Venting: in which, as promised, we photograph the cement works

4 10 2015

Proud to proclaim our name

On the morning after our Big Walk, our calves were reminding us of just what we’d been up to. The two steps up to our room were agony, and getting on and off the bus was suddenly the hardest thing in the world.

We set off on the next stage of our journey; naturally our first stop was at the cement works. A glorious photo opportunity. Honestly, we were practically swooning with pleasure.




blue anomaly

Supporting structure

the grey heart

The grey heart

the grey and the green

the grey and the green

the colours, the colours

the colours, the colours

ready for take-off

ready for take-off

quilted walls

quilted walls

wall painting

Walk marks







moments of exposure

moments of exposure

sign on the door

At the sign

— words by Elizabeth
— pictures by Elizabeth & Paul
— more pictures in Assam & Nagaland album and Cherrapunjee album.

And did those feet: in which we undertake an epic walk, in order to see living bridges

2 10 2015

and did those feet

Monday 30th March, a day we’d been in training for. After a hearty breakfast of typically English things (meh) and typically Indian things (nom), we left at 8:30am for the Big Walk. Only three of us were feeling fit enough (or pretending to), so the other two went off for a gentle day of visiting caves and waterfalls. We were committed to seeing living root bridges over on the other side of the valley.

distant destination

See those teeny, tiny white houses in the distance there? That was our destination. And the only way to get there is on foot, down to the floor of the valley and back up the other side. There are steps all the way. 3,000 of them. And the only way out, is to do it all over again.

steps and steps and steps and steps

Crazy, right? But every single possession, every bag of cement, every log, has to be carried there. Every child does that journey to school and back each day.

carry the teak

That guy is carrying a piece of teak as big as he is (not poetic licence) – who knows how much it weighs. Still, he thought we were nuts to be doing the journey for fun.

We didn’t have to go too far to see the longest root bridge.

Us. On a living bridge.

It’s about 95 feet long and 150 years old. Just contemplate the forward planning that goes into this: planting the trees in the right places, tending them so that they thrive and then training the roots to form a usable bridge. It was mind blowing. Ongoing maintenance is also necessary to keep the bridge sound and the trees healthy.

Going down didn’t seem that bad, at first, using walking poles for stability. It was bloody hot, mind you, and humid, (well it is a jungle) but really beautiful.

worth the steps

Not all of the bridges are alive, some of them are just cables.

not roots, but cables

over deep green pools

it's blue down there

Just after we’d stopped going down and started going up, there was a little tea stall where we stopped for a drink. The tea was some of the best we’ve ever tasted, and not entirely due to the setting. It was a beautiful, clear amber colour and had an earthy, spicy taste, perhaps of cinnamon (or ginger or cloves, or something). One of those moments you never forget.

The next bridge was very short, but absolutely solid. It had rocks incorporated into the structure and felt just like walking along the path. That’s our lovely, serene guide, by the way (and then one of us).


On the way across

Finally. Finally. The objective of our walk was in sight, the world’s only (we’re told) double-decker root bridge. The two levels are side by side, one high, one low. Below should be a pool, where our guide promised we’d be able to dangle our tired feet and get a fish pedicure. Sadly, the water had been dammed so that maintenance work could be done, so we drank tea and chatted instead, after doing lots of posing on the bridge.

made it

layer cake

on the top deck

Lunch was at a guesthouse in the village and was absolutely delicious. Curried pumpkin, dal, cabbage and cauliflower, beautiful sticky rice.

And then…all the way back again. On the way down it was all about leg muscles and wobbly calves, but on the way back it was a massive cardio workout. Our guide’s advice was to count 30 steps, then pause, then count 30 steps until we reached the top. And if 30 was too many, just count 10 or 20. It was such sound advice, to break it down into chunks and never think beyond the current count. It stopped the task seeming insurmountable.

As we slogged slowly to the starting point, schoolchildren began heading back home, carrying radios, chatting, skipping downhill several steps at a time. We viewed them with envy. A young couple from Delhi, also walking back up, slowly caught up. As they overtook, she remarked “I’ve been talking with my guy. We really hope we have your stamina when we reach your age”. It was sweet to say so, but really, I don’t know how ancient she thought I was! A few moments later he passed me too with “kudos! It’s a strenuous hike”.

Exhausting as it was, the whole experience truly was worth every step. We can only hope they never find an easy way of shipping in tourists.

On the upper level

— words by Elizabeth
— pictures by Elizabeth & Paul
— more pictures in Assam & Nagaland album and Cherrapunjee album.

The wettest place on earth: where we get to Cherrapunjee and find no rain

30 09 2015

April's stone

Crossing the bleak, foreboding moors we arrive at the small town, village really, of Cherrapunjee. Unremarkable in almost every way, save possibly for a strange giant football shaped building, it has one thing that makes it unique: it is the wettest place on earth.

The recorded annual rainfall is the highest in any one place, averaging 11,859.4mm (1973-2012). London has an average of 615mm so perhaps it is time for the English to stop complaining.

A giant ball

Once you know about the meteorological significance of the town in is no surprise that the football shaped building is a weather station: the Meteorological Office of the Min of Earth Sciences.

