Assam Memoirs Part 5 – The Abode of Clouds

Having lost ourselves in beauty and bounty of Shillong, the six of us embarked on our journey to one of the wettest places in the world – Cherrapunji. The journey was very eventful – we listened to the latest Hindi and Punjabi songs (having heard them countless times over the past couple of weeks, I am now addicted to “Naja” and “Main Tera Boyfriend”), and the obvious crowd-pleasers “Despacito” and “Shape of You.” We reminisced our university life en route and wondered how quickly the time had passed since our exams ended, and how it felt as if the concrete jungle of Mumbai had been replaced with the natural jungles of Meghalaya. The smooth zigzag roads leading to our destination certainly had the hint of a roller coaster.

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The journey was definitely memorable – the emerald hills and the fluffy white clouds rising from them – it was the definition of picture-perfection. Having stopped to stretch our legs near the valley at Mawkdok/Dympep somewhere around 4pm, our faces lit up as we saw a person just zooming across a zip line. It was the best thing one could think of – literally gaining a different perspective and enjoying the valley from a bit closer. Determined to not let this opportunity go, I asked our driver how far the starting point was, and quickly he could get us there. We reached just in time to be told by the guys from Pioneer Adventure Tours that they had already packed up and were calling it a day. After getting to know a bit about our trip from Guwahati and how we intended to leave Cherrapunji very early next morning, they did something which really won our hearts – they reopened the ride for us. Handing us the harness and the gloves, they asked us to get strapped quick. We were to zip line to the other end and then back to a point a few metres below the start. The organizer jovially mentioned that a complimentary short trek back to the top was included in the ₹300 package.

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Helping three of us quickly with the harness and the hooks, they guided us to the edge of the hill. Listening intently as the instructor demonstrated the use of the equipment to a friend who volunteered to go earlier, I felt confident. After being hooked to the cable with the help of the carabiner and the lanyard, we were instructed to don a sitting posture and cross our legs. While we were supposed to hold the base of the trolley with one hand, the other hand was to be used for decelerating and braking. He also suggested to lean backwards to enjoy the ride more. The final instruction was to glide the braking hand on the cable and apply pressure only when we neared the white flag that had been laid out. “You should survive” he joked as I steadied myself before the ride began. I did scream a bit out of joy as the trolley picked up speed, leaning back as much as I could. The enormity of the bright valley was enthralling, and zooming past the cable with a pretty decent speed approximately 1200 feet above it was definitely a thrill in itself. As instructed, I began to apply pressure with the braking hand as soon as I reached the white flag. “Don’t press too hard or you will stop midway!” exclaimed the instructor at the other end, and I did just that. After repeating the process once more, I reached a point a few metres below the original one. Having the lanyard and carabiner detached, I noticed that another cable took us in a direction perpendicular to the original line. This one appeared longer and older. Although really tempted to give the older line a try, I had to pass up the opportunity. Cherrapunji is notorious for its foggy evenings, and our priority was reaching the hotel before the visibility became too poor. We began the mini-trek to the starting point, and after thanking and wishing the instructors the best for the future, we left for the hotel.

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The awesome team at Pioneer Adventure Tours

 

We had passed by our hotel at Sohra – Café Cherrapunji en route to the view point, and it was the perfect image of a quaint little resort that my mind could conjure. Having booked the hotel through Oyo Rooms, we didn’t know what to expect at such a short notice.

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We were pleasantly surprised as the hotel, despite being small (they had only six rooms, out of which we had booked two), was just amazing. The staff was more than accommodating to our requests, and made us feel welcome. Having spent almost the entire day travelling, we decided to relax for the remainder of it. The simple hot dinner served was certainly a contrast to the chilly evening. Having lived in near-tropical weather all our lives, three of us found the evening to be a bit too frigid. Finishing our dinner in haste, we raced each other to the nearest fireplace. After deciding the plan of action for the next day and playing a few rounds of Charades, we decided to call it a day.

The next morning was pretty hectic – we had initially planned to check out really early and explore a bit of Cherrapunji before heading over to Dawki. However, the breakfast timings at the restaurant made us revise our plans. After a decent amount of re-planning we decided to visit a few points of interest before returning to the hotel for breakfast. The first one on our list was a view point for three attractions – Mawlaikhlieh (three-headed stone), Wakhaba Falls and the Latara Falls. We enjoyed every second we spent there.

