COTTON PICKING IN THE CLOUDSTweet
Rediscovering the charm of one of the region’s most popular tourist destinations is one thing, retelling its story is another since the written word is just a watery extension of our memories and impressions.
It all began as I readied to make another enchanting journey into Meghalaya, still the Scotland of the East, still very breathtakingly beautiful, and being simply Meghalaya, which literally means ‘Abode of the Clouds’. Nature is rampant here, with unending blue skies, clouds caressing the land, the gloom of unrelenting rain, the magic of rolling hills, streams and cascading waterfalls, and the touch of a simple and warm people – music running deep in their veins.
The journey is always the most delightful part of travel. I knew the road – from my hometown Guwahati – by heart and memories from childhood are made of these, coming back like a head-rush each time I hit this road.
I begin to soak in the mist coming down from the mountains as we begin the ascent up from Guwahati – it’s a mist cloaked in the cotton candy of ethereal clouds and there’s romance in the air as the lay of the land changes gradually. We cross the border and enter Meghalaya and immediately the tall pine conifers, pineapple shrubs, undulating terrain and surrounding hills amid an abundance of green conspire to keep us all in thrall.
Natural springs, water bodies and manmade aquatic stretches dot the route and are mostly named after the Khasi word Um, for water, and, therefore, names of places like Umtru, Umsning and Umiam. This story is about the last one.
We arrive at Nongpoh, a popular halfway stop for customary tea, although it depends on what you think is your fix. We are soon on the road again and within the next hour or so we go further up the mountains and round a blind curve, before we literally ride into the clouds and out of it to witness a sight that takes my breath away as it has each time I’ve been here.
We are now at the manmade Umiam Lake, unusual because it seems so natural. As a breeze gently ruffles our hair, we give in to a happy haze, though truth being told it’s always not just because of the wind in our hair! Umiam, also known as Barapani, constantly surprises—being forbidding and demure at the same time—it teases, seduces, deceives and flatters, before you eventually fall in love.
The landscape is poetic and its imagery deeply haunting and mysterious at times, but always beautiful. Legend has it that a millennia ago the sea caressed the southern slopes of the eastern Himalayas and that the ancient Khasis may have been a sea-faring tribe who readily adopted the upturned boat as a roof over their shelters given their inherent ability to withstand the harsh monsoon winds and incessant rainfall across the ‘Abode of the Clouds’.
The lake is a popular tourist halt with water sports and adventure and it reminds me of the English Lake District and an ethereal countryside similar to the overcast, gloomy and poetically beautiful visual treat of the Scottish highlands or the lower reaches of the Andes mountain range across parts of the American continent.
A trek or a ride a little further up and we are at Ri Kynjai, a pristine hill resort overlooking the picturesque Umiam. The drive up to the house meanders through groves of majestic pine trees, lush paddy fields, small organic tea and vegetable gardens before the first of the traditional Khasi cottages come into view. The architecture in Ri Kynjai is inspired and derived from Khasi thatch huts.
Ri Kynjai is sublime, and I say this from experience, designed with an eye towards the east with a magnificent the view of Umiam and a rising sun – an awe-inspiring wake up call for those who love to revel in the ‘Spirit of the Rising Sun’.
We reluctantly leave Ri Kynhai and hit the road for Shillong—the capital of Meghalaya—a pale vision of what it was, burdened by the rampant commercialization we have silently resisted but helplessly grown so accustomed to these days. But that is another story.
A visit here is truly a walk in the clouds, of wild imaginings, romance and a very real raindrop on your cheek. Be there and I am sure you will enjoy picking the cotton right off the clouds!
105 Km by road from Guwahati Airport. Tourist cabs are available
75 Km by road from Guwahati Railway Station. Tourist cabs available
26 Km if you happen to come down from Shillong, Meghalaya
Orchid Resort and Ri Kynjai, though one can also go up to Shillong, where the choice is wider
Shillong is cool all through the year
Summers (March to June) experience a maximum temperature of 24°C and a minimum temperature of 15°C
Winters during November to February are freezing and minimum temperature reaches 2°C Snowfall and fog formations are common here during winter
Monsoons during June to September are accompanied by heavy winds and average to heavy rainfall
Shillong can be visited any time of the year, though the heavy cold winter days in December and January may be uncomfortable for some
(Satyakee D'Com Bhuyan lives in Kolkata where he pursues a life-long passion for the stage, and doubles up both as a theatre director and founder of 'D'RAMA, The Passion Players')