Once upon a time…
Shahwar Hussain and his riding buddies were lured by the natural beauty of Meghalaya and the wildlife of Assam… and so the story continued…
Words and pics :Shahwar Hussain
The helmet can be a furnace at times and years of riding long distances have resulted in a fried brain. And a fried brain results in short term amnesia (my theory!). Otherwise, how come I do not remember riding in North East India in pouring rain in the middle of November? I should ride a little less during the summers to save my brain from getting fried beyond repair…
A few friends had come down from different parts of the country to ride through some parts of the North East with me…and now the rain was threatening to play a spoilsport. But the skies held in the evening and we quickly made our way to Kamakhya Temple at Guwahati in Assam, arguably the most famous tantric temple in India, built in 1565 by the Koch Dynasty. According to legends, the Goddess had cursed the Royal family and banned them from offering Puja in the temple. Over the centuries the ban held and no one from the royal family or their descendants has ever been to the temple. The curse was strong and fearful enough to even compel the late Maharani Gayatri Devi, who also belonged to the Koch Dynasty, to look the other way while crossing the Kamakhya area!
The temple holds interest even for people who are not really into temples – the history, the structure, the tantric rites, the teeming pilgrims and the hill top location with an awesome view of the Brahmaputra River with its white sands.
A young priest approached us with an offer to take us inside the temple for prayers. He was rather persistent and convinced two of the guys to go in for prayers…Prayers for the road…that was good…but for me, I have a direct hotline with God.
Later as we sat on the bank and sipped tea, we saw the flaming red sun go down on the other side of the hills. The setting sun set the skies on fire and the reflection on the river was simply breathtaking…and in the middle of that mighty river, we saw one lonely boat ferrying its occupants to the other side. Twilight is a beautiful but also the loneliest time of the day.
Early the next day, we rode out for Meghalaya. We started early to avoid those coal laden, black smoke bleaching land locomotives that we call trucks. There is massive road construction work going on in Meghalaya and the rain made certain sections a sea of mud.
We were on our way to the village of Mawlynnlong, a distance of around 180 kms from Guwahati. We gave Shillong a miss on our way up. The village is about 86 kms from Shillong and it is said to be the cleanest village in Asia. The friendly villagers take the tag of “Cleanest Village..” rather seriously and we could see little children casually picking up dry fallen leaves. There are dustbins all around and for the life of me, I wouldn’t be seen littering here.
We stayed at a lovely bamboo tree house. It was not Tarzan’s tree house exactly, but I was happy. Half of the house is in the tree and there is a lovely machan built completely on the tree.
Henry, the care taker, made some lovely chicken dish and we sat in the machan with a dim overhead bulb for company…The food was simply great and I am sure we ate some insects and flies too which were hovering overhead near the bulb…They sure added to the taste and no one complained! And all along we heard the river roaring down below…
We went the village the next day. There was a platform high up on a tree which they called “Sky View”. We paid a fee of Rs 10 to go up the bamboo pathway up to the platform to see the wide planes of Bangladesh.
The most amazing thing that we saw was the root bridge. No one knows the exact age of the bridge but from the accounts of the old villagers, it seems to be about 150 years old. Since the river gets very wild in the monsoon, the villagers had to take a very long detour to get to the other side. The villagers enclosed the young roots of a tree inside some bamboos and divert them to the other side of the river. Over the years, the roots grew through the bamboos and reached the other side and took roots there. Now it is a solid structure. There are quite a few living root bridges like this in the area and there is a double decker bridge too…A fantastic example of using nature for benefit without destroying it.
We left Mawlynnlong for Shillong before noon. The road till Shillong is an absolute dream…good enough for a Superbike. We passed through two gorges where the mist came rolling in twice and enveloped us completely. We stopped at a place called Mylliem and at a small shop with white lace curtains run by a mother and daughter duo. The shop has no name but they make the best beef balls in the whole wide world that simply melts in your mouth. My fellow riders almost cleaned out the entire shop and had only beef balls for dinner!!
Just before we reached Shillong, we spotted two lovely war era Willys Jeeps in mint condition. Shillong is a total Jeep country and many of them are WWII Willys and Ford jeeps. Most of them still have the original engines and in very good condition but they are becoming too expensive to run these days.
At Shillong we went for a small jamming session and the next day we left for Narthiang, about 55 kms from Shillong. Narthiang has a UNESCO Heritage site and the place is littered with monoliths of all size and shape but the inscription does not say why all these monoliths were placed there. Back in Shillong, we took a tour of Bara Bazar in the afternoon. It is an amazing place and a photographer can exhaust any number of memory cards shooting the sights of this bazaar. This market is for traditional stuffs that people in Meghalaya have been using for ages-A ‘must visit’ kind of place.
Another night of jamming which went on till the small hours of the night! As expected, no one woke up early the next morning, but since we had to travel only about 120 kms and on relatively good roads,it was ok.
We started out at noon and slowly rode down towards the plains of Assam. Our next destination was Kaziranga National Park but since it was a long way off, we decided to spend the night at the Brahmaputra Jungle Resort. The resort is about 20 km out of Guwahati city and way off the highway. Even though the swimming pool was inviting, the November chill kept everyone out of it.
Kaziranga was 200 kilometers away and we reached there after about five and half hours of easy riding. The main entrance into the Kaziranga Park is at Kohora and there are number of hotels in the area – from the budget hotels to some really high end ones. But Kohora is also the most crowded entry gate to the park and we wanted to avoid the crowd.
Another 20 kms beyond Kohora, we turned left at a place called Bokahat and carried on for about 3 kms till the roads ended and the embankment began. Across the embankment is an eco camp run by Mr Khanjan Nath. The camp is set on a riverbed. During the summers, the Dhansiri River floods the area and the camp shuts down. It reopens only in the winters. The bamboo houses are built on stilts in the traditional style of the Mising tribe of Assam.
This place, miles away from the town, has no other construction near it as far as the eye can see, and is surrounded by the brilliant yellow of mustard plants in November and December. The generator runs till about 11pm and when the engine dies down, the silence becomes overpowering. Sitting by the bonfire with a million stars above is a fantastic feeling.
Early next morning amidst heavy fog, we went for an elephant safari at the Agaratoli range on the eastern part of the Park. This range is relatively quiet and empty and the animal sightings are good. The elephant safari lasts for about 2 hours and takes the visitors where the jeeps simply wouldn’t go!!
The resident king of the park, the rhino, seemed very huge up close. We also saw a huge number of barking deer, herds of elephants, wild hogs, and a huge number of birds – some migratory and some local ones.
We were wondering why all the mahouts kept on staring at us, till we realised that we were dressed in bright motorcycling jackets and boots. Bright cloths should not be worn during a jungle safari. We were sticking out like a sore thumb.
The jeep safari after breakfast was longer and also interesting. In the evening, we visited a tea factory to see for ourselves the complex method of tea manufacturing.
At night we enjoyed the silence, bonfire and the stars above…
And I realised why I didn’t remember about the November rain…because there weren’t any before. At least I didn’t face any when I toured in November in previous years.
Good…it is not amnesia after all!…or is it?
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