India 🇮🇳: Motorcycle Diaries -Exploring Meghalaya’s South (day 4)

Today: 294km | Total: 980km

What a day! In almost 300km on the bike with sun, hills, on & iff road, complete fog and at night … I explored the south of Meghalaya with its waterfalls, the Bangladesh border, Asia’s cleanest village and living root bridges in Cherrapunjee forest. By doing the latter i scored myself an unexpectedly hard hike at the end of the day. Totally exhausted (and happy). Time for 🍕 and a 🍻!

Gallery of snaps between the main stops today

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Elephant 🐘 falls

Made up of three separate segments, these falls are only 30min ride away from Shillong. There name, given by the english, stems from an elephant looking rock that used to exist yet has been destroyed by an earthquake years ago.

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Dawki – Touching Bangladesh

Boasting some impressive nature and a suspension bridge, this place is located where the planes of Bangladesh begin.

Usually it is marketed for its clear waters and many tourists opt for a boat ride. Must have been the rain, because when i was there the water was completely muddy. Still, impressive scenery.

Amazing are also the long queues of trucks loaded with rocks that are waiting to cross the border to Bangladesh (given this country has no hills, stone must me a priced commodity).

Mawlynnong – Asia’s cleanest village

Yes, you are reading right. Mawlynnong was voted Asia’s cleanest village in 2003 and has retained its cleanliness til today. Wandering about this feels amazing, people are lovely and indeed all is clean and houses, gardens and streets tidy.

In the village you have a bamboo structure called sky view that offers views over the planes of Bangladesh (well, if it isn’t too hazy). I asked the owner why this village is so clean and he told me that all changed with the arrival of Christian missionaries in 1887.

Now it’s not up to me to judge if religion is the key, but so much is fact – the difference between mainly Christian Meghalaya and say Assam (mainly Hindu/Muslim) are stark.

Seven sister falls – come back in rain season?

Impressive rock wall, but hardly a waterfall to speak of. Sadly. Need to revisit when there is more water about.

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Double-decker living root bridge – mind the steps…

The last stop on my list today was one of the living root bridges that exist in the Meghalaya (a creation of the Khasi tribe), most famously a double-decker one.

There are two ways to access the bridge i.e. You can descent either side of the valley. I went with google that leads you to option A. In the map below. From reading, option B is the easier one.

It wasn’t easy just to find the road indicated in google, as it leads you initially to a dead-end (two indians i met on the way turned around because of this). With a bit of trial and error you’ll eventually make it to the end of the road – point A in map below.

Now the real work starts… 3,500 steps straight down into the valley. That equals more than 700m of altitude differential. Half way you pass a bunch of houses (small shop included) and eventually you reach a small village where the bridge is located.

There are homestay options, which i would recommend as the place and its people looked lovely – no motorised vehicles, all nature.

As for the bridge, Rp20 get you in. There ponds to swim in and a generally cool atmosphere. Read more about the amazing living root bridges here.

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Soon it was night and the full moon was my guide as i climbed the 3,500 stairs back up. Sweat was running in streams! Thankfully i got some water from the lovely family half way and after 1,5h i was back up by my moto and ready to ride back to Shillong – night shift. What a ride! 🌪️

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Now i understand why people do this bridge as a full or multi day trip… 😉

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India 🇮🇳: Motorcycle diaries – Full throttle 😈 in Meghalaya, the ‘Scotland of the East’ (day 3)

Today: 298km | Total: 686km

India just doesn’t stop surprising and show off its tremendous differences. Today was just another example as i reached the state of Meghalaya – the 3rd state on my motorbike trip and the 10th overall (just 19 more to go, one day 🤣😂).

First up a few snaps with the Royal Enfield Classic posing across Meghalaya (the 📸 was busy today)

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Get me out of here

I woke up late in the run down hotel i booked late last night. I didn’t sleep well despite having been supertired yesterday, as i was fighting off mosquitos all night, was without ventilation (energy-saving or power cut 🤔) and with the entertainment of an Armageddon type thunderstorm all night. Despite the relentless efforts of the resident muezzin and his adhans, nothing happened before 9am. I also skipped breakfast and left this hotel and city as fast i could.

Adhan – muslim call to prayer

The muezzin calls six times for prayer starting with sunrise. Means the times change every day and are location dependent. Check your times here.

Hello Meghalaya!

