Tag Archives: Offbeat things to do in Meghalaya

Experiencing the warmth of Khasi hospitality in 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.

This post is part of my fortnight long road trip across North-east India, specifically covering parts of Meghalaya – Assam – Arunachal Pradesh I had tagged along with two other travelers and drove around the state of Meghalaya in a self-drive car hired at Shillong. The places visited in Meghalaya include Shillong – Smit – Cherrapunjee – Mawlynnong – Dawki – Ribhoi- Shillong.

Our Itinerary:

Day 1: Arrive from Shillong / Smit; Wahkabah waterfall, Arwah or Lumshynna caves, Nohkalikai waterfalls, seven sister / Nongsthiang falls (Night’s stay at a local homestay)
Day 2: Tyrna village, Nongriat trek (Double decker rootbridge & Rainbow falls), Mawsmai cave/Krem Phyllut, Ummunoi root bridge at Laitkynsew village (Night camping at Nohkalikai)
Day 3: Dianthlen waterfall trek, Sohra market, Ramakrishna mission, Mawkdok valley, Thangkharang park, Moktrop rock; journey towards Mawlynnong.

The Details:

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.

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A reservoir enroute to Cherrapunjee

As we approached Sohra, we stopped at several view points, Wahkabah waterfall being one among them. 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. 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, we were someone who wanted a peaceful place away from the crowd.

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The Nohkalikai falls

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. In search of a nice place to pitch our tents, we took help of one of a local Khasi friend. With the local connect, our quest to find a piece of land to pitch a tent ended up more like an exploration of Sohra. We could go to some of the untouched places and sunset views that was completely out-of-reach from typical travellers. We were taken 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. With the sun-going down early in this part of the world, we had very little time in hand and insufficient preparation for the night’s camping.

We finally 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 is something that will never let one regret their choice of stay. Our host at the homestay, accompanied us for dinner and for a drink as we got discussing everything from Khasi culture, ceremonies, politics, sports, tourism et all under the sky, a 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 ‘Mr.Paradise’, who then arranged for our camping in the Nohkalikai village for the night. It was yet another wonderful night spent with new Khasi friends, as we enjoyed Khasi music, the enriching conversation with Paradise and his friends about the Khasi culture. We gained insights about their customs, religious practices, respect for people, nature’s love among many other things. 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 and 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.

At dawn’s break on the following morning, 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 throughout the day.
Cherrapunjee is the wettest part of the world. So, what’s the whole point if one doesn’t experience the rains here, right? We walked in the places around Dianthlen falls and enjoyed the rains for some wild fun but getting drenched till our bones.

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One of the suspension bridges on the way to Dianthlen falls

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. Anyway, speculating no possibilities for any 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:

Even then, goodbye dear Cherra, and your rain goodbye.
For my life is yonder, though my love is here.”

-Karavan, Stokholm, Sweden

A walk in God’s own garden- Mawlynnong

“The Soul of India is in its villages”.

-Gandhiji

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!

This post is part of my fortnight long road trip across North-east India, specifically covering parts of Meghalaya – Assam – Arunachal Pradesh I had tagged along with two other travelers and drove around the state of Meghalaya visiting Shillong – Smit – Cherrapunjee – Mawlynnong – Dawki – Ribhoi- Shillong.

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!

Things to see in Mawlynnong:

• Inside Mawlynnong village: The old church, floating stone, the water shed and the Bangladesh view point.
• 1 kilometer away: Riwai village (Living root-bridge)

The Details:

I walked around the laid back lanes of the village 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.

The Bangladesh view point at Mawlynnong
The Skyview bridge at Mawlynnong

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 salt and flakes of the ‘Bhut Jholokias’ (the spiciest chilli in the world). It was one of the best snack I had in years!

I then walked down to the playground where some local 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.

Kids playing on the lanes of Mawlynnong

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!

The church at Mawlynnong
The church at Mawlynnong

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

This post is part of my fortnight long road trip across North-east India, specifically covering parts of Meghalaya – Assam – Arunachal Pradesh I had tagged along with two other travelers and drove around the state of Meghalaya visiting Shillong – Smit – Cherrapunjee – Mawlynnong – Dawki – Ribhoi- Shillong.

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. With no major landmark to explore for a typical tourist, this small distrct is full of fables and legends. If you’re someone interested in fairy tales, I highly recommend you to take a local person with you and follow my trail.

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The Umiam lake from NH40

The 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 man-made lake formed due to the construction of a reservoir across the Umiam river. Today, this reservoir is one of the main sources of potable 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. It is beleived that 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!

We had read about this place called ‘Lum Sohpetbneng’ close 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. ‘Lum Sohpetbneng’ is a sacred grove of pine trees where a golden ladder is believed to have existed which connected Heaven and Earth. Although there is a motorable road, the place looked eerily deserted 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, which our driver told us was a place where an annual fair is held with a large congregation of Hindus.

