Where did the sun come from? The way it rained all of yesterday, we could be forgiven for thinking it had abandoned us entirely. But there it is, bright as ever, with all of three clouds to keep it company in the Guwahati sky. We squint through our camera viewfinders at our photo shoot near the Bhramaputra, and the light is so harsh, even at 7am, that it's hard to get a decent shot in. Best get a move on, then.
The highway out of Assam, NH37, looks like it could someday be a great driving road. The four-laner passes through some hills, so there are lots of elevation changes, and a good mix of tight corners and medium-sized straights. For now though, it's not finished, and there are so many diversions that you can't always tell when they start and end. As a result there are often cars going in both directions on either side of the divider, so we're glad we're doing this stretch in broad daylight. This is pretty much par for the course all the way to Shillong, and thanks to Meghalaya's excellent 103.6MhZ FM radio station, we will forever associate this stretch with rock 'n' roll.
An interesting motoring-related observation about the North East. All those bright and colourful paint options that you see in a new car brochure, but stay away from because 'it will hurt the resale value', here's where you'll find them. Two out of three cars here will be painted some outlandishly vibrant colour, and they're all dressed up to the nines with spoilers, bumper extensions, decals and alloy wheels - even Tata Nanos. It is, quite frankly, pretty awesome!
You have to hand it to the traffic police in Shillong - they run a tight shift. They are well respected, they maintain good order on the roads and they swiftly and politely enforce the law with perfect tact. But they are a bit flummoxed by the Audis' LED headlamps. "These are illegal aftermarket fitments," they insist. “And why are they on in the daytime?” It takes some amount of inspection on their part and explanation on ours before it's made clear that these are just what headlamps are starting to look like these days.
On the Shillong-Mawsynram road, there’s a blink-and-you-miss-it right turn. At it, there is a signboard, most of which has rusted off (must be all that humidity), that points to our home stretch. Take this turn and it’s like you’re no longer in India. The countryside is more akin to the highlands of Scotland – the greens are darker, the rocks craggier. The road is barely wide enough for your average SUV, yet there is a neat divider painted through it. Villages are few and far between, and all we have for company is the odd farm every few kilometres, and the occasional Meghalaya Tourism Maxi Cab, usually a bright yellow Mahindra Bolero filled with about 30 people, barrelling down the road. There are a few small hills ahead, and the sky above them is pitch black. It’s strange, because right now we’re under sunlight. We must be approaching our destination. We ascend the first hill straight into a cloud; for a few minutes visibility is absolutely zero. It starts to rain too, and the tiny road now winds around a cliff face. We try to get some photos, but it’s pointless – every time we get into position, a cloud comes between cars and camera.
Then we see it, across a pass and slightly higher than us – Mawsynram, the wettest place in India. It’s a quiet village, and the few locals present barely give us a second look as we roll in. There’s an obligatory photo with the cars and the village signpost taken from the shelter of an umbrella, followed by a hot cup of red tea for the team at a little stall on the side of the road. We’ve done it.