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The next attraction that we were looking forward to was that of the Seven Sister Falls. This was by far the most enthralling view we had ever come across – at first we couldn’t even get a hint of the waterfalls in the valley – the clouds appeared like a blanket of white enveloping the valley below. And ever so slowly they rose, giving us glimpses of the seven waterfalls. We understood why Meghalaya is called the abode of clouds – one could witness the birth of the clouds at the base of the valley and enjoy their rise and growth up the hills. I guess I can say that I had my head up in the clouds – I was literally on cloud nine!

 

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This was also the place where I added another language, Khasi, to my kitty, albeit with a single word – Khublei (which means “Thank you”). Lost in Meghalaya’s wondrous beauty, our hearts refused to leave. We did though, only after our driver reasoned about missing out on other amazing locations that he intended to cover. The first one on the list was the Mawsmai Cave, which is famous for its beautiful limestone formations. We all did have butterflies in our stomachs after reading a bit about and seeing the photos of the cave. Interestingly, we walked to the entrance of the caves only to realize that there wasn’t anyone at the ticket counter. It took us only a few minutes to register that the Curse of Murphy’s Law that had been haunting us a day earlier was back with a bang – the attraction wouldn’t open to the public for at least another hour and we just couldn’t wait that long! En route to the caves we happened to pass by the monoliths.

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The monoliths can be found throughout the Khasi and the Jaintia Hills, and are erected to honour the heroes who died in the battles and in remembrance of their clan members.

The Nohkalikai Waterfall, which is the tallest plunge waterfall in India, was the last on our list. With a height of about 1115 feet, it is the highest waterfall in the country. We discussed about it for a bit before realizing that we wouldn’t be able to visit owing to lack of time. We were already running late, and an extra distance of 15km one-way would have set us back by another couple of hours. We rushed to the hotel to finish our breakfast in haste so as to make up for the time lost. Little did we know that we would spend another hour after breakfast trying to sort out the miscommunication regarding the bill. Having booked the hotel through Oyo after being recommended by someone, we realized only at the time of the checkout that we had paid a LOT more than what we should have. Nevertheless, it was a lesson we learnt the hard way. With smiles on our faces after enjoying exemplary service, we began the next leg of our road trip – to Dawki.

Here are a few things we learnt from our Cherrapunji experience. I hope it will help you plan your trip out better.

  • The roads in the hilly areas might make some people uncomfortable. We found orange flavoured peppermint to be helpful in this situation. In any case, we would recommend carrying Avomine along. We also found that keeping your mind occupied with music helps.
  • Try to finish all your sightseeing before 3.30pm. Cherrapunji gets notoriously foggy in the evenings, and people do get stranded on the roads because of near-zero visibility. It becomes pretty cold too – carry warm clothing along.
  • In case you intend to go zip-lining at Mawkdok/Dympep, it is suggested to reach before 4pm. The guys from Pioneer Adventure Tours call it a day at 4pm. The ride is pretty reasonable – ₹300 for approximately 1100 feet.
  • Speaking of zip-lining, lean back, relax and enjoy the beauty of the valley. Do pay extra attention to the instructions given by the instructors.
  • We found Café Cherrapunji to be an amazing place to stay. It would be suggested to book the rooms well in advance (there are only six of them) directly with the hotel. Booking through an agency would unnecessarily increase your costs.
  • In case you are interested, there is a Maggi restaurant close by. Relishing hot Maggi on cold hilly evenings is an experience in itself.
  • The view point for the Seven Sisters Waterfalls is definitely worth a visit. Do ensure that it is a part of your itinerary.
  • Do gather information about what time the attractions open. Mawsmai Caves open to the public at 9.30am and close at 5.30pm. We reached a lot earlier before the opening time and thus had to go back empty handed.
  • Cherrapunji has more than enough attractions to keep one occupied for an entire day. If possible do visit all the attractions, and read up a bit about each one of them beforehand. It will only elevate the experience further.
  • Last but not the least… Cell phone cameras do absolutely no justice to the beauty of Cherrapunji. Don’t rely on devices to capture the visual treat – enjoy it with your eyes. Carry a DSLR if possible, along with battery chargers and power banks.
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