Day 1 (March 30, 2018) ~ Guwahati Airport, Umiam Lake, Shillong & Cherrapunji
Our visitors from Bangalore were scheduled to arrive today at the Guwahati Airport at 9 AM and we were to travel to Cherrapunji after halts at Umiam Lake and Shillong. The flight got delayed by half an hour so they reached at 9.30 AM and we started on our journey. Our guests this time were a family of four. Mr. Vivek, his wife and their 10 year old son. A very cheerful and energetic family who were very eagerly waiting for this trip to North East India. We started on our journey from the Guwahati airport to Shillong. We didn’t take the city route to avoid the traffic and instead headed from the outer road after crossing the Deepor Beel wildlife sanctuary heading on to Khanapara. Khanapara is an interesting place in India as this is the border between the states of Assam and Meghalaya. Although is is a state border there is no toll gate or check gate that demarcates it. Instead it is divided by a divider on road wherein one side of the road is Assam under the Kamrup district and on the other side is Meghalaya under the Ri Bhoi district. At Khanapara we could see many Tata Sumo vehicles that ply regularly across Guwahati and Shillong and back that act as shared taxis for passengers. After a short wait for the traffic to clear we headed on our road to Meghalaya. The roads are good and it is a four lane highway which makes the journey quite smooth. After a short while we reached the point where a right on the road leads to Shillong and heading straight leads to Kaziranga National Park in Assam. So now we were in Meghalaya – the Abode of the Clouds!
We continued on our journey crossing Burnihat, the first town of Meghalaya that is renowned for its various industries like cement, the Coca Cola bottling plant for North East India, various stone quarries, etc. Burnihat is also known for its local market that sells various local vendors bringing in their fresh produce to sell here at the market. Most of the vegetables and fruits sold here are organic and tastes wonderful. One can see various vendors selling organically grown carrots, beans, potatoes, cabbages, tomatoes, pineapple, banana, plums, etc. The colors of the vegetables in this market is joy to see. We took a short halt at this market area at Burnihat and bought few bananas to have along our way. Slowly the hills started and our journey continued on good roads across the green mountains of Meghalaya. After a while we reached a toll gate operated by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) where we had to pay the toll fees here. Our next halt was scheduled at Nongpoh.
Nongpoh is a small township of Meghalaya which serves as a layover for the various tourist vehicles travelling from Guwahati to Shillong/Shillong to Guwahati because of the presence of the many local restaurants and dhabas here. Nongpoh has many local dhabas that serve hot and delicious food. There are also good restaurants like Jivas that serve only vegetarian food to its travellers as Meghalaya being a place where people prefer a non vegetarian diet that includes fish, chicken, beef and pork and many travellers here prefer to stick to a vegetarian cuisine only. So we decided to halt at the Jivas Restaurant at Nongpoh. It was around 11 AM so we decided to have some quick snacks here and then a late lunch after crossing Shillong. We ordered a mix meal of onion uttapams, french fries, masala dosa and coffee. While the adults stuck to the uttapam and dosa the young guy relished the french fries. After refreshing ourselves we headed on our journey to Shillong – the Scotland of the East.
The roads to Shillong continue to be good and we cross a few more small towns like Umling, Umshling and finally reach the Umiam Lake at Barapani. Umiam Lake is the largest artificial water reservoir of North East India and it is known for its crystal clear waters. Umiam is also a Dam that serves a source of hydro energy for the State of Meghalaya. The Umiam Lake Resort at Barapani is another travellers destination where visitors can get to enjoy boating trips on the clear waters of Umiam and also get to eat local refreshments. There is also a stay option here by the lakeside called the Orchid Lake Resort at Umiam. We halted a while at the Umiam view point on the approach to Shillong to get a glimpse of the clear blue waters of Umiam Lake and the clear skies too. There were many visitors along with us who were enjoying this view too. There are many roadside stalls here that sell farm fresh fruits like berries and pineapples along with tea, snacks and boiled eggs. We served ourselves with a cup of black tea and after clicking our pictures were all set to reach the city of Shillong – the Scotland of the East!
