Mawsynram, a village in the East Khasi Hills district of Meghalaya, is reportedly the wettest place on earth receiving an average annual rainfall of 11,872 millimetres. Cherrapunji, which shares a border with Bangladesh, is a close second. The gorgeous waterfalls in this hilly state are a result of this abundant rainfall and the tourism department has helpfully constructed viewpoints at strategic sites.
Popular boating and adventure sports are concentrated around Shnongpdeng and Umiam lake. Kayaking on the Umngot River at Dawki amidst its crystal clear waters is a sought-after experience. For more adventurous explorers, a trek through the jungle leading to one of the many living root bridges, rainforests and sacred groves in the region is a must.
Unique features – 1. Built by the local Khasi tribes, using the roots of the Indian rubber trees, the living root bridges are an example of sustainable architecture and what we humans can achieve. One of the most famous ones, the Umshiang double-decker bridge near Cherrapunji, is over 180 years.
2. The ancient Khasi myths and religion believe certain forests belong to local deities and nothing can be removed from them. Used for sacrifices and prayers, these old sacred groves date back over a century. We highly recommend a walk through one of them with a local guide to explain its significance.
The Garo tribes that live in the western part of this state still follow age old traditions despite a large number having converted to Christianity. Their cooking techniques and use of herbs make them an ideal community for a food tour. The main town is Tura, a 4 hour drive from the Guwahati airport.
The tribes of Meghalaya – the Khasis, the Garos and the Jaintias – are known for following the matrilineal system through which the property is passed down from the matriarch to the youngest daughter. Agriculture is the main source of livelihood even today.
The harvest festivals of Shod Nongkrem of the Khasi community and the Wangala 100 Drums Festival of the Garo community are stunning occasions to witness traditional performances, folk fervour and local cuisines. The Jaintias were ruled by Bangaladeshi Hindu rulers.
This state happens to be the most popular destination among Indian travellers during Christmas and New Year break. Soon an inner line permit will be required to visit the state.
Traditional music of Meghalaya reflects a tribal heritage rich with folk culture, traditional instruments, drums, bamboo flutes and hand-held cymbals. Today, the youngsters are heralding a new age of music that spans across genres, ranging from folk, pop to hip-hop
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 is quite easy to understand why the British named the region “the Scotland of the East”. Popular for its water sports and adventure facilities, it 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.
Dotted with churches, old missionary educational institutions, rolling hills 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.”
We arrange for guests to experience warm hospitality over conversations and a scrumptious Khasi meal in the comfort of a local home. Shillong continues to be a favourite destination of music festivals such as the NH7 Weekender.
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. Our local guide will walk you through the forest and explain its relevance. He can also arrange a home-cooked Khasi meal in the village. Homestays can be arranged for those interested. The start of the David Scott trail, a popular trekking route, is behind this forest.
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 is 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.
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!
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 near Shnongpdeng, with its clear waters, is popular among tourists for the boat riding competition held during spring. The surrounding forest, adventure sport and boating facilities (local boats only) on the river makes it a very popular destination. The suspension bridge over the river is a bonus. There are a few good camping sites and comfortable hotels that have come up in Shnongpdeng which makes it an ideal spot for adventure and outdoor enthusiasts.
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% literacