badge

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

The Exotic East- Abode of the Clouds

 

Kamakhya Temple Gauhati

The daybreak in Kolkata was very action-packed. We had to board the Kanchenjunga Express from the Sealdah station at 6.30 AM so we were seen off at the station by our relatives with whom we had spent the best of times in exploring the 'city of joy'. We passed by the Mother Teresa's abode The House of Missionaries of Charity on the JC Bose Road where she was residing. A feeling of peace prevailed at this hour on an otherwise busy road during the day. The rush at the platform was chaotic as the announcements over the PA systems kept piercing through the din. At the precise time, the train rolled out of the platform.

Umananda or Peacock Island Gauhati

After about 20 minutes of crawling, it halted at Dakshineswar station. It brought back memories of a day trip we had taken to visit during our stay. It has twelve shrines dedicated to Lord Shiva and is an important landmark as Kali temple.  After a brief halt, the onward journey continued through the scenic Sunderbans delta interlaced with small streams, groves of coconut and bananas and miles of paddy cultivated green fields.  It passed through small towns of Bardhaman, Shantiniketan, New Farakka and Malda.  The train kept kissing the Bangladesh border and several vendors of smuggled goods kept pedalling their wares ranging from Chinese pens, watches, cameras and other electronic goods. The day wore on as we enjoyed our packed meal as the sunset in the west, rather early. The night passed away quietly and when I woke up, the train was entering Rangiya, as it drizzled. We had entered Assam and were just a little short of reaching our destination. The lush green and incessant rain had now taken over completely. It was very soothing. After a few minutes, the train reached Kamakhiya. The platform was barely visible in the sea of saffron-clad sadhus, who were perhaps returning after visiting the sacred temple of Sati, a famous Shakti peeth.  Finally, we were at Gauhati. I enquired about the Army Transit Mess and was informed that it was across the road. In the next half an hour we were comfortably settled in a room that overlooked the busy street. During the day we explored the beautiful town and walked along the Brahmaputra that resembles a sea! The far end of the other bank was not visible. The smallest island in the world with Umananda temple is located in the midst of the stream. The place has a famous Shiva temple and is also known for a big population of Golden Langurs.

Next morning we explored the Zoological garden that is home to several species of wildlife and rare birds. It is spread over a huge area and the fresh air and deep foliage of trees make it a perfect getaway. We were informed that the Kaziranga and Manas Sanctuaries were inaccessible due flooding so we could not visit these. The public transport comprising of rickshaws and buses is a cheap and easy way to go around. We headed for the Kamakhaya temple the next day. It has six beehive-shaped domes. It is known as the spot where the groin of Sati fell when her body that was being carried by Lord Shiva was pierced by the Sudarshan Chakra of Lord Vishnu. The temple is also known for rituals like black magic. The scenic panoramic views all around the temple are unforgettable.

We continued our onward march to explore the far east. The day we planned to leave for Shillong a strike was called crippling all modes of transport. Undeterred my wife managed to get the tickets for a lone bus heading for Shillong. The journey through the verdant hills was a visual delight with steep hills and valleys. It took five hours, almost two hours beyond the normal driving time. By 2 PM we were in Shillong. We were booked for our stay at the Army's Holiday Home for the next couple of days and were ensconced in the comfort within an hour. After relaxing for the rest of the day when we woke up it was a treat to see the plum trees laden with fruit that we had failed to notice on our arrival. There were ten cottages and around each was a garden of its own with all hues of flowers. As we started walking towards the town, we were accosted by a small group of boys selling a strange nut resembling a miniature coconut. It was a betel nut, we learnt later! We explored the city and the Lady Hydari Park which is extremely beautiful. 

Mawsami Caves Cheerapunji

On the final day of our stay, we headed for Cheerapunji, the place that experiences the highest rainfall. Often the clouds would enter the bus and make the road disappear ahead of us. Among the things that make the place famous are a number of waterfalls like Mawsami, Nohkalikai and more. From Mawisami waterfalls one can get a glimpse of the Bangladesh border town Sylhet. There are beautiful stalactite and stalagmite caves in Mawisami which have the far end in Bangladesh.  The novelty of enjoying the most pristine environment with frequent rains was almost unbelievable.  We had a brief halt at the Ramakrishna mission at Cheerapunji and also had a glimpse of Chera bazaar. The Khasi traditional art and fruits are visible in abundance here. The sight of a freshly butchered animal was, however, very grisly and is a common occurrence in these parts.


Ward Lake, Shillong

Our last stop was the Ward's Lake in the midst of Shillong and is endowed with cobbled walkways lush gardens and flower beds. A small wooden bridge on the pond is ideal to feed fish. The place is a popular spot on weekends and gets crowded. 

No trip is complete without flavouring the foods and local shopping centres. Iewduh and Police Bazar in Shillong are a shoppers paradise. Handwoven shawls, orange honey, bamboo products, black mushrooms and Khasi dresses are ideal picks besides pineapples, oranges and other fruits.

A trip to the abode of clouds 'Meghalaya' was not only fulfilling but making me aware of the beauty that lies even at the farthest corner of our country. The people are warm and friendly and the air is so fresh that the best perfumes will pale in its fragrance.

PS- This was the second post on my visit to East India a couple of years back. Pics kind courtesy Google

4 comments: