The multiple bowl-shaped holes at Umakhakoi fascinated us much more than the lake itself. An unending stretch with numerous water-filled holes greeted us as soon as we entered the area.

Google says this type of geological features are called ‘Potholes’. The formation of these are associated with the flowing of water over an uneven surface of limestone for prolonged periods. As the water percolates inside tapered sections, the centrifugal force of water leads to the formation of these natural sink-holes. Kayaking and Canoeing are common activities at Umakhakoi. However, we indulged in none.

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Pic 14: The pristine waters of Umakhakoi Reservoir
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Pic 15: The multiple bowl-shaped holes at Umakhakoi 

And, here’s an account of what we missed at Mawlyngbna and why we need to go again.

Ka Iew Luri-Lura

We missed the most significant aspect of Mawlyngbna – the fossils embedded in the boulders, remnants of a time when the entire area was under sea. The fossil trek through jungles, streams, and waterfall leads to a place called Ka Iew Luri-Lura. This place has rock impressions that resemble animal footprints. Khasi folklore has that these footprints are from a time when animals could talk and they would come to this place to trade with each other and with fellow human beings.

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Limestone Caves

Mawlyngbna has fascinating lime stone caves where stalactites and stalagmites abound. However, the caves can be visited only during winters.

Others

Other activities at Mawlyngbna includes ziplining, snorkeling, and angling. One can also indulge in midnight football matches under full moon, which takes place in the village sometimes. Then there are amazing river treks for the Adrenalin Junkies. One can also experience the local culture, depending on the time of visit. The community holds local dances and displays their handicrafts at a certain time of the year.

An interesting thing that I got to know was that the liquid inside some of the pitcher plants is edible, one needs to select young pitchers and those whose mouths are closed by the flap.

Mawphanlur – Meghalaya’s Tiny Little Secret

It was a Sunday and I woke up to a bright and beautiful day. An ideal day in Spring. “No wonder I love Spring,” I thought to myself. Such kind of days are rare and special in my hometown, Shillong, where rain clouds are always lurking around the corner.

A Sunday like this must inadvertently be associated with countryside long drives. And so it was! As always, Brother-in-Law (BIL) and I set out on our tiny little adventure. Both of us are perfect partners in crime and totally in sync when it comes to exploring nature.

BIL picked me up and we set out without any particular plan or destination. Very soon we realized that the city was left behind and we still hadn’t decided the plan for the day. BIL didn’t waste time in expressing his wish of driving towards West Khasi Hills. The perfectly tarred roads of the National Highway connecting Shillong-Nongstoin-Tura is one of BIL’s favourite long-drive destinations.

Not surprising as the undulating road winds through green hills dotted with Pine trees, the Kynshi River appears in some places, tiny colorful houses of the sporadic pretty villages add to the overall eye-catching surroundings. The ride serves for a relaxing and soothing experience.

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Pic 1: The National Highway connecting Shillong-Nongstoin-Tura. (PC A.D. Roye)

We had heard about a village called Mawphanlur, located somewhere around West Khasi Hills that boasts of seven lakes tucked away in gorgeous green valleys. Decision taken and Mawphanlur it was! The place was sealed and closed.

Located around 95 Km. away from Shillong Mawphanlur is little known amongst the tourists that throng Meghalaya. In fact, West Khasi Hills does not fall in the usual tourist circuit and that made it just perfect for us. The drive through the highway, as expected, was a pleasure to the senses – perfectly complemented but the warm sun and blue skies. The sparkling tarred road snaked through the gorgeous surroundings as BIL maneuvered his car rather skillfully.

I was totally lost in the surroundings when I suddenly realized the road was going uphill and was much narrower – well we had left the National Highway and was on the road to the village. The narrow road was perfectly tarred and that was an unexpected but pleasant surprise.

After a while we were treated to verdant rolling hills, quaint cottages, narrow lanes and several water bodies. We had arrived at Mawphanlur. Clouds had gathered by now and there was a nip in the air. I made sure to take my jacket with me as I alighted from the car.

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Pic 2: As we arrived at Mawphanlur Village

I would describe Mawphanlur as utterly refreshing, not only because of the greenery but because of the complete lack of usual tourists and all the associated paraphernalia of shops, hawkers, etc. There were a few locals though who had come over to explore the place just as we did.

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Pic 3: One of the many lakes
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Pic 4: Another lake
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Pic 5: Large rocks on the hilltop

The Traveller’s Nest guest house with its three cottages was a complete surprise for us. Had we known that Mawphanlur has a guest house, we could have planned to stay back and would have had more time to explore Mawphanlur and its idyllic surroundings. We spent close to an hour enjoying the serene surroundings before heading back. On the way back we had a late lunch at a local eatery – in a Kong Shop.

What is a Kong Shop?

Kong Shop translates as Sister’s Shop. These are small one room eating joints found all over Meghalaya. They are super clean, serve fresh, hot, and tasty food that’s dirt cheap. You might not find a lot of variety in the menu but the food is light on spices and is like home cooked food. Most importantly, you’ll be treated with a lot of love and care. When in Meghalaya, spotting a signboard that reads “Hangne Die Sha and Ja” would mean you are at a Kong Shop. This Khasi phrase translates as “Rice and Tea found here”.

On the Historical David Scott’s Trail

The green all around refreshingly fed my lungs and brain. I felt alive! I hadn’t seen so many shades of green anywhere before. The green felt pronounced and took me by surprise as I was just back from Sikkim and the surrounding greenery at a Lepcha Village had made me feel like I was in Amazon Forest.