My general direction was south-east, further towards Bangladesh. On the border is a national park i want to visit, but that is for another day. First up, i wanted to get to Meghalaya’s capital – Shillong. And that was quite a few km away…

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The scenery improved significantly once i was out of Goalpara and even more so once i crossed from Assam into Meghalaya. I became more hilly (the highest peak in the state is almost 2000m and it did get cold late afternoon) and very, very curvy with many tiny villages wayside. So let’s bend it like Beckham!

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Topographical map shows hilly Meghalaya surrounded by the planes of Assam & Bangladesh

It just didn’t stop… Must have been close to 200km of relentless turns and twists today as i yanked my moto up and down the hills. The roads here are good meaning in good condition and with two marked lanes. Not much traffic either and generally decent driving (well, cutting corners remains popular). Absolutely a dream for any biker.

A Christian state with woman matter

The whole state felt different in general. 75% are Christians (vs. only 2% countrywide, one of three states with Christian majority), english is the main language (no more Bengali though there are several spoken native tongues) and people look different (more akin to people from Myanmar than your typical indian look if there is such a thing). There are little churches all over Meghalaya and seemingly a complete lack of Hibdu temples or shrines not to mention mosques.

The state is also referred to as the Scotland of the East due to its hilly and green countryside and i guess the rainfall too, which is nowhere higher than here in the world (12m annual rainfall!). I actually felt like in Cairngorms national park at times and like in Colombia in others.

Different to most india, the women carry the family name and inherit the wealth (matrilineality) – a tradition stemming from the three key tribes (Khasis, Jaintias and Garos) and by far not the only place in the world with such customs. I guess that makes local woman a tough match for muslim admirers.

This time i reached my destination before nightfall and after refreshing in a fantastic homestay (Rockski B&B), i enjoyed some continental food in Shillong. Great place this city – while very busy traffic wise, it is clean and organised. What a difference to Assam (well, lets not judge so quickly).

India 🇮🇳: Motorcycle diaries – Crossing the Brahmaputra & offroad on ‘highway’ 46 (day 2)

Today: 203km | Total: 388km

I didn’t get going overly early and rather enjoyed a long chat with Laura (about to go to sleep being 11h behind) and the comforts of my hotel room – god only knows when i might encounter such ‘luxury’ again (the hotel was only 3mth old).

Into Assam

First up i headed 90km in a broadly southerly direction towards the city of Dhubri in order to cross the Brahmaputra river by boat (or i could wait until 2026 for the completion India’s longest river bridge at 23km).

 

Bangladesh was now always on my right and half way i crossed into Assam. There was a noticeable increase in muslim population as i rode along. 90% of Bangladeshi’s are muslims (following a large concentration / migration as part of the Indian partition, which created the muslim states of East and West Pakistan – the former now being Bangladesh). At 35% it is also high for Assam itself – more than double than Indian average (15%).

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India’s main rivers

India relies heavy on its rivers for everyday life and considers them holi in the Hindi religion. The three longest ones are Indus, Brahmaputra and Ganges though only the latter flows most of its length in India. To that extent, many other and shorter rivers like Godavari are actually more meaningful.

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Crossing the Brahmaputra river at Dhubri

Your basic options are smaller (very flexible timing) or larger ferries (neither with great safety records). I opted for the larger one to get a somewhat decent space for the rather heavy moto.

Afternoon ferries to the opposite side leave between 2.30pm and 3pm. I went with the latter (to make sure i have to wait even longer 😂) to arrive at Fakirganj. Quite an experience with an estimated 100+ people on what felt like a DIY boat, a lot of motorbikes and all sorts of goods on board. Last ferry also meant it was packed.

It took us 2hours as we cruised on the might Brahmaputra – 2,900km long and very deep at 38m average & 120m max depth… WOW! Beautiful scenery accompanied us throughout. Truly breath-taking!

There is quite some order on the boat – Women sit below deck while men above. What happens when it rains i dont know. The boat also features india’s cleanest and least smelly toilets with direct deposit into the river should you use them.

I spent the two hours talking a lot to locals (well, i haven’t met a foreigner since Siliguri) in broken english since i command zero Bengali. We talked about my country, my girlfriend, my travels (we watched the Lhotse video together and a snowboarding one from chamonix) and took lots of selfies. I was even asked for an autograph – a first!

Once arrived all people left and the crew managed to get the bike safely back to land. Time to hit the road again.

Following state ‘highway’ 46 – muddy potholes with speed bumps

Once off the boat i just typed a distant location into google with the aim of stopping somewhere on the way. What a mistake …

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First the map took me on highway 46 into ever more muddy roads until i needed another ferry. Enough ferried for today… So 180 degree turn and back. Same muddy roads, ponds… Worst i have been on with a moto. It all reminded me of the Sicily experience last year (Boys week: Sicily road trip) though i didnt get stuck this time.

