By 7 pm on December 22, 2021, we had finished our dinner and retired to bed. This was because we had to wake up early to take a flight for a trip we had planned before the COVID 19 pandemic broke out. A trip that was postponed twice before.
On most days I sleep well, but that night I hardly slept and was woken up by an alarm that I found pleasant, unlike on other days when I find it frustrating. The airport was quite crowded due to the winter vacation. We made it on time, after getting through the security gate on time, we sat down in our seats on the Air India aircraft – the last flight on this national carrier also called Maharaja, which had been sold and would be handed over to its new owner in a few weeks.
The Maharaja landed in Guwahati before the scheduled arrival time. The warm weather was a big relief from the bone-chilling cold back home. Our taxi was waiting outside the airport. However, we needed to get our RT PCR test done and only after our COVID tests were confirmed as negative were we allowed to leave. We finally get into the taxi to start our onward journey to the Kaziranga National Park.
On the way, we had one of the yummiest Assamese meals and tender coconut water. Since the road to the resort passes through the national park, the speed limit was restricted and there were speed detection cameras installed every few hundred meters. I thought it was an effective measure to protect the animals who cross the roads to go from lower altitudes to higher, especially during the rainy seasons and come back during the winters.
We were all ready for another safari the next morning since we had been told that early in the morning was the best time to spot the animals, especially the single-horn Rhino, for which the Kaziranga national park is renowned. Our safari driver-cum guide was kind enough to show us various migrant birds, wildflowers and of them was the Elephant apple, a coconut sized fruit with a hard shell that the wild elephants fetch from the trees to eat. Locals also grow that fruit to make pickles.
As we were passing through the dense forest, there appeared a jumbo with dusty skin, long tusks and massive legs. Our driver immediately parked the Jeep and told us to keep absolutely silent. The elephant saw us and vanished in a flash, trumpeting into the bushes. The sight of a mother and a baby rhino was a prized one. The mother rhino was bulky but the single horn on her head looked unique and beautiful.
While returning from the forest, we came to know about the missing tribes. These tribes were the original habitat of Arunachal Pradesh and disappeared for a reason that no one knows. After learning this, we set out to visit their village. The tribes which we met were all poor, with bare mIn spite of this, the children looked happy, playing in the fields, singing folk songs, dancing, and enjoying themselves.
The next day was Christmas, and we celebrated it on a cruise called Alfresco Grand. The cruise journeys through the Mighty Brahmaputra locally called Dilao in Assam. Although the cruise lasted only a few hours, the sights we saw on the way made it seem as if it lasted all day. People were merrily celebrating Christmas. They sang songs, danced and laughed.
On 26 December, we visited the Kamakhya Devi Temple, which was crowded with people from all over the country. Assam’s Kamakhya Devi temple is a popular heritage site. It is believed to contain a live goddess element. From there, we travelled straight to Meghalaya. The drive was long, but we didn’t get bored. We looked at acres and acres of forest and other plants along the way. With a clear sky and crisp air, the sky was bright and dazzling.
By evening, we had reached Mawphlang and our guide had introduced us to the ‘Khasi’ tribe. There are sacred groves everywhere in Meghalaya that are worshipped by the Khasi Tribe’s animus section.
The next day, we had a fitness test scheduled. We would embark on a 16-kilometre trek called the David Scott Trek. Juices, chocolates, and other nutritious items were packed in our bags to provide us with energy since completing this challenging task was not easy. The David Scott Trek is one of the most popular trekking routes in Meghalaya. The track was named for British officer David Scott, who discovered and established it as a route to travel from Assam to Bangladesh by mule. This one-day route was 16 kilometres long and took us just four hours to complete, despite the original trek being hundreds of kilometres long. There were breathtaking views along the trail, including mountain streams, gurgling waterfalls, sprawling meadows, forest groves, and traditional Khasi villages. It was definitely an unforgettable experience.
On 28 December, we enjoyed kayaking in the lake and exploring caves. It was a real cave and had no lights, nothing. It took us about an hour to explore the cave, and we found some rivulets, which had crystal clear water. Having been assured by our guide, we all drank it. It quenched our thirst as we had already exhausted our water canteen. Then we travelled to see Split rock, which, as the name suggests, is a big piece of rock broken into two by natural forces. One of the least explored sites in Meghalaya, it was the best part of the tour. One day later, we travelled to see one of the most famous tourist hotspots in Meghalaya- The double-decker living root bridge. As we know, the most peaceful and scenic places are tucked away quietly in a corner. Getting up the 3600-year-old, slippery, moss-covered steps leading to the root bridge was an arduous task. However, we were a bit startled to find that the place was crowded with tourists. Though it was scenic, there was too much tourist traffic.
The next morning, we headed to Kongthong. Known as the ‘Whistling Village’, because of the tradition mothers still use various whistles and tunes to call out and talk to their children. A classic country village, it is one of the richest cultural heritage sites in Meghalaya. We decided to do some camping at the start of the New Year at the banks of a river. Camping is quite popular in Meghalaya. Later, we did some water sports like swimming, kayaking, boating, among others. We also visited to see the River Dawki, which is known for its crystal clear water.
We could see the India-Bangladesh border where the people of Bangladesh were selling their local pickles, snacks and cakes. We bought some of these items and left for another cave called the Arwah cave. This one was quite well lit. However, as we explored it, the light dimmed out, which made it even more interesting. The greatest attraction was the fossils that were formed 5-6 crore years back. On the last day of our trip, we decided to visit the Scotland of India- Shillong. It is the heart of Meghalaya and is a well-built town, at par with other cities of India like Gauhati and Bhubaneshwar.
Hustling and bustling with city life, the city was populated by people from other states of India. We explored the police bazaar of Shillong, which was a smaller replica of the Chandni Chowk, in Delhi. And finally, it was all over on 3 January. While returning to Gauhati, we trolled into the Fancy Bazaar. Then, it was time for us to board our flight. In a nutshell, Meghalaya is no less than a paradise for adventurous people who like nature and all its flora and fauna in its true sense.