Tuesday, March 3, 2015

MAWSYNRAM; THE WETTEST PLACE ON EARTH


বৃষ্টি পড়ে এখানে বারোমাস
এখানে মেঘ গাভীর মতো চরে..

I couldn't find words more apt to describe this place other than these famous lines by the eminent Bengali Poet Shakti  Chattopadhyay from one of his most revered poem ‘Abani Bari Aacho” (Abani, are you home).   For my friends and readers uninitiated in Bengali I will make a poor attempt of translating these lines in English. It will be a literal translation though as I do not have the ability to express the mood of these powerful words in English. It will be something like this:

"It rains here, every month, round the year,
Here the clouds roam  like cows…"

Readers who are Bengali or understand and appreciate Bengali literature please excuse my atrocity. 

This must be the abode of the rain god. I remembered my school history book.. ‘  a small village in Meghalaya called ‘Mawsynram’ is the wettest place on earth. It’s also closely rivalled by the neighbouring place ‘Cherrapunji’ but held the crown over the years

Despite its strong romantic overlay, monsoon isn’t my favourite season and generally makes me gloomy and depressed when the clouds set in. But this is a unique place holding the record of highest average rainfall in a year. I get irritated with monsoon in Kolkata then I tried to imagine how a place lashed by constant rain for better part of the year would be like to live in. Depressing thought for me. Nevertheless I had a desire to set foot there. I was told that this was a beautiful place as well. Time to find out.

I had travelled to Shillong a number of times for professional reasons, never a leisure trip to move and see around. Shillong is rather a disappointment for me. There are places which one keeps hearing about from one’s childhood, read about it in books and this collage of inputs conjures up  a mental image of that place.  However when one ultimately sets foot there, the reality often tends to deviate greatly from the picture created in mind. Shillong is something like that for me. The ‘Shesher Kobita’ by Rabindranath Tagore, the romancing of Amit & Labanya with the backdrop of Shillong made me think of it as a dreamy town, with winding country  roads, dotted by cottages amongst tall pine trees, flowers blooming in their front porches, where men and women walk  hand in hand in rolling blue mist. Shillong is also referred as 'Scotland of the East". Nice to imagine but Shillong came as a rude shock to me when I first visited some two years back. As the car rolled out from Guwahati I eagerly looked out of the window, hoping to see some beautiful scenery outside.   But it wasn’t  so. It wasn’t even as beautiful as say the Darjeeling hills. Till lake Umium I didn’t even feel that I am actually travelling to a hill station. It was dusty and I didn’t see too much greenery around. The scene changed once the vast Umium lake came into view. As the road starts climbing the beautiful view of Umium or the ‘Barapani’ as it is locally known, unfolded before my eyes. 

Panoramic view of Lake Umium or Bara Pani.

 Lake Umium: Shot from the viewpoint en' route to Shillong.

Bara Pani: Another view.

The climb starts here all the way to  Shillong city. Just few kilometres before entering the city the famous traffic jam starts and every time I went to Shillong I got struck for hours.  Shillong city is quite congested and as I said it’s far from the imaginary picture I had in mind. Police Bazar is the heart of Shillong, something akin to the Mall at Darjeeling but the place looks more like a busy marketplace around an open area jam-packed with parked cars. Darjeeling is also dirty and congested but Shillong lacks the subtle colonial charm that Darjeeling exudes. The majestic views of the mountains, the tea estates and overall the view of towering Kanchanjungha , which one is privileged to at Darjeeling is sorely missed at Shillong.

During my last day of visit in February 2015, I squeezed out some free time and decided to visit Mawsynram. I wanted to set foot on the wettest place on earth. I asked around and I was told that Mawsynram isn’t as interesting as Cherrapunji or “Sohra” as it is known locally. Cherrapunji would offer more in terms of natural beauty and things to see. However I decided against it  and settled for Mawsynram, despite the fact the place doesn’t have much to offer to a tourist apart from a waterfall which is usually completely dry in this season and a cave temple  where one can find a naturally  formed Shivalinga. And of course the bragging rights that you have been to the wettest place on earth. I wanted to save my visit to Cherrapunji for the right season which is the monsoon, when the hills would be covered in green, the waterfalls will be unleashing their full fury and the rain clouds will weave magic.

Mawsynram is about 60 kilometres from Shillong and it was possible to do a round trip with sightseeing in about 6 – 7 hours. The distance seemed small, but the rule of plain land normally doesn’t apply to hilly roads and quite often the travelling time could be double or more to cover the same distance depending on the road conditions.

