Unlike most people starting with Shillong when on a tour to Meghalaya, we were driving down to the southernmost point to begin with. This change of conventional plans always is a necessary if you are a tour guide, who wishes to offer the best to your clients. My travelers for this tour to Meghalaya were David and his wife, an Australian couple of mid fifties, who entrusted me to show them one of the less visited fronts of India.
I had decided on Meghalaya due to the time of the year being March, and as per the duration of two weeks they could spare for the grand adventure with me. In Meghalaya though , I needed to find some exquisite place, which are still lesser frequented by tourist. Though we were heading to Dawki, I felt an urge to find something beyond the ordinary to show my travelers.
I knew Dawki, was quiet famous, and it was evident from the cars that were lining the road crowding, once we were close to the destination. I inquired for more information on any unusual destination from my local driver friend, to see if there is some village with almost as good as views as Dawki, but lesser number of people. He said, well there is, and if we are ready to spend night in tents instead of rooms, we can live by a beach of the river. The river Umngot, which was running along with our drive, seemed to be a stream built of emerald crystal clear water , and I would be more than happy to spend a night just by it's vicinity. So i asked my clients about the change of plan that I proposed.
My clients being adventurous , gave me the permission to risk it, and so we did not stop in Dawki and drove on through a narrower road towards the new destination we knew nothing of..
The forest became denser and the road almost came into a single lane, with the tars vanishing from point to point, reflecting that we were moving quiet inside the region. Hardly we met another car as we rolled, I knew it was truly as remote as the driver had suggested. After an hour from Dawki, I read a sign board saying " Welcome to Shnongpdeng " .
I could not pronounce the name, and found myself confused how was it spelled. After repeating again and again from my driver's dialect, I could see it was pronounced as
" shnawng – preng ".
By the time he taught me, and then I taught it to my Aussie clients, we had reached. The road ends here, and one must take a walk down to the river bed, where camps are the shelter for night for seekers of adventure.
As we began walking towards our shelters, we passed through the village. One of the eye catching fact was the village here, had its huts and houses mostly made out of bamboo. They looked pristine and exotic after having lived in concrete for years to people.
I made it a point that once we got settled in our tents, we must take a walk around here, to truly see how the locals live around here in the remotest part of Meghalaya.
We finally walked down to the river bed, to see our shelters for the night. The river here, Umngot, has one of the most crystal clear water , you will ever find in the landmass of India. This is the same river that starts in Jaintia hills, through the gorges high up from Shnongpdeng, and then flows down river to pass through Dawki and then into the neighboring country of Bangladesh.
Plethora of tents were camped on the river beach, and a laid back atmosphere spread around. Frankie, was my man who arranged tents for me. It is pretty basic accommodation inside tents with pillows and bedding. Thank God one does not have to use sleeping bags , as the humid heat of the region does prick inside of you at this time of the year.
We were given options of rooms in bamboo huts too, but who in the world will leave the chance to camp by a crystal clear river flanked by green gorges, huh !!???
Common toilets were a little far, but spirits high with the discovery of this unknown place, we managed the discomfort as did David and his beloved. It was time now to walk around the village.
Shnongpdeng is home to around two hundred people at maximum. The prime livlihood of the villagers here will be fishing and farming. With the arrival of tourism, the newer generation has turned to services of hospitality and adventure sports. One can easily have the pleasures of kayaking, cliff diving or for more calmer experience just boat around the Umngot river. One could try fishing too. There is no shortage of activities here, but the most fun of all would be swimming in the flowing river, which is not too deep, and easy for beginners and experts alike.
Inside the village, the true lifestyle of the Jaintia tribal people of Meghalaya comes alive, as one can see them busy in their daily chores. The villages are filled with trees that ornamented with abundance of offsprings as litchees and jack fruits. A huge cultivation of beetle nut and bananas can be found , which seemed like the prime product of farming here. As we walked through the villages, the locals were all smiling and happy to give us pictures. There houses made out of bamboo or bricks made of river sand from its bed, were signs of their sustainable lifestyle. Clean and tidy, just like most of Meghalaya, the village looks a part of the fairy tales stories we read from.
Quietly I realized they are not yet bored with the conquest of outsiders, that happens, once the place gets overly famous. With such peace in mind and welcoming smiles, we did not know, when the evening passed, as we explored every nook and corner of the villages we could.
As the final light of the day sets out, we hurried to a local food shop near our camping place. Already many a locals were having dinner. It was quiet certain that life here starts very early with the sun rising , and they go back to sleep well ahead too. For dinner , we ate a simple rice and Dal , with boiled eggs, the only thing they had in offer, which felt we knew of. There were certainly other meals, local and regional, but it being the first night in Meghalaya, and also staying in tents, we felt best to go with safe options.
While on dinner, the women who ran the place, told us that if we came around in winter, it was better for the weather. In winter , there are clear skies, and due to that one can see the transparent water of Umngot river at it's peaking beauty. The crystal clear water holds such a magical image that it feels the boats on the river are uplifted in the air.
For now, all I could do is, keep it in my mind, that I needed to return in Shnongpdeng in winter once, to see what she told about so excitedly.
