Mawsynram, a village in the East Khasi Hills district of Meghalaya in the north east of India, is reportedly the wettest place on earth receiving an average annual rainfall of 11,872 millimetres (467.4 in). Cherrapunji, which shares a border with Bangladesh, is a close second. The gorgeous waterfalls in this hilly state of Meghalaya are a result of this abundant rainfall and the tourism department has helpfully constructed viewpoints and gravelled footpaths at many points of interest. Coupled with tropical rainforests and pleasant to chilly weather, Meghalaya, which translates to abode of the clouds, is a sight for sore eyes and those who have had their fill of the concrete jungle.
For more adventurous explorers, a trek through the jungle leading to one of the many living root bridges in the region is a must. Devised by local Khasi villagers over a century ago, rubber tree roots were guided in hollow canes of Areca nut palm to meet halfway across the stream. The roots were tended to and patiently nurtured for years until they slowly reached the opposite bank, forming the skeleton that eventually grew into a bridge capable of carrying a human’s weight. One of the most famous ones, Umshiang double-decker bridge, is over 180 years old, and reachable only by foot, about 10km south of Cherrapunji.
A visual treat in Meghalaya – Umiam Lake
Commonly known as Barapani, the reservoir was created by damming the Umiam River in the early 1960s. As one stands at the water’s edge surrounded by hills lined with pine trees, it’s quite easy to understand why the British named the region “the Scotland of the East”. Popular for its water sport and adventure facilities in Meghalaya, Barapani is a good stop for those traveling with children. Long walks through small villages, watching farmers at work and helping them collect wood to sell in the local market makes it an ideal pit stop.
Tribal legends and pretty churches – Shillong
Dotted with churches, old missionary educational institutions, rolling hills, waterfalls and a very old market selling local products, Meghalaya’s capital was a favourite summer retreat for the British. Teer, a game that blends archery and betting, is very popular with the locals. Julie, who went to boarding school in Shillong, says, “One weekend every month I was allowed to visit my grandmother who lived there too. In the mornings, we would ask her neighbour to interpret our dreams into numbers so that we could bet on that day’s Teer result.”
Sacred Grove in Mawphlang is a 50-minute drive from Shillong. Spread across 78 hectares of land, it is believed to be protected by the local deity-Labasa. Nothing should be taken out of this untouched forest and a walk through it reveals a varied range of flora not seen elsewhere.
Charms of nature come together – Cherrapunjee
Officially known as Sohra, this picturesque town is inhabited by the Khasi people of Mon-Khmer origin. One of the star attractions is the 150-year-old double-decker root bridge in Tryna village. It’s a five to six hour trek to the bridge but visitors always end up marvelling at the ingenuity of the villagers to create this all-natural bridge.
The hills in this region are home to some amazing cave systems. Mawsmai, a limestone cave, has plenty of flora and fauna within the cave to catch one’s attention. The fourth highest waterfall in the world, Nohkalikai Falls, plunges 335 meters from a green cliff. “As children we use to delight in visiting the viewpoints and seeing the plains of Bangladesh sprawled at a distance in front of us,” recalls Julie.
Rain lover’s paradise – Mawsynram
In Khasi, the ‘maw’ in Mawsynram stands for stone. The village is well-known for a huge stalagmite formation in the shape of a shivling. Interestingly, Mawsynram has beaten Cherrapunjee to become the wettest place in India. The local villagers use double layers of thick grass to build their roofs in order to soundproof their homes from the thunderous rain. It makes a great day trip from Shillong; just take your gumboots and umbrella along.
Last Indian town before the border – Dawki
A small border town, Dawki is at the centre of trade between India and Bangladesh. Recently, a bus service has been introduced from Guwahati via Shillong and Dawki to Dhaka, Bangladesh. The river Umngot, with its clear water, is popular among tourists for the boat riding competition held during spring. The surrounding forest, camping and boating facilities on the river make Dawki worth a visit. The suspension bridge over the river is a bonus.
Cleanest Village in India – Mawlynnong
Awarded the title of the cleanest village by Discover India, the residents step out to sweep the roads and plant trees. Apart from being clean, the village also has a 100 per cent literacy rate. A landmark of the village is a 100-year-old structure, the Church of Epiphany. The living root bridges in Mawlynnong have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and are easier to walk down to than the one at Sohra. The bridges are made by connecting the aerial roots of one massive rubber tree with another.
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