The approach to Umiam is when the four way no longer continues and the road is now onwards is only a two way road with regular vehicles plying. So the car speed reduces along with it the journey gets slightly slower adding to the mountainous routes. As we approach Shillong city we are greeted by many motor vehicle showrooms of the likes of Ford, Hyundai, Maruti Suzuki, Renault, Tata Motors, etc. Along with these showrooms are many number of petrol bunks. Meghalaya has a lower rate of petrol and diesel than many other cities of the country as the taxes are slightly lower here. Shillong is one of the most beautiful cities of North East India. The cool weather coupled with the occasional drizzle makes this place look amazingly beautiful on any day during the year. The beautiful colonial buildings, the modern Khasi boys and girls, the modified vehicles all add up to a modern touch to the city blending it with the colorful past of the British Era that can be seen in the rustic buildings and the various churches across the city of Shillong. Once you enter the city you can feel the modern era taking its toll on the beautiful city as there are traffic jams along the route and the narrow roads across the city are filled with hundreds of vehicles. The traffic is more on the entrance of the city where you reach the point where the left of the road takes you to the Don Bosco Museum at Shillong and continues further ahead to the local market of Shillong – the Barabazaar. The sight of local shops at Shillong are a sheer delight as you see many small shops lined up together and each selling various varieties of goods. From stationaries, flowers, vegetables, home needs, sweets, restaurants, meat shops one can find all kinds of shops along the roads of Shillong. The most important thing to see is that most of these shops are run by women folks. This is because Meghalaya matrilineal state where the head of the family is a lady. The family lineage is taken from the Mother’s side of the family. The man gets married and comes to the house of his wife. The family inheritance is entrusted to the youngest daughter in the family who is supposed to take care of her aging parents. While the female folks of the house go out everyday to earn a living, the men stay back at home and engage themselves in small businesses. In Meghalaya, most of the offices are held by women and the same can be seen here is Shillong too. After crossing the Barabazaar the traffic starts to clear til you reach the Rhino Point – a Left from here takes you to Shillong city and a right will lead you to Upper Shillong, Cherrapunji, Mawlynnong, Dawki, Mawsynram, Mawphlang, Mawphanlur, Nongstoin, etc. Since we didn’t have hotel reservations in Shillong we decided to take the road on the right to Cherrapunji. The traffic cleared to a huge extent and we continued to drive uphill towards Upper Shillong.
Our first sightseeing destination at Shillong was the Shillong Peak. After we reached Upper Shillong a small diversion the road on the left takes us to another small road that continues to Shillong Peak. Shillong Peak is the highest point in the East Khasi Hills at an elevation of 1966 meter above the mean sea level. It is a popular tourist destination of Shillong where many visitors come to get a bird’s eye view of the Shillong city. The roads to Shillong peak are quite narrow so one has to be drive with utmost caution and sound the horn especially at the road bends to avoid any sort of contact with the vehicles coming from the other side. It is an uphill climb and has shard bends along the road and it is always advisable to honk at these bends. The area of the Shillong peak falls under the Indian Air Force and they have a huge settlement area here under the Eastern Air command. Once you are about to reach the Shillong Peak there is a military check post guarded by the Air Force police who scrutinize you baggages and check for the valid ID proof details of t/ravellers. It is a necessary protocol to be followed here and no civilian or tourist vehicle are allowed to pass without a mandate security check. This often leads to a ruch of vehicles here at the entrance of the Shillong peak and is to be avoided as a sight seeing option if you are running short of time. We had time in our hands and during this visit there were not many tourists so we decided to go ahead and visit the Shillong peak. Once our security check was done we were allowed to cross the gate and after a short drive we reached the Shillong peak. It was a sigh of relief after crossing the humongous traffic at Shillong city. The Shillong Peak is a beautiful area to get a glimpse of the city of Shillong. There are two watchtowers here equipped with binoculars that give you a better view of the city of Shillong. We spend our time here and then headed to the next destination at the Elephant Falls at Shillong.
