We hate saying goodbye to our fantastic staff so it’s lovely when they send us news of their adventures. This week we’ve had an update from Nick ‘with the hat’ bar dude…from Shillong…
“At the end of March I bid farewell to the Social Club and left Meghalaya Monkey looking after the bar. With Callum and Jake leaving too, in true HSC style, Lucy and Simon arranged quite the send off. The unknown spirits from the bottom shelf were tasted and all of a sudden I was done, off to India with Tourette’s monkeys’ profanity still ringing in my ears.
So for anyone who doesn’t know me, I’m Nick. I was the bar man with the hat on. In September I’m off to med school in Newcastle and finding myself with 5 months free I decided to do what any sensible person would do and head to a remote hill station in the North East of India to help some friends open a bar. Or well that was the plan at least.
Little did I know, that as I was cruising at 30,000ft, the high court of Megahalaya had decided to enact a 50 year old law banning all bars a off-licences within 200 meters of a school or place of worship. In order to give the magistrates time to sharpen their tape measures all legal alcohol sales in were shut down. This essentially rendered Shillong a dry town.
Plans for the bar were shelved. For a while I wondered if I had been a little mad deciding to come out at all. Thankfully there has been plenty for me to do here in the absence of the bar. The Laloo family who I am staying with found plenty of other things for me to do. So far I have found myself helping plan a rooftop terrace in the middle of town, designing a smoothie menu – which includes several fruits unknown to the outside world, trying my hand at cupcake decoration, packing a baking order for 5500 people until 7am and turning plastic bottles into hanging gardens.
Alongside this, my friend, and eldest brother of the family, Zorba has a company called Camp Fire Trails. Which specialises in taking teenagers from schools in Shillong on camping trips. These trips serve as an opportunity to introduce city kids, many of whom have never even been swimming before, to a range of activities. My personal favourite is of course kayaking (all be it on a lake). They also get to try their hand at zip-lining and abseiling. I vividly remember doing a similar trip to an outdoor centre at school and to be able to share what I got out of that and my love of the outdoors is great!
I have also taken the opportunity to get to know more about the extremely diverse and rich tribal culture and history of the north east. In the Laloo house it is not uncommon for four different languages to be spoken over breakfast. Alongside English and Hindi the main language here is Khasi. The Khasi people originate from the Khasi and Jantia Hills which make up two thirds of the state of Megahalaya. I have been enjoying getting to grips with the basics such as “Kumno phi-long? Nga Shiat” which is the equivalent to “How are you? I’m fine”.
There always seems to be something happening in Shillong or in the surrounding hills. The music scene here is impressive. For both Bob Marley and Bob Dylan’s birthdays there are celebratory concerts with genuinely talented and unique musicians playing. Plus there are numerous good cafes around town which often have local DJ’s playing or acoustic nights.
Escape the melange of Shillong and you are greeted with some of the most beautiful places on the planet. An undisputed highlight of my trip so far is the weekend I spent in Nongriat. I tiny village nestled in a remote valley 3 hours from town. Down towards the border with Bangladesh. Nongriat is only accessible from the surrounding hill top villages via 3000 steps. A punishing hike in and an even more taxing climb back out. The walk is definitely worth it. One word describes this place: Paradise. Centuries ago the locals got tired of their bridges washing away with the monsoon rains that pound the area and earn it the title of the wettest place on earth. The solution was to train the roots of the trees to grow in to super resilient root bridges across the rivers. They are undoubtedly a marvel but it’s the remote and tranquil nature of the place, the stunning blue river with deep pools to swim in and the waterfalls cascading off every cliff that make it so enchanting. I stayed only three days but I could easily have got lost there for weeks.
It’s now coming towards the end of my second month here. The bar is back on and I have been busy this last week planning the lay out. Although we have not been super productive as one of Zorba’s closest friends just got married. A Shillong wedding is an impressive affair. In a little over a week I am going to hop on a train all the way across the country and head up to the Himalaya. My plan is to spend the next two months exploring the rivers in the North West states of Uttrakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir. I will then return to finish my trip back in Meghalaya. Hopefully when I get back to Shillong it will be time to develop the cocktail menu and the new coffee machine will be installed.”