I’ll be honest when I say that I didn’t really know what to expect before visiting Cherrapunji. Sure you could guess that the clue was in the fact that Cherrapunji is the rainiest place in the world.
I went in armed and ready with coat, raincoat, and umbrella. Turned out, the only thing I needed is a light jacket.
Before I get into the details of the places I visited, let me just step back and give a quick overview of all that’s there to see and do in Meghalaya.
Coming from the south of India (Bangalore), Guwahati in Assam is the most accessible airport. From there on, we drove south through the state of Meghalaya. The above map highlights the route we took, and the places to see around there. However, we didn’t have the time to do everything in this map. Lesson learned is that one week is way too less time to cover both Assam and Meghalaya satisfactorily. Meghalaya alone requires a week (or more).
Anyway, we drove down to Shillong from Guwahati airport, and made that the base for a couple of days. From there, routes fork into two. We devoted one day to the right-hand fork – to Dawki river and Mawlynnong (the cleanest village in Asia) – which can be done if you manage your time very well. We didn’t, and that’s a story for another blog post.
The second fork goes to Cherrapunji and Nongriat, which requires at least 3-4 days, but we tried to squeeze in as much as possible in two days.
Nongriat is the first place we visited after touching base in Cherrapunji. This is the place for hiking and trekking activities. This is also the location of such natural wonders such as the Double Decker Living Root Tree bridge, the Rainbow falls, and other such beauties.
There is quite a strenuous hike to the Double Decker Living Root Tree bridge. We first drove to Tyrna village, which is the last motorable point. From there, we trekked downhill down a steep set of stairs to Nongriat village.
At the end of this trek is the Double Decker Living Root Tree bridge. Living root bridges are fairly common in Meghalaya. The native tribal people constructed these bridges using natural resources available in their surroundings. They guide the roots of large trees with the help of bamboos and intertwine them over the years to form into strong bridges.
The Double Decker Living Root Tree bridge is different from other such bridges, because surprise it has two levels of bridges, and also because of the natural beauty that is found during the trek.
The trek passes through numerous streams, hanging bridges, remote villages, lush green forests and cascading waterfalls.
The trek also got pretty spooky in places with gigantic spiders and spider-webs along the trees where we walked.
Narrow metal bridges were another hurdle we had to cross. They swayed alarmingly, and could not take more than 4 people at a time. We did not know that and all of us walked confidently across the bridge (single-file only), and then the bridge started to sway. One of the girls panicked and ran across the bridge making it even more scary for the rest of us. Somehow we clung on and made it across. There were two such bridges.
I wish I had the photos to share with you, because the view across these bridges was sublime. But the shaking of the bridge made me very nervous, and I didn’t want to drop my camera or phone.
At the end of the trek was this beauty.
I went around looking with awe at the living root bridge, built patiently by the villagers from generation to generation, patiently guiding the roots of the rubber trees across the river with the necessary supports. It is two bridges stacked one over the other and one of its kind in the entire world. It’s truly a wonder in itself. My photos just don’t do justice to the place.
This bridge was originally not constructed for tourism purposes, but for the villagers to cross the streams. These streams looked harmless and shallow when we saw them. However apparently in the monsoons, the rains are extremely heavy. So heavy that the lower bridge got covered entirely forcing the villagers to construct the upper deck.
Because the trek is so strenuous, there weren’t too many people. So we settled down there and had a picnic lunch. Then played in the waterfall. It was a pretty magical site.
Funnily enough, there was a fashion blogger at the bridge having a photo shoot done. It was interesting and fun to see what goes on behind the scenes of a fashion blogger shoot. I asked her for her blog, but unfortunately, I have a mind fart right now, and can’t remember her blog URL.
Anyway, the sun was starting to set (the sun sets really early in Meghalaya), so we headed back. This time the climb was to be an upward climb, and I was really dreading those steps, and those swinging bridges. Surprisingly though it wasn’t too bad. There was one really steep section, but other than that it all felt pretty doable. The trick was to climb up slowly and steadily. We set a tempo and stuck to it. No stopping to sit, or rest our legs. We just climbed slowly and steadily, and yes, no looking up or down as otherwise it would just be too daunting.
If you are going on this trek, I’d recommend giving it a minimum five full hours, which is what we did. This is enough time for the climb to and from the bridge, and a little extra time relaxing around the place.
You can also extend this trek over a couple of days by including the Rainbow Falls. You can do a further hike of 3 km and after crossing 2 more living root bridges and 2 iron bridges, a small deviation leads to Rainbow Falls and an amazing and secluded natural swimming pool.
The trekkers we met from other groups had planned better than us. They stayed the night at the simple Nongriat village, and then did the second part of the trek to the Rainbow Falls. Since we hadn’t booked a guest house earlier, we had to climb back up within the same day, and hence missed the Rainbow Falls 🙁 .
The next day ignoring our aches and pains, we set off early to see Noikholikai Falls. The falls is pretty close to Cherrapunji and very easily accessible by road. Basically, it’s just a view point.
But what a view! We were simply awestruck by the beauty of these falls.
Nohkalikai Falls is the tallest plunge waterfall in India. Its height is 1115 feet (340 metres). We took the easy route to the falls – just driving down to the nearest view point, but there is also a trek that you can take to the head of the waterfall. Read an account of a trek to the falls here.
There is a tragic and bizarre tale behind the name of the Nohkalikai Falls. Apparently, a young mother remarried after her husband died. Her new husband was very jealous of his step-daughter and resented the attention the mom paid to the child.
One day, when the wife was away, he killed the child and cooked a meal for his wife. She came back from work hungry and ate the meal. In the end, she discovered a finger and realized what her husband had done. Distraught with grief, she ran to the edge of the waterfall, and threw herself off the cliff.
Since then, these waterfalls are called Nohkalikai Falls, after her name Likai.
Apart from waterfalls (there are plenty of them – one around every mountain bend almost), Meghalaya is also known for its elaborate limestone caves.
Most of these caves are pretty huge and require elaborate equipment and time – neither of which we had planned adequately for. Instead, we opted for the smaller Mawsmai Cave, which is also conveniently close to Cherrapunji. Mawsmai Cave was enough to give us an experience of caving without too much stress or fuss. It takes about an hour to go through the cave, which was just the right amount of cave that we wanted 🙂 especially after the grueling trek of the previous day.
I don’t have too much to say about the caves. We explored the cave on our own without too much issues. There is no need of a guide as the route is a straightforward in and out route. Be careful of your footing though as it can get a little tricky. Also parts of the cave get very narrow, so if you are claustrophobic, you might want to skip this one.
The last place we visited in Cherrapunji was the Ramakrishna Mission. We weren’t allowed to take any photos of the place, so I don’t have anything to share with you. It’s like any other Ramakrishna Mission in any other city in India. I spent a pleasant hour walking around the place.
The museum at the Mission was really wonderful and instructive. They had beautiful displays depicting the rural life of the people in the north-eastern states of India. I don’t know much about the history of the north-eastern part of our country, and I loved reading all about the history of the local kings, their struggles against the British, and so on.
And that’s it. This was all we could see and do in Cherrapunji. I am dismally aware that we saw only a few, limited places. I realize now that I should really have budgeted for more time. But alas! the plight of a working professional is such that only limited time is available.
Still, I am pretty satisfied with the beauty of all the places I did see. And maybe another time, I will be able to come back and do more justice to the place. Fingers crossed!
Coming up: posts on Dawki, and the Umngot river.
Hope you liked this long and rambly travelogue of mine!