2nd December 2019 & rolling down
Crossing a plateau, my friends softly pointed towards what seemed a cliff on the right-hand side. Soon I stepped on a creaky platform and looked into the landscape.
“Is it functional?” I wondered whether the thing could slide down. A nod came as a reply. I could see some of the rock face we were standing on, and was thinking, also about getting out of the gorges before the dark. We were on the way to one place about which other locals advised the locals. Gayang had to remember many streams and forks in the jungle if we were to find it in time.
I looked down at the sort of the structure that plunged over 20 m down. “Good idea to have a look down, I think.” The first steps were tilted and the bamboo a little slippery but there was a railing to hold on to. First, it was some 15 m of almost vertical drop. “Good functional” sounded from behind.
When we returned, I noticed the man with the girl were also down and are now climbing back. The steps were nearly waist height of the kid, hands and legs stretched as she could. She even looked more agile at it than we did. Her father moved casually behind her but I could see through the lens he was watching her movements.
I was shooting until she got to the top. I put my knee to the ground and grabbed her hand: “Brave girl!” Feelinda saw me (and heard) photographing so she wasn’t that surprised. I would say she was quite pleased with the attention. Everyone was smiling and chatting, but the wide-open eyes were curious about the unusual appearances more than about the climbs she does every other day. There was something else in the air, too. We had some interesting conversations today, ones that contributed unexpectedly, and it was a high bar to reach to consider something a contribution in these special days. They sprang spontaneously. It happens when people feel close. This was also a reminder of how quickly it can happen. They were about the young generations. The vibration was felt there. At one occasion later, my friends were speaking Khasi but the father’s face showed unmistakeably the chord was stuck. I think I saw a hint of surprise too. Strange foreigners.
Men from the village (before we reached it) are crossing the root bridge. The first sunrays penetrate the forest. Something we wanted to avoid. That’s why we set off early in the dark.
Our friends, born in these hills, sat down when we were shooting on this side and were having their snack. We crossed to the other side and turned left to climb under the bridge. But the climb was riskier than expected. This terrain changes with each rain.
Things that could go wrong flashed in front of my eyes soon after I passed the spot. I turned and climbed back warning Zlatka, cutting through the torrent’s roar when she appeared within reach. Did we rush this now? About 10 cm of sloping ground covered with dirt, debris and leaves that I cleared partly for her foot was separating a person from a fall onto the rocks. The bamboo pole she also used could help or do the opposite as a temptation of holding the weight a little longer could break the critical movement. The way she looked (and being more conservative than me), surveyed the terrain and moved made me stare on but the realisation that we broke our rule was dawning on me increasingly. Her bag wasn’t bulky, and she didn’t carry the tripod but this was hazard without a rope. It wasn’t easy on the way up as well. We still have mixed feelings about the climb today. It was right on the edge of yes or no (as it was that day). We were not shooting long when we saw our companions climbing down too. I didn’t have time to think but somehow I didn’t expect that. The teacher Bilang, 58, had an advanced stage of apparent glaucoma in both eyes (“can still see but small things”) and Gayang (40+, as Bilang put it) was wearing flipflops. Hmmm. They soon appeared in the ravine happy and went about exploring gigantic boulders, views of the confluence of two rivers below and knocking down fruit.
Gayang remembers huge trees reaching to the edge of the river in the village. A massive flood in 1988 bulldozered all out, together with 27 houses, moving landmark boulders and rocks (parts of waterfalls) of enormous sizes across the whole sections. He was pointing out some of them, showing the places where they originally were. The force of such flows is out of our natural world.
The trees make a comeback after events like this in a hundred years or so, but with the human element playing now decisive role this is more than uncertain. When he talks about those trees, his eyes seem to roam into a distant beauty of impalpable dream that he can’t bring back.
Fishers often stay out in their tents. The handmade boats (including the planks) are made in a small village community some way downstream. The termites are finished with the boat like this in three years, then a new one is needed.