An Instagram post drew me to this virgin state in India, the video was of a waterfall, pristine and alluring. For a travel addict it's never known what triggers the need to just pack bags and go. It's Covid times and everything was so uncertain, never the less I started my research inspired by Wei Sawdong. The more I searched the more hidden gems I could find. It was revelation… this state had so much of natural beauty and for the active traveler, they can trek, cycle, swim. Adventure seekers can do cliff jumps, zip lining, snorkeling, kayaking. It's also a state that is ahead from most others in India to preserve natural reserves and be plastic free. Maybe because of that the air is purer, the flowers brighter. For foodies local cuisine is Khasi and Jaintia which is pure non vegetarian. Alas for vegetarians like me, we should be content with what we get. Roads are superb, a delight to all those who love to drive. A minimum of 7 days and maximum of any number of days required to do justice to this part of India. A Covid negative taken maximum 96 hours prior to travel was mandatory, so much trepidation. Apprehension made me packed my bags last day as did not want to jinx the trip. Though there is more to see, this blog is about the places I visited. Not really relevant to a tourist maybe but this state is mostly matriarchal, has a highly progressive scenario for women.
To reach Shillong the closest airport with regular flights is Gauwahati which is around 3 hours away by road. This town is the gateway to Meghalaya, though that's not its only claim to fame. On the way from Gauwahati to Shillong stop at Umiam lake. Once you reach Shillong things to see are Ward's Lake, Mary's Cathedral, Shillong peak, Don Bosco museum. Elephant falls was disappointing, can avoid. Shopping and local roadside eats is at police bazar. In the by lanes of Police Bazar is Glory's plaza, depending on your bargaining skills you can pick up jackets and some trendy dresses for a steal. The center of police bazar has all kinds of street food, momos, chowmein, egg rolls, grilled meats, puchka ( their name for pani puri ). Different berries to savour for fruit lovers. Bakery with fresh buns and cakes. Wine shops here have a variety of wine in cans to stock up for the trip, I did not see that elsewhere. Many places allow BYOB. Places recommended for great ambiance sit down meals are Evening club, Deja Vu, Cafe Shillong, Tripura Castle. I stayed at Cafe Shillong would highly recommend it for someone looking at experiencing local stay. ( book the luxury room ) Other option with local feel would be Tripura castle, drawback, it's isolated and you would need your own car else transportation would be an issue.
Cherrapunji is where all the action is, would recommend longest stay here. Shillong to Cherrapunji is around 2 hours, stop for lunch at Cafe Cherrapunji. More for the Scotland feel the place has than for the food, you may have to wait a while for the food as it's kind of a laid back place. A couple of kilometres away is zip lining by Pioneer adventures. They have 2 lines with different distance, the longer one is a must do.
It's a 3 tier waterfall, the cascading water has formed a kind of pond which collects the clear emerald water which was cold even in April. The trek to reach the bottom is not long but dangerous with ladders made with bamboo at an impossible 90 degree angle. Once you reach there the waterfall will surely take your breath away. You can swim cautiously minding the slippery rocks. In the mood of some more adventure? Climb up to the 2nd and 3rd tier of the falls to get an even better view. Comfortable shoes are necessary.
It's a network of underground caves which is full of beautiful and stalactites and stalagmites. There is a short hike through the forest to reach the main entrance of the cave. This hike takes you through some stunning views of the valley that is full of waterfalls during monsoons, and an occasional café playing local Khasi music. Fossils of pre-historic creatures preserved in time on the walls of the cave.
Sunken chambers and limestone walls is what you can expect. The fossils can be seen by the phone torch. It's an adventurous walk where the ceiling of the cave is almost on you one moment, and clears out the next. The underwater streams make it difficult sometimes to walk but surprisingly the floor is not slippery. At the exit the views are just as spectacular as the cave was.
This did not pop up as the must do things at Cherrapunji, it's not really a cave as such, more of collection of small caves, waterfalls, different rock formations. Since its not crowded it's a good spot to take a lot of pictures and maybe have a small picnic.
Tyrna is the starting point for this trek. It's the signature picture for Meghalaya tourism. It's a bridge made of roots of rubber trees with some human intervention. On the way there are a couple of narrow bridges which are made of wires and look pretty dangerous. Everyone who can trek a bit will want to visit this, it's 3500 steps one way, it's all a descent first which makes your legs all wobbly, all the myths that going downhill is easier goes out of the window. It was an hour of trek one way just to reach there and probably an hour and half to come back. Frankly apart from the fact that you get fantastic pictures I think to do even the single root bridge at Rivai village without the trek is fair enough. The area surrounding it has become very commercial and dirty. There are home stays at Nongriat for people who don't want to do it in a day. On the way there are plenty of small tea stalls selling home made lemonade, maggie and soft drinks.
