En route Shillong: A precursor to the Shillong trip
It was hot and humid at home in Guwahati when I visited my parents this September. I had almost forgotten how it felt to be in my hometown at this time of the year. The past few years I had been visiting Guwahati only during the winters – the months of December and January. Besides, I don’t remember September being so muggy earlier. It would be one of the ‘pleasant’ months of the year – neither too hot, nor too cold. My birth month, after all, which reflects my own temperament, as I would like to believe.
As I cooled myself in the only AC room we had in our house, I longed for some natural coolness. The coolness of the hills. Shillong! The idea popped into my mind and I immediately relayed it to my parents.
“Shillong is not exactly the same, you know,” Ma said with some trepidation. “The weather there has changed drastically and at some points it is no worse than Guwahati.”
I knew about that. My sister had travelled to Shillong a year back and returned a bit disappointed.
“It’s not how we had seen it last,” she had said. The same sentiment as the one echoed by Ma.
Nevertheless, I decided that any place with green hills, rolling meadows and pine trees was better than the gloomy grey climes of Guwahati. The plan was set – we were to drive down to Shillong the very next day at 7 am.
I woke up with a start at around 3 am. There was a wild wind blowing outside and dazzling flashes of lightning streaked through the window panes. My heart sank as I heard the loud rattle of rain hit our roof.
“Don’t worry,” Ma comforted me. “It will be a clear day tomorrow.”
But it was not. The rains were at it hard and ferocious. We sat waiting for the rain to subside, our bags packed and ready. Even the hotel had been booked. My main fear was that the city would be flooded, like several other times. At around 8 am, the rains toned down marginally and we ran to our car with a ‘jo hoga dekha jayega’ (something like que sera sera) attitude.
For some time, all that was visible out of the car window was a white sheet of water. The scenery outside looked like a runny painting. At one point of time, near Jorabat, our car resembled a ship cruising through the high waves of the ocean. I kept my finger crossed and called out to all the Gods I knew to deliver us from that watery hell.
Finally, the Gods got fed up of my relentless prayers, filled with bribes and promises, and by the time we reached Nongpoh to have our breakfast, it had fizzled down to a light drizzle. After some time, even a few rays of sunlight peeped in through the dark clouds. With a sigh of relief, I rolled down the windows and let the air in. Cool and refreshing!
As we drove towards Shillong, I realized what my sister had been talking about. She had told me that the road was almost ‘straight’. It was true. Gone were sharp and narrow hairpin bends, that came one after the other without a second’s pause. The zigzagged road had disappeared under urban construction, or what one would term as ‘in the pursuit of betterment and development of physical infrastructure’. Maybe it was a good thing, aimed at providing safety and speedy travel. But I still missed falling over each other at the sharp bends.
The hills bore the brunt of development, of course, and their red soil lay exposed and bare. There were excavators and laborers galore, machine and men, working alongside on the roads. Nevertheless, I caught sight of small streams running through the crevices of the hill sides and remembered how in our childhood we used to clap our hands and cry out “Waterfall! Waterfall!”. I had my first lessons on types of cultivation there, on the way to Shillong, and recalled Deta pointing out terrace/step farming and furrow farming on the hill sides.
See that vegetable hiding behind the foliage? That's what we call squash in Assam and it is found growing wild all over the Meghalaya hill side. Oh and the squash plant is a creeper.
Soon, the expansive Barapani or Umiam Lake came into view. Umiam Lake is a reservoir created by damming the Umiam river in the early 1960s. The lake serves as a major tourist attraction for the state of Meghalaya - a popular destination for water sport and adventure facilities. Apart from storing water for electricity generation, the lake also supports a large number of ecosystem services.
A tranquil settlement (or is it a resort?) by the lake side.
For me, Barapani had always served as a reminder - that Shillong was not too far now. With all the changes that I witnessed along the way, the lake seemed to be the only thing that had remained pristine and untouched. We stopped by at a view point and clicked some photographs. It had started raining once again and when I checked my pictures it seemed as if there was a translucent white film over the scenery.
Finally, we had our fill of Barapani and returned to our car. Next stop – Shillong!
In case you are travelling from Guwahati, here's what you need to know:
Distance between Guwahati and Shillong - 165 km (approx.)
Time taken to cover the distance - 4 hours (including breakfast stop)
Route taken - via NH 37
Breakfast stop - Nongpoh has a number of good eateries