Tag Archives: Jaintia hills

The Mis-adventurous trip to Haflong

As I had mentioned in one of my previous stories about my first solo trip, I had tagged along with two Bengaluru boys whom I met at Shillong. After covering Meghalaya, we took delivery of a brand new ‘Maruti Swift’ from a showroom in Guwahati and set out on a random road trip across the North-east. (click here to read the complete story). We finished exploring the Ziro valley and were left with 4 more days before our return flight to Bangalore. We worked out many options to best utilize the available time (4 days were too little to go ahead to Mechuka and return to Guwahati, we would be on a tight time if we did Tawang and had no backup in the eventuality of a car breakdown on those bad roads, Sandakphu was doable but we weren’t equipped with sufficient gears).

The National Highway at Ziro

That’s when I popped the option of visiting Jatinga. An unheard place for the other two with me, I explained: “It is a place where mass suicide of migratory birds takes place due to an unknown phenomenon. And this is THE season to witness it!”. There was enough curiosity inside the car but no clue on how to get there. We browsed quite a bit, scrolled through several web pages of the forest department and landed on a random contact list of IFS officers in Assam. We picked a random name (it sounded very South Indian, hence we wanted to try our luck). We got lucky and the call got through. A little perplexed at why random tourists may be interested in visiting this place, the IFS officer asked us to call him a day later as he was travelling. We were ok to wait for confirmation, as we were anyway going to reach Itanagar only on the following noon. That’s where we had to pick our route, whichever worked out- Guwahati or Jatinga.

On the following day, we called on the same number again when we had reached a good network zone. The IFS officer got us connected to another forest officer, posted in Haflong. We got in touch with that officer, who then guided us to reach his office in Haflong. He warned us against stopping ANYWHERE along our way and keep updating him every now and then about our location. We relied heavily on Google maps and were driving through Asian Highway no.1. PS: We would be heading towards Dima Hasao district and the entire route was notoriously infested with anti-social elements.

We commenced our drive on a road that would lead us to Thailand (only if we extended our holidays by a fortnight more), guided by Google maps. But for now, it was destination: Haflong, the only hill station in Assam. The under-construction road was patchy every few kilometers, alternating with smooth asphalt and bumpy gravel. At one point, the road with endless stretch of forest cover was so beautiful and intimidating for a photo stop but we were scared for even a pee-stop. We were however, at the mercy of google-Mata’s directions!

The Asian Highway through Dima Hasao

So, the scene what happened after we passed the Mahur cross is documented in another post for you to read. Long story short: we missed a diversion in the under-construction road, continued on AH1 as per google maps and our car got stuck in a deep ditch, in the middle of a forest reserve. We were stranded without help almost until sunset. Finally help and the forest officer’s army, all arrived together to get us out to safe haven. We waited at the officer’s makeshift container workspace until he finished his day’s work and took us to Nothao lodge, a place where our stay in Haflong was arranged at. It was a nice resort (good for a less touristy place like Haflong) but most of all, the owner was a resourceful person who was going to take care of our travel activities for the next couple of days.

Our car being towed by RSA

“Not all who plan and come here get lucky, as the weather plays a crucial role in being able to see it, even after reaching here. The wind direction tonight is very favorable. You are here at the RIGHT time to witness the mass-suicide of the birds. Be ready by around 12.00.a.m., the jeep will come here to pick you all. The officer and I will join you at my house and then we shall proceed to Jatinga.” The Hotelier said before leaving us. We were all excited! After freshening up, we placed an order for a hearty Dimasa meal for supper. ‘Try Local cuisines, wherever you are’ was a mantra all three of us religiously followed. The must try-dishes were recommended by the friendly chef at the lodge.

The poor car had gone through so much abuse on its very first road trip that it deserved a good shower. While the boys drove out to the town to find a good spa for the car, I decided to stay back at the lodge. The wooden furniture in an open dining space with mellow music playing in the background and cold misty breeze from the green trees around, blowing on my face was enough reason for me soak up some inspiration to write my next story. As a couple of hours passed, the boys returned. I don’t know if the car found a spa, but the boys for sure found a bar 😛 They returned with a few liters of judima, the local brew of rice beer.

We were the lucky few who were to witness nature’s phenomena, one so rare that it is unexplainable by science. We had braved quite an adventurous drive to make it thus far… But the weather was such, that I can’t blame them. The two drank up the stock ignoring all my alerts, warnings and requests! It was now nearing 9.00.p.m. and so, blame it on the ambience of the dining area. While the meal was being arranged on the table, the two were dozing away. Jatinga and the birds were all flying away from me now, faintly to the elusive distance 😛 I tried to keep the two up, at least to finish up the meal and not waste it. The two walked up to their room and had passed out within the next few moments. “See you Jatinga, next time!”, I silently spoke while breaking the roti in my hand.

