Words and Photographs by Riju Ganguly
The decision to go on a road trip to Cherrapunji, often touted as the wettest place on the planet was perhaps one of the best decisions I have taken in a long time. My friend Akash and I decided to ride from Tezpur in Assam to Cherrapunji in Meghalaya on his newly acquired Honda CB-Hornet 160R.
Akash is a football coach by profession and a resident of Lokra, Tezpur. He jumped at the suggestion of accompanying me on this joy ride and decided to put his bike through its paces. Being an auto enthusiast and an ardent rider, I was naturally excited and wanted to get away from the daily hustle and bustle of the urban concrete jungle and escape from the mundane and routine life.
The plan was to ride uphill from Tezpur on Saturday, May 21 and reach Cherrapunji via Shillong on the same day covering a total distance of about 365 kilometers. We wanted to stay overnight in Cherrapunjee and explore the town the next morning before riding back to Shillong by late evening. We planned to spend the night at Shillong before finally riding back to Tezpur on Monday, on May 23.
The night before my departure from Kolkata, I carefully packed my bags with the bare essentials and riding gear which also included my riding gloves and helmet. I heard that it rains almost every day in Cherrapunji, so I decided to carry a raincoat with me along with an extra pair of trousers, and a few t-shirts.
An early morning flight from Kolkata on Friday, May 18 brought me to Guwahati. A four and half hour bus journey stretching 193 kilometres from Guwahati finally ferried me to Tezpur where I was to spend the night at Akash’s residence. We decided to start early to cover the distance before sundown.
We crossed the Brahmaputra and took the internal route to reach the NH6 highway which connected us from Guwahati all the way to Shillong. The four lane road was smooth and we tried to make up time since we had started our journey almost 2-3 hours behind our planned schedule. Fortunately we were able to do descent speeds of 70-80 kmph and quickly covered some ground.
We kept on putting the Honda CB-Hornet 160R through the paces and the 162 cc, single cylinder, air-cooled engine proved to be responsive and fun. I was literally touching my knees on every corner even with a pillion which was made possible due to the grippy tyres from MRF provided with the Hornet 160R. Moreover the front brakes had enough bite to give me the confidence which also helped me to push the machine hard.Although at high speeds, I did miss the presence of the sixth gear.
The weather was conducive for riding, however, during the afternoon when the sun was right on top of us, we really felt the heat because the tarmac heated quickly and I was profusely sweating inside my protective riding gear. But as soon we bid adieu to the plains and start riding uphill, the weather cooled off and we saw bit of cloud hovering over us.
The landscape around us changed with the plain land and lush green fields being placed by huge rainforest trees and mountains as we started ascending towards Shillong. It was already quite late in the afternoon and we decided to stop for lunch at a roadside Dhaba. There are plenty of small eateries along the way and serves delicious food.
Post lunch we switched position and continued on our journey. Honestly, I was enjoying the lush greenery around me seating on the pillion seat. After riding for almost 7 hours and covering about 233 Kilometers we reached Barapani.
Barapani is a water body also known as Umiam Lake located just before arriving in Shillong. This place was created in 1960s while the dam was being constructed. The blue lake water surrounded by trees and the mountains looked amazing.
By the time we reached Shillong, it was already quite late and Cherrapunji was another two and half hours ride from Shillong. Riding in the dark in the mountains was risky, and moreover, we were totally unaware of the route and its challenges. So we decided to halt in Shillong for the night and start early morning next day to our final destination. We found ourselves a place that night and rested our tired souls.
We woke up early next day and headed for Cherrapunji. I happily took the privilege of starting the motorcycle and riding to our final destination. Just as we crossed Shillong, the sky became a lot clearer, it felt like the dark clouds fought their battle with the blue sky and lost the war. It was something which we enjoyed as the temperature too was soothing and felt ideal for riding.
We also saw a group of motorcycle riders riding towards Cherrapunji on their big Royal Enfield cruisers. We waved and greeted each other as they sped ahead but we decided to take it easy to enjoy the beautiful scenic beauty. The mountains, valleys, water fall, everything seemed so beautiful and the chirping of many unique and unknown birds made the environment mesmerizing.
We stopped at a roadside tea stall and soaked in the beautiful surrounding while sipping on a cuppa of Assamese chai. The landscape has changed substantially since we left Shillong. The open mountains, crisscross roads and the emptiness felt quite thrilling. After almost two and half hours of that amazing ride we finally reached Cherrapunji, which is a small town on the lap of mountain.
As we entered the town we were quite surprised to find that the whole town looked deserted. Once we reached the city centre, we discovered that everyone had gone to the church to attend the customary Sunday mass.
We quickly checked into the hotel which we had booked earlier, unpacked our stuff and headed out in quest of the renowned root bridge of Cherrapunji. Luckily it did not take us long because the routes were marked and the big signages were really helpful.
The root bridge was unique and a sight to behold. The locals grew these bridges from Ficus elastica tree and each bridge takes about ten to fifteen years to fully grow and become strong and can support the weight of up to fifty adults. What is even more fascinating is that the bridges are still growing and gaining strength over this course of time.
After watching this wonderful creation by man and nature which left us overwhelmed, Cherrapunji had some more surprises in store for us in the form of the ‘seven sister water fall’. This was raw nature at its best; we saw all the seven individual waterfalls. I must mention here that it was quite a scary sight because you could actually watch the water fall from such great height and at the same time hears the sound of it crushing on those big boulders below. The clouds and the mountains surrounding the place together make it a mystical sight which you can be a part of.
We came back to our hotel late evening and sat near a bon fire which the hotel staffs had arranged for us. We were lucky that it did not rain that day which gave us an opportunity to enjoy the Cherrapunji town thoroughly. We shared our amazing experience as we ate our delicious last meal of the day in Cherrapunji.
It was a wonderful road trip which proved to be a very enriching experience for us. We had a wonderful time and returned to Lokra the following morning via the same route with loads of memories to cherish for the rest of our lives.
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