Day

Mandate - - Travel -

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.

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