One part of India that I had not visited at all in my years of travelling, was the north-eastern states. I finally broke that jinx by visiting Meghalaya, the predominantly tribal state carved out of Assam in the 1970’s. After my wonderful trip to Meghalaya in the height of the rains, I am now convinced that the monsoon is the best time to visit Shillong and Cherrapunji, the two most important places to see in Meghalaya. It seemed right to be visiting the wettest place on earth, in the middle of the monsoon season! I’m now a huge fan of Meghalaya’s natural beauty, and would love to share with you a little information about the places to visit in Shillong and Cherrapunji.
Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya, is a busy little foothill town with the usual urban paraphernalia of shopping centres, cafes, schools, markets, even traffic jams. However, if you take the time, you will also find charming places of interest in Shillong that will show you what this town might have been like a few years ago before the spread of urbanisation. There are some very pretty churches in town, and a lake called Ward’s Lake where you can go for a stroll. The town also has a few very nice cafes that play great music, and I enjoyed chilling out at some of them. In the military cantonment area, you will also find a pretty waterfall called the Spread Eagle Falls.
Outside Shillong, in the midst of nature, is where you will really see the true beauty of Meghalaya. “Meghalaya” means “abode of clouds” in Sanskrit; whoever coined the name must have visited during the monsoon! I found myself enveloped more than once in clouds of mist during the drive from Shillong to Cherrapunji and back. The distance from Shillong to Cherrapunji is only 50km but since it’s a hilly route the drive will take 2.5 to 3 hours one way. It is a really scenic route though, and you will enjoy the drive. Since there are limited options of hotels in Cherrapunji, most visitors cover Cherrapunji sightseeing in a day-trip from Shillong.
Aside from the fact that it was once the district with the highest recorded rainfall in the world (this position is now held by Mawsynram, also nearby), Cherrapunji or Sohra as it called locally, also offers amazing views of nature in all its grace. Places to visit in Cherrapunji include the Wah Kaba Falls, Dainthlen Falls, Eco Park, Nohkalikai Falls and the Seven Sisters Falls. I believe that the monsoon is the best time to visit Shillong and Cherrapunji because the highlight of this area – the waterfalls – are at their peak during the rains. The pictures do not do justice to the beauty that I was witness to.
Meghalaya also has a large number of limestone and sandstone caves; cavers from all over the world visit in order to explore them. One of the places to visit in Cherrapunji is Mawsmai, which has limestone caves that are open to tourists. The stalactites and stalagmites are indeed imposing to see. The world’s longest sandstone cave has also recently been discovered near here in Mawsynram.
Two other interesting places to see in Meghalaya are Mawlynnong and Dawki. You can either stay overnight at a homestay in Mawlynnong or take a day-trip from Shillong combining both places. Mawlynnong is known as the cleanest village in Asia, and after seeing the place I didn’t really doubt the title. From here you can easily get to the nearby Living Root Bridge in Riwai. Living root bridges are natural bridges found in a few places in Meghalaya and are one of the most important places to see in Cherrapunji and around. Locals would take the roots of Indian Rubber trees, and train and weave them into a mesh. They would then plaster the mesh with mud and stones to form a natural bridge, allowing people to cross over streams. Ingenious idea, and the bridges are still going strong. Be prepared for a hike up and down several steps though!
Dawki is about 100km from Shillong and you can easily combine a visit here with a Mawlynnong excursion. It offers scenic views of the Umngot river and the India-Bangladesh border. Outside the monsoon season, the river is very popular for boating. It is said that the water here is the clearest you will find anywhere in the country.
Flights to Shillong are only available on Air India from Kolkata and tend to be very expensive. Instead, fly to Guwahati. Guwahati to Shillong is an easy 2-3 hour drive; you can either take a shared cab that will cost you around Rs. 300 per person and drop you at Police Bazaar, or hire a private taxi and have the comfort of stopping en route as you wish. I had hired a private cab for the duration of my trip.
Getting around Shillong and Cherrapunji:
Local cabs charge more or less flat fares for Shillong sightseeing and day-trips to Cherrapunji. A private cab would probably cost you Rs 1800-2000 for local sightseeing in Shillong, and Rs 2500-3000 for a day visit to Cherrapunji. Your hotel can also probably arrange transportation for you if you ask in advance.
Hotels in Shillong:
Shillong has hotels to suit nearly all budgets. However, I would recommend that you try and avoid staying in the Police Bazaar area unless you want to be stuck in traffic all day. It would be much better to stay in the Laitumkhrah area, which is what I did. One big plus of being there was that I was within walking distance of the famous Cafe Shillong! If budget allows, go for Ri Kyinjai which is a resort near Umiam lake and is considered one of the best hotels in Shillong. I was, unfortunately, on a more modest budget.
Meghalaya is a must-visit destination in India that offers natural beauty, offbeat experiences and an opportunity to get away from the concrete jungle. The people you meet here will, in general, be really warm and friendly, and you will feel welcome wherever you go. I know that I will be going back someday soon! If you’d like to learn more about the state, you should visit the official website of Meghalaya Tourism, it’s extremely detailed and helpful.
Visiting a green hilly destination during the rains makes it feel even more magical. I also believe that the monsoon is the best time to visit Shillong and Cherrapunji because unlike summer vacations when everything is over-run with tourists, this time there were relatively fewer crowds. Always a plus as far as I am concerned!
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