Cherapunjee-pretty wet, did you say?

My only tryst with Cherapunjee has been through my geography text which used to say that this place receives the largest amount of rainfall in the while world. But in reality, there is so much more to this place, nothing of which reaches the mainstream media, leading to limited mentions in niche channels such as travelogues and the like, which is attributable to a great extent to the media blackout of the seven sisters of the North-East.

Can you imagine a place which is exactly the way we address the place. Cherapunjee is actually a place in the clouds as suggested my the name of the state-Meghalaya. The forests are pristine and virgin. The people are affable and amiable, quite unlike any sect or creed of people I have met as yet. This place is one big ‘Trip’, says Simon.
The journey starts with the sumo ride from Guwahati, 40 bucks apiece, 9+1 stuffed into a metal cardboard. The ride is pretty boring coming right after a beautiful ride to Tawang. Shillong has become a dirty, hustled hill station with civilization bringing about the usual mundaneities. The cleanest spot in the Shillong could be one of the spic and span M800 taxis crawling all over the place. The most important aspect would be the relevance of english rather than hindi because of the activism shown by Christian Missionaries, which dates back a few decades. People wear Rock n Roll on their collars and betel nut juice in their mouths with equal aplombe.
There are good number of sumos plying to Cherapunjee at about 30-40 bucks apiece. I boarded a pink bus to Cherapunjee. The ride started in about half an hour when one reaches the plateau because the landscape that I was traversing was more of flattened hill-tops. Like someone has taken a giant sickle and shaved the hills of their peaks, leaving flatness in it’s wake. The forests are thick and more tropical than alpine.We reached Cherapunjee in about an hour’s time and I made friends on the way. Another 30 minutes and I was at Cherapunjee Holiday Resorts. The roads were treacherous and narrow. My friend Eva on the bus casually remarked that she had lost her brother to one of the bends in the road. Quite nonchalantly. The resort was perched atop a hill with a spectacular view of the surrounding valleys and the plains which comprised Bangladesh. The distances were great and hazy. The sky was clear and without clouds. The setting was perfect for tea and biscuits and that is what I got from my hosts.
I settled for a tent, rather than the usual rooms with hot water and room service. I had the sky for the roof and a zillion moths for company. Beat that.This place has so many things to offer.
The most noteworthy aspect would be something which is unique to this place. It is the only one of it’s kind and truly represents ingenuity and patience at it’s best. They have ‘Living root bridges’ across streams here. They are made by redirecting the growth of roots of a particular species until the root traverses the stream and gains ground on the other side. The roots are braided together and filled with stoned which soon become part of the bridge. The bridge gains strength by the day and live as long as the tree lives and are entirely eco-friendly. Sadly they never find a mention in extreme engineering. In my opinion, they truly represent the legacy of a generation to another as they take 25 years to form.
Nothing short of spectacular are these man-made-natural structures. Then there are crystal clear pools, amazing stalactite formations in caves, sky high falls, more than a thousand varieties of plants and animals alike and most important of all people who smile to every question that you ask. Are they crazy, you ask. They are crazy in a good sort of way, says Simon.

Sela pass-13750 Ft above MSL-Tawang Valley

If there is one thing which caught my imagination in the trip to Tawang, it is the Sela-Pass. It is a narrow pass in the mountainous regions of Arunachal Pradesh, at  an elevation of 13700 ft above mean sea level and it  signals our entry into the Tawang valley. Legend has it that a sepoy, Jaswant, fought a lone battle against the invading Chinese during the 1962 war. His spirit is still believed to protect the place. There is an off-shoot to the tale in that there is one more tale about a tribal woman who supported him during his battle with the Chinese. This woman brought him supplies and used to tend to his wounds. And she is supposed to have killed herself when he was slain, in an act of loyalty.

Stories galore and incidents at each intersection made the journey to Tawang as interesting as ever. Stories of a flat tyre in the middle of nowhere, to stories of a frozen fuel pump (of the taxi’s fuel line) at an army base camp, to stories of narrowly missing a landslide,…stories galore. But the moment at Sela-pass is unique in that it is like a moment of deliverance. Imagine driving for a long time through narrow and shaky roads, road signs suggesting safe practices for a safe ride and the alpine landscape ceasing to be an effective distraction in the face of fear substituting boredom as one gets higher and higher. The mountains lose all sense of proportion as the heights are awe inspiring and the distances are merely hazy and misty. The eye lacks power to gulp in more than is humanly possible and heart is weary and hungry while the mind is apprehensive about the new surroundings. I am all but awry.

The distant mountains seem so near and wear straight scars of human intervention in the form of roads. Fresh snow has daubed the mountain-tops with familiar streaks and the mountains bears scrapes exposing the bowels of the mountain because of landslides. The sun is bright and shiny while the clouds are huddled close because of the hills standing ground. The granite formations appear steely and cold on the sunny side of the mountain with apparently no-sign of vegetation at this height. The colder side of the mountain, away from the sun has a softer tag of snow from the previous night with the same dripping wetness as and where it is exposed to the ever-moving snow. Like an oasis in a desert, the Sela-Pass opens into a depression in the landscape with a lake which is starting to freeze over. I am not able to make out if the ripples on the water are real or not. Most of the lake is frozen and I did not trust my eyes as my senses were numb. I was a bit shaky at the knees and my sense of balance had taken a good beating because of the G-forces during driving a good part of the day.

The lake was but beautiful and I was but happy. All I needed was a cup of hot tea and a good cigarette.

the trip!

Am off on a 14 day trip to the north-east,…alone,….oh I am lookin forwrd to it.