Once again, I realized how little I have explored my own place of birth, my home – Meghalaya.

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No match for nature’s palette of green.

Last week I was spending time with my 26-year-old nephew, who is more of a buddy than a nephew and has been so since he was a child. Our meeting in Shillong was sheer coincidental and we got to spend four days together. And, that just had to be super special. Last time we met in Shillong was when he was in school. Thereafter, we did meet a couple of times in Bangalore and Ahmedabad but together in Shillong never happened until now.

On Saturday, aunt and nephew, both passionate nature lovers, decided to go on a day trek. After exploring a couple of options, we settled on the historical David Scott’s Trail. We did a little bit of reading about it and didn’t think it looked much impressive. Nevertheless, we decided to go for it as it was logistically convenient.

Sometimes, you have to be at some place to know what it really is! We were prepared for an ordinary hike but the actual gorgeousness unfolded on the trail.

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The 19th century cobble-stoned pathway
A Little on David Scott’s Trail

The trail is named after David Scott, who was the first British administrator to be sent to North East India during the British Raj. He operated in and around Khasi Hills for nearly thirty years (1802-1832). The 16 Km. trek is part of the horse cart trail that he had laid down to connect Assam and Bangladesh during the nineteenth century. The complete route was about 100 Km. long and was used to carry goods across tow destinations.

This road resulted in a war between the British and the Khasi, the latter being led by U Tirot Singh, the king of Khadsawphra Syiemship. The Khasis, with their bows and arrows, were hardly any match for the well-trained British soldiers. However, the war continued for four years. The British muskets finally defeated the Khasi forces. U Tirot Singh was captured and deported to Dhaka (now the capital of Bangladesh) where he died on July 17, 1835. U Tirot Singh is still hailed as a freedom fighter and revered in whole of Meghalaya.

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The iconic stone bridge built in the pathway that has stood the test of time
Our Trek

Nephew and I connected with Evernold (our guide) and planned the trek. Normally the trek starts at Mawphlang and ends at Ladmawphlang. The former is closer to Shillong and the latter is closer to Cherrapunjee. Ending at Ladmawphlang makes it easier to move over to Cherrapunjee, which most people do. We had to get back to Shillong and hence ending at Mawphlang seemed easier. The usual route starts with 4 Km. downhill, which in our case would be 4 Km. uphill.

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The half-broken cement bridge over Umiam River that we encountered soon after we started walking
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Bhuralal poses for us at the only pool with a cemented embankment. The other pools had no cemented structures and are associated with folktales on good and bad mermaids.

As we started our trek from Ladmawphlang, it started raining. Not surprising, we were in Meghalaya and more so at Cherrapunjee. Simultaneously the curtains raised, and the show had begun. The stunning scenery already started revealing itself. It amazed us to think all of this was right there just when we left the tarred motorable road, not tucked away in some remote corner. Soon, we crossed a broken cemented bridge, laid over the river – it’s River Umiam, which remained our constant companion almost till the end of the trail.

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Somewhere along the way as I walked on with our guide, Evernold and the dog, Bhuralal
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A pathway that leads up to a village. An interesting folktale talks about the fights between the rocks in this area.

Every bend threw up something new. Rolling hills with every kind of green shade; the deep valley; the red and white Rhododendrons peeping out through the greens; the crystal clear waters in the natural pools; the sparkling river appearing and disappearing.

Sometimes the hills were so close that we could distinctly see the wide variety of trees, sometimes they were far away and we could only see the outlines layered into the clouds. Sometimes we were deep into the jungle walking through tall shrubs and heaps of brown leaves laid on our path; other times through cobbled stoned pathways; or just a muddy lane; or a lush green meadow.

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Sometimes we walked through gorgeous forests with with brown leaves strewn on our way.
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Sometimes we climbed up narrow pathways overlooking the green hills

The wide variety of ferns, the gorgeous mushrooms, the ugly poisonous toads, the wriggly caterpillars, the brilliant butterflies, the poisonous flowers, and such others were additional wonderment. Such places spontaneously transports me to a world of fantasy making me wonder if I am walking on earth or if I am in some other realm. 

A little while after we started walking, the heavens poured but thankfully stopped in about 15-20 min. The weather Gods were good with us for rest of the day as the Sun and the clouds played hide and seek making it the perfect trekking weather. There are four villages in the adjoining areas of this trail, but we passed by only one – Laitsohma. The others are Mawbeh, Pyrda, and Mustep.

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While aunt and nephew were having the best of time together, Evernold was adding to the fun by intermittently bringing in entertaining Khasi folktales and stories.

The best part was that there was nobody other than us throughout the trail. We did meet a few villagers on the way. A dog, whom nephew named Bhuralal, followed halfway till Laitsohma and then went back.

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The hanging bridge over Umiam River to cross over from one hill to another.
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Another view of the hanging bridge
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Camilla’s tombstone dated 1843 – Camilla was the daughter of David Scott’s Colonel, who had died of cholera on this trail
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Villagers call these ‘Headache Flowers’ as they believe the blooming of these flowers is associated with headaches.

The trek ended as we reached Nongrum Village at Mawphlang. I thought to myself – I run around the length and breadth of our country seeking nature’s divine grace but the best of nature’s gift is right here in my very own backyard.

