Thursday, January 5, 2012

My Trip to Shillong

A very happy new year everybody. It is amazing how fast yet another year has rolled by. Almost exactly a year ago, I was writing the post “Looking Back on 2010”. Today, I will not write the same thing for 2011. Rather, I will write a little about the lovely trip from which we returned not even a week ago. It was certainly a most wonderful experience. We went to a hill station almost three years later, and I do love the mountains. What is more, this time we went by air, and it was the first time for both ma and me.

We reached the airport at Dumdum by eight thirty. The entire process of checking in was over within forty minutes, and then we were upstairs in the waiting room for Gate 5. Baba was looking around the place, while ma and I found us seats. After we had settled down, baba called me, and showed me my life’s first aeroplane through a window. For some reason, I had this idea that planes are much larger than they really are. So what I saw looked more like a toy plane to me, and to be frank, I was  a bit disappointed. Our boarding time was ten thirty, and so we queued up and went out on the tarmac through the gate, and were asked to walk to our plane, an IndiGo Airbus A320 that was standing just beyond the building. Inside the plane, it was rather small, and the seats were cramp. But I had got a window seat, so that compensated for the slight discomfort with the leg space. I was quite relaxed then, but when the plane finally started to run along the runway, I got so hyperexcited about the jump, that I dug into my hands with my nails, drawing blood! Then the plane finally took off, and the blood momentarily drained from my brain, giving me a strange feeling of emptyheadednss. It took me almost five whole minutes to get back to normal, and though it does not sound like much, the feeling gave me a sense of unreality, and was not altogether a very comfortable sensation. Anyway, after that was gone, I was okay again, and other than the wonderful view of the azure sky, and another plane far away, it was a pretty uneventful ride, and in one hour we were in Guwahati. On the whole my first flight had been a success. We had had a clear sky and a splendid view of the ocean of clouds far below us which made me feel that I was in paradise, and a smooth ride, and what is more, our captain was a lady, so that is one thumbs up for my sex, because she did her job wonderfully, or so I felt.

The ride to Shillong was pleasant, and thankfully I did not have any problem during the ride, unlike many other times when I had suffered from constant dizziness. On the way we stopped for ten minutes at a place called Nongpo which is known for its pineapples. There I took a packet of freshly cut and spiced pineapples, and it was a great treat. We took almost six whole hours to reach the hotel though, while officially the ride should have taken just over three hours. There was a horrendous traffic jam outside the town, and it took us more than an hour to cover the last seven kilometers! The drivers did not seem to mind at all though, and like ours, most of them were busy listening to the radio in their cars. Afterwards our driver told us that this was what happened everyday, so no wander the drivers no longer seemed to notice the jams!

The hotel we checked into was called Hotel Broadway. It was a nice hotel, could also be called posh for its tariffs. I had found this hotel and booked it via the internet when our travel agent had been unable to find a suitable one. This was the first time that we had done internet booking, and it was a good choice. Though it was not really much colder than what it had been in Durgapur when we left, sitting for so long in the car had chilled us, and we were glad to find the heater on and hot running water to freshen up with. By the time the three of us were feeling a little refreshed it was already a quarter past seven. Our hotel was right in the heart of the town, in the area called Police Bazaar. We came out to look around the place a little, and I was surprised to find ourselves amidst a sea of humanity. Surprisingly, most of all the people in the bazaar area seemed to be young men and women in their early twenties. In fact in our entire trip I saw only a handful of school goers! The girls in Shillong seem to spend hours preening in front of the mirror every day. There was hardly anyone who did not look like a partygoer. The ‘in’ fashion at the moment seemed to be stiletto boots and overcoats on top of oh-so-skinny jeans, and hats and caps of all sizes and proportions, and a lot of red and yellow stilettos were also to be seen. The girls had converted their faces into makeup kits, and while some will certainly call them young beauties, to me they looked like artificial little dolls who were really too ashamed to show their real empty selves to anybody, and had taken refuge under a lot of flashy clothing. The market area was too crowded for our taste, so after a short exploration, we returned to the peace of our hotel, and by ten thirty, we had called it a day.

