Un-happy Journey

There are trips that fill one with wonder, pleasure, warmth and a lifetime of happy memories, then there are trips that leave you wanting more; and then there are trips that trip you in such a way that you are left weary, wary and irritated. This post is about such a trip.

After a long spell of backbreaking and anxiety-filled work, we managed to steal a few days. When images of Dawki surfaced on our computer screen, arrangements were made quickly. This was not our first foray into the region, we had gone to Shillong some 15 years back when my dear friends Jhilam and Rajarshida (and young Rajlekha) were there. We stayed also with Jaya’s aunt. With friends and relatives we had spent a fantastic week. We had gone to several places including Cherapunji and covered all the touristy places like Ward’s Lake, Shillong Hill and Elephant falls. (The photographs below are scans of very old prints, thus the vintage feeling!)

The Old Club
Elephant Falls
Seven Sisters in Summer
The cave before it had lights installed

Of course, even that wasn’t my first visit to Shillong. I had gone there in 1996 with my parents, accompanying a recon tour by an engineering company. They had the contract to erect electricity posts in Arunachal Pradesh and on our way back we had visited a very relaxed and lovely Shillong. Bada Pani (as Umium Lake is known) had only a single building next to it.

You can imagine my reaction when we reached the Orchid Resort crossing a few other hotels through a thorough-fare that was firmly dammed.

Orchid Resort is lovely. We had reached early and we had to wait for our room. 

We utilized the time by exploring the beautiful campus and soaking in the glimpses of the lake that the fenced boundaries allowed.

We came back to the building right on time as there was a sudden violent storm which shook the building (the video is here). Glass was everywhere and a lovely rainy flavour surrounded the restaurant.

Once the squall was over we were given our room. The room was nice and gave us an adequate view of the lake.

But electricity seemed unavailable as the strong winds had toppled trees and severed wires.

That started a six hour long crusade. There was no heated water, and the staff were unwilling to provide any. After coaxing them for an hour they gave us half a bucket of lukewarmish water. There was no apology. But things got a little upsetting once daylight began to disappear. 

None of the lights in our room were working and we could hear the generator. After visiting the reception four or five times we managed to convince them that the single light that is supposed to be powered by the intermittently functioning backup was not functioning at all. Around five in the evening a not-so-gentle-man appeared and confirmed that the emergency connection was indeed dysfunctional, but he failed to solve the problem. We went out and found calm in a brilliant sunset.

On our way back to the room, I managed to catch another man slipping out of another room with different tools in an open bag, and begged him to come to our room. Turning out to be the electrician, he fixed the light. It was 7 in the evening. In another 10 minutes power was restored and our room was back to its normal brightness. But we were too tired and had an early dinner and waited for our onward journey.

The morning was calm and cloudy. We were treated to a decent breakfast buffet and had a round of fond farewells. Discontent was not to leave us that easily for we could not find the car. We had to wait for almost 20 minutes outside the resort with our luggage. Then Arif arrived and three men got off the car with cartoonish alacrity. Apparently the shops around were all closed – this was Good Friday – and Arif had to drive far to get breakfast. The resort had their own arrangements for the drivers, but the distant shops offered cheaper nourishment. As our driver was of the kinder spirit, he had taken three others with him.

We were travelling to Dawki. Seeing large numbers of people in their occasional finery going to decorated churches lifted our spirits. After a couple of hours we entered a zone of dense fog and some rain (there is a small video here); it was quite lovely. The thrill of low visibility was quite something. But when Arif started to stop to ask for directions, we were somewhat concerned. Signboards were too fogged away to be understood and mobile network was not working. After a while we came out of the mist, and Google confidently told us we were in the right path.

The path took us to a large river with a small tributary. There was a huge queue of cars and large numbers of local people gathered at the banks. Arif, without the slightest hint of disappointment, announced that this was Dawki. The water was completely muddy and there were country boats with non-touristy people zigzagging the river.

We went to the point where tourists converge, and saw hundreds of boats kept secured on land.

Information came to us through animated swarms of tourists. Unseasonal rain and mudslides had left Dawki muddy. To make matters worse a 12 wheeler truck had fallen in the river and the country boats were looking for bodies. It is this that drew the locals.

Our next visit was Mawlynnong, supposedly the cleanest village in Asia. We passed the Borhill waterfall, which was quite magnificent.

A part of the village was restricted, which of course was a good thing. Tourists can be insufferable. The open part was expectedly clean, though how one can measures cleanliness in a competitive scale is still a mystery to me.

