Durga Puja, Root Bridges, and Ninjas : Meghalaya

Durga Puja, Root Bridges, and Ninjas : MegalayaWe didn’t hang around long in Guwahati – you can probably imagine after the welcome we received – and found a bus heading to Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya state. Despite the raging heat I had developed a sinus cold and was feeling not much better that a sack of shit, which was not improved by the annoying drunk man at the bus station who asked where we were going a million times, and if I was Angelo’s brother.

The bus arrived over an hour late, and as usual, there was a right kerfuffle (is that how you spell that word?) over the seats, despite the fact we all had tickets with numbers on them. I’ll never understand why Indians are never able to find their seats and just sit down. Our drunk mate had fallen asleep on the young woman next to him and had to be moved to the back. Once he sobered up a bit, he kicked up a massive stink about it that I had no hope of understanding.

The journey took hours to arrive in Shillong, and we were greeted with another couple of hours in traffic jams – not good, as I was on the verge of peeing my pants. When we finally arrived and I burst out the doors to find a toilet, I was a little confused at what I found: firstly no door, which was awkward, and secondly, not even a hole in the ground. Angelo got very good at standing guard for me while we were in India, as some Indian men are very opportunistic and far too curious when it comes to Western women.

It took hours of walking around to find a hotel that would take us. This ‘no foreigners’ business was getting a bit old. A musty place with a double-double room agreed, and we dumped our stuff and went to bed. Corrado and Marni, unfortunately, happened to pick the wrong bed, and were accompanied all night by some rather large bed bugs. Needless to say, we found another place for the following night – above a cinema, in fact, so sleeping wasn’t a guarantee here either.

The open air meat section...

The open air meat section…

"Delicious" grubs - so I was told

“Delicious” grubs – so I was told

Shillong itself doesn’t have much to offer other than a lookout peak (which closes at sunset, strangely enough) and the Bara Bazaar – the biggest bazaar in the North-Eastern States. However, we were there around the time of a festival so the streets were starting to fill out and there were plenty of police. We even saw some guys dressed like ninjas who, we were told, were some sort of special forces. Pretty appropriate considering we found out that there had been a petrol bomb thrown into a shop and a man killed, while we were there.

We took a sumo (a shared jeep) to a place in the hills called Cherrapunji in search of a local curiosity: natural root bridges. The hill people of the area, the Khasi, started training the roots of trees across rivers using small hollowed-out trunks, so that the roots would take ground on the other side. After time, and once many had grown together and interwoven, they would form strong, natural bridges across the river. Bridges that would continue to grow, and get stronger with time. Genius.

Looking out towards Bangladesh

Looking out towards Bangladesh

Sunset at the resort

Sunset at the resort

We were staying in a resort 15km out of the town, but in the heart of the ‘root-bridge’ area. Trying to maintain budget, we tried to see if we could find something to eat in the small cluster of houses close by, and being offered nothing other than pork and rice, we settled for tomatos and rice, bananas and chai. A local man who dropped in for chai, took a liking to us and decided to accompany us all the way to the view point. He was quiet, pensive, and I suspect, not all there in the head, but he made for a funny afternoon all the same. He couldn’t speak a word of English, and many people here don’t speak Hindi either, so we were at a loss to try and communicate with him too. We tried to ask what his name was, and he came out with “Rolling” – hillarious, but good enough for us. So off we went, with Rolling in tow.

We made it to the lookout point, which from what we could guess, looked out towards Bangladesh. There was a massive drop – we must’ve been on the side of a cliff effectively – and the ground panned out below us like a giant bowl. There was the roar of a waterfall close by, and many smaller ones jutted out from the giant rock walls on the other side of a valley. This area is actually the wettest area in the world, and it’s hot enough and humid enough for you to believe it. We took some photos, and headed back. Rolling spent the whole time grabbing our arms, speaking to us in Khasi, picking the sticky seeds off our clothing, and from what we could gather, proposing to Marni and me.

Family portraits

Family portraits

Rolling looking out for Angelo while he takes photos

Rolling looking out for Angelo while he takes photos

We stayed two nights in the small village of Nongriat, home to the famous ‘double-decker bridge’ and a reasonably large waterfall. For the second time on this trip (the first time was in Laos), Angelo almost killed himself when he slipped down a large wet rock, and I, stubborn as usual, ignored all protests to stay where I was and followed him down (despite the fact I was shitting myself). I kicked myself at the bottom when I remembered I’d have to climb back up as well.

Leaving the next morning to head back to Shillong, we were faced with the giant mission of actually getting out of the village. I failed to mention to you before that Nongriat is in fact connected to the road only by a grueling 1.5km of steep uphill steps, and a series of wire and root bridges. We were up and gone early before it got too hot, but that was unnecessary, as the humidity drenched us within mere minutes.

The intricate weaving of the roots

The intricate weaving of the roots

The king of all root bridges

The king of all root bridges

There was no accommodation in Shillong when we arrived so we made a decision to continue on to Guwahati again in the hopes the we’d have more chance in the bigger city. The traffic was mental due to it being the last day of the Durga Puja festival, and there were crowds on the sides of the road following floats with paper mache figures of the deity. They sung and danced and let off fireworks. The festival itself is a celebration of good over evil with Hindus celebrating Durga’s victory over the buffalo demon. But it also means they have an excuse to dance like crazy people to outrageously loud music behind trucks that carry a Durga figurine.

It was loud, and it was  mad. But I’m beginning to realise this is just India.

Madam Durga

Madam Durga

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