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Day 5: Narrow Caves and Narrower Stairs

The roads were paved by their ancestors

The valley has an amazing network of concrete and stone stairs that connect distant villages. Today’s trek took us through two villages. Our destination was a small network of caves. The mean elevation of the trekking route is 60 degrees with small burst of regions having elevation of 75 degrees as well.

It is astonishing to find how meticulously the roads were laid up. Each generation builds a bit of the road in a place that is not easy to traverse. Slowly, in many years, the entire stretch gets paved. In olden days, the steps were laid using stones. Long stretches of our today’s climb was via these steps. The regions near the villages have been repaved using concrete. Yesterday, on our way to uncharted falls, we even came across an unfinished concrete flight of stairs.

There is a small section that connects the edge of one mountain segment with the edge of another. It was very narrow and the elevation was insane. We barely had space to plant 20 percent of our foot on each stair. The local legend says that the government had sent an engineer to build a path to which the engineer flatly replied that it was impossible. It was then built by a local man alone.

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The steep and narrow stairs. I took this picture while descending.

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The angle of the pipes will give you an idea of the inclination. The camera is horizontal.

It is not that the government has not put in any money. Small resting places and water reservoirs have been built at places under the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. However, one look at the project boards is enough to reveal how less funds have been allocated to these projects. It wouldn’t be very far off to say that rural Meghalaya has been neglected by the Indian government.

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Water reservoir cum resting spot built by the government under the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.

It is not easy to live in the valleys

The nearest motorable road is three km on either side. We came to Nongriat from one of the sides (Tyrna village), we were walking towards a motorable road on the other side for the cave. In fact, the second village is near the motorable road. These two places are fifteen kilometers away.

The villagers travel between villages for various needs. One of the primary need is religious in nature. Nongriat has a Roman Catholic church. The first village we crossed had a Presbyterian Church and a Church of God while the second village, set up only five years ago, had no church. Families travel every Sunday and every day during Lent and the whole week until Christmas to reach their respective churches. It isn’t easy. I asked if missionaries send money for the churches. It turns out that the money they receive is inconsequential.

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This is the Presbyterian Church in the first village. This was also our first resting spot.

Goods need to be transported, too. These villages produce bay leaves, pepper, cinnamon, beetle nuts and other seasonal fruits like oranges, jackfruit, guava, litchi, etc. These items are mostly transported manually. The new village has set up a ropeway to transport goods to another village near the valley.

These villages receive water from streams. Sometimes streams dry up or divert. This had caused an entire village to shift some ten years ago. They did not have water in winter. Some villages like Nongriat have constructed micro-dam like reservoirs to avoid such problems.

Education and healthcare accessibility is a huge problem. The kids in these villages are mostly educated till primary school. Only five to six guys go to Sohra to get a higher secondary education. There are no doctors in the villages. The nearest healthcare is in Sohra. People who are sick and can’t walk must be carried. Those who feel that they might fall sick go to Sohra as a preventive measure. Climbing 3000 fleet of stairs as a sick person is near to impossible.

The cave

The cave, Krem Mawsyrwait, is located very near to the new village. The entrance is amazingly narrow. The interiors have very few pockets where one can stand straight. For most of it, one has to crawl over the streams. A torchlight is absolutely necessary.

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The entrance to the cave.

I took off my shoes and my jeans and kept them nicely on a natural rack. It was easy to follow the guys with lesser weight on me and with lesser stuff that could get wet. Barefoot traversal of caves is very tricky. You have better grip but there is a greater chance of injury due to sharp rocks. There are concealed pits that are about two feet deep. Since we were crawling, an accidental placement of hand in such a pit would mean losing ones balance and hitting the face.

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The traversable tunnels were narrow and low. Our only option was to crawl. Image courtesy: Gowri Sankar.

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A close up of the crawlspace. There were areas where we had to climb down into pits.

In certain areas there were Stalactites and Stalagmites. They weren’t that huge as the cave was geologically a new one.

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A cul de sac in the cave with stalactites hanging down the ceiling. Since it is a newer cave, the stalagmites are ill formed.

We found a spot where we had just enough room overhead to sit. We switched off all the lights and it was pitch dark. Opening or closing ones eyes made no difference. The only thing we could perceive was the sound and feel of water gushing over our legs.

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Me and Nandy resting in a place where we had some room above our heads. Image courtesy: Gowri Sankar.

Addendum : As with the last post, this post was published on 16th December due to lack of internet connectivity at Nongriat.

Day 6: Eat, sleep, meet travelers and do nothing [10]
Day 4: Nongriat and Paradise [11]