Category Archives: Meghalaya

Love Biriyani? Here’s one from every Indian State

Biriyani is one dish that needs no introduction. Although the earliest roots of Biriyani can be traced back to middle-east, Biriyani was brought to the Northern India by the Muslim rulers who largely settled there and the Arab merchants who came to the southern India for trade. Today, Biriyani is more of an emotion for every foodie. Hence, an essential part of Indian food culture. Anybody visiting India has one thing to strike off in their list of ‘To do in India- Eat Biriyani’. But, India is a country of diversity and in no way can the humble Biriyani be left behind without being different.

While Biriyani is a very generic moniker for this spicy, aromatic and delicious preparation of rice, it comes in various forms. These forms are born out of the local influences of available ingredients, regional cuisine, rice variety and flavor preferred. There are mainly 2 types of making it: Kucchi (Raw marinated meat is cooked together between layers of raw rice) and Pakki (Meat and rice are separately cooked with all the spices and served together). While Biriyani is predominantly a non-vegetarian dish, it has been over time tuned for the vegetarian masses. Some versions are named after the place it originated from and some are synonymous with certain families or shops that created the variants.

So, while you enjoy exploring India, here is something for you to try out at each of the 29 states of this huge country- Biriyani.

PLEASE NOTE: There are a few states in India where I have not yet visited and hence do not have sufficient information about the local Biriyani flavours. It will be greatly appreciated if you can help me fill up these empty spaces by dropping your suggestions in the comments below.

