31st Jan 2017 – 05th Feb 2017, Mumbai to Guwahati – Shillong
Temperature in Feb: 19 degrees in the day, 4-5 degrees at night
Travel options: Closest airport is Shillong (Although only a few flights operate and wind conditions are uncertain leading to delays)
Hotel stay at: Royal Heritage Tripura Castle
Our driver Pradeep, a young lad dressed in jeans picked us from the Guwahati airport. My family of 9 people dropped our bags in the car and got ready for our adventure in the hills. We anticipated mountains and mountains & more mountains. It isn’t just called the Scotland of the East or the Abode of the Clouds. And I think to myself what a wonderful world.
Meghalaya is known for 3 places – Shillong (The capital city), Cherrapunjee (credited as being the wettest place on Earth, but nearby Mawsynram currently holds that record) and Dawki (A land known for its pristine waters near the Bangladesh border).
The car passes through Deepar beel sanctuary as we left from Guwahati airport, but the Brahmaputra river is on the other route hence missed that one. We passed the border of Assam and then crossed into Meghalaya. Except for a toll & mountains, there is no visible border between these states. The curvy roads cut through mountains and include hair pin bends at occasional places too. We took the NH6 leading up to Silchar. We cover a distance of 100 kms in about 2.5 hours, passing the beautiful Umaim lake on our way. There are no railways to reach Shillong and hence probably one of the reasons the city is not on the priority list of tourists. The city of Shillong is busy, almost like any other city in India. It is one of the cleanest cities though and prides itself in the culture of the various tribes that reside here. The roads in Shillong are mostly single roads, due to mountain landscape and there is always a risk of landslides during rains. There are various ethnic groups like the Khasi, Garo, Bengali, Nepali & many others that reside here, but most of them follow & respect Christianity. Pineapples & oranges grow in plenty and can be found on all roads in Meghalaya. The place is also known for the spicy Pickles made from the local fruits and other eatables. At most places you will see women carrying their children to work along with the traditional bamboo cane baskets similar to the ones used tea gardens.
Hotel – Royal Heritage Tripura Castle.
The property lies on the top of a steep hill, 15 min away from Police Bazaar, one of the main markets in Shillong. The ambience just sinked in as we stepped out from the car. The weather was perfect for a winter vacation. There are 2 entrances to this property. The lower entrance also leads to the Tripura Castle, where the King once lived and his family still reside due to which walking on that road is prohibited. The other entrance leads directly to the main area in the hotel, but is father on top from the other entrance. There is a buggy at this entrance and helps in moving guests who would want to visit the Suite and higher category rooms of this property. A bar on the first floor is a cozy place sit and drinks and wind up after a long day. The staff is extremely helpful and courteous, food is average, although we ate at the hotel only once at night.
Places to visit in Shillong.
A three tier waterfall, leading you downstairs from the source is the Elephant Falls. It takes about half an hour to reach this place, around 12 kms from Shillong. You need to climb around some steps downstairs to see the waterfall collected at the bottom (3rd layer) and the only way to get out is climbing the same way back. The original Khasi name for the falls was ‘Ka kshaid lai pateng khohsiew’ (three steps waterfalls), since the water falls in three steps. The British named it ‘Elephant Falls’ because of a stone that resembles an elephant near the falls, which was destroyed by an earthquake in 1897. But the name remains. There are food & souvenir shops too near the entrance. Kids and old people may have problems climbing the steps.
Don Bosco Museum.
The centre is one of the biggest museums in Meghalaya providing a glimpse of the rich and multi-cultural lifestyles of the indigenous peoples of North East India. The seven-floor building situated in Mawlai, Shillong has many galleries like:
Land & People Gallery
Fishing, hunting & gathering gallery
Traditional & technology gallery
Religion & culture
Our neighbours gallery
Weapons & photo gallery and many more.
A visit to this gallery helped us get a clear picture of the tribal world of this enchanting corner of India along with its geo-political importance in South-East Asia.
This is the main market in Shillong, where you will find all kinds of shops from the local vendors selling woolen jackets at Rs 200/- to the large retailers in the main mall. One of the main attractions of the Police Bazaar is the local food stalls that serve local delicacies like rice etc at night. You can shop for cane items as they are made locally.
