Escape the throngs and discover Meghalaya’s countryside gems. Quaint little towns, pine forests, giant monster rocks and much more – the trip to Lum Kyllang is a great way to get acquainted with the outdoors person in you….
The rolling hills of the Shillong plateau offer a contrasting topography from the steeper hillsides of Nagaland and Mizoram, and it is this gentle scenery which captivated the Europeans when they explored the North-Eastern area of the Indian sub-continent.
However, with the coming of independence and later the statehood of Meghalaya, Shillong slowly changed its image from the idyllic hill station that provided relief to home-sick Britons to a semi-chaotic modern town trying to hold on to its natural beauty but also not being able to ignore the quick prosperity that came with urbanization. Now a romantic who visits the town will come across a bustling city center and witness traffic jams and all the images of fog covered pine ridged hills and quaint cottages conjured will require a little more hard work to experience.
This is not to say that the misty, novel-like settings of Shillong are gone for good, but they’re certainly on the wane and not as obvious as a couple of decades ago.
On the other hand, the country-side of the Khasi Hills is the hidden treasure of Meghalaya, not yet exploited in a travel agent’s itinerary. The highlands offer many a good trek and some beautiful drives, some hidden streams and sometimes just an eloquent sense of space that culminates in a wind swallowing gorge.
One of the lesser known places, Lum Kyllang rock is a pretty good destination for a day out. A 700 ft high massive single structure dome of granite, at an elevation of about 5400 ft above sea level at its peak, and measuring 1,000 ft across in diameter, it constitutes a surreal image, jutting out of the surrounding forests like a huge cave troll from Middle Earth.
Keeping Shillong as a starting point, an early start is recommended to fully enjoy the journey and the destination. Take some food along for the final trip but avoid heavy bags as the trip involves a steep hike. As the road twists out of Shillong and joins National Highway 44, the air gets cooler and the traffic sparser. The trip is recommended during winter, to avoid the slippery conditions that come with the monsoon. The wind blowing into one’s face can be almost freezing and the clear skies translate to very cold nights. The terrain changes from hilly roads with a huge drop on one side to straighter roads with fields on both sides and pine covered hills beyond and back again to forested gorges and roads that look like stripes across the mountains. It is recommended that one stops at one of the village food stalls to sample the famous country chicken of that area and maybe some of the other local delicacies. Vegetarians are instructed to enquire first before they order something unfamiliar as most of the dishes are meat based.
Before reaching the rock, the road passes by the town of Sohiong, situated in a shallow valley at 5100 feet above sea level, a picture that could have been an artist’s representation of a pre-industrial English countryside, complete with church and field. The region is famous for being the land of the Nongkhlaws, a clan of Khasis who fought the British under the leadership of Tirot Sing, an iconic figure of this part of Meghalaya.
As you reach the final stretch of around 10 kilometres, the surrounding area changes from meadows, to pine forests with a generous sprinkling of rhododendrons; the road is a bit rough on the home stretch and finally, the dome-like southern face of Lum Kyllang beckons on the horizon.
The hike up the rock during the dry winter season is relatively easy, but still steep. It would take about half an hour and as one reaches the top of the windswept dome, it feels like the wind would blow you off the rock face. It is recommended that you stay off the steep sides of the rock as it is a sheer drop and there are no barricades. Enjoy the spectacular views of the surrounding areas. There are summer houses on the northern flank of the rock where you can have lunch.
The northern face is where one ascends and descends and you can take a small nap on one of the grassy clearings near the path – although your slumber is very likely to be punctuated by the loud bang of gunpowder. That would be the quail hunting in the distant forests and locally made muskets are a weapon of choice.
Winters would mean short days and soon it would be time to head down the rock and back on the road to town. As the sky darkens, experience the transformation of the woods from gentle green pine groves to ominous silhouettes that would suggest stories of poor woodcutters and hungry witches. Each spot illuminated by your vehicle’s headlights would create a wondrous dread about the darkness around it – with the crickets giving a score to it. On a moonlit night, you can take some interesting pictures of the undulating landscape under skies so clear that the constellations can be mapped.
By the time the lights of Shillong welcome you back, you would feel a bit disoriented after such a short rustic getaway. A hot dinner preceded by good whiskey by a fire is recommended, and in the mean time you can look back at the day and wonder if Tirot Sing heard the same loud bangs of English muskets as he tried to catch some sleep in the Nongkhlaw forests.