Sohra aka Cherrapunjee is the one of the most tourist infested destinations in Northeast. Still there are serene locations to hole up for a restorative session with nature. Leave the tourist circuit and venture into the numerous non-descript villages to learn how man can live in harmony with nature. There are many buses (Rs.120, 4 hours)leaving from ISBT, Guwahati. You can also get your tickets from Paltan Bazar and a connecting bus. Frequent Sumos (Rs.150, 3 hours) leave from Khanapara as and when ten people board the vehicle. For an accommodation close to ISBT or Khanapara, Hotel Bhargav (Tel: 0361 2236721, 9207292525, Ishan Arcade, Lokhra Chariali, dbl 460-1400) with decent rooms will be handy, though food at the rooftop restaurant is not recommended.
After reaching Shillong we took the yellow coloured Mahindra Maxi Cab (Rs.70, 2 hrs) from Bara Bazar, from the upper floor at the confusing Taxi/Bus station. The roads to Sohra is one of the best- tarmac and scenic views. You would want to stop at many vantage points where prominent mountains intermixed with valleys and gorges, made dramatic by plunging waterfalls. Hidden from the green cover of bamboos and tropical forest, there are turquoise blue rivers which can be crossed by cable-trussed wobbling wire bridges. There are thousands of varieties of butterflies of various colours and sizes-not found in Nat Geo or Discovery- in this area and spiders who cast web for these fluttering delicate creatures. Some of the butterflies have amusing camouflaged colours when their wings are closed. To experience the magical allure of a Khasi village, very close to the living root bridges, waterfalls and rivers, Nongriat Rest House (John 9615737690 dbl 500, 125 per meal) is an excellent option which has four basic rooms with private bathrooms and squat toilet is ideal for trekkers not seeking creature comforts. This was a well run place by Mary, evident from the comments in the guest book, who passed away one month back. You can have food at family run Double Decker Cooling Corner (Rs.60 for a meal). They are building a basic dormitory style home stay called Serene- contact enterprising Byron (9436739655) / Violet (9615252655) which will be ready by January 2013.
We met Bansan, who runs Halari Restaurant and a four room lodge ( 9615093898, dbl 900 with TV/Geyser, spacious spartan rooms, excellent food of the restaurant upstairs) near Police Station in Sohra. After exchanging pleasantries we chalked out a plan for our stay at Nongriat. Two years back I had been to fishing with him to one of the unspoiled river beds in the vicinity. Bansan is of great help for tourists as well as off beat travellers and very active with community services. We hired a Taxi (Rs 300) which took us through Mowshawmok, a sharp right turn to Tyrna and the dead end at Um-Sophie which is more than 15 km from Halari Restaurant. Trekked down for more than an hour to reach Nongriat. Ahead of the double decker, we found the rest house in the midst of a bucolic village. We couldn't spot the caretaker but the villagers around helped us. Switch off your gadgets and step outside to watch the sky glistening with stars and moonlight Listen to the stream nearby with the background of crickets chirping. Ah! We finally feel at home!!
Living Root Bridges:
The living root bridges is a top most sight of its kind in the world- a perfect combination of civil engineering, art, persistent human effort and above all, natural wonder. Serpentine roots of ficus elastica trees are trained from one side of the river to the other side by the Khasi Villagers over a period of twenty years. The boulders on both sides hold these natural bridges with a strong foundation and these trees are believed to be growing even today. Both the trail and the destination in this hike are enthusing for biologists.
There are five root bridges you can trek in a day from Um-Sophie. (1) A small root bridge at Nongriat before the Double Decker (2) Umshiang Double Decker (3) Mawsaw Root Bridge after Double Decker (4) Long root bridge at Ritymmen (5) The hidden Wide root at Saitynduh. The first three bridges are one the same trail which can be covered in three hours round trip. Start at Um-Sophie trek down through the endless concrete steps and you reach Nongthymmai village. Go left and turn right after a while to reach the first wire bridge. After a steep hike you would reach the twin wire bridges. Watch out for sharp edges while you balance yourself holding rusting cables and place your foot carefully as there is enough gap between the cables to slip your foot while getting amused at the turquoise blue waters below. Another hike up and you'll see the small but strong root bridge. Another 10min walk and you will find the famous double Decker, two bridges one above the other under leafy canopy. The upper one must have been built when lower deck was immersed in water during heavy rains. Twenty minutes walk from double Decker, crossing another wire bridge you'll find Mawsaw root bridge which continues like a staircase to the forest. At Nongthymmai there is a diversion to the long root bridge which is hardly two minutes away, which is in a good shape and size, frequently used by the villagers.
If you have extra time visit the not so popular root bridge at Saitynduh. There is a trail with no concrete steps turning rightwards just before the long root bridge which leads to this unused root bridge. There is a another very interesting trekking trail to this root bridge starting from Um-Sophie: not recommended for an average tourist. When you reach Um-Sophie from Tyrna, turn right to a set of concrete steps going in the middle of houses. Ask the villagers for Saitynduh or the best landmark we can remember is a house with windows painted green at this village with concrete stepped labyrinths. This trail will take two hours round trip- no concrete steps and no wide path but meanders through a few small waterfalls, rocky streams, thick bushes-gives you the feeling of an Indiana Jones expedition. Hiring a guide is a good idea, if you are not good with trekking in wild as there is no open space on this trail to figure out where you are. You will reach a dead-end when you cross the widest root bridge in this area and there is no village further. In four days of stay, we explored these five root bridges and double checked the trails that we found though we got lost in the jungle finding new trails.
Slow Food Festival
At Tyrna church premises, a one day food fair was organized by the locals. Interestingly themed as Slow Food Festival on the base of a campaign that started in Italy against fast food. Food, plates, spoons, tumblers, stalls-all of them were from nature. The most traditional food at its best form was served at ten different stalls-jackfruit seed, rice cooked with tapioca, banana shoot and bamboo shoot,frogs, spider chutney, fish fry. As the name suggests everything was slow at this food festival-no big crowds, no queues and very few outsiders. After relishing a few delicacies, we trekked back to Nongriat village, another exhaustive day which called for a day's rest.
Nongriat village has electricity and running water better than cities. Water keeps running through channeled pipes as there are no taps. Only Aircel has mobile network in the village. Most of the manufactured products are transported by head load and becomes costly. Though we were cursing the 3000+ concrete steps it's a big blessing for locals, especially during monsoons. Villagers cast mosquito net to catch a seasonal insect called Kber just before Diwali which is used as a fishing bait and eaten by villagers. We learned from Bansan that there is another similar insect called world cup insect which shows up every four years. The villagers seem to have one thing in abundance-'enough'!
https://sites.google.com/site/barefootsohra/ Khublei Shibun!