I know, there’s an overdose of pictures in this post but my story will remain incomplete without the one below.

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This old man is more than 90 years old. He lives in the same village as our guide. Look at the load he’s carrying. He treks regularly into the forest to collect firewood, which he sells in the village to make a living.

 

 

 

 

 

Kyllang Rock – Got to Go Again!

Lum Kyllang and Lum Symper are brothers who fell out with each other and fought with such animosity that they have parted ways forever. No ordinary sibling rivalry this is! The two brothers here are hills and not humans. [I have outlined the local folklore at the end.]

BIL (brother-in-law) and I were once again on a long drive in the countryside when we had an opportunity to meet with Lum Kyllang. It was the first day of the year 2018. A bright and sunny January day ushered in additional joy and cheer to our New Year celebrations. This was rare as the month of January is usually associated with gloomy weather in the cold winter of Meghalaya. BIL, the happy man, was happier today – not because of the weather but because his wife (my cousin sister) had joined us too.

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Pic 1: The bright and sunny day was a huge mood lifter – what better way to start the new year!

We headed from Shillong towards West Khasi Hills district to go to Mairang. Shillong is in East Khasi Hills district. The sparkling tarred road was an absolute pleasure to drive and BIL was enjoying every bit of it. It was a newly inaugurated National Highway connecting Shillong-Nongstoin-Tura. Our intention was nothing more than a long drive by the countryside – indeed our way of celebrating the new year.

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Pic 2: The perfectly tarred road was a driver’s delight!

We passed through undulating winding roads amidst green hills dotted with Pine Trees, brown meadows of dried grass, villages with pretty houses of tin roofs, lace curtains, and playful children. Somewhere during the drive, one of us mentioned Kyllang Rock, which is also located in Mairang. We had heard stories about the peculiarity and uniqueness of Kyllang Rock but had never visited it and this drive presented us with the perfect opportunity.

We enquired for directions from a local tea shop and got to know that Kyllang Rock is locally known as Lum Kyllang. Based on our enquiry, we diverted onto a broken road from the National Highway. The narrow dusty road was lined with Pine forests on either side. As we approached, after a drive of about 20 mins, the massive dome shaped single rock of granite was clearly visible from a distance. With a girth of more than 1000 ft., the monolithic Kyllang Rock stands tall at a height of 5400 ft. above sea level. It is situated 12 Km. from Mairang and about 78 Km. from Shillong.

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Pic 5: As we first set our eyes on Lum Kyllang 

Kyllang Rock is several million years old and it is believed to have a magnetic field. It is believed that the magnetic field makes it easy to climb and once on top nobody falls off despite the very strong winds. The dense forest around the rock is home to age-old red Rhododendron trees and Oak trees. I had all plans of climbing up to the top as friends had told me about the breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape from the top and also that the climb was fairly easy.

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Pic 6: The narrow lane that leads upto the rock.
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Pic 7: Do you see the tiny dots on top of the rock? Those are people up there.

However, I had to rest my plans of climbing up the rock as the place was immensely crowded with local people from the surrounding villages. Villagers revere the rock and were here to pay their obeisance on the occasion of new year.

I sure have to go back again to feel the massiveness of Lum Kyllang and experience the power of its magnetic field.

Local Folklore

Khasi folklore has it that Lum Kyllang in Mairang (West Khasi Hills) and Lum Symper in Weiloi (East Khasi Hills) are brothers. Kyllang was a mischievous God known for his mood swings. Symper was a calm God and always disapproved Kyllang’s violent and destructive ways. Kyllang did not like Symper’s interference and this led to a battle between the two brothers. Symper won the battle as he was blessed to have boulders while Kyllang had only sand. After the battle, Symper stayed in the same location in East Khasi Hills and Kyllang moved to Mairang in West Khasi Hills.

Another folklore talks about a man, his wife and child, who due to certain circumstances got transformed into one whole rock.

An Afternoon at Mattilang Park

Some memories never fade…

If you’ve ever been to Shillong, you would have visited Elephant Falls. It is one of the most visited tourist spots in Meghalaya. I haven’t been to Elephant Falls in recent times and had visited only once after it acquired its current cosmetic look – well defined steps, painted railings, cordoned off water area, dozens of shops at the entry way, and so on. I would rather preserve memories of the rustic Elephant Falls that I had seen during my childhood. The other day I was interacting with a fellow blogger about how I had seen Elephant Falls, when I remembered another place very close to it. I had promised him that I would write about it and here it is – I. J. Khanewala, this post is for you.

And if you want to read about Elephant Falls, visit I. J. Khanewala’s post at Don’t Hold Your Breath. He has been there very recently.

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Pic 1: A sneak peek of Elephant Falls from Matiilang Park
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Pic 2: A closer view of Elephant Falls from Matiilang Park

The first time I visited Mattilang Park was when it did not exist – I mean in its present form. That was several years back, when a Khasi friend had taken me to this place that not many people knew about. At that time, Meghalaya hardly existed on the tourist map, perhaps it was jostling to make a slot for itself. Many were not even aware of its existence. I still remember people rephrasing Shillong as Ceylon to clarify they heard correctly when I would mention my hometown outside of the North East. Well, that’s another story for another day….

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Pic 3: Somewhere inside the park, the water here flows from Elephant Falls

My second visit to Mattilang Park was a year or two after my first visit when I had taken my cousin and a friend there. At that time, we had seen the beginning of some construction work happening. Back then we were too naïve to be bothered about such things and the phrase ‘concrete jungle’ didn’t exist in our vocabulary. Much later that very place became Mattilang Park.