  1. Andhra Pradesh– Doodh ki Biriyani is something that stands out from the rest of the list in flavor and colour. Here, the meat and the rice are cooked together in milk instead of water. Vegetarians can drool over Avakaya Biriyani. This is made by mixing a raw mango and mustard oil pickle with steamed basmati rice.
  2. Arunachal Pradesh(**Need help)
  3. Assam– Kampuri biriyani is a delightful recipe that has originated in a place called Kampur in this north-eastern state.
  4. Bihar– Champaran is a culturally important region in the country that also gives its name to the popular non-vegetarian dish of the state. The flavours of Champaran mutton or Ahuna mutton goes well great in our list. What makes its preparation stand out is the usage of black pepper corns, desicated coconut and whole bulbs of garlic cooked along with the meat. The garlic pulp is then squeezed into the preparation.
  5. Chattisgarh(**Need help)
  6. Goa– With a large number of influences from the erstwhile Muslims, Portuguese and the Saraswata Bramins of Konkan, Goan traditional food is an amalgamation of many cuisines. The Goan fish biriyani is a must try (the fish used may differ) which derives its flavour from coconut and red kokum. It is light on spices.
  7. Gujarat– In a state where vegetarianism is largely preferred, Memoni biriyani comes as a surprise for mutton lovers. It has its origin from Sindh, the region in Pakistan with whom the state shares its border.
  8. Haryana– Although, this state doesn’t have a biriyani it reckons itself with, its long association with the capital city, Delhi can be spoken about. Delhi Biriyani itself has so many versions depending on the part of the city it originated in and the purpose it was created for. Nizammuddin biriyani, Shahajanabad biriyani are a few to name. There is yet another twist to it in the form of the Achaari biriyani. Here, rice is mixed with pickles (Achaar in Hindi). Karim’s biriyani is served from a kitchen that dates back to the mughals (contributed by trippin_on_life).
  9. Himachal(**Need help)
  10. Jammu & Kashmir– Its large association with the Muslim rulers has lead into the creation of the Kashmiri Biriyani (non-veg) or the Kashmiri Pulav (vegetarian dish). Mutanjan biriyani is a dish that stands out in the entire list as it is a sweet form of the otherwise spicy biryani.
  11. Jharkand(**Need help)
  12. Karnataka– Susprisingly, my homestate has all the influences. The Northern part of the state is known for the Kalyani biriyani that was created by the Nawabs of Kalyani who ruled the areas around Bidar district. This is a delicacy cooked with buffalo meat. The coastal part of the state has its influence from the middle-eastern traders who eventually invented the local forms. Beary biriyani is named after the coastal trading community and Bhatkali biriyani with its taste influenced by the Navayath cuisine.
  13. Kerala– The Northern Kerala (Malabar region) is known for its Thalassery biriyani and Kozhikodan biriyani, the middle part of the state has its lesser known dish called Rawther biriyani, created by the Rawther family who lived around the Palakkad area. The Kuzhimanthi biriyani, a form of Yemeni rice is slowly catching up with the locals in and around Cochin. All variants have been largely influenced by the immigrants and traders from the middle-east. Vegetarians, don’t worry. You can dig into delicious plates of Kappa biriyani (tapioca) and puttu biriyani.
  14. Madhya Pradesh– Although this state does not have its own biriyani form, Tehari biriyani is prepared all over northern India. It is the vegetarian version of the Mughlai biriyani which goes by different stories of its origin.
  15. Maharastra– While the Mughals have influenced the spicy Aurangabad biriyani, the Bombay Biriyani is a world apart with its tangy and sweet taste derived from the kewra, potatoes and plums used in its preparation. The Bohri patra biriyani, a name derived in combination of two words- Bohra (the sect who created this recipe) and patra (leaves of colocassia) is a hidden secret of Mumbai.
  16. Manipur(**Need help)
  17. Meghalaya– Although this state doesn’t have a dish called ‘biriyani’ on its menu of khasi cuisine, Jadoh is a dish that’s very close. It is a spicy preparation of rice cooked either with pork or chicken. What sets it apart is that all its ingredients are cooked with the respective animal blood (pork or chicken) instead of water.
  18. Mizoram(**Need help)
  19. Nagaland(**Need help)
  20. Odisha– while there is nothing specifically called the Odiya biriyani, what comes close is the Cuttacki Biriyani, created by a restaurant in cuttack. With the flavours largely derived out of Bengali influence, the ingredients are cooked in Rose water.
  21. Punjab– Punjab doesn’t have its own biriyani recipe. Its proximity to the Pakistan borders gets it the Sindhi biriyani and the Bohri biriyani.
  22. Rajasthan-Jodhpuri Kabuli is a vegetarian recipe deriving its name from the city of Jodhpur in Rajastan and Kabul in Afghanistan. Mewa biriyani is another local taste that’s slightly sweet and garnished with nuts and dehydrated fruits.
  23. Sikkim(**Need help)
  24. Tamil Nadu– While the Nawabs of Arkot influenced the famous Ambur / Vaniyambadi biriyani; the thalapakkatti family created the Dindigul biriyani and the business community of Chettiars brought in their knowledge of spices giving form to the Chettinad biriyani.
  25. Telangana– Hyderabadi Biriyani needs no description. Available in both the kacchi and pakki forms, it was patronized largely during the nawabs of Hyderabad.
  26. Tripura– Although not a native dish, it can still be recognized with chevon biryani due to its proximity to Bangladesh. The chevon biriyani or Dhaka biriyani is the Bangladeshi twist to this incredible rice preparation.
  27. Uttar Pradesh– Influenced by the Awadhi cuisine, the Lucknowi biriyani is flavourful and a burst of cinnamon to your tastebuds. Its lesser known relative is the Moradabadi biriyani.
  28. Uttarakhand(**Need help)
  29. West Bengal– Last on the list, but one of the most popular forms in the country is the Kolkata biriyani. With potato as it’s key ingredient, this preparation of subtle flavours is influenced by the Awadhi cuisine.

The last Indian village on the Meghalaya border- Dawki

We were bowled over by the beautiful plains of Bangladesh- The view of our neighbouring country from the rest of Meghalaya! So, the thought of driving over to actually see another country from close quarters made us very excited. The innumerous blogs about the crystal clear waters of the Umngot river and the boat ride with the emerald green backdrop kept us on toes until we were finally there.. Dawki is the last village on the Indian border and Tamabil on the Bangladesh end. This is a friendly stretch and an important trade route between the two countries with limestone being majorly exported across borders.

