Abode of Clouds,Lessons Learnt and Other Stories

22nd December 2018, Mumbai Airport,5 am: I was sipping my coffee from the first shop that opened. I was dreaming of my upcoming adventure. Will it be as beautiful as I imagined? I was shivering in this cold and excitement. Journey into the unknown often brings thrill and hope.

My Indigo 717 Flight flew from Mumbai at 7:00 am,I tried hard to fall asleep but with little success.I was brimming with energy. In 3 hours time,I will be at a new place with a new culture and a new language and of course new food. My life is just about exploring something new. Guwahati welcomed me with surprisingly warm air.

At Guwahati Airport, I met my organizer Ashutosh. He was just 22 but had wisdom beyond his years(he smoked cigarettes and wore a hat to prove that). After customary hello, we patiently waited for other explorers. Soon, we met Gopal who came from Bangalore. Our next explorer was a special one. His name was special as well: RAM. He missed early morning flight from Hyderabad(due to traffic at 3:00 am, that`s what he tells everyone) and took next flight which got delayed, so we waited for 2 hours to welcome Ram.Ram works in a company that involves Russians(enough to create curiosity). Next in line were boys from Bangalore: Mahendra and Raj. Finally we met this Non Chalant Finance dude from Delhi:Divyajot Five of us along with organizer Ashu set off to explore magical hills of Meghalaya. On the way, Umiam lake greeted us with a glorious view.But we couldn’t really absorb the glory as it got dark after 4 pm.Sun rises in the east and it sets too early in Meghalaya.Slightly disappointed but still oozing with enthusiasm,we finally reached our first stay at Miliyam.

Day 1: Place had a surreal feel.Chilling bones,hazy air and eerie silence greeted us,but I instantly connected to this mysterious beauty.It was built in a classy way with a place for camping,bonfire and music.After settling down in our dorms,we met our final two interesting travelers from Delhi and Haryana.Researcher Guncha(her name was a subject of constant curiosity) and Coder Anoop from Haryana.

Every explorer had a unique story.Ram was an avid biker, unapolegetic chain smoker, and a marathon runner. Manoj was a talented software engineer with 7 patents to his name and he looked 15 years younger. Guncha had an interesting name and a crazy start to her trip(will tell you later). Anoop was from Haryana(enough to create curiosity). Raj was a Youtuber and lover of pinewood seeds imported from Hampi.Mahendra`s love for Hindi language was fascinating. Divyajot had this laidback yet confident approach to everything and he understood money like no one else.

Now you know the characters, let’s get back to the story. Night at Miliyam had a strange sense of calm and curiosity.Next day was our trek to famous David Scott trail. Guncha was still wondering how her bag got replaced while Raj was busy in planning his vlog and snoring simultaneously.Night slowly turned into a hopeful morning.

Day 2:Everyone was excited for this trek except our bus,it failed to start.Eight of us displayed our greatest strength,pushing it from every corner possible but we eventually gave up.Our Co Organiser was a cool dude who had a fancy pick up truck,we simply hopped in that and went ahead.Thus, began our first crazy adventure.

People usually open up after a drink or on mountains. Serenity,fresh air and a blissful high that mountains give, sets them free.We were ready to explore,ready to set ourselves free.Ram was as usual confident,Manoj was calm,Guncha was determined( nervous debut for her),Anoop was excited,Raj was behind his camera,Mahendra in his free spirit and Divyajyot cool as ever. Trail was beautiful and serene, even more wonderful were the conversations we had, including questions like why David Scott took so much effort in making this ridiculous trail.What kind of life he must have lived? and many other intelligent ones. It`s funny, there are questions that only arise when you trek up a mountain.Best thing about trekking is that you don’t get tired of watching same mountains again and again and again. Mountains for me are simply irresistible.These mighty send you in a zone you don’t want to come out of,its the best addiction you can ever have. Each explorer was trekking at his/her own pace.Guncha was dreaming of getting her bag back while Raj was capturing every moment in his fancy camera. Meditative walk through the trail was an experience to remember forever. We returned back to Miliyam before dark.

It was freezing cold by the time we reached our beautiful stay.I really loved the way property was designed along with space for camping and bonfire. Night was set for old monk,music and campfire.We had some engaging conversations and stories from eating pinewood seeds in Hampi to adventures in Arunachal Pradesh. Meanwhile,a young enthusiastic girl from Rajasthan joined us and entertained everyone with her cute ukelele performance and Raj engaged us in his mindblowing videos of Japan and other exotic places.It was a night to remember.With beautiful memories in our heart, we all dozed off, of course after having a sumptuous dinner(potato and rice is the staple food in these hills).

Day 3: Waking up early on a freezing winter is not easy,even more difficult is taking bath. I skipped my bath shamelessly and on we went for our next adventure to a place called Shnongpedang. Names of these places are complicated yet people are beautiful and simple. Evading irritating traffic and enjoying beautiful views of majestic Green Dawki River,we Finally reached schongpedang around 12 pm.My enthusiasm died a little when I found that our tents were already in place(making your own tent is an experience in itself).Yet nothing can fill your heart with more joy than a clear water surrounded by hills in nature`s paradise.It was a special place.