We had kept the next day for local sightseeing. We had already asked the hotel manager to arrange for a car for us. A car was waiting downstairs by the time we came down. Incidentally, Maruti cars are mostly used as taxis and hired cars in Shillong. Mostly the taxis are Maruti Alto, and some are WagonRs. The Alto is a very uncomfortable car, especially for tall people like me. I have huge feet too, and I was wearing walking shoes, so every time we had to come out of the car, they got stuck under the seats, and gave me a lot of trouble. But anyway, that did not deter me from enjoying myself. The first place we went to was called Elephant Falls. There were four falls there, and each exceeded the other in beauty. Thankfully the crowd was not too loud or ill mannered there, and it was a very pleasant visit. While coming out, we found a photography hut where one could put on traditional Khasi dresses and get one’s photo taken. Both ma and I dressed up there. The dress looks very complicated, but is not really so. But the jewelry they wear is very heavy. Ma asked them the price, and we were shocked to hear that each necklace was made of pure silver, and cost anything between ten and fifteen thousand rupees! The next place we visited was Shillong peak, also called Laitkor Peak, which had to be reached through a military cantonment. The view was wonderful there, and we got some excellent snaps there. It was afternoon already, and the next place we visited was called Lady Hydari Park, and that was inside the town once again. There was not much to see there, except a small zoo. There were bears, deer, birds, a leopard cat and a few species of apes. However, we found it very cruel, because the wild beasts had been kept in tiny cages, and hardly had any place to move about. No wonder one bear was sticking out its tongue and growling at all the spectators around its cage! Next on our agenda was a church. It was a beautiful place, and it was attached to a Loreto Girls’ School. It was built in traditional style, with tall windows with stained glass panes, and a huge painting of Our Lord. There were even two confessional boxes on two sides. The church had been decorated in the spirit of Christmas, and carols were being played in the background. It was a happy place. We wanted to visit a state museum next, but unfortunately it was closed for Christmas. The last place on our list was a lake called Ward’s Lake, but by the time we reached there, the driver told us to hurry up, telling us our time was up, though we had never been informed of exactly how much time we had. So after a quick look around the park we came away, determined to come another day, as the driver told us this was a ten minute walk from our hotel.

On the 25th, we went to Cherrapunjee, which was once called the wettest place on earth, though that has now shifted to Mawsynram. To be very frank, Cherrapunjee seemed just okay to me. The ride was long, almost two hours, and since I was determined not to go to sleep, I got a little bored after an hour and a half. There were several viewpoints in Cherrrapunjee, and while all of the places were clean and pleasant, none offered the piercing, haunting beauty that takes one’s breath away in certain areas in the mountains. At one such viewpoint, another group of Bongs had come, and one man was angrily shouting at his wife because she had slipped and fallen down once. Evidently his main complaint was that his wife was wearing a pair of jeans, and since he knew he would sound absurd if he directly said so, he was looking for excuses to blame the jeans! Some people really never seem to grow up. In one of the viewpoints my mother bought a jar of local honey, which was orange flavoured and tasted unlike anything I had ever tried. That was certainly a good investment. Also, cardamom is very cheap there, as it is a local product. We get a huge packet for just ten rupees. The driver took us to a cave a little way off, which we did not enter, since all three of us are claustrophobic, and there was already a huge crowd queuing up for a trip. Then we had seen about all that there was to see in Cherrapunjee, and after being repeatedly told that we would have seen nature in her best if we had come just after the monsoons, we were driven back to Shillong.

The two days that followed were spent lazing around in Shillong. One morning we went for a boating trip in the Ward’s Lake, which was indeed very close to the hotel. We took many photographs there. The next morning my mother went shopping, while my father and I took a long, long walk in the hills. We walked for almost two and a half hours. Some of the roads we took, and one particularly called the Captain Clifford Nongbrum Road was very steep, and while the ascent left me breathless, coming down was unbelievably fast.  What we discovered was that none of the tourist spots were too far from the hotels, and there was really no need to visit them by car. And in any case, baba and I both feel that one cannot really feel the beauty of any place unless one explores it on foot. It was on this walk that my father told me how Jim Corbett used to walk from Kaladhungi to Nainital in the wake of summer every year. Really, those men certainly were made of different stuff!

The next day we left Shillong, with many good memories, and a well deserved rest. The ride back to Guwahati was once again pretty uneventful, but I cannot really say, as I slept almost throughout the ride! That day we went to the Kamakshya temple. The road went through the city of Guwahati, and the traffic was very bad, which made baba rather irritable. But anyway, we reached the temple, and ma was pleased to be able to offer her prayers to the deity. We reached the airport by three thirty, though our flight was due at six thirty. This time we were sent through an aerobridge to the plane, and I let baba take the window seat. As luck would have it, our captain was once again a woman, a Sweety Sylvester from Kerala. There was some bad weather, so the plane jerked a few times, giving me that lightheaded feeling again, but anyway, we went back to Kolkata all in one piece, and I was already completely used to, and even a little bored of the experience of flying.

Overall it was a very pleasant trip, and since I do not know when we will be able to go on a vacation next, I consciously enjoyed this trip wholeheartedly, and I hope all my future trips are as pleasant as this one. 


Shilpi said...

