Memoir to Myself: Meghalaya (October 2021)
If I had to list down the first few things that crossed an average mind on thinking of a “Bachelorette”, the list would look somewhat like this: Wild, Fun, Scandalous, Friends, Gifts, Games, Conversations, Secret, Music, Dance, Party, Dirty, Drunk……
What if I said my Bachelorette ticked off none of the above, yet… all of it? Confused much?
With a forced hiatus of over a year (no thanks to the pandemic), I am (fingers and toes crossed) set to marry the man of my checklist and dreams (and nightmares) on Boxing Day, this year. A prequel to our big day had to be a bachelorette I had roughly sketched out in my mind since before marriage was anywhere on the cards (being organised never hurt anyone now, come on).
What I wished for vaguely, was an episode of fun and what I was strongly averse to, was closing my eyes to a stripper’s performance or posing with a bottle of champagne while adorning ‘bride to be’ gear.
For me, a bachelorette was about doing something I thought I would not do after I was married. After following @capn_nero and his travel company @onhisowntrip (OHOT) for nearly 2 years, reading about their offbeat trips and incredible testimonials, I decided to set out on OHOT’s Adventure Trip to Meghalaya… alone. I’m not the most comfortable person in new social settings and kind of really really like my fiancé. I thus thought, travelling without him with a bunch of strangers was going to be this one-time unnerving experience I should put myself through before I’m married. It seemed like the perfect balance between having a whole lot of fun while also jumping out of my comfort zone 2800 km from home.
What my bachelorette finally turned out to be is an experience I will cherish forever and make a humble attempt to describe in words and through some amazing pictures taken by my friends.
The story of any cool captain and his troop is incomplete without a mention of their transport vehicle. In our case, it was our basic 25-seater minibus. We were told about how painstakingly it was arranged for us and am I glad or what?
A kind host to a bunch of noisy backbenchers and saner front seat occupiers – this tin box was our caravel on narrow meandering roads when Google maps almost took us to Bangladesh, our discotheque when Shillong’s cafés closed too early and our changing room when the woods weren’t good enough. While we drove across towns and villages, our unassuming tiny bus was a mute witness to deep conversations, tired naps, new friendships, fun games, light-hearted banter, tears on departure, food gobbling and of course dancing… a lot of dancing!
This emphasis on a vehicle may sound absurd but it is from in here that we waved out to apple-cheeked little kids, spied on fishermen sitting patiently by a pond awaiting their catch and swayed rhythmically with the wind. We snoozed on friendly shoulders, ate omelettes made of ‘imported eggs’ and lemon rice with Aloo Bhujia, earnestly shared our ‘top 3 moments’ from the trip, wrote and read heartfelt messages, made life-changing decisions like going back to base, shared secrets and bid goodbyes. We sat in corners thinking of absolutely nothing while our favourite songs played, ‘pole danced’ to “beedi jalaile”, rapped along loudly(!) to “सुनने में आया है तू London में रहती है अभी के अभी जा के पहली ticket कटा रहा हूँ” and grudgingly but instantly sat down like obedient school kids wearing masks at nakabandis.
This trip would have certainly been less fun-er if not for our magic bus, no? 🙂
Chasing a Waterfall
The first day of our trip kicked off with……… a change in the itinerary. Being mundane and predictable is not one of the things OHOT takes pride in and no time was wasted in proving this point. Ditching the original plan of visiting Lyngksiar Falls, our bus stopped in the middle of a deserted road. Like a disciplined flock of sheep, 22 peering trippers followed their white-capped Capitan onto their first adventure.
After a short easy walk from the bus, we were sounded off about how the ‘real’ trek was just about to begin and boy, it so did! The flat rocky terrain soon unravelled its slippery and muddy better half as we held onto roots, branches, rocks and often each other to avoid awkward tumbles and landing on our backsides.
Garba was the choice of dance form (nobody dares miss Navratri vibes with gujjus on a trip!) and the likes of Prateek Kuhad and a cold drizzle kept us company as we paused momentarily to soak in a tiny dose of atmosphere, catch a breath and sight of those behind us.
We knew we were to see a waterfall that day and all through our hike, Steve (our guide for the day) and the sound of flowing water were our North Stars. While we didn’t hear much from Steve beyond guiding us on where to place our foot next, the sound of burbling water made up for his concise speech. Just going about its business effortlessly, the gushing water aroused anticipation of “what’s next” in some of us while simultaneously delivering the relief of a ‘destination’ to some others.