There can be no words to describe the beautiful though difficult trek leading to Rainbow falls, difficult because after the living root bridge there are no steps carved out. It's around 2 hours from double decker bridge. I would rate this as the best in Meghalaya, a reason could be that the terrain deters most people to attempt venturing here and thereby it's less crowded. On the way are a couple of smaller single root bridges. Look out for a serene blue lagoon of water which the guide promised we can visit on our way back.
The falls were majestic, after I could catch my breath both from the effort of the trek and the beautiful view I caught sight of the pool created by the waterfall, the climb down looked daunting but encouraged by the guide I ventured till the bottom,. It was worth it to paddle around in the natural cove created by the fall and feel the sprays on my face. Was not lucky enough to see a rainbow 😦 Not really wanting to leave, images of the blue lagoon which I had left behind kind of pushed me. I am surprised that I have not really read about this one. Its a simple descent to the lagoon which has not even been named as yet. I asked the guide and he said it's called the swimming pool. That's a very matter of fact name for such a heavenly body of water. An hour is what I could get at most here as had to reach Tyrna before it became dark. Sunset is mostly by 530. On the way back rain gods were happy with the universe at large and the showers kept me cool as well as washed the entire mountains for phenomenal views. For a relatively fit person doing all of this in a day's time is pretty doable. I left at 8:30 morning to be back by 5:30 evening.
Photo ops is good enough.
There are various options, 2 luxury ones – Polo Orchid Resort, Jiva Resort. I did not get rooms available at both and stayed at Smoky Falls Mae Fi resort, this is at Tyrna just where the trek for Double decker root bridge begins. It's a little away from central Cherrapunji but worked well for me as I had a car and gave me some time advantage to begin my trek. Also the location was amazing, surrounded by hills and valleys. 2 kms away from Jiva is Kutmadan Resort which has amazing views and basic rooms.
Drive from Cherrapunji to Mawlynnong is around 2 and a half hours. It's been recognized as the cleanest village of Asia. Not only that it's got 100% literacy rate. The sky view is a vantage point made from where you can see Bangladesh. There are lots of home stays here for those who want to stay a night. For ethnic simple lunch it's HA LA I TRE or simply you can ask for Sunita's lunch.
Mawlynnong to Dawki is around an hour. This place does not have any recommended place to stay. I was advised by most that we should avoid a night stay here unless I can deal with basic facilities. The number of activities this place promised, I kind of steeled myself and opted to stay a night at Pioneer adventure camps at their luxury tents. They have individual tiled washrooms with showers. When I reached Dawki I did not get the translucent waters I was expecting, apparently with the first rains which happens mid March the river bed gets disturbed and even though the water was crystal clear it wasn't like the pictures I have seen. I reached around 6 PM and was apprehensive on what to expect in terms of accommodation, it did not help that it was dark with faint lights. To reach the camp you have to cross the river, the passage was taken care by the Pioneer team in a small boat. (If you are opting to stay at Pioneer camps, pack a small backpack with necessities and leave your bag in the car)
Actually wasn't as bad as I was dreading, and since there was not much to do in the dark enjoyed the solitude and felt rather than saw the Umngot river. When I got up though, was another story, all the efforts and fear were totally worth it. The beautiful clear river, the mountains, the few dinghies bobbing in the river. It was picture perfect. Full morning could be spent just soaking it all in, but there was loads to do, snorkeling, kayaking, zip lining, boating, cliff jumping, rafting. After breakfast which was at a rustic but lovely dining space headed to the river to check as many boxes as I could in the short span of time. Even if all is not possible don't miss swimming in this lovely clean river.
For the way back Dawki to Gauwahati is around 5 hours, best to stay overnight at Shillong to peacefully catch your flight back. I opted to stay at Phi Ro Sha which is at Umsning around 3 hours from Dawki and 2 hours from Gauwahati. It's a lovely family run resort with a huge swimming pool and big cottages. Chilling here was the perfect way to end a hectic holiday.
With the pandemic I feel fortunate that I could take this break, maybe will explore more hidden gems of India till the world opens again.
Tips: Pack a couple of clean sheets if you are opting for camping, a plastic bag to keep wet clothes as there will be plenty on this trip, pack clothes that dry easily. Sturdy shoes. Lots of mosquito repellent and sun screen. Some snacks to munch on.
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