I waved my single tear goodbye to Dan in Shillong a few weeks back now. I watched him trying to make a casual exit through the unpredictable traffic, immediately feeling vulnerable as a man walked past looking at me just standing there apparently for no reason on the baby pink steps. I turned around and went to my room, sat on the wiry hard bed, had a quiet moment and realised I was excited.
I have been in Cherrapunji – the wettest place in the world – since we parted ways, I have taken the opportunity to find some peace and stability while my computer is being repaired and I am also waiting on a package being sent with supplies from Australia (just a few trinkets – a stove, some innertubes, camera case, my new sunglasses thanks to Oakley, an ereader, a new charging adapter for my dynamo hub. All things to be self sufficent)
Cherrapunji is a good place to seek solitude and contemplate life. In the evenings it storms with a thunder so deep and low it seems to come from within you rather than from the sky.
Cherrapunji is atop a high flat mountain south of Shillong and closer to the Bangladesh boarder. I had ridden up with a French bike touring couple who were cycling for a year as a holiday and had already done much of Asia.
We had climbed 25km higher out of the mountain city of Shillong and surfaced to what was a wide, rocky and grassy plateau in the sky with cliff edges on either side and blowing grasses of green and browns and yellows, flapping washing on lines and clouds making light patchy and dramatic across the strange plains.
Tourism is common here with at least 1 new westerner arriving everyday. Most coming through the quiet guesthouse I am staying at since there is little where else to go. I have stretched out my activities so far and wide, most days I do no more than walk to the shop to buy some bananas or to the tea shop to drink tea. Sometimes I will get on my bike that remains unlocked outside my room. I will go for a ride because I think I should and within seconds as I hear that sweet sound of my cleats clipping in, I feel my muscles remember who I am…and that isn’t a tea drinking banana buying slob and I have to stop myself from riding too far.
I rode to the Bangladesh border accidently one day. There were waterfalls and endless slightly hazy views all the way, the people’s faces had returned to being Bengali and no longer tribal. Thin and dark they drew their children away from me as I said ‘hi’.
I missed my turn off that would of sent me back up to the guesthouse. Instead I rode all the way down the mountain and into the dead flat plains of Bangladesh. It’s not everyday you accidently find yourself at the mouth of another country and I kind of just shrugged and turned around to look at the back of the mountains whos shoulders where in the clouds. Now 1 o clock the crackers from breakfast were forgotten and I was hungry but I put my head down and started the climb surprised at how much I have changed as a cyclist. Less of a scaredy cat and more like a mountain lion.
3 or 4 or 180 hours later I was 10 km from the top feeling less like a mountain lion and more like a starving dog. I still hadn’t had anything to eat. And I was weak and my shirt unable to hold one more drop of sweat it clunge to me as if i had just stepped out of the water. Every 100 meters I would have to stop and fold myself over my handlebars looking at the roadside and wondering if I could spend the night there. I started walking my bike and a tiny Suzuki pulled up and asked if I needed help to which my reply of ‘fuck yes’ was a little over the top. We laid my bike in with half of it just hanging out the back and they asked for 500 rupees which even in my exhaustion was far too much and went to take my bike out again. But then they said again ‘ok ok we will help for free’. I sat sharing the front seat with a dude with my 100% wet shirt clinging to my body and not in a sexy way.
Small difficult chit chat and within 2 minutes the young guy I was sharing the seat with told me to ask the manager of my hostel if he could spend the night with me. I just raised my eyebrows and said ‘na bro’.
I’m not afraid of cycle alone dispite this kind of shit. Dan and I both get the same treatment, it doesn’t make it any less intimidating and frustrating if we are together or not. I doubt he gets people asking if they can spend the night with him but I’m sure he gets offensive questions I don’t too.
It feels quite literally like you are an animal at a zoo sometimes. Even with the children wanting to throw things at you. If you cycle past them they often have rocks in their hands poised in the air ready to throw.
A week ago I caught the bus 15km back down the mountain towards Bangladesh where there is a village you can only reach by foot, down 3000 steps and across a river or two. I took only my raincoat and spent 3 night’s sleeping in the small village of no more than 10 little houses all spread over the side of the mountain and connected by steps. I hiked to rainfalls and swam in crystal pools inbetween enormous boulders of the mighty river that has eased over the dry season creating serene crystal swimming holes.
During the monsoon which is supposedly about to start the river rages so big and wild you can hear it for miles and the powerful water throws these massive rocks around and makes sounds like a bomb when they crash into eachother. The people who live here describe it as frightening, I would love to see it.
The village is well known for the bridges made from a rubber Ficus tree that naturally twists and grabs a hold of trees and rocks around it and hundreds of years ago when the villages were tired of repairing the bamboo bridges that wouldn’t survive the monsoon they started encouraging the roots to create living bridges.
It took me an hour to charge up the hill and back up the 3000 steps feeling like I could do it 3 more times my legs enjoyed it so much and now I have spent this week organising and reorganizing my bags making enough room to fit in my extra bits and bobs.
I’ve been here for so long the unfriendly cat is now my friend. It’s time to move on.