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Pic 4: The gardener clicks a picture for us
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Pic 5: And, I cant believe I have with me an analog photograph of the two us, clicked when the park was in the making

Three years back my cousin and I revisited the park on a gloomy October afternoon when she took me out on a drive – something she religiously does each time I visit home. Located in Upper Shillong, the park is run by a regional self-help group. Just on the other side of Elephant Falls, it provides for a great view of the waterfall. The luscious greenery around the park has a charm of its own and since not many tourists know about it, the chances of finding a swarm of people is pretty slim. That afternoon was no different, there was nobody other than the two us. The dull weather might have also contributed to that. We did find a gardener though, who was busy tending to the flowers and also cleaning up the place.

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Pic 6: Hydrangeas in the park, don’t know why I don’t have picture of the other flowers

After having walked around in the park for a while we found ourselves comfortably snuggled in the tiny quaint little tea shop located in the park. We spent the evening indulging in harmless gossips about everything and everybody while sipping endless cups of sha (tea in Khasi). Meanwhile, the clouds were descending and in a matter of minutes all the surrounding greenery was whitewashed.

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Pic 7: Just look at those ferns…..

We remained engulfed in the nothingness of the fog refusing to budge an inch from our respective positions. Instead ordering some more sha, this time sha-saw (black tea) with a tinge of lemon and some biscuits to compliment it. A few minutes later the fog cleared slowly revealing the refreshing greenery all over again.

Evening was drawing in making us realize that we had to get going before it became totally dark.

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Pic 8: The water keeps flowing slowly and we can’t see beyond this point.

If you visit Shillong, you would surely go to Elephant Falls. Do visit Matilang Park too as it is closeby. Not a ‘must visit’, but you may just like the place.

Those Morning Walk Rituals

It’s pretty late in the night and I should be in bed, yet I am not. Here I am lazing on my couch doing particularly nothing – shuffling between Instagram posts, pages of a book, and Whatsapp messages. Indiscipline makes occasional visits and tonight is one. Of late, such visits have become more regular than occasional. Walking from the living room to the bedroom becomes a herculean task requiring a huge amount of effort and will power.

“If I am to reach office at a decent time after maneuvering the crazy morning traffic, I need to be up early and leave home latest by 7.30 AM….”  – The mind blabbers, as it always does, but I pay no heed and continue wasting my time on the couch.

Promises I make to myself every so often are just broken, procrastinated for another time, or easily replaced by another ambitious and taller promise.

It wasn’t like this always though. There was a time when early to bed and early to rise was the most normal thing to do.

A quick rewind to my hometown days in Shillong and I never remember being awake beyond 10.00 PM and even that was considered late. In Shillong, and in all of North East, evenings set in early – around 5.00 PM during summers and 4.00 PM during winters. Consequently mornings break in very early too.

Talking about mornings in Shillong, my mind is transported to those times when our days would start with idyllic and therapeutic morning walks. Morning walks was like a family ritual for us, not necessarily done together as a family though. Sometimes we did walk together, but mostly everyone would do it on their own time, in their own way.

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Pic 1: I do not have many pictures of our morning walks, never really thought of clicking. Feels good though to think that these were morning walks done mindfully. 

Everyone, however, took the same route. The perfectly tarred road that snakes through the neighbourhood houses sometimes climbing up and sometimes climbing down. The green hills, mildly illuminated with dawn, overlook the road as it nonchalantly passes by two government schools and into a Pine Forest towards the Sericulture Farm.

A large nursery on the left announces the onset of the forest through which the tarred road continues, occasionally broken by tiny cemented bridges over unassuming brooks and streams that melodiously gurgle happily breaking the morning silence.

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Pic 2: Somewhere along the way
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Pic 3: Inside Sericulture Farm

Further ahead, there is a graveyard dotted with some more Pine Trees and then the road continues right up to a locality known as Lawshohtun. At times, we would turn around from the gate and retrace our path through the hillocks or the tarred road. At other times, we would go right into the Sericulture Farm and look around the already known places before walking back. Again, sometimes we would continue walking right up to Lawshohtun, much beyond Sericulture Farm.

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Pic 4: I just love ferns, these are some I had clicked last time I went that way.
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Pic 5: The administrative office of Sericulture Farm

Most of our mornings would start with this mandatory walk, the only exceptions were when it rained heavily and when we had exams as focusing on studies was considered priority.

Thankfully, much of this route remains the same even today and is still popular with morning walkers. However, a large part of the forest now belongs to the armed forces and access to the hills, meadows, and streams are restricted. One can only walk through the tarred road.

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Pic 6: Clicked somewhere inside Sericulture Farm
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Pic 7: Clicked a few years back during one such morning walk spree

In today’s context of chaotic mornings with mad rushes and traffic stresses, those unhurried morning walks are like unbelievable wishful tales. The hazards of metro living! The prices we pay for a livelihood. Small cities and towns do not offer jobs but offer quality life.

Back then, I never thought those casual morning walks would one day become luxuries, affordable only during vacations and that too in exchange for a considerable sum of money.

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Pic 8: Those are staff quarters inside Sericulture Farm 

Well, morning walks are warmly greeted and indiscipline shooed away at least once every year when I visit my hometown. I am indeed lucky to be able to revisit those morning walks. So what if its just once a year!

