A trip to places in Meghalaya unverified on Google maps.
I woke up at dawn on a comfortable bed with great weather. The rectangular windowpane across me could have been an electronic photo-frame, depicting an open field lying below a montage of changing skies. Sunlight, softened through a filter of fluffy clouds, bounced off the roof of my cabin landing gently onto the green farmland.
I rolled out of bed, my calves shrieking as a reminder of the 16km journey travelled on foot to get here - the village of Mawphlang in Meghalaya.
The seven sisters of the North-East have always intrigued me. Having read so much about them, I chose the home of the clouds, Meghalaya, as the destination of my week long sojourn. While working out an itinerary for myself, I had three things in mind - little road travel, lots of activities, seeing unfrequented places.
The entry sign at Mawphlang
As history goes, during the British Raj an English officer called David Scott was posted in the North Eastern region of India. His administration cleared a swathe along the thickets that lay deep within the East Khasi Hills. This created a route of an alleged 100km that paved a path accessible on foot and horse-cart connecting Assam to present-day Bangladesh. In pre-independence times, this track witnessed people traveling in search of labour from one end to the other over a period of 5 days. Post-independence boundaries were drawn and walls erected, leaving only a small stretch of land connecting the village of Mawphlang to Ladmawphlang in the East Khasi Hills of Meghalaya. This souvenir left behind is what is called the 16km long (or short) David Scott Trail.
I can’t remember how I talked myself into doing this trek. To top it, I also managed to sell it under the guise of “natural beauty, and a test of willpower” to Cathy, an Israeli friend I made in Shillong.
The beginning of the trek
The trek took 5 hours to complete, including the snack and swim breaks. The first stretch was like a warm up - a flat muddy path with short belts rising uphill. The sun was upon us, dry and prickly, but our lips were zipped by the incredible sight that lay before us.
Winding around high cliffs and walking across open grasslands, the trail had simply led us into a place like Alice’s wonderland. There were tiny burrows and gurgling waterfalls, blooming lilies and bushy gardens. A sparkling river ran parallel to the trail, its music teasing us as it disappeared behind a curve, only to resurface at regular intervals in sync with our breaks. The climb finally opened up into a sunny meadow where we found signs of human life. A group of children walked past us, in a hurry to cover up the remaining 8km to school at Ladmawphlang. They giggled and shied away, as Cathy captured them on camera.
A cool, blue pool with running water
We walked along the edge of the hill, up a stony stairway and across a metal bridge peering down onto a roaring, musk-green river. It had been about four hours into the trek when we bumped into a cheerful family of three coming from Mawphlang. Oh boy, they had a late start. The couple’s determination amazed me, and I tried hard to sugarcoat it when I told their nine-year-old daughter how close Ladmawphlang was.
Leech struck, we march across the stream
Finally arriving at the last lap, an ascent leading up to Mawphlang, we put on our windcheaters as the pregnant clouds showered raindrops and the wind hurled them at us. As we gained elevation, the trees made way for a panoramic view of the towering hills stationed as sentinels of the valley below. Along with idyllic weather, the journey to the summit was simply magical.
Finally at the top
Mawphlang is a hypnotic town that can be best pictured as an endless golf course. We arrived in the midst of a downpour with not a soul in sight. We trudged along another 4km from the mouth of the forest, passing the mystical Sacred Groves only to collapse on our beds in Mawphlang.
What heaven looks like after a tiring day
From here it was on to our next destination – Mawlyngbna. A place that lies unverified on Google Maps, Mawlyngbna in Meghalaya is a village of roughly 1600 people. Nestled in the East Khasi Hills, it was easily accessible, not on foot this time, but a 2 hour drive from Mawphlang. Quite honestly, after the David Scott trek, I was prepared to stretch-out and relax at this lesser known destination. I set the bar for expectations super-low, and thus knew that Mawlynbna, however slow-paced or laid-back, would not disappoint me.
Crossing a stream
What occurred though, was quite the opposite. Mawlyngbna, as we came to know in those two days, has a tremendous potential for adventure that remains untapped. Waterfalls, sparkling pools, bushy evergreen trees and dense forests is the typical landscape here. With a rugged terrain ideal for mountain biking, this village is a feasting ground for outdoor enthusiasts looking out for a less frequented playground.
The families are few in number, and thick as thieves. Together they have set up and run the single village guest-house for travelers. Stepping out into the balcony, we stumbled into a completely different ecosystem - one where we couldn’t help but eavesdrop onto the constant bickering in the insect world. The forest, at any time of the day was a large disco of noisy beings dancing around on blaring music with a volume ranging from 20-20k Hertz. The high-pitched screeches of insects competing with the monotonous buzzing of the cicadas turned our quiet night in the forest into one loud party.
We spent the next day trekking through, wait for it, a river. This activity is supposedly called River Canyoning, and is slowly gaining popularity throughout the state. A flowing body of water - which, in October was relatively calm - drives into the Umkhakoi Reservoir. It’s flanked on either side by tall grass, and dense green and brownery. The river bed is dry along certain parts, and swollen with water along others. It rises in some sections and drops into waterfalls. It is fraught with huge craters, boulders and branches of trees spread out horizontally. The challenge lies in the ability to carefully sidestep, wade and bathe in order to reach the Umkhakoi Lake.
Mawlyngbna really threw me off
The terrain begins with a cliff dive and eases out into a swimming hole. It doesn’t matter if you’re a water-baby or not, this activity is for all! We danced our way across the river, skipping over barely-visible rocky surfaces and dipping into water pits. We swam and dabbled across several problems, climbed up mossy rocks only to leap off them later ahead. It was an experience like no other.
The canyoning ends with a final jump into the Umkhakoi Lake. The lake has the most beautiful location, bounded by forested hills on all sides. We swam its length that breezy afternoon, under the warmth of the sun. But the activity didn’t end there. Waiting for us on the bank were two shiny yellow kayaks. Hopping onto our sails, we spent the rest of the day exploring the reservoir, getting caught by uprooted trees and cornered into narrow crevices.
Kayaking in the Umkhakoi Lake
That evening we went on a short hike to a nearby waterfall and lazed around in its blue pool. It started getting dark in Mawlyngbna around 4pm as the sun set not only on the East but also on my abode in the clouds.
1. The best time to travel through Meghalaya is November-March
2. Guides are easily available for the David Scott Trail. Ask for Paradise.
3. Start early, pack lunch and plenty of water
4. Call in advance to book a cottage at Mawlyngbna
5. Ensure that you soak in the rain, culture and local cuisine
6. Happy Adventures!
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101India.com.
By Nidah Kaiser
Photographs by Nidah Kaiser