The previous day ended with my spine in spasms from the rollercoaster bus ride we had from Guwahati. But, I wasn’t going to let that get in the way of all the adventure activities Kingfisher Blue Mile had in store for us. Post an early breakfast, we checked out from our rooms and set out for the camp site. As planned, we were supposed to go to Dawki, a small town located in Jaintia Hills district on the India-Bangladesh border. But, due to unexpected rains, we shifted base to Cafe Cherrapunjee, a resort with tent cottages spread across a vast area. This place, formerly a drive-in cafeteria for travellers driving up to Cherrapunjee, thrives on the old forgotten days of Shillong. As a first-timer, I was mesmerised by the ‘Dak Bungalow’ which is now converted into a restaurant right at the heart of the property with a curvy stone path leading up to the highway. A picture we all drew as children and I, all of sudden, found myself standing in it.
The first activity of the day—trekking—was supposed to start at a point about 10 minutes away from the cafe. We were a team of five, and for some unknown reason, we decided to explore the terrain ourselves without the expert guidance of Gary Jarman Lamare, the captain of the trek. We went ahead, ready for Everest, as it were, in our trekking gear, and broke into selfie mode every few steps. I was the slowest of the lot and soon a woman caught up to me from behind. She was dressed in a traditional Jainsem, with a baby around her waist and a toddler walking alongside her. It was difficult not to notice that she too walked the same path we did, but devoid of any fancy trekking gear. We walked down hill and reached a river bank and decided to rest there until it was time to head back to the cafe for lunch.
There was something about sitting on a rock in the middle of a stream looking up at the mountains surrounding us. If we spoke loud enough we could hear ourselves echo through the hills, and if we remained silent, we could hear the gurgling water and the occasional bleating of sheep. That, coupled with the lack of signal on our cell phones, gave us an overwhelming feeling of nothingness and solitude.
I kept myself out of the afternoon activity of zip lining, owing to my fear of heights. Although some say that’s the only way to fight it, I decided otherwise, at least that day. I loitered around local shops selling shawls and scarves. Most of these shops are run by women, both old and young, and the men usually stay away. You could call it matriarchal, but for me, it was pleasantly forward. They sell handicrafts as well as tea, coffee, eggs and Maggi off the same counter. I asked one of the shopkeepers the price of a bag and fully aware of the rituals of bargaining, she quoted a high price. I bargained, she cringed, I pouted and requested, she made it seem like she was cutting down on her profits just for me, and then, I finally bought it. I sat down with a plate of Maggi and chai with her and in the end, both were happy.
By 4.30pm, we were all back to Cafe Cherrapunjee, planning a campfire for the night. As beautiful and as mesmerising as the hills are during the day, the nights are equally scary. You are left with little to do except shiver in the jaw- clenching cold and long for the company of an old friend you left behind in life. The only logical thing one could do at that point was to sit around the fire and keep warm. A local rock band was hired to keep us entertained, while we sat around the fire, beer cans in hand. This is my last night in the hills, I thought, a weekend trip that seemed to have lasted only a couple of hours. The next morning I’d be flying back to Mumbai, taking back with me nothing more than memories, a few friends and perhaps a promise to return soon. ‘ Gungunane ki wajah tum ho...,’ a friend broke out after a couple of drinks and the rest of us joined in, a poignant end to a great trip.