A mesmerising stretch of green mountains on one side and a deep valley with thick settled fog on the other, accompanied us all the way till our destination. Based on a friend’s recommendation, we stopped by on the way to find a small board that guided us to Byrdaw falls. The road got narrower and isolated as we drove further. After passing through very thick forest, the road ended abruptly. Although we were a little apprehensive, I forced my friends to walk down. We continued to walk through what seemed like some plantations that was left neglected and looked more like a forest infested with some bandits who could hold us for a ransom. There were no signs of any water source or a stream that would eventually lead to a waterfall.. But, I insisted to continue o follow the well laid stairs all the way only to be awestruck with what defines Nature’s beauty! This is a 3 tiered waterfalls which one can walk through enjoying the serene location from the waterfall’s point of view- quite literally! My friends thanked me for having them got there!

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Byrdaw waterfall

We then drove over to where we were destined to reach for the day.. It was a slow route thereon with several loaded trucks travelling to Tamabil. Suddenly the blue waters of the Umngot river appeared from amid the trees with the rays of the setting sun reflecting back at us. We were overjoyed! We patiently awaited our turn to cross the narrow declared weak steel bridge across the river where only one vehicle is allowed at a time and atleast 50 trucks were ahead in the queue. It was dark by the time we met our guide ‘Mr.Bright Star’ at Dawki town and followed him to where we were supposed to camp for the night. Dawki is in the Jaintia Hill district of Meghalaya and hence, the cultural difference of the Jaintia tribes was clearly felt by us who had spent many days in the Khasi hills. Our guide drove us through eerie looking terrain carved though mountainous limestone. There was no asphalt and no streetlights with only thick creepers hanging down the high rise limestone walls. It was an offbeat off civilisation drive of over 5kms into nowhere where the cars were braked to a screeching halt- Destination: Shnongpdeng.

With our backpacks and camping essentials, we walked down the valley with torchlights and pitched our tents which we were told was on the river bank. The night was spent in absolute peace under the clear starry sky and some burning wood by the side that kept us warm through with just the rustle of the flowing water and our guide’s dog that were our other companions.

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The view from my tent

I was awakened before dawn and unzipped my tent with the first ray of day’s break- My heart skipped a beat with what I saw! We had stayed on the river bed.. The swiftly flowing river, rich never-ending stretch of green forest, rounded rocks of different colours spilt all over seemed to have put up a piece of heaven right infront of our tents. A couple of bamboo shacks and a long suspension bridge added to the beauty of the setup.. We then caught up with ‘Mickey’, our oarsman who rowed the boat along the rapids of the river. We wanted to catch the sunrise from the view point and getback to our camp before the tourist crowd poured in.

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Our boat being pulled in the rapids

Although the beautiful landscape kept us motivated, the ride was rather taxing. We would sail for the calmer stretch and we had to get off the boat and walk when we approached the rapids. It was all worth it at the end.. We could enjoy the pristine beauty of the place right up, close and personal.. After a filling breakfast, we packed our stuffs and continued to travel towards Jowai with a stop-over at the Tamabil checkpost.

Summary: Dawki is a very laidback place blessed with natural beauty. It is very disheartening to see tourists flocking in thousands everyday which will not surprise me if just five years down the line, would be nothing more than a stinking slushy pool of water left back as a memory of abusive tourism.

Experiencing the warmth of Khasi hospitality in the wettest place on earth- Cherrapunjee

I could not express better than these lines picked up from a website, “If the Raindrops elevate your mood, clouds stir your senses and rainbow brings out childlike pleasure in you, then don’t hold yourself back. We are taking you to the abode of clouds-Meghalaya; where rain weaves a magical spell, spellbinding beauty haunts your senses and you witness nature at its best. Witness the monsoon magic, majestic waterfalls, live root bridges and more…” and one can go to no better place than Sohra fondly called Cherrapunjee to experience all of that Meghalaya has to offer in a small place.

Like most tourists, we started our day early from Shillong via Smit. To differ from the rest, we had a self-drive car at our disposal so that we had the liberty to stop whenever and wherever we wanted. The drive route was mostly untouched and its rustic charm kept us excited all through as this route is less treaden by the tourists. Pine plantations, lesser explored waterfalls nestled away from the main road, well groomed vegetable farms, hay shacks were a common thing for us while we had stopped atleast 100 times for photos. As we approached Sohra, we stopped at several view points, Wahkabah waterfall being one among them.