After many jumps, skids and climbs- I spied a stream and I knew very quickly that what I felt in the moment would be difficult to surpass. Mesmerised, I watched the stream gently meander its way through a plenitude of rocks and happily hop over the little ones, all without a worry in the world. It wasn’t in a rush, like humans scampering to reach office, it had no pretence, it didn’t hold back nor force its way; just gracefully hurdled its way over and beside boulders and pebbles. In the background, lush green forests stood tall and silently as glimmers of sunshine playfully broke through 🙂
The water in the stream was varnish clear– proof that we were a lucky bunch of people who could immerse our thirsty faces in the pristine pools of this beauty. Honestly, words don’t do justice to the unadulterated joy and peace of drinking water out of a cool running stream (also of executing a perfect hair flip Bollywood style! ;))
After a short walk (and swim for some of us), we finally had sight of the waterfall. Waterfalls in Meghalaya are ubiquitous so what was the big deal? Well, that these falls were nature’s equivalent of a private movie screening, just so much better! Gallons of snow-white water rhythmically crashing onto the rocks below just for just 23 of us to watch, transfixed. In no time, we had seated ourselves atop one of the rocks with the water pounding onto our backs and our teeth clattering in the cold.
Waterfalls in Meghalaya are ubiquitous, but this one is one of a kind. We’ve christened the falls the ‘OHOT Falls’ in the hope that it remains immaculate forever 🙂
Social media played its part in making sure Wei Sawdong was quickly on every wanderluster’s bucket list – and there can be no two ways that it absolutely should be.
Wei Sawdong is a three-tiered cascading waterfall conjured up right out of your most creative imagination. We experienced the beauty of Wei Sawdong both from its viewpoint and then in OHOT style, right from the middle of the falls calling out to the SRKs hibernating within us.
Reaching the base of the falls is an interesting walk down a bamboo staircase crafted at an acute angle by the locals. At the end of the stairs, the roaring waterfalls reward you with their majestic sight, cool spray and soothing scent. As the sun shines brighter, the water turns whiter and its pools, greener. My tryst with fate, faith and (epic) fails at these falls is a story for another time 🙂
Getting down and dirty!
When @capn_nero said we were going ‘caving’, nobody knew what it meant, except him.
This uninformed batch of enthu cutlets was then educated on how caving is the sport of exploring natural caves and Meghalaya has amongst the most expansive caving networks in the world! Just when we thought the marvels of nature ended at colossal mountains and magnificent waterfalls, the Arwah caves were a stunning surprise. After briskly climbing up a few flights of stairs, we reached the deceivingly tall entrance to the caves. Soon thereafter we were left crouching, duck-walking, army crawling and slithering our way behind our guide ‘Isko’.
From bottomless pits to narrow passages and steep climbs, the caving ecosystem may be best described as alien. We saw some otherworldly formations (Stalactites and Stalagmites to be precise) and fish fossils, dodged some bats, collectively battled claustrophobia and briefly even lost some of our disoriented friends.
The culmination of this experience however was finally understanding what my school – teachers expected when they yearned for “pin-drop silence”!
Towards the end of our nearly 2-hour long adventure, 23 of us sat huddled closely in the cave with the only illumination (being our torches) turned off, and in complete silence. We curiously listened to our captain turned storyteller tell us about the adventures of Sarah Marquis for a few minutes and then for the next three minutes, we heard nothing. Imagine a space absent of the cacophony of horns, chirping of birds, voices of humans, orthoptera of Cicadas and even the ticking of a clock – the silence in that cave was overwhelming and did a lot to many of us. For some, it brought a sense of safety, for some, a wave of peace and for some, burning anxiety of wanting to get out of that cave. To me, that silence had so much to say and taught me to listen.
Like they say, “Silence isn’t empty, it’s full of answers.”
My vote for the 8th Wonder of the World
Why the Umshiang Root Bridge in Meghalaya isn’t the 8th wonder of the world is beyond me.
After walking 3500 steps through a dainty village (home to the “4 BRO’S ‘N’ 2 SIS’S SHOP”), accompanied by the largest yellow butterflies and spider webs I’ve ever seen, you are greeted by a unique double-decker roots bridge; that’s two bridges stacked over one another like bunk beds!
