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Thursday, March 13, 2008

My journey to the East - Travelogue

I was just going through my old diary which I had written just after my 10th class board exams (those days I was quite inspired by Anne Frank), when I came across lines describing my journey to Shillong and the east just after my 10th boards. And even though my writing skills were not half as good as they are now (grin), I still fell in love with east all over again. And since no one ever is going to publish my diary, I thought I might as well pen this down as a travelogue. So here it goes.

Deep valleys, bamboo dominated vegetation and the narrow serpentine roads…this is the picture that emerges in ones mind when you think of the east. I had thought much the same before starting my journey on a fine morning of April with my family. We took to Delhi, where we stayed a couple of days at my relatives place. Kins, Cousins and my baby sister who was the youngest and the most popular participant on that festive morn, and holi showers to give a ripe taste to it, it was a perfect way to start a post board exam season. Two days later, we bid adieu while getting seated on our berths(train) , ready to make a headway into the east, where I had been to ages back, when my father was posted to a tinsel town, named Zakhama in Nagaland. Once again the wheels turned and the accelerators were pushed and the night invited the petty little earth of ours. I, of course was fast asleep. Sirens ran, stations were approached, the dawn broke and life started bustling with energy, while I still continued to sleep. And so right, I realized, is the wise saying of, ‘early to sleep and early to rise, makes a man healthy wealthy and wise and less repentant about missing out on nicer things which even my baby sister squeaked while seeing’.

Half past eleven and the train took a final pilgrimage at the Howarah station. My grand father had come to receive us. When we stepped outside the first thing we saw was the gigantic, one of the most iconic and historical features of Calcutta, the Howrah Bridge. Located on the river Hoogly, one of the distributaries of Ganges, Howrah Bridge also called the ‘Rabindra Setu’, is the fourth largest Cantilever Bridge in the world. It is a suspension type balanced cantilever bridge with a central span1500 ft. between centers of the main towers. To accommodate the demands of growing traffic a twin bridge called the ‘Vidya Sagar Setu’ has also been constructed. And like the Rabinda Setu, it too is structural marvel, being the largest cable stayed bridge in Asia.

We stayed a couple of days in Calcutta, with our relatives, where sumptuous rich elaborate meals which is typical of a Bengali home, was served. Fish alone was served in 3 different preparations and I being a vegetarian, was almost brought to the brink of giving up my vegetarianism principles. The next day as we boarded our flights which took us to Silture, a small town in Assam, I knew I was going to miss the rich Bengali culture, the hospitality and the quaint urban ways of Calcutta. While on the flight, I could see the meandering Barak river which runs across Silture and had I been doing engineering then, I would found it hard to not deliver technical sermons, explaining my folks the stages of a river, which was one of the few things I found interesting in geology. (Kidding. Geology was quite interesting)

We were to stay in a cantonment at Mausimpur, which lay on the fringes of Silture and you wouldn’t be able to locate it on any map, which is the reason why, I for several days kept calling the place ‘a no mans land’. The place is entrenched within tiny hillocks and has some scary wildlife to boast about, a couple of snakes which even I got to see lingering about the old British time barracks. Apart from that, the place is actually quite like my previous description of east, except that it has a flourishing handloom, furniture and foreign market. The handicraft industry comes under the public sector and the prices are fixed and fairly reasonable. What they are known for are all sorts of bamboo crafting and bamboo furniture and even old tea timber which grows in such artistic ways that after coating them with a just layer of paint they are ready to fetch good business. Amongst textiles the place is famous for its shawls and temple prints which in spite of being really light keep you very cozy during the cold winter of the city. We bought some of everything.

While in Mausimpur, it rained almost everyday and when the hail storms struck, the ice cubes fell on the tinned roof sounding like a thousand blistering crackers exploding all at once. And when my sister and I began to crib that the place was very confining and lifeless, my parents (finally!!) made a plan for us to visit Shillong. The city called, the Scotland of the east, lived up marvelously to its name. And so did the journey to the place. We traveled in busses and as much as I fear heights, I was mesmerized by the beautiful valleys within the mountains of the Jaintia and Khasi ranges. We reached the place at two in the afternoon and were driven to an army resort called holiday home.