We started at around 7:30AM in the morning. A black and yellow rickety Maruti 800 cab was out transport. The scenery changed once we went out of the city limits. Even in mid-February Shillong was bitterly cold. There was a thunderstorm last night and the mercury took a plunge. The weather app on my mobile predicted rain today as well and this heightened the prospect of experiencing rainfall at Mawsynram. However the morning was bright and sunny and the early morning dew drops on the grass on both sides of the rode shone like diamonds in the light of the morning sun. Our car climbed up and down the narrow winding roads. The East Khasi hills unfolded itself before my eyes. 
East Khasi Hills.

Again it wasn’t too beautiful a sight unlike the hills of Darjeeling or Sikkim. There are no snow-capped peaks, but only hills. Often they were barren, with very limited cover of vegetation. There were hardly any tall pine or fir trees which would have been a common sight otherwise. It’s hard to believe that it’s so close to the wettest place on earth. The hills had a sandy hue, often creating illusion of sand dunes. 
East Khasi Hills: On the way to Mawsynram.

I could also see lot of farming happening. Local people were harvesting in the fields at the backdrop of hills with mere spades. The driver told us they do organic farming where only compost and other bio fertilizers like cow-dung are used.  Baskets made with bamboo full with bio-fertilizer were lying in heaps along the road. Rice, Potato and other vegetables are produced here and supplied to Shillong.

Farmers at East Khasi Hills.

The car passed small towns and villages where one can witness the typical lifestyle of the Khasi tribes. The usual small market place, wooden cottages with grocery shops in front, butcher shops selling pig meat, a jeep stand, children in uniform going to  school, women going about on their daily chores. It’s the usual site of villages in hills. But the area was definitely sparsely populated. I could see people only at the small villages or an occasional lone farmer on the field. Else we were travelling through empty roads with very little traffic. The road condition was particularly bad whenever we passed a village but gets better once in the open. At times it was becoming a struggle for the small Maruti 800 and poor vehicle took some beating and scrapped it’s bottom on few really bad patches, but we did pass some good smooth roads too. We passed another small village which the driver said is the last settlement on the road before Mawsynram. After few minutes of driving the distant hills loomed large in the view. The road ran straight and then onto the lap of the distant hills. It was a wonderful view. 

Road to Mawsynram.

As the car moved and started the climb, the driver pointed out at a distant saddle in the hills where the road passes through. As the road progressed we gained altitude and we were soon surrounded by the misty green and blue hills. Now we could see lot of greenery around us. 

View near Mawsynram.

As the car drew near, I weather got colder. We passed a steep rock face and our driver said that this is actually a waterfall which comes alive during the monsoon spraying water on the passers-by. Now the air was laden with moisture which hung heavy. In the distant I could see clouds building up on the face of the hills. The white clouds slowly turning dark. It’s the steep western face of the hills where the wind carrying moisture blowing over the Bangladesh floodplains hits, gets condensed and drop down in heavy shower.

Slowly the hamlet of Mawsynram came into our view. It’s a small place, a glorified village may be, set on the craggy top of the Khasi hills. 
Mawsynram Village.

Just before entering the town there is a bi-furcation and a road cuts out from the main road and drops below on the left. The road sign read Mawjymbuin caves. 

Road to Mawjymbuin cave.

Entrance of the Mawjymbuin cave.

This is the famous cave where a Shiva Linga like object is formed by stalactite and stalagmite. It is a typical limestone cave where pointy formations of stalactite hung from the ceiling and stalagmite formations build up on the ground by the limestone laden water dripping from above. The so called “linga” is one of the prominent stalagmite formations. The rich Indian imagination has the capacity to turn a perfectly explainable natural phenomenon into a spiritual event. Any object, remotely resembling a deity is given the holy status. Shivalingas, being the most basic formation of all deities, are found in abundance. You can find the sandalwood paste, tulsi leaf laced stones under many trees which turns into places for worship. In the same manner the concept of Linga was born here. I am sure somebody had reshaped the typical conical shape to a more rounded one to make the ‘Linga’ prominent and this quickly had turned the cave a holy place for millions. The fact that water constantly dripping from above on the holy linga, gave it an even stronger divine element. I did not see much crowd except few families who seemed to be local, happily posing and clicking selfies with the Linga. But I was told that this places draws large crowds on days considered to be holy like Shravani Purnima, Shivaratri etc.

