A rainy affair in Meghalaya!

There’s something about monsoon that charms you like nothing else. Heavy showers, the excessively green surroundings, piping hot bhajiyas, samosas and coffee while staring at the rain- these are invaluable experiences we’ve all grown up with. However, travelling during monsoon is an experience like no other, especially when you’re travelling to a place that holds records for high levels of rainfall.

Meghalaya literally translates to ‘Abode of Clouds’ and is one of the most beautiful states in the country, as far as natural beauty is concerned. It also boasts of communities with a rich cultural heritage. The three main tribes in Meghalaya are the Khasis, Garo and Jaintia and all of them are matrilineal families. Hence, visiting the state can also expose an individual to culturally different communities and can provide a fresh perspective on familial norms in India.

Most people visiting Meghalaya stay in Shillong, the capital and make day trips from there. Some people go as far as Cherrapunjee but that’s where their exploring ends. Sure, Shillong and Cherrapunjee are beautiful towns, but there’s so much more to see in Meghalaya’s tiny villages and border towns. When my parents and I planned on visiting Meghalaya, we also thought of staying only in Shillong and Cherrapunjee and doing a 4-5 day trip. But when we started reading more about the state, we realized that there were many other places that were less explored and were absolutely stunning! So we decided to go to Meghalaya for 7 whole days in order to experience the essence of the state, its beauty and its culture in the most wholesome manner.

My brief itinerary with highlights is as follows:

Day 1 and Day 7- Shillong- We stayed here on our first night and our last night. While in Shillong, visit the Don Bosco Cathedral, experience local music in Cafe Shillong and Dylan’s Cafe, go to Elephant Falls,Ward’s Lake, Phan Nongliat Park and gorge on delicious street food in Police Bazaar while also buying bags, mats, coasters, etc made from jute and bamboo. DO NOT go to Bara Bazaar. You won’t find any souvenirs here and if you’re a vegetarian, you might not be able to bear the excessive amounts of meat hung all over the road and the stench that accompanies it.

Day 2- Mawsynram- This tiny town about 3 hours from Shillong, overtook Cherrapunjee as the wettest place on the earth a few years back. It’s a beautiful settlement and the road to Mawsynram is lovely. Stop at the Mawphlang Sacred Grove on the way to Mawsynram and go for a full tour of the forest in Mawphlang. It’s an incredible experience, where you’ll actually feel like you’re in another world. It’s an incredibly underrated experience and you’ll not want to leave the dense forest, the gurgling streams and the beautiful mushroom plants all over you! Once you reach Mawsynram, enjoy a hearty meal with your hosts and walk around the small town whilst enjoying the rain. Our host, Sankrita, also introduced us to Thrin, a 95 year old woman who doesn’t consume water; she thinks it’s tasteless. She used to be a butcher, walks without footwear and up until recently, used to bathe in the river nearby. Thrin couldn’t speak English or Hindi, but meeting her felt so nice, so enlightening, the warmth in her smile and the glint in her eye is what makes her a person I will not forget.

Day 3&4- Cherrapunjee- You must visit the Mawkdowk Dempey Valley Point which will be on your way to Cherrapunjee. You might have to climb down around 300-400 steps to the view point but it’s definitely worth it! Once you reach Cherrapunjee, you must visit the Nohkalikai Falls which is the tallest plunge waterfall in India, and the Seven Sisters Falls. Since we went in the monsoon, we had to wait an entire afternoon since both the falls were covered in fog. But the moment the fog cleared up in both the places, we were mesmerized by the waterfalls! I loved Nohkalikai and if you have time for only 1 waterfall, I’d suggest this one!

You must also visit the Mawsmai Caves. They could do with some maintenance but the experience of exploring the cave was quite interesting and we really enjoyed it!

Caving in Mawsmai Cave
The spell-binding Nohkalikai Falls
The Seven Sisters Falls
The fog over Mawkdok Dempey Valley View Point

Cherrapunjee is also famous for living root bridges. These are bridges made by ancestors of the Khasi tribe. The root bridges are located on the outskirts of Cherrapunjee. There are quite a few single root bridges but only one double decker living root bridge which is the only one of its kind in the world, is located in Nongriat. The hike to the double decker root bridge starts from Tyrna, from where you first walk around 2500 steps downwards to reach the single living root bridge and then another 1100 steps to the double decker living root bridge. The hike takes 5-6 hours in total, both ways. Since it is a strenous hike, this one is barely crowded and we did not see more than 10 people throughout the hike. You will be greeted with stunning greenery and beautiful waterfalls along the entire trail and the waterfall near the double decker living root bridge will make all your exhaustion go away. I’d definitely recommend this hike! However, in the monsoon, it can get extremely humid so you must carry napkins, a towel maybe and keep consuming lime water with lots of salt throughout.

The single living root bridge
Double Decker living root bridge

Day 5- Dawki and Mawlynnong- Dawki is a border town at the Meghalaya-Bangladesh border. The Umngot river is one of the cleanest rivers in India and it connects Dawki with Meghalaya. You can explore the river on a boat any time of the year, and post November, you can choose to go kayaking, snorkelling, scuba diving or swimming too. In the monsoon, the only option we had was boating so we set out on an hour long boat ride. The water was very clean and although the weather was slightly warm, we enjoyed every bit of the ride. We could see Bangladesh on the other side of the river and it felt like meeting a long lost relative you’d severed ties with! The boat ride was incredibly peaceful and the serenity bowled me over. I’d definitely recommend a visit to Dawki!