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The additional handicap was the onsetting darkness and lack of road markings or lighting. What i thought was hilarious were the potholes upgraded by speed bumps – i mean it was not exactly a highspeed track. What a poor road!

Eventually i made it to highway 12 and could race the only property i found on booking – Hotel Moon Moon in Goalpara. Very visible muslim population and the most bureaucratic check in so far (maybe focus your energy more on the bathroom next time!). Both the city and hotel are a complete waste of time – dirty, noisy, dodgy .. You name it.

Anyway, after 113km in 4,5hours since disembarking the ferryboat i had made it. Time to sleep. I am exhausted. But love the adventure and the insights into this part of India i gained today. Road tripping baby!

India 🇮🇳: Motorcycle Diaries – Cruising East in West Bengal (day 1)

Today: 185km | Total: 185km

I left my hostel before 7am and walked to the taxi stand just grabbing a quick milk tea on the way. I felt mentally done with India somehow. Wanted no more now that dirt, the noise and hassle that had come back now (there is only one Sikkim!). Why now? I can’t say, but the fact that Darjeeling didn’t live up to my expectations wasn’t helpful. No more cities for me. Just get me out into the countryside, would you please?

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Arpan at Siliguri Bike Rental helped me out with a motorbike – this time a Royal Enfield Classic (350cc, 20bhp) vs. the off road touring version Himalaya i had in Gangtok (India 🇮🇳: Sikkim – a VERY different side of India). I felt immediately relieved as I got going albeit traffic in Siliguri held back my progress initially.

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westbengal-location-map

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Siliguri – Alipurduar: Tasting freedom

You couldn’t pick a much more generic description of a day out on a bike, but i really loved the liberating feeling today as i rode through the planes towards the eastern border of west bengal – always parallel to the Bhutan border keeping the mountains on my left side (though always in sight) and Bangladesh to the right.

Large green tea plantations, almost dry riverbeds, village people busy at work, kids playing cricket (mostly) or football (sometimes), Tata trucks filled with people, police check points (loads!) or army drills – you name it… It was all lovely to take in.

You see, on the bike you can always stop and take in the moment or scenery as you see fit. And i did just that. In short – the mere decision to leave cities behind me has revived my hunger to explore India. Thanks go to Royal Enfield motors!

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India 🇮🇳: Losing steam in Darjeeling

I had a lot of hope for my time in Darjeeling – the city of the champagne of teas – and all started very well. During my trekking in Sikkim i got to know a group of Romanian hikers under the leadership of a Romanian guide (Simina) who had travelled India and south-east asia intensely and even published a book. On top of having a lovely time socializing post hike in Yuksom, they also offered me a free and direct ride to Darjeeling… Hard to say no and with good views on the way (be it foggy ones as so often in these hills).

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Once in Darjeeling we were greeted by rain. So i buggered off to Glenary’s cafe for lunch and to sort accommodation. There weren’t many great options short notice and i was tired, so i booked a OYO hotel in the center. That night didn’t offer much bar a few beers at Joey’s and an early sleep.

Next day i headed back to Glenary’s for breakfast – black forest cake & brownie 😊. Apart from blogging i wasnt keen on much, but decided to get myself a ticket for the steam toy train ride. I did enjoy taking in the mountainous scenery though – all Darjeeling is built on hills just like Gangtok (but bigger).

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The train was a complete waste of time. Views are limited and only good on viewpoints that can be reached by other means faster and cheaper. The museum at India’s highest railway station (Ghum, 2,258m) offers a few insights into the engineering masterpiece the Himalayan train line was at the time, but still i felt underwhelmed.

Rain was back just in time for afternoon and eroded any last bit of drive i had that day. So back to Joey’s & the mobile. I ended up having a good conversation with two italians and later than evening with some locals. Still, i just wanted to get away from here. Sorry Darjeeling… I know there is a lot more on offer, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out.

Water crisis in Darjeeling

On the way to Darjeeling our drivers used the lunch break outside town to get their cars washed. I was told there is a water crisis in Darjeeling, which seems odd for a city with so much rain. Failure to keep reservoirs up with population growth as well as poor distribution infrastructure explain the issue.

A solution locals implemented were a host of private water supply lines (leaking big time) … This not only looks extremely confusing, but can only be a short-term fix i think. How hilarious 😂!

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