Okay! Hill Stations, huh? “Same old, same old” you’d think. But hey, we say, think twice before you decide. This is not about the places that are commonly known. This is more about discovering the hills that have been so far unknown. We are talking about a little solitude, a good amount of privacy, lots and lots of greenery and absolute bliss. Yes! Such hill stations do exist. All you need to do is turn your gaze towards the North-East. There are still places that are untouched by the modern materialism. There are places that still remain in harmony with their surroundings and they are for a traveller a rare find. So, here’s lifting of the veil and putting you right on to the beautiful and enchanting hilly trail.
Not the typical hill station, Langkawet is a small village with some sixty households. A quiet and peaceful village tucked away at the edge of a canyon, this is something of a rural getaway. The perfect way to experience the Khasi way of life, all that one can see around are rolling hills, deep valleys, waterfalls, streams and lakes. Far away from the throngs of tourists, with greenery all around for company, the freshness and inartificiality of the village have the perfect placebo effect for weary souls. Early morning walks in the village, the surprising onset of waterfalls at most unthinkable places as you walk along, friendly chats with the locals and complete privacy and solitude of the local homestays; this place is a fine embodiment of the term “one’s space”. The village is some 56 kilometres from Shillong and has a number of homestays and local eateries to cater to your basic needs. Needless to say, the places of boarding are in sync with nature and are shorn of any urban (read fancy) paraphernalia. Once, the isolation and the connection with nature recharge your spirits, the beautiful attractions of Meghalaya can be easily accessed from this very site. Should you feel a little touristy, the famous Living root bridges, Dawki (the famous transparent Umngot river which separates India from Bangladesh), Mawlynnong (the cleanest village in Asia), Cherrapunji (needs no introduction) and all the Meghalaya has to offer is well within your reach.
LAITLUM CANYONS, Meghalaya
While you are still in Meghalaya, you might want to visit the Laitlum Canyons at the East Khasi Hills of Shillong. Literally meaning “the end of hills” or “the end of the world”, one look into these grand canyons of India (yes! That’s what they are called) and you’ll know the place stands true to its name. Be warned! Once you have seen the place, you just might not feel like coming back at all. But this undisturbed and unpenetrated place is exclusive to its select few local inhabitants and us poor tourists have to go back to Shillong once the day is over. It is just a 45 mins drive from Shillong, meaning you can make as many trips to the Canyon you want for as many days you want (if you have all the time in the world). “Meghalaya” meaning “the abode of clouds” finds its finest proof in the Laitlum canyons. There’s an intermittent play of hide and seek between the canyons and the clouds. One moment its all bright and green, the next moment wisps of cloud cover them like a beautiful shroud. A slightly difficult trek, the end of this picturesque rocky trail is worth every breath spent. You may find a secluded house or two in corners of cliffs with adjacent farming lands here and there. Once you reach the top, you get a mesmerising view of the awe-inspiring gorges and sprawling meadows. Apart from the mesmerizing beauty, what catches the eye the old ropeway pulley which is used to transport food grains and other essential commodities to the village of Rasong. Deep down in the Laitlum valley is a small hamlet called Rasong which has some odd 300 residents. Walking down to the village through the 3000 steps made of piled rocks (the only pathway that connects Rasong to the local market) passing bamboo plantations and the colourful wild orchids that grow there naturally, and a few waterfalls can be quite an experience. Climbing up is much of a task though. At the bottom of the canyon, flowing under a rustic wooden bridge is the Laithum stream. A great picnic spot, the grassy meadows through which the stream flows provide a magical view of the 4 surrounding waterfalls. A trip to the nearby village of Smit can also be undertaken, should the history of the Khasis be of any interest to you.
DARIBOKRE VILLAGE, West Garo Hills, Meghalaya
If you are looking for something more authentic than pony rides on busy streets and commercialized tourist attractions, a trip to a local village in the hills could be the solution. A quaint little village, Daribokre is just a few kilometeres away from the famous Nokrek Biosphere Reserve in the West Garo Hills. Needless to say, the view is breath-taking. The greenery of the surroundings and the warmth of the villagers are enough to make the trip a memorable one. The cosy traditional huts, the sumptuous local food and the eagerness of the villagers to take you around make the village of Daribokre an ideal getaway into the hills. Short excursions to the farmlands, lazy walks in the adjoining forests, trips to the local bazaars a visit to the plantations of rare oranges and experiencing their customs and traditions first-hand; all this can be done at your own pace. There are guides to take you for a trek to the Biosphere reserve (some 3kms away) or to the source of the river Simsang. Once you are content with the peace and calm, head to the bustling town of Tura at the foothills of the Tura range. Tura is ideally located and has perfect access to tourist sites like the Tura peak, Siju caves (limestones), the enchanting Pelga falls and the Sasatgre village known for its orange plantations.
DZUKOU VALLEY, Nagaland.
This one is poetry in motion. Throngs of hillocks reflecting different shades of green, distant blue mountaintops at the backdrop, verdant valleys with limitlessly strewn colourful flowers; the first very glimpse of the valley (after the moments of immense stupefaction) are sure to bring out the poet in you. The valley sees snowfalls in winters and is all frozen. The peak of its ethereal comeliness arrives with the onset of monsoon in the month of July. The carpet of flowers, with the Dzoukou Lily being the show stealer, the cold gusts of wind and trails of hovering clouds, no words or picture can capture the real magic of the place. The valley is situated at the border of Nagaland and Manipur and can be accessed via Kohima. There are two villages, Zakhama (20kms from Kohima) and Viswema (25 kms from Kohima) that lead to the valley. The trek from Zakhama takes about 5 to 6 hours through the conspicuous and spotless tracks, fresh mountain air and some good old sunshine. It is an otherworldly feeling trekking up through the rainforests with occasional cascades of small waterfalls and ccrystal clear streams; somewhat a harbinger of what’s to come. The trek through the village of Visvema, through its tall grass and dainty flowers is comparatively easier and slightly longer. The staying part gets more interesting. If you want to really experience what living in the wild feels like, there are caves in the valley where you can camp if you have sleeping bags and sufficient protection from cold. Besides, there is a guest house (should you feel less adventurous) which has dorms and rooms for cosy nights.
JAPFU PEAK, Nagaland
The friendly neighbour of the Dzukou valley, the USP of the peak is that it overlooks the enchanted landscapes of the Dzukou valley itself. oh! the view of the verdant hills, the scattered wreaths of flowers, the occasional burnt trees and the snow-clad mountains at the backdrop; the scenery the one to die for. Not to mention the bird’s view of Kohima and parts of Manipur as well. The Japfu Peak is the second largest peak in Kohima and is perched at a height of around 3048 metres above sea level. Owing to its sub-tropical vegetation, the peak is known for its 130 feet tall and 1 feet girth Rhododendron tree and the unique Blythe Tragopan bird. The trail from the Japfu base camp is simple and well cut out, passing through a dense forest. It is only in the last 150 metres stretch that the vista opens up into the valleys, hills and villages. If you can, do climb up on time, to witness the beauty of the Japfu sunrise. Easily accessible through Kohima, the trek to the Japfu peak can easily be combined with your trip to the Dzukou valley.
We know the tune playing in your heads right now, we hear it too. Yes, the hills are alive with the sound of music and that music is emanating right from your hearts. There’s isn’t a soul who wouldn’t be tempted to go to places such as these in a flash. Come on, what are you still thinking?