After soaking in the beauty of the place,our team was ready for water adventure.We had options from kayaking to Scuba Diving(though underground life was hardly seen here) to Zip Lining.Everyone except Guncha showed guts to try zip lining.Zip lining is simply crossing the river by rope.Easy right? well not for me and many other brave souls.I booked my slot at the end,just watching and capturing my team members tremble in excitement as they cross the river.Finally,my turn came,as usual anxiety gripped me like the cold winds of Umngot River.I mustered extraordinary courage to cross this not so daunting river.Gosh,I made it with ease.I wondered,what was I afraid of? Often things we are afraid of turn out to be easy and life changing.I was ready for more adventure,but Guncha and Divyajot were not.They would rather sip tea or chilled beer than risk their life on this beautiful day in this serene river.Yet,rest of the members were excited for more adventure.Next adventure was Kayaking.Kayaking is more of a grind than an adventure,it is definitely not for lazy souls like me.I realised this only when I started kayaking.It`s strange and rather sad that you only realise something after you experience it.What if we have superpower to sense what excites us or bores us to death? We do have this superpower only if we can clear our mind as this Umngot river.Travel always gives you an opportunity to grow and expand your horizon.

Our adventure was cut short due to time constraints.After intense drama filled activites,we had an ordinary lunch besides our tent.Yet,it all tasted good,may be the vibe of this extraordinary place has hijacked our senses.We weren`t complaining and simply absorbing beauty as we sat and contemplated our future.

Evenings at this place are magical.Live music,Clear sky and gentle cold winds.We lit up the fire besides our tent.Old monk,honest heart felt conversations and soulful music,it all makes for a perfect night in this mesmerising place with great company.Guncha gave deep real wisdom(Gyaan) to everyone,I shared my poems,idiosynrasies and emotions,Divyajot was simply goofy,Manoj was his usual calm and Youtuber Raj was busy capturing the night sky.He made me dance in a weird way only to capture lights in a special manner.After another intense yet joyful evening, we called it a night.Night was glorious,stars shining besides the sparkling clear river and mighty mountains.This is what heavens look like.I was lucky to be alive.

Day 4: Sleep deprived yet filled with excitement,our team woke up at 5:30 to explore the cleanest village in Asia-Mawnylong.Hope,You can pronounce this one with ease.Everytime you hit the road in these beautiful hills,your heart is filled with joy,beauty of this place is unique and mindblowing.We reached Mawnylong by afternoon.On first glance,it gave surreal countryside feeling:clean roads,bright flowers and intricately constructed huts .We had lunch full of rice and potato(only food for vegetarians here).Guncha was excited to climb single root bridge to see marshy dirty Bangladesh.We all climbed up the bridge constructed from bamboo,shaky yet strong.Guncha managed to reach the top amidst minor breakdowns.Anyways,view wasn`t breathtaking but we still smiled to capture yet another selfie.

A refreshing tour of this modern and happy village left us with bundles of joy.Fact that matriarchal society is prevalent here is laudable and inspiring.Women of the house go out for work and men take care of home.It’s an interesting model to observe and learn.

After witnessing a glorious sunset along Umiam lake,we returned back to our campsite. Schnongpedang is a place for dreamers,loners,friends,family and everyone who loves serenity.It was Christmas night.Carols,guitar,music, Children and Churches.Place itself is something but is even more surreal on nights like this. We visited a nearby church and saw children dressed in elegant outfit dancing at midnight to Khasi music.We just sat there and enjoyed the performance. Guncha was anxiously waiting for Christmas cake(that never came) while Raj was still capturing photos of beautiful night sky.Who wants to go to Paris when you can witness such incredible nights in Schnongpedang.

Schnongpedang will always be close to my heart.Calm vibe of the place,surreal night sky,ever silent and smiling Umngot river,Nights we spent besides bonfire, drowned in romantic songs,old monk and deep conversations ,will forever be etched in our memories.Camping at this place gave a new meaning to our lives.Next morning, we depart to a place called Shora in Cherrapunji(World`s second wettest place).I had tears in my eyes.Tears of joy and satisfaction was a sign of sanctity of this space.

In this journey,I met some incredible soul,each with unique stories and extraordinary experiences to share. Guncha taught me resilience and will power. Raj inspired me to pursue my passion.Ram had immense patience and knowledge. Mahendra was innocent and ambitious. Divyajot was funny and Intelligent. Gopal was an eccentric genius. Anoop was confident and unapologetic. Of course,our young organizer Ashutosh had maturity beyond his tender age.

I would have loved to tell you the final act of this memorable trip.But,I won`t.Instead,when you meet me over coffee or Old monk,I will narrate you my final trek experience and Funny Jeep Safari in Kaziranga National park.Until then,keep traveling and stay adventurous.

Take care or “bhal-e thakibo” as they say in Assamese

Can`t help but end with this QUOTE

“In life, it’s not where you go, it’s who you travel with” –Charles Schulz

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