The ride down the hill was not a challenge and we in fact enjoyed the drive. After reaching the main road we continued ahead to be at first welcomed by the huge office of the Eastern Air Command of the Indian Air Force. The sprawling campus area also has a museum that is open to all visitors. We didn’t visit the museum on this itinerary and instead moved ahead to the visit the Elephant falls. After paying our entrance and parking fees at the entry gate we headed to the Elephant Falls. Another among the popular tourist destinations of Shillong, the Elephant falls is a set of three cascading waterfalls. This is called as the Elephant falls because, originally the Khasi people named this falls as “Ka Kshaid Lai Pateng Khohsiew (three steps waterfalls) because the waterfalls falls into three steps. Later when the British came and they found the waterfalls, they named it as the Elephant Falls because on the left side of the falls there was a rock resembling an Elephant. However, this rock was destroyed by the earthquake in the year 1897.” We first clicked our pictures on the first waterfall on top which is slightly a smaller one. Then we headed down to view the other set of waterfalls. The set of waterfalls which are below are much better to view than the one on top. The waters flowing down here are mostly rain water that pours down from the areas of upper Shillong and Mawphlang. It was getting late and so we decided to head back on our way to Cherrapunji. We stopped again after climbing back from the Elephant falls to get the guests dressed up in a Khasi attire and get their pictures clicked. The local Khasi attire of Meghalaya is a very unique dress wherein the man holds sword and shield to indicate their heritage warrior attachments to their ancestors.
We bid goodbye to the Elephant falls and our moments at Upper Shillong to continue to Cherrapunji. We decided to have lunch at the next town of Upper Shillong at Soilyna huts. A unique modern restaurant, the Soilyna hut offers its visitors a unique dining experience at Upper Shillong. The restaurant offers Chinese, Indian and Khasi tribal dishes on its menu. We decided to have a simple meal of veg fried rice and paneer manchurian to go along with it. It was time to hit the road to Cherrapunji which was another hour and half drive from here. We continued on our journey crossing numerous small towns and admiring the sight of mountains and valleys along the way. The cool breeze and fresh air rejuvenated our minds and soul. We reached the view point near to Cherrapunji where we get to sight the majestic mountains and mountains valleys of Meghalaya at Lad Mawphlang. This is a popular stop over here and many visitors also try the zip lining activity here which is arranged by the Pioneer adventures of Shillong. There are two lines here – a shorter one and a longer one. The shorter one costs around INR 600 per head and the longer one costs about INR 1200 per head. We were not interested after a long day and we chose to click pictures of the beautiful landscape and then proceed to Cherrapunji. After driving for about another 30 minutes we reached the town of Cherrapunji – the Shade of the Clouds and the Second Wettest place on planet Earth after Mawsynram in Meghalaya. It was around 5 PM and it was already dark. As there was no means of doing any further sightseeing we decided to retire for the day. The stay for our guests was booked at the Sohra Plaza Homestay at Cherrapunji so we went on to check into the place. The Sohra Plaza is a popular stay option here at Cherrapunji. It is not a big place and has a total of 5 rooms to accommodate visitors to Cherrapunji. It is a budget stay with room tariffs starting from INR 2,200. The rooms are spacious and are equipped with television with DTH, hot water geysers and the place also has an inhouse restaurant that serves local Indian food and Chinese items on its menu. Our guests checked in to the room and we decided to rest for the next days trek to the Double Decker Living Root Bridge at Nongriat village. I checked into a small lodge nearby an ordered my dinner of rice, dal and chicken and went to bed early.
Day 2 (March 31, 2018) ~ Cherrapunji & Double Decker Living Root Bridge Trek at Nongriat Village
After a good night’s sleep I got up early at 5 AM. It rained heavily the previous night at Cherrapunji and it was still drizzling in the morning. We had our umbrellas and rain gear ready to start on our long trek to Nongriat Village. I headed over to Sohra Plaza Homestay to greet our guests and to order some breakfast before we left. We ordered Aloo Paratha and Bread Butter along with coffee for breakfast which was served at 8 AM> After our breakfast we started our journey to Tyrna village. We had to cross the market area of Cherrapunji but as it was still early in the morning only a few shops were opened. We could see many children in uniform getting ready to go for schools in and around Cherrapunji. Education is of prime importance in Meghalaya and most of the young kids here are entitled to primary education. It is a good sight to see this across Meghalaya. We reached a petrol bunk and from here we had to take a right to go to Tyrna Village. From here it takes around 30 minutes to reach Tyrna. Along the way we could spot lush green mountains of Cherrapunji along with the various waterfalls here.