Inside the cave, The Linga is visible.

Here you can see both the Stalagmite and Stalactite formation.

I could not fathom how deep the Mawjynbuin cave was, and neither I had the time nor the equipment to explore. Also I did not find any other interesting formations which are often typical for a limestone cave and I never had a religious interest. So I called it quits and moved towards the Mawsynram village. A little journey through the main thoroughfare and I immediately began disliking the narrow, crowded congested roads. Seeing no point in venturing further I decided to retreat. Found a sign announcing the name Mawsynram so took a photo of myself alongside just to record a ‘been there, done that’. 

By the time we started back I could see ominously black rolling clouds were gathering atop the hills, casting deep shadows and signalling of the impending rain.
Shot Taken on the way back

The return to Shillong was uneventful, by the time we were nearing town the rain drops were already gathering on the windshield. The driver also took us to “Shillong Peak’. This is the highest point on the outskirts of Shillong city. There is a viewing gallery on the hill top where one can see a panoramic and uninterrupted view of the entire Shillong city lying below. However weather was really bad by this time, the world turned into grey and fine sheet of rain blurred the view of the city below. It would have been a beautiful view on a sunny and clear day but sadly it wasn’t and photos I took looked washed out too.

Panoramic view of the Shillong city from Shillong Peak.

Close up of Shillong city from the top.

Another view of Shillong city

Another place the driver took is the ‘elephant falls’ which is almost within the city limits The falls has three steps. Water came out of the thick foliage and flowed down against the black rocky face. One can climb down thru’ the stone steps cut out of the rock and go to the bottom seeing all three steps. There is a nicely landscaped park at the bottom. Legend has it that there was arock shaped like an elephant beside the fall and thus the British had named it as Elephant Falls. The stone was destroyed in an earthquake in the year 1897, but the name struck on. I didn’t find it too exiting and even if you don’t see this you won’t miss much. Or maybe it will be a better sight during monsoon. 

The Elephant Falls.

That was the end of my Mawsynram visit. Next time during monsoons I will surely visit Cherrapunji which should be a good experience. I will be sharing the experience. Stay tuned.

HOW TO REACH:
Mawsynram can be reached from Shillong. Meghalaya Tourism organizes daily bus trips for tourists to various places like Cherrapunji, Mawsynram, Mawlynglong (Asis’s cleanest village), Jowai etc. The trip cost for Mawsynram will be around Rs.260/- per head. The trips start in the morning and you need to report to Meghalaya Tourism office at Police Bazar at around 7:30AM. During the tourist season (June – September) there is heavy rush hence it is advisable to book in advance. You can also hire a car from Shillong which will take about INR1600/- for a round trip to Mawsynram. The car will accommodate four persons excluding the driver. Bigger vehicles like Tata Sumo will charge higher but they will carry more people. If you add Shillong Peak and elephant falls in your itinerary, the charge will be Rs.1800/- . This is likely to go up during tourist season. You must note that although Cherrapunji or  Sohra is only about 15 KMs from Mawsynram there is no motorable  road. After about 15KM outside Shillong the road bifurcates and one goes to Sohra and another to Mawsynram. Mawsynram is about 45 KMs from here.  If you wish to travel to Cherrapunji from Mawsynram, the car needs to come back all the way to this point and then again start towards Cherrapunji. Cherrapunji would be also around 40KMs from this point. It is advisable to make two trips on different days though if you start early, say by 6AM it is possible to cover both the places. But you will have to rush it and won’t have much time to stop and spend time to soak in the beauty around you. Cherrapunji also has more points of interests so you will be spending more time at Cherrapunji than Mawsynram.

How to Reach Shillong: There are direct flights from Kolkata to Shillong. However it is serviced only by Air India, which could be irregular. The airport is  quite far off from the city, closer to Barapani or Umium lake. The taxi will cost not much less from what you will pay for journey from Guwahati. Hence in my opinion it doesn’t make much sense to take a direct flight.

