White clouds, green hills, gushing waterfalls, delicious food, rain and lots of rain! Yes, that is Meghalaya for us.
Northeast India has always been fascinating because of their natural, ethnic and linguistic diversity. With 220 spoken languages, 200+ tribes and a plethora of flora and fauna, the region has Indian subcontinent's last remaining rainforests.
One fine day over a weekend house party, six friends from college, bound by a common love for travel and food, randomly chose Meghalaya to be the next travel destination.
Meghalaya - the abode of clouds, the land of waterfalls and the land of the highest rainfall in the world. It is majorly inhabited by tribals with the major ones being Khashi, Garo and Jaintia. Meghalaya's geography can be broadly divided into Garo Hills in the west, Khashi Hills in the central and Jaintia Hills in the east.
Time of travel:
The major factor that decides the time of travel to Meghalaya is RAIN.
1. November to February - These 4 months, of winter, receive minimum rainfall in Meghalaya.
If one wants to see the clear water of the river, Dawki or of other natural pools, then the best time is December and January. During rains, one cannot experience the transparent water. The drawback is that many of the waterfalls dry up.
2. March to October - Frequent showers are experienced during this time in June to September receiving maximum rainfall.
The drawback of visiting during the monsoons(June to September) is that due to heavy rains, travel plans can get messed up. But the adventure seeking ones can try their luck in monsoons if they want to see Meghalaya and its innumerable waterfalls in their full glory.
We travelled on the first week of May this year. Though not a typical rainy season, but cyclone Fani made sure we get enough rain on all but the last day of our trip.
Mode of travel:
1. Bangalore to Guwahati: Flight
2. Guwahati Airport to Khanapara: Cab
You can book cabs via Ola/Uber or bargain with the local drivers at the taxi stand outside the airport.
3. Khanapara to Meghalaya and return: Overlanding vehicle. It was a gorgeous red Thar for us :)
We hired it from Camping Co. who is based out of Khanpara, Guwahati. The company is run by a group of young travel enthusiasts who helps with all your queries, itinerary suggestions and keep a tap on you and your safety throughout the journey.
What is Overlanding?
Overlanding is an independent mode of travel where one wants to enjoy the journey more than the destination. There will be a vehicle which will be equipped with tents, sleeping bags and basic set of utensils. One can travel to remote areas without worrying about returning to hotels. One can park the car and pitch the tents wherever one wishes to.
Cost and Duration of the trip:
It was a 5 day trip with 20K INR per person including airfare and food.
Circuit of the trip:
We covered parts of West and east Khashi hills.
Distance: 143 Kms
Stay: Black Bridge Resort
We landed in Guwahati Airport at 10:30 AM and en-route picked up our vehicle at Khanpara, a place in Guwahati.It was already lunch time and our friend's sister, who happens to stay in the same area, was kind enough to feed the 6 hungry souls with a sumptuous brunch consisting of luchi, chicken ghugni and sewaiyan.
With happy hearts and stomachs, we started towards Kyrdemkhla at 2 PM. Khanpara was still in Assam and after about an hour's drive, we made our way to Meghalaya. On the way, we crossed the beautiful Umimam lake or Barapani and the Meghalayan capital of Shillong. We reached the Kyrdemkhla village by late evening, but we were yet to find our campsite. We were standing in the middle of nowhere in pitch dark with no phone network, no human around and google maps offering less to no help. Somehow we could contact the property/resort owner who led us to the campsite.It was dark, raining and no one around. It looked like a typical haunted property from a Hollywood movie. Anyhow, we pitched our tents by switching on the car's headlights.
For dinner, we went to this small and cosy hut of the owner in the same property. We were seated around a fireplace and served delicious home cooked Khashi meal - rice, dal, bhaji, pork curry, chicken curry and salad. Over the dinner, we had a good chat with the owner about him and Meghalaya, about six of us, our lives.
We returned to our tents and continued our after dinner party in the car. The rain, outside, was getting heavier and the winds stronger and as far as we could see, the only source of light we have was that of the car where we were sitting in. After sometime, we retired into the tents. The raindrops on the tents sounded like someone was beating the drums loudly and with strong winds, I had my doubts if the 3 tents will be in their own places till morning. I din't know when I fell asleep while hearing the different sounds of the storm, outside.
Kyrdemkhla->Laitlum Grand Canyon->Nongkhnum Island->Mawphlanur
Distance: 181 Kms
Stay: Traveller's Nest
The rain had stopped, sun came out, clouds were floating just on top of our tents and a small water body flowing by our campsite. We woke up in the morning and that was our view from the windows of the tents, after the eventful night. The sight was straight out of some story book.
After breakfast we started for our next destination, Laitlum Grand Canyon. The road led us through the beautiful countryside cutting through small villages. After an hour of driving we reached the Laitlum Grand Canyon. One gets to see a full view of Shillong from here. But as we visited the whole area was covered with clouds.This was the same place where the music concert of the movie, Rock On 2, was filmed.
Next destination was Nongkhnum island. The highway towards the island goes through scenic landscapes. This area is not much frequented by tourists, but we highly recommend this place.
About 10 Kms from the island, the road becomes a bit rough. Nongkhnum is the second largest river island in Asia. We crossed a small bridge and went into the island. The whole island, with unending meadows, was left to us, with a few locals returning home from the woods as the day ends.
As the light started getting dim, we started making our way towards Mawphlanur. It is off the highway up a hill with a narrow winding road. At one stretch we had zero visibility beyond the bonnet of the car as the clouds engulfed us from all sides. We did not know where to move the car. Steep unfenced hill slope on one side and with some faith on the google maps, we took our chance and drove past it to reach our stay for the night, Traveller's nest.