Luscious ‘Lwai’

An Accidental Rendezvous with the Gorgeous Waterfall

“I have a request and you can’t say no!” demanded my brother-in-law (BIL).

Now, this was coming from one of my favourite persons in the world and it was his birthday too – how could I say no! BIL declared we would be visiting a lesser known waterfall, situated in a remote corner of East Khasi Hills. Sharing my love for exploring nature, that’s how he wanted to spend his birthday. Driving his new car into the wilderness was an added incitement.

Next morning, armed with a pack of sandwiches and fruits, we set out a little later than planned. The midnight birthday celebrations had extended way into late night and we couldn’t bring ourselves to wake up early in the cold January morning.

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Pic 1: Somewhere on the way.

Driving early morning through the winding roads, surrounded by lush green pine forests in the hills is as rejuvenating as anybody’s imagination. The sun was up but its gentle morning warmth did little to ease the chill hanging in the air at that hour. Our windows were rolled up and the music was on as we happily and merrily sang along, though  interrupted now and then by the birthday wishes that kept pouring in.

Soon we were out of city limits and headed towards the village where the waterfall was located. On the way we stopped at Laitlum to have breakfast at a Kong Shop. [I will write about these shops another time].

Situated 25 Km. away from Shillong, Laitlum is famous for its sprawling green meadows and breathtaking valley. We thought our destination was just 30 min away but a couple of local villagers informed that the road beyond was really bad and it would take us another 3 hours. BIL and I contemplated whether it was a good idea, given that we were already late.

Suddenly, I recalled someone telling me about a waterfall around Laitlum. A quick confirmation from the locals and we decided to explore this place instead. Our original destination was pushed for another time.

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Pic 2: The undulating dusty road with open meadows.

The narrow winding road beside the Kong Shop lead to Thangsning village and that’s where Lwai falls, also known as Thangsning falls, is located.

BIL maneuvered his swanky new car meticulously into the narrow village road. The dusty lane with wide open meadows on both sides and a few scantily scattered village homes was an instant dose of excitement and happiness. This is our thing! How much we love such things!

The lane went on for a pretty long distance and there was no indication of any waterfall nearby. There was nobody around whom we could ask. Google was of no help either.

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Pic 3: A small flock of goats basking in the winter sun.
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Pic 4: A village woman carrying a huge quantity of dried grass while managing her children.

We arrived at an intersection where this winding dusty lane met another similar road. Not knowing what to do, we parked our car here. In just a few seconds, another car arrived and parked in front of us. While I stepped out and started capturing a few pictures, BIL went ahead to talk to the two gentlemen who had also stepped out of their car.

Quite surprisingly, they were also looking for the same waterfall. They were native Khasis and had also come from Shillong. One of them had trekked through the jungle to the waterfall before and they were now trying to figure out the motorable road to it. We decided to join them. This was immensely helpful as they could ask around in the local language.

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Pic 5: The concrete cement steps to the base of the waterfall amidst greens of all shades.

In a short while, we located the falls. We parked our cars and stepped out into the soothing lush green hills. The gushing sound of water teased us though the falls wasn’t visible yet.

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Pic 6: We are nearly at the base where the water is flowing on to an adjoining stream.

The sun was strong now and the sky a deep blue. A flight of 250 concrete steps took us down to the bottom of the falls and there it was right in front of us the mesmerizing cascading beauty gracefully making its way down into a pool of pure turquoise.

There were two columns of water falling from a height of about 100 feet. The two water columns seemed to be in some kind of a friendly banter as they giggled excitedly hurrying their way down to touch the pool below as though in some kind of a playful competition with each other.

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Pic 7: The elegant Lwai falls in its entirety. There will be four times more water later in the year.

The turquoise pool shone in its sparkling clear water through which peeped rounded yellow pebbles from the bottom of the pool. Rocks of various shapes and sizes lay exposed all around happily soaking in the winter sun making merry as long as the party lasts. Come rains and all of them will be swallowed by the increasing water of the falls.

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Pic 8: Isn’t that turquoise pool simply fascinating!

My excitement knew no bounds and as always a surge of emotions left me speechless. I sat there gaping at the spectacular site and silently conversed with the white falling beauty, the elegant turquoise pool, the perfectly rounded yellow pebbles, and the little platoon of happy rocks.

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Pic 9: I could sit there and stare at it for ages. I need no one. Only me and the waterfall.

The unexpected rendezvous with the two gentlemen was a pleasure beyond words. Such fluke meetings don’t ever fail to fascinate me! One of them, Antho Syiem is also an ardent nature lover just like us. In those few minutes, he shared his trekking experiences in the remote corners of Meghalaya.

With great pride he introduced us to his YouTube channel – Sorjah, through which he aims to show glimpses of his gorgeously beautiful homeland, Meghalaya, to the rest of the world. And I feel fortunate to be able to share this feeling of pride.

[Sorjah’s video on Lwai falls can be viewed here. Do check out their other videos as well.]

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Pic 10: A selfie with our new found friends.

BIL was elated and his excitement was evident as he slowly and steadily climbed up the steps. With a chronic back problem climbing a continuous flight of stairs is something he would rather avoid but today, he couldn’t stop smiling. And I knew his birthday was made!

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Pic 10: BIL, the happy man, celebrates his birthday with sandwiches and water as the sound of the waterfall sings his birthday song.