After reaching Tyrna village we met our guide who took our bags and assisted us to buy bamboo sticks that would assist us on our walk to Nongriat. We started on our trek down the stairway to Nongriat and we had to climb down a total of 3500 stairs to reach village. We took halts along the way waiting to click picture and admiring the vast natural beauty surrounding us. After reaching down we took time for refreshments of energy drink and biscuits and then continued on our trek. We reached a sacred grove forest of the Khasis and the next step was an old hanging bridge build of iron wires that had a stream flowing beneath it. We had to carefully cross this bridge not to cause any sudden movements on it. After crossing the bridge it was an uphill climb and a little later we were encountered with another suspension bridge. This was an easy one to cross and we headed close to Nongriat village. Before we were about to enter the Nongriat village there was a first Living root bridge to be sighted a much smaller one though. We took our time to click pictures here and then we headed on to see the Double Decker Living Root Bridge of Nongriat. This root bridge is an amazing sight to watch and is the only Double decker living root bridge in the World! There were few visitors already here who were enjoying themselves on the stream that flowed beneath the double decker root bridge. Our visitors were enthralled to see this Bioengineering wonder and they spent a lot of time clicking pictures here. The young one took a chance to enjoy a natural fish spa here. I along with our guide went ahead to eat something at a small shop nearby where I was served with hot maggi and tea. After around an hour we decided to go back to Cherrapunji. The trek back to Tynra village from Cherrapunji is a challenging task due to the steep flight of 3500 stairs. We knew it would be a challenge and hence we were mentally and physically prepared for it. We took adequate breaks to catch our breath and climbed slowly and gradually after a while we got back to the top at Tyrna village. We thanks our guide and paid him and continued back to Cherrapunji to do the remaining sight seeing for the day at the Seven Sister Falls, the Mawsmai Caves and the Nohkalikai Falls.
Our next destination at Cherrapunji was the Mawsmai Caves. We choose the Mawsmai Caves because it was already around 2 PM and this place has a fair number of restaurants that serves good and hygienic food. When we arrived here we could see an army of tourists already gathered here. We managed to find place in one of the restaurants here and we ordered four vegetarian thalis here. The meal was simple but flavorful. After lunch we went on to explore the Mawsmai cave. I did not go in because I had visited it many times earlier. I asked the guests to go inside after explaining the route to them. Mawsmai caves is an interesting cave of Meghalaya. Across Meghalaya there are over 1500 caves many of them have not yet been explored. The World’s longest sandstone cave Krem Puri is located at Mawsynram here. Mawsmai cave is the most visited cave in the state and it has been developed as a touristy location. This cave is well lit inside with light bulbs so that tourists can find their way easily. Only a small portion of the cave has been made accessible to the tourists while the rest of it has been sealed. Once you enter the Mawsmai caves at first you will have to take a right that will take you deep inside the cave where you can see many animal fossils and the various stalactites and stalagmites. The entrances to the caves are short in height and pathway narrow so visitors have to be careful while exploring the cave. Then you come back along the same route, take a diversion to the right and the pathway will lead you out of the Mawsmai cave. Exploring the cave with many tourists who visit takes a total time of around 45 minutes. At times however, when rain waters fill the Mawsmai caves the right passage is closed for visitors and you have to take only the shorter route to explore the cave. After our visitors came out we headed to the next destination for sightseeing – the Seven Sister falls at Cherrapunji
At the Seven Sister Falls too we were greeted by hundreds of tourists. The Seven Sister Falls or the Nohsngithiang Falls is a seven segmented waterfall in India and is said to be the fourth tallest waterfall in India. It is called as the Seven Sister Falls because the waterfalls is in seven different prominent lines along with smaller lines so the impression gives that there are seven individual waterfalls here. This is among the prominent waterfalls of North East India and a best sight to be witnessed during the monsoons when the rains are in full flow across Meghalaya. The lush valleys of Cherrapunji alongside the Seven Sister Falls is also a wonderful sight to witness here. We spent a little time near the Seven Sister Falls clicking our pictures and then headed to the next destination – the Nohkalikai Falls at Cherrapunji.