Mawphlanur->Mawphlang Sacred Grove->Mawsynram->Cherrapunjee
Distance: 172 Kms
Stay: Saimika Resort
In the morning we could actually see the surroundings. It is a small beautiful village with few houses dotted here and there.
It was drizzling but without much ado, we started towards Mawphlang.
Every area has a sacred grove and they are revered by the local people. It is believed that a deity, called Labasa resides in these forests who protects the area and the people living around the area. Nothing is allowed to be taken out of these sacred groves. If anyone tries to do so, he/she has to face the wrath of Labasa. Mawphlang's sacred forest is the famous one.We took a guided tour through the grove. It preserves different endangered species of plants.One gets to know the cultural and spiritual value of the grove for the local people.
The rain had started pouring in heavily and the next in our plan is Mawsynram, the wettest place on earth. The road takes you through a raw and beautiful countryside.
With incessant rains, there were waterfalls of various sizes at every hook and corner. By afternoon we reached Mawsynram. It is a small town in the hills.
After lunch, we started for Cherrapunjee and reached there by late evening. The rain did not seem to take rest anytime soon. We did not camp outside and instead took a dorm for ourselves. For dinner, we had the famous Meghalayan dish Jadoh and local rice beer. Traditional Jadoh is rice cooked with the blood of pigs. But we preferred to stay with the more revised version of it where the rice is cooked with just spicy meat. We took the rice beer with some salt, red chilli powder and green chilli. It felt like a close cousin of buttermilk, but it was good.
Cherrapunjee->Tyrna->Nongriat (Double Decker Bridge)
Distance: 25 Kms (drive) and 3.5 Kms(trek)
Stay: Serene Homestay
The whole night it was raining heavily and so in the morning. But we could not wait as we had Double Decker Bridge treks planned for the day. We went to see the Seven Sisters WaterFalls first. When we reached, the falls were covered with clouds. After waiting for sometime, we could take a peep at the beauty through the clouds. It was playing hide and seek with us behind the clouds. For me it was the star attraction of the trip. Before the travel, we thought that we might not be able to see the beauty of the waterfalls as the monsoon season is yet to come. But because of the heavy rains brought down by Fani, we saw the waterfall in its full glory.
As much as we wanted to stay back a bit more, we had a long trek down to the Double Decker bridge. So we made a move towards the village of Tyrna from where the trek would start towards Double Decker Bridge in Nongriat Village. We parked our car on the roadside, hired a guide who confirmed that his friends would look after the car and the luggage as we stay down in the Nongriat village for the night. With our raincoats on and sticks to support, we started our trek down at 1 PM. There were about 3500 steps which we had to mostly climb down to reach the village. At half way we took a detour to the Single Decker Bridge and a cave.
One must try the homemade lime and orange icecreams from the local shops. The lime one can be a bit tricky though.
After crossing two suspension bridges and one small root bridge, we were at the Double Decker Bridge. The living root bridges are quite common across Meghalaya. They are made by tying and buckling the aerial roots of the rubber fig trees across the streams. These are used by villagers to cross the streams.Man and nature together worked to create these wonders. After spending some time over there, we returned to our Homestay.
Surrounded by lush green hills we spent the rest of the day sipping tea, enjoying pakodas and listening to horror stories.
Distance: 3.5 Kms(trek) and 175 Kms (drive)
Stay: Sweet Home :)
In the morning as we woke up and peeped through the window, the whole Nongriat village and the surrounding hills were all drenched from yesterday's rain. But it was not raining any more. We started our trek back to Tyrna at 6 AM.
The trek back was more tiring as we were mostly climbing up the 3500 steps. The last 1700 steps was tough as it was steep uphill. After a few breaks, we were at Tyrna.
Today was our last day of the trip. We had the flight back home at 9 PM from Guwahati airport.We started towards Guwahati. By afternoon we reached Shillong. We had lunch in Dylan's cafe. It is a cafe with beautiful decor and of course good food. The ceiling is covered with drawings of Bob Dylan from different random people. After a good lunch, we went to the airport and en-route returned the vehicle at Khanapara. With lots of memories we returned home after midnight.
We have not seen such abundance and variations of green, in nature, before. Our eyes and hearts were soothed for life.
The stranded places, in Meghalaya, take you back in a different era with only raw and unspoilt nature with you. The local people, look happy with whatever little or abundance, we should say, they have.
As we drove our way through the remote areas of Meghalaya, the common sight was groups of kids in their uniforms are either going to or returning from school. The sight gives such pleasure and hope to the mind and heart.
1. Most of the places after Shillong, there will be poor to no mobile network coverage.
2. Download the offline map of Meghalaya before the start of your trip.
3. Raincoats are must unless you are going in the winter months. Umbrellas won't help you much during the rains.
4. Food at home stays or local shops are very cheap. In Mawsynram, near the taxi stand we had two plates of chicken fried rice and two plates of chicken noodles for just 300 rupees and the quantity was enough for the ever hungry six of us.
5. Except Nongriat, the other 3 nights we stayed in the campsites which are tied up with Camping Co.
6. It is safe to drive after sunset, but one needs to be careful when travelling to remote areas where there won't be any light around and the roads can be tricky.
7. The clouds can engulf you in a way that you cannot see anything beyond 5 meters, be it at day or night.
8. On Sundays, the shops stay closed. Hence, plan accordingly. On the last day we did the uphill trek without water till we found an open shop until few steps to Tyrna.