Sometimes, you are not in the right place at the most right time, but it does not take away the beauty of the adventure, for you see a more truer face that very less boast of.
Shnongpdeng , is a favorite destination for the youngsters of Meghalaya. With a fondness for western rock music, at night one can see group of youngsters camping by the beach and playing their music or jamming around a bonfire. I remembered my home in Kasol with such scenes. As we had a long journey , and a tired legs and heart after serious exploration, we decided to sleep. The music that came fror far, acted as a lullaby along with the crickets playing their tune from the dense nature that enveloped around.
The day starts early, and by 5 a.m we were up as with the arrival of a soft lightening sun. A huge cantilever bridge connects the two sides of shnongpdeng, and had our views all throughout the last evening. It was time to walk over it.
The bridge gives amazing view of the place from an alleviated ground. A good place to go, if you want to take great pictures. In my mind I could think, this would be a good bunjee jumping spot, may be in few years they will convert the idea.
After the walk over, we decided to take a bath in the river. Though we could kayak or get ourselves a boat, we just felt like watching them from far. The locals always go out in the morning to fish for the day. It will certainly be a good life to catch a fresh fish for meals, specially for the likes of us, who loves fishes.
But for now, bathing and watching them from far, I also noted to try this for the next time, I find my feet in this river again.
Finally it was time to leave Shnongpdeng, and I could pronounce it's name well by now too. Bidding the friends adieu I made for overnight, I did promise to visit here back in the winters. I must admit, if you can , do skip Dawki and spend your night or two here, definitely in your trip to Meghalaya.
For solo travelers, this place is connected to Shillong via Dawki, and then another hour of shared taxis. For group travelers , hiring a car is more easier and comfortable option. It takes around four hours from Shillong to reach here, though you can drive straight from Guwahati early morning too, like I did.
Lastly for accommodation or such helps, you can connect over to me through facebook or instagram. Both links up on the right corner!
I hope you plan a trip to Meghalaya soon, and feel free to consult me for any advises !
Hope you visit the unknown shnonpgdeng soonest !!
Ganges is the most holy river of India. This river gives life to a billion population from ancient times.
The walk towards Gangotri glacier always has a guardian mountain overlooking travelers. That is the Bhagirathi Massif that is seen in the above picture. Trekkers make their way through boulders towards the glacier, in supervision of the great mountain that is standing tall.
First light on Bhagirathi 2 Peak. It is one of the moments that no human who witnessed can ever forget. One of my favourite picture taken at 4.30 a.m in morning at Bhojwasa camp 3800 meters.
A moment freezed in time literally. A morning hot tea before we head out from Bhojwasa to Tapovan via Gangotri glacier. The chill was so much even in April end that you could see water droplets frozen on the tents outer cover.
The entry to Tapovan and the legendary Shivling peak in the background. For those who walk this trail, can never forget Mount Shivling. Its existence is ethreal.
At Tapovan there is this small shrine of Shiva Lingam at 4300 meters. Far one can see the backdrop of Bhagirathi Massif and in middle is the great Gangotri glacier. One of the best places for a shrine indeed. For if God is omnipotent, it would definately choose this place as its home.
Last light on Bhagirathi 2 Peak. Taken by trekker Shrabandi Poddar. I was too busy witnessing this rather capturing it. Hopefully this picture freezes that moment in time.
The climb to Tapovan from Gangotri glacier is one of the most thrilling and hard. In the background you can see giant waves of crevices in the Gangotri glacier.
The beginning of the trail from Gangotri Dham, a small town where pilgrims reach by road to worship Ganges. And from this town you take this trail to Gangotri glacier which is almost 14 kms. On the right is Mt. Sudarshan and on the left is Bhagirathi just peeping.
The Bhagirathi Massif in Dusk. Taken by trekker And amazing photographer Swapnil Kambli. I was witnessing it and you can see rhat black dot on the picture. That is me ofcourse. Look how insignificant we are in this universe.
First light on Legendary Shivling peak. You can never forget this moment if you had the opportunity to witness this. Its like your first kiss, always to be engraved in your memory till death takes you. It is this moments that makes us feel , a life well Lived.
A group of porters carry trekking equipments in the trek with Bhagirathi massif on background. These guys are the real heroes in any trekking or expeditions. If you can do talk to them , about how they live. Its a humbling experience and often takes away the complaints we have from life.
The Shivling massif from foot to head shot. Isn't it one of the most beautiful things you will see ? Taken by me in dusk as we were coming back from the Gangotri glacier.
Thats Gaumukh , meaning like a mouth of a cow. That is the snout of Gangotri Glacier , i.e the point where Ganges begin from the glacier. Its a divine experience to see this place. The most important birth place of the most important river in India. Tell me who does not want to witness this ?
That's me , in the Bhojwasa camp of the trek. I hope all of you enjoyed photostory and this does inspire you to visit the place.
Note from the Author,
" Travel made me rich and free. Magic and miracles are true , once you wander on the roads to places different and divine. I have collected so many thoughts and stories while being a Tour & Trek guide for last seven years. Sharing with you all, those memories and stories , and wishing you all , that someday you guys travel far and wide too. I am not a great writer , so ignore my grammar and spellings, read it with feelings, and you might just be affected with the wanderlust to hit the road"