A very happy New Year to you too, Pupu. And now to comment on your first blog-post for the year, which I’ve read more than once and chuckled over parts which come floating to my head, and wondered about some of the other parts…

1. I had been wondering every now and again whether it was your mum’s first air-trip as well.

2. That part of your whole experience at the airport was something that I could see. I had walked along the tarmac and got on an aeroplane when I was over 3 years old, and if I hadn’t thought about it so often I may have forgotten but I remember having the feeling that the plane itself was awfully big, and for the life of me I couldn’t see how that “thing” was supposed to take off into the air and stay in the air…but I can also imagine your disappointment in seeing them for the first time as a grown-up.
Digging your nails in and drawing blood! Jesus Christ. I can’t imagine doing the same! I had been wondering very sharply whether you’d like the feeling of the aeroplane taking off, and the sudden feeling of being suspended. I still love that moment. I don’t know what it is…but that’s the moment I still look forward to. Last year I had a flight and it was the same although inside the plane I had a weird sense of non-reality (unreality?). Here I was in a space with some, maybe thirty, absolute strangers (it was a very small plane and not too many seats were taken) suspended in the middle of clouds and some golden light…

3. I’m utterly glad that you didn’t have motion sickness…Hopefully you won’t have it again. I’ve been wondering about those pineapples…I would not have liked to be stuck on a drive for an hour with only 7 km to go.

4. I was wondering from the snaps what the hotel was called but didn’t guess at all. I have to say that I’m impressed that you booked the hotel room and made the arrangements.

5. That whole bit about the current fashion scene was funny. Stiletto heeled boots in yellow and red, eh?! And “oh-so-skinny jeans”?! I don’t have anything against using a bit of make-up, but I’ve felt for a long time that girls and women who use a pancake to layer their faces are just asinine.

6. The jewelry can be expensive. I know because an absolutely crazy and interesting friend bought silver jewelry in Rajasthan (and missed her train stop because she was dreaming of silver jewelry) and she told me the prices of some of the regular very thick (and heavy) anklets that she used to wear. In that particular pic with your mum, you actually look like a very serious boy.

Shilpi said...

(...yes, yes - an awfully long comment. I hacked off certain bits!)

7. The zoo bit made me sad. If I’d been the bear I would have done the same. Sulked all day long and stuck out my tongue. They say that zoos here are better but I simply can’t visit zoos. Maybe if they were the ones run by Durrell or maybe by a Lorenz... I may have. For being in a cage, I think it was rather polite behaviour on the bear’s part not to try and do anything more violent …

8. You could try that honey with regular (unsweetened) curd. Last year was the first time that I tried some Agave nectar (maybe I’ll try the orange blossoms one sometime…) with yogurt, and it tastes like something else…quite the food for the gods.

9. I didn’t know that Cherrapunjee is no longer the wettest place on earth! It’s interesting what you have to say about Cherrapunjee as compared to other mountain places…maybe in the monsoons you may have been hit by the raining beauty (now I think I sound like the driver…). Have never been there though myself. That description of yours about the idiot man who was yelling is hilarious although indeed the man himself sounds pathetic. I wish such people and some more were absent.

10. Heartily agree with the walking bit. I could almost see the steep road and now I wonder whether it’s steeper than one odd road here which winds around my favourite church around the corner, and another which goes up a hill. I was very curious about the cathedral you visited, and am glad you wrote about it. I had to laugh about your bit about your big feet…even though you must be exaggerating about their large-ness.…in any case if they’re big they go with your height. It would have been not-nice if you had dainty, tiny feet with your height.

11. Aerobridge! That’s what it’s called. Thank you. I keep calling it an aisle-bridge and then something else equally weird…Strange co-incidence indeed about the female pilots. In all these years I don’t remember ever having a female pilot although I remember seeing a couple in an airport once, and since I have the horrible habit of staring at pilots – I’d stared and fantasized for a bit of what an interesting job they must have. I was in Class V when I heard and read about the first Indian female pilot. Her first name was Durba (maybe Das?)…and I was fascinated, and she wore glasses…but I knew quite early on that I’d never be able to be a pilot so that was that.

This was very interesting to read…the rest another day.
Take care.

Tanmoy said...

Dear Pupu

That was a lovely first post. While I have always wanted to visit Assam but till date never managed to do so. Glad that you enjoyed so much.

I was just writing to Suvroda, that it is brilliant that you found Shillong clean. The last time I visited an Indian hill station was Darjeeling which used to be very dirty then. Don’t they have horses in Shillong?

I am sure the first air travel must be exciting. I don’t have memories of my first air travel because my Ma tells me, I was just 15 days old when I travelled from Kolkata to Bagdogra to visit my uncle and aunt. These days when I travel by air, I feel terribly bored. Despite lot of inflight entertainment, food and drink, somehow I find it awful being tied to a chair in the air.

Wishing you a very happy new year ahead. Looking forward to reading more from you.

Tanmoy da