I have been quite fascinated by AirBnb in general. From a company that began operations by using inflatable beds and basic cereal boxes, it has since gone on to register a market cap of USD74 billion. And only recently did I begin exploring its listings. What appeals most to me are the non-traditional options its offers.
In my case, I was looking for offbeat locations in Meghalaya. One particular accommodation stood out. Listed as ‘Houseboat on Umiam’, I was immediately drawn to this tiny dwelling. The pictures showed it as being the only one, featuring only one room. In that sense, it was quite exclusive. What was even more interesting was the fact that it was only accessible by boat.
Now Umiam Lake was once a river. A hydroelectricity project was initiated in the 1960s and ever since, it became a lake. Incidentally, this was northeast India’s first hydel project. If one is to analyse it from a political standpoint, the neighbouring city of Shillong was then the capital of undivided Assam. It was, therefore, the most important regional city at the time.
When I checked the houseboat’s availability, I realised it was entirely booked out for December 2021. Even in November, there were only a few days when it was available. Luckily for me, there was a vacancy on my travel dates. Fearing that it may get sold out while I looked at other options, I immediately booked and paid the amount. I then reached out to the host who informed me that boats were available only till 5 pm. I would later realise that it was anchored to the Lumpongdeng Island.
Getting to the houseboat
We were a group of three travelling from Kaziranga in Assam to the Houseboat on Umiam. A little error in time estimation meant we were making a mad dash to make it in time for the last boat. Fortunately, we made it just in time and in hindsight, it worked out perfectly.
We parked next to what is called the Meghalaya Tourism Department’s Sports Complex. It is located just off of the national highway — about 150-200 metres away. As one enters the narrow road, the first structure that comes into view is the White Orchid Hotel. The road veers to the left, leading to a spacious parking lot.
When we boarded the little speed boat, it was twilight. And the colours that it cast on the waters around us was breath taking. I was secretly hoping it would be a fairly long ride but in only about five minutes, we were at the houseboat.
The first impression of the place was a tad eery. Without any lights, its silhouette appeared in the distance. And then when we were anchored next to it, a figure appeared on the houseboat’s veranda. With a camping light strapped to his forehead, the caretaker looked straight out of some thriller.
One friend, Nitin, was clearly anxious with the whole experience. To make matters worse for him, he realised the place was off the grid — that there was no electricity. With a discharged phone, he felt even more at unease. My second friend, Arun, seemed to like the place. Together, we tried to allay Nitin’s anxiety by suggesting to him that this place would present us with a spectacular sunrise.
Unmatched quiet and serenity
The houseboat’s single room was a large one with a double bed. The sides were mostly all glass and on the opposite side of the bed was a large sitting area. The bathroom, although tiny, was clean and it featured a shower even. I guess I was just surprised that this place had it all.
The room opened out to a spacious veranda. I sat there for quite some time simply basking in the moment. There was a dim hurricane lantern on the table next to me and I didn’t mind the absence of electricity one bit. In fact, without any lights in the area, the stars above seemed ever so clear. Meanwhile, the loudest sound in the vicinity was that of water gently brushing against the lake shore.
A brief while later, we were served some snacks and tea. And not too long after, it was followed by dinner. We called it an early night since we wanted to wake up before the crack of dawn to try and catch the sunrise.
And just as we’d planned, we awoke a little before 5:30 am. The advantage with the glass all around was the fact that we did not even have to get out of bed. While an actual sunrise we did not see, the myriad colours that appeared in the distance was quite the spectacle. Against the soft glows of orange, pink and yellow, the hills in the foreground appeared a silhouette. The beautiful sight did beckon us to get out of bed and take numerous pictures.
Following breakfast, we took a walk towards the caretaker’s home. By this time, the sound of speed boat engines had become increasingly more frequent. On the other side of the island were several large tented accommodations for visitors. And on the other shore was a large concrete structure that was a luxury resort called Ry Kynjai.
Fortunately for me, Nitin did end up liking the place. On a future visit to such locales, I will suggest to him to take a power bank along.
It was around 10 am when we made our way back to the area where we’d parked our vehicle. Our next stop was going to be the Elephant Falls, near Shillong.