We then headed to Mawlynnong, which is the cleanest village in Asia for more than 15 years now. Most people just make a day trip here, but staying there overnight made us realize that cleanliness here is more of a choice than a forced norm. People here genuinely want to maintain their surroundings which is why they consciously work towards making their village clean. Mawlynnong also has a single living root bridge and since it’s very accessible, it was thronged by crowds who were very loud. For me, that root bridge was a very average experience after having hiked to the double decker bridge without any crowd.

Walking in Mawlynnong and interacting with the locals, eating local thalis, learning about the town from our host, made for a lovely day! We stayed in a traditional Khasi style hut, my dad tried playing cricket on the main road with kids, I spoke to a German traveller staying there, in basic German and we absorbed the beauty of Mawlynnong in the rain. It also made me realize that rural tourism or village tourism is one of India’s hidden gems but also one of the best parts of travelling here. In that little town, while I was sipping tea, staring at the light showers and the greenery, I finally understood and experienced the true meaning of ‘time standing still’.

Day 6- Umiam Lake

We left Mawlynnong and first visited the Laitlum Grand Canyon. The road to the Canyon was in very bad condition but the moment we reached there, we forgot all the trouble we faced, for we witnessed such grand views from the Canyon. You could stay here for half an hour, an hour, 2 hours, depending on how much time you have, but one hour is good enough for a visit here.

We then headed to Umiam Lake, a huge lake 20 kilometres from Shillong. We checked into Ri Kynjai, a fantastic property with gorgeous views of the lake. The property has well-marked trails if you’re up for a short hike, their restaurant has a mind-blowing view of the lake and their spa is lovely, I got a foot massage since my feet were sore from the root bridge hike. We woke up the next morning and set out on a trail to the lake and we really enjoyed the entire walk and the views in the end! Although pricey, this property is worth staying in!

The gorgeous Umiam Lake

We came back to Shillong on the seventh day and on the eighth day, we flew back.

Logistics-

Flights from Ahmedabad to Guwahati and return flight from Guwahati to Ahmedabad.

Accomodation-

We stayed at beautiful hotels and took Airbnbs in Mawsynram and Mawylnnong. The links to all are as follows

Shillong- http://www.cafeshillongbnb.com/ http://www.kaizun.co/

Umiam Lake- https://www.rikynjai.com/

Cherrapunjee- http://lakuparinn.com/ (The hotels in the centre of the town are very basic, if you want to go for a more luxurious option, check our Polo Orchid Resort or Jiva Resort)

Mawlynnong- https://www.airbnb.co.in/rooms/22595239?source_impression_id=p3_1564301665_pGR3sHAqF%2B1r%2FFBI (Great hospitality and a lovely family)

Mawsynram- https://www.airbnb.co.in/rooms/13506791?location=Mawsynram%2C%20Meghalaya&source_impression_id=p3_1564301728_XUuh1NXjKKFzkxRc&s=JehgQbc8 (Sankrita was an amazing host, she made delicious local food for us and the house was beautiful, loved their book collection too, it has a lot of books on Khasi families)

Local food- If you’re a vegetarian, you might not find too many options, but you won’t face any major problems. Airbnb hosts are usually quite considerate and prepare vegetarian meals. You must try Jadoh, which is rice with ginger, turmeric and pepper. Red rice is very popular in Meghalaya and they eat it with lentil curries. In Shillong, you will find veg momos, jhalmuri, egg rolls and ragda pattice on the street for as low as 20 bucks!

The weeklong trip cost us around 30-35K including everything and was worth every penny. We met incredibly welcoming hosts, experienced how the Khasi community in Meghalaya lives and it taught me so many things. The way they co-exist perfectly with nature is astounding, yet so simple. They thrive on natural beauty, instead of destroying it like we do in so many concrete jungles. My week in Meghalaya reminded me of the importance of being close to nature and spending time outdoors.

I also promised myself to read more about matrilineal families and how they function, since that is significant part of the culture in Meghalaya.

The more important lesson was the one we learnt through a German traveller in Mawlynnong. She was there for a week and when I saw her sitting with the daughter of her host with a pen and paper, I thought she was teaching the little girl something. But it turned out that she was learning Khasi from her hosts. Someone who is not even from our country was so enthusiastic to learn a new language and know about a different community; however when most of us travel to remote places like the North East, we do it on travel packages and even though the landscapes stay with us, the culture never does. We go back to our routines and keep making fun of people from the North-east, using inappropriate slang at times and not capturing any element of their culture. How many of us include them in our identity of our country? How many of us try to tap into what their culture is? Does that fit our idea of a mainstream Indian identity? These are questions we need to ask ourselves not just when we visit the North East, these need to be things we think about. The German traveller taught me that travel is as much about language, culture, social customs and identity as much as it is about mountains, lakes, monuments and food.

Visit Meghalaya, not just for the mind-numbingly beautiful vistas but for the people. Go beyond Shillong, stay in Mawlynnong, experience rainfall in Mawsynram and try your hand at boating in Dawki. Leave crowded routes and challenge yourself by hiking to the double decker living root bridge. Try leaving pre-conceived notions behind and try to absorb and learn as much as you can. You’ll definitely end up coming back wiser. Explore Meghalaya for real and you’ll be amazed at what you discover. Be Khanabadosh!

Keep moving forward

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