Here we are, on the outskirts of the one region considered to be the wettest in the world (at least before global warming). But no dense fog or slippery roads yet, and always an impeccable bitumen going up towards Shilong. We are tempted to take advantage of the late hour to cross the city and avoid traffic jams, but because it is precisely late, it is high time to stop after this long day, including a tire change!
Very peaceful vision the next day, the turquoise waters of Lake Umiam under a radiant sun, with its islets make you want to dive in. But no time to visit, direction Cherrapunji and its liana bridges!
In the traffic, of course more congested than on our arrival the day before, we will need a good hour before leaving the traffic jams and the city, to find ourselves even more in altitude, on a road lined with conifers, like in a micro temperate climate.
Then it will be a plateau with shorter grass, ocher streams (very close to La Lopé in Gabon), pretty little villages built around the numerous churches (heritage of the strong presence of Christian missionaries in these remote regions), and faces closer to those one expects to find in the Himalayas: we feel like, once again, we left India…
It is after the fork towards Sohra and Cherrapunji that we can admire the green mountains, their distant waterfalls, and the famous dancing clouds, just before a perfectly clear view of the very irrigated plains of neighboring Bangladesh.
We are advancing at a very slow pace on the small, broken and winding road which sinks into the East Khasi Hills, and it is only in the middle of the afternoon that we will reach the small village of Tyrna, point of departure to our final destination. Time to equip ourselves, then we leave for a small excursion in the heart of the lush jungle, crossing villages at the end of the world, only accessible via an endless series of steps.
Easy part at the start, 600 steps downhill (even if the drop hurts the knees, especially for Loïc who carries Ntyalé on his back), to reach the first bridge, the « simple deck ». Stepping over a small torrent and lit by the last rays of the sun which manage to pass through the dense vegetation, this creation of man and nature in perfect symbiosis, all in curves, lianas and aerial roots, is magnificent.
We take a few minutes to capture these moments, a nice reward after this first part of our little expedition. There’s still enough daylight to try to reach another bridge and getting a double beauty show, two kilometers and some 2000 steps further. We get motivated, the children follow, we hurry forward, crossing other bridges, more modern, over superb torrents, and meeting some inhabitants and also tourists on the way back, breathless.
Finally, we reach our goal: the « double deck bridge », overlooking a pretty waterfall which flows into a landscaped pool, where children will take a dip despite the darkness. Well, we left with the idea of going back to the truck in the same evening, but the prospect of dragging the children on 3000 steps, almost permanently in steep ascent, and at night, makes us dream less… So we improvise one night in the simple little lodge just a stone’s throw away, fortunately open, and where we will share a dinner (more than welcome after having skipped lunch) with a friendly Indian family.
Front row the next day to see this heavenly decor in the light of day, to enjoy a new swim for the children and an impeccable foot care thanks to the small fish that come to peck our dead skin, and of course to catch up with souvenir photos.
A handful of tourists, a few villagers who scrape the sand at the bottom of the basin and carry it on their backs (for them, this daily decor far from everything and perhaps far from being as idyllic as we imagine)…we would gladly stay here for a few more hours!
But with the 3000 steps to climb and the 600km that await us up to the Burmese border, we must already get back on the road. So it’s off for a very steep ascent, Loïc is quick on his feet, even with Ntyalé on his back, and we follow pretty well. A few breaks to admire some beautiful specimens of insects, a lot of sweat, of course, and finally, we find Tyran and Arty less than 2 hours later. Nice performance for the mwanas!
During lunch time, we chat with a few locals, including a very rare Indian traveling in a fitted vehicle who will confirm that the road to Imphal via Silchar is ok. Good news, it will save us from having to almost go to Guhawati and Dimapur. You still have to go back by the same path and Shilong: this time, partly through a beautiful fog, worthy of what we expected to see in the area.
A not so straight last line, and almost an epic for our last 4 days in India…
We will leave the Meghalaya to cross again the state of Assam, in its more hilly part and for which monsoon alerts and damaged tracks were still issued a few weeks earlier. On this road which again borders the border with Bangladesh, we have the feeling, even more than in the previous state, of crossing into one of the poorest regions of the country: lots of very slow trucks, loaded (often also broken down), some minibuses and 4 * 4 carrying passengers, but almost no two-wheelers, a sign hinting at the standard of living…
Then it will be the plain again, and the nocturnal and very chaotic crossing of Silchar, normally prohibited for Heavy Vehicles until early morning (but with nerve and pushing with the « traffic police », it will work): not a meter square without a pothole and not just little ones!
Nothing visibly broken for Arty, so we can continue, always on endless winding roads, framed by a very thick jungle: those of Manipur, where the TATA truck (in front of us, behind us, or lying on its side), stays king. We will not avoid two long stops due to bridges being repaired, one-lane bridges (in very noisy sheets), and landslide (with the furtive and terrible vision of two trucks carried along with part of the road and resting 200 meters lower, shattered).
Come on, we invoke the power of the mind to get as close as possible to Imphal and catch up. Mission accomplished, a few checkpoints and 90km further, at night, we finally stop, 35km from the city.
Finally a little plain, but it will be a short respite, because we must already take the road to Moreh, just to have a day in advance before the border crossing. Ouch, it’s starting to go up, for sure that we won’t keep up with our fuel level (more rupees, impossible to refuel in USD or pay by card). Phew, assisted by a construction vehicle that will accept our dollars, we are progressing slowly on this not too catastrophic road, but under construction, and will finally be caught up by the night and a lot of fog, but we are doing well.
Finally, after yet another checkpoint, here we are in Moreh, in the starting blocks for our meeting with Myanmar!