1. Monsoon Moods in Cherapunjee, The rainiest place on Earth

    By Srivatsan Sankaran

    The word “The abode of Clouds” suits well for Meghalaya, one of the best States in India which is nestled in the middle of East Khasi hills. Most of the places in the state are well connected by roads despite rail and air transports are unavailable. I landed Guhawati on March 8th night, managed to get the bus within few minutes since Assam public transports are easily accessible. On the next day, I reached Palton Bazaar to get the shared ride in Cab for Shillong city, the capital of Meghalaya and the road was so good that I was able to reach within three and half hours. On that cold evening, we decided to walk down in market but it started to rain. I recalled that most of the people in Shillong spoke English and there was no barrier in communication despite Hindi and Assamese were the main languages. I packed for a road trip on next day and our tummy was filled with fruit salad and bread to survive for a bit long. It was solid 2 hours journey to reach Shora, the rainiest place on earth and the first thing I noticed was Fog! It was all over the place and nothing was visible except a dim light at noon! The temperature was hovering around 13 degree, locals were wrapping their face with light woolen clothes and most of the shops were shut down due to bad weather. We all geared up for a long trek on next morning to Nongriat village in the East Khasi Hills district. It is perhaps best known for its two living root bridges

    The living root bridges of Nongriat village are one of the man-made wonders, dating back many centuries. The aerial roots of Banyan tree on opposite sides of the river are continuously twisted, given direction and woven together, till it can be shaped and strengthened into a sturdy bridge. This is the only means for the villagers to cross the raging water streams to reach the other side.

    There are two living root bridges in Nongriat, a single deck bridge, and a double decker bridge. I decided to embark upon the trek to the village the next morning. After all, it was just 350 steps and I. The board at Tyrna village indicated a 3km hike to the Nongriat village and some mild alarm bells were set off in my head.

    The path to the village is a cemented staircase in the middle of the thick jungle; that first reaches the bottom of the valley and then after crossing the river, another flight of stairs upwards lands one at the village. Very casually, we walked down the flight of stairs, enjoying the beauty around.

    So we continued. The breathtaking hike through the forest was well worth it. The jungle was enveloped with clouds and the morning dew made everything look fresh and beautiful. We saw a few villagers coming up the stairs. One was a little girl in a school dress, not more than 7-8 years, who was walking up the stairs to go to school! It was very hard to imagine that the young kids did this every day! Just for basic things like going to school and getting a good education! Soon, we spotted two more villagers who were transporting local produce in heavy sacks strapped to their backs

    To see & experience the hardships that the villagers faced day in and day out, was extremely heart wrenching. What made them go up and down the stairs every day? Why couldn’t government make more efforts for them to connect easily with the world outside, like making ropeway trolleys? But observing them gave me the impetus to complete rest of the trek without a whimper.

    After the steep flight of stairs down, we arrived at a small village, from where the single root bridge can be accessed. We progressed ahead, arriving at a wobbly iron bridge at the bottom of the valley. Crossing it for the first time, gave me a good scare. I was, sweating by liters, clutching the swaying bridge for my dear life and crawling ahead. I did not want to look down at the water stream 30 ft below, for I would have succumbed to my fear of heights and gotten fully paralyzed. Miraculously, I survived, only to find another higher and longer iron bridge after a short walk ahead. History repeated itself as this. Also, I survived. Phew!

    After a short walk up on another flight of stairs, we arrived at Nongriat village. Nestled in the middle of the jungle was this quaint and clean village, freshly sprayed clean with the shower that had just started. The village is fully off the grid and hence has become a hotspot for trekkers who want to be engulfed by nature. There were a few homestays I found on the way where trekkers especially from abroad were relaxing. It is commendable what the villagers have done to encourage responsible tourism while protecting nature. They have contributed towards a community guesthouse for trekkers, have made large dustbins for collecting waste, etc.

    They respect nature by keeping the village clean. It is a harmonious co-existence of villagers, nature &tourists.walk from the village is the Living Root Bridge. The first view of the root bridge mesmerized me and made the arduous trek fully worth every drop of sweat and every ache in my body. It felt as though I had arrived in paradise. With chirping birds that began to emerge after the downpour, the double-decker bridge in the middle of a thick jungle, set right across a rumbling waterfall and over a gentle water stream, was a sight to behold. The double bridge was a masterpiece in itself, with intertwined roots made sturdy over centuries. The villagers are working on creating a third deck, by twisting and shaping the roots. Perhaps in a half a century, it would be fully made. The water was so clear, cool and fresh and it was enticing me for relaxing dip. I hadn’t got a change of clothes, so I just made do by sitting with my feet swaying in the water and periodically dipping my face in it. Mesmerized with the bountiful greenery around me, I thoroughly enjoyed the beauty of the place amidst the slight drizzle.

    Ahh, I so didn’t want to go back. It is quite natural to feel like this in the middle of nature, completely off the grid, where one can unburden the stresses of daily life and try to find a rhythm between self & nature. I bumped into a foreigner who completely endorsed my sentiments. He, like me, had come for a day trek and decided to stay back after feeling enchanted by this place. My resort in Sohra doesn’t know where I am, he said very coolly. I wished I could have done the same. A small tea shop right next to the bridge was just perfect to have a cup of hot tea and steaming Maggi before I reluctantly winded my way up.

    The rains had cleared up the clouds on the way up, and I could see the spectacular landscape of the valley, gasping in awe of how much we had walked. Slowly and steadily, I made my way up, not knowing that what was sweat and what was rain drops on me. Finally, I was able to reach the top and left the place with a deep breath!

    The moods of monsoon in Meghalaya would forever be etched in our memories and below images were taken during our trip to various remote places in Meghalaya.

    SrivatsanSankaran is an Engineer by education but an ardent travel and photo blogger by passion. A self-taught photographer, he mastered the nuances of photography through dedication and an unswerving attitude towards learning in life. His pictures evidently speak of the very relationship between Mother Nature and the people that nurture her. He believes that the best possible way to explore and experience a certain location is through blending into the indigenous culture, heritage and lifestyles.

    He has numerous accolades accredited to his name. He has won ‘Shoot the frame Award’ in 2012 and was also one of the ‘top 10 Tamron winners’ in 2013. His travelogues have been published in more than 20 magazines including National Geographic Traveler (website). Apart from this, he is also the founder of Madras photo bloggers and a Co-founder of Beaumoments. He is also associated as a panel expert with DCP Expeditions; a Mumbai-based wildlife and travel photography academy training school.

    You can find his blog in https://www.traveltalesbysrivatsan.com