A living example of the wonders man and nature can create when they live in harmony; our guide explained that this bridge was not built, but rather grown. The roots of native rubber trees are trained by locals to intertwine and grow like a bridge and deftly supported by bamboos and twines. These bridges are then used to help locals cross over water flowing from a little waterfall (with fishes that offer you free pedicures) right opposite the bridge.
It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman!
Ziplining like a happy bird through four lines of strings meticulously perched atop a valley was just the activity that insanely excited the little child in me while also aggressively awakening my fear of heights.
The location of this zip line has got to be amongst the most beautiful in the country – lush green virgin forests on three sides, a waterfall to watch while you zoom across the zip line and a bunch of your friends on the fourth cheering you on as the instructor begs you to break speed. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it? Add to that the privilege of an extra few seconds right in the middle of the zip line when my jacket took too much of a liking to the harness and decided we had to stop and watch the waterfall just a little longer 🙂
Canyoning, Canyoneering- err what?
Like most travel itineraries, the last day of our trip was designed to be a relaxed day where we visit a viewpoint to look at a beautiful canyon, laze on the meadows, shop at local markets and explore some of Shillong’s cafés. But @capn_nero had other ideas brewing in his (brilliant) mind.
The night prior over the dinner table he casually threw in a proposal of going “water canyoneering”, to 22 very hungry trippers. Our IQs were judged for not knowing what this activity was (?!) but of course, we agreed instantly– more water, more adventure, more OHOT; truly an offer we couldn’t refuse.
Cut to the chase, water canyoneering (also called canyoning) is an adventure sport of exploring a canyon by descending into the water, through various activities. In our case these activities involved swimming, rappelling, sliding, and well, cliff jumping!
Unsurprisingly, cliff jumping was the highlight of the day’s activities. Perched over a 22 feet (more like 30 feet going by the fact that it was 5 times the height of an almost 6 feet tall tripper) cliff, the cliff jump needed you to do two things perfectly – jump from that frightening height, and make sure you don’t hit rock (at the) bottom.
With a higher ratio of non-swimmers to swimmers, it would not be surprising if a majority of the gang unenthusiastically played around in shallow still waters instead of plunging off a cliff. But when you travel with amazing people, the cheers of nearly two dozen friends deafen your fears and insecurities and you take that leap.
Someone jumped on their face, someone on their back, someone jumped too close, someone jumped thrice just to comfort and guide others, someone jumped while melodically yelling out like Tarzan, someone used ‘fuck it’ as their motivation speech while someone jumped fearing an ego bruise now that little girls had also jumped off! In the end, most of the gang had ticked off something they never imagined would have been on their bucket list 🙂
We ended the activity by kayaking in a still pool as the Sun bid us goodbye. We ended the day by having a hearty meal at a humble home-cum canteen lit by a single light bulb, overlooking the Bangladeshi border and having a starlit sky for a roof.
Take to the Sky
“If people sat outside and looked at the stars each night I bet they would live a lot differently” – Calvin & Hobbes
There are very few things that make me as happy as watching the sky, even the most uneventful one. The feeling then, of watching a dark night sky lit up with innumerable stars, the milky way on its finest display and shooting stars as showstoppers, is one I absolutely cannot find the right words to describe.
‘Meghalaya’ translates to “Abode of the clouds”; Cherrapunji – a town therein is popularly known for receiving amongst the highest rainfalls in the world and crowned as the “Wettest Place on Earth”. Not the ideal place for stargazing, obviously?
But here’s the deal – the sky doesn’t care for your opinion and always surprises you in the best ways. It is exactly in this cloudy rainy paradise, that we witnessed the spectacle of a starry night and an array of shooting stars. We shrieked in joy on catching sight of what was just a short while ago an immutable point of light now racing towards the horizon, gasped in awe when our in-house soothsayer predicted the next shooting star with precision to seconds, cheered on for just one more shooting star so our friend could see his first-ever, counted numbers slower than Ross’ Mississipply countdown just so we could stay longer, but mostly watched in silence as we lay on the cool and dark basketball court stumped at the sight the heavens had denuded.
“Well when you look into infinity you realise that there are more important things than what people do all day” – Calvin & Hobbes
The itinerary of a trip is like a samosa’s crust- important; the trippers are like its filling– crucial (Don’t @ me).