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A reservoir enroute to Cherrapunjee

India’s longest cave and the most numbers of limestone caves in one place happens to be in Meghalaya and hence Meghalaya is a haven for cave explorers. Our first stop at Sohra was at the Arwah or Lumshynna caves. Relatively smaller compared to the other caves in the viscinity, but is tucked away in a gorgeous location overlooking the deep valley with the Nongsthiang waterfalls. After a brief visit, we headed towards our next stop- Plunging down from a height of over 1100 feet, Nohkalikai is the highest waterfall in India. We trekked down the steps and a little beyond into the bushes and enjoyed the rare views of the waterfall away from the reaches of normal tourist.

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The Nohkalikai falls

There is an option to camp at the Eco park, over the seven sister / Nongsthiang falls. But we decided against it as the place is filled with backpackers and would’ve been too clumsy for us who wanted a peaceful place away from the crowd. In search of a nice place to pitch our tents, we took help of one of our Khasi friend, but the search ended up more like an exploration of Sohra with untouched places and sunset views. This exploration took us to remote places like banks of a small river, a cliff off a small hillock, plains overlooking massive gorges, cement factory backyards among other places. Pitching a tent in Sohra requires prior permission from 4 different authorities- the land owner, the Siam of the village, the local government body and the police. With very little time left in hand and insufficient preparation for the camping, we ended up staying with a Khasi family in a local homestay located amid a serene location. The stay however was the highlight of our day- the warm hospitality of the Khasis will never let one regret their choice of stay. The host accompanied us for dinner and for a drink while we were discussing everything from Khasi culture, ceremonies, politics, sports, tourism et all under the sky- the clear Night’s sky. With no pollution in the atmosphere, my friend helped me to identify several constellations from the place that was brilliant for star gazing. It was an unforgettable night for us with the Khasi family.

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The village settlements around our homestay

Next day, we drove to places around Cherrapunjee including the villages of Tyrna, Nongriat, Mawsmai cave/Krem Phyllut, Laitsynkew to explore the living root bridges which was an activity from dawn to dusk! We got in touch with a local guide Paradise who then arranged for our camping in the Nohkalikai village for the night. It was yet another wonderful night amid the Khasis while we enjoyed Khasi music, the enriching conversation with Paradise and his friends on their customs, religious practices, respect for people, nature’s love- Phewwww it was a long night under the starry sky with only my friends, Paradise’s friends, myself and the campfire! Suddenly, while the last bit of the firewood was being lit and just before the night broke into dawn, the skies of Meghalaya had shown their power.. It poured cats n dogs for the rest of the night with thunder storm and lightning. We sheltered ourselves inside our tents while I continued to shiver with cold.

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One of the suspension bridges on the way to Dianthlen falls

At dawn’s break, the skies had seemed to have mellowed down and we stepped out of our tents only to be awed by the beautiful sun rising over India’s highest waterfall! Yeah, Meghalaya has been wonderful to us all this while and this was another new day in this land of clouds. While we had planned a short trek across the Dianthlen falls, the rain gods continued to lash through the day. And what’s the whole point if one doesn’t experience the rains in the wettest part of the world- Cherrapunjee that is..? We walked in the places around Dianthlen falls and were drenched till the bone and enjoyed the rains for some wild reason…. It was already noon and we couldn’t cover the other few places as planned in Cherrapunjee because of the poor visibility due to heavy rains. Had there been some more time in daylight, I would’ve loved to explore the Sohra market, Ramakrishna mission, Mawkdok valley, Thangkharang park, Moktrop rock in the remaining half a day’s time. Anyway, owing to any possibility in improvement in the weather conditions, we decided to drive to our next destination- the Jaintia hills district.

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The rain fed roads of Cherrapunjee

While the warmth of the very hospitable Khasis has still left me in awe and amusement, I’d like to end this note here with these lines published in Karavan, Stokholm, Sweden:
“Even then, goodbye dear Cherra, and your rain goodbye.
For my life is yonder, though my love is here.”

