We woke up a bit late on the morning of the 22nd Oct, around 9.00am, due to having a late night the prior evening. Vince was very surprised when he routinely checked our email to see that Roshni had sent us a message that we could join them in Shillong after all…..a room with them had become available. So we quickly replied and got ourselves organised to have breakfast and pack up the bike….we would be meeting up with them at 10.00am. At around 10.20am we received a phone call to say they were running late and we were to meet them at a designated point (near a college and BOI ATM) so we set off and all met up…..very happy to see each other with lots of hugs and greetings all round and got to meet a close family friend, and local Rhino Rider, Saranjit Singh Bedi (Papu), who was also joining us. A small crowd had gathered around the ANIMAL with the usual rounds of photographs being taken.
We followed the two small vehicles that held the family and Yashraj Dutta, a male friend of Dickley’s (Rodali) down towards Shillong. Along the way we stopped at a Dharba (Sweet Day Restaurant) for some food and tea…..delicious. The ANIMAL as usual caused interest with the locals and again lots of photos being taken. Back on the road the 100km trip took about two hours to arrive in Shillong. It was much cooler and greener in Shillong (Meghalaya) compared with Guwahati (Assam) but the festivities for the Durga Puja were evident here too….despite it being a mostly Christian area. There was also a Mega Death concert going on over the next two days….the girls had extra tickets and had invited us if we wanted to attend but we politely declined the offer.
It took us a little time to finally locate our accommodation at the Aesthetics Home Stay…..the family were all in one room in one big bed and vince and I had a small room with two single beds…..it was very quaint. Once we settled in we all went for a walk to get some lunch at the Local Police Bazar….looking at the local sites along the way….lots of old Churches and crucifixes….a noticeable change from the temples and mosques we had now become accustomed to seeing. We had a Chinese Lunch at a well know local restaurant, Kim Poo. Babu and Papu are both Chefs and Babu has two restaurants of his own, so they were very deserning about the food….and unfortunately not overly impressed on this occasion. After lunch we walked through the Police Bazzar and it was very interesting seeing all the local sites…..women preparing PAN (beetle nut) which is big in India, and particularly with the Khasi people here. I got to see the simple way the local Khasi women dress (usually 9 pieces of cloth but Roshni says many just use 5 now) in sharp contrast to the highly decorative, intricate and beautiful Sari’s the women from elsewhere were wearing (I fell in love with a red one with beautiful waterlily brocade trim that I had seen a woman wearing in Guwahati…..our Western clothes are so boring!).
Papu is a real character…..smokes, drinks and uses Beetlenut! Juri says he is such fun and very spontaneous. He is a long term family friend and was instrumental in convincing the parents of the couple to let them marry despite their differing religions. Even though the community is currently dry due to the Durga Puja and Concert he somehow managed to get Whiskey and a Beef kebab for us to all share back at our hotel…..he is a naughty one!
At our hotel, around 8.00pm, we had a lovely dinner….the owner (Aunty) is also a Chef…..so the food we have been having over the last few days has been simply out of this world! At dinner we met a German traveller, Mario, who works in IT so Vince and he had much in common to chat about. It also turned out that he had met our host family whilst travelling back on the train from Darjeelling….small world indeed!
On the morning of the 23rd we headed off to Cheerapunjee, just for a day trip. The 60km took us a about an hour and a half. The girls and their mother stayed behind, but with Papu at the wheel, Babu, Vince, Baba and I head off on our intrepid adventure. Baba had taken a real shine to Vince….who had been teaching him some Karate moves and Kata’s…so he stuck to him like glue. Along the road we saw our friends 4×4 (Claire and Emiel) coming from the other direction…..Vince shot his arm and head out the window waving at them….but they carried on so we didn’t stop. Just a few km further on we saw Mike and Aad (Art’s) bikes by a small roadside store…they had stopped for a drink. So we pulled over and introduced everyone. I took Baba by the hand and showed him the bikes…..his eyes were are big as dinner plates. We explained that Mike would be famous as the youngest to circumnavigate the globe by motorbike….I think this was bit of a thrill for the little boy and he stood close to Mike. We took a few photos and each went our separate ways…..we anticipate catching up with our riding friends in a few days time as we all head for Myanmar.
They call Cheerapunjee the Scotland of the East, it is claimed to be the “Rainiest Place on Planet Earth”. We passed a lookout area across the valley where they were doing Zip Lining. Vince and I had tried this when we were in South Africa early in 2014 and it was great fun. We watched a few dare devils giving it a go and it was quite entertaining. We drove past Elephant Falls, Wah Kaba Falls and Nohkalikai Falls on our way to the Mawsmai Nongthymmai Eco Park. Unfortunately, the mist had rolled in and we could not actually see any of these spectacular sites….in one instance I could hear the falls….but see nothing. Vince had also been overtaken by travel sickness so spent the majority of the time in the car with his head on my lap in the back seat…..not much fun. We stopped at a pharmacy and got him some tablets but they were only of marginal assistance. However, he was able to enjoy our traditional Khasi lunch which was delicious. I managed to visit the toilet at this stop…..always a challenge for us girls on the road……and it cost me 5IRN to walk along a dirt track to a tin hut and a squat toilet….thankfully there was some running water from a hose and bucket……I have seen worse! Vince and Baba went off exploring and were gone so long that when it was time to go I had to go search by calling like a fish wife for them….without luck. Papu and Babu teased me that “our children” were out of control! He explained that Baba being the youngest, and only boy, gets spoiled with all the love from the other 4 family members.
On the road back we stopped at a roadside stall where local organic vegetables were being sold by the Khasi women…..there mouths and teeth were all stained with red……Papu explained this is due to the Beetle nut (Pan – but it is called something else in these parts). Some of the women were shy and did not want pictures taken….but others were happy for me to take some snaps….especially as we were buying from them. A bit further on we stopped again and I bought a hand of small banana’s ….they were absolutely delicious…..I have been hankering so much for fresh fruit!
Back at the hotel we spent a long time talking with Babu and he shared some of his recipes with us…..I should have written them down….but I was just so enthralled with the animation and passion with which he described the preparation of each dish….obviously a great love! He said several times that when we get back to Australia we must being planning to come back to India….he gave us lots of suggestions of good times of year and things we can see with him when we return. We said that it will all depend on time and money….but we are open to one day coming back to India and Assam in particular. We would also like to see more of Rajasthan and the South of India, like Kerala…..one day. We also encouraged him to think of coming to Australia for a visit.
We had a lovely dinner at the hotel and it was a guest’s (Joanne) 29th birthday….so Aunty had made a beautiful cake and we all sang Happy Birthday. We met a group of mostly younger women (who had come for the Megadeath concert) at dinner who were keen to find out about our travels (Aunty had told them) and it was interesting to hear about their lives and careers……a retired school teacher told us about the Rhino Riders here in India…..so we were pretty chuffed that we already had a sticker!
Papu had decided to head back to Guwahati for a Puja party, on impulse, so we said our farewells and he gave us a Rhino Riders sticker…which he had carefully removed from his own car….to put on the ANIMAL. Back at our room, Mario came to visit the family to exchange contact details…. as he may end up in Guwahati at some point….and I gave him a kiss and a hug good bye…..he then told me wasn’t going until after breakfast tomorrow….so Vince and Babu laughed and teased me that I just wanted to get in an extra kiss (haha).
Vince and I packed ready for our morning departure tomorrow, after breakfast, and had a fairly early night….he was still not feeling the best after his motion sickness. Hopefully he will feel better in the morning.