This post is part of my fortnight long road trip across North-east India, specifically covering parts of Meghalaya – Assam – Arunachal Pradesh I had tagged along with two other travelers and drove around the state of Meghalaya visiting Shillong – Smit – Cherrapunjee – Mawlynnong – Dawki – Ribhoi- Shillong.
A long winding highway up the hill from Guwahati leads to Meghalaya: Abode of the clouds. And up there, one will be greeted by blue waters of a calm lake flanking the road on the right with no sign boards indicating the arrival at Ri Bhoi district. With no major landmark to explore for a typical tourist, this small distrct is full of fables and legends. If you’re someone interested in fairy tales, I highly recommend you to take a local person with you and follow my trail.
The Umiam Lake or Barapani has been gracefully present there in a serene backdrop of green hills of the state. There is no passerby who doesn’t stop for at least a minute to capture the beauty of this place! This is a man-made lake formed due to the construction of a reservoir across the Umiam river. Today, this reservoir is one of the main sources of potable water to Shillong. For people looking for a leisure trip, one can go for boat rides in the clear waters of the lake. It is also called as the ‘water of tears’ named after a legend which talks about two sisters who were travelling to heaven. It is beleived that one of the sisters slipped from the hills and died, the other sister cried out of grief and her tears are said to have trickled down and formed the lake!
We had read about this place called ‘Lum Sohpetbneng’ close to Umiam and asked our driver if he could take us there. Although he himself had never been there earlier, he readily agreed to take us there. ‘Lum Sohpetbneng’ is a sacred grove of pine trees where a golden ladder is believed to have existed which connected Heaven and Earth. Although there is a motorable road, the place looked eerily deserted with absolutely NO ONE until the peak. We kind of got lost with several deviations in the route but since we were in the middle of the forest, we decided to reach the destination before we gave up. We wanted to know how the ladder looked like that connected God and Man. Finally, we arrived there… Only a dilapidated structure what appeared like some prayer hall and an under-construction structure was there, which our driver told us was a place where an annual fair is held with a large congregation of Hindus.
A few steps away from the concrete structure, our driver took us to a neglected patch of land under an old withering tree. He pointed at a rock and told us, “See, these massive footprints here? It is of the humans who tried to climb heaven. Back in the days, humans used to be massive in size. One day, God realized that heaven was getting full and so he cut-off the ladder which laid right here, where this tree is now growing.” Although the shape of a feet with heels and toes were demarked clearly in the footprints, it is interesting to know how we grow up with fables without understanding the scientific logic behind.
There isn’t much to do on the peak apart from a good view of the Umiam Lake on one side and the Jaintia hills, Shillong airport, the Asian highway on the other. We drove back to Shillong.
I personally would not recommend this trip if you are on a packed schedule. But if you are an explorer, interested in studying religion and culture, I would advise you to go there with a person familiar and knowledgeable about the place. A deviation from Umiam Lake can help one to explore the Diengiei Peak, where a crater formed by an extinct volcano exists. Dwarksuid is yet another place we gave a miss on the Umroi Bhoilymbong road where a rocky lake exists and is believed to be ‘Devil’s doorway’ because of the dark colored rocks surrounding the lake.
Closing remarks: Being the first scenic spot while entering Meghalaya through NH40, Umiam Lake is a good stop-over to watch the sunset and chill with friends on the banks. There, you can flip your arms open and let Meghalaya breathe some life into you before you head over for a wonderful trip ahead!