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Chasing Monsoon in Meghalaya – Mawlynnong and the Southeast Khasi Hills

The monsoon is when India receives a blessing from above, which turns the entire country into a lush landscape of greenery. This year, I went chasing the monsoon; as I packed my bags in mid June and departed for the state of Meghalaya (translated in English as ‘the abode of clouds’) in northeastern India. This was an epic journey which took be right in the center of the monsoons, in a land famous for receiving the heaviest of rainfall compared to any other place in the world.

I chose the village of Mawlynnong as a base to explore a bit of the Southeastern Khasi Hills of Meghalaya. Considered the cleanest village of Asia, I’d been eager for quite a while to see the prettiness that lied there. By the time I arrived there, it was dark and well late into the night. The village was quiet, the only light visible were from the flickering bulbs glowing in the cute looking houses. Henry, my guide, had come to greet me and showed me to my room – a cute little hut built on a tree with a window facing a patch of wilderness. It was perfectly cozy and equally comfortable. I unpacked my backpack, freshened up, and went for dinner which was cooked by Henry’s relative. The meal was delicious in its simplicity and I got to chat with Henry for a bit. At about ten in the night, rain started to pour heavily and brought upon my face a little smile. It was the freshness of monsoon rain, drops filled with fresh-water right from the Indian Ocean, carried by dense giant clouds that are forced to pour themselves out when they encounter the plateaus of Meghalaya – hills that rise well above 2 kilometers from the sea level. I returned to my hut, which in the heavy downpour felt cozier than the last time I’d been in it.  I began reading a book but somewhere sleep took over, like drifting away to the rhythm of dripping water and occasional thunders.

 The next morning was beautiful and drizzly. The birds were singing, the air was fresh, there were colorful butterflies around, and the first view of Mawlynnong was a sight of tranquil. The village is damn pretty and certainly very clean and organized – with small bricked footpaths crisscrossing the village and networking the entire community. All the houses are simple, cozy and small here – and immensely delightful is the community’s passion towards gardening, as all the houses have a verandah where the villagers grow varieties of exotic flora. This, in a way, adds colors to the village and to the surrounding rich-in-green landscape. After freshening up and some breakfast, I strolled around the village and found out that the people here, who belong to the Khasi Tribe, are charming, culturally rich and they certainly know how to appreciate beauty. Henry asked his friend Vicki to guide me through a short hike. We started by crossing the neighboring village which turned out as pretty as Mawlynnong, and then, went down a steep path that brought us to the riverbed. There, in front of me, lay an incredible manmade structure which a few people of the world have had the privilege to see. It is a bridge that is used to cross tormenting rivers during the monsoon, but the incredibleness lies in it being alive – as it is made by joining and networking the roots of a living fig tree over a span of many decades and is used mainly by the future generations. And to think about it – an ideal society would be where the citizens have a sense of responsibility towards ensuring the future generation of people not only have a safe life, but also a better life.

I remained at awe for a while and spent almost an hour near the magnificent fig tree. But for Vicki, it was different. Having seen the structure for all his life, he wore the expression of a bored man. I was not interested to keep him stuck at boredom and decided to bid goodbye to the giant tree. Vicki was happy and so was I – excited and looking forward to discovering more of this quaint little paradise. On our way back, we bought a few pineapples from a Khasi girl. She was a beauty – her face glowed like a colorful flower – and made the pineapples taste all the more sweet. I saw her give Vicki her number. Impressed by his wooing ability, I gave him a pat on his back. We continued our journey to Mawlynnong and met up with Henry upon reaching there. He was sitting at the parking area, dressed casually, or rather comfortably, in a short and a t-shirt like it was a Sunday, and was issuing tickets to all the tourists who visit each day to see Asia’s cleanest village. But very few of these end up staying in Mawlynnong for more than a few hours, as I was the only overnight guest of the village at the time. I took a chair next to Henry, and just sat there with nothing but a calming emptiness in my mind. With the drizzle gone, the day had turned beautiful – with clear blue sky overhead and the sun absorbing the wetness off the fresh greenery. Towards the horizon, the plains of Bangladesh could faintly be seen. I looked forward to dusk when Vicki would take me to the skywalk that has been built on the top of a tall tree and offers a panoramic view. I conversed with Henry for a while and asked him about the things to do and see around Mawlynnong. There are a few good trek routes from the village and many pretty places in the foothills to camp. Unfortunately, I was on a short stay, but assured Henry I’d come again and for a longer duration. Feeling hungry, I went along with Vicki to his house for lunch. Served was a simple meal consisting of rice, dal and a curry cooked with chicken. It was again delicious in its simplicity.

 The afternoon was getting hot. Vicki, as if sensing my discomfort, offered to take me for a swim to a nearby stream which is about ten minutes away from the village. Little upstream from where I’d come, is a waterfall that makes the swim all the more delightful. The fresh natural water felt rejuvenating and I even massaged my back standing under the beating water of the fall. Little cute looking kids from the village had joined us and we were all having a gala of a time – splashing water everywhere, throwing each other here and there. It was the joy of summers – the simple pleasure of jumping in natural water and spending as long as you can in it, like a feel of freedom.

