I had heard of Mande Burung; the local yeti, mysterious caves and wildlife sanctuaries hidden in this unknown land that were beckoning me to explore it. I knew it was just waiting to happen, taking space in my mind and patiently waiting for the right opportunity. And one day, Paul my friend called to inquire about a one-week adventure bike trip in the North East. This was my golden chance for Garo Hills. I proposed him a road trip with me beginning in Assam riding into the Garo Hills and finally entering the Khasi hills at the south-west border. It was approved and met with eagerness and excitement. This was literally an adventure trip planned by joining dots on the map, which is not at all an accurate geographical representation of this constantly changing landscape where nature and political unrest alter their border lines and topography every day. I used all my research and contacts to plan the trip in such a way that we ride through untouched emerald expanses and visit most highlights along the way.
Paul and I met in Guwahati, our starting point for the trip on the 8th of April 2018, to begin our much-awaited tour the next day.
APPROACHING GARO HILLS THROUGH THE ASSAM PLAINS
Day 1 – Guwahati – Siju
It is rightly said, “you don’t plan the day here in the monsoons, the rain does it for you”. We woke up to a loud thud from the sky on the 9th of April, our first day of the trip. We had planned to set off early to avoid traffic, but the rain decided otherwise.
Delayed by one hour of torrential rain pour, we had to re-work our route to avoid as much city traffic if we were to enjoy our ride. This made us take the bypass road along Deepor Beel, a longer route but an assured picturesque landscape with minimum traffic.
Riding on a straight road through the Assam plains, we stopped for chai and samosas in Kurkumara and continued our way to Dudhnoi, where we turn south to enter the Garo Hills to escape the heat that had engulfed the entire Brahmaputra plain.
From then onwards, except for a few (illegal) coal trucks and local shared taxis, we were lone riders on the deserted road or more aptly dirt tracks. After a much-deserved lunch break in a roadside bamboo thatched restaurant, we continued our journey to Siju, snaking through fields and gardens and non-existent road tracks. The last 20kms of our 180kms journey to Siju was the roughest part of the ride, and we were relieved to finally arrive at the market and meet with our guide Plinder. He would be my pillion and our guide for the next five days showing us places we would not discover on our own. Even though I’m a tour leader and guide myself, I cannot imagine exploring a new place in the North East for the first time without a local guide. Armed with extensive knowledge of the place and a local identity, a local guide plays a major role in our discovery of the place and is also our privileged link with the local people.
At Siju, Plinder checked us in the rest house overviewing the Simsang river. After a long day on the bike, Paul and I were ready to dive in, when just in time Plinder stopped us saying the river is polluted due to extensive mining in these areas. We were exasperated to know that this reckless activity of the locals has left the river highly polluted allowing no aqua life to flourish in it. With no alternate means of income to sustain their lives, these rural areas are at the fringe of losing most of their natural resources to imprudent trade practices, but as visitors, we were in no position to comment on it. Having understood this, we retired to our balcony to relax and be silent spectators of local traders carrying their tower of betel nuts on bikes to sell in the nearby market.
By dusk, the town slows down till it comes to a complete halt, leaving only the spell of silence and the sounds of nature to take over. We surrendered to rural life and went to bed by the local clock to continue our Siju exploration early the next day.