My contract with my company finished in January. I had accepted an offer from another company, and I informed them that I would not be able to join immediately, as I wanted to take some time off and travel a bit. I then informed my husband and requested him to take a few weeks off from work. "Few weeks?" He was curious. "Let's go see the North-East", I said.
I have always been fascinated by the northeastern parts of India. So much that my laptop wallpaper is either lakes or peaks from the northeast. Understandably, my husband gave in after cajoling and gently coercing a bit. We decided that we would be less of tourists and more of travellers. We planned that we would visit at least two northeastern states completely.
Meghalaya & Sikkim - Our Destination
We zeroed in on Meghalaya and Sikkim, finally. My initially hesitant husband was now equally exultant; and we started to chalk out the itinerary.
Meghalaya means "abode of clouds" in Sanskrit. It literally feels like walking on clouds in Meghalaya. Earlier, Meghalaya was a part of Assam. In 1992, the three districts of Khasi, Garo and Jaintia hills merged to form Meghalaya. Meghalaya has always followed a matrilineal system and the youngest daughter inherits the wealth and is also the designated care-taker for her parents. This made me happy, as I have always been against patriarchy.
We flew to Guwahati from Bangalore. From the Guwahati Airport, we took a taxi to reach Shillong. Words cannot describe the ethereal beauty of the mesmerising state of Meghalaya. No amount of reading could prepare me for this experience of my lifetime. It is one thing to read up on a place obsessively, down to every little detail; and then it is another thing altogether to experience the place in person.
Day 1: Guwahati – Shillong
We arrived in Shillong, checked into the hotel and had light refreshments. It was already late in the evening by now, so we decided to head out to check the market area of Shillong. We walked around Bara Bazar.
Being the biggest market in North India, it was extremely filthy and smelly. We were very interested and excited to try the native food. We took suggestions from the locals and headed to Laitumkrah Bazaar, where we tried Khasi food from the Jadoh stalls. We headed back to the hotel and slept the travel exhaustion away.
Day 2: Lake Umaim, Nehru Park
The placid Lake Umaim was a perfect area to unwind, after all the travelling we had done the previous day. We decided to hire a paddle boat to go around the lake. The cool breeze and the clear green waters made my heart sing many songs.
We had packed little sandwiches and fruits for lunch. We picnicked and ate our lunch at the Nehru botanical garden. It was a perfect setting for impromptu picnic. We lolled around on the grass and read our respective books, whilst downing cups of masala chai.
Evening slowly creeped in and we left the park to have dinner. We tried out Jainita cuisine, a native cuisine of Meghalaya. Their food is minimally spiced and is usually steamed. My husband had Doh Kha Sdieh, a fried fish variety and he absolutely loved it. I had Doh shiar ngiong, and I can't really tell I enjoyed the dish. I had mixed feelings about it. We headed to the hotel and called it a day.
Day 3: Shillong Peak, Elephant Falls, Sweet Falls
We took a cab to Upper Shillong to see the hills rolling with long pine trees. First, we stopped at the Shillong Peak. This is at an elevation of 1965 metres above the sea level. It offered a panoramic view of Shillong and we could spot a tiny bit of Lake Umaim too!
Next we travelled towards the Elephant Falls. At the entrance of the falls, the traditional Khasi outfits were rented out to take pictures. I gave in and now I have a picture of me in Khasi clothes beaming widely. Elephant Falls is a three-step falls. It was my worst dream come true, as I am scared of walking up or down the stairs. I decided to let go and when I reached the last step of this magnificent falls, I knew that I would have kicked myself if I did not get to the bottom of the falls.
Sweet Falls is known as the most beautiful and most dangerous waterfall in Shillong. We took a few pictures and headed to the hotel.
Day 4: Drama, Art Gallery, Police bazar
We decided to catch a local Khasi drama. It was in an unfamiliar language, but we enjoyed the theatrics amusedly. Then, we headed to an art gallery to check out the North-Eastern culture and influence in art.
The diversity and amalgamation of works of the artists from all over the North East left us astounded. The art is simplicity at its best. We bought a few handicraft items and headed to Police Bazar. After walking around a bit, we had dinner and left to the hotel room.
Day 5: Sohra
I was thrilled that we were going to the ‘wettest place on the earth'. Sohra is a beautiful place, with the most amazing landscape and waterfalls. Noh Kalikai Falls is the most famous waterfall in this region. Sohra has beautiful limestone caves like Mawmluh Cave (which is one of the longest caves in India) and Mawsmai Cave.
Day 6: Mawlynnong Village, Living Root Bridge
Mawlynnong is declared as the cleanest village in Asia. The locals here are responsible folk who have taken it upon themselves to make a difference. They have adopted sustainable living methods.
Living Root bridges in Cherrapunji are made from the roots of a tree. The roots are powerful and help the locals cross many rivers. These bridges gain strength over time and some of the roots are said to be at least 500 years old!
We decided to leave out Garo Hills, as it is in another part of the state and takes up a huge chunk of time to get there. We headed to Guwahati to catch a flight to the Bagdogra Airport, which is the closest airport to Sikkim. Gangtok is 5 hours drive from Bagdogra airport. The drive was a treat, presenting with first views of river Teesta, and the mountains.