By the time we were done, dusk was about to set in. As planned, we moved to the skywalk, but not before drinking some fine tea at Tony’s place, located right below the skywalk. Tony, a fascinating guy with a muscle-toned body, never fails to charm a passerby with his words. He joined us as we climbed the bamboo stairs that lead to the top of a very tall tree, and once up, I was left speechless by the breathtaking view – of the plains of Bangladesh that stretched till as far as the horizon lingered – and almost half of it was under water – flooded with monsoon’s fury, filled with all the downstream water of India’s two greatest rivers, the Ganges and the Brahmaputra. Though the view was majestic and vast, I felt sorry for Bangladesh, where monsoon is rather a sorrow for the densely populated country.

Up in the tree, we chatted a bit and admired the colors of the changing sky. Somehow, Vicki’s phone managed to slip out of his pocket and went crashing towards ground level. Wearing a disappointed expression, I saw him hurriedly climb down the flight of bamboo stairs to reach the bottom of the tree, and soon, he was up again, this time in an expression of joy. Surprisingly, not only did he find his mobile, the device had somehow managed to survive the long fall and was working perfectly. It seemed we were both having a lucky day. The sun had disappeared by then somewhere in the hills behind us. Towards and above the plains, giant dark masses of cumulonimbus clouds were gathering. The last rays of the day had colored them in shades of orange and pink, and soon after, it was all just the darkest of grey. Then, like an unending wave of blitzkrieg, lightning bolts started striking endlessly within the giant clouds. A thunderstorm was approaching – a monsoon storm! I remained there at the treetop in awe, watching for a long time, the sky light up in consecutive successions. When it got late enough and dark enough, I climbed down to earth and headed towards Tony’s restaurant for another cup of tea. I met a few locals there and we spent time discussing about the thunderstorm that was soon to hit. Accompanying us in the restaurant were also many annoying bugs and flies, and when two of them were inside my half-filled cup, dead and floating over my tea, I decided to leave and headed to my room, looking forward at comforting my strained back and listen to some music. Soon after dinner, the rain had started and I never heard it stop that night.

By the time I woke up the next morning, the air contained a freshness that comes after a night of heavy downpour. The plan for the day was to bid goodbye to Mawlynnong and leave for Shillong – from where I was expecting to catch a taxi to take me back to the plains of Assam. But before everything else, before leaving the Khasi Hills, I was going to explore the areas near Mawlynnong. So, after breakfast, I hired a car for local sightseeing which would also drop me to Shillong. With my bags packed, I hugged Henry and Vicki, and promised them I’d come again – a promise I intent to keep. Driving away, I chatted with the driver who turned out to be friendly and a good talker. Our destination was Tamabil, the last Indian town located right at the border with Bangladesh. The drive was through pretty scenery, at all times parallel to the plains of Bangladesh. On our way, we came across two beautiful waterfalls and even crossed the emerald green Dawki River. At Tamabil, there is nothing much except a border outpost where a board announces the existence of an international border. We left the town quickly, and headed towards another waterfall, supposed to be the most grandeur of all the falls located in these parts. To reach there, we had to leave our car where the road stopped to exist and hike for half an hour through dense forested landscapes, climbing up and down slippery bricks. But the effort was worth it, as the waterfall turned out to be very much spectacular. Falling from about a height of more than fifty meters, the water falls to form a beautiful circular pond that is enclosed by cliffs on three sides. Only a small outlet in the pond allows all the water to flow downstream and continue its journey towards the plains. The enclosure thus formed makes for a great place to spend a day out midst nature. Along with a few fishermen, there were also few other local tourists who were enjoying this secret picnic cum angling spot. The government has also built a stairway carved somewhere high in the cliff behind the waterfall. While up there, my whole body got moist with the tiny drops of water that were gently and delicately floating in all directions, accelerated by the wind from the waterfall. By lunch time, both of us were hungry and decided to hike back towards our car. We soon had lunch at a small café in the town of Pynursla.

My monsoon escape had come to an end and it was time to head back home. Following the long and winding road of the Khasi Hills, the car drove towards Shillong, crossing tiny Khasi villages and pretty grasslands of pasture. The mind was free and fresh – a result of a monsoon bath.

Landscape on the way towards Mawlynnong.

A little church glows in the evening blue.

Crossing grasslands of pasture.

Landscape on the way towards Mawlynnong.

Creepers are a part of the village architecture.

Creeper decorated house.

Bamboo steps leading to the tree house I stayed in. Perfect size for a solo-traveler.

Another tree house in the village.

Flowers were everywhere.

The lush green of the monsoon fills the landscape everywhere around the village.

The magnificent living root bridge near the village.

Interiors of the living root bridge. Perfection at eco-engineering.

The giant rock somehow manages to balance itself without any kind of support.

Man walks home after a day at work – in Mawlynnong.

The village church at Mawlynnong.

Clear blue skies above Mawlynnong.

The perfect place for an Indian summer.

Khasi kid who joined us in our swim.

Bamboo stairs leading to the top of the Sky-View.

The flooded plains of Bangladesh as seen from on top of the Sky-View

Tony’s Cafe – a perfect ambient place to hangout.

Evening silhouette.

Waterfall on the way toward Dawki.

Onto the plains of Bangladesh.

Another of the many waterfalls.

The emerald Dawki River on the way towards Tamabil.

Landscape view from the Khasi foothills near Mawlynnong.

Men take a break from work, and from the sweltering heat.

This is the most fascinating of all the waterfalls found in these parts, forming a sort of private lagoon.

Fishermen try their luck in the lagoon.

The waterfall continuing its downhill journey.

Dawki River forms a vast riverbed in Bangladesh.

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Author – Vaivhav Todi.

 

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