Chasing Frost on a Cold December Morning

It was 4.00 AM on a cold December morning just two days before Christmas. Groggily my hand reached out for the phone to switch off the alarm, which just went off threatening to wake up the entire house. The intense December cold hit my bare hands as the rest of my body was warmly tucked inside two layers of quilt and blanket. Not giving in to the temptation of drawing my hands into the warm layers, I gingerly dialed my brother-in-law’s (BIL) number as promised the day before. BIL and my cousin sister live a couple of miles away in another part of the town.

“Good Morning! Will be there in 30 min!” BIL announced energetically, indicating that he’s been up for a while now. I called out softly to my sister who was in the next room, careful not to wake up the rest of the family. I found her already peeping into my room with her half-closed eyes. “We’re leaving in 30 min”, I told her.

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Pic 1: That’s us – BIL, my sister, and I

I was in in my pretty little hometown, Shillong for Christmas. Fondly known as the ‘Scotland of the East’, it is the capital of the North Eastern state of Meghalaya. Christmas has always been special in Shillong, given the majority of Christian population. However, the magnitude of Christmas celebrations in this quaint little hill station has drastically changed over the years.

I recall Christmas being a very quiet affair during my younger days when I lived there. In recent years, Shillong has evolved to be one of the most sought after Christmas destination in India. And, this time it was no different. The tiny little town brightly illuminated with yuletide decorations, smiling Santas, and carol singers, was brimming with Christmas fever. It’s no wonder that the hill town was throbbing with tourists despite the cold winter season.

This December, however, the cold was less than usual, which was not only surprising but a little strange this being the Christmas season. Back in the days, I remember waking up to frost in our home garden at this time of the year. The winter temperature falls below zero degree Celcius but it never snows in Shillong. This drop in temperature causes a layer of frost to form over the leaves and grass and can be seen during the early hours of day. This time the temperature wasn’t that low and consequently no frost formation happened. What else but Global Warming at play!

BIL had informed that we can see frost at Mylliem if we are game to wake up before sunrise and go there. And, we were completely all for it. Mylliem is a village Panchayat located at a distance of 17 Km. uphill from Shillong. It did feel a little strange that we had to travel that distance to see frost but the freshness of the early morning drive more than made up for it.

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Mylliem looked gorgeous in the early morning light. The entire area was covered in a thin sheet of white as though it had wrapped a blanket around itself trying to wake up in the cold winter morning and soak in the first rays of the Sun.

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Pic 7: Mylliem looked gorgeous as dawn breaks in

We reveled in the beautiful scenery around us for a while. The sun was coming up and we decided to go further ahead and enjoy a little more of the early morning drive.

So, we went up to River Umtyngar. ‘Um’ means water in the local language. The river with its greenish water had a layer of mist over it. The mist was slowly moving as the Sun’s rays tried to reach the river though the canopy of trees around. This unexpected delight made for a splendid view and we were absolutely thrilled.

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Pic 8: River Umtyngar – note the layer of mist over it
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Pic 9: The mist disappearing slowly and steadily as the Sun’s rays fall on the water.

Waking up early in the cold December morning was completely worth it. What made it even more fascinating was that there was nobody other than the three of us. We watched the mist disappear slowly and steadily being replaced by the Sun’s rays that caused the emerald water to sparkle and glisten as though it was pleased to finally feel the warmth of the sun.

The early morning drive turned out to be heavenly and when it comes to views like these, I can even stay awake the whole night!

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Pic 10: A pond enroute, note the layer of mist over it.

Frigid

Up Through the Forest Wilderness

An Arduous Climb Alongside Nohkalikai Waterfalls

We climbed, climbed, and climbed along! Will this ever end! At every turn, I hoped to see some flat land but there wasn’t any and every turn only revealed another steep climb through the same set of rugged, uneven rocks. I glanced at my watch and it was 2.30 PM. That means we’ve been climbing constantly for 3 hours now. “Just 10 minutes more to the top”, said Droning, our guide.  I knew I couldn’t take his word for it. As a 15 year old village boy, he can easily do it in less than that time.

We were tracing our way back from Nongriat after visiting the Double Root Bridge and the Rainbow Falls. The usual route is a pathway constituting 3600 concrete steps but we were on a different route. The path where we were walking, rather climbing, was right beside Nohkalikai Falls, which happens to be the tallest plunge waterfall in India, falling from a height of 1115 feet (340 metres).  And, that very well explains the steep climb. It was like walking up a vertical wall of that height.

We got carried away when we heard about this route and embarked upon it without putting much thought onto it. To top it, we had missed breakfast and had hardly eaten anything. Not just that, we ran out of water pretty soon. And, I for one didn’t have a single sip as I was saving it for my cousin, who needed it more.

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Pic 1: The steep climb laid out through rustic moss-covered stones

We had no clue about this route and got to know about it from some travelers the night before at Nongriat. The jungle route appealed to us and we had decided in an instant to go through that route instead of the usual concrete pathway. A quick chat with Droning to gauge the safety of the route with respect to wild animals and if it would be slippery was enough to seal the deal. Droning, however, miscalculated our capability and estimated that it would take us 2 hours to reach the top. He had said it takes him an hour, so by our standards it would be 2 hours. How wrong he was!

Also, it was only later that we discovered people climb down the route but seldom climb up. It’s not a very popular route and many people don’t know about it. Backpackers, trekkers, and adventure seekers walk down this route to go to Nongriat and then go back up through the concrete pathway.