The next morning we were on our way to our first visual feast. Umiam Khwam or Bada pani, as it’s called is a huge lake located somewhere in the heart of the city. It was when we were somewhere at an altitude of 2000ft above the lake, that I got the first glance of it. Clear pellucid azures, within a green spill of conifers and hillocks bounding its sides, it looked breathtaking. We descended and stopped at a resort which overlooked the lake. A beautiful timber resort with a splendid sight behind, in most circumstances would be making a good business. Which is why I was taken aback when one of the few staff members told me, that the place was going to be closed down soon. Preoccupied with that thought and wondering how much would it be sold for, we reached our final destination for the next couple of hours. The water in the lake was freezing and stretched endlessly on both my sides. I managed to pick cones which had fallen of the trees. These can be used for some very creative flower decorations and even as I wanted to wait and gulp in the beauty of this placid sight, the travel guide insisted we leave for Shillong peak which he said would be difficult to drive up to, unless it was sunny enough. I didn’t take him seriously of course, which is why I could only blame myself for the rather difficult, journey uphill. Imagine driving up narrow serpentine roads, with U bends every 200 meters and thanks to me, now we were also traveling ‘through’ the clouds. But the scary journey was worth it. The peak was as grand as anything I have seen. I could see the entire city below. And yet more, I could see the grey clouds hovering over it, ready to pour, which they did within a few minutes of our arrival. On our way down I saw the headquarters of the radar station of the Indian Air force. The rain became more intense as we descended as really very few clouds had been above our level when we were on the peak.

So after tiring ourselves thoroughly and getting drenched, all I wanted to do was to cozy up by a fireplace and watch some TV and munch some hot and if possible vegetarian delicacies of the place. Fireplace was out of question. But we did go to a local restaurant and set by the hill side, it offered a picturesque view of the valley, after which we retired for the day.

The next morning we were off to what’s popularly called the Elephanta falls. And maybe the name amuses you, but they’re anything but boring. Water gushing on rocks with cascading falls and surrounded by lush green growth of ferns, it was marvelous. Since this was our last day in Shillong and also since we were keen on visiting the city that claimed the record for the highest annual rainfall, next thing we knew, we were driving towards Cherapunji. Located on the Border of India and Bangladesh, the town is nestled in the Khasi hill range and at a height of about 1500 meters above see level. It has an abundance of limestone caves and waterfalls the most popular of which are the famous Seven Sisters falls and the Nohkalikai falls. The former is located on a plateau that overlooks the plains of Bangladesh. It was hard to believe that a few meters ahead it was not the same country.

Nohkalikai falls are probably the most photographed feature of Cherrapunjee. You’ll find it on most travel brochures for the town. And the falls are beautiful. Unlike the Elephanta falls, it’s takes a straight plunge down a 1100 feat drop. The cliff, over which the stream falls, is caved in, scoured by the force of the gushing water and looks like one of those caves shielded by a curtain of water, like they show in movies. It is said to be the second highest waterfall in India after Jog Falls, and is named after a lady who is said to have died there. Creepy huh!! By now we were fairly so we left for our final stop, the limestone caves of Mawsmai. Open on both ends, they have several stalagmites and stalactites sprouting all over the place. Little difficult to travel through, and one needs to be very careful as the water tends to make them very slippery, but where else in India would you get to see something that you’ve only studied in geography books so far.

And so ended our journey to Shillong. It’s been five years since, but the memory of those peaks enveloped in a white cover of clouds, water falling over steep cliffs into an aquamarine pond several meters below, valley and lush green canopied serpentine roads, still take my breath away.

4 comments:

COEPStrider said...

Good. Keep it up!

shruti said...

Thanks Sandesh :)

Vijay said...

for a class 10 travelogue, this is amazing...!

rich vocab man...in fact the term, "pellucid azures"...returns your blog as the second most relevant link on Google!

just a niche way of confessing, i didn't know what that was! :)
(clear Blue sky...)

keep the good work rolling...!

shruti said...

Hey thanks. good to know you read the whole thing through. and thanks for pointing out that thing you just did. :)