One part of India that I had not visited at all so far, was the north-eastern states. I broke that jinx this month by visiting Meghalaya, the predominantly tribal state carved out of Assam in the 1970’s. It seemed right to be visiting the wettest place on earth, in the middle of the monsoon season!
Shillong, the capital, is a busy little town with the usual urban paraphernalia composed of shopping centres, cafes, schools, markets, traffic jams…In fact, apart from chilling out at a few cafes in town, I spent most of my time outside Shillong in the midst of nature. This is where the true beauty of Meghalaya can be seen.
Everyone will tell you that if you are in Shillong, a visit to Cherrapunjee is a must. Aside from the fact that it was once the district with the highest recorded rainfall in the world (this position is now held by Mawsynram, also nearby), Cherrapunjee or Sohra as it called locally, also offers amazing views of nature in all its grace. Places you should not miss while visiting Cherrapunjee include the Wah Kaba falls, Dainthlen falls, Eco Park, Nohkalikai falls and the Seven Sisters falls. The drive from Shillong takes about 2.5 to 3 hours one way, and it is a scenic route.
Meghalaya also has a large number of limestone caves and cavers from all over the world visit in order to explore them. I visited the Mawsmai limestone caves, and the stalactites and stalagmites were indeed imposing to see.
While in Shillong you can also take a trip to Mawlynnong and Dawki. Mawlynnong is known as the cleanest village in Asia, and after seeing the place I didn’t really doubt the title. From here you can easily get to the nearby Living Root bridge in Riwai. Living root bridges are natural bridges found in a couple of places in Meghalaya – roots of Indian Rubber trees are trained and woven into a mesh and plastered with mud and stones so that a natural bridge gets formed, allowing people to cross over streams. Ingenious idea, and the bridges are still going strong! Be prepared for a hike up and down several steps though!
Dawki is about 100km from Shillong and can be combined with a Mawlynnong excursion. It offers scenic views of the Umngot river, and the India-Bangladesh border. Outside the monsoon season the river is very popular for boating.
Meghalaya is a must-visit destination that offers natural beauty, offbeat experiences and an opportunity to get away from the concrete jungle. The people you meet here will in general be really warm and friendly, and you will feel welcome wherever you go.
I know that I will be going back someday soon!
Getting there: Flight to Guwahati; 3 hour drive from Guwahati to Shillong
Where to stay: Definitely not in Police Bazaar area, unless you want to be stuck in traffic all day. The Laitumkhrah area is better. If budget allows, go for Ri Kyinjai near Umiam lake.