In this, my final post on my Assam and Meghalaya travels, I want to summarize the best and worst of our travel experiences. I got a lot of Facebook queries on my itinerary and questions on what's worth it and what's not, so here I"ll summarize some of my purely personal ups and downs of the trip. Hopefully, if you are looking to visit either of these places, this post and the subsequent posts linked will help you plan your trip.
For a start, here's a map indicating the places we visited:
And here's a day-by-day split of our activities, with highlights and low points.
We flew to Guwahati, landed in the airport around noon. After a quick stop for lunch, we hired a car and driver and drove down to Shillong. On the way, we stopped at Umiam Lake for some photos, and a chai break, before proceeding onward to Shillong. In Shillong, we explored the Police Bazaar, which we were told was good for shopping and then hit our beds in our hotel - Tripura Palace.
The beautiful drive from Guwahati to Shillong Dinner and stay at Tripura Palace hotel - very comfortable hotel with excellent heating (needed as it was freezing at night). Good dinners and breakfast Beautiful Umiam Lake Downs:
Shopping at Police Bazaar - Not at all worth it. Most of the stuff was poor-quality, and expensive (compared to other places we saw). In addition, we were looking for souvenirs. Instead we got cheap western wear, sweaters, and all. Seriously should have skipped it. Umiam Lake was great. We should have spent more time there. Apparently, the view from the water sports complex nearby is awesome. We didn't know that, just clicked a few pics from the road. So that was a miss.Day 2
This day was devoted to Dawki. We drove down to the Bangladesh border, and then stopped for some pleasant time boating and zip-lining across the beautiful Umngot river. After these activities, we stopped for lunch, and then drove down to Mawlynnong - the cleanest village in Asia. We reached there well after sunset and could just about manage a short walk and some chai before heading back to Shillong.
Detailed post on this experience here: Meghalaya - Dawki, Umngot river, and Mawlynnong
Zip-lining and boating at Umngot river Drive to Bangladesh borderDowns:
The awful lunch we had at Umngot river. Just at the boating place, there is a small shack offering food. It didn't look hopeful, but since there wasn't any other place nearby, we stopped for lunch. It was even more terrible than we expected. If you are going, make sure you take a packed lunch from somewhere else. Bangladesh border - The drive there is beautiful, but the border crossing itself is underwhelming. If you are short on time, you can skip this. Mawlynnong - We reached Mawlynnong well after sunset. It was pitch black and we couldn't see anything much. There is a living root tree bridge close by, but again we couldn't venture there because of the dark. If you want to visit Mawlynnong, and club it with Dawki and the Bangladesh border, book a homestay in Mawlynnong. Clean, and cheap. There is absolutely no point making the drive to Mawlynnong after lunch unless you plan to spend the night. We should have just skipped it and done something local in Shillong. Instead, the drive to Mawlynnong and back was just draining without us seeing anything of interest.Day 3
We checked out of Hotel Tripura, and then drove down to Cherrapunjee. This was our big hiking day where we would hike down to Nongriat double-decker bridge and back. We stopped to pick up a packed lunch from some hotel on the way, and then started our hike. The rest of the day was devoted to the hike, after which, we checked into our stunning hotel near Cherrapunjee - Jiva resort. See these images below if you doubt my word.
The wonderful Jiva resort with its ultra-plush bedding, sorely needed for our aching muscles after the hike. The dinner and breakfast was also excellent. Highly recommend this place. The super-satisfying feeling of completing a difficult trek. Nongriat double-decker bridge feels like something out of a Fantasy movie. It's beautiful, isolated, and the trek to the place was everything we could have asked for - just the right amount of difficulty, adventure, and raw scenic beauty.Downs:
Again poor planning on our part meant that we couldn't extend our trek beyond the Double-Decker bridge. A couple of hours away lies scenic Rainbow Falls, and if we were prepared to spend the night at a homestay in Nongriat village, then we could have done the Rainbow Falls hike as well. Instead, since we had already booked our hotel in Cherrapunjee, we had to rush the return part of our trek to get out of there before sunset. It would have been nice if Jiva resort had a spa or massage options. Day 4
We checked out of Jiva resort after breakfast. We then drove to the nearby Mawsmai Caves, and Nohkhalikai Falls. We also stopped by at the Ramakrishna Mission in Cherrapunjee to spend some time there. Then we started on our long drive back to Assam. Our destination for the night was to be Pobitora, which is on the way to Kaziranga (our key destination).
