Meghalaya - The mystic Northeast

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March 21st 2015
Published: January 9th 2018
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Northeast India – the land of seven sisters and a brother; Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Tripura being the seven sisters and their little brother Sikkim.

Northeast India, until the late 2000s, was disturbed by unrest caused by Naxalites and clashes and tension between the local tribal people and the government. With all this going on, tourism was out of question. However, things have now changed over a period of time and with the eased tension between the tribes and the government, Northeast India has now become a popular tourist destination.

Each of the north-eastern states with their unadulterated natural beauty have different things to offer. Be it the one-horned rhinoceros in Assam or the living-root bridges of Meghalaya or the third highest mountain peak in the world - Kanchenjunga in Sikkim, every state has something to offer.

To start with, we set off to explore Assam and Meghalaya. I don’t know to call it fortunate or unfortunate; every state here has a different tourist season. For instance, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh are at their best if visited in October as the skies are clear after the monsoons and perfect for watching the mountain peaks. Likewise, November to April(post-monsoon) is the best time to visit Kaziranga National park in Assam because of the Bramhaputra river flooding during the monsoons but the best time to visit Meghalaya is during the monsoons (Late May to August) !! Phew ! Owing to the confusion, we anyway went ahead and planned to visit Assam and Meghalaya in the month of March.

My husband and I along with a friend of ours and his wife landed in Guwhati. We had booked a taxi to show us around and the driver was at the airport to pick us up. We drove straight to Shillong – the capital of Meghalaya, from Guwhati. I am writing only about Meghalaya in this post. Assam will be a different post.

Meghalaya – In Hindi, ‘Megh’ means clouds and ‘alaya’ means abode. So Meghalaya means ‘the abode of clouds’ where clouds come home and you will know why as you read along.

We reached Shillong at dusk just when the sun was setting. We sat on the banks of Umiam Lake and watched the sun set with the lake’s water painted in gold by the sun’s golden rays.

We checked into a hotel located in the main market but weren’t happy with the rooms. I could reach out to the window of the next building from my room’s window. So we asked for change of rooms and since they had none, they sent us to another hotel of theirs located on the outskirts of the city! Anyways, the rooms were clean and airy.

Next day, we set off to Cherrapunjee or Sohra as it is called now. Cherrapunjee holds a world record as the wettest place on earth with a record rainfall. I was particularly excited to be in Cherrapunjee because as a kid, I had studied about Cherrapunjee in Geography and also in General Knowledge. But the record is now held by Mawsynram (also in Meghalaya). Meghalaya has many tribes but the significant ones are Khasi and Garo and hence the state is mainly divided as Khasi hills and Garo hills. Cherrapunjee is a part of Khasi hills.

Well, I must say March was a bad time to visit Meghalaya as none of the waterfalls were alive and the waterfalls would come to life only by May when the monsoon starts. But nevertheless we got to see the giant cliffs and understand why Cherrapunjee gets so much rain! We went to the ‘Seven sisters’ waterfall location and could see these huge cliffs. Our driver told us that since these cliffs come in the way of the clouds, when the moisture laden clouds in the monsoon season hit against these cliffs, it rains and rains and rains ! Shame that we missed Cherrapunjee in the monsoons.

Meghalaya is also known for its numerous limestone caves.As a consolation for having missed the breathtaking waterfalls of Cherrapunjee, we walked into Mawmluh Cave and were not disappointed one bit! Looking at all the different forms of limestone formations inside the cave was enriching. Same was the experience in Maswamai cave.

Later, at the Ka Khoh Ramhah , we could see the Bangladesh border. The main attraction of this place is the single giant rock in the form of a cone.

We stayed at Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort in Cherrapunjee that night. I was looking forward to the next day as we were to visit the ’Living root bridges'. Living root bridges are one of a kind for they are built using the roots of alive Ficus elastica trees and this makes the bridge a living one that breathes and grows! How amazing !! This technique of building living root bridges was devised by Khasi tribesmen. And there is a double decker living bridge too!!

Next day, we were all ready and set to go. We had a local guide who would accompany us to the Double-decker living root bridge. The bridge was about a 3 km walk from the resort. Did not seem very far just that the path was not a straight road but a series of stairs and also involved crossing few narrow bridges on foot. Sounded exciting !

Our guide arrived, and we started walking down the path climbing down stairs. After about a kilometre, we reached the first living root bridge which was a single level one. We all stood there in awe looking at a bridge that we had never seen before ! The roots were all interwoven from one bank to the other forming a bridge.

Curious about how it is built, we asked our guide. Him being a local, he knew every single detail. He said – On both sides of a river bank, the Ficus elastica trees are grown. If the trees are already present, then half the problem is solved. These trees have aerial roots. So what the tribal people do is that they keep bamboo shoots across the river bank and force these aerial roots to pass through the hollow bamboo shoots. So once the roots start growing through the shoots, the tribesmen then give the roots new paths so that roots from both the trees on either ends of the bank get inter-woven and form a bridge ! How brilliant is that ! And every bridge takes about 10 – 15 years to get ready to be used. The bridges are strong and sturdy .

After having admired the bridge for its craftmanship, we crossed the bridge and walked towards the double-decker one. As we crossed, we saw a bridge in the making that was still young and the roots still growing. As we walked, the stairs became uneven. We then passed two narrow foot bridges built of thin iron rods. Basically, these bridges were over a wide river, but since it was not monsoons, the river was dry and we could see large boulders under the bridge. After walking for a while, we reached the double decker bridge. I stood speechless looking at this wonder. We spent time walking the bridge on both levels and trying to understand the complex technique. Not even a single piece of artificial man-made material used in building the bridge !

On our way back, there was this small clear water pond under one of the narrow iron bridges. The guide told us that we could take a dip and my husband jumped into it. The walk back was a little tiring one as we had to climb up the stairs.

We reached the resort, had lunch and set off towards Shillong. My husband and I promised ourselves to come back to Cherrapunjee in monsoons.

We planned to visit Mawlynnong- the cleanest village in Asia, the next day. Next morning, on our way to Mawlynnong, we stopped by another living root bridge, this one being a bigger one than the ones we had seen in Cherrapunjee. We reached Mawlynnong village and bought tickets to enter the village. The village looked more like an exhibit model than an inhabited one – so was the cleanliness and perfection. No litter, no plastics. Everything was natural and so beautiful. Residents of that village were very particular about maintaining cleanliness. We came back to Shillong by evening .

Shillong – known as the Scotland of the East, is a very lively city. Football (soccer) and music are the heartbeats of the city. On our last day in Shillong, we visited various attractions of the city – Ward’s lake , Elephant falls , Shillong Peak and Don Bosco museum. Don Bosco museum is around 5 – 6 floors housing artefacts about the history, lifestyle and cultural practices of the beautiful Northeast India. It is a must visit when in Shillong .

Saying goodbye to Meghalaya, we drove towards Kaziranaga in Assam. I am definitely going back to Cherrapunjee in the monsoons !

Additional photos below
Photos: 31, Displayed: 28


9th January 2018

Fascinating blog. I have posted some of your pics in "Canopy Walks & Rickety Bridges" thread in the Photography Forum. Check it out.
9th January 2018

Thank you Dancing Dave ! Interesting pictures of bridges posted by fellow travellers on that forum !

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