Freedom by foot

On the 9th of September 2011 we set out from England to the continent by ferry to begin our adventure in earnest. By foot we will make our way to the first destination, which is Milan, from there we will be flying over to Bangalore for an archaeological conference (as you do) and an escape from the harsh European winter.

At any and all points in our little wander we will be on the look out for interesting and exciting places and people to learn from. Our journey begins with a zeal for experiencing ancient and traditional life & new innovative ways of living for the future.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Jungle Japes & Mountain Musings

Having just arrived in Guwahati, I have to say my thoughts are currently set on our last few days in the jungle valleys of southern Meghalaya. I should however momentarily resist and talk about our more lively experiences of  the states capital, Shillong. With expectations of a beautiful clean and quiet town, surrounded by tea estates and gentle hills, Shillong certainly came at us from a different angle.

The city surprised us, but even with a 20hour bus ride and a petty theft behind us that morning, we embraced the life of the streets that filled our lungs with excitement. For the first time in yonks we were able to have a hot shower, relax and change into clean clothes in the peace and quiet of a hotel room. We feasted on breakfast in our room, but quickly withheld all temptations to sleep, preferring to head out to explore the bustling markets and hidden back alleys.

Over a period of two days we walked and talked ourselves through the city until it felt like home. We reclined with real coffee, gorged on tasty street foods (momos, puri, stews, curries...), got lost amongst Burmese exports, took a early morning wander through the frosty golf course, gambled on the archery stakes (a mad event where a large group of Khasi men fire thousands of arrows at a tiny bamboo target), drank beer in the darkest tavern (where Amiee caught the eye of the local mute), perused the fascinating butterfly museum (which filled the basement of a local lady's home) and plotted the week ahead with gallons of tea and iced buns.

We followed our guide book's instructions and tentatively booked ourselves on the Government of Meghalaya Tourism Department's organised bus tour. A first for us both. The next morning, we rose early, grabbed some puri, sabji and tea, then clambered aboard the little bus out of the city. From dawn till dusk this  journey took us to some of the prettiest and amusing sights of the area, but for a mere 2 quid we both felt we had got ourselves a bargain. It gave us a taste of the Khasi hills, urging us to get out and explore on our own.
Sights included:
Numerous 'seasonal' (dry) waterfalls.
The World's 4th highest (foggiest) waterfall.
Ecopark (an enclosed portion of the beautiful plateau-edge, strewn with 'eco' concrete paths, bridges and pagodas...)
A cave (great for Indian Health & Safety and for watching women in sarees crawling through dark holes).
A picnic spot (with awesome onsite party-bus, more concrete and not much else).
A gurt breast shaped rock.
A tiny, cold anthropological museum (in a vast Hindu Mission centre).
An intimate experience of Shillong's congestion problems.

With no sarcasm what-so-ever, we thoroughly enjoyed this little excursion!

The following day, eager for adventure, we jumped in a shared Sumo Jeep to Cherrapunjee (or Sohra, if you're local), then onto Laitkkensew and rented ourselves a bed-filled tent in Cherra Resort. That afternoon we strolled down the few thousand steps to gaze upon our first, fabled Meghalayan root bridge. These bioengineering wonders spew out of the foliage, with one rubber tree on either side of the expanse; their roots trained over generations to form extremely strong, stable and uniquely beautiful bridges, allowing the locals to cross the monsoon-induced torrents. It was definitely worth the trek (especially after discovering a slag heap right next door too!).
As we sat basking in the jungle atmosphere we heard a 'wahhhoooop' come from the bushes somewhere close by. Thinking it was a monkey, Amiee replied. Moments later a small, friendly faced man appeared, and explained these were the calls of the local people, so they can communicate through the thicket of the jungle.  Happy however that we were on the other end of his call, he sat with us by the bridge and we chatted for a while. He then pointed us in the direction of a natural geological phenomena, intrigued, we followed the path and the clever stilted bamboo irrigation systems and found it. A neatly formed arch way that came conveniently out of the hillside. Rewarding our find with a piece of dark chocolate, we decided to call it a day.
Well almost, we did have the few thousand steps to retrace first! At the top we bumped into a tall friendly Dutchman named Rick, who became our jolly companion for the next day's adventure.

The three of us headed out the next morn and descended into the humid depths of the forested valley, aided by a convenient and exhilarating ride atop a passing taxi, which kindly took us the first 5km to the start of the path (a pretty interesting video was made of this event...i'm sure it will find its way here someday...).
The path meandered past a packed church (the last vestige of 'civilisation' for the day) then down, down, down. Beautiful butterflies, gorgeous greenery and all manner of scrumptious sights, smells and sounds cascaded into our senses as we traversed dodgy wire-rope bridges, scrambled over behemoth-boulders and became entranced by the stunning root bridges nestled in the lush valleys.
It was almost too Peter Pan-esque to believe.

The climax to the day was the unique 'double-decker', situated adjacent to the forest-village of Nongriat. An incredible testament to these people's natural-mechanics.
We left Rick at this point (after gulping down some tasty noodles), he had to return to the resort before sunset- poor bugger!! I hope you made it!!
We trundled off to the 'swimming pools'- which on reflection turned out to be the real gem of the day. It involved tackling some incredibly sketchy wire bridges, a couple of the rooty variety and even bigger rocks!
We settled by the side of a pool, the colour of which easily rivaled a bounty advert, and naturally, stripped off and dived in. It was bloody cold. But unbelievable.
We spent the night in the local rest house and dined on yummy local cuisine (including banana flowers!). Unable to drag ourselves away- we stayed an extra day. This time, we followed some local advice and found some new pools to swim in. These were even more mind blowing.
The day was spent adventuring amongst the rocks- in caves and waterfalls, wallowing in the water, bathing in the sun and reading Roald Dahl's sinister short stories to one another. One more night was spent by the fire before we packed up and faced the four hour vertical ascent back to Cherrapunjee, the perfect time to reminisce on our past wanderings back in Europe (and a reminder to our bodies how fecking difficult it is!). As we neared the top, we were rewarded with a magnificent view of that alleged fourth highest waterfall (denied previously). We grabbed a shared taxi back to the bright lights.
One more night in Shillong was spent, before cracking on to our old haunt: Assam.


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