Day Five in the North East: Dawki & Umngot River

When I was booking my itinerary to Meghalaya, the initial plan I was sent didn’t contain Dawki. But in pictures it had looked magnificent – crystal clear waters that make boats seem like they are floating on nothing. I had Dawki added, and so left from Shillong post breakfast to get here.

The road distance to Dawki from Shillong is about 80-odd km and passes through beautifully verdant locales. Kolita was grumbling as usual, but that didn’t take away from the sheer beauty of what lay by the road.

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I saw the Umngot River at Dawki from atop the hill and wanted to stop for a photo. But Kolita insisted I see Tamabil first – the Indo-Bangladesh border. While my family originally hails from that side of the erstwhile Undivided Bengal, I wasn’t very keen on seeing the border because it seemed too full of lorries and dusty. But Kolita had work at the taxi association there and insisted I go see it.

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So I got off the car and walked through some very dusty roads past BSF checkposts to see the border. This was quite the revelation – if you’ve seen Wagah, you’d be amazed to see that Tamabil looked nothing like an international border. In fact, it looked nothing like a border at all. People and goats were walking across freely, and the only thing that made this feel like a border was the heavy presence and watchful eyes of the BSF.

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Got back from Tamabil to Dawki and walked down a flight of stairs to reach the counter where they were selling tickets for the boat ride. But there was another shocker – there were easily over a thousand people at the river, and I wasn’t sure I even wanted to see the river. But then I realised the people were on one side of the river only, where there wasn’t much water, and on enquiring, got to know that it was the Bangladesh side. The Bangladeshis were celebrating some kind of flag exchange day and had come to their part of the Umngot river, but the BSF made sure no one crossed over to the Indian side.

Paid Rs. 500 for a row boat and moved away from the set-off point. The water was still very clear here, although that also meant I could see a number of chips and gutkha packets at the bottom of the river. Why do people do this to such clean places??

download-7Barely 5 minutes in, the water became crystal clear, with no human rubbish on the river bed. What lay there was a million of rocks of different colours and shapes. In fact, the clarity of water was such an unfamiliar shock that I didn’t even look up to see the banks.

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The boatman stopped at a little sliver of sand first so I could get off and take some photos. Nearby, a woman was smoking up and talking way too much and too loudly. Another few boats had families that weren’t as raucous. But that was it. I don’t know if too many people even know about Dawki, but on this day, it was almost free of tourists, thankfully.

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There were a number of boats where local fishermen were using their country contraptions to catch a fish. I tried to take a video but the guy I was focusing on didn’t get any (but he said that a big fish had taken the bait and got away). Another caught a very small fish.

On the left bank was another strip of land where there was a small shack selling basic food, and near it were a few small tents. The boatman said several people come to camp here, and even if there isn’t much to do, lying under the stars was a favourite acitivity of the campers.

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He took me to the far end of the river where the Umngot was a gurgling stream before it became still and tranquil at Dawki. I got off the boat, got rid of all my winter wear and sat on the rocks with my feet in the icy water, while watching this rather hot guy take the oars from his boatman to row the boat himself.

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On the way back, saw a few schools of fish, but the more fascinating sight was the thousands of tadpoles sticking to the rocks below the water. I was wondering if there would be snakes too, and sure enough, saw a Checkered Keelback sunning on a rock.

I had lunch at a small restaurant right next to the river. Wanted a Khasi thali but they could only serve veg and pork noodles and fry, so ordered the pork.

Ideally, would have seen Mawllynnong on the same day, but Kolita said it was getting too late to see the village and drove me back to Shillong. That man was seriously the only bad part of my trip, I tell you!

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