We left Guwahati early because it’s a looooong drive to Cherrapunjee. It being Sunday, there was very little traffic and most of the shops and businesses were closed. In particular all the wine shops were closed, which was a pain as we wanted to buy beer en route to our bar-free hotel. We drove along a highway where one side of the carriageway is in Assam and the other side in Meghalaya. The differential duty levels make the state divide clear – all the diesel sales and wine shops (closed) are on the Meghalaya side.
After a little more than an hour we stopped for tea and toilets, an important feature of our trip. There was a stall there selling pickles; pretty much every imaginable vegetable, as well as some tiny fish, was for sale in pickled form. Then it was back on the bus heading towards Shillong, with a brief stop for a five minute boat ride at a leisure park. The lake had a hydroelectric dam and seemed to be man-made. It wasn’t terribly picturesque, but the ride was cooling and frequent stops are the only way to make long bus rides tolerable.
We didn’t stop in Shillong itself, though it looked really busy and interesting as we drove through (stay tuned for another day when we did visit). We did stop at the official viewpoint, which is on airforce land, meaning we had to stop at a checkpoint and surrender our passports for the duration of the visit. The Bermuda Triangle poster was at the checkpoint.
Sadly, there was no view at the viewpoint, just fog. There was fruit, though. We all had delicious pineapple, some plain, some with chilli and salt (my favourite). I also tried a sour plum-like fruit (meh) and something resembling a black mulberry (tasty).
Next stop was Mauphlong Sacred Forest. We picked up a picnic lunch from the house of the local guide and ate it on blankets in the park adjacent to the forest. All picnic lunches should be like that one – rice topped with veg, dal in a pressure cooker to spoon over the rice, mint chutney, apples, and water.
The local guide caught up with us on his motorbike. He was a cool dude of 25, of the Khasi tribe to whom the forest is sacred, and a Christian. He has a girlfriend and hopes to marry at around 29 or 30, after he has saved lots of money and furthered himself, in order to impress the girl and her family. His is a matrilineal society.
The guide’s father founded and runs an organisation that protects the forest and educates the local people. Nothing may be taken out of the forest, not even a leaf. To do so will bring misfortune to whoever breaks the rule. Of course we obeyed, but there were fallen leaves in gorgeous colours that I coveted.
Around the forest there are standing stones, laid flat for the female principle and upright for male. Inside the forest we saw ancient altars on a special, wish-granting hill. Everything in the forest was quiet, peaceful, timeless and soothed the spirits. I’ve no idea how large an area it covers, but to spend a whole day – or more – walking it would have been lovely.
Onward. At a random town where we paused for yet another tea/pee stop, I photographed one of the public information signs – this one about how HIV/AIDS is spread. There were many of them about throughout our trip, and we were told by our guide that this is an effect of the government money available in the area for education. He indicated that there is a lack of coherence and quality control over the way these funds are used.
The last 15km of the journey took us through a dismal, barren landscape scarred by small-scale coal mining. That’s small-scale in the done by hand by a couple of guys sense. At one point we passed an apparently derelict cement works that presented a marvellous photo opportunity to those of us interest in photographing derelict industrial architecture. As it was getting late, we didn’t stop, but – spoiler alert – we did request a stop there on the way back and were delighted that one of our fellow travellers was just as eager.