8 Days Into The Deep Woods Of Meghalaya

Tripoto
1st Jul 2016
Photo of 8 Days Into The Deep Woods Of Meghalaya by Snigdha Jaiswal

Have you ever been to Meghalaya?

Day 1

Have you heard about it?

And if you have, did you ever think about going there?

I never really did until I saw this picture and the whole story is about the quest to reaching this.

Photo of Guwahati, Assam, India by Snigdha Jaiswal

But let's start at the beginning. I was 24 years old, living in Bangalore and working there as a designer. After 3 years of working at an outdoor brand, I got this taste of nature and travel, a desire which has been spreading like wildfire amongst millennials. And I took a few days off before starting work again to travel to north-east India, a place which was as exotic to me as any other country would be.

Now I think about it, I feel it takes some serious balls and a little bit of foolishness to execute that. I am not sure if I could do that again. But Meghalaya is worth it. If you get a company, it's fantastic and if you don't, there is not a better place to go by yourself. I think I lost my mind a little

Let me tell you a little about Meghalaya if you don't know this already. Meghalaya is one of the 'seven sisters' states in the North-east part of India. Its literal meaning is 'abode of the clouds' (Megh = Clouds, Alay = Home) and metaphorically it looks like the woods from 'Lord of the Rings'. Meghalaya is also famous for the place 'Mawsynram' which is the place that receives the most rainfall in the country. And yes, it rains like cats and dogs in July. Add icing to the cake, to take the trip in the rainy season. You will cry before you dry!

Apart from rains, water, mud, and leeches, there are quite a lot of other things to do in Meghalaya as well. Let's start with Shillong. Shillong is the capital of Meghalaya and there is absolutely no way to reach Shillong directly. You will have to take a flight to Guwahati first and then a cab to Shillong. I did not stop at Guwahati. As soon as you get out of the airport you can take a sharing cab to Shillong which will charge you less than INR 500/- per person to drop you to the heart of the city in Shillong.

This is one of the most stunning road trips you can take in India. You know what they say about roads in India? Then this is not India. The roads are smooth as butter and the people are jolly. I shared my cab with a tourist, a soldier posted in Shillong base and a merchant. It was good 3 hours.

Photo of 8 Days Into The Deep Woods Of Meghalaya by Snigdha Jaiswal

Let me give you a heads up on transport for there are no buses or trains that runs intercity after Guwahati in Meghalaya. You can only take a private taxi or a shared taxi which accommodates 4 people. You can also get a sumo which seats around 8-10 people and is even cheaper.

Meghalaya is lush green, psychedelic green, even neon green and there are pineapples and beetle nuts everywhere. These are the sweetest pineapples I had ever tasted, more like deserts. And later I also bumped into a pineapple farm! So cool, but let's not get distracted.

The best part of the road trip is the Umiam lake. You will find it somewhere in the middle and you will know if the driver is good enough to tell you. You will also figure it out because it is so gigantic and you will find a lot of those 'spots' or 'viewpoints' with bustling tourists. Again, you cannot even imagine in scale how big it is. Can you see that small teeny tiny boat? That's how big!

Umiam Lake

Photo of Umiam Lake, Meghalaya by Snigdha Jaiswal

Now the cab will drop you off somewhere around police bazaar which is the main market. If you have lodging booked, you can ask to be dropped there. I had mine in the main market and I had half a day to myself. Police Bazaar and Bara Bazaar are the two most famous markets of Shillong. Shillong being the only urban trade center of Meghalaya enjoys the center of all tribal merchants who come to sell their products here. If you want to buy souvenirs, buy it from here rather than the shops next to the tourist points.

I then enjoyed a traditional Khasi meal at a nearby restaurant. The food is very simple in Meghalaya. You would have a curry usually chicken, pork or beef. You can ask for vegetarian specifically, but if you consume pork, they have specialty dishes on it. It is paired with steamed rice, boiled stir-fried vegetables, lentils with spinach and salad. Most of the meals are often served with an omelet on the side. A meal on an average will cost you around 200/-

Photo of Shillong, Meghalaya, India by Snigdha Jaiswal

Make sure that during your whole trip you finish your sightseeing by daylight. The whole of north-east goes ghostly after 7 pm. I would also suggest you buy some snacks or anything else you need for later and sleep early. Hotels start from 800/- per room per day and go up. Choose according to your budget. Some hostels even cost as low as 300/- per night but I avoided them for they were very basic.

