We entered Meghalaya after touring Bhutan. And I felt Meghalaya is more culturally different from mainland India than Bhutan. First, few things that I noticed were, the majority of people are Christians (around 85%), the local language doesn’t have its own script and uses English alphabets. This also makes almost everyone speak & understand English. Hindi is known to few people.
Meghalaya has a matriarchal society, this means, the property is passed down to girls & after marriage, it’s the groom who has to move into the girl’s house. Women, like all other northeastern regions, enjoy immense freedom & respect. And everybody, without exception, men or women, old or young, chews beetle nut. It is so important in their culture, they have legends & mythological stories around why they chew beetle nut.
Meghalaya is divided into 3 regions – Garo (western), Khasi (central) & Jaintia (east) based on the tribes/hills names, though there are few differences in their language or living styles. We visited the Khasi & Jaintia parts and left Garo as some people suggested it is a little volatile, but now I don’t think that was the case: we could have visited the Garo hills too.
The entry to Meghalaya – Guwahati to Shillong is a dream for a biker. A stunning 4 lane road, with a curls & culverts, and occasional views, that made me ride like a maniac. I generally ride slow, but that day I couldn’t control myself & went vrooming past every vehicle that I could. The roadside is teeming with shops selling Meghalaya’s famous pineapple, chutneys & pickles. Believe me, the pineapple here are so good that were on a pineapple-only diet for days. Also, bamboo chutney/pickle is the best one to go for.
The Guwahati – Shillong highway is around 100km long, and around 20km before Shillong comes the famous Umiam lake. This lake is insanely beautiful. the highway runs along the lake for some distance and offers multiple viewpoints for a lake. Keep stopping & you will keep yearning for more.
We skipped Shillong, as it is insanely crowded, and stayed at a village called Mawphlong. Mawphlong, a picture perfect village, has high importance for Khasis as it houses their biggest sacred groove. (for Khasis, nature is the ultimate God. They may be Christians by faith, but their Shamanistic practices still hold the highest importance. This means, every village has a sacred groove, a part of the forest, where nobody is allowed to cut trees or break anything. these sacred grooves are also used for sacrifices, and other rituals). Mawphlang doesn’t have any hotels or lodges. We were just too lucky to have stumbled at a good man’s house, who agreed to let us stay with his family.
Mawphlong is also famous as the starting point of David Scott’s trail, a trail that explores hidden paths in Khasi hills & covers huge areas that now lie in Assam, Meghalaya & Bangladesh. One can also reach Cherrapunji following this trail. I did not do this hike, DK did & wasn’t very impressed with it.
Next, we went to Sohra (Cherrapunji). Again, an excellent road with beautiful views. Sora is a plateau top & receives an insane amount of rainfall everywhere. Thus there are waterfalls everywhere. Just pick a direction & within 5 -10 km you will find huge deluges of water plunging from 1000ft. unfortunately, we visited Sahara during the only dry month of the year & saw absolutely nothing.
Sohra is one of the 14 bazaars of Meghalaya & hence, though it may look small, is an important town. (meghalese people don’t have gregorian calendars like us. they identify days with where the bazaar on that day will be. a month has 28 days. So every month there will be 2 days for Sohra bazaar & every other bazaar). We visited the bazaar, and overwhelmed by its intensity. Fruits, meats, clothes, electronics….everything you want & need to survive. Most of the sellers were women. Meghalaya has a variety of fruits that are unknown in the mainland. Also, meat forms an integral part of their diet, which makes things a little difficult for vegetarians. After Shillong, the only option we had was rice & dry chana. But this is readily available everywhere & is generally very delicious.
Also, black tea is much more popular here than milk tea, and generally has an insane amount of sugar in it.
We stayed at ‘By The Way’ dorm in Sohra. 250 per bed per night. A little expensive from our expectations but definitely the most economical option available there. The guy who runs it is helpful & will provide you a brilliant guide map for in and around sohra.
