The Magic of Meghalaya

As long as I can remember, I have deeply and madly been in love with the rain. Everything about it – from the fragrance of the air before it, to the sound of the rain as it smatters against the windows. I have always loved listening to the rhythm of the falling rain. I have always found peace in the rain.No wonder I always dreamt of visiting Meghalaya – the abode of clouds.

I was in Meghalaya in the 1st week of June this year. It was the perfect time to be there – monsoons had not hit the state yet however there were light showers almost everyday. And when it wasn’t raining, there were rain clouds floating across that would convert into pearly droplets on our faces every time they touched us.

The closest airport to Meghalaya is Guwahati (Assam). We arrived in Guwahati on the afternoon of 01st Jun 2019. We were traveling from Delhi, where the temperatures were soaring to record high of 43° C so we were quite pleased with the cool winds that met us at Guwahati. We took a shared cab, at Rs. 500 per person, from the Guwahati airport. The journey took us about 4 hours (we also stopped for lunch on the way @ Sardarji Da Dhaba, which was almost mid-day and served simple economical food). Other than the cab driver and the 2 of us, there were 2 more people in the cab with us – one of them was a young guy from Ajmer who was on his first solo-trip. We ended up talking, sharing our travel itinerary with him and finally taking him along with us to wherever we went over the next 5 days!

After a comfortable and fun drive, we arrived in Shillong around 7 in the evening and found our way to our homestay – Breeze Vale Homestay – which I had booked through AirBnB. Derrick’s place was quite far away from the city’s centre (police bazaar) but it worked for me since it was away from the hustle bustle of the city (& Shillong is a very busy city – believe me!). It was located in Lumdiengsoh (Motinagar) which was a residential area with a quiet & beautiful neighborhood from where I could also get a glimpse of the everyday life of the local city dwellers. I would highly recommend Derrick’s place for anyone wanting to avoid the congestion of the city. Either it can be booked through AirBnB or Derrick can be directly reached at – +91-8259922656.

Day – 1

The very first thing we learnt about Shillong was – the entire city is closed on Sunday! That is because Sunday is church day for the people of Shillong. Markets are completely closed and taxis are difficult to find. We wanted to book a bike to drive around the city but being a Sunday it looked almost impossible – this is when our friend from Rajasthan came to our rescue ! He arranged a bike for us from the owner of the hostel where he was putting up.Once we had our bikes & all formalities were completed, we decided to start our adventure by visiting The Laitlum Grand Canyon. It was a pleasant morning with a clear sky (or so it looked 😜) and the drive to the canyon was mesmerizing. It was around 25 KM’s away from the city and took us a couple of hours to reach (we took a food break & like a million photo breaks on our way!)

Laitlum literally means – “end of hills” and this sublimely gorgeous hill top is so true to its name. Perched in the East Khasi Hills of Shillong, Laitlum Grand Canyon is a relatively lesser-explored haunt of the alpine state of Meghalaya. At Laitlum, one can get uninterrupted view of breathtaking gorges and steep winding stairways snaking their way down to the flourishing valley. There can be no better place for a bird’s eye view of the city’s spectacular surroundings.

It took us an instant to fall in love with this place and all of us unanimously declared being at the most beautiful place we had ever seen or been to.The cloud’s at the Laitlum moved something like this –

It soon started to drizzle and then rain came pouring down but to only further lighten up our spirits.& Then we had Maggi – I do not remember the last time when I had Maggi on a hill top wearing a raincoat with rain pouring down on my head. It was a perfect moment – Food, rain, mountains – I had everything I ever wished for.We decided to return to the city & observe it & not do much post Laitlum. We went to Ward’s Lake – this beautiful lake park in the middle of the town.

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It was Sunday – as I mentioned – & the city parks & churches were flooded with stylishly dressed happy people. We were amazed to see how seriously the people of Shillong take Sundays – reserved for a visit to the church & then to city parks & restaurants with family & friends. It seemed like the entire city was on a holiday – literally !!

Day – 2

I started my day by taking a long walk around Derrick’s place. I noticed people had huge multi-storey bungalows, adorned beautifully by flowers. Most of the bungalows exuded an old world charm with sprawling front yards and aesthetic decor.

