Solitude on the banks of Meghalaya’s Umiam Lake

Travelogue: From the sunset on Umananda Island in the middle of Brahmaputra, to the dawn at the Umiam Lake.

By Krishnakumar S.

On a recent Sunday morning, after a three-day Conference of the Indian Society of Labor Economics in Guwahati, we reached the Umiam Lake in Meghalaya. Myth mixed with legend and local history says thus: Once upon a time, long, long ago, there were two sisters who went out for sight-seeing. One of them got lost, and the other returned to Meghalaya wailing and weeping, and there was a lake of tears, there was Umiam Lake. Travelers called it Barapani Lake.

Nestled in the cradle of nature on the foothills of the Khasi Hills, on the way toward Shillong and before North Eastern Hills University, Umiam offers nature at its best. The earlier in the morning we reach Umiam, the better, the driver Bhaskarda said, lest we miss out on the sun rise and the serenity of nature. Once the boatmen are in action, it is boats, boats everywhere.

Bhaskarda drove as fast as he could, but we were sure to miss out on the sunrise at Umiam. In fact, after the early sunset view we had on the Umananda Island in the middle of the Brahmaputra in Guwahati the other day, it was asking for too much from nature, I thought.

Luckily, as we approached Umiam, driving along the curves, twists and curls up the route to Shillong, the sunrays were yet to appear. There were clouds looming high in the sky, and its clear reflection was visible in the serene waters of the lake below.

As we loitered through the dew laced grass lands, and the haystacks, and become wanderers in the bountiful nature, on the banks of the lake, amidst the haystacks, in the company of little birds and the misty cobwebs, a fisherman with his net was rowing his way through the waters amidst the cold breeze.

For him, it was another day in search of bread. As he unravels his bundle of woes and shares his stories to “Umiam” (the lake of tears) and rows ahead, we watch from afar.

From amidst the clouds, the golden sunrays make their grand appearance, in between the trees, which seemed to be looking on to Umiam, taking silent notes of the tides of history.

Little did I know that music long lost would fast come knocking, that we broke the silence of the dawn with “When the sun shines on the mountains and the night is on the run, it’s a new day, it’s a new day, and to fly up to the sun.”

No wonder that the nineteenth century European planters of Assam chose Shillong as the capital and set up their cottages and bungalows there. If Brahmaputra and Umiam trigger the sense of nostalgia amidst the migrants from the region in other parts of the world, for the first-time visitors, it seems to be giving us a “come again” invitation.

We had our packed breakfast on the banks of the lake, took to a small round of kayaking, and, much before the crowds were to reach, and breach the silence and solitude of the place, we took leave.

The lone ranger fisherman was yet to come back. We wanted to meet him, but couldn’t. And as we depart, the nearby cathedral has its Sunday mass. As hymns and halleluiahs interspersed with music emerged out of the church, Umiam was found reverberating with it in symphony.

Krishnakumar S. teaches economics at Sri Venkateswara College, University of Delhi. The author acknowledges Rajib Sutradhar and Anamika for the great trip and company.

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