The guys that I met in Jorhat gave me a phone number of a guy to call when I reached Guwahati, which is a big city in central Assam. Supposedly he would be able to help me with everything I was looking for. I had some directions for where to meet up with these guys, but was lost shortly after entering the maze of a city. I had a guy at a shop call the number for me and ten minutes later a young guy cruised up on a Royal Enfield 500. I followed him to a motorcycle shop that’s owned by him and a few other guys. They specialize in customizing Enfields and aftermarket parts. A cool group of guys.
I was in dire need of a new front tire, was endlessly searching for 29mm valve shims, had no clean clothes, and wanted to give my bike a scrub down. It was pretty much impossible to find my tire size because it’s bigger than anything they have in India. It would have to be specially ordered in, which would mean staying put somewhere and waiting. I gave up on the tire. The search for shims was virtually impossible because nobody seemed to have any engine knowledge and couldn’t even understand which part I was talking about. After a couple of dealerships couldn’t help me, I gave up on the valve shims. After dawdling around they came to the conclusion that there was nowhere open with mashing machines and dryers. The only option was hand washing with air-dry and I wanted to leave in the morning, so I gave up on washing my clothes. I hadn’t accomplished anything and the sun was down. I was close to giving up on the motorcycle wash. We were in the shop sipping on rum and smoking on some herb when a guy came over and announced they were ready for my bike. This put a big smile on my face, which was extra big from the herb. A young kid and his dad spent over an hour detailing every inch of it.
They were so excited to be washing my bike and were calling their friends to let them know. They definitely gave it some extra love, and just wanted some pictures afterwards and to smoke a beedi with me. It went in with a couple months and countries worth of gunk caked into it, and came out looking brand new. It looked the same as when I very first bought it on that stormy afternoon in Bathurst, Australia. It brought back memories of camping in the Blue Mountains with my van and shiny new motorcycle friend parked next to it.
Our first nights together were rough trapped in a snow storm. So many adventures lay ahead. Now me and the motorcycle had managed to get ourselves all the way to India and both looking good. One of the guys put me up for the night at his apartment and a few of them took me out to a fancy club followed by some awesome street food. I’ve eaten a lot of chicken egg rolls in my life, but they do their own style in Assam. It’s basically round flattened out dough fried on a wok and once it’s cooked into bread they pour some egg onto the wok followed by tossing the greasy bread on top of it. Once this is ready it’s piled with tandoori chicken, veggies, sauces, and then it’s all rolled up. Perfect late night food. During the night, the police will hide at intersections and try to stop people, which is completely in the name of getting bribes. They’re just out trying to shake people down for some cash. On the way home as we came under an overpass a group of them yelled for us to stop, but that wasn’t in the cards. We sped by and one of the police grabbed ahold of my arm. As soon as he realized he had grabbed onto a foreigner he got a look of shock and let go. My host and I stayed up late eating curries and roti and smoking on some terrible Assam weed. In the morning I aimed south and entered the state of Meghalaya.
Down close to the Bangladesh border is the town of Cherrapunji (historically Sohra), which is part of the East Khasi Hills. There are some impressive waterfalls in the surrounding areas. Just outside of town is Nohkalikai Falls up high on the plateau. On a clear day, you can see out over the plains of Bangladesh. Cherrapunji is most famous for being “the wettest place on earth”.
They hold the record for most rainfall in a calendar month and a year. Luckily I came through in the dry season and saw nothing more than a sprinkle. The falls have dramatically less water at this time, but it’s still beautiful. I arrived in the late afternoon and the skies were very ominous and again I felt like I was back in the Blue Mountains.
The orange cliffs had the same look. It’s a strange little community of shacks with around twenty residents. A restaurant at the entrance serves up a huge menu of dirt cheap delicious food.
The guy who manages the area owns the restaurant and he had no problem letting me camp. He took me to a nice spot to set up and told me all about the travelers from around the world who’ve camped there. I had an incredible spot looking over the falls and the valley below.
“Boss John” worked hard sun-up to sun-down, but as soon as the work day was over he slid into chill out mode. He allowed himself just one glass of wine per night, which for a tiny guy like him did the trick. It reminded me of my little grandpa having a glass of wine and being good and buzzed up. We would chew on local tobacco and talk for a couple of hours each night. He told me the first day I met him that I was part of the family now. The old Khasi ladies living there were so cute. During the day, they would sell homemade tourist trinkets and wild cinnamon. I would tease them and share laughs.