Our query regarding the root bridge entertained people; it wasn’t there. We were told that we had to drive back a bit. Arif had not been full of information and in that unseasonable heat we became somewhat agitated as he was not to be found near the car. Phones were not working. After about 10 minutes of frantic patience, he turned up. Apparently he had gone for lunch, never thinking that we may also be hungry. I didn’t mind him eating, but this was the first time in a life full of travel we had a driver who did not think of his passengers.

He took us to another place and pointed vaguely to a road and we were off to another adventure.

Completely unsure about the path we walked a bit and then found a lone boy who assured us we were on our way. We reached a few stairs going into the woods and that took us to a crossroad. One was going up, the other down. Despite Jaya’s observations I decided to walk up. After a hundred or so steep steps we reached a few shops. We were told that the bridge was downwards, exactly as Jaya had predicted. Of course, the bridge would be above the stream, which would be down in the gorge!

We went down. I was already tired, and I was hungry (I get rather angry when I am hungry). And then one man with a table stopped us. Apparently we had to buy tickets, 40/- per head, to go to the bridge. I didn’t mind. But then he asked for 20/- per camera. Then we had a brief exchange of words. He said he would not allow us, I said it was extortion.

After six minutes I realized I was too tired, and after coming this far we would not really not go the bridge. So we gave in after suggesting they do something about mobile cameras too. Then we were triply irritated as the root bridge was full of plastic-throwing, selfie-taking and spit-firing people. The preservation that was promised by the ticketeer was nowhere to be seen.

We came back after clicking a few shots, our mood ruined by boisterous babble. Coming back to the car all sweaty and disappointed, we were told no lunch is available anywhere nearby. About 30 minutes away there was a restaurant – which was fully full. We moved on. Finally in the foggy zone we decided that enough is enough and bought biscuits and chips. That was lunch.

We reached Shillong after dark and with the help of Google map found Pinewood Hotel. Our room was decent (if you love hotel rooms, here is a link). It was in the back, the rooms in the main building were uncannily expensive.

The restaurant was nice, and had pretty decent desserts. The next day we had allotted for a bit of rest. However, Police Bazar was anything but restful. Easter Saturday was full with extreme crowds braving the extreme heat.

We decided to go to Dylan’s Café for lunch. Once again Google map was employed. The café was nice, but they were not prepped for lunch even at 2 pm. So we focused on cakes and coffee.

By the time we had finished, pasta was being served. What we could not understand why we weren’t asked to wait for a bit!

With all such experiences plaguing us, we decided to stay put in our hotel the rest of the day, spending time taking photographs of the picturesque building and the surroundings.

And next morning we decided to be lazy and to drive back directly to the airport. On our way we had pristine views of Umium, which placated us a bit.

And thus ended the tour that was supposed to be a peaceful rest, but ended as one full of disappointment and dismay.

Earlier Posts:

1. Old Lucknow   2. Colonial Lucknow   3. Going Downhill - Versey to Dentam
4. Going to Garhwal  5. The Walkers  6. Palamau  7. Rishikesh
8. Kolkata Kolkata  9. The Roar of the Clouds - Santiniketan 
10. Of Pests and Men - Uttarey  11. Where Hikers Fear to Tread - Rudranath
12. Old Times  13. History in Ruins - Pushpagiri
14. Once There was a Heaven  15. Serenity  
16. Pilgrim's Progress - Kedarnath 17. Unfinished - Gaumukh 18. Ghatshila 
19. Nothing Important  20. Manu's Alaya - Manali  21. Santiniketan  
22. Little Lhasa - Dharamshala  23. From Varuna to Assi - Varanasi  
24. Tunganath  25. Transitory Blues  26. Gurudongmar  27. The Beginning  
28. Yumesamdong  29. Bangali in Bangkok  30. Mukutmanipur  
31. Rasvanti  32. The Old Town and the Sea   33. Budapest 
34. The Last Post of 2019 35. Travel Travails 36. Cluj-Napoça 
37. Presenting the Past  38. Far From the Urban Crowd
39. Silent Night Sleepless Night 40. Norwich 41. Photo Essay - The Road
42. Photo Story - The Days of the Goddess 43. Badrinath 44. Monumental Mistakes
45. Odyssey Now 46. To the Mountains 47. Keylong 48. Where Moon River is Born 49. Kaza 50. Through the Valley of Spiti 51. Kalpa 52. Sarahan