The Nohkalikai Falls is located on an outer area of Cherrapunji and is one of the highest points of Cherrapunji. The drive to the Nohkalikai Falls from Cherrapunji town is one of the most scenic drives in India where you pass across the gorgeous valleys of Cherrapunji and the sight gives you a feel like you are in Scotland – as many of our visitors have said. The road is narrow and twisty and one has to be careful while driving. After sometime we reached the Nohkalikai falls. The Nohkalikai falls is the tallest plunge waterfall in India and the third tallest waterfall in India. It is just an amazing spectacle to be witnessed. I had gone to visit the Nohkalikai falls over 50 times but have never got bored of sighting it over and over again. The gushing sound of flowing water fills my body and mind with an utmost solace. Once we reached here at first there was a cover of clouds that hid the waterfall but it cleared in a few minutes and we were able to sight the Nohkalikai falls. Our visitors too agreed that this was one of the most beautiful waterfalls they has ever seen. This waterfall has an interesting folklore behind it to why it is named as Nohkalikai. A Khasi woman named Likai had lost her first husband and she had a daughter from her first marriage. She married again but her second husband did not like the daughter. He would often abuse the daughter and one day when Likai had gone out for work the man killed the daughter and cooked her flesh for food. When Likai came back from work she was very hungry and she quickly had the food of rice and meat. But her eyes fell on the fingers of her daughter wrapped up in betel leaves and put in a corner of the kitchen. She was filled with utmost grief and not knowing what to do of grief and anger she came to the waterfall and jumped off from the edge of the cliff of this waterfall. Since then this waterfall is called the Nohkalikai falls meaning the Leap of Ka Likai. Interesting to be true we read the story on a billboard placed here and then went on ahead to visit the local shops that sell various goods of handicrafts. There are other small shops selling fresh cinnamon sticks, bay leaves and peppercorns that are brought from the local jungles of Cherrapunji. Many small children set up shops here too. They speak fluent english and they go to school in the morning at the Ramakrishna Ashram and later in the day they sell goods to augment their family income. There are larger shops here that sell various other goods including locally grown pineapples. It was about sun down and we decided to retire for the day after visiting the local market at Cherrapunji. As it was already evening, most of the vendors at the local markets had closed their shops and gone back home. We did not get much to see and so we headed back to the Sohra Plaza Homestay to retire for the night and plan our next day visit at Dawki and Mawlynnong.