A walk in God’s own garden- Mawlynnong

Gandhiji once said, “The Soul of India is in its villages”. Sometimes, It is not about the place.. It is about the people that brings you closer.. And that’s precisely my take on this little quaint village called Mawlynnong.. After a refreshing drive through some breathtaking views and best roads of India, we had alighted at ‘God’s Own garden’ nestled deep in the East Khasi hills of Meghalaya. Although it is being largely promoted by the Meghalaya Tourism Department(MTD) as Asia’s cleanest village after being awarded so by the ‘Discover India Magazine’ in 2003, I feel it holds a different charm in it with the warmest people I have met so far!

Tourists flock to this place in large numbers just because they have heard about it in MTD handouts. These senseless creatures litter the place extensively with chocolate wrappers, chips sachets etc. all strewn around this supposedly cleanest village they have come to see.. But, the humble villagers watch on with a smile and pick up these wastes themselves and put them in the cane trash bins places visibly infront of every household in the village, thus keeping up to its reputation of being clean!

I walked around the laid back lanes of the village in exploring the old church, the floating stone and the water shed maintained by the villagers. The flowers lining the fences of each household added myriad hues to the green village and grey of the cloudy sky.. I climbed up the skywalk laid up with bamboo and cane that threw up a nice view overlooking the plains of Bangladesh.

Finally, I settled down at a locally run restaurant for a cup of chai to beat the chills of the cloudy weather. I caught up on a conversation with a pretty Khasi lady draped in her Asiangyake (the traditional dress of the Khasi women also called Dhara). While she helped me to memorise a few words in her dialect, I learnt about the Khasi culture and customs. Being a matrilineal society, women are respected and are given the preference to choose her husband-to-be. It is considered a bad omen, if a man proposes to a woman. While she was attending to other customers at the restaurant, I called out for ‘Oikong’ (Khasi alternative for addressing ‘Didi’ in other parts of northern India) to help me with some Soh (Khasi for fruit). “Ohhhh” A voice filled with humility came in response… She then sat down with me and prepared a plate of pineapple seasoned with flakes of the ‘Bhut Jholokias’ and salt. It was one of the best snack I had in years!

I then walked down to the playground where the kids were playing. They seemed excited to meet me, talk in English and pose for a few candid photos. It was a warm and a very pleasant evening for me… There is nothing in particular in this village to see or do.. Yet, the nomad in me strongly intended to stay there for an extra day. There are homestays that are available where the warmth of the Khasi hospitality can be experienced.

I would recommend an early morning walk to Riwai village that helps you avoid the chaotic tourists who flock in later during the day. At a distance of about 1km before Mawlynnong, is the most easily accessible living root bridge and hence, a lot of visitors throng down. So after a nice walk, savouring a nice Khasi breakfast and lemon tea, it was time to pack bags to head out to my next destination- Dawki: the last village of Meghalaya on the Indian border!

Request to tourists:
Please remember that the sole reason that you are at Mawlynnong is to see how ‘Asia’s cleanest village’ looks like. How on earth will you ever feel like littering such a place? Do you want to see if you can take off the ‘Cleanest’ tag from the place? Or do you want to just prove that you are only an uncultured educated rich person who could afford enough money to tour the North-east India? Ask yourself… Be sensible and responsible!

Gateway to the abode of clouds- RiBhoi

A long winding highway up the hill from Guwahati leads to Meghalaya- Abode of the clouds. And up there, one will be greeted by blue waters of a calm lake flanking the road on the right with no sign boards indicating the arrival at Ri Bhoi district. Umiam Lake or Barapani has been gracefully present there in a serene backdrop of green hills of the state. There is no passerby who doesn’t stop for at least a minute to capture the beauty of this place! This is a manmade lake formed due to the reservoir constructed across the Umiam River and forms the main source of consumable water to Shillong. For people looking for a leisure trip, one can go for boat rides in the clear waters of the lake. It is also called as the ‘water of tears’ named after a legend which talks about two sisters who were travelling to heaven. One of the sisters slipped from the hills and died, the other sister cried out of grief and her tears are said to have trickled down and formed the lake!

