1 Day

Mandate - - Travel -

Trav­el­ling to Shil­long is fairly easy—most air­lines fly to Guwahati from all met­ros and it’s just a three-four hour drive by car, or if one is on one of the city buses, like we were, it could well take up to five hours. The nar­row up­hill spi­ral road that con­nects Guwahati to Shil­long is naked on one side and has a per­pen­dic­u­lar moun­tain slope on the other. We were in­formed by our driver, in Hinglish with a heavy As­samese ac­cent that there was al­ways an im­pend­ing dan­ger of a land­slide, and more so be­cause of the road ex­ten­sion work. Adding to the adventure was the fact that Shil­long was experiencing heavy rains, which ob­vi­ously in­creases the chances of a land­slide three­fold. I popped an Avomin, hop­ing that it would help me conk off and pre­vent me from hav­ing mo­tion sick­ness, but his anec­dotes about how he nearly got crushed in a land­slide the pre­vi­ous night did lit­tle to sooth my nerves.

Guwahati has many similarities with Ben­gal. The mo­ment I stepped out of the air­port and onto the road, I re­alised that ev­ery­thing around me—the road signs, the hoard­ings, the sign boards, even the bumper stick­ers on rick­shaws and buses—were writ­ten in Bangla. Well, al­most. The As­samese script is quite sim­i­lar to Ben­gali, ex­cept for a few char­ac­ters, which is why any­one who is flu­ent in Bangla can un­der­stand and read As­samese with a lit­tle bit of ef­fort.

The look of the city too was sim­i­lar to any sec­ond tier city in Ben­gal. The flat-topped houses flanked by ba­nana and co­conut trees in their backyard within a brick bound­ary wall, looked all too familiar. The city was deck­ing up for Durga Puja, some­thing I didn’t know was so popular in this re­gion. I asked our driver al­most rhetor­i­cally, ‘ Ekhane Durga Pujo hoy?’ (You cel­e­brate Durga Puja here?). Em­phatic that he wouldn’t have to re­tort to Hinglish any­more, he gushed out, ‘ Haan, khub boro kore.’ (Yes, with a lot of pomp and show too). Se­cretly en­joy­ing the con­ver­sa­tion in my mother tongue and seiz­ing the op­por­tu­nity to squeeze out a bit more in­for­ma­tion, I probed him, ‘How far is Cher­ra­pun­jee’s root bridge from Shil­long?’ It turned out it was about an­other three hours from where we’d be put up in Shil­long, I looked at Ei­jaz, my ef­fi­cient guide and friend from King­fisher Blue Mile, hop­ing he’d give us a green sig­nal to go there, but he shook his head dis­ap­prov­ingly, ‘Our sched­ule is tight and we have many ac­tiv­i­ties lined up.’ Oh well, there’s al­ways next time.

As we kept mov­ing for­ward, I no­ticed a vis­i­ble change in the land­scape as we were ex­it­ing As­sam and en­ter­ing Megha­laya. The oh- so-familiar houses made way for thatched, mostly as­bestos-roofed cot­tages, and the fa­mil­iar­ity of As­samese was re­placed by the lul­laby-like Khasi, and not to for­get a dras­tic drop in the tem­per­a­ture. The chill in the air made us pine for some hot tea and we de­cided to halt at Nong­poh, the half­way mark be­tween Guwahati and Shil­long.

By this time, it was pretty dark, and the road, sans any street light, was il­lu­mi­nated only by the light from ap­proach­ing ve­hi­cles. In this part of the world, there’s no con­cept of nightlife, and the only shops you’ll see up and run­ning are tiny road­side eater­ies which are noth­ing short of bliss for fa­tigued trav­ellers like us. We gorged on some Maggi too, and that’s some­thing that was go­ing to be a sta­ple for the next cou­ple of days. Once back in the bus, I de­cided to sleep, but our driver had other plans—he wanted some mu­sic to keep him awake while driv­ing and he played songs that sounded like Honey Singh, the As­samese ver­sion. Deep down, we’re all just the same, I guess.

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