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An epitaph at Lum Sohpetbneng

A few steps away from the concrete structure, our driver took us to a neglected patch of land under an old withering tree. He pointed at a rock and told us, “See, these massive footprints here? It is of the humans who tried to climb heaven. Back in the days, humans used to be massive in size. One day, God realized that heaven was getting full and so he cut-off the ladder which laid right here, where this tree is now growing.” 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, where a crater formed by an extinct volcano exists. Dwarksuid is yet another place we gave a miss on the Umroi Bhoilymbong road where a rocky lake exists and is believed to be ‘Devil’s doorway’ because of the dark colored rocks surrounding the lake.

Closing remarks: 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. Do you agree when I say this is how most of the animated movies depict fairy tales ? Nestled deep in the rich forests of Meghalaya; with NO exaggeration, that’s how I would describe this village called Nongriat!

This post is part of my fortnight long road trip across North-east India, specifically covering parts of Meghalaya – Assam – Arunachal Pradesh I had tagged along with two other travelers and drove around the state of Meghalaya visiting Shillong – Smit – Cherrapunjee – Mawlynnong – Dawki – Ribhoi- Shillong.

A pleasant drive through the breathtakingly beautiful valleys and naturally formed creepy high limestone walls brought us to a village called Tyrna in Cherrapunjee. 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’ exists. 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. We were here, to tread on some of the most popular living root-bridges of Meghalaya.

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The route to Tyrna village

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. At Tyrna, we met a Khasi villager from Nongriat who agreed upon to guide us through our trek. 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 experience of treading on a living root bridge, that we had only read about until then… 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 and 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, the main motivation for us to trek this far. It was like fantasy out of a fairytale: creepers hanging across a little waterfall, fed by a pristine river in the middle of nowhere! It was tempting to get our feet wet as we watched a few tourists who had stayed in the Khasi homes around the root-bridge over the previous night and enjoying their swim in the cold waters. However, spending some time admiring this piece of absolute marvel, we decided to move ahead, towards our next mission: Rainbow falls!

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Entry bridge to Nongriat village

Nature’s best kept secrets are those which are untouched due to their remoteness. Rainbow waterfalls being one of those. The small number of tourists who make it till the double decker bridge seemed to have had disappeared there onwards. The tiring path ahead was going to be tiring, we were told. But, nothing comes easy.

I was doing this trip post monsoon (October to be precise) and that’s when the caterpillar larvae take wings! Like winged fairies, we were greeted and accompanied by butterflies of all colours, shapes and sizes all along the stretch from Umshiang bridge (the local name for the double-decker bridge) till the rainbow falls. We had to be extremely cautious while walking, clear the way for ourselves with a stick, lest accidentally step on these little winged beauties. The path was so full of butterflies, that it cannot be expressed with words and the joy can only be experienced. Truly, in every sense: I was Alice, walking in wonderland!

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Another root bridge enroute to Rainbow falls

It was a walk of nearly 2hours through the thickets of the sacred forests and crossing at least 5 other root bridges and a couple of metal rope bridges that were laid across the deep river that flowed down with its seductive clear blue waters. After the brisk climb, we had finally arrived at the place where a hidden jewel of nature unfolded itself, from amid the greens…

We stood there in AWE….. the green trees and bushes had opened up to display a canvas with milky white waters gracefully tumbling down into a pool of turquoise blue and a hundred fairies flying around us. A dozen spectrums added 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

As described 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 hadn’t known much about the enchanting beauty of this trek before embarking on it and had no preparations now, to have it extended further. So now, it was well past afternoon and distance that required to be walked back was long. The sun sets early in this part of India and that meant that we had very less time of daylight left. During our return, we stopped by at another hut near the Umshiang bridge for a late 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 our guide cum friend Denzil kept motivating me to complete the stretch. He kept reducing the count of steps by hundreds so that I would climb faster with the intention of reaching the top ASAP. Finally, I was back at Tyrna, even while there was sufficient sunlight 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’.

Conclusion remarks:

  • For all trekking enthusiasts, a two day trek covering Laitkynsew, Nongriat, Mawsmai and Nohkalikai is highly recommended.
  • Although, we missed to trek up to the Nohkalikai falls, we made sure that we camped overnight at a spot facing this waterfall and caught the view of the sun rising over the Nohkalikai waterfalls!

A day out at the Khasi cultural centre- Smit

This post is part of my fortnight long road trip across North-east India, specifically covering parts of Meghalaya – Assam – Arunachal Pradesh I had planned to visit Shillong – Smit – Cherrapunjee – Mawlynnong – Dawki – Ribhoi- Shillong during my weeklong stay in Meghalaya.

I had decided to explore some places all by myself and Smit happens to be one of them. After seeing some spellbinding photos on the internet, I wanted to visit the Laitlum valley as well. Although there are public buses from Shillong to Smit, the connectivity further to Laitlum isn’t great. This is where one needs to have a travel arrangemtn of their own, or in my case: to hitch a ride to reach Laitlum. Since it was my first day in the state, I did not want to get too adventurous for being alone. That’s why, I hired a taxi from Police bazaar (in Shillong) to Laitlum.