It did not feel right for me to drive into a forest alone with someone whom I barely knew. Hence, I decided to make ‘Nothao’ my destination for the night.
I requested the hotel staff to serve the same food on the following morning (there was SO MUCH food, that neither of us would want to throw it off), informed the hotel owner and the forest officer of my situation and silently slid into the comforting warmth of the rugs in my room.

Anyway, the miss was made up for, by the two boys who had been my travel partners for the last 2 weeks (well… partially). We explored a little bit 9f Haflong. The duo spoke to the officer and a hike to the highest peak of Assam- Hapeo peak was organized. That’s yet another story you might want to read here. Thus, happened our misadventure to Jatinga and the last bit on my fortnight in the north-east.

The last Indian village on the Meghalaya border- Dawki

We were bowled over by the beautiful plains of Bangladesh- The view of our neighbouring country from the rest of Meghalaya! So, the thought of driving over to actually see another country from close quarters made us very excited. The innumerous blogs about the crystal clear waters of the Umngot river and the boat ride with the emerald green backdrop kept us on toes until we were finally there.. Dawki is the last village on the Indian border and Tamabil on the Bangladesh end. This is a friendly stretch and an important trade route between the two countries with limestone being majorly exported across borders.

A mesmerising stretch of green mountains on one side and a deep valley with thick settled fog on the other, accompanied us all the way till our destination. Based on a friend’s recommendation, we stopped by on the way to find a small board that guided us to Byrdaw falls. The road got narrower and isolated as we drove further. After passing through very thick forest, the road ended abruptly. Although we were a little apprehensive, I forced my friends to walk down. We continued to walk through what seemed like some plantations that was left neglected and looked more like a forest infested with some bandits who could hold us for a ransom. There were no signs of any water source or a stream that would eventually lead to a waterfall.. But, I insisted to continue o follow the well laid stairs all the way only to be awestruck with what defines Nature’s beauty! This is a 3 tiered waterfalls which one can walk through enjoying the serene location from the waterfall’s point of view- quite literally! My friends thanked me for having them got there!

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Byrdaw waterfall

We then drove over to where we were destined to reach for the day.. It was a slow route thereon with several loaded trucks travelling to Tamabil. Suddenly the blue waters of the Umngot river appeared from amid the trees with the rays of the setting sun reflecting back at us. We were overjoyed! We patiently awaited our turn to cross the narrow declared weak steel bridge across the river where only one vehicle is allowed at a time and atleast 50 trucks were ahead in the queue. It was dark by the time we met our guide ‘Mr.Bright Star’ at Dawki town and followed him to where we were supposed to camp for the night. Dawki is in the Jaintia Hill district of Meghalaya and hence, the cultural difference of the Jaintia tribes was clearly felt by us who had spent many days in the Khasi hills. Our guide drove us through eerie looking terrain carved though mountainous limestone. There was no asphalt and no streetlights with only thick creepers hanging down the high rise limestone walls. It was an offbeat off civilisation drive of over 5kms into nowhere where the cars were braked to a screeching halt- Destination: Shnongpdeng.

With our backpacks and camping essentials, we walked down the valley with torchlights and pitched our tents which we were told was on the river bank. The night was spent in absolute peace under the clear starry sky and some burning wood by the side that kept us warm through with just the rustle of the flowing water and our guide’s dog that were our other companions.

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The view from my tent

I was awakened before dawn and unzipped my tent with the first ray of day’s break- My heart skipped a beat with what I saw! We had stayed on the river bed.. The swiftly flowing river, rich never-ending stretch of green forest, rounded rocks of different colours spilt all over seemed to have put up a piece of heaven right infront of our tents. A couple of bamboo shacks and a long suspension bridge added to the beauty of the setup.. We then caught up with ‘Mickey’, our oarsman who rowed the boat along the rapids of the river. We wanted to catch the sunrise from the view point and getback to our camp before the tourist crowd poured in.

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Our boat being pulled in the rapids

Although the beautiful landscape kept us motivated, the ride was rather taxing. We would sail for the calmer stretch and we had to get off the boat and walk when we approached the rapids. It was all worth it at the end.. We could enjoy the pristine beauty of the place right up, close and personal.. After a filling breakfast, we packed our stuffs and continued to travel towards Jowai with a stop-over at the Tamabil checkpost.

Summary: Dawki is a very laidback place blessed with natural beauty. It is very disheartening to see tourists flocking in thousands everyday which will not surprise me if just five years down the line, would be nothing more than a stinking slushy pool of water left back as a memory of abusive tourism.