My hotel guy asked me if was looking for sightseeing the city the next day which I was and he offered me a shared cab with another tourist which made my pocket smile at around INR 1000/- per person for the whole day. The day tour in Shillong took me to all the popular places like Elephant falls which is, of course, a waterfall, Shillong peak which is the highest point from where the whole of Shillong city is visible.

Day 2
Photo of Elephant Falls Road, Shillong, Meghalaya, India by Snigdha Jaiswal

Next stop was Laitlum Canyons which is something you should not miss. This is a viewpoint from the cliff of layers of mountains till the horizon from bright green to teal to blue and then there is a river flowing and vanishes somewhere far ahead.

Photo of Laitlum Canyon Ridge, Laitlum, Meghalaya, India by Snigdha Jaiswal

More tourist places will include Mary Help for Cristian cathedral, Ward's Lake, Don Bosco Museum and Air force museum. Another spot that you should not miss is Lady Hydari Park. It's a lovely park with a small zoo inside it. I think all the owls from Harry Potter have been transported here, there were so many! Swans too! This really does make a very eventful day, but you can easily cover all of it if you start early.

Photo of Lady Hydari Park, Lachumiere, Shillong, Meghalaya, India by Snigdha Jaiswal

The next day is when we move out of Shillong for sightseeing. This stretch runs to Cherrapunji but I am not reaching my final destination so soon and so easily. What I covered instead was Nohkalikai Falls which is the tallest plunge waterfall in India (How so little do we know). My biggest facepalm moment was standing in front and it and not able to see it. Talk about bad luck. That's because, during the rainy season, all you see are clouds and mist and fog. It may take a while to get the clouds out of the way. It is said that you must visit Shillong twice, once during the rains and once in winter.

Day 3
Photo of NohKaLikai Falls, Meghalaya by Snigdha Jaiswal

Another one that you see on this route is Nohsngithiang or Seven Sister's waterfall. Luckily the cloud god took some pity and let me have a peek at these. Head towards Mawsmai Nongthymmai Eco Park next. I am not sure why is it called the 'Eco park' but it does have some impressive scenery. You will have to walk a stretch of grassland to reach at the highlight point which is the cliff at the end that opens to the view of miles of mountains and then crosses over to Bangladesh. A lot of families come over for picnics for there is a lot of space for kids to run around and enjoy. Spend some time here

Photo of Eco Park, Cherrapunjee, Meghalaya, India by Snigdha Jaiswal

The last stop in the stretch is Mawsmai Cave. Meghalaya is known for caves for nine out of ten India's longest limestone caves resides here. They do look scary and during the rainy season they were flooded with knee-deep water and the journey from starting to end is not so easy. If you are claustrophobic, you may want to chuck it. Otherwise, it's an experience to witness something so raw and natural. With this, I finished my second day at Shillong simply exhausted for there was so much to do.

The next day I decided to check out and wander even farther from Shillong. My two stops for the day were Mawlynnong and Dawki and then to Nongriat, my final destination. While Mawlynnong is known as the 'cleanest village in Asia's, Dawki is known for its crystal-clear water at the border to Bangladesh.

Mawlynnong is a popular tourist spot in Meghalaya and at the entrance of the village, you will see hordes of vehicles filled with tourists at the parking lot. While the village was known for its cleanliness, it is now marketed for the same and the government funds the village additionally to maintain it's position. You will see almost every other person cleaning the place. Hell, they even pick up the fallen leaves! The number of houses in the village are fixed and cannot increase to preserve the essence of the place. You can easily spend half a day here. There are options of spending the night at the village as well starting from INR 1800/- on Airbnb.

Photo of 8 Days Into The Deep Woods Of Meghalaya by Snigdha Jaiswal
Day 4

The second destination was Dawki but in this case, the journey was more beautiful than the destination. Again, remember it was June and all water channels in Meghalaya were water fed which resulted in loads of beautiful waterfalls that accompanied us in the road trip. I also passed through pineapple farms on the way which I had never seen before.

Dawki is known for its crystal clear water which gives you visibility to the river bed. It is located at the Indo-Bangladesh border and we kind of wandered a little in Bangladesh as well, till the point it is allowed. The sad part is you cannot enjoy its uniqueness during the rainy season since the water is unrestrained, gushing and muddy. It is almost scary to see the river in full force. To enjoy the beauty you must go during December-January when the water is calm and the place is open for boating.

