Friday, April 13, 2018

Meghalaya Trip ; March 2018 - Part-4 : Shnongpdeng-Amlarem-Jowai-Shillong

Part-3 : Cherrapunjee-Mawlynnong-Dawki

There was no need for an alarm clock in Shnongpdeng village as roosters started crowing quite an early in the morning. Also the strong breeze that had been blowing since last night made the tin roof of our log hut to produce haunting sounds like that in Hindi suspense films. These were sufficient to act as  a wake-up call for us.
We came out of our log cottage around 6.00 a.m. to scout for some tea in the dabhas in the vicinity our home stay area. The sky was overcast and the cool morning breeze made us to wear jackets. Even though sun in this part of India rises around 5.30 am  in the month of March, none of the dabhas were opened. So we decided to take a stroll on the shores of River Umngot. The water in the river was as clean as a transparent glass sheet despite a spell of heavy rains in the last evening. 
A suspension bridge over River Umngot took us to other side of the river. A rowing boat with a child was already on its way to the shore where we were heading. The boatman met us on the shore. He had crossed the river to collect a bunch of bamboos and transport back to the other side of the river for some construction work. From the bridge, we descended to the shore towards the campsite with a number of tents. River Umngot at Shnongpdeng is popular with water sports activities such as rowing, kayaking, snorkelling and also short hikes on the shores of the river. The entire area around the river was calm and serene. 
After spending sometime on the shore, we returned to the other side. A dabha just at the exit of the suspension bridge was opened. We had tea at this dabha. We noticed that  almost all locals were having the breakfast of yellow rice with boiled chana ( chick peas) mixed with spices. We decided to taste this food at our breakfast time. 
Suspension bridge over River Umngot, Shnongpdeng.
On the suspension bridge over River Umngot. On the far right is Shatsngi Home Stay, Shnongpdeng.
Umngot River seen from the suspension bridge.
Camping site seen in the background for water sports activities in Umngot River.
A boatman of Shnongpdeng crossing Umngot River to reach the other side.
The effect of a strong breeze creates waves in the River Umngot.
Though there was a water heater in the bathroom, we were not hopeful that we would get hot water for bath due to frequent voltage fluctuations in the power supply. Though the owner of the home-stay gave us a water heating rod but it only resulted in cold water becoming a lukewarm water. So we decided to have first the breakfast and then wait for the water to become reasonable hot to take bath.  
The home stay owner's boys took us to a dabha for our breakfast. The sharp showers at this point forced  us to take umbrellas and walk in the rain for about 100m. The dabha was located at the shore of the River Umngot. The strong cold breeze made us uncomfortable at the breakfast table as except for the plastic roof, rest of the place was open from all the sides. Even in discomfort,  we had not forgotten our intent to taste the breakfast of turmeric rice with boiled chick peas mixed with spices. We tasted the breakfast item and came to the conclusion that  the turmeric rice became tasty only when taken with the boiled chick peas mixed with spices.
Shnongpdeng village is a place where one can spend the entire day. The water sports activities starts at 10.00 a.m. at River Umngot. Other adventure activities includes ziplining, cliff jumping, hiking etc. These activities can best be done during the post monsoon period (November-April). The village does not have any hotel and restaurant. The home stays provide basic facilities. In peak season, the visitors have to stay in tent accommodation. So it is not a place for those who needs comforts during their stay in Shnongpdeng. 
After missing the boat ride at Dawki, we were hopeful that we would be able to take a boat ride at Shnongpdeng. Our hopes were dashed first by the rains and by the boat timings which commences at 10.00 am. My idea of boat ride in Umngot River in Shnongpdeng was to go to a point in the upstream in the midst of rocks for the scenic photography purposes. But with our full day's scheduled of sight-seeing on Amlarem-Jowai-Nartiang route, the boat ride was rules out.
By the way, water sports activities are also available at Dawki but in my view, Shnongpdeng is more scenic than Dawki. Also, Dawki is more crowded than Shnongpdeng as the latter is just emerging as a tourist destination.
1. Krang Shuri Waterfalls : So without attempting to taking a boat ride at Shnongpdeng, we commenced our day's journey at around 10.00 am by walking about 200m towards the parking site at the road's end. Pradeep was already waiting for us. We have to drive back about 10 kms to Dawki road junction to take Amlarem-Jowai highway which wasin excellent condition. A 30-km drive took us to the parking area of Krang Shuri Waterfalls. From here we started descending on about 1 km long pathway made from the stone steps.
After completing about half the distance on the pathway, we came near a viewing gallery on the right side from where Krang Shuri Waterfalls was clearly visible albeit from a distance. The waterfalls looked impressive even in the dry season due to its locational advantage. The waterfall was in the midst of thick green forest and the twin waterfalls made a big pond with water in sky blue colour. Those who have difficulties in walking further can view the waterfalls from this point. The more adventurous ones who want to see the waterfalls from the close range with interest in boating and swimming can walk the remaining distance of about 500m to the gate of the waterfall.
The entry fee is Rs. 40/- per head. Those interested in boating in River Krang Shuri, can hire the entire boat @Rs.100/-. Those who wish to swim in the pond created by  the waterfalls will have to hire life jackets at some cost which I am not aware as we did not go for swimming. There is a restaurant near the waterfalls which serves tea, cold drinks and snacks.
Since we could not do boating at Dawki due to rains and at Shnongpdeng due to time constraint, we indulged in boat ride in the River Krang Shuri which was calm with a crystal clear water. The boating was for about 20minutes' duration. There is a check dam between the river and waterfalls to regulate the flow of waters before the river takes a plunge as waterfalls.
In my view, this is a 'must visit place' for tourists. However, I did not find many tourists though the place was swamped by the locals as a picnic spot. Since it is not on a popular tourist circuit like that of Shillong-Cherrapunjee-Mawlynnong, many tourists may not know the existence of this waterfalls in a beautiful setting. We spent about 2 hours in the vicinity of the waterfalls. The time spent here was much more than what we had intended and this affected our remaining sight-seeing schedule of the day. We had to  drop a couple of tourist spots in the afternoon. 
The walking track for Krang Shuri Waterfalls, near Amlarem.
View of Krang Shuri waterfalls from Viewpoint half-way on the track.
A check dam on Krang Shuri river just before the Krang Shuri Waterfalls.
Krang Shuri Waterfalls seen from the close range.
Side view of Krang Shuri Waterfalls.
Back side view rom the cave of Krang Shuri Waterfalls.
Krang Shuri River where we did boating.
2.  Thlumuwi Waterfalls and Stone Bridge : A further drive of about 12 kms on Amlarem-Jowai highway brought us to Thlumuwi Waterfalls which was visible from the highway itself on the left side. A plain walk on the cemented path of about 500m took us to the waterfalls. This waterfall comes out of a stream of the same name. This is a wide waterfalls but not as impressive as Elephant Waterfalls.
The water flows from the pond to continue as a stream and crosses the Amlarem-Jowai highway under the bridge. On the other side of the highway, there is a stone bridge over the stream which was said to  have been constructed during the Jaintia King's reign to enable the people to cross the stream during rainy seasons. 
Thlumuwi  Waterfalls, near Amlarem.
Stone bridge over Thlumuwi Stream formed by Thlumuwi Waterfalls.
In the process of sight-seeing, we had forgotten that we had yet to take a lunch break and it was already 2.30 pm. We wanted to go to a good restaurant in around Jowai which is the district head quarters of West Jaintia Hills. That meant we would have to cover about another 30 kms.
We reached the outskirt of Jowai and Pradeep took us to swanky looking hotel 'Highwinds' which seems to have opened couple of years back. We went to hotel's restaurant on the ground floor and were happy to note that it was a multi-cuisine restaurant. Since it was already 3.30 pm, we ordered for South Indian snacks which turns out to be tasty. The hotel is strategically located at the tri-junction of roads to Shillong, Dawki and Silchar. highways  
Dawki-Amlarem-Jowai highway near Stone bridge.
One of the quarries for extracting sands for constructions on Jowai road.
One of the new hotels strategically located at the tri-junction of  roads to Dawki, Shillong and Silchar. We had tasty South-Indian snacks here.
 A man made lake at the tri-junction of the road at Jowai bypass.
3. Durga Temple, Nartiang : Pradeep had, on our very first day of sight-seeing in Shillong  had told me that he would arrange a meeting with Uttam Deshmukh, the priest of Durga temple at Nartiang. I was eager to meet him to know as to how his ancestors from Maharashtra become the priests of Durga temple. Pradeep was also equally anxious to meet the priest as he was born in Jowai and he had a fond memory of visiting this temple with his parents especially during Durga Puja.
A 15-km drive from Hotel Highwinds via a village road brought us to the door step of Durga temple. The temple door was closed and there was no one around the temple. A lady outside the temple gave us a shocking news that the temple's priest, Uttam Deshmukh, 32 suddenly expired early in the morning apparently without any illness. Hence the temple was closed for the day. The lady also apprehended that in the absence of any male member of the family knowing the daily ritual of pujas, the temple may remain closed for sometime.
We went inside the temple premises and had darshan of Maa Durga through the grills of the closed doors. The temple is more than 500 years old and was constructed by a Jaintia King. In those days, no priest was available locally to conduct daily puja at the temple. The King had requisitioned the services of  a priest from Maharashtra named Deshmukh. Uttam Deshmukh, the current priest was the 30th generation of Deshmukhs in Durga temple. The temple is regarded as one of 51 Shakti peeths of India. The temple was refurbished in 1987 by Ramkrishna Mission, Cherrapunjee.  
We left the temple premises without visiting other places as this would have involved passing through the priest's residence where some women from the village  had assembled. Pradeep, usually a talkative person, seemed to be affected by the sad news as he  was quite throughout the rest of the day until we reached Shillong. 
Durga Temple at Nartiang near Jowai

