India

Discovering India’s North-East: Magical Meghalaya

Hilly Meghalaya, its name meaning ‘abode of clouds‘, lies on the border with Bangladesh. It is a cool, fresh, mountainous state with towering rocky cliffs and thundering waterfalls. The people here are predominately of the Jaintia, Khasi and Garo tribes, who reside in the eastern, central and western parts respectively.

Shillong

Our first point of call was the state capital, Shillong, which we reached by night bus from Itanagar. Although modern Shillong is a fairly typical Indian town, there are still pockets of colonial-era charm left behind from the days of the British Raj. Ollie and I spent two days exploring Shillong and filling ourselves with good food again after the less than exciting cuisine in Arunachal.

The centre-piece of town is Ward’s Lake, a lovely place to chill out and relax. The lake and surrounding gardens are pretty and there is an excellent cafe, where we enjoyed a late morning breakfast. The other sights worth checking out in Shillong include the All Saints Cathedral and the Don Bosco Museum of Indigenous Cultures.

All Saints Cathedral, Shillong

On our second day we hired a taxi to visit some of the sights outside town. Our tour included Shillong Viewpoint, with fabulous views over the city, Elephant Falls and the Khasi Heritage Village near Mawphlang Sacred Forest. When we arrived back in Shillong we spent some time in the town centre, which has all the modern brand stores, as well as the peaceful Lady Hydary Park.

As one would expect from a state capital, the food options in Shillong are fantastic; all regions of India, as well as abroad, are well represented. Our favourite place, which we ate at both nights, was Madras Cafe, which specialises in South Indian fare. Though very tempted by the dosas, both times we enjoyed a North or South Indian thali, which we would highly recommend!

Cherrapunjee

From Shillong we journeyed on to the tiny village of Cherrapunjee, which sits prettily amid rolling hills and grassy moorland. Meghalaya is touted ‘Scotland of the East‘ and in Cherrapunjee we could understand why. Cherrapunjee itself is feted the ‘wettest place on earth‘ because of its abundant monsoon rainfall.

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Cherrapunjee – Known Locally as Sohra

Where to Stay in Cherrapunjee

We absolutely loved Cherrapunjee and ended up staying quite a few days. This may have been partly due to the wonderful place that we stayed, Ng Eco Homestay, which was one of our favourite accommodations of our entire trip.

The homestay lies literally in the middle of nowhere, surrounded on all sides by endless countryside; at night the darkness is intense. The manager made our stay extremely memorable with his endless kindnesses and incredible food. We paid so little for dinner but got so much; the thali meals were simply the best we’d had in India – brown rice, chunky curries and the creamiest dal.

Breakfast was included in our room rate and, again, came in abundant quantity. Let it suffice for me to say that the egg parathas, topped with cheese spread, and the sabji that they come with, are the best in India. We would go back to Cherrapunjee for the food and homestay alone!

Sights around Cherrapunjee

The area around Cherrapunjee is absolutely stunning, surely one of the most rugged and beautiful parts of India. It is not the wilderness of the Himalayan regions but it is breathtaking in another way, very much how I imagine Scotland to be. There is so much you can do in this part of Meghalaya; for adventurous people like us hiking opportunities abound.

Some of the main sights that we made it to include:

  • Dympep Viewpoint – A photogenic V-shaped valley
  • Cherrapunjee Eco Park – Offers fantastic waterfall and valley views
  • A viewpoint over the Seven Sisters Falls
  • Thangkharang Park – Offers views to Bangladesh in one direction and Kynrem Falls in the other
  • Khoh Ramhah (otherwise known as Mot Trop) – A pretty basket-shaped rock overlooking the plains of Bangladesh
  • A viewpoint over Nohkalikai Falls
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Seven Sisters Falls, Cherrapunjee
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Khoh Ramhah (Mot Trop) overlooking Bangladesh

The David Scott Trail

Ollie and I also hiked the 16km David Scott Trail, taking a taxi to the start point and having it pick us up again a few hours later at the finish. It wasn’t a challenging hike but one that we really enjoyed. Despite what people may tell you, you really don’t need a guide; with a bit of prior advice and some common sense, the trail is very straightforward. It makes a great day hike from Cherrapunjee and was definitely one of our Meghalaya highlights.

Hiking the David Scott Trail

The Living Root Bridges

One of the most famous sights around Cherrapunjee are the fascinating living root bridges near Nongriat village, which are the only ones in the world. These bridges are living rubber fig-tree roots that have been trained by Khasi villagers, over decades, to grow across streams to form natural pathways.

We took a shared taxi to pretty Tyrna village, the access point for Nongriat. It was then a steep 2000-step descent to Nongriat, where three of these bridges, including an incredible double-decker one, can be seen. It can be a tiring hike but the surrounding scenery is simply beautiful.

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Ollie on the Double-Decker Living Root Bridge

Nongriat itself is encapsulated by jungle, hidden away at the bottom of a steep valley under a thick canopy of trees. A very small, basic village with just three accommodation options, we stayed at one of the homestays in a room so tiny that there was barely enough room for us both to stand. We met a group of backpackers, who had been staying in Nongriat for about a month. We listened to their stories in amazement, how they bathed in the river and made the arduous trip up to Cherrapunjee once a week to fetch food supplies.

Staying in Nongriat is quite an experience, one that we were content to have for just the one night. Even though lodging options are extremely basic, we would highly recommend staying in the village for at least one night; the living root bridges are works of art and deserve some time to be appreciated.

There is also a fun hike to Rainbow Falls, roughly a half-day walk from Nongriat. Attempting to hike down, explore the area and then make it back up in one day would be too much; kick back and spend at least one night in Nongriat, a true rural Indian village where time really has stood still.

View over Nongriat Village

Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya were three massive highlights of our latest trip to India; we loved the rich cultural identity of this far-flung part of the country and the incredible scenery that can be found there. It was a relief to get off-the-beaten-track and away from the tourist crowds and discover a part of India that only a few lucky foreigners get to see.

We plan to return to India’s fascinating north-east in the not too distant future to explore the other four states – Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram and Tripura.

Looking for a different kind of travel adventure? Check out Gangtok and North Sikkim!

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