Thursday, November 24, 2011

Day 8 - Shillong - Cheerapunjee

We were quite excited today when we were told that a local Khasi guide would take us to visit a Shaman and the Khasi King of Smit. After a substantial breakfast, we set out eagerly towards Smit, accompanied by Ishuk (our Khasi guide).

However along the way, our guide informed us that today was Seng Kut Snem, the Khasi End-of-Year festival and hence the king (who incidentally is an MBBS doctor and also treats his people medically) would be busy with official activities and wouldn't be able to meet us.

We proceeded to brave traffic jams and at Thangsning we stopped to visit the Shaman. This Shaman turned out to be a herbalist, especially skilled at healing broken bones and Parkinsons disease. While we were there, one of his patients was a young man under treatment for 6 months. Regular doctors had given up on his multiple fracture and completely broken bones (broken apart, not just a fracture) He said he was in much better shape than when he originally visited this doctor.

It seems a couple of months back, German doctors came to visit him to find out how he had cured a case of Parkinsons in a patient whom they had resigned to be untreatable. The Khasi patient had come back to Smit and got himself treated by Dr. Bringstone Kharumnuid and gone back to Germany completely healed and astounding the German Doctors.

Dr Bringstone happily showed us some of the herbs that he used in treatments and I have to say, I have never seen such roots and leaves before in my life, even though my grandmother also used a lot of herbal remedies in treating all of us, when we were sick.

After visiting the doctor, we took a small detour and stopped at Laiplum view point. A steep vertical drop to the bottom where a couple of villages exist. Today was market day and these villagers were all headed to Smit to sell their produce and buy things they needed for the coming week, before market day came around again. We had vertigo just looking down from that height, but the hardy villagers just climbed up and down without even breaking into a sweat. A rope pulley system is in place for the heavier produce, which they can avail for a fee. The villagers did not want their pictures taken, but we will never forget how they climbed the almost 85degree vertical surface.

Although, the Khasi king was occupied, we did visit his palace. It is constructed from pine and other local wood, but similar in structure to the Naga chief palaces. Every bit of the palace (except the thatched covering of the roof) including the nails are made from wood. Every November, during the Nongkrem festival, the thatch on the kings palace is replaced within 24 hours while the virgins are dancing in the maidan just opposite the palace..

As we returned to Shillong, we were caught up in a festive procession and it was lovely to see the Khasi flags featuring a crowing cock and women dressed in their best jeinsengs.

We dropped our local guide back to her home and then headed towards Cheerapunjee. Although Shillong peak, Elephant Falls and the Sacred Forest were originally on our itinerary, since we had already seen them and had lost a lot of time to traffice jams, we decided to skip it and head straight to Cheerapunjee, the wettest place on earth until overtaken a few years ago by a neighbouring village.

We took a tea break at Soilyna Huts, which is currently being renovated and refurbished. Its a good clean place for washroom breaks and they also serve Khasi food. But we weren't yet hungry enough for lunch, so we headed on.

Our next stop was the wonderful view point at Duwan Sing Syem. If you are inclined you can trek down from the viewpoint, but we contented ourselves by clicking pictures from the road, right next to where the car was parked.

We finally arrived at Nohkalikai falls. The story of how the falls got their name is similar to a story from Greek mythology. Likai was a young Khasi woman very much in love with her husband and their daughter, but her husband died young. Under pressure from the rest of the village, she re-married, but the 2nd husband was jealous of Ka Likai's love for her daughter. One day, when she was away from the house, he killed the child and cooked her and left the food in the house. When Ka Likai came home she assumed her husband and daughter were at a neighbours place and since she was hungry, she went to the kitchen and served herself. The food was delicious and she enjoyed it. It was only later when she realised what she had eaten that she went mad with guilt and rage, that she flung herself from the falls, so the falls are called Noh Ka Likai (the place from where Likai leaped)
These falls are claimed to be the 4th highest in the world. They don't have the majesty of the Niagara or the power of some of the other falls that I have seen, but it is definitely poetry in motion. The viewing point, is quite a distance from the actual falls, so its difficult to truly appreciate their size and grandeur.

The dhabha next door offered us tasty and simple home style food. Rice, kaali dhal, salad, aloo mattar sabji and aloo chips for 60/- a plate. We ordered a side of fried brinjal and fried chicken. A simple meal, but very well cooked.

With this light replenishment we went to discover one of the major attractions of Meghalaya - caving! I'm mildly claustrophobic, so I was sure, I would not be entering the cave, but would duly wait at the entrance and exit to click the requisite pictures while Brajesh explored the insides. However Dipankar and Ruporabha convinced me that it wasn't too tight a squeeze, that it was electrically lit up inside and there was no danger of bats and so I started. At each point where I felt the passage was getting too tight, they would assure me that the exit was round the corner. And it was only this series of white lies that got me scrambling and crawling through Mawsmai cave. The few places, where I could stand up at full height were beautiful, but I'd rather enjoy the stalactites and stalagmites at places like the Luray caverns or Jeitta Grotto, where I can breathe easily through the entire experience.
 The Khasi monoliths on the way to Mawsmai are much more remarkable than the generic ones that we have seen around Meghalaya.The monoliths are installed in memory of someones valiant deeds, but do not record who the persoon or what the deeds were, so sadly, their history has been lost.
We also took a quick photo break at a 113 year old Presbyterian Church at Nongsawlia - the oldest in the North East. Rev Thomas Jones, the first Welsh Missionary arrived here on 22 June 1841. He established the community in 1846 and a chapel was built on this spot in 1898.
Our halt for the night was the Cheerapunjee guest house, run by Mr Ryan Davis and his wife. Mr Davis is a Tamilian married to a Khasi. He fell in love with this area when visiting his wifes family and a few years back, he decided to create a resort here, so others could appreciate the beauty. He can single handedly be credited for popularising the living root bridges to the world. He believes strongly in helping the local populace become self sufficient and giving them dignity of labour. All the staff is local. In the evening, we were entertained by a local group of youth with some excellent English, Hindi and Khasi music.

We finally managed to try some Khasi food too. Khasi food is similar to Mangalorean food in some respects with some unusual twists. More about that, when I write about the food.
After dinner, we turned in early, all excited about finally visiting the Living Root Bridges in the morning.

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