We realise that leaving Meghalaya is to come down to earth with a thud

Wisps of clouds like diaphanous chiffon streamers weave their way through the sky. In the green gorges below bales of white satin seem to cascade down the slopes. From time to time, the clouds break up into puffs of smoke as if offering incense to the mountain gods. And like white tulle, spray surrounds the seething waters. \

In contrast are the plains beyond. The river water, trapped in square plots of ground, has distanced itself from this impassioned display. We are in Meghalaya, the ‘abode of the clouds’. If ever a name was chosen to suit the landscape, it is this. One can stand for hours watching the clouds flirt with the clear blue sky, now almost within its amorous grasp, now gently disengaging.

“The last Indian village is in the valley. Beyond that is Bangladesh. From here you can see the bridge that traders use to go back and forth,” says our driver, the significance of our location making him snap out of his surliness.

A cylindrical stone, the 200 ft. high Mawtrop Rock, stands below, topped by a granite piece resembling a cherry. The legend connected with it is adorable. With its roots buried in the mists of tribal time, legend has it that this was the basket of a greedy and evil giant. The local people tricked him into gorging on a meal of sharp iron pieces and nails. He died but left his colossal basket behind. The tale, childlike in simplicity, appeals to us enormously.

Earlier, we had made the journey from Assam to Meghalaya, a rather arduous one with the National Highway being re-laid. Added to the physical distress was the mental distress of watching entire hillsides being hacked to accommodate the roads. We had crossed tiny shops selling local pickled berries and chillies in small glass bottles along with areca nut, water gourd, pineapple and guava along the route.

A pleasing silence

Driving down from Mawtrop Rock now, we see gorges with streams flowing through their lush green laps. There is a stillness in the air that bestows the gift of meditative silence. At the various sight-seeing spots, though there are quite a few tourists, for once there is little talk. Throughout our journey, we admire the convenient vantage points built on the hillsides for tourists.

We go into the Mawsmai caves, where we walk through the tunnels with much bending of our heads. But the stunning beauty of the stalactites and stalagmites, the gnarled stone and the cooling effect of the overhead streams makes the effort worthwhile.

The drive back to Cherrapunjee takes us though the Nohsngithiang or ‘Seven Sisters Falls’. “Though there are so many of them, one could add seven brothers as well,” quips the family.

At Cherrapunjee, we stand proudly below the board that proclaims it the rainiest place on earth (a moniker it has since yielded to neighbouring Mawsinram), and gives rainfall figures for the last few years. “But there is no rain today,’’ I exclaim, disappointed.

The family jerks me sharply back to reality by pointing out that we will be unable to see anything of the scenery in blinding rain. Now, with the sunlight glinting on the hills, we can make out the queen of the waterfalls, the Nohkalikai, executing her customary dance of gliding along the ground, gathering momentum along the steep rocks, and leaping straight down in an awesome display.

But we find the queen has many maids of honour. Slender and wraith-like, numerous waterfalls surround her, careful to keep their display to a bare minimum so that she alone can steal the scene.

Falling gently

Some time later, the driver pulls up at Elephant Falls. The waters come down in three frothing magnificent levels, their width and force hypnotic. “In Meghalaya, one is constantly in touch with nature. This is what makes the people so unstressed and calm. The average life expectancy is 90,” says our friend, a police officer in Shillong. He gives us interesting details of some tribal customs, especially how all the local, smaller chieftains come together once a year to pay homage to the head of the clans.

Details of the various tribes are displayed at the Don Bosco Museum at Shillong, where a sky-walk offers a panoramic view of Meghalaya’s capital.

From the windows of the craft headed home all we can see is a cotton wool carpet. Only in Meghalaya are the inhabitants blessed to forever reside in a cloud-kissed realm. Others like us, sadly, have to come down to earth.