Tag Archives: Sohra

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.

p1130875
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.

dsc02827
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.

p1130943
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.

Momentous 100%
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.

Shine 100%
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.”

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 so that we could trek down to the Nongriat village- where the ‘Umshiang bridge’ or popularly called ‘the double decker root bridge’ lies. Over 2500 steps need to climbed 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 people who live in 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 few decades and only gets stronger with age. There are several such living root bridges across Meghalaya while most of them have been untouched by the tourists due to their remoteness.

p1130958
The route to Tyrna village

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…

p1130974
The Rythimmen bridge at Nongthymmai village

After spending some time, we decided to continue the trek while our new friend cum guide was enlightening us on the rich traditions and culture of the Khasi people. We stopped by for a quick meal at a straw hut selling 2-minute noodles for breakfast 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 last 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!

p1140003
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.

p1140026
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…

p1140039
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.

p1130990
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!