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.