The mornings were busy with people walking kids to school, people taking slow walks and walking back home with milk packets and breads and particularly garbage collectors at work. I noticed people had hung their dustbins from their balconies or on their main gates with the help of a rope. Garbage collectors would empty the contents into their collection vehicle, clean the bins and hang them back. It was quite a funny sight – all these colorful dustbins hanging from the balconies and gates. But I thought it was smart.We had originally kept this day for a visit to Nongkhnum Island & Weina Falls however, we had to skip since it was about 105 KM’s away & we decided that we won’t be able to manage a 3-hour one way drive on bikes. It had rained torrentially the night before and the sky was covered in thick rain clouds ready to burst any minute. Thus, we decided to head towards The Shillong View Point and the Elephant Falls. The Shillong View Point was about 45 minutes’ away from the city. It was proper tourist-spot offering a bird’s eye view of the city. It was definitely a view not to be missed.

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However, for me the drive to this place was so much more than the destination. It was drizzling throughout making the drive even more adventurous. We definitely took more than 45 minutes to reach, of course, thanks again to our million photo-stops! 🙂

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We then proceeded to the Elephant Falls, which were only a few minutes away. It is a multi-tiered waterfall with an easy walking trail and stairs. This beautiful fall is made of three smaller falls, hence also called ‘Three Steps Water Falls’. The current name has its origin in the British era when the English spotted a giant rock that looked like an elephant near the fall. Of course, the colonial era and the rock are long gone but the name has stuck!

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The best part here for us was getting dressed up in local Khasi attire for some snaps!

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On our way back to the city, we noticed a board that read – ‘Rhododendron Trek’.

 

It looked quite deserted but then most of the places in Meghalaya (other than the city – Shillong) have very few people! So, even while it was continuously drizzling, we decided to check it out as we had almost half the day left to us. It was quite a surprise – much more than what we had expected. It was a simple trekking trail – surrounded by pine trees. After an hour or so, we noticed the forest getting dense. We were roaming around completely unguided and we decided there was a possibility of us not finding our way back. There was not a fourth soul in sight and the drizzle was getting stronger and louder. We decided to return to the trek starting point. I now wish we had completed it because we did not get to see the Rhododendron flowers after which this trek has been named – may be next time!

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We spent a quiet evening at our homestay.

Day – 3

The next day we checked out from our homestay. It was raining heavily when our taxi arrived to pick us up. We were headed towards our next destination – Mawphlang. Mawphlang is a small village in the East Khasi Hills district of Meghalaya, 25 KM’s from Shillong. The journey – as expected – was beautiful. The rain did not leave us even for a second, though it had softened down by the time we reached Mawphlang. We were awe-struck by the beauty of this place. I had booked a cottage in Maple Pine Farms (owned & managed by James). I found a link to this place while reading a blog on Tripoto & cannot stress enough on how lucky I felt that I had tumbled upon it when I saw the place.

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The farm was slightly away from the Mawphlang village – only a couple of kilometers though. However, the last stretch of the road was quite bad & we felt clueless about the way for a while until we finally saw the farms. I immediately recognized the farms from the pictures I had seen.

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I screamed with excitement on seeing it. I was on cloud nine & over the moon & all of that on seeing the place finally for real. For several minutes we said nothing to each other, just looked around as if deciding if this place was for real or were we just imagining it. Even in my imagination, I could not have imagined a place like this. This was heaven & it was for real. I had never felt luckier in my life. This was absolutely a moment of gratitude and I silently bowed down in reverence. Let me try describing – It was a valley, covered with mountains & pine trees all around. In the middle of the valley, there was this farm with five charming wooden cottages circled around by an unapologetically free white water stream. The stream’s rapids made a constant gurgling sound. With every gurgle, I guess my heart skipped a beat. It was beautiful beyond words.

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Anyways, while we stood there thanking our luck we also started to wonder how to get to the other side of the stream where the farm was. The call network was quite bad so I pinged James over what’s app & waited for him to tell us a sane way to reach the farms – but there was none we were soon going to realize. We saw a white, tall, well-built man come out of the biggest cottage & put on his long rain boots & we wondered why he would do that. This is why –

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This is how James came to pick us up & this is how we reached the farm – we took off our shoes, folded up our jeans & walked through the stream. James was kind enough to carry our luggage for us.

We bid farewell to our cab driver, Stad (very sweet guy; can be reached here for taxi – 8131993890) who promised to meet us right there next day morning.Once we were on the other side of the stream, James showed us our cottage. It was aammmaaazzziiinnggggg!! Right out of Enid Blyton & Agatha Christie books. I have spent my entire childhood reading their books & imagining these rustic cottages with small windows with view of the mountains and wooden stairs leading to an attic. This was just like that – but only better & for real!