The fame of the location inspired the journalist Binoo K. John to to travel here and record his journey, and what he found, in Under a Cloud. The sometimes fascinating book has many statistics and small everyday details of the area, people and food, told in a typically Indian style.

under a cloud

We continued on from the town to the less than inspiringly named ‘Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort’ Fortunately for us this had nothing that we associate with ‘resort’ but is rather a lovely, family-run, country hotel with simple but excellent food. At the heart of things was an octagonal dining hall with huge refectory tables. At the head of the dining room was the entrance to the kitchen, opposite the door outside. There were rooms behind each of the other walls, but we were staying in a newer block, detached from the main building. Some reviews deplore the new, less traditional building, but the whole thing remains small and our rooms were lovely and well-furnished.

The hotel website has lots of information about the hotel, area, the weather and the near-by living root bridges (which we were to visit the next day).

Although the hotel has a ‘no alcohol’ policy this only applies inside so we finished the day with a beer on the terrace and, finally, a view; a village below, and on the left, the plains of Bangladesh

Cherrapunjee sunset

Finally, a view

…and no rain all day.

— words by Paul
— pictures by Elizabeth & Paul
— more pictures in Assam & Nagaland album and Cherrapunjee album.

Are you trapped in a Bermuda Triangle? In which we drive all day, from Guwahati to Cherrapunjee

28 09 2015

Bermuda Triangle

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).

Room for a view

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.

Not to scale

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.

One of many

At the house

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.

how does HIV/Aids spread

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.

— words by Elizabeth
— pictures by Elizabeth & Paul
— more pictures in Assam & Nagaland album and Cherrapunjee album.

A house of ultra modern sarees: in which we take the long way back to the hotel

26 09 2015

a house of ultra modern sarees

Arriving back in Guwahati we walked back to the hotel through Paltan Market, which makes it sound quaint and crafty rather than the thriving, bustling commercial centre it is.

a minaret in blue

The area did still feel like a market, and Aunty had her own shop there.

Aunty's shop

concrete and blue

streets of Guwahati

neatly does it

concrete and tradition

There’s modern concrete and a traditional house, in that last one. And the concrete looks impressive in close-up.

The old, and the less so

— words by Elizabeth & Paul
— pictures by Elizabeth & Paul
— more pictures in
Assam & Nagaland album and Guwahati album.

Dis mah bucket: in which we have our own private ferry

24 09 2015

dis mah bucket

After the temple visit, we headed back to the Brahmaputra to catch a ferry to Peacock Island, the river’s smallest inhabited island.

Departure point

There were lots of in-country tourists doing the same thing. They were all dressed up in festival finery and crammed tightly into their boat. We, embarrassingly, had a boat of the same size for just the five of us and our two guides. The local tourists seemed to find this highly amusing.

speeding by

On the island is the seventeenth century Shiva temple of Umananda, where virgin girls were seated in the outer chamber and lots of prayers and offerings were happening in their presence.

Ring. Ring.

The inner sanctum was down steep, steep steps into the darkness of an underground chamber. We peeked, to see the carvings and Shiva lingam, but didn’t try to enter.

All the trimmings

There is also a small Hanuman temple on the island and, reputedly, fifty golden langurs. We only saw one of them. Nearby was a spectacular sunset view point, but the weather gods failed to supply a spectacular sunset. They did supply some excellent fresh coconut water before the boat back to town.

your rocky shrine

Beneath the Gods

— words by Elizabeth
— pictures by Elizabeth & Paul
— more pictures in Assam & Nagaland album and Guwahati album.

The bells, the bells: in which we visit a temple

22 09 2015

Tile work

Our first outing of the tour was to Kamakhya Mandir, way up in the hills above the city. It is, we were told, important for the worship of Shakti, and as the place where Sati’s yoni fell to earth when her body was cut into seventeen pieces by Shiva.

the bells, the bells

We were somewhat taken aback to find it is a temple where many animal sacrifices are made – goats, pigeons, buffalo. Some people release the animals instead of sacrificing them, so the entire compound is full of pigeons and baby goats. A slaughtered buffalo was carried past soon after we arrived; suddenly it was there, far too close, far too vivid.


all kinds of people

Because it was festival time there were many people queuing to enter the inner sanctum, so many people that they would clearly be waiting for several hours to get inside. We were not at all surprised to learn that one can pay to jump the queue. The inner sanctum is below ground, where there is a pool of water than turns red for three days each month as Sati menstruates. We could hear cries coming from inside as we walked past the grill.


The age of the central temple is uncertain, but it reminded us of the oldest places we’ve seen in Cambodia and Lao. It is more similar to the Meenakshi Temple in Madurai than other northern Indian temples; fully alive (even with the animal sacrifices) and a real part of people’s normal lives.


Red spot


We’ve grown accustomed to visiting Hindu temples and found it unsettling to be somewhere that looked very familiar but was completely not.

Standing proud

— words by Elizabeth
— pictures by Elizabeth & Paul
— more pictures in Assam & Nagaland album and Guwahati album.


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