Exploring the Scotland of the East with a Tata Nexon
You have fancied about a holiday in Scotland, haven’t you? No doubt it is a beautiful place but not a place you can go for a weekend, right? Well, we got you covered. Armed with a Tata Nexon and a good camera, we headed out to explore a beautiful, lesser-known place.
So welcome to Meghalaya, and as the boards around the state say, Scotland of the East. The Queen’s minions from the west might have come here to conquer some more land and stumbled on familiarly Scottish territory, only to realise they are 10,000km away from home so at their creative worst, they called the place Scotland of the East. I’m not sure it’s a true story but I like it that way, you know like how Khajjiar is called mini Switzerland and Delhi is called the gas chamber (soon, maybe?). We landed in Guwahati, the country’s gateway to the North East, picked up the glowing orange Tata Nexon and within minutes, were on to the Guwahati-Shillong highway.
Driving to the desi Scotland
Meghalaya is to the south of Assam and the Shillong highway or NH6 takes you off NH27/AH2 across a seemingly regular junction outside Guwahati. What you don’t realise is that right there you sign up for a state full of glorious, serpentine, black satin roads that just never end. It’s THE state for a road-trip. Even if you do nothing besides driving around Meghalaya for a few days, you won’t return thinking you missed the sights. It’s all right there like one big viewing gallery outside your SUV’s windshield.
“Meghalaya is a state of hills, not huge daunting mountains that instil equal parts fear and awe into every traveller”
The route is full of switchbacks, devoid of traffic and the curving road is the perfect wallpaper foreground to the drama on its sides. Meghalaya is a state of hills, not huge daunting mountains that instil equal parts fear and awe into every traveller. It’s like a warm blanket to shield you from the cool breeze, and as the sun rises or sets, clouds begin to dance around the dim diffused light. In that light, turning in and out of every corner, the Tata Nexon feels at home on this road trip. The pace is steady, the engine in its sweet spot, the suspension could go on a vacation on this road, comfortable seats and crisp music out of the Harman entertainment system. The drive couldn’t get any more soothing, like a maestro on the piano. We don’t realise how soon we reach Jowai, a small town an hour out of Shillong.
The weekend at the Weekender
We drove past the setting sun into the pitch dark of the evening as every light in town was off, almost like a ghost town. I’d assume the music festival we were going to was drawing all the electricity of the town and its inhabitants were bearing the brunt of a good weekend of business. It’s not the ideal welcome as we crawled into a place called The Festive Hills, where the NH7 Weekender was hosted. Nonetheless, we drove in to Encamp Adventures, a camp site set up by a Guwahati based adventure company to drop our luggage off and get to the festival.
“Picture a 50,000 strong crowd swooning to Poets of the Fall’s Cradled in Love or trying to match up to Mahadevan’s Breathless”
Encamp is one of those cool out-of-college ideas a bunch of young, enthusiastic, guys and girls came up with a few months ago. They pitched tents at the Ziro music festival in Arunachal a couple of months ago and this time it was bigger and in the woods with tents surrounded by pine trees and fields. Nothing like that rustic feeling when you’ve driven this far for an adventurous weekend so we decided to camp at Encamp. With sleeping bags in tents, a camp-fire after party and a starlit sky over us, the mood was set for the weekend. Back to the NH7 venue, a long walk took us to four stages and a schedule of performers making a relentless effort to keep the crowds entertained. Over 40 bands went on stage over the next two days, with names like Poets of the Fall, Switchfoot, Shankar Mahadevan and Pentagram appealing to people with all sorts of musical tastes. Tipriti Kharbangar held Meghalaya’s flag high, Zubeen Garg gave a tribute to Bhupen Hazarika, Dewdrops gave the happiest performance at NH7 with their reggae numbers, there was something for everyone. Picture a 50,000 strong crowd swooning to Poets of the Fall’s Cradled in Love or trying to match up to Mahadevan’s Breathless. The atmosphere was festive enough to justify the name of the hills.
In between the two nights of music, was a long day open to exploring more of Meghalaya. The drive to Cherrapunjee unfolds a side of Meghalaya that would take you to the heart of Japan, especially around this time of the year. The second week of November is marked on the calendar as the Cherry Blossom festival in Meghalaya. We were a week early for this but many trees had already started to change colour, and frequently we’d spot them lining the roads leading to Cherrapunjee from Shillong. You subconsciously take your smartphones out and get clicking at their sight, because the added colour to the landscape is so refreshing, not to forget the bright orange of our Tata Nexon itself. Once in Cherrapunjee, a dirt road leads you to Nohkalikai falls, India’s tallest plunge waterfall. 1,115 feet may feel like a lot but when you stand by the viewing gallery, the might of the hill holding the waterfall dwarfs the length of it, only to amaze you as you get closer. It’s a broken trail to get to here and finally the Tata Nexon feels like it’s in its element. There’s a joy in blasting through a trail when you’ve got an SUV capable of ironing out the trail’s imperfections when hatchback and sedan drivers are gingerly negotiating that trail.
“You subconsciously take your smartphones out and get clicking at their sight, because the added colour to the landscape is so refreshing”
An hour east of Nohkalikai falls is Laitlum canyon, a long broken country road away in the East Khasi hills, and by then, as we’d expect on a day of driving through Cherrapunjee, the overcast skies had opened up a big rain cloud on us. The canyon comes up out of nowhere and offers dreamy views of a hilltop overlooking a valley, a trek leading to a stream down below and lush green hills surrounding the gorge. When you drive into Meghalaya, every view is worth a memory, and yet there are places like Nohkalikai falls and Laitlum Canyon that offer more than you’d expect and leave you speechless at the extent of nature’s beauty.
So why go to Scotland when Meghalaya gives you the landscape of Scotland and Japan fused into one, and more. It’s a road trip you can do with the Nexon without filing a carnet for it.
You can read about our Tata Nexon adventure in the Ziro valley here.
Words by Anand Mohan