As everything in Sohra was dried up, we went ahead towards Nongriat famous for its double root bridge.
Now root bridges, as brilliant as they may be, are all over the place in Meghalaya. Almost every village has one. And after seeing the first few bridges, it was like an everyday ritual for us to see a new root bridge. But Nogriat has something better. A 1.5-hour hike from the village leads you to one of the best waterfalls in India (my opinion). Deep blue water, a rainbow forming over the falls (which gives its name, Rainbow Falls) and nobody around. Swim in the pools there, light up a fire and cook yourself a good meal. This place is where you want to be. Unfortunately not many people go there. We stayed in Nogriat for 3 days, and literally pleaded all the tourists to visit the falls. But none were interested. They were happy seeing bridges. Only foreign tourists & locals visit the falls.
Nongriat is a 34 house village with 2 guest houses. We stayed at Serenity guest house for 200 per bed. Excellent food, specially the fruit porridge & special dinner they serve every night. The guy who runs the place is an absolute gem & even if you don’t stay there, do meet him & have a chat. you will feel good. to reach nongriat one has to travel 15 km on road from sohra, and then take 3000 steps. The hike takes around 3 hours & is strenuous for people not in shape.
From Nongriat, we headed towards Mawlynnong (a village that claims to be the cleanest village in Aisa). Meghalaya, by the way, itself is very clean. Apart from Shillong, you won’t filth anywhere. It only makes sense for a community that reveres nature so much to keep their surroundings clean. On our way, we also sold DKs bullet. Just like that.
Roads in Meghalaya are great in general. A big reason why the riders groups are so active & helpful here (this was also the reason why we could sell our bike so easily here). The road from Sohra to Dawki is a pure pleasure to ride on. Beautiful villages pass by, with their castle-like churches on hilltops reminding you why Meghalaya is also called the Scotland of the East. And pineapple breaks in between.
For Mawlynnong, you take a right turn from this main highway onto a smaller road. But as soon as we turned, things started to change. We sensed cleanliness. This region also produces a large number of brooms, and we could see fresh brooms kept for drying in the open everywhere. Cleanliness increasing by the moment. Most of the people suggested us against Mawlynnong, saying it had nothing special. But we really liked this village. It’s not just clean, but extremely beautiful. One would think this is an artificial setup with picture perfect houses, small paved gullies, flowers everywhere. But its not. The inhabitants of this village have been living here like this for last 200 years.
Accommodation is expensive but plenty here. The best we could manage was 700 per night for tents in the backyard of a beautiful house. Luckily for us, the guy was local guide association president, and took us for a hike next day to some really obscure waterfalls, villages & bridges.
From Mawlynnong, we started for Dawki. The locals guided us through a shortcut, a narrow road that runs along the border of India & Bangladesh. It was a great feeling to be riding on the hills of India & seeing the plains of Bangladesh as we closed towards Dawki. People had suggested us to not to stay at Dawki, as its commercialization has spoilt its beauty & ask for a village called Shnondpdeng (about 14 km from Dawki). As expected, it was a beautiful village set on the banks of Umngot river. The water here is the clearest I have seen in a water source. One can see up to 25ft in the river from the boat. I wonder what the actual visibility inside the water would be.
Shnongpdeng attracts lots of crowds from Shillong on weekends at it is only 80km from the city. Otherwise, this a quiet village with 3 staying options & 3 food shops. The water is so good, one can swim all day long here. When tired, just hire a boat & fishing gear, get some beer, find a spot in shadow and kill time like it never existed. We stayed in a comfortable homestay for 500 per day. There are plenty of camping options available too. Food, for vegetarians, is limited to rice & dry chana. Otherwise one can have friend pork, beef soup etc.
We stayed here for 4 days, and spent 14 days in Meghalaya. After this, DK continued his journey towards the east, while I returned to Guwahati to catch a flight to Bombay.