Chasing the monsoon in Meghalaya

By GAUTAM KUMAR BORDOLOI

If you want to be enthralled by the myriad shades of monsoon, a trip through some ideal locations in Meghalaya—usually during June to September—is highly recommended. Like Alexander Frater, we too can ‘chase the monsoon’ and come under its magic spell passing through the places like Mawphlong, Cherrapunji, Mawsynram, Mawlynnong, Dawki and quite a few others.

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I am no very keen to include Shillong because its unplanned growth has turned this once venerated “Scotland of the East” not only dirtier but hotter as well. However, for the first time visitors to the State of Meghalaya, exploring the glories of Shillong is a must, notwithstanding the fact that its famous Golf Course, Ward’s Lake, Lady Hydari Park and some other spots are not as well-maintained now as they used to be years ago.

A visit to Mawlynnong—arguably one of the cleanest villages in Asia and Dawki—the small town on the border between India and Bangladesh, had been on our agenda for a long time. The trip I made recently to these two places with my parents and wife was pretty rewarding. Both the places—Mawlynnong at a distance of 90 km and Dawki at a distance of 96 km from Shillong—have their unique beauty and importance and I’m sure no one will regret visiting these places before the onset of winter.

Far away from the hullabaloo and grime—the usual picture of our Indian cities—Mawlynnong is a quiet hamlet, where the clean environment amid floating clouds with varieties of blooming flowers and butterflies, can transport one to an ethereal plane. Gradually, tranquility seeps in one’s system and it becomes easier to realize as to why this tiny place is often referred to as ‘God’s Own Garden’. Apart from cleanliness, what strikes one most in the village is the simplicity of its people. There’s an unhurried pace everywhere: from sweeping the narrow concrete lanes to tending the flowers collectively and to attending the classes by school children—there’s no sign of restlessness and competition.

The living root-bridge, almost at the entrance of the village, is something to be explored by one and all. The tree house that provides a clearer view of Bangladesh border and beyond and the natural balancing rock can also attract the tourists. However, for me and my wife, the ‘Church of Epiphany’ built long back in 1902 was the most adorable object as we found it a haven of unique peace and serenity. The green expanse of adjacent playground only complemented its beauty.

This more than 100 year-old village in East Khasi Hills district with just 100 houses and a population of around 600 is indeed very clean and beautiful with no litter anywhere to be seen. Every cottage has a well-tended flower garden, spreading a riot of colour in front of the eyes of any visitor. There are bamboo-made dustbins all over the place at short distance and we were told that the collected garbage would be recycled to manure in a covered pit. Beneath the apparent calmness of the villagers, the economic struggle for their existence becomes visible to a discerning visitor. Tourism is yet to become a well-organized industry and the farm-earnings, mostly through betel nut, bay leaf, pineapple etc. can hardly make their both ends meet.

Many tourists make the mistake of visiting Mawlynnong only for a couple of hours. I would recommend them to stay for a night or two. At night under the mellow glow of solar-powered street lights, the place becomes even more magical with only the giggles of children to break the long silence at times. One can saunter from corner to corner of the village breathing in fresh nocturnal air. One can also step on to the not-so-high rocks strewn all over and see the rows of flickering lights in not-so-distant Bangladesh. There is the provision of ‘house guest’ in the village. We spent our nights at ‘Hala Tyngkong’—a home stay cum restaurant. The warm care taken by the eldest child of the family—Ms Baniar(Bani for short), who is a student of a collage in Shillong, will remain evergreen in our memory.

If you avoid the usual road and take the short cut from Mawlynnong to Dawki, which falls in Jaintia Hills district, you will simply be besotted with spectacular natural views. The verdant and undulating landscape with gushing waterfalls and gurgling roadside streams, mist-laden hamlets on both sides of India-Bangladesh border and finally those small boats crisscrossing the river Umngot—all these provide a feast for one’s eyes. In fact, Dawki too has a rich fare to provide to the tourists, primarily the experience of visiting the last Indian border post No: 1275 at Tamabil. The scene near the Indian check post was found to be quite chaotic with hundreds of trucks loaded with coal to be carried inside Bangladesh. To a layman like me, the long international border seemed to be porous and not adequately protected.  Anyway, from the border check posts of both the countries, Sylhet-the nearest major city in Bangladesh is only 54 km and Dhaka-the capital city is 300 km away. The annual boat race at Umngot river during spring is also considered to be an additional attraction for tourists visiting Dawki at that time. Besides, the Dawki bridge, which is a suspension bridge over the Umngot river constructed by the British in 1932, is also a precious relic to be preserved well.

We made a number of visits to Cherrapunji in the past, but never once during the season of monsoon. However, having gone through the highly inspiring travel book—“Under a Cloud: Life in Cherrapunji, the Wettest Place on Earth” by Binoo K.John, we are too-exited to rediscover the magic of the place anytime before September. You may just savour the beauty of a scene as depicted in the book: “At night the music of the rain is likely to make you dream of floating in the clouds. If you have left the windows open the clouds come inside too, reassuring you of their friendliness, smothering you with a wet embrace. When the drapes are drawn in the morning, the clouds are still there. The mumble of the rivulet running outside your door can be heard. You are right in the middle of the early morning rain, heavier and maybe noisier than the rain that started at midnight and ushered you into the arms of sweet sleep”. Well, we have made up our mind to go again. How about your making a plan to chase the monsoon in munificent Meghalaya?

(Gautam Kumar Bordoloi is a Guwahati-based freelance writer and publisher. He can be reached at gkbordoloi11@gmail.com)