The mystical far northeastern corner of the country where not many wander to had allured me for long. The North East of India is the land of fewer honking horns, lush green mountains, a relaxed pace of life and most of all the path less treaded by tourists. I pen my thoughts down with a certain irony. As tempting as it is to keep these less discovered valleys a well-kept secret, to not share my finds from this ten day sojourn would be a disservice to the most underrated natural wonders of India- the double living root bridges.
I woke up before sunrise, that morning in Shillong. I left for Cherapunjee at 6.30 in the cab I had booked for the day. The drive was mesmerizing to say the least. Through the two hour drive my eyes fought between the yearning to take a nap and to soak in the views. There is a reason this state is called Meghalaya (House of clouds). You drive through clouds the entire time!! I started my trek around 8.30 and would advise anyone doing the trek to also do the same. It takes care of two things, one, the weather is quite agreeable early in the morning while much more humid later. Second, one appreciates the Bliss of Solitude one reads and hears so often about.
Driving through clouds en route to Cherrapunji
There are guides at the start of the trek who offer their services for Rs.600. I didn’t take one and I would recommend the same to everyone else. The trek is tough because of the number of steps and the regular undulating slopes one encounters. However, there are no forested areas and so, if you pay attention, there is very little scope of getting lost. There are a couple of turns which aren’t marked but any local will guide you if asked.
There is a well-defined path for most of the trek
The first stretch is the most painful. It is 3000 steps straight down and the steps are quite narrow. It really takes a toll on your knees. The prospect of climbing the 3000 stairs on my way back was not a comforting thought. Once you reach the valley, the rewards make up for the effort. On the right are two single root bridges. I walked to them first as they were quite close. The stream running below has crystal clear water. I washed my face in the stream and it took away all the tiredness of the walk downhill. I retraced my steps and walked the other way to go to the double root bridges. The walk was significantly longer this time. On way I found, two hanging bridges. To walk on those shaky bridges with the river running far below is quite an experience in itself.
Crystal clear water running in the river
The first glimpse of the final destination is as though out of a Narnia movie. I was transfixed to the spot for a good while. Pictures really cannot do justice to that quiet little corner. And this is before I even had a chance to look at the bridges itself!
The kind of place one sees in movies and wonders where this is
Once I reached the bridges, I kicked off my shoes and dipped my feet in water and just stayed there. I cannot explain how peaceful it is. That place just has to be felt. The sound of animals from the jungles, the rush of water all added to the charm. The advantage of starting so early was that I was the only person there. I had the entire place to myself. I sat there for over an hour. It was the most serene experience I have had.
The living room bridges are probably one of the most fascinating collaboration between man and nature. The bridges themselves are said to be over 500 years old. The roots have been trained by the Khasi tribes to grow such that they form a bridge on top of the stream. A new root bridge takes about 15 years to get strong enough to support the weight of humans. They only get stronger with time. They are more stable than wooden bridges in this area which see an incredible amount of rainfall.
Double living root bridge in its full glory!
There is a small bamboo shop there and the lady makes nice Maggi. It was much needed before I started the dreaded walk back a time when most tourists were walking to the bridges. There is a feeling of smugness for being the first one there and having the place all to yourself. Three groups stopped me and asked me if they were almost there!
The worst part is the climb back up. I kept telling myself ten steps, another ten steps and got through. I made it a point not to stop in the middle. It gets difficult to start once you take a break. Before the start of the trek, one of the guides had mentioned that it typically take 5–6 hours to do the trek down and up, however if it can be done in just under 4 hours as well. The pace of the trip is more of a personal call.
Maybe the serenity of the place is protected by the difficulty of the trek. It ensures that the place isn’t teeming with tourists. The travesty of the situation is out inclination to travel far and wide, when most of what we look for lies in the secluded area of our country.