The English dictionary does not recognize “decomplicate” as a word.
However, a trip to Meghalaya precisely does this – It DECOMPLICATES the regular urban lifestyle that we’ve fallen prey to!
The Indian state of Meghalaya (literally translating to ‘the abode of clouds’) is a fascinating mountain state with mysterious caves, beautiful rivers and gorgeous waterfalls. Most people would suggest a visit during the monsoons so that clouds that get trapped between the hills of Khasi, Garo and Jaintia seem to be within one’s arm’s reach. But Meghalaya is an all-season destination. As the hills merge into the plains of Northern Bangladesh, some of the evening scenery of cold winters in Dawki is stunning!
The Journey Begins…
Dawki is about 82-85 km from either Shillong or Sohra (Cherrapunji). Hence many tourists make day trips to the place. But a hurried visit does no justice to the charm of this incredibly beautiful town that sits on the banks of Umngot River. The sun sets early in this part of India. As our car crossed the Dawki Suspension Bridge (British construction operational since 1932), it was almost 4:30 pm. We alighted from our car and walked a few steps to the rocky river-bank. An unfenced border between India and Bangladesh runs right through this place.
It bustles with sellers of jhalmuri (puffed rice mixture), pickled berries and other snacks from Bangladesh. But they had all left for the day already. A huge boulder separates the territories guarded by BSF and BDR on two sides.
It is a peculiar region where visitors can essentially be in two countries at once. It wouldn’t have been wise to go boating into the dusk. Putting that off till the next morning, I enjoyed strolling by the riverside. A deep voice startled me, “Which Country?”
On seeing a man in uniform, I raised my hands spontaneously and replied “Indian, Sir”
The man approached closer and warned me, “Bangladesh!”
I had actually stepped into foreign soil. The situation didn’t turn tense though. He, in fact, was very courteous when he learnt that we spoke Bengali too. I introduced myself and my mother and we chatted a while. He spoke about his native village in Narail district of Bangladesh. We then shook hands, clicked a couple of photographs and turned back to Indian soil. A smiling soldier taught us that borders drawn on maps do not alienate humans.
Borders have always fascinated me; because from that point onwards, I couldn’t travel freely to the other side. “Although we speak the same language and enjoy the same food, our passports are of different colour” – another amiable officer from across the border reflected. We happened to meet the gentleman at the Tamabil Border outpost, a few kilometres from Dawki. Here, an overly cordial BSF Officer accompanied us to the last Indian milestone. We clicked a few photographs, as headlights of cargo trucks returning from the Bangladesh kept the frame illuminated.
Dawki is a major centre of trade between the two countries and hundreds of trucks ply across this busy commercial border. Consequently, Dawki has become a noisy and congested mess of a town. Burdened with countless shops selling groceries to meat, and innumerable hotels and restaurants along the road, Dawki isn’t an attractive proposition for overnight stay. We had tea and snacks in a shop specializing in Bengali sweetmeat. And then, we visited Sarbamangala Kali Mandir, a temple constructed in 1978. The priest was a Bengali speaking man from Tripura. This part of Meghalaya seemed like a little Bengal in itself!
A guide from Sohra had introduced us to Jonathan, a young man, who would become our host for the night. Incidentally, he had come to Dawki Market to shop for vegetables and meat. We met him at the temple premise. He then guided us away from this now-touristy town to a sleepier village, Shnongpdeng.
The 8-km stretch of road from Dawki to Shnongpdeng was awful. But horror awaited us at the parking area. Jonathan asked us to abandon our car and descend some 50-odd steps to the village. My mother was in no mood for a “trek” in the dark, but we had to comply. While we panted as we walked down, Jonathan literally galloped ahead of us, even with our suitcases on his shoulders. He showed us to a bamboo cottage, which was certainly not as convenient as a hotel. I was anxious about how my mother would react to the arrangement. Surprisingly, she took a liking to the hint of a little adventure.
There are a couple of campsites in this village and barely any crowd. Beetlenut Restaurant, a little further away, is the most sophisticated restaurant in the vicinity. Food is available in shacks that double up as restaurants here. We enjoyed a cup of hot coffee in one of these, before ordering for dinner. The non-vegetarian meal was prepared by a family of two sisters. We ate to our heart’s content and retired into our room. While the river was hidden under an impenetrable cover of darkness, its swishing noise broke the quiet of the night. Soon, we dozed off!
My mother was vexed at having to climb the steps the previous night and she had wanted me to go back to Dawki for accommodation. But, with mesmerising views that greeted us in the morning, she was glad that we had stayed in Shnongpdeng!
As the cool breeze caressed our faces, we looked at the hills covered in the lush green forest on the other side, the rocks – big and small – in front of us and the emerald-hued river. The unspoiled beauty was like a page out of a Disney movie. We wandered around the quiet village, checking out a beautiful Church right beside our hut. We walked on a rickety-looking bridge made of cane and bamboo. As it disappeared into the shallow riverbed on the other side, we stood on the pebbles in the middle of the stream and clicked photographs. Our driver then led us back from the other side along a high walk-only suspension iron bridge that swayed in the wind.
I had been inspired about the place by the Instagram photograph of boats that seemed to float in the air. This was a curious phenomenon that could be experienced only during the months of December – January. With no rains, the river would turn impossibly clear and render the round colourful pebbles on the riverbed visible. The green of the river shone and it was accentuated by the colourful canoes that lined its shore – the view from the bridge was awesome. Tourists engage in adventure sports like kayaking, snorkelling, cliff jumping and zip-lining. Since my mother wasn’t very keen, we skipped trying any of these. Stalls had started serving tea and Jadoh already. We had tea in one of the stalls and we prepared to bid farewell to this piece of paradise in Meghalaya.
P.S. In order to keep the place pristine and unblemished we require to be responsible tourists. Glass bottles, plastic wrappers, and other garbage of picnic-goers – must not be dumped here. The last thing that we would want is for the heavenly place to turn into a trash can of a spot!
An honest SCORPIO who is crazy about movies, and overly-passionate about travel.
Believes in immortalizing the moment, either by way of photograph or literal documentation of the journey.