Rajat and Ashwin, two of our newly made acquaintances had joined us too.

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Pic 2: Resting a while to catch our breath

The jungle was alluring and too glamorous for words! The initial 2 hours was simply fascinating. I felt the five of us were like Enid Blyton’s Famous Five unearthing a secret trail attempting to solve a dark and deep mystery. Tall trees and thick shrubs adorned either side of the steep rustic moss-covered stone steps. The sun passed through the miniature openings in the thick foliage making varied patterns on the path we walked. The entire pathway had a generous dose of Bay leaves scattered all over.

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Pic 3: The climb continues through as the sun’s rays filter through the thick canopy. (P.C: Ashwin Chandru)

Every view appeared unique yet the same, all at once. Once in a while we came across these huge and delicate spider webs housing an elegant spider, proudly sitting right at the center. Gorgeous velvety butterflies fluttered every now and then spreading a blast of colours across their path. Some were tiny while most were really big, almost the size of a man’s palm.

A sweet jungle fragrance filled the air and our eyes feasted on multiple shades of green, sometimes interspersed by few browns.  Wild flowers of myriad vibrant hues scattered here and there were a source of constant delight uplifting our spirits and minds. I felt transported to a different realm. I wished I could take this jungle home and make it part of my everyday life but I couldn’t and have to make do with potted plants in my tiny little balcony.

There was nobody other than us in the trail making it even more enigmatic. The only people we met was a British couple going down the path towards Nongriat. They had come driving all the way from England and were exploring the remote corners our country.

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Pic 4: Delighted to meet people from across the continent (P.C: Ashwin Chandru)

As we started walking, we found plastic bottles, chips packets, chocolate wrappers scattered all around. Though this path was less littered compared to the concrete pathway but it was disturbing nevertheless. Even a place like this, which is not touristy and less frequented was not spared. Initially, we just exchanged discontent about this among us.

Soon the discontent got the better of me and I started collecting them in a spare bag I had and by the time we were done with the climb, my bag was full and there was no more space in it. It was a great feeling to find the British couple doing the same and they were stuffing garbage in their pockets. I had another extra bag, which I handed over to them.

After about 3 hours of continuous climb, we were drained. The tiring uphill trail coupled with an empty stomach was increasingly becoming tough for everyone. Our water supply of 2L was almost exhausted, which was anyway insufficient for six adults. We had expected to find a water source enroute in the jungle but there wasn’t any. Our focus had shifted from the enchanting surroundings to ourselves. The enthralling jungle was failing to divert our attention anymore and was becoming more of an ordeal that we wanted to get over with.

All of us were pushing ourselves. My backpack felt heavier than it was and with no water my throat was parched. My sisters were struggling.  While one of them kept complaining about a supposed hamstring in her thigh muscles, the other was finding it more demanding than the rest. She kept drinking glucose water and spraying Volini on her calves to keep her going. She was getting me worried if she could at all make it to the top. At one point where I was further ahead, she even napped for a few minutes somewhere in the trail – I have no clue how she managed to do that on the almost perpendicular flight of rocky and uneven stairway.

To keep myself going, I devised my own strategy. I started counting the steps and set myself a goal of 30 steps at a time. After 30 steps, I would rest for a few seconds and start towards another 30. I would silently congratulate myself for completing 30 steps and heave out a sigh of relief of having progressed a little ahead.

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Pic 5: We just reached the top, the azure blue sky is just fascinating

Towards the end I was so dehydrated that it was getting increasingly difficult for me to move on. Desperate, I requested Droning to run ahead and get some water for us as we continued our climb. After an arduous 4 hour climb, the jungle gave way to tall brown grasses on either side indicating we were almost at the top. A little while later the hilltop appeared in the form of a vast and sprawling meadow. What a moment that was! Phew! At the same time Droning arrived with a bottle of water. We guzzled up all the water in split seconds like raindrops on a parched land. After quenching our thirsts, we moved ahead and soon spotted Nokalikai falls shining in the bright afternoon sun.

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Pic 6: The direction shows you can walk down this path, and we walked up instead!
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Pic 7: Nokalikai Falls – note the steep wall beside it, that’s the path we walked up!

Today, as I look back it feels good that we had chosen to walk that path. Several memories besiege me –

  • Agony of the 4-hour near vertical climb winding through the thick green canopy
  • Stepping through hundreds of fallen dry leaves strewn over moss-covered rustic stones
  • Maneuvering billions of crisscrossing gnarling roots that even God himself cannot map
  • Feasting our eyes on the myriads of colourful flowers and butterflies
  • Mushrooms and lichens of various shapes and sizes
  • Amazing and unusual insects by the dozens
  • And much more……….

All of this I wouldn’t have known had I taken the concrete pathway.

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Pic 8: We encountered several such gorgeous beauties. (P.C: Ashwin Chandru)
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Pic 9: A stick insect, insects that camouflage like twigs (P.C: Ashwin Chandru)
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Pic 10: The skeletal remains of a leaf (P.C: Ashwin Chandru)

Constant

In Pursuit of the Elusive Rainbow

I stepped out of my room and looked up at the sky. The moon shone brilliantly and looked like a perfectly rounded sphere of white radiance sailing in the cloudless night. Millions of twinkling stars accompanying the moon seemed to be looking at me knowing exactly what I was thinking.