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The Umiam lake from NH40

We had read about this place called ‘Lum Sohpetbneng’ close by to Umiam and asked our driver if he could take us there. Although he himself had never been there earlier, he readily agreed to take us there. It is a sacred grove of pine trees where it is believed that a golden ladder existed that connected Heaven and Earth. There is a motorable road but the place looked eerie with absolutely NO ONE until the peak. We kind of got lost with several deviations in the route but since we were in the middle of the forest, we decided to reach the destination before we gave up. We wanted to know how the ladder looked like that connected God and Man… Finally we arrived there… Only a dilapidated structure what appeared like some prayer hall and an under construction structure was there where our driver told that large number of Hindus congregate at an annual fair…

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An epitaph at Lum Sohpetbneng

The driver took us to a neglected patch of land under an old withering tree and pointed at a rock and told us- “See, these massive footprints here- It is of the humans who tried to climb heaven. Men used to be so large in size in those days. One day, God realized that heaven was getting full and so he cut-off the ladder which laid right here where this tree grows now.” Although the shape of a feet with heels and toes were demarked clearly in the footprints, it is interesting to know how we grow up with fables without understanding the scientific logic behind. There isn’t much to do on the peak apart from a good view of the Umiam Lake on one side and the Jaintia hills, Shillong airport, The Asian highway on the other. We drove back to Shillong.

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A view of Umiam lake from Lum Sohpetbneng

I personally would not recommend this trip if you are on a packed schedule. But if you are an explorer, interested in studying religion and culture, I would advise you to go there with a person familiar and knowledgeable about the place. A deviation from Umiam Lake can help one to explore the Diengiei Peak, atop which a crater formed of an extinct volcano exists. Dwarksuid is yet another place we gave a miss on the Umroi Bhoilymbong road where a rocky lake exists which is believed to be ‘Devil’s doorway’ because of the dark colored rocks surrounding the lake.

Summary:
Being the first scenic spot while entering Meghalaya through NH40, Umiam Lake is a good stop-over to watch the sunset and chill with friends on the banks. There you can flip your arms open and let Meghalaya breathe some life into you before you head over for a wonderful trip ahead!

Treading the living root bridges- Nongriat

As kids, we always imagined fairies with wings flying amidst colourful gardens, rope like creepers hanging across the forest thickets, rainbows emerging on the tranquil sky… And that’s how most of the animated movies depict fairy tales like… Right? Nestled deep in the rich forests of Meghalaya; with NO exaggeration, that’s how I would describe this village called Nongriat!

A pleasant drive through the breathtakingly beautiful valleys and naturally formed creepy high limestone walls brought us to a village called Tyrna. That’s where the tarmac ends and our car had to be parked. Further, we trekked down to the Nongriat village- where the ‘Umshiang bridge’ or popularly called ‘the double decker root bridge’ lies. One needs to climb over 2500 steps each way, so that this piece of marvel can be seen at close quarters. Root bridges are created by inter-weaving the roots of the rubber tree by the tribal folks who live in the deep forests of Meghalaya for their local commute across the bloated rivers during monsoon. A bridge fit for usage can take a minimum of a couple of decades and it only gets stronger with age. There are several such living root bridges across Meghalaya and most of them continue to be untouched by the tourists due to their remoteness.

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The route to Tyrna village

At Tyrna, we met a Khasi villager from Nongriat whom we befriended and agreed upon to guide us through our trek. Although, there is a well laid out path of stairs all the way, we thought it was wiser to have a localite who would enrich us with the facts and figures that we wouldn’t get to learn otherwise. We passed through several sacred groves and areca farms belonging to the villagers. After decending about 1000 steps, a small deviation to the right indicated the way to Nongthymmai village. We took this deviation to reach the ‘Ritymmen root bridge’ a single bridge and another old one next to it which has taken its toll due to the negligence by the localites. Our hearts were jumping with joy at the first hand experience of treading on a living root bridge… I decided to throw my shoes away for a while and enjoy the feeling of walking barefoot on the bridge…

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The Rythimmen bridge at Nongthymmai village

After spending some time, we decided to continue the trek, while our new friend cum guide continued to enlighten us about the rich traditions and culture of the Khasis. We stopped by for a quick breakfast at a straw hut selling 2-minute noodles and lemon tea. Further, a short climb of stairs continued only to be awestruck by the marvel of indigenous engineering- The Double decker root bridge. It was like fantasy out of a fairytale- Creepers hanging across a little waterfall that was fed by pristine river in the middle of nowhere! While a few tourists who had stayed in the Khasi homes over the previous night were enjoying their swim in the cold waters, we decided to move away from them after spending some time admiring this beauty. Next mission- Rainbow falls!