DEPARTURE
ARRIVAL
Flight No
Time
Days
Flight No
Time
Days
91-9711
12-35
Except Friday
91-9712
16-25
Except Friday


You can reach Guwahati, There are multiple flights available daily from Kolkata. From Guwahati you need to travel to Shillong by road. Meghalaya is not yet connected by rail. From airport you can get shared cabs which takes Rs.500/- per person and will drop you off at Police Bazar in Shillong. Vehicles like TATA Sumo will take about Rs.400/- per person. Shared cabs / buses are also available from different areas of Guwahati like Jalukbari, Paltan Bazar, Zero Mile etc. From Paltan Bazar the share cab takes Rs.400/- per head. The journey time is normally three and half hours and in worst case it can stretch to 5 hours if you are stuck in traffic jams at Guwahati and Shillong. The road condition from Guwahati to Shillong is generally good to excellent with few bad patches thrown in. The four laning work on the highway is in full swing and in about two years the entire stretch is likely to be converted into four lane highway. You can stop for refreshments at Nongpo, which has few good dhabas and also at the view point while passing lake Umium or Bara Pani which offers a panoramic view of the huge waterbody from the top.

WHERE TO STAY:
Mawsynram must be covered in a day journey. There is no place to stay at Mawsynram village. There are good hotels available for all budgets at Shillong and you can click on the link below of Meghalaya Tourism which lists out multiple Govt. as well as public accommodations at Shillong. Remember Shillong is an expensive place and you will generally find hotels expensive compared to the amenities they are providing. The only solace is in the cheap liquor and petrol.  



  
WHAT TO EAT:
Unless you are travelling to Mawsynram, in the tourist season, that is monsoon, you will not find anything at Mawsynram. It is best to carry your food and mineral water. During the tourist season shacks come up where you can have basic food like noodles, bread, omelette etc. While at Shillong you must try eating at Trattoria, at Police Bazar.
Trattoria.


It’s joint which serves the authentic Khasi cuisine. This is famous among locals and you will normally find it quite crowded during lunch hours. 

Inside Trattoria.

This is something equivalent to famous pise hotels in Kolkata with kind of similar ambience. But let me warn you, you need to have an acquired taste to enjoy food here. 
The menu on the wall.

The main delicacy is assortment of pork preparations. These are quite different from what you have in Kolkata. Now choice is yours. 

You can order a thali of yellow rice and various assortment of pork, salads and chutney. I had three types of pork preparations, couple of pieces of cooked meat with a delightful layer of fat. There was pork liver and a meatball. The salads were the interesting part. You see the whitish one on the plate, it was a mixture of boiled pork and fat mixed with shredded vegetables of varieties unknown to me. The blackish stuff that you also see on the plate is made of pork intestine and both tasted like heaven with the yellow rice which was laced in what I believe oil from the pork fat.

The thali at Trattoria.

A word of caution though to the readers. Please remember, to savour this kind of food you really need to have acquired taste. If you are someone who would hunt out a ‘Bengali Maach Bhat’ joint at every goddamn place wherever you travel then definitely stay away from this place. But if you are by nature adventurous in your gastronomical exploration and love pork and the North Eastern way of cooking, do try this place. You will not be disappointed. The owner Rinchen is a very enthusiastic, friendly and jovial person and would happily assist you to select your food. The names in Khasi language might look Greek and Latin so better go with Rinchen’s suggestion and you won’t be disappointed.

You can also try 'Jadoh', which  is a traditional pork dish with a combination of rice. To give finishing touches, (Don't get shocked..huh..) little bit of pork blood is sprinkled on top. An old lady sells Jadoh at police bazar in the morning. You can also get chicken and veg varieties. 

There is a famous shop Delhi Mistanna Bhander, which is a sweet shop cum chat house akin to Haldirams and Bikaram Chandmalls of the world. Although the locals go  gaga over it, if  you are used to the quality in Kolkata, it doesn’t even come close.

If you can't do without Bengali food, don't loose heart you have option at Police Bazar. You can visit Arun Hotel, which serves typical Bengali Cuisine comprising of 'maach bhat. 

9 comments:

  1. Quite a comprehensive description, esp for potential tourists.

    Why id the Elephant Falls so blue?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Lokenda.. Blue color is due to a botched up post processing..

    ReplyDelete
  3. Amazing as always. I love the way you describe certain things in your own unique manner. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us

    ReplyDelete
  4. Great post! We at Holidify would love to share it! Could you share your e-mail so that I can talk to you further about this? :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Pallavi,

      I can be reached at sagar1969m@gmail.com, Phone 9830091777

      Delete
  5. Excellent Travelogue!
    I feel now that I have already visited the place!!!
    Kudos to Mr. Sen!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Among the wettest place on the Earth, Cherrapunjee with its spotless and perfect surroundings is a magnificent place to kick back and loosen up.
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    Book budget hotels in port blair

    ReplyDelete