Around The Houses / by David Johnstone

Boomeranging from Shillong to Tura

Friday 16th to Tuesday 20th March 2018

As is often the way travelling to remoter places without a set agenda - something I was keen to avoid - things don’t follow a linear route. 

I said my goodbyes to the boys at the Laiaiker and took a ‘Sumo’ (basically a jeep crammed with 11 people) all the way back to Shillong. There’s no road connecting Tura and the Garo Hills to the west, my next destination, from the Khasi Hills in the centre so I had to travel back north once again.

I’d booked a more expensive room this time - the Orange Homestay outside of town - and it was a whole lot more comfortable, nice restaurant, a kettle, good cable tv and excellent WiFi, essential for writing this blog. The SIM card I have is hopeless in some areas. Anyway, I digress. 

I spent the next few days here catching up on things and doing the obligatory washing, reading, researching and diary/blog musings. Travel isn’t always exotic, one has to sometimes settle in one place in order to move on to the next with things ticked off. 

Little Italy

Little Italy

I gave a bad press to Shillong previously. I actually liked the town this time around - an old British Hill station - and, despite the traffic jams (not quite Dhaka levels) and the sprawl, it was picturesque in parts, situated on several hills with lots of brightly coloured houses, largely litter-free and fresh air too.

I hired a car for the Sunday and Monday, perusing the ‘highlights’ of the area around Shillong though I wasn’t particularly bowled over by most of them but it was good to get out and about, explore and book my journey ahead.  

Taking the piss...

Taking the piss...

NOT-SO HAPPY BIRTHDAY

My young, short-arsed Khasi driver Edward picked me up bright and early on the Sunday. First stop was Shillong Peak overlooking the town. “Not allowed” said the polite Indian sergeant, toying with his clipped moustache. Pleasantly but assertively, we were ushered away from the airforce base, foreigners not permitted for no apparent reason. Shit view anyway.

Next stop Mawphlang, a place of high cultural importance for the Khasi people - a Sacred Grove - full of monolithic stones, sacrificial trees and a quite beautiful forest amongst the sad denuded hills that surrounded it. 

Standing stone at Mawphlang

Standing stone at Mawphlang

It turns out it was Edward’s birthday today. But it was no cause for celebration. His mother had sadly died during his birth, something not uncommon in these parts. I instantly felt a wave of sadness wash over both of us. A stark and brutal realisation that you’re in a place where these things still happen. It puts life firmly into perspective.

 

A stark and brutal realisation that you’re in a place where these things still happen

 

We drove on towards Umiam Lake, a pretty if uninspiring place full of thick smoke from the jhum agriculture the locals still foolishly practice. I let Edward have the rest of the day off, agreeing for him to pick me up the next to book my ticket to Tura. 

Indian tourists at Umiam Lake (with added slash-and-burn)

Indian tourists at Umiam Lake (with added slash-and-burn)

Said ticket bought and paid for, a new shirt purchased and a visit to the rather splendid Don Bosco Tribal Museum all completed, I was dropped off at the homestay mid afternoon with a nice four pack of cold Budweiser. 

The excellent Don Bosco Tribal Museum

The excellent Don Bosco Tribal Museum

  Views from the Don Bosco skywalk

 Views from the Don Bosco skywalk

Bags packed, I was once again picked up by Edward at 5am heading into town to catch my ‘Sumo’ to Tura.

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After a cheap, delicious breakfast, lots of sweet tea and some people-watching, I was off on another long, cramped journey this time taking a convoluted trip north into the neighbouring state of Assam before swinging back down into Meghalaya. It got hotter and more tropical the further west and south we went and, after an eight hour stint, I was glad to get settled into my hotel room. 

Delicious breakfast of roti and omelette ‘slider’ at Police Bazar (50p)

Delicious breakfast of roti and omelette ‘slider’ at Police Bazar (50p)

This chancer’s ‘chocolate’ ice lollies should be done under the Trades Description Act

This chancer’s ‘chocolate’ ice lollies should be done under the Trades Description Act

A convoluted route from Shillong to Tura via Guwahati

A convoluted route from Shillong to Tura via Guwahati