Destination 2 – Sikkim. Day 1: Lachen
After reaching Gangtok, we had lunch and headed to Lachen, which is about 3 hours away from Gangtok. Lachen is a town in North Sikkim, which is well known for Lachung Monastery. It is a lovely town with little population of Bhutia tribes and Tibetans. It is the gateway to Tso Lhamu lake.
We also took a tour of the apple orchards here. Trust me, when I say that apples grown here taste way different and delicious than the ones we get in Bangalore. We got back to the hotel, after having a delicious dinner of momos.
Day 2: Gurudongmar Lake, And Lachung
Gurudongmar is one of the highest lakes in the world, at an altitude of 17,800 feet above the sea level. However, only Indian nationals are permitted here. It is considered a holy lake for Buddhists and Sikhs. The prayer flags flying high against the turquoise of the lake is a sight I will never forget.
We drove to Lachung to lodge for the night. Covered in blooming rhododendrons, Lachung is one of the most visited tourist spots in Sikkim.
Day 3: Yumthang Valley, Zero Point
Yumthang Valley is an hour's drive from Lachung. Perched at an elevation of 11,800 feet above the sea level, it is also know as Sikkim Valley of Flowers. Yumthang Valley is home to Shingba Rhododendron, which is the state flower.
Apparently, it flowers from late February to mid June. We were bummed that we missed it, but were showered with other pleasantries like the hot springs. The hot springs here are said to be curative in nature. Since we were not carrying a change of clothes, we decided to just sprinkle a little water on the head. (just Indian things!)
Zero Point offers amazing views of the Himalayas. It has a stream and patches of snow. The travel to this place made us extremely tired and exhausted. So, I was not in a proper state of mind to enjoy this place. I didn't want to spoil the party for my husband, so I sat in the car while he quickly rented snow boots and went for a short trek with our guide.
PC: Joginder Pathak
Day 4: Tsongo Lake, Nathula Pass, Baba Mandir
I had seen many, many pictures of Lake Tsongo, but believe me when I say that I was not prepared for the magnificence that was in front of my eyes. This beautiful, oval-shaped lake is 12,400 feet above the sea level. Also known as Lake Changu by the locals, it is a gorgeous glacial lake. We took a yak ride around the lake. There are many tiny shops selling Maggi and Wai Wai. I was suddenly hungry after seeing them and had a bowl of soupy Maggi. I was in heaven.
We were already informed of having to obtain permit to visit the Nathula Pass and so we got one from Gangtok. It is a splendid view with gorge of snow-dressed mountain on one side and 10,000 feet narrow the other side. It was a long walk in face-numbing cold. When we saw a board that said "Indian Army Welcomes You To Nathula 14420 FT", we did a small dance.
Baba Mandir is a shrine that is dedicated to Baba Harbhajan Singh, who was martyred near the Nathula Pass. Many of the Indian army personnel posted around the Nathula Pass believe that his spirit safeguards every soldier that lives in the unfavourable and brusque terrain of the Eastern Himalayas. It is also believed that Baba grants what the devotees wish for. I silently offered a prayer and we returned to Gangtok.
Day 5: Pelling
We had an early start, and after having breakfast, we headed towards Pelling. We first went to Khecheopalri Lake. Nestled in the mountains and enveloped by forests, this lake is revered by Buddhists and Hindus alike. With colourful prayer flags heralding the way, the lake is quiet and offers a nice time for introspection. It is believed that the lake is Lord Shiva's footprint and that he meditates in one of the caves here.
We heard mixed reviews about the Kanchenjunga Falls. So, we decided to skip it, and pursue the Rimbi Waterfalls instead. On the way back, we stopped at New Helipad to have a glimpse of the majestic Kanchenjunga at sunset. Boy oh boy, was it a sight to behold! We clicked a lot of photos and headed back to Gangtok.
Day 6: Rabdentse Palace Ruins, Pemayangtse Monastery
Rabdentse was the capital of Sikkim before it got invaded by Nepal in 1814. The Nepal Army destroyed it, so currently there are only ruins of the palace. This is the place where the Chogyal of Sikkim got married to his 3 wives. Even amidst the ruins, we could see the king's bedroom, assembly, guard's room, etc. Very recently, Rabadentse was restored by the ASI.
After clicking pictures of the beautiful valley from the vantage point of the palace ruins, we left to Pemayangtse monastery. It is located pretty close to Rabdentse ruins. There are 108 monks that belong to the Bhutia family living here. This is a 300-year-old structure and is divided into three parts. We felt a sense of calm wash over us at the monastery.
Day 7: Gangtok To Bagdogra
We felt like having an adventure and booked a chopper ride from Gangtok to Bagdogra. It cost us INR 3500 per head. We caught a flight from Bagdogra to Bangalore, with a stopover at Kolkata.
I wish time stood still during this vacation, for I did not want it to end at all. With a heavy, yet heart full of memories, we reached home and shared the photos with friends and family.