Our cab driver picked us at 9:00 am. The route to Sohra wasn’t very different from the previous day. Through the bustling meat markets into the rustic countryside scenery of pear tree blossoms; our car traversed large distances in minutes. The advantage of hiring your own vehicle is the luxury of taking regular halts for snaps. The Duwan Sing Siem View Point was our first view point of the journey. The valley views and cascading hills were truly stunning. What’s more, you can walk a good 100 odd steps downward, to get a closer peak at the hills. I held on tight to the railings. I’m not good with heights. But the scenery and solitude can prove to be a calming influence. We continued deeper into Sohra and stopped at the second viewing point, Wah Kba Falls. The winding roads had started to take a toll on me again and I was more than happy to take a break. However, the waterfall had dried up, leaving behind a faint trace of what it might look like in the monsoon. It was nearing noon and the sun started to heat everything. The valley view, no matter how enchanting, couldn’t make us forget the heat. As we proceeded further, the heat began to play spoilsport.
Our next stop, RamaKrishna Mission and Museum, was a temporary break from nature. The Mission runs a school for the children of the local village. The Museum on the upper floor of the office charges no entrance fee and a visitor is free to leave a small token behind. The museum charts out the anthropological history of the seven sisters namely – Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Tripura and Sikkim. After making an entry in the register and leaving a token sum, we proceeded downstairs. The handicrafts section was closed and we decided to skip the temple. We continued our journey to Nokhalikai Falls, believed to be the highest falls in India. The tragic legend of Nokhalikai is as fascinating as the fall themselves. Those who are adventurous are in luck, as the tourism department has built a stairway leading to the base of the valley. The afternoon sun was getting hotter and I gave up after few steps. Basil climbed down 3-4 flight of stairs lower. Summer had little effect on the falls. The sight of water gushing from a death cliff to the valley below was spectacular – no matter which point you choose to view them from. After few quite moments and a ginger lemon tea later; we headed to Mawsmai Cave. As our driver parked his car we met the Malda couple from the journey before. Like us, they had opted for a private cab and shared it with a friend for 1600 INR. Our meal was basic but appetising, I guess dal-rice is the best food for travelling. Although the cave isn’t believed to be difficult to explore, it’s best to leave your baggage in the car and avoid it if you’re travelling with kids or the elderly. I turns out that I don’t handle claustrophobia too well either. As you enter the cave your surroundings suddenly change from light to darkness. Fortunately, pathways of cement and direction signs show you the route. The cave is lit at regular intervals and you have to navigate yourself through small orifices and grapple for footing on rocks. The Stalagmites are simply stunning and once I overcame my fear of closed spaces (somewhere at the exit), I could truly appetite the beauty. To my dismay, I had a rat as a caving companion through most of my journey in the cave. Ahead of me was a local family with a patriarch who resembled a wise Red Indian Man. In some of my foolish moments, I decided to follow him, surely he must know the way, I thought. He took moments to admire the beauty of nature while his family clicked countless snaps. Basil was somewhere behind and we met at the exit. It’s scary to actually think that I had considered caving in Iceland. On our way out of the cave, at the entrance of the main village, we saw ancient monoliths – believed to be erected in honour of Khasi heroes. Interestingly, these monoliths are regular feature in the scenic countryside. Blink and you might miss them. Our next stop was the Eco-Park (under construction). Panoramic valley views (not complaining), non-existent water falls and a green-house for indigenous plants were the highlights of the park. I’d give it few more years to completely develop.
As we continued our journey back to Shillong, Basil chatted with the driver. We wanted to go to Nagaland, perhaps. He couldn’t drive there but he knew of a friend who could, he said. The driver turned out to be scared silly. Apparently, a driver was missing and many such cases had been reported. All this talk, the winding roads and tiredness made me rethink the decision. We decided to stay a day more in Shillong till we decided our next plan. We had a booking for Kaziranga, so we decided to defer it by a day and stay an extra night in Kaziranga. ECEE bakery also has a hotel attached to it. After checking 2-3 hotels we went for ECEE, largely because the staff was local. In the taxi stand we found a driver willing to go to Kaziranga for a steep fee (although standard) of 6000 INR.