Situated on the National Highway and close to Elephant falls, this museum displays history of the Indian Air Force. There are Fighter planes, Helicopter displayed outside. Mementos can be brought at the small shop available outside the museum and snacks can be purchased at another shop nearby in the campus itself. A must visit for Aviation buffs, but only Indians are allowed. We left feeling proud after understanding the history & sacrifices of our men. Close to the museum is the Helipad ground, where choppers can land. The museum does not operate during lunch time and similar to the other tourist locations, it shuts at 4.00 pm (3.00 pm during winters) and opens at 10.00 am.
One of the highest vantage points in the city of Shillong, this area is managed by the army and can be shut anytime for a drill or any other event by the army. A beautiful place to see the city from a bird’s eye perspective. Time: 9.00 – 4.00 (3.00 pm in winters), so sighting a sunset or a sunrise is out of question.
Sacred Forest, Mawphlang
Mawphlang i.e. grassy stone and true to its name all stones and trees are covered with grass and moss in this forest. It was believed that the king and queen of Shillong many years ago had made this forest their abode. The villagers respect this and have cordoned off this area as a sacred place, and have since then called this forest a Sacred Forest. It is a protected area situated in the East Khasi Hills of Shillong, around 25 kms, (1 hour) from Shillong on the way to Cherrapunjee. The Sacred Forest or Sacred Grove is protected by the local deity-Labasa. It is said that there are 2 forms of this deity, the bad form or the angered form is that of a snake and the good one represents a leopard. There lies a rule of the forest – Go inside, do not damage anything, or disrespect it. And never ever try to get anything from the forest outside it. As you move inside the forest, you will come across Monoliths at many places. The tribe that lived here used to cook / sacrifice animals for their well being. The forest guide shows us around, the places where the King sat, the places where the sacrifices were made, the places where rain water harvesting was done and more. There are various trees in this forest, including the Taxas baccata which has been used for cancer medicines. Acorn trees, flowering trees, Fern trees, orchids, mushrooms and many more filled the forest. There are walking trails made by the locals, where you can have a larger trail for an hour and a shorter one for half hour, although most parts of the jungle include similar trees.
At a distance of 40 min, (17 kms), lies one of the largest water bodies in Shillong and with the most beautiful landscape. This place is a must visit for anybody visiting Shillong. Infact the vantage point overlooking the clear blue waters is on the way to Shillong. For the boating drop & pick up point, a small detour is required, but well worth it. One of the best hotels & most expensive in Shillong The Ri Kynjai lies on the opposite side of this lake.
Close to the Sacred forest lays a dam, constructed to cater to the need of the potable water in the Shillong’s urban and suburban areas. Built over the Umiew River, it is the main source of Shillong’s water supply. Visit the dam’s topmost point to click some great pictures of the area from above.
As we cross Shillong market leading to Cherrapunjee, there are 3 roads, one leads to Elephant Falls, the other to the Sacred Forest and the third leads to Cherrapunjee. Cherrapunjee was claimed to be the wettest place on Earth, but currently Mawsynram holds that record. Dense fog filled the air on the road to Cherrapunjee in the mornings and evenings. There was very little visibility, moreover the roads were curvy and passed through the mountains, but the skilled drivers eased our fears. Cherrapunjee lies at a distance of 55 kms (about 2 hours ) from Shillong. Accredited with bollywood castings like Rock On 2, this place holds a special status in our hearts for its vivid culture, the unique & mesmerizing caves, and the cascading waterfalls from the mountains.
Places to visit in Cherrapunjee.
Zip line with Pioneer Adventure Tours
Adventure junkies will have a trip of a lifetime here. Cherrapunjee is home to one of the largest zip lines crossing 2 mountains above the mokotoko river. There are 2 levels to this zip line. The smaller one , about 50 feet high, 150 meters length crosses the same mountain and the larger one, which is about 500 feet high and 250 meters length connects 2 opposite mountains. There are 2 separate zip line for to & fro travel. The last one though took my breath away.
A few kilometers away from the zip line are the Kawa waterfalls. There was very little water, although it was safe to assume that it would look magnificent during the rainy seasons given the height at which the water fell from.
The Arwah – Lumshynna Cave is an important tourist destination in the East Khasi hills district in Cherrapunjee. It is a huge natural cavity formed underneath the earth’s surface by solution activity within the limestone rock. The natural acidic groundwater (carbonic acid) with dissolved carbon dioxide that comes directly from the atmosphere or decaying organic matter in soil seeps through the crevices and joints of limestone. This slowly dissolves the carbonic rock forming cavities which join up to form large cave network over years. The same water again deposits calcium carbonate in the underground cavities by loosing carbon dioxide through degassing and it forms various fascinating variety of cave deposits like stalactites (hanging from the ceiling) and stalagmites (built up above the floor of the cave). Apart from this the most interesting part of these caves is the well preserved fossils (remains of pre-historic organisms) along its walls and roofs.