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Entry bridge to Nongriat village

The small number of tourists who make it to the double decker bridge seemed to have disappeared thereon owing to the tiring path that lies ahead. But, nothing comes easy- Nature’s best kept secrets are those which are untouched due to their remoteness. I was doing this trip post monsoon (October to be precise) and that’s when the caterpillar larvae take wings! Like winged fairies, Butterflies of all colours, shapes and sizes greeted and accompanied me all along the stretch from Umshiang bridge till the rainbow falls. We had to be extremely cautious while walking by clearing the way for ourselves with a stick, lest accidentally step on these little creatures. The path was so full of butterflies… The walk that cannot be expressed with words and the joy can only be experienced. Truly, in every sense- I was Alice, walking in wonderland!

It was a walk of nearly 2hours through the thickets of the sacred forests and crossing atleast 5 other root bridges and a couple of metal rope bridges that were laid across the deep river that flows down with its seductive clear blue waters.

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Another root bridge enroute to Rainbow falls

After the brisk climb, we had finally arrived at the place where a hidden jewel of nature was unfolded amid the greens.. We stood there in AWE….. the Green trees and bushes opened up to display a canvas with milky white waters gracefully tumbling down into a pool of turquoise blue waters and a hundred fairies flying around us. A dozen spectrums adding to this heavenly scenery! On a clear sunny day, there could be 50-100 spectrums around the waterfall- giving the place its name.. Rainbow falls! We enjoyed a couple of hours in calm just by sitting beside the naturally formed swimming pool as we were the only people in this fairyland and restoring our lost bond with nature that was shared long ago…

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The Rainbow falls

Had we known a little more about the enchanting beauty of this trek, we would have extended it by a day.. As narrated by our guide, camping at the Mawsmai caves(2hours trek further) and climbing up the hill to be greeted by the Nohkalikai waterfalls- the highest waterfall in India would have been a complete story! Unfortunately, we didn’t know about this path before starting. So now, it was well past afternoon and we had a long way to walk back. And very less time left until sunset.. We stopped by at another hut near the Umshiang bridge for lunch where we relished a simple Khasi meal of rice and bitter lime curry.

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A metal rope bridge near Rainbow falls

The walk back from there onwards was taxing and it is a very steep climb up the 2500 odd stairs.. I stopped several times at the little homes and stalls put up by the villagers on the way to keep myself hydrated with the local energy drinks and fruit juices. I cannot forget the way my guide cum friend Denzil kept motivating me to complete the stretch. He kept reducing the count of steps by hundreds and leaps so that I would climb faster with the intention of reaching the top ASAP. Finally, I was back at Tyrna while the sunlight was still available for us to drive back to Cherrapunjee. A small deviation from Tyrna will lead one to ‘Ummunoi root bridge’ in the Laitkynsew village, one of the oldest bridges in the viscinity. It has been truly a very refreshing way to explore ‘the abode of the clouds- Meghalaya’.

Summary:
• Although, we missed to trek up the Nohkalikai falls, we made sure that we camped overnight facing the waterfalls and catch the sunrise over the waterfalls!
• Plan a 2 day trip covering Laitkynsew, Nongriat, Mawsmai and Nohkalikai- My friend Denzil can be an amazing guide to accompany you!