Day 3 ~ Cherrapunji, Dawki, Mawlynnong & Cherrapunji
Today our visit was scheduled at Dawki – the border of India and Bangladesh and the place known for the clear waters of the Umngot river at Dawki and next at Mawlynnong – Asia’s cleanest village to return to Cherrapunji for night halt. We started at 8 AM after breakfast to Dawki. The beautiful landscape of Meghalaya greeted us and accompanied us along the way to Pynursla. The last town area till we head to Dawki. We halted at Pynursla to refuel our tank and to have a cup of tea. Our next destination for halt was at Dawki. Continuing from Pynursla after 30 minutes the straight road reaches a dead end with two diversions one on the right that leads to Mawlynnong and one on the left that leads to Dawki. We took the left road to Dawki. After crossing a few more places we reached a point where the road starts narrowing down and deteriorates too. This is when you realize that you are closing in on Dawki. As you approach Dawki you start driving down the mountains of Meghalaya reaching the plains of Bangladesh and you can feel the temperature increasing fairly. On your right you can see the plains of Bangladesh and the presence of Border troops of India (BSF – Border Security Force) can be seen around. There are also many trucks to be seen that transport coal and stone across the borders. These trucks are however not suited to ply on such small roads thereby causing inconvenience to other cars. As you start approaching the border you get the first view of the clear waters of the Umngot river and many visitors and locals can be seen fishing, boating and enjoying themselves on the river waters. After a while you reach the small township of Tamabil. Then after crossing Tamabil you will reach the boating point at Dawki where you are sure to get caught is traffic as many cars will be parked alongside the narrow road and vehicular movement becomes difficult due to halting of other cars along the way. Once you are successfully able to pass through this mess you will reach a suspension bridge of Dawki which was built in 1932 by the British. Please no photography on this Bridge due to instructions. This is a one way bridge and only one vehicle is allowed to pass at a time over it. After crossing the bridge you will reach the second boating point at Dawki and then the trucks start to line up ahead of you near the excise office at the border of India and Bangladesh at Dawki. You have to make your way across these trucks and then cross the border heavily patrolled by the security forces of BSF. We parked our car and then approached the security forces seeking their permission to cross the Indian border and reach no man’s land. There were other tourists around and they granted us permission to cross the border. We went ahead and clicked our pictures here and later returned to India to continue to our boating experience at the waters of the Umngot river. Our boatman took us down the cliff to the boating point and we started on our boat ride. There were many visitors here from India on one side and on the other side from Bangladesh as well. We enjoyed our ride on the clear waters and the boat ride lasted for about and hour and a half.
Day 4 ~ Cherrapunji, Shillong & Kaziranga National Park
Our visit to Meghalaya was coming to an end today as we planned to bid goodbye to Cherrapunji in the morning to head over to Shillong and then back to Assam to continue to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Kaziranga National Park. At Shillong we planned to make a halt at the Don Bosco Museum – one of the finest museums of indigenous studies in North East India. We left after breakfast at around 8 AM and travelled across the mountains to reach back to Upper Shillong. It was a Monday and there was quite a bit of traffic on the road from Upper Shillong to Shillong city. The traffic decreased in a while and we reached the Rhino point at Shillong and we headed to the Don Bosco Museum.
It was around 10.30 AM and we moved on to continue our journey to Kaziranga National Park. We crossed Umiam, Barapani, Umshling and Umling to reach Nongpoh. At Nongpoh we decided to take a short break and we stopped here to have a cup of tea and some freshly cut pineapples and cucumber. We would have a late lunch so we took a few bananas to have on the way. We crossed the toll gate at Nongpoh and later reached Burnihat and finally entered Assam at around 12 PM. After this we crossed Sonapur, Jagiroad, Nelli continuing to Raha. At Raha it was around 1.15 PM and wwe halted to look at the various small shops here that sell coconut water and items of bamboo handicrafts. Our guests picked up a few gift items and then we drove again to reach Nagaon bypass. It was around 2 PM and we stopped for lunch at the Seven Sisters Dhaba here. There are quite a few roadside Restaurants cum Dhabas here which are very neat, clean and modern restaurants that serve hot and delicious food. Most of the travellers of highway halt at these Dhabas for lunch and dinner and these Dhabas serve wonderful traditional Assamese food served on thali. We ordered Assamese Thali that had rice, dal, black dal, fried ladies finger, mixed vegetables sabzi, papad, pickles, salad, chutney and sweet. We finished our lunch quickly and drove off to Kaziranga National Park. After Nagaon the roads is no longer a four ane and also the condition of the road is not very good so we have to drive slowly to avoid the occasional pothole. After Nagaon we crossed Puronigodam, Amoni and Missa to reach Kaliabor.
From Kaliabor a left from the road takes you to the town of Tezpur and this is your gateway to Arunachal Pradesh From here you can go to Nameri National Park, Bhalukpong, Bomdila, Dirang, Sela Pass, Jaswantgarh, Tawang, Bumla Pass, Mechuka, Itanagar, Aalo, Ziro Valley, Pasighat, Lakhimpur and other destinations of Arunachal Pradesh. We chose to head straight to Kaziranga National Park after reaching Jakhalabandha. After crossing Jakhalabandha you can see sign boards welcome you to the Kaziranga National Park.