The road is dark and smooth. It has too many turnings but once we ascended the winding road through the pine canopies, from Shillong, there is a drastic change in the landmark. From pine groves it spreads into an endless erratic plateau broken only by the great rift a great distance to the west.
Autumn in its prime, gave the sky an azure look. The plateau was daubed tawny except for ardent potato leaves in their second cropping. The sun was exceptionally high up and had begun its scorching task but the cool breeze kept flapping the young woman’s face, stopping our vehicle. She repeatedly kept pointing her right forefinger on the other wrist.
‘Quarter to nine’, the driver shouted reading her action. ‘Khublei’, she replied. Her coy smile drifted away in haze just as it came. She adjusted her headgear, pulled her brown, soil smudged- working apron back to her neck, squatted over a potato plant, pulled out a pile of heap and continued her monotonous task.
The beautiful spotted stones only add to the farmer’s woe. Most of the places were barren except for few well trimmed potato farms and some terrace cultivated rice fields by the crystalline brook. As the wind chimes among the ripening grains they careened towards windward way and dance to the rhythm of autumn breeze. It was pleasing to watch.
There were no buildings but some poorly build cabins and brick houses along the road. The plateau is not flat as one would imagine but rather intercepted by knolls and dark groove at intervals. The road was still a winding one but had narrowed. The excitement didn't wan; every turn- there was something new in the features of the land.
We halted by a serene tarn. From there we could hear the sloshing sound echoed from nearby cascades. They flowed down the rift into the gorges and drained down further to the vast plains.‘I’ve been here- rainy season’, the driver reminded me, pointing to the seven sister’s fall– a name taken from the seven states of North-East. Glinting water flowed down and splashed on the rocks white as cotton, bearing a small testimony of what it would look like when it rained incessantly for days. The driver told me that water sloshed down from all sides during the rainy season.
The road which had narrowed further into a one-way road lay in ruins with cracked, popped up pebbles strewn on the road. Down the road and deep down the steep cliff, we saw villages clinging to the slope.
Cherapunji, once the capitals of the North-East India during the British colonial rule had little to boast. It is a sleepy town, left to the elderly and toddlers to look after with roosters roaming freely on this tuft. The town had an uninhabited look; most of the elderly folks off to the nearby coal mines or brick making and children out of town for their studies. Most of the buildings exhibit an antique charm, long passed on by the British. It is a home to one of the oldest Church in North East. Made of chiseled stones, it has an old world charm. The door is colossal, made of red wood planks. The rusted church spire looked grand and lovely against the blue sky.
It would be an understatement to just say that Christian missionaries influenced their lifestyle. The arrival of Christianity marked the dawn of a completely new era. People here slowly embraced Christianity along with many western cultures. Efforts were first made by William Carey in 1813 to evangelize the Khasis. But the greatest and most important impact was made by a Welshman named Thomas Jones when he arrived in Cherapunji on 22nd June 1841. Today he is known as the ‘father of Khasi literature’ for introducing written Khasi by borrowing the Roman alphabet. Christianity has far more reaching effects than just religion. It extends to culture and in the fields of farming and education.
I landed in Cherapunji on a cloudless day. Though it was once the rainiest place and the second rainiest place now; on a dry day the heat can be misleading. The place looked so sparse that it could as well be one of the driest places. Though Cherapunji received an average rainfall of 11,777 millimetres the ground doesn’t hold enough water to last a few months. All the water drained down from the plateau to the overlooking plains of Bangladesh. The plateau is at an elevation of 1370 m above the sea level. But this sharp and contrasting topography is also the cause for the incessant rainfall. The monsoon wind travelled through the plains of Bangladesh and it is met abruptly by the Khasi Hills. Deep gorges served as the channel for the moisture laden clouds to converge. This quick ascend of the wind from the plains to the plateau quickened the process of condensing clouds into rain water.
Cherapunji was originally known as Sohra. The government of Meghalaya has renamed back to its original name. Cherapunji is translated as, ‘land of oranges’ which again is misleading. There are not too many trees left now, forget oranges. The continuous process of soil erosion has left Cherapunji dry and barren. Their economy to a great extend is dependent on coal mines. The brooks were lovely and most striking. They flowed over long stretches of smooth brown rocks. At dusk, some puffs of gray clouds drifted in from western horizon and cast shadows over the town. Warm golden sunbeams penetrating through the clouds lit up the meadow. The sunset was lovely to behold.
The sun sank down beneath the crimson horizon, and it sparked golden color over the western sky. The clouds were moving high and low. The breeze was blowing cool. No wonder, it would rain again on this heaven but we’ve hit the road- homeward with bag full of golden memories.