A day out at the Khasi cultural centre- Smit

There are public buses from Shillong to Smit, but one needs to hitch a ride further to Laitlum. Since it was my first day in the state, I did not want to experiment. I hired a taxi from Police bazaar to Laitlum after a good bargain. After arriving from the metropolis with all the madness of traffic, pollution and work tension cluttering my mind- this drive was refreshing. I stopped the car at almost every kilometer to capture the beauty of the place with my not-so-good camera. The bamboo trees and terrace lands with potato farms all yet added charm to the otherwise beautiful scenery. To add to the pleasure of the drive, I was having a good conversation with the driver and there were atleast 50 passengers hopping on and off at every stretch and all getting excited about meeting a foreigner (Yeah… That’s what they called me!).

Smit is an old rustic town and the cultural centre of the East Khasi hills. A road flanked with well groomed pine trees lead to the Raja’s palace. The Raja or the head of the clan is called ‘Siam’ and he lives in the same premises. However, the wooden palace is used only on special occasions- those like Nongkrem festival etc. where there will be tribal congregations. This typical Khasi styled wooden house is said to have been constructed with zero iron nails and only wood for all joints. Although I met the Siam, he did not seem to be a photo friendly person when I seeked permission to photograph his little children. There isn’t much in this town apart from this house.

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The Siam’s house at Smit

After a small stopover, we drove to Laitlum valley- about 5kms further from Smit. It was an offbeat drive through the rarest stretches of countryside. We passed by a lot of school kids who were on their way to school. Few were happy waving at me while a few were busy pranking at their pals as they walked. It was a flashback of typical childhood days in a rural setup. There were a couple of school teachers in my backseat, chatting happily with me and patiently waiting in the car while I would get down to take photos. Overall, it was a very pleasant drive until we reached the Laitlum gate. While the driver wanted to sit back in the car, he asked me to enjoy the view and return.

I was the only person amid the green scintillating valley until I walked down and saw 2 boys cleaning the pristine place. They had already parked aside 4-5 sacks full of waste. When I spoke to them, they told me that they came here every morning before leaving for school to pick up plastics left behind by the previous day’s tourists. While it was a heartfelt respect for these boys for doing their bit to save earth without having any expectations of monetary gain, it was a subtle slap on my face because I too represented the tourists who unmindfully damage the same earth in the name of enjoyment.

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The Laitlum valley

I walked down to the cliff and stood in amazement at the beauty that the place beheld. While I was standing on the brink on a large flat rock, it felt like I was the only person in the whole wide beautiful world. The gentle winds kissed my cheeks and the chirping bird was a welcome guest. There were several waterfalls flowing down the valley gracefully at a distance… Then there were a few villagers who appeared to be popping out of the deep valley beneath. They seemed to be friendly and told me that their village lied down there and they had to climb up each time to meet their basic life requirements, trade their farm products etc. There is a cable car made of bamboo which will be dropped down and pulled up for old people and goods but it is by foot most of the time. I grew curious and my feet dragged me down the stones that were laid on the path to the village. The beauty of the 360 degree greenery and the fresh air had already cleansed my mind off half my worries and tension by the time I clocked the distance to the village. There is a small stream, a church and a few huts in this little fairy tale village nestled deep down the valley. And the villagers I met on my way enriched me with the simplicity and content of life. After a good walk down the beautiful valley of Mawkeynrew, my tummy had started to call out for me. I savoured the plantains offered to me by the villagers and unwillingly decided to climb back.

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The bamboo cable car and the village below

Once I reached the top, I finally sat down at a small hut like stall that had opened by the time at the valley gate. Her little son helped me with a cup of lemon tea in English before running to school. The lady there could not understand anything other than Khasi language and I didn’t know that. In spite of the language barrier, we both became friends who communicated with hand signs. She cooked maggi noodles and Jadoh with chicken curry for breakfast while I was eagerly waiting for my first Khasi meal. Jadoh is a traditional Khasi meal where rice is cooked with chicken blood instead of water. It was one of the most relishing and sumptuous maggi noodles I have ever had..! What made the meal so special was not that I found it in a No-man’s land or at an extremely low price. It was something that I would travel back again all the way for the humility and dollops of warmth the meal was served with.

She cut a pomello fruit and mixed it with chilly powder and packed it for my road.. With a heart full of gratitude, I bid goodbye to this Khasi friend of mine!

Kublei Shiboon,
Hitha.