On a cold November evening in Shillong, we opened the doors of a garage that was filled with an eclectic mix of vehicles. I rolled out a colourful and muddy dual-sport motorcycle, while my friend, Phillip, pushed out his Yamaha RD 350 that was still under restoration. Next came an old scooter that started on the first kick and zoomed out of the garage quite effortlessly. Behind them all stood the vehicle that I truly wanted to see&mdasha 58-year-old, left-hand drive, petrol Willys jeep.
Phillip, who owns all these machines, has a reputation for finding and collecting some extremely quirky machines. He doesn&rsquot just polish them up and keep them in a spotless garage, but actually uses them to do what they were originally made to do. The vintage scooter is his daily driver around the town and his dual-sport motorcycle is known to have been taken down trails that even cattle would frown upon. The vintage Willys jeep is treated no differently.
So, when I asked Phillip if we could take the jeep out for a spin, he suggested that we go for a drive to a 4x4 track on the outskirts of Shillong after breakfast the next day. Somehow, that idea eventually became a plan to try and spot some of Meghalaya&rsquos famous low-lying clouds&mdashand so, we were back at the same garage at 4am the next morning.
Before we could leave, Phillip had to get the jeep started. He went through a well-rehearsed routine&mdashchecking battery connections, adding some fuel to the carburettor, squeezing and warming up lines before pumping different pedals in a rhythmic manner and then finally turning the key. The jeep came to life almost immediately, and after letting her idle for a few minutes, we were truly ready to go
The journey to the trail was probably quite nice, but I was too frozen to notice much. It was a cold morning, and we were in a completely open jeep By the time we hit the off-road section, nearly 90 minutes later, the story was quite different. As the sun came up, the sky suddenly burst into colour. The jeep climbed up the gnarly trail with an ease that showed no ageing while adding enough excitement to get our adrenaline pumping.
And, when we eventually made it to the top of the hill, we were left with a view that took my breath away&mdashrolling hills as far as the eye could see, one side lit up by a spectacular sunrise while a large body of clouds floated slowly below us on the other side.
They say that the best things in life don&rsquot come easily, and often occur when you least expect it. This sunrise was a somewhat poetic manifestation of that reality. I don&rsquot think I can truly describe, in words, the beauty of what I saw that day. But, I can assure you that the only place where you&rsquore likely to witness something so beautiful is in Meghalaya. It is, after all, the 'Abode of the clouds'