4. Nartiang Monolith Park : The Park was located near Nartiang market, a 5-minute drive from Durga temple. Nartiang was the summer capital of Jaintia Kings. So one finds many things in this non-descript village relating to the reign of Jaintia Kings. There is a depleted Summer Palace of Jaintia Kings on the right as we drive from Durga temple towards Nartiang Monoliths.

Monolith Park is actually a 'rock garden' in the sense that all sizes of rocks and stones had been laid in this park.  Some are as tall as 8m. Some are wide and flat. It would have been a tall order to transport the monoliths and place them in the park in the olden days. A display of Archaeological Survey of India mentions that the these monoliths were installed in this park some time in the 16th century to commemorate the bravery of Jaintia Kings. Thereafter, the monoliths got added in this park over the years. 

Some open spaces inside the Monolith Park were freshly dug. Probably, more such monoliths which are lying elsewhere around Nartiang may be shifted here over a period of time. The park has got a lot of shaded trees. Visitors can relax here in the cool setting if not interested in monoliths.

 Nartiang Monoliths.

The tall monoliths, Nartiang.

By the time we finished the visit to Monolith Park, sun had already set in. Shillong was about 60 kms west of Nartiang village. After about 2 hours of drive, facing some traffic jam in Shillong, we reached Nalgre Guest House for the overnight stay in Shillong but not before tasting some momos at a shop  and some rasgullas at Gupta Sweets. Both the shops were located adjunct to each other in Jhalupura area.  
With this, our 7-day trip to Meghalaya came to an end. In the hindsight, we  wish we had a couple of days more to cover the missed tourist spots around Shillong, in East Khasi Hills and Jaintia Hills. 

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