This trip, however, was more than just following an itinerary. It was an incredible experience, curated with a whole lot of thought and a lot more love. It wasn’t about being tourists or being offbeat to stand out. It was about living in the moment right where we were, every single day and making memories to take back to the ‘Bay.
A ‘wise’ man says travel makes you realise how similar you are to different people and as a group, we were indeed a bunch of very different people. Professionally, we had our share of CAs, doctors, engineers and entrepreneurs, a builder, a baker, admin professionals and media wizards. We had a 24-year-old with the depth of a 40-year-old and a 35-year-old with the cumulative enthusiasm of half a dozen 25-year-olds. We had husbands and we had fathers; we had introverts and we had extroverts, we had alcohol connoisseurs and we had teetotallers, we had storytellers and we had listeners and then we had our captain. We spoke different languages and belonged to different places – but when we came together, we were indeed on our own trip.
We’ve played the fun-est games and huddled up in the warmest hugs. We’ve clicked a million pictures and slept in cramped beds. We’ve laughed at tumbling friends and nursed injured ones and for the other, we’ve fastened life jackets and tied shoelaces. We’ve cried confused and been comforted not knowing for ourselves that we needed it, we’ve also broken hotel furniture and walls guarding emotions, with the same ease. And where do I start about our conversations. From late into the wee hours of the night until we welcomed the bright north-eastern Sun, we’ve conversed. Through an earthquake, through sleepy yawns and (false) assurances of “kal bus mein so lenge” – we’ve chatted about our favourite sitcoms, college days, celebrities to swap lives with, what dimples are called in Khasi, insecurities, unresolved issues, life dilemmas, evidentiary benefits of sunscreen and whether cornflakes belong in milk.
I believe that the best memories of a trip are made in the moments not listed in the 2-page itinerary and I was horribly lucky to have made so many.
How often do you get to enter a hotel’s kitchen and help cook a humongous amount of Dal Bukhara to devour on a chilly night? How often do you get to witness a 24-carat pure narration of a love story that brought half the room to tears? How often have adorable dogs been sent as your personal bodyguards to ensure you reach safely to the other side of a dark bridge? How often do you get to hear an hour-long first-hand account of scandalous celebrity stories? How often do you trust someone so fully and comfortably within hours of meeting them? How often do you get to sneak into another couple’s villa tipsy and quietly bake a cake with bare minimum ingredients and equipment for a midnight birthday surprise of a friend you made 2 days back? How often do you meet 4 girls for 4 minutes and know you’re going to be just fine on this ‘solo’ trip? How often do you watch India’s tallest plunge waterfall in silence as the sky pays its respect to the legends of tragedy it bears testimony to? How often do you instinctively blurt out something and have it reciprocated in the sweetest way? How often do you conspire to ensure someone has a birthday celebration they wanted to hide but totally deserve? How often do you have one conversation with a person that tells you everything you need to know about them? How often do you wake up to your neighbour blessing you with the most beautiful music? How often do you feel like someone’s pet puppy? How often do you meet selfless people who prioritise their friends’ smiles over anything else? How often do you see someone channel their inner Mowgli (Bear Grylls?) to dangerously hop over rocks and clear out trash from a beautiful waterfall? How often do you enthusiastically wave and smile at locals while your bus drives past their homes and have them return your enthusiasm? How often are you certain that you will be friends with someone you spoke to on a trip just twice? How often do you suddenly abandon your fear of dogs and playfully run behind them? How often have you been woken up to someone dancing to ‘Swag se karenge sabka swagat’? How often do you just dangle out a bus window carefree while the sun kisses your face and wind plays with your hair? How often do you meet someone who trusts so strongly that you feel responsible for upholding his faith? How often do you play on swings and see-saws? How often do you randomly cheer for someone else’s college campus? How often do you meet someone who understands and shares your love for Luffy? How often do you find a red balloon in the hotel lobby? How often do you ask someone for their naada as a trip souvenir? How often do you see 20 people cry because they don’t want to part?
How often do you get to experience all of this in one week? 🙂
My bachelorette started as a solo trip and concluded with 22 new friends from across the country (human and furry); and this trip down memory lane deserves to be concluded with a quote that made no sense to me until three weeks back but strangely appeals to every grey cell today: “What is love, if not biased, irrational and absolutely loyal.” – S(a)ome ‘wise’ man 🙂