We were spending the night at Nongriat in a homestay, which was right next to the double root bridge – a bridge that epitomizes the harmonious blend of Nature’s abundance and Man’s hard work. Braving 3600 steps, we had arrived at Nongriat earlier that day.

Later that night, we befriended four travellers staying at the homestay. Gautam and Om were from Mumbai and were biking in the North East while Rajat and Ashwin were solo travellers. Rajat came from Delhi and Ashwin all the way from the city of Mysore in the South. I was with two of my cousin sisters and we were exploring our own home state. Our destination for the next day was Rainbow Falls and we decided to go there together as a team. Our guide, Droning was quite amused to find the three sisters multiply into this little army in just a few hours. Droning lives in Nongriat and is a young 15-year-old lad, who is preparing to appear for his school final this year.

Next day started early for us. We were up by 5.30 AM and left the homestay at 6.00 AM with our newly found acquaintances. The sun wasn’t up yet but the skies looked clear. Soon, we found ourselves crossing a shaky iron bridge that threatened to throw us off as it swayed to and fro while we crossed it one foot at a time. We had encountered such bridges the day before as well, but I for one was still not used to them and could feel my knees quiver. This particular one was worse as the iron was rusted in places. After a while, we crossed another root bridge and the root bridges are so much more stable!

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Pic 1: Another precarious hanging bridge, this one had few rusted iron rods making it scarier!  [P.C – Ashwin Chandru]

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Pic 2: Another hanging root bridge, this particular one was supported by iron rods. Root bridges were much more sturdier. [P.C – Ashwin Chandru]

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Pic 3: Towards the end of the root bridge as we stepped into the jungle. Isn’t that glorious!

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Pic 4: Through the jungle trail, one step at a time. [P.C – Ashwin Chandru]

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Pic 5: Sis takes a break. [P.C – Ashwin Chandru]
The sound of running water of the falls teased us for a long while as we continued walking and expected to see it at every turn but the falls kept eluding us. Then, in a flash it suddenly emerged from the thick green envelope. There it was! Rainbow Falls – a hidden treasure in the deep jungles of Cherrapunjee, Meghalaya. The mighty roaring water was spectacular leaving us transfixed for a moment.

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Pic 6: Rainbow Falls as it emerged through the dense green thicket.

I stared at it from the top of the hill for a while before convincing myself that this was not a dream. Only then, was I able to descend the final flight of steps towards the falls. As I looked on, I noticed the enormous force of the water as it pounded its way right into the pool below. The pool was a brilliant sparkling blue and looked serene and calm, unaffected by the torrents of water pounding on it with such great force.

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Pic 7: I just had to admire it for a while before making my way down.

The sun was just about making its way through the tall hills around the falls. So, we would have to wait a while to see the rainbow that appears on the falls. It’s this permanent rainbow across the falls that makes it unique and gives it the name.

I found myself a comfortable seating area from where I could view the falls in its entirety. One of my sisters joined me. The rest were already making their way down through the huge formidable boulders. We watched them go down. Two of the guys couldn’t control their urge and very soon plunged into the crystal clear blue waters of the pool below. The water was so clear that we could see right through into the pebbles at the bottom.

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Pic 8: The pristine blue water was just too alluring!

The dazzling blue water was too inviting. My sister could hold herself no longer and decided to climb down.  The huge boulders intimidated me and I wasn’t sure. It’s my short height that limits me, shaking my confidence at such times, as I know my legs will not reach out to all places. I felt quite comfortable where I was but my sister insisted. Soon, Droning was summoned to give me a hand and help me navigate my way down to the blue pool.

Down below, the falls was magnificent but at the same time terrifying and unnerving. I stood there for a while watching the rest of my gang braving the chill and swimming and wading in the water. At one point all of them climbed up a huge boulder that had a ladder against it for a closer view of the falls. I wasn’t able to muster the courage.

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Pic 9: The  clear blue water through to the pebbles below. The water was comparatively shallow, as it was Winter season.

Another sparkling green pool of water amidst huge rocks and boulders glistened in the morning sun and lay quietly away from the falls. While the others went towards that, I decided to go back to my comfort place and again not without Droning’s help. One of my sisters and Rajat joined me too.

We chatted and waited patiently for another hour and a half as the sun’s rays slowly descended down the falls. The rest settled in a place down below after they had their fill of exploring and posing for photographs of kinds. We didn’t know at what point the rainbow would appear and every now and then imagined seeing colours when there weren’t any.

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Pic 10: Sis poses at the crystal clear green pool at the far end of the falls. [P.C – Ashwin Chandru]

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Pic 11: At my comfort place overlooking the falls. [P.C – Ashwin Chandru]
And when the rainbow actually appeared, we literally shrieked in unison. It was so sudden that I felt as if an invisible fairy godmother had touched it with her magic wand. We reveled in the enigmatic beauty of Mother Nature for a while.

It was almost 10.30 AM. A few more people had now started coming in and it was time for us to leave.

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Pic 12: Do you spot the rainbow? We had to wait till the Sun’s rays reached that point just before it touched the pool below.

In our anticipation of the rainbow, we had forgotten that we had missed breakfast. Having been up for more than 4 hours with quite a bit of physical activity, our stomachs had started growling. The girls had meticulously packed in a few bread slices from our Homestay the night before. The boys had none. The food was far from sufficient and we still had a long way to go. We had decided not to go back to Nongriat, instead follow a jungle trail that goes straight to Cherrapunjee.

We had already invited trouble, just that we were still unaware…. (Continued)