Sunday, 24 July 2011

Where the rains dance

Debasish Sinha suggests a holiday in Cherrapunjee to experience the beauty of the monsoon landscape.

Meghalaya
Surrounded by evergreen forests! Clouds for canopy! Clouds ro-mancing the hills! 12646.8 mm average annual rainfall! Dense fog for a few minutes! Set amidst the lush green hills and murmuring streams, Cherrapunjee or Sohra – as is locally known – is an ideal retreat for the denizens of the concrete jungle to beat the heat. Nothing can be more enjoyable than to spend a couple of days during the summer in the wettest place on Earth. Despite having lost top spot as the place experiencing the highest rainfall, it is still considered as the most preferred eco-friendly destination. Its breathtaking landscape, the mystical clouds and heavy monsoon rains over the mountains make it a truly beautiful corner in North East India to enjoy the Indian monsoons.

The monsoon magic at the mesmeric Cherrapunjee is due to the moisture laden monsoon winds from the Bay of Bengal, which strike against physical barriers by way of mountains, which, on reaching higher altitudes, condense and pour down as rains. During the monsoons, it’s a chilling, misty experience with the sight of numerous waterfalls coming alive by the roadside hill slopes. Fog plays hide and seek, covering the entire surrounding area, making it invisible for a few minutes at regular intervals. The best thing to do when visibility is low is to move forward very cautiously, with fog lights switched on.

Cherrapunjee has been a tourist destination since the days of the British, but the infrastructure then was not so good as now. Earlier, tourists used to halt at Shillong and come to Cherrapunjee to enjoy the attractions here and return to Shillong the same day.

Ilapynsuk Diengdoh, a daughter of the soil and owner of the Coniferous Resort, who was inspired by her husband, Borsha Singh Dkhar, to open the resort here, says, “People should come to Cherrapunjee to see the mystical clouds which kiss the hills, the lush green plateaus with cascading waterfalls and experience the serene atmosphere. It is a perfect destination for tourists during the monsoon season. There are now a couple of places to stay here and Coniferous Resort is probably the best, considering its strategic location, which is just near the Sohra town and is equidistant from all the notable tourist spots.”

Cherrapunjee is full of tourist attractions. These include:

Mawkdok Valley View:
Duwan Singh Syiem Bridge
While coming from Shillong, don’t take the road towards the left. It leads to Dawki/Mawlynnong. Go right instead and drive uphill to reach the beautiful Duwan Singh Syiem Bridge – as it is locally known, at the ‘Mawkdok Viewing Point’. Here you get a panoromic view of the lush, green mountains. A little way down the slope, the government has built a viewing spot for a better view of the flat-topped high mountains and to enjoy the misty atmosphere. The landscape from here abruptly changes as one journeys between picturesque deep gorges.

Sa-i-Mika Park:
About three kilometres before reaching Sohra town, a road to the right leads to the Sa-i-Mika Park, which lies on the way to Dain-Thlen falls. Sa-i-Mika Park, with its pristine surroundings, covers an area of 69 acres, offering accommodation and a host of activities that attracts tourists. Here barbecues, bonfires, tour guides, traditional Khasi dance, local cuisine and drinks are arranged on demand. One can also opt for a homestay in one of the villages, to experience life with a typical Khasi family.

Dain-Thlen Falls:
Almost four kilometres away from the the Sa-i-Mika Park, the road leads to the beautiful Dain-Thlen Falls. This ride through lush green and often rocky mountains has its own serene charm, with a river flowing by the roadside. Natural rock carvings draw visitors to see the waterfalls. One has to be careful and hold on the guardrails to avoid slipping.




Noh-Kalikai Falls:

Considered to be the fourth highest in India, about 1,099 ft high, the Noh-Kalikai Falls is a plunge type, single drop waterfall. From the Sohra point the signboards indicate the way to the Noh-Kalikai Falls. A hauntingly beautiful waterfall, it cascades down from the top of the gorge to the mystic, deep green pool below. Don’t get disappointed when the clouds cover the entire area, making the waterfall totally invisible, because after a few minutes they will move away and the waterfall will be visible again. There are various stalls for having tea and snacks but it is costly. Take a walk around and feel the quiet charm of the place. It is truly a photographer’s paradise.