After we settled in a bit, we decided to go for the very famous – Mawphlang Sacred Forest Trek. James told us there were two ways to reach the starting point of the forest. The 1st way was to take a taxi till that point which was a few kilometers away. The 2nd way was to climb up a mountain (which we could see from his farm – it was much farther away than it looked though!) & then down the other side & reach the forest starting point. He told us the mountain trek would take us a couple of hours depending upon our speed & then the forest trek would take another couple of hours. Being the adventure-seeking souls we are, we chose the 2nd way. As soon as we stepped out, it started drizzling again almost as if the rain was waiting for us!It took us quite some time & a long walk to finally figure out which mountain it was that we were supposed to climb (we had almost started climbing a wrong one, thankfully we met a local girl who guided us to the correct one). Once we knew which one we had to take, we confidently started our way up. It was no doubt a beautiful trek coupled with amazing weather with the constant drizzle. Every time we turned back to look at the valley & our farm, we were dumbfounded by the sheer simplicity & beauty of that place.

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It was not an easy trek though – there was no human soul other than us three (for the entire mountain climb up & down we were the only ones) & at several instances we doubted we would ever find our way to the forest entrance. We finally did manage to reach the Mawphlang Sacred Forest Trek starting point.

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After some quick snacking of tea & maggi, we hired a guide – Sunbor. It is advisable to go on a guided trek to the forest because the locals have so many stories to share and they know about all the hidden gems of the forest. The trek to the forest is not just any other forest trek! There is a reason why it’s called the ‘Sacred’ forest trek.

The very 1st rule we were told about the forest was – NOTHING is allowed to be taken out of this sacred grove. Not even a leaf, stone or log. Locals strongly believe that failure to comply with this rule could bring massive destruction and even death to their community. Sunbor narrated legends about how people trying to take back fruits, flowers & leaves fell sick after that.I believe the legends were a means to preserve the forest from the onslaught of human greed and ambition!It made sense!

The forest had an astonishing network of plants & trees, all connected. Some of the trees were believed to be 1000’s of years old, full of ancient wisdom. There was a plethora of medicinal trees – that can cure breast cancer, tuberculosis, blood pressure, sinus, diabetes to name a few (most of these are the more pressing medical issues of today). The forest was full of Rudraksh trees, which holds great religious importance. There were orchids, insect eating pitcher plants, ferns and mushrooms. There was a plant with leaves like a spoon. There was an interesting plant called Lily Cobra, that had a bunch of leaves and a twig that looked like the head of a cobra.

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There was unbelievable wisdom all around. This one place made me believe that the world is in perfect balance the way it should be & that there is more than enough for all of us!

After the trek, we made our way back to our heavenly farm. We spent the evening enjoying the slow drizzle and the coziness of the place. We wrapped up the day with a delightful dinner lovingly cooked by our host, James.

Day – 4 & 5

The next day morning, our cab driver Stad arrived to pick us up to take us to our next much-awaited destination – Mawlynnong, Asia’s cleanest village.On our way, we visited Shnongpdeng (Dawki). Shnongpdeng is a beautiful place located in the Jaintia Hills of Meghalaya where the serene Umngot River flows. This river is so clean that it seems that boats are floating on thin air. However, it was a day when it was pouring heavily in the rain capital of the world & boating in the river was unthinkable. While we could not experience the floating-on-thin-air magic of the river, it’s massiveness and unparalleled beauty did not miss our eye. Standing on this bridge made my stomach churn – not out of fright but out of bewilderment.

The drive from Shnongpdeng to Mawlynnong was one of its kind. The rain clouds were so thick that visibility beyond a few 100 mtrs throughout the way was almost zero. It was quite a mystical drive. Our car windows were open & I could feel the wind & the clouds touch my soul. I felt so nourished. Even before I knew it, I was crying like a baby who has been just born. I had no words to say for what I felt, I could best express myself through tears.It was around 5 in the evening when we finally reached Mawlynnong. Rain had stopped and the sky was finally clear & sunny. The village glowed under the golden evening sun. It was such a small little village, home to some 100 odd families. Sometimes it felt unreal & more of a model village or an exhibition of an ideal village. Only it was not – it was for real! These were real people living such beautiful real lives.

It was clean – ofcourse! & beautifully adorned with the most spectacular plants & flowers. Some of the flora I came across here I never knew even existed. Every turn had something new to offer.We had booked ‘Ibansara’s Hut’ through AirBnB.

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It was such a wonderful experience living at this humble yet spectacular place. Ibansara & her family (especially her daughter Monarose) were such a delight! I am yet to come across such simple beautiful souls. It was a place that instantly became my ‘home’ for the next 2 days.We spent both the days exploring the lanes & by-lanes of the village, the tall bamboo sky views (with a view of the India-Bangladesh border), the roosters on their morning & evening walks with their kids (this was such fun to watch!), the weird yet beautiful flora.