This drive was very refreshing for me, whose mind was cluttered by all the madness of traffic, pollution and work tension back in the metropolis (Bengaluru). I was requesting my driver to stop the car after every other kilometer to capture the seducing beauty of the place with my not-so-good camera. The bamboo trees and terrace lands with potato farms, all added charm to the landscape that was very beautiful even otherwise. To add to the pleasure of the drive, I was having a good conversation with the driver as well. Althiugh I had hired a personal taxi, I did not mind to let a few locals into the car when the driver asked me if I could allow them. Given the remoteness of places and the scarce connectivity through transposration, I had absolutely no problem with offering a ride. The next thing I experienced was that there were atleast 50 passengers hopping on and off at every stretch for their ride. And would you know what was exciting for me? All locals who boarded the car used to get overly 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, but there isn’t much in this town apart from the Siam’s house. A road flanked with well groomed pine trees lead to the Khasi 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 when there will be large tribal congregations, like the Nongkrem festival for example. 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 asked for permission to photograph his little children.

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The Siam’s house at Smit

We then drove to Laitlum valley, located at about 5kms ahead of 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. Having been born and raised in a small town myself, 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 local 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 there 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 travel and 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 was located far down the valley 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 their daily commutation 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 contentment in 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 at the valley gate that had opened by that time. It was run by a lady who couldn’t understand what I was trying to communicate in English. 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 soon became friends and managed to communicate 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 had eaten before! 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 with which the meal was served to me.

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 new Khasi friend of mine!

Kublei Shiboon,
Hitha.

Tripping in Scotland of the east- Shillong

This post is part of my fortnight long backpacking across North-east India, specifically covering parts of Meghalaya – Assam – Arunachal Pradesh I had planned to visit Shillong – Smit – Cherrapunjee – Mawlynnong – Dawki – Ribhoi- Shillong during my weeklong stay in Meghalaya.

The planned solo trip started when I boarded the BLR- GAU bound flight to Guwahati. An argument over having to pay an additional 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 in 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 let me stay at her place was waiting for my arrival. Thus started my weeklong backpacking trip at Meghalaya and my first day at the capital town, Shillong.

On my first ever solo trip, it being my first day in an unknown city and having very little time with daylight left (The sun sets early in the North-eastern part of India), 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.

My Itinerary for Shillong:

Day 1: Arrive at Shillong by 03.00.p.m., Walk around the residential lanes, Shopping at Police Bazaar
Day 2: Golf course, drive to the outskirts (Laitlung valley), local city tour, Elephant falls, Shillong peak & Sweet falls
Day 3: Proceed with the next day’s itinerary

The Details:

The first day went 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 landing on the first day in the North-eastern India as a solo traveler went rather well without seeming so lost!

Day 2 can be broadly divided into 3 parts:

  1. Taxi ride to the outskirts (Smit & Laitlung valley)
  2. Walk around the city
  3. Taxi ride to the cantonment area (Shillong peak & Sweet falls)

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.

Part 1: Taxi ride to the outskirts (Smit & Laitlung valley)

The drive of 25kms was refreshing as I passed through potato farms and scenic Khasi villages on the way. 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. (Click here to read more on this visit to Laitlung valley)

Part 2: Local city tour

After reaching back to Shillong, I enquired with a few taxis to show me around local sightseeing places. For a backpacking budget that I had, the taxi charges seemed to be expensive. Hence, I decided to explore the city by foot with support from my best friend: Google maps. With a little bit of browsing, I listed down many places, all located within a radius of 5 kilometers. Depending on what one’s interest lies in, it is possible to find something for everyone in this little hillstation.

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The Ward’s lake at Shillong

Things to see in Shillong include:

• For the museum bums: 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).
• For the water & nature lovers: Shillong peak, the Wards lake, Bishop Beadon falls, Spread eagle falls (also called as Sati or Umkaliar falls), Crinoline falls and Elephant falls.
• For the spirituality seekers: There are a large number of Cathedrals and churches where you can attend the Sunday mass with hymns melodiously sung in the Khasi language.

Part 3: Taxi ride to the cantonment area (Shillong peak & Sweet falls)

By sunset time, I realized that I had done several rounds of the same roads and had checked off very few places. And that’s when I decided to take a taxi and visit the farthest of the city’s sightseeing landmark. I was heading towards the highest point of the hill station: Shillong peak. However, the road taken towards the peak was blocked by the Indian air-force staff due to security reasons. So, that’s when my driver offered an alternate plan for me to spend the remaining evening. I nodded to his idea and sat back as he drove through the ‘Happy Valley’ and the army cantonment area at Mawsbuit to show me the most beautiful of all places around Shillong: the Sweet falls.

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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, apart from a couple of riders who had dropped over for a drink, the place seemed to be very secluded. Since this was my “first” solo backpacking trip, I wasn’t feeling great about being in a less-crowded place like this one. So, I went back to the taxi and decided to be driven back to the city area.

Just then, I had a surprise waiting for me inside my taxi. My driver fallen sick and seemed to be partially unconscious. He was struggling to respond when I tried to talk to him. I suspected that his sugar levels had dropped and quickly gave him some toffees from my bag. After letting him rest in the car for a while, he seemed to come back to normalcy (at least enough conscious to be able to drive the car out of the deserted area). He then dropped me back to the city and bid me farewell.

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.!!

Closing Remarks:

• 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!