The best part of sleeping early is that your eyes open by 5:00 am. the next day. We had to report to the MTDC office by 8:00 am. We left a little earlier to grab a bite to eat at ECEE bakery. To our disappointment, the bakery was closed. Here’s where the biscuits we bought in Guwahati first came to our rescue. We waited at the bus stop till the hands of the clock ticked away to 8. The MTDC office was open now. We saw few travellers waiting for the bus. Few polite smiles and blank looks were exchanged. Outside, our bus was waiting for its driver. All in all, we were 12 tourists. Our group included 5 couples (including us) and 2 friends.
As the bus chugged along the winding, smoke infested forests of Shillong; I tried to veer my thoughts to the scenery and forget that familiar feeling of queasiness. On our way we passed by army cantonments, schools, market places and vast stretches of pure scenery. As we went further away Shillong, the scenery became more alluring with open meadows and clear blue skies. Unfortunately, we couldn’t capture the fruit blossoms on the way. No journey is complete without mis-adventure. After crossing one of the hill passes, one of the tyres ruptured. I was happy to take the break from the climbing and nausea. Everyone got off the bus and descended to the valley point below. In roughly half an hour we were set to go. Shortly before reaching the single decker root bridge, somewhere in the middle of the forest road, we had bad news again. It was our second flat. This time I was a little worried. A second flat without a spare tyre would mean we would be stuck here for a long time. I tried to be optimistic and climbed down the steps to reach the base of the rivulet. Basil and the Bengali couple from Malda followed suit. The gaping holes in the stones were filled with a combination of broken bottles, moss and fish. Due to the heat, the rivulet had lost its strength and flowed gently through the rocks. We waited for a little while and then climbed back to the bus. The frequency of vehicles was scary. We had seen only one tourist vehicle pass by during the time we were waiting. The group disintegrated. Some went walking beyond the bridge, some chose to sit near the bus and few climbed the small elevation near the road. The driver informed us that it would take at least an hour to send another vehicle, so he was trying to fix the problem himself. His solution was to take out one of the extra tyres in the front and fix it at the back. After few anxious moments, we were set to go. Anyway, the journey was downhill from here. On the way, we picked up the wandering travellers from our group. It was 12:00 pm and by now the sun was shining at its brightest.
We stopped at Riwai to see the single decker Living Root Bridge. The descent was rather steep with steps made of stone, the depth was dizzying. I was happy we had changed our mind to do the double decker Living Root Bridge. There’s probably nothing can prepare you for the sight you would see. Elongated roots of two neighbouring trees form a sturdy bridge above the river below. It’s hard, not to marvel the ingenuity of the ancestors of the villagers, who came up with the idea of moulding nature to their advantage. And since there were few people, it was possible to take some time to get lost in admiration. A few tricky manoeuvers and you can get to the rivulet below the bridge. A lone photographer was waiting patiently for the tourists to leave. The whole setting was surreal. The forest around, the river below and a strange sense of quite. Although I wanted wait a little longer, it was nearing lunch time. Once again we climbed the steps and I had to pop a few tic tacs to sustain my hunger pangs.
After that, our journey in the bus was short. We had to walk to Mawylnnong as the bus was too big to enter the village. Mawlynnong has a unique distinction of being Asia’s cleanest village. We were hungry and that’s why we went straight to the bamboo house which doubled up as a grub house. Dal, rice and sabzee; never before have I found it so yum! Post lunch, we headed to explore some of the neighbouring houses. Not very far away was the Bangladesh border viewing point. If you’ve never climbed a stilt bridge, then probably this is your moment. I was wary – my fear of heights doesn’t help me. At 20 INR per head, the ticket was a steal. I climbed, tried not to look down and climbed some more. At the last stretch, fear won. So as Basil reached the apex, I slowly and steadily climbed downwards. A group of elderly women were preparing to climb the rickety viewing point. Although I felt sheepish, but was glad to make it on ground. Since MTDC couldn’t send another bus, we had to continue our journey back home in two separate Qualis cars. It was a cramped, sickening journey back to Shillong. On the way we stopped to see the balancing rock (can be skipped) and the rolling hill view point (simply stunning!). Once again we swerved through the queasy hills but fortunately made it back in one piece to Shillong – without an event. It was 6:00 p.m. in the evening.
We decided to shop for some local handicrafts in the hand-loom shop near the MTDC Office. The saleswomen were friendly and indulged in my touristy questions, without hesitation. I learned there were three types of communities – Khasi, Garo and Jaintia. It’s interesting that each community gets their name from the hills they originate from. The women wear a wrap around, made from a saree, but drape it differently according to their community. I realised, it pays to be touristy, especially if you ask the right questions. Deeper in the market, small shops sold trinkets and souvenirs. We picked as many as we thought our backpack could hold. We headed to the local taxi stand to negotiate for a taxi to Cherrapunjee. After our experience for the day, we or I needed something more dependable. At 1800 INR we sealed the deal for a to and fro journey to Cherrapunjee. After that, we called it a night!