Winding across the border of Bangladesh and Meghalaya, is the azure spectre of the Unmgot river, its crystal waters crossing rough dilated stones, breaking down the salt of geology and dislodging muscles of quartz to create the most sublime landscape. The little border town of Dawki, lies nestled at the seams of the two nations, approximately two hours (90 km) from Shillong. Excluded from most of the travel literature of North East India, this little town is a treasure trove for every kind of traveler, from the adrenaline junkie to the hermit.
The trope of a female solo traveller in India is riddled with no small measure of fear with perhaps a small dash of vulnerability and the north east is a perfect stage to challenge the stereotype. Kindness and hospitality is a cultural phenomenon, and the travel offers a gateway for the vulnerability to manifest into self-discovery. Budget travel within the north east is rather straightforward, a mini bus or a sumo can transport you to dawki from Shillong for as little as 200 rupees, the verdant plateaus tease the senses, offering glimpses of waterfalls, relief landscapes, rolling hills cloaked in dense fog for miles altogether only to reveal pristine panoramas once again. The very act of travelling offers a pleasure independent of the destination.
Following the first glimpse of the border is the Dawki Bridge, a suspension bridge constructed by the British in 1932. Boats are scattered gently across the aquamarine waters, silhouetted by rocky cliffs and gentle waterfalls descending into the placid water. It’s a breathtaking sight, and one’s excitement is only compounded with the crossing of the bridge as if it were a telltale sign of the magic that lies in wait.
Accommodation in Dawki is limited to one government guest house, a modest affair in the middle of the town which is hardly worth the trouble. There are several more appealing lodging options scattered gently along the river further upstream, from home stays, to small huts and camping on the river. I chose to stay with Bright star camps in Schongpendang, run by a lovely and enterprising Khasi man called Mickey. They had two wooden huts, nestled into a cove by the river and offered tents pitched on the river bank for intrepid travellers. As night descended, I was grateful for the sturdy shelter, as a cyclone descended on us. It was a visceral experience, the vibrant green-blue landscape of the Unmgot river was plunged into a monochromatic storm, the pulsing lightning plunged the night from deep darkness into instantaneous presence. My windows were open to the storm and open to the dark night. As I sat up in bed cradled by the soft boundaries of the mosquito net, I began to notice other presences in my little hut, sharing the storm with me… Hundreds of little insects were in my abode taking shelter from the cyclone and among them fireflies! It was a most magical sight, the twinkling yellow fireflies, foregrounded by the electric blue storm and peppered by thunderous interludes. The storm winds brought home a message, that when we offer ourselves up to our vulnerabilities, we allow the possibility of strength to grace us. I woke up to a sunny and pleasant morning, the cyclone having exhausted itself in the course of the long night, the signs of devastation were all around us, in felled trees and broken property. In an act of remarkable resilience, the locals set out to repair the damage and move on to the contents of day’s labour.
I spent the day indulging myself in blue, immersed in water, swimming among the butterflies that bedeck the shores of the river, snorkelling among crystal waters and kayaking across its sinuous form to discover waterfalls that journey for a union. The river offered itself in abundance, from the delicious river fish to its gurgling music, delighting every sense. The afternoon’s aquamarine stretched into the deep Prussian of the evening streaked with the embers of a radiant sunset. Dawki’s atmosphere offers nuance to solitude and extracts all the pleasures from nothingness. It is a place to lose yourself in order to gain the self. They say that blue is the colour of loss, it’s the light from the spectrum that gets lost and scattered over everywhere and nowhere all at once. The world is blue at all its edges and tips, blue sky blue ocean, they melt into each other. We are drawn to the blue because it offers us the gift of loss, for only in our vulnerability, can we ourselves find the spirit. In the several days that followed, dawki’s pristine landscape was a site of exploration and discovery, a journey that mirrored within the beauty it presented without.
The Roman Philosopher Meno once said, ‘How will you go out finding that thing the nature of which is unknown to you?’ I wonder if it is perhaps a big plunge in the big old blue?