Tag Archives: East Khasi hills

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.”

Tripping in Scotland of the east- Shillong

The planned solo trip started when I boarded the BLR- GAU bound flight to Shillong… An argument over paying extra Rs.50 per head for turning the A/C on for 1 passenger’s need in a shared taxi from Guwahati airport ended when the drive uphill pulled-off at Police Bazaar, Shillong at 3.00.p.m. While the streets were bustling with the weekenders finding their way out of the hill state, an acquaintance who had offered to give me place to stay at her place was waiting for my arrival.

Being the 1st day in an unknown city and having very little time with day light left (The sun-sets by 4.30.p.m.), I decided not to move too far from my friend’s house and eventually cause trouble to people in finding me. I dumped my luggage at the house and started to explore the city by foot.

The day ended pretty well where I tagged along with another solo-traveler and together we were able to explore the markets, street food and have a fine conversation about travel & music- we kind of struck similar chords. We shopped for woolens, thermals and shoes at dirt cheap prices on the streets of police bazaar. We tasted a lot of local fruits and even picked up some ‘Bhoot Jhalokias- World’s spiciest chilly as mementoes to our relatives 😉 While we were walking through the narrow residential lanes of the city, we learned about the architecture of the buildings here. Shillong falls under the red belt for earthquakes. Hence, the houses are constructed with light-weight roofs- usually a combination of hay and metal sheet. Also, the houses are usually constructed a few feet above the ground with insulating materials to keep them warm during the winters. Although, a few buildings seemed to have been constructed of concrete, I was told that the walls were mud smeared and if a hole was made with a slightly large nail, the sand from within would ooze out and eventually collapse the wall. This was to protect the people from earthquake & chilly winters together. Pork forms a major part of Khasi cuisine and that made us eat a lot of it (chops, barbequed, fried etc.) since pork goes into almost all dishes. All in all, my first day in the North-eastern India as a solo traveler went rather well.. I did not seem lost on my 1st day and she ended the last day of her trip on a good note!

Day 2 can be broadly divided into 3 parts: 1st- Taxi ride to the outskirts, 2nd- Walk around the city, 3rd- Taxi ride to the cantonment area.

An early morning walk down the road from my friend’s house lead to the Golf course- The largest, oldest, wettest and the toughest to play in Asia. Green pastures have been scientifically proven to have a soothing effect on human mind and it was nothing different to expect from this golf course. I walked back up to the Police Bazaar and hired a taxi thereon to Smit.

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The drive of 25kms was refreshing as I passed through potato farms and Khasi villages on the way. Smit is an old rustic town and the cultural centre of the East Khasi hills. After a small stopover, we drove to Laitlung valley- about 5kms further. The beauty of the valley with 360 degree greenery and fresh air cleansed my mind off half my worries and tension. The villagers I met on my way enriched me with the simplicity and content of life. After a good walk down and up 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 sat down with a few school kids who were excited to catch up for a conversation with a foreigner in English! I managed to get breakfast at one of the stalls where a simple plate of noodles was served with a heavy dose of warmth and humility.

After reaching back to Shillong, I enquired for local sightseeing which seemed to be expensive by taxi and that’s what pushed me to explore the city on foot with support from my friend- Google maps. There are many places within 5 kms radius for people of varied interests. Air force museum (at Upper Shillong), Forest museum (Inside Lady Hydari park), Rhino heritage museum, Zoological museum, Anthropological museum (at Mawsbuit/ahead of Happy Valley), Botanical museum, Arunachal museum, State museum, Don-Bosco centre of culture (At Mawlai)- all for the museum bums. The wards lake, Bishop Beadon falls, Spread eagle falls (also called as Sati or Umkaliar falls), Crinoline falls, Elephant falls and the Sweet falls- at a drivable distance for the water lovers. And of course, there are a large number of Cathedrals and churches where you can attend the Sunday mass with hymns melodiously sung in the Khasi language.

By sunset time, I had realized that I had done several rounds of the same roads and covered very few places. And that’s when I took another taxi to visit the farthest of the city-sightseeing and the highest point of the hill station- Shillong peak. The road taken to the peak was blocked by the Air-force and that made the driver to go through Happy Valley and the army area at Mawsbuit to show me the most beautiful of all places around Shillong- Sweet falls. Being tucked away from the city crowd and having limited access to people due to the army area, this place was very serene, clean and beautiful. However, it seemed very secluded with just a couple of riders who had dropped over for a drink. Being a solo traveler, for the first time I felt uncomfortable and headed to the taxi to be driven back. Then followed the highlight of the day: The driver fell sick, his sugar levels dropped, he threw up and all that… I didn’t even have water when he asked for some… I gave him some toffees which would help his sugar level normalize; he rested in the car for a while and then finally drove me back to the city after all the panic session… Pheww!!

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Sweet falls

After a short shopping break at the Police bazaar market, I headed to MTDC (Meghalaya Tourism Development Corporation) office where I thought I would be able to plan my next day’s itinerary… and what happened next is history.!!

Summary:
* It’s a safe and a friendly city for the solo travelers.
* Time required for covering all places in the city- 1.5 days

Must dos:
* For the music buffs: Attend the Shillong Weekender NH7 music festival

* For the cultural buffs: Attend the Nongkrehm festival of the Khasi tribes at Smit

* For the foodies: Try khasi cuisine at the many restaurants and give it a try for street food post 6.00.p.m across the city.

* For the shopaholics: lots of amazing winter wears, shoes and boots at dirt cheap prices across the city!