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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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’.
- 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!