Kolkata and Cherrapunjee
India will always have my heart. There is simply no other place like it.
It’s almost embarrassing to admit that over the last few weeks I’ve had a few times where I’ll walk around a non-descript back alley, or scrape my chair out of a typical grimy street side restaurant, and then my brain will suddenly freeze for an instant and I’ll realize that I actually forget where I am. I’ve heard that the same sort of thing happens to frequent business travellers who wake up in a hotel room, or land in an airport, and in passing moments aren’t exactly sure what city they’re in. It makes me fairly upset when this happens (not only because of early-onset dementia…) because considering the amount of effort and sacrifice (and blind lucky privilege) it takes to be able to travel like this, I should bloody well at least know which country I’m in. But that is the best part about India. Once you arrive there is absolutely never any doubt - the sights, the smells, the colours, the curved arch of the doorways, the patterns of fabric, the jingle of charms on a passing anklet, the jarring mix of poverty and affluence, the lingering taste of chai on your lips. Where else on Earth?
I started this visit to India in Kolkata, as it was the last of the major cities in India I had yet to explore. I hadn’t heard many flattering things about Kolkata over the years and my guidebook had a few dire warnings about the condition of the city and its accommodations, so thankfully my expectations were set so low that I was simply delighted by the few amenities that crossed my path on my few days there. Cute old-world cars lining the streets, a pleasant little neighbourhood with cafes and decorative lights at night, and my very modest hotel even had a fancy sliding glass door and an elevator! Opulence. Of course, to derive any pleasures from these things you need to turn a blind eye to the people sleeping on the street, the constant attention from beggars, and ownerless dogs with broken limbs or pieces of their face missing. After being exposed to these kinds of extremes for so long it can be surprising just how easy it is to stop noticing.
The main reason for this trip to India was to visit Meghalaya, a province located in the remote North East of India and far removed from the rest of the sub-continent. A quick internal flight and a few shared jeep rides deposited me in the town of Cherrapunjee that likely has more in common with rural South East Asia than with the rest of India. It’s also literally the wettest place on Earth and the rainfall statistics for the area are startling, although luckily I was met with clear skies and refreshing temperatures after sweating in Kolkata. The main attraction for me here was a chance to walk across the living bridges constructed entirely by the living roots of fig trees. The bridges are built (grown?) over streams by local tribes and take a couple of decades of growth until they can be put into service. And they are without doubt the best example of harmony between man and nature that I have ever had the pleasure to witness.