In the evening, Monarose took me swimming in the river with her friends.

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We just stayed in the hut – doing nothing – oh what a feeling that was! I will never forget the endless morning & evening walks we took here – listening to insects & roosters & our failed attempts on catching fireflies. I had just the best time ever!

Next day we went for the trek to Riwai Single Root Bridge. It was a short & simple trek. People were not allowed to walk on the bridge, as it was not very strong. Nevertheless, it was a splendid sight. We were completely awe-stuck by the brilliance of it (of course, we had no idea what awaited us in Cheerapunji ;)).

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Day – 6

After bidding a heavy-hearted good-bye to the beautiful dream-like village & to Ibansara & her family, we started our journey to our last & much-awaited destination – Cheerapunji. We had booked Smoky Falls Mae Fi Resort in Tyrna Village which was some 12 KM’s ahead of Cheerapunji. This is because the iconic double decker root bridge & Rainbow Falls trek was only 200 Mts away from this resort. So, we decided to see in & around Cheerapunji & then head to the resort by day end.We started our exploration of Cheerapunji by visiting the Arwah Caves. It was a heavily cloudy day with sporadic rain. The weather made the caving experience (this was our first caving experience) quite spooky & mysterious. Stad (our driver) accompanied us to the cave & he ended up making the experience even more fun. He knew lot of ways in & around the cave which most of the other people there did not so for most part of the cave we were by ourselves.

We then proceeded to visit Nohkalikai falls, Mawkdok viewpoint & Seven Sisters falls. While all the waterfalls & viewpoints were gorgeous, what stood for us was a hidden waterfall (it had no name) that we landed at while we ventured on a lesser-taken path.

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After a beautiful day, we finally reached our resort in the evening & immediately fell in love with this place. The view from the resort was stunning. We spent quite a lot of time just looking at this –

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Morning View from the resort was something like –

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Next day morning, after a sumptuous breakfast, we headed towards our final & much-awaited journey – the trek to Double Decker Living Roots Bridge (Nongriat Village), Blue Lagoon & Rainbow Falls. This trek is definitely not for the weak-kneed or faint-hearted. Unlike most other treks, this one starts in the reverse fashion (atleast upto the Double Decker Living Roots Bridge) – that is, it starts with some ~4000 descending cemented stairs (I don’t think anyone has the exact count of stairs). The return journey is 100-times more difficult since you have to climb up the same set of stairs! While the trail is easy to follow in terms of direction (so no tour guide is required), the stairs are very steep. The living roots bridges are one of the most amazing manmade wonders, dating back centuries. The aerial roots of rubber tree on opposite sides of the river are twisted, given direction and woven together, till it can be shaped and strengthened into a sturdy bridge. There are two living root bridges in Nongriat, a single deck bridge, and a double decker bridge.

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I would say the real fun begins after the Double Decker Living Roots Bridge. Much fewer people proceed further; there are no cemented stairs so you have to find your own way ahead. The trek beyond the bridge is as raw as it can get. It’s absolutely beautiful and so welcoming inspite of being fairly difficult.

Blue Lagoon is a small natural pool. Water in the pool was so clean & had a greenish-bluish color, hence the name – Blue Lagoon. This is the place where trekkers can take in a dip since entering the rainbow falls is not allowed.

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Rainbow Falls is one of the strongest & most beautiful waterfalls I have ever seen. The journey was absolutely worth the destination.

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Most of the people who start this trek definitely go till the Double Decker Living Roots Bridge (few do return from the single bridge as well). Very few make it to the end – to the Blue Lagoon & Rainbow Falls. We made it to the end & returned back – dead yet so alive! It was a proud moment. We crawled (literally!) our way back to our resort – had yet another delectable meal & slept. Early morning next day, we bid a heavy-hearted good-bye to Cheerapunji & left for Guwahati to catch our flight back to Delhi.

Just before the Meghalaya trip, I had come across this book by Alexander Frater – Chasing the Monsoons. I just loved these lines from that book (especially the last line!) & while in Meghalaya, I realized how true these are. There could not be a better way to end this blog –‘The difference between our weather and the weather in Europe is the difference between the poor man and the millionaire. European weather is the poor fellow. His habits are predictable, his movements restricted. Indian weather, though, is extreme, wilful, fast moving and wholly unpredictable. It’s the millionaire – the sort who will impulsively jump on a plane and fly off to London for lunch.’

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3 thoughts on “The Magic of Meghalaya

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