The north-eastern state of Meghalaya is covered with Garo, Khasi and Jaiantia hills. It is also considered as the wettest place of the world as till recent history Cherrapunjee was defeated by the village of Mawsynram as the wettest place on earth, which is also in Meghalaya.
As the name suggests Meghalaya abodes in the clouds and has that misty atmosphere you encounter at any other hill station. What makes Meghalaya special is its culture, people and how they live in harmony with nature braving all the challenges. After all, it is not easy to live in a place considered as the wettest on the planet and whose terrain is quite challenging.
The ideal way to travel to Meghalaya is via Guwahati; the journey would take about three to four hours to reach Meghalaya’s capital, Shillong. As soon as we left the hustle bustle of Guwahati we were welcomed by the grey monsoon clouds. The scenery changed pretty drastically.
Places of interest
The first sight while entering Shillong is Barapani Lake or locally known as Umiam lake. It is a man- made lake which is built by damming the Umiam River. Like many capital cities, Shilliong too is bustling with people, busy markets and traffic. But, you don’t find it crowded or messy. The city has its own rhythm. What intrigued me was the traffic management. The efficient traffic police and people abiding to rules, with no overtaking or unnecessarily honking, makes the traffic flow smoothly.
The city has charm with beautiful churches, like the All Saints’ Cathedral – the oldest church in Shillong. It has the distinct architecture with steep heaped roof. The city also boasts of various lakes and parks like the Hydri Park and Ward’s Lake. They are amazing places to have some ‘me’ time as you can spend hours here by just soaking in the greenery with people from different walks of life moving past you.
One can also visit the 18-hole golf course in Shillong, which is the largest and the only natural golf course in the whole of Asia.
If you want to get a bird’s eye view of the city then head to the Shillong Peak, at a height of 2000 meters. However, the area comes under Air Force and thus it is mandatory to get a security pass get access to this point.
In Shillong you will also come across various museums. Don Bosco Centre for Indigenous Culture houses the biggest museum and is known for showcasing the different tribes of North-East. The other museums are the Capt Williamson Sangma State Museum, Entomological Museum (Butterfly Museum) to name a few.
A few kilometers away from Shillong is the quaint Smit village, where you will get a chance to experience the village life of Meghalaya. Here the buzzing place is the local market, where you will find a variety of local vegetables, fruits and even handicraft made from bamboo. They are a must buy as they speak of authentic bamboo craft.
Cherrapunjee or Sohra is 56 kilometres away from Shillong. You can hire a taxi to get there, as there are many places of interest along the way. There are numerous waterfalls which come in full glory during monsoons. The enchanting ones are Nohsngithiang falls and Nohkalikai falls.
When you actually enter the Cherrapunjee village the scenery changes quite dramatically. You may expect thick forest or vegetation as it is the wettest place. But, on contrary here you will come across hills covered with grass. Thus the place looks quite dry when it is not raining. It is because the water doesn’t penetrate into the soil. Thus, it is quite ironic that the villagers of Cherrapunjee often suffer from water shortage.
Meghalaya is also known for its natural caves and is home to Asia’s longest caves. There are few which you can explore while travelling to Cherrapunjee. They are nature’s best kept secrets, which you can only reveal by entering them.
We explored the Krem Lawshynna cave, which is around 3 kilometres long. Here you can find fossils of marine life indicating that this place was under the sea, probably millions of years ago. It is reported that there are many such unexplored caves in Meghalaya and many cave explorers from different parts of the world are waking up to its wonder. There are few caves that extend to about 25 kilometres in length.
Meghalaya is the only place in the world where you will across brides which are alive as they breathe and grow. They are the famous root bridges – the ultimate example of bioengineering. These bridges are quite common in the interior villages of Meghalaya where they act as lifelines connecting places.
These bridges are developed by the Khasi and Jaintia people. The aerial roots of the rubber tree are passed through the hollow trunk of a beetle nut tree and supported by bamboo scaffold and the gaps filled with mud and bricks. It takes around 10 to 15 years to complete one bridge. The art of bridge-making has been passed on through generation with locals learning the technique right from childhood. These bridges can be even 100 feet long, can take load of 50 people and can survive for hundreds of years. But, the one underlying condition is that no harm should be caused to the tree or the roots.
In Nongriat village, near Cherrapunjee, there is a one-of-its-kind root bridge, which is actually two bridges stacked over the other and is known as the Double-Decker Root Bridge.
But it’s not easy to experience this bridge as one has to trek down 3000 steps or 3-kms to see this bridge. Thus, it is definitely not for the faint hearted. But, the trek to this village is filled with adventure and is definitely worth it.
It’s not much of a trek as one has to just climb down the stairs. But the real challenge comes while crossing the narrow metal wire bridge. These bridges are meant for pedestrians only and only one person can pass through at a time. If there’s imbalance the full bridge starts shaking and you feel like you will fall down along with that bridge. But, you do not have to fear as the bridges are quite sturdy though one has to watch their every step while crossing them.
So, after crossing two bridges, one root bridge and climbing down 3000 steps you will come across your double-deck bridge. It is probably the best example of man and nature living in harmony. It is quite a sight and no words can express this wonder.
This bridge is above a small waterfall where you can have a dip. There are also few home stays here. So, if you are tired of climbing down, one can stay here.
The real challenge of this trek is climbing up these 3000 steps. It can be overwhelming, but when you come across villagers climbing up and down with a load as heavy as 50 kgs, you tend to ignore your tiredness. We also came across a school girl who must be doing this trek almost every day.
I wondered what these villagers do in case of emergency, especially at night, as these villages are completely covered by forests and there is no easy route. There are not many signs of civilization here—just few houses and shops selling water and eatables, which have mushroomed now as this bridge has gained lot of tourist attention.
The root bridges are in many ways is the highlight of Meghalaya. They are in many ways symbol of man-made and natural heritage, which is quite rare. Hopefully it survives.
Cleanest village of Asia – Mawlynnong
Meghalaya doesn’t stop surprising you. There is something dfferent or inspiring at every step. The Mawlynnong is one such place, which is now declared as the cleanest village of Asia and has thus garnered a lot of attention. It is quite a small village with a designated pathway, built with canals, dustbins all around, clean public toilets and small houses which are symbol of vernacular architecture of Meghalaya.
Here you can also buy some souvenirs and relish a local meal in any of the restaurants.
Nearer to this village is another root bridge. And if you are in no mood to climb down 3000 steps then you can see this root bridge by climbing down just few steps.
Dawki is a small town on the Indian side of the Indo-Bangladesh border. Here you can see Bangladesh and click a picture with a board in the background ‘Welcome to Bangladesh.’ It is a riverside town with not much to see.
The last spot on our list was the Nartiang Monoliths. This place is around 60 kilometres from Shillong. These monoliths are vertical and horizontal stones, erected approximately 1500 AD to commemorate the glorious events of the Jaintia Kingdom. The tallest monolith is 8 metres high and 18 inches thick. They were erected by Marphalangki and his warriors.
So, if you want to get lost in nature’s bounty than this is the place for you.
All pics by Om Prabhugaonkar
(This article was first published on The Navhind Times Zest BUZZ Weekender on September 24, 2016)