Mawsmai Caves, and Nohkhalikai Falls were both amazing experiences. And I highly recommend adding these to your itinerary if you are visiting the area. Both these places are within easy reach of Cherrapunjee and are great especially for families. If you have extra time, the Ramakrishna Mission is also worth a visit especially to understand a bit about the history of the place. The amazing lunch we had at Soylina. This restaurant is a very unassuming one on the Cherrapunjee-Shillong highway. But the food is amazing. They serve Chinese food, and it's probably some of the best and most satisfying Chinese food I had on the entire trip. Look this place up if you are on the highway. A must-stop. Downs:
The extremely long and boring drive from Cherrapunjee to Pobitora. As you can see from the map I shared above, it's quite a distance. I was very keen to do Kaziranga, and so we had to lump the long drive to get there. But I would recommend having a break somewhere earlier before Pobitora (even a sight-seeing one). As it stood for us, it was a very long, boring, and uneventful drive. The additional dissatisfaction was that at the end of the trip, the hotel we booked at was crappy. The Zizina Otis Resort that had looked so promising while booking was just dark and gloomy. They offer a glamping option where we can stay in glamorous looking tents. All that I can say is that I don't think glamping is for me. The dinner and breakfast also was extremely sub-par. Because I was so unhappy with the food and accomodation, I didn't go for the morning safari that they do (Pobitora is also known for rhino-watching). Maybe I should have gone for it, because my friends who opted for it were quite happy with the safari, and said they saw rhinos pretty up-close.Day 5
Nothing much to say about this day. The entire day was taken up driving from Pobitora to Kaziranga. We stopped at the Kaziranga National Orchid Park where we walked amidst the orchids. We also saw a local dance, and had some lunch. After that, we checked into Iora resort. We had some free time on our hands, which I utilized by using their spa services, before we had dinner and called it a night.
Iora resort is quite nice. It was a reasonable price, and reasonably comfortable. The drinks at Iora were amazing. I especially loved their chili-flavored vodka. It was perfect for the cold night, and I ordered it both days I stayed there. Also breakfast at Iora had South-Indian options. The masala dosa was heaven!Downs:
The spa services at Iora resort were mediocre. I had nothing to do, and so went to the spa. All I can say is that it beats hanging around doing nothing in the hotel room. The Kaziranga National Orchid Park is also very forgettable. The orchids weren't in season. The food was just about ok, and the dancing nothing much. Again we did all these activities to kill time. There's really nothing to do in Kaziranga apart from the safaris.Day 6
We got up bright and early to do the early morning elephant safari. We did the 6 am slot, which in my opinion is the best time for seeing rhinos. The early morning fog had just started to lift, the day's heat hadn't started, and the rhinos were all active.
More about Kaziranga here: Kaziranga National Park
The Elephant safari was absolutely mind-blowing, amazing. I don't know what other adjectives to use. It was the best experience, and I loved every minute of it.Downs:
The jeep safari was not a down as such. But it didn't match up to the Elephant safari experience. It was a nice experience to see the birds, and the glorious sunset at the end of the day. And overall, I'd still highly recommend doing both the elephant and jeep safaris. Just don't get your hopes up too high on the jeep safari. However, an earlier batch saw a tiger while doing this, so you never can say if and when you hit lucky.Day 7
Checked out of Iora resort and drove along further to a tea plantation in Balipara. This was the northern most point of our travel, and the view of the mountains was beautiful! We checked into Wild Mahseer, which is a beautiful property in the tea estate.
After a bit of freshening up, we went to a nearby village, where we saw yet another Assamese dance. This was lovely though. The dancers were brilliant, and the music very catchy. We ended up joining them in dance. Had such a blast late into the evening. We also did some shopping at Balipara. I really wanted to buy an Assamese silk saree (Assam is famous for this) for a friend, and I found one here. I wasn't too satisfied with the quality or the price. I had seen much better silk sarees at Iora resort. However, I didn't buy there, thinking the prices might be better at a local market. That wasn't the case. But since, we were coming to the end of our journey, I wanted to get something, and so ended up getting this saree. We then had dinner and called it a night.
The amazing dancing by the villagers The very pretty resortDowns:
The lacklustre shopping Solid feelings of homesickness. I think my trip might have been better if we had just returned from Kaziranga and boarded the flight back home. The dry Brahmaputra river - I was very excited to see this river with my own eyes. It's one of the three famous rivers of India. Unfortunately, the portion of the river that I saw was extremely dry. A huge disappointment!Day 8
This was our last day. We got up bright and early, and went for a walk around the tea estate. It was a very pleasant morning. We then checked out, had breakfast, and proceeded on our long drive back to Guwahati airport.
The walk around the tea estate The shopping at Guwahati airport - While waiting for our flight, I saw a small shop in the airport selling sarees, and they were just beautiful, and well-priced too! I quickly picked up a lovely blue silk saree for my mom and it was the perfect end to my vacation.Downs:
Delayed flight ????
So, that was the itinerary we followed. Overall, it's a good one - a fairly challenging one with a lot of rushing about on some days, and long drives with nothing in particular happening on others. If you have the luxury of being able to visit Assam and Meghalaya at different times, do so. I knew I may not be able to visit this area again in the near-future so chose a bit of both.
That does mean that I missed many other places to see in both places.
In Meghalaya, we did not see the wonderful cherry blossoms. They were not yet in bloom in early November. We also skipped other gems like Elephant Falls, hanging out in Shillong town, and so much more. In Assam, we gave the capital Guwahati a complete skip - including the famous Kamakhya temple.
Still if I had to do it all over again, I'd choose to combine Assam and Meghalaya into one trip purely because it is pretty out-of-the-way for me. However, if it is possible for you to make multiple trips to this region, do so.
Its beautiful, pristine, and unspoilt natural beauty will blow you away.
If you have any questions on itinerary, or need more details on places to stay, eat etc. feel free to drop me an email, or a note in the comments. I'd be happy to help.
More posts on Assam and Meghalaya here.