Picking the Slack
Our first day in Sohra wouldn’t end without some native food. It was spiced up curry with crispy pork.
After hunting for hotels and spoiling ourselves over choices, we finally nailed one down. We wanted something that gave either a 3 bedded room or 2 double bed rooms, whichever cheaper. Apparently such requests are not unusual.
After the spicy curry, steamed rice and crispy pork, we settled for the night. It was chilly and the 24 hour hot water service was a boon. After all of us had had a hot shower, we sat across the TV and tuned into the night’s football game. It was hardly 8:30 PM. But it was pitch dark, biting cold and dead silent outside.
Our driver cum guide had told us to wake up as early as possible, 5 AM was what he had said, we made it at 6. The first place we went to was a waterfall. It is to be enjoyed from distance, sadly as it was December – the dry season, we were barely able to notice the falls.
Next on the route was a park, a man made attraction with lot of benches and view points. Something from where we could get a vista view of the khasi hills. Note that we were still in Sohra on the Khasi hills.
The last tourist spot in the Khasi district was the Mawsmai caves. The caves were basically nature’s art consisting of stalagmites and stalactites – which is a structure created due to the gradual deposition of minerals from trickling water into valleys. These had created some really wild structures. Some looked like the a ministry of magic chambers, which some looked like the frills of silky cloth. It takes about 40 mins to an hour to explore the caves.
We had a cup of tea and bought some chips as we weren’t really hungry yet. Our driver did suggest that it was an hour and half to Dawki.
Dawki is actually a river that flows between India and Bangladesh, but the cluster of tourist places along it, which are technically the Jaintia hills are collectively called Dawki. In Dawki, we had planned to see 3 things
1. Live Root Bridge – in Dawki
2. Mawlynnong – Asia’s cleanest village
3. The river Dawki along Bangladesh border.
Root bridges are unique to this region. The most famous root bridge is the double decker root bridge in Sohra – which is an expedition in itself. It is advised to hire a khasi travel guide and requires a day for itself. Our rootbridge was in Dawki – Riwai village to be exact. The idea of build bridges out of roots of rubber trees is to befriend and live alongside nature. The native tribes believe building a steel or wooden or concrete bridge may look sane and modern, but it will fall in years due to the geography of the region. The root bridges though may not take weights of vehicles, will stand the test of time.
Our experience with the root bridge was inspiring, a stereotypical and momentary appreciation for nature loomed. And then we were back, littering and shopping and selfy-ing our trances away.
All the pop up shops were run by women. Fruit stalls, coconut water stalls, souvenir stores and every other store was run by women. They wore money satchels and something that looked like a traditional attire. I did ask a lady what it was called in their tongue, but its been too long.
Our next destination was the cleanest village in Asia, or so claimed. Mawlynnong. It has been much commercialised and currently looked like a version of Delhi haat with people living there full time.
The village was ofcourse clean, dustbins a plenty and pay and use toilet for the tourists. The drains were open but didn’t stink much. Every house – kacha houses – made of wood and cane had a pop up shop in front of their house. They sold basic souvenirs like toys, magnets, key chains and postcards. Some people had photo booths and some ran small eateries or restaurants from their homes. Again – women ran the show. Given the fact that the tribes of Meghalaya are matrilineal, it’s not so surprising.
Although it looked like a small village, dependent on agriculture and tourism with a suspected poverty, one thing that I saw in all homes – however big or small – was shoes, football shoes – studs as we call them. This land had provided so many stars to indian football, no marketing body or no federation was responsible, football is in their blood and in their life.
The food is reasonable, the place where we ate, the owner said
“people keep asking us we want local food, but we only eat rice and pork, not many people like that – so we need to go-to Shillong and learn a few things they sell at the city’s restaurants”
The last stop for the day was going to be Bangladesh border along the river Dawki. As we reached the river bank, we noticed there was huge pile up. A line of trucks seemed to be stopping our way. On enquiry we found that they had been stopped by border security. The trucks would be allowed entry into Bangladesh after 4 PM. Hence we had to walk the last couple of minutes to get down to the river.
The river reflected the green of the cliffs around it. But it was so clean that we could see the floor of the river. A flowing body of water with numerous boats and divers was crystal clear.
We asked around for a boat ride, and a boy no older than 15 asked us to get onto his boat. As we floated towards Bangladesh we made small talk with the boy, we found he was actually 18 years old and supported NorthEast United FC and Pune City FC. He saw our Bengaluru FC jerseys and bantered with us a little. The clean water showed us how deep the floor was and hence we didn’t banter back with our boatman.
The sun had just begun setting as we headed back towards India. We gave a little more than the agreed 700 said our goodbyes.
The trucks had gone and our driver was waiting for us with the car just as we climbed the cliffs. No walking on the way back. It took us about 2-2 and a half hours to get back to Shillong. We reached there by 7 but as we had seen earlier, it was dark, but not as cold as the previous night in Sohra and definitely not silent.
Also read: Part 3: Khasi hills of Meghalaya