Photo of Dawki, Meghalaya, India by Snigdha Jaiswal

And after all this do you think it could get better? But yes, it does. To reach the double-decker root bridges, the place of my dreams is located in a small village called Nongriat. This is near to Cherrapunji and almost 2 hours from Shillong. You can take a shared cab from a town called Sohra to reach here as well. The last place where the vehicle could reach gives you a bird's eye view of the valley and it cannot be described in words.

Day 5
Photo of Nongriat, Meghalaya, India by Snigdha Jaiswal

You can see forest covered mountains on all sides and from those mountains, you will see waterfalls dropping. Not one, not two, but so many of them. And the top of the mountains is covered in clouds. It looks from that movie 'Avatar'. I also felt like a 'wood elf' myself at that point of time, just fatter and shorter. From there I had to climb down 3,000 steps in 3 hours and cross 3 rivers on iron cables to reach that village and I did not know how. Luckily, I got a guide named 'Raju' who I offered money in exchange for taking me around the place. He also carried my luggage. Honestly, for the people living in urban landscapes and not used to this, just don't try to climb down with a lot of luggage yourself. Get some help. The place is wet and the steps steep, you will end up hurting yourself.

Photo of 8 Days Into The Deep Woods Of Meghalaya by Snigdha Jaiswal

Raju guided me and took me to one of the only two accommodations in Nongriat. It's a small house right next to the living root bridges and consists of four rooms. The tariff for a night was Rs.200/-. The owner also offered to prepare all three meals for me for Rs.50/- each. Well, you really don't have a choice since there are no people around for about 20 mins walk. I decided to stay for the next three days there. And there is honestly nothing to do, except enjoy the forests. I slept next to gurgling water for there was a river next to the place and excited to see the root bridges at the day time.

Photo of 8 Days Into The Deep Woods Of Meghalaya by Snigdha Jaiswal

I jumped out of the bed the next day to see what I came to see finally. The root bridges are something beyond my imagination. It has been made over centuries by the people of Khasi and Jaintia tribes. It is an art mastered over generations and a deep connection with nature to understand these trees and the roots to form these bridges. You will not believe your eyes. I spent a good whole hour playing around.

Photo of 8 Days Into The Deep Woods Of Meghalaya by Snigdha Jaiswal

My guide, who was a local appeared and offered to take me around to the famous Rainbow falls. But first I had to take a bath with icy cold water pumped freshly out of the river stored in the tank outside and must be carried in my bucket for there are no pipelines, although I did have a private bath. Once that was done, I left for our day's trek which was two hours away and deep into the woods. I saw so many butterflies in vivid colors and unnaturally big size, caterpillars, snails, insects but nothing threatening. Several streams demanded to be crossed and steps to be climbed. My guide packed an apple and biscuits for the journey. It was a lovely afternoon.

Back at the hostel awaited company. There came three people from Mumbai a solo traveler from Chennai (Balaji and I are still friends) and it was a great time talking. Later at night, we had a small party at the verandah where you could see nothing but an occasional firefly in the dark. The dinner was delicious and so simple which was mostly steamed rice, boiled vegetables, lentils, and an omelet. I still miss that. The next was full of 'Anna Karenina' and walks around the bridges. Found some hens to coo at and bought a 'coca cola' in a shop I found at a distance. What a day!

Photo of 8 Days Into The Deep Woods Of Meghalaya by Snigdha Jaiswal

The last day I decided to leave early since I had to travel all the way to Guwahati. I got up at 5am and left at 5.30 to reach at the top by 10am. Remember, when I feeling like a wood elf? Now I was feeling like the hobbit who desperately wants to go home. The climb uphill is arduous but my guide was so nice and sweet to carry my luggage and a lot of patience. Good thing it was raining or he would have seen me sobbing under the hood for losing so much fat so soon. Once at the top, I took a shared cab to Sohra. Took another cab to Shillong. Took a third cab to Guwahati and by the way, I was still not dry and finally crashed on a super sweet bed to chill for rest of the day for I was flying back to my home and I was equally glad for it as much as I was for those beautiful alien bridges.

Join me on my journeys at Facebook, Instagram or visit my site at thestupidbear

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