It began to drizzle and before I could finish my tea and the paratha, the rains got sharper. The rain has a thing with me; it always transports me back to my childhood when I would enjoy the sound of raindrops falling on our tin roof and then rushing out in the open to play. Simple joys of life! I suddenly felt an urge to feel the rain on my skin again, somewhere quiet in a less anxious space. I decided to go for a brisk walk in the forest.
It was 7 in the morning and I was already at Nongpoh – halfway to my quest- ‘The Rhododendron trek’ at Upper Shillong in Meghalaya. It is a forgotten route amid the clutter of modern times. When I took the walk, I realised I got so much more than I had come there for. The trek not just unveiled the plentiful gifts of nature but helped me live the story behind an ancient trade route used by people and their horses.
With a few steps towards the forest, Kamal, a local from the area came hurriedly to me and said, “bhaiyya teen ghante mein complete kar lenge ye trek”, meaning ‘we can complete the trek in 3 hours’. A rather lean, tall young boy, he introduced himself as a local college student who frequently came into the forest. I was happy to have his company.
The Rhododendron trek route remains open from October to April every year- precisely the time when one can experience the blooming of the lovely Rhododendron flowers. However, the notice board at the entrance also issues a stern warning that nobody should remain inside the forest after dark.
Shortly after we began the walk, Kamal had several stories to tell about the presence of spirits, but I asked him to keep such tales to himself and focus on the trek. Chirping of birds, a pristine landscape amidst the pines on one side, and Rhododendron trees alongside the waterfall on the other was an intense piece of artwork carved by nature. I could feel the rain from the gaps in between the trees. The scene was beautifully complex. Isn’t everything in nature that way-beautifully complex? It is only when we complicate it, do things go haywire. Slowly as the trek progressed, the canopies of the forest got thicker and the silence, more intense. Sometimes, I would enjoy the silence and sometimes I would invite Kamal to a conversation.
At some curves, we were greeted by -astoundingly beautiful waterfalls. Just around the waterfall, the Rhododendrons begin to appear more densely, and the forest adds red to its dark green hues the alluring Rhododendron flowers are a treat to the eyes. For the locals, rhododendron flowers have different medicinal uses. The most common use among them would be curing stomach ailments and help digestion.
Kamal kept on narrating different stories from the mountains and soon I realised that we were walking on the same route that ancient Khasi people used to travel. The route was later used by the British as their offices were located below the modern day Shillong peak and what is now called the Rhododendron trek was the most convenient route to commute. It took us little less than three hours to complete the trek. By the end, the rains got so heavy that we were drenched. All soaked up, we had to take refuge under a shed just around the end of the forest. As the walk came to a closure, I felt joyful. I was washed over, not just by the rain but with a sense of peace and gentle happiness. The forests never disappoint.
Should you do it?
If all you have is half a day, stamina to walk 6 km, and enjoy quietude of nature, I would recommend this walk to you! Don’t forget to refill your water bottles from the natural springs on the way!