A 5 kms distance from the Arwah caves lie the Mawsmai caves. Smaller in size although very difficult to walk through, these caves are situated in a busy place where one can find a local restaurant.
Another tourist destination at Cherrapunjee is the Eco park. A large area with manicured garden & walking space, giving a great view of the waterfall that is also originated here. The sunset is beautiful from this place. Once again, shops selling souvenirs and food items are available outside. I noticed that at every tourist location there is a clean public washroom maintained with a Rs 5 – Rs 10 collected per person.
We were headed for a village near the Bangladesh border called Dawki. Our first stop was for tea at a view point called Mawjngih Lapynshongdor view point at Dymmiew Massar village. A splendid drive of about 95 kms from Shillong was what we crossed to reach the trade route border town of Dawki. The village is so small that you can see the entire village against the backdrop of the serene Bangladesh plains. After we reached the village a drive for another half hour was required to reach shnongpdeng (bill), in the west Jaintia hills. The most fascinating place here is the Umngot river with its crystal clear waters and non commercialized river banks. Almost everyone is involved in tourism. The place is hardly visited in winters and shuts for about 3-4 months. Boatmen double up as guides and so do their children whatever the age. Here lies the single suspension bridge between the Khasi & the Jaintia hills. Our destination was a campsite on the bank of this river. The founder of Pioneer adventure tours, Jason was our guide on our scuba diving adventure in Dawki. The campsite was beautifully laid out with basic tents, a dinner hut made of bamboo, clean washroom and changing rooms, an open kitchen and lots of activities like a zip line over the river, kayaks, mountain climbing and lots of butterfly spotting.
Scuba Diving in Umngot river
The river was crystal clear. After our diving lessons, we were taken to the rocky area opposite our campsite, where the water was as deep as 40 feet and a lot of fishes & marine life could be found. Out of a group of 6 people who opted for scuba, I was the last. For a non swimmer this second opportunity at scuba wasn’t still easy as the feeling of claustrophobia can get to you once in the water. But our trainer was patient and motivating and I would have regretted had I backed out like the last 2 people did. The fishes swam in front of you and diverted on the sides as soon as they see. We passed a rock cave below the water and a variety of fishes jumped out in fright, something I never anticipated. My trainer congratulated me after I finished the dive and I jumped on the land shivering out of 2 reasons – the cold water and the happiness of having achieved this difficult feat. After our zip line adventure over the Umngot river, we headed back to shore, this time we crossed the suspension bridge. The bridge gives a beautiful view of the river, and a top view of the boats passing below the bridge.
Once we finished scuba diving we visited the Tamabil area close to the Bangladesh border. Upto 5 kms inside the border area trucks were allowed. The area symbolized the trade of coal between the two countries. Beetle nut trees, Bay leaf trees and broom stick trees are found in plenty here and exported to all parts of India from this region.
An hour away from Dawki lies Mawlynnong, credited as being Asia’s cleanest village in India. It lies at a distance of 2.5 hours from Shillong, around 79 kms in east Khasi hills. There are home stays available for people who would like to stay here, including a view point made out of bamboo, where one can see Bangladesh landscapes from. The view point is called Ms. Brun Khongmen viewpoint.
Mawlynnong Living Root Bridge
This is surely one of nature’s most beautiful and amazing creations; a living root bridge. A downhill trek of about 15 minutes takes you to a spectacular sight. The bridge is made from massive thick roots of the Indian rubber tree, intermingled to form a bridge. It is extraordinary, still growing and gaining strength and connects the raised banks of the streams.
Places to Eat:
The heritage club, part of the Tripura Castle, is a wonderful place to relax on the lawn alongside a large bonfire.
- Try the Local fish called Ruhi.
- A must try are the local Momos, they are available everywhere
- While in Cherrapunjee, we ate at the spring restaurant at Mawsmai caves, the food is strictly ok, and apart from Chinese no other delicacy can be risked.
- Authentic Chinese food can be found at Hong kong restaurant in Police bazaar
- City hut family dhaba in police bazaar is a great place to eat with family
Shillong is where you need to be if you like being in the clouds.
Thank You See you Soon. (Khublei)