A TREK TO THE END OF THE MOUNTAIN

The scene was straight out of the Jungle Book, a dense forest teeming with insects and other living beings, humidity threatening to dehydrate you slowly but surely. And thus began our adventure trek to Nongriat village, roughly 70 km from Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya (literally the abode of clouds). In short we were gearing to play Mowgli without Bagheera to help us out.

April had just begun and we hit the road from Shillong at around 9.30 a.m. The scenic beauty was simply breathtaking. With the monsoon literally knocking on the door, the clouds had descended to the earth, and at places an all embracing mist enveloped us in ‘mellow fruitfulness’, to paraphrase the poet John Keats. At Cherrapunji, the erstwhile “wettest” place on earth, the clouds shadow the Noakhali waterfalls and the green valley is turned white. We made a pit stop at the Orange Roots where we had sumptuous dosas before resuming our journey. This was essential as Nongriat village had little to offer in terms of refreshments.

We reached Tyrna at around 1 p.m., parked our vehicles and took the first step down. A middle aged lady was dragging herself up from the stairs, huffing and puffing. She could not make it to even the first stop – the Single Living Root Bridge. We looked at each other, realising that the trek would not be easy. There are some 2000 stairs with a steep slope. A bunch of young college students right ahead of us were panting for breath and clutching their knees. Yes, the trek would not be easy, but we took a deep breath and soldiered on. Finally the stairs were over and we reached the entry point for the single root bridge. But our aim was to trek further to Rainbow Waterfalls before sunset. The youngsters ahead of us had called it a day, but we continued towards our destination. To our delight we realised that the worst was over. We crossed beautiful ponds with crystal clear blue mineral water and milky waterfalls; enshrouded by the green tropical forests and greyish sky, it was a surreal experience. We crossed a suspended rope bridge that swayed with the wind and then a single root bridge to arrive at our destination- Nongriat, in the East Khasi hills of Meghalaya. Here we saw a double decker living Root Bridge; an example of commendable bio-engineering of the local people where they condition aerial roots of big trees through their centuries old method of intertwining and weaving them together.

We put our luggage in the small community guest house in the village – essentially a bed, a clean toilet, four walls and a roof. It was already 3 p.m. and we debated whether we should continue our trek to Rainbow Falls as the sun sets early in this part of the world. We decided to go ahead sans our backpacks but this stretch proved to be testing for two members of our team with stone pathways wreaking havoc in the calf muscles and humidity getting the better of us. Leaving the two behind, we marched on, till we reached the waterfalls. The view was spectacular – perhaps the best I had ever seen. The waterfall and the natural pond formed by giant monoliths were calling for a dip after the exhausting trek. It took all our rock climbing skills to get down to it. But it was worth the effort many times over. Much to our delight and before we headed back after half an hour of frolicking, our two stragglers had also fetched up, joining in the fun. We refilled our by now empty bottles with the best mineral water in the world right at the source! Trekking back was easier and on the way we grabbed some dry wood for the bonfire. At the guest house we opened our wine, put some melodious music on our portable speaker and sat around the water fire as power continued to elude the village during our stay.

If you plan to trek to Nongriat, do carry some energy bars and water bottles. You can get it in the shops in villages but it can be expensive. Also, as part of the conservation effort, do bring back all the plastic. The pristine beauty of the place must be preserved. You can continue the adventure further by doing Zip Lining on your way back to Shillong. Enjoy the trek. Besides adventure, there is always the possibility of romance under the sky.

Ms Ritu Sharma is an explorer who likes to wear multiple hats. Military wife, journalist, conflict analysis student and bike enthusiast.

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