Eco Park:
Towards the south of the Sohra market, almost three kilometres away, the Meghalaya Government has established a large park called ‘Eco Park’ on the plateau, which hosts several hybrid and indigenous orchids in the Green House donated by the Shillong Agri-Horticultural Society. The Eco Park is surrounded by small hillocks and plains – with a beautiful mountain view, a deep waterfall and a small dam. The park also offers a breathtaking view of the distant Sylhet plains of neighbouring Bangladesh.

Mawsmai Cave:
A few kilometres away from the Eco Park, turn right from the point where lies the Mawsmai village. Here, one comes across the monoliths which are rock carved pillars almost six to eight metres in height, two metres in breadth and 0.46 metres in thickness. Monoliths are said to be associated with the establishment of Nartiang as the second hill capital as well as the principal market of the kingdom. They are the most significant symbolic wonders of the megalithic or monolithic culture in the country as a whole and have also been declared as monuments of national importance. The route passes through grasslands surrounded by forests, ending in a clearing. From here, a concrete pathway through the jungle leads up to the main cave entrance. This cave is fully lighted and one can enter through one entrance and exit from the other. The cave remains wet inside throughout the year.



Noh-Sngithiang Falls or Mawsmai Falls:


Almost one kilometre south of Mawsmai village, the road leads to the Noh-Sngithiang or Mawsmai or the Seven Sister falls. This is a segmented type, single drop waterfall about 1,033 ft high and considered as the fifth highest waterfall in India. It is situated in a south-westerly position and gets illuminated by the sun from dawn to sunset. The vibrant colours of the setting sun on the waterfalls make it beautiful to behold. For the safety and security of tourists, the Meghalaya Government has constructed concrete barricades on the edges of the mountains, all along the roadside. Clouds playing hide and seek are a common feature here. A resort is nearing completion near this particular point to attract tourists for a stay here.

Thangkharang Park:
The road from Noh-Sngithiang falls leads to the Thangkharang Park, which is managed and well-maintained by the Meghalaya Forest Department. There are many rare and exotic orchids and some rare species of plants endemic to the area. A panoramic view of the plains of Bangladesh is clearly visible on a clear day from the well-constructed viewing spot there. One can also get a glimpse of the imposing Kynrem falls cascading down majestically in three stages.

The Living Root Bridges:
The ‘Living Root Bridges’ are a sight to behold. They are suspension bridges made of living tree roots of some Indian rubber tree species growing alongside the gap to be bridged. The roots used in one of these bridges are about 18 inches broad and about six inches thick. There are examples of root bridges with a span of over 100 feet. These bridges are being used daily by the people living in these villages around Cherrapunjee. The bridges take ten to 15 years to become fully functional. They keep growing in strength day by day. The roots are naturally self-renewing and self-strengthening, as the component roots grow thicker. These bridges usually have base spans numbering more than two. There are also two protective railing spans. These root bridges are so strong that some of them can carry 50 or more people at a time. One has two bridges – stacked one over the other, and hence termed, ‘Umshiang Double Decker Root Bridge,’ named after the stream over which the bridge has been built.


The Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort — the first-ever resort built around Cherrapunjee — is near the place where the trek to the living root bridge (single decker) started. It has played host to many domestic and international tourists, owing to its scenic beauty and serene location.

A few other spots like the Rama Krishna Mission Museum, the Don Bosco Shrine, the first Presbyterian Church, tombs of Welsh missionaries, the Anglican Cemetery, the David Scott Memorial – the monument to David Scott (British Administrator in NE India, 1802-31), the Riat Mawiew – Green Canyon of Cherrapunjee, the Cherrapunjee Meteorological Observatory, the Kynrem waterfalls, etc., can be explored in Cherrapunjee.

Cherrapunjee is indeed a unique place in North East India, where one can find unexpected treasures of bountiful Nature. Above all, it is a destination easy on the pocket.
– don_guw@yahoo.co.in

Courtesy: The Assam Tribune Sunday Reading 24 July 2011
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