We spoke a goofy sign language to each other that got us by ok. I used one of the families buckets and hand-washed all my clothes with a bar of soap. Most of the locals got a good kick out of this. There’s a steep trail that leads down to turquoise blue pool, which is fed by the towering falls.
The hour and a half trail isn’t the easiest and I ended up a bit lost on the way down, but the thundering sound of the falls colliding with the rock led me in the right direction. To get to the pool you have to do some rock hopping and boulder climbing. It’s a gorgeous setting with the vibrant water, golden cliffs, and lush green plant life. I don’t think a whole lot of people make the trek down in and I had it all to myself.
The sun was shining hot and I had lost track of the last time I showered. So what better opportunity is there to hang out naked in nature and take a bath. I relaxed on the huge sandstone boulders all afternoon. When the day came to leave, I packed up, hopped on, pulled the choke, and pushed the starter, but nothing happened. About a week before, my battery started acting up and I had to fill the cells up again with water. Now my battery was life was finished. I got a push from a local, pop started it, and rode the sixty or so km back to the city of Shillong to get a new battery. This little moment played a big role in the following days of my trip. I had planned on heading into Bangladesh that morning and riding west for a few days before coming back into West Bengal, India. This ended up not happening. It took me the entire day to track down the right battery for my bike, get it charged, and everything put back together.
I was stressed out of my mind after dealing with people all day who didn’t speak a word of english and ripped me off. So before it got dark I rode around looking for a place to stay. After getting lost for a while, I stumbled across a big “Hostel” sign with the Hosteling International symbol. It was the strangest hostel I’ve ever stayed at in my life.
On the bright side it was only $2.50 a night. The people running the place were very strange and seemed extremely surprised that I wanted to sleep there. I loved the sign they had in the entrance and it gave the dreary place some credit in my book.
They told me I could have a bed in one of the rooms, so I put my stuff on one of the beds and went out for dinner. Once back, I walked up into the room and was met by terrified looks from some women and guys looking at me like I was an alien. Literally these girls were looking at me like a rapist. It was very uncomfortable, and it was hard for them to understand what I was doing there. Once they realized I posed no harm, they sat in the balcony staring at me all night with big smiles. I met one really cool younger Indian guy from the western part of the country who had quit his successful job and started traveling to see his country. We shared some interesting conversations and at one point a man from Garo Hills joined us. The Garo Hills make up the west of Meghalaya. He filled my head with a bunch of neat stuff and told me about the ongoing conflict in the area. There’s fighting between the government and rebel groups who want to break away as a separate state. I’d seen in the recent papers that there had been attacks on police convoys in the area. I was drawn to seeing this area, so I ditched the Bangladesh plan and headed west from Shillong. In hindsight, I sure wish I would’ve gone to Bangladesh. My favorite breakfast in India is fresh samosas and sweet milk tea. In the cities they always have fresh warm samosas, unlike the small towns where they’ve been sitting in the window for days.
They make a perfect snack to take on the road. They’re a triangle of pure goodness. The best ones are made up of a flaky pastry outside and filled with potato and vegetable curry. Sometimes you come across the evil cousin of these samosas. It’s a different type of dough filled with shredded cabbage and carrots and deep-fried. I’ll eat them, but it’s a bit of a grease ball. It’s always fun sharing breakfast with a bunch of strangers. I spent the day riding from the West Khasi hills to the Garo Hills. It’s not as dramatic as Nagaland, but still pretty in it’s own way.
The road was amazing most the way and a lot of it was brand new. Through some sections you could see the hard work being put into it all. Families sit on the sides of the road chiseling and hammering on rocks.
I got into the Garo Hills and had a choice to make. I was just outside of Williamnagar and could go stay there, or I could go north back into Assam and find a place to sleep. Around Williamnagar is where a lot of the attacks and confrontations had been happening. I first chose this way, but I got some strange vibes as I was going along and something was nagging at me to turn around. I listened to it and switched course to head north for Assam. I ended up making it to the city of Goalpara, which is along the mighty Brahmaputra River. The Brahmaputra is one of the major rivers of Asia, starting in Tibet, crossing through NE India, entering Bangladesh, and then emptying into the Bay of Bengal. Many people s livelihoods depend on this river and are at the mercy of it. I arrived in Goalpara at sunset and just snuck into town before I had lost all daylight.