If you have been following me on social media and watching my stories on Instagram, you would know how very anxious I was about my trip to North East India. After having several failed attempts at booking my tickets on the Indian Railway website, I was overwhelmed with exasperation. Even My travel agent couldn't get me a train ticket! In the end, I had to book flight tickets in order to keep the promise I made to myself on my birthday this year- to go on the rugged trek to the famous Living Root Bridges of Meghalaya. A trip to Asia's wettest land in monsoon is, of course, not the best idea considering the ferocious downpours that come and go with no signs at all and also continue for hours (Take it easy, Rain Gods!). Well, I had no choice and I acted a tad bit irresponsible to fulfill my whims.
There's a famous quote by Paulo Coelho- "When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." I had been keeping track of the weather updates and it had been raining every single day. You will be surprised that it didn't rain at all throughout my trip (The Rain Gods finally took it easy!). As you can imagine, trekking down the Living Root Bridges on a rainy day is a much-dreaded experience.
Meghalaya is a staggeringly beautiful part of India that remains relatively unexploited and unadulterated, mainly due to less government interference. The title is fitting: it is indeed the wettest state in the country. Every year, an average precipitation of 12 meters falls upon these verdant hills and river valleys. The local tribes have been doing their best to keep their culture as well as nature's offerings intact and safe. Whoever has explored Meghalaya will agree with the fact that the path that leads to the Living Root Bridges is very treacherous but the destination in itself makes every bit of the trouble worth it.
How to get there?
Assam being a huge state, Guwahati makes the major pit stop for the journeys to each of the seven sister states. I had booked an early morning flight so I could reach Cherrapunji the very same day. I boarded the sumo from Paltanbazar and reached Shillong by 11a.m. I had read a few blogs on how to get to Cheerapunji from Shillong and for your convenience, here's a quick guide for the same: At Paltanbazar Bus Stand, you'll see TATA Sumo providing shared taxi services to Shillong. It takes about 2.5-3 hours to reach Shillong. The fare is about 200 INR per person. Once in Shillong, head to Bara Bazaar Stand (also referred to as Anjali Point) where you will find several Sumo stands. The tricky part, however, is finding the right one. The Shillong-to-Cherrapunji Sumo stand is located on the second floor of the parking garage. You will see 'Sohra' (another name for Cherrapunji) written on the walls. There will be an Alto car or Sumo which will charge you merely 70 INR to Cherrapunjee.
How to reach Cheerapunji?
It was around 1 p.m. when I reached Cherrapunji. I was amazed that it wasn't raining and I had to bank on this nature's unusual phenomena during monsoons. I had to make the most out of it. Luck was on my side that day and I came across a guy who was on his way to Nongriat Village to drop few essentials. This was the best arrangement that I could have possibly found and I managed to reach Nongriat village trekking point in just 100 INR. However, in general, drivers will charge you 300-400 INR for the same.
I crossed Tyrna village and reached Nongriat. First things first, I got myself a guide because when you're traveling solo, you would want someone to take the best shots while you're at it. Besides a guide can save you a heap of trouble if at any point you are faced with a mishap. Of course, I had to negotiate big time with him about the price!
Day 1 We came across a few people who couldn't make it to the end of the trek and had to return halfway. There were few elderly people who deserve much respect for even daring this trek. Since I had few days in hand and I was in no rush to finish this trek, I decided to stay in Serene Homestay owned by Byron in Nongriat Village. If you have happened to read any blog covering this trek, you are sure to come to know about Byron. He is very popular on social media and is recommended by every Westerner who visits this place. I prefer to travel on weekdays since most of these places remain less touristy and homestays are also sparsely occupied.
My guide (Bahheh) acknowledged that we were at a fairly good pace while we were approaching the trek. He made commendable efforts to take the best shots for and of me. The local guides go on this brutal trek on a daily basis whereas I wasn't sure if I will dare to come back again in future.
I reached Serene Homestay in approximately 90 minutes and I was familiar with Byron's appearance on TripAdvisor. Although it was a Monday (and monsoon), the homestay was almost entirely occupied. I was lucky enough to get myself a bed in the dorm. I caught up a quick chat with a few travelers in the dorm and thought to myself that my birthday celebrations are sure going to get lit.
I freshened up and immediately left for Double-decker Bridge as I didn't want to keep Bahheh waiting for too long. From the homestay, Double Decker Bridge is just 10 minutes away. Finally, the sight of nature's marvelous gift of Living Root Bridges blessed my eyes. I heaved a sigh of relief and embraced the moment. Bahheh captured the best moments for me.
Rainbow Falls is about an hour trek from Double Decker Bridge. There are a few private spa pools where you can enjoy the cool water. During the monsoons, the tide is very strong and it's wise to avoid getting into the water even if you're a pro swimmer. There still wasn't any hint of rain and so I decided to go to the Rainbow Falls. Maybe it wasn't the best idea but I had painkillers and Paracetamols in my backpack, so why not take the risk? I could actually feel my legs trembling at one point and I was getting out of breath often. I had to halt several times along the way. This happened because I had been traveling for about 12 hours now and in terrible need of sleep. Bahheh continued to passionately motivate me with "it's just 10 minutes more!" and kept me engaged in effortless conversations. At one point, it seemed like I was pretty much a dead man walking. I was already dreaming of getting back to my dorm and crashing on the bed like a log.
I made it! While you're trekking, it is best to maintain a slow and steady pace. A wrong foot can lead to injury and it isn't really a pleasure to get stuck. Also, make sure to carry enough water. I got back to my dorm after about 45 minutes.
Day 2. The next day, I decided to trek for the single Living Root Bridge. Double-decker Root Bridge and Single Living Root Bridge are approximately an hour away. Knowing the trail and being on my own I reached the Single Living Root Bridge in just about 35 minutes. Before coming for this trip, I had devoted a solid 2 weeks for leg work out. Did I tell you that I had brought medicines, the reason being that I had been trekking extensively? My mom had packed a homemade cake for me to enjoy it on my birthday and also for the times when I get hungry on the trek. In the evening, we had the pool at Double-decker Bridge to ourselves and we soaked our feet in the natural fish spa pool.
The following day was my birthday and I had to reach Shillong. I had made a few amazing friends by now with whom I did the trek back to the start of the trekking point. They dropped me off at Cherrapunji bus stand and I took a shared sumo to Shillong. There I checked into Isabella Hostel. I had a great time with some really amazing backpackers and ended up sleeping in a tent. This is how my birthday celebrations got leveled up. It was yet another unforgettable experience. Friends who know me better, they are aware that once I have made up my mind, there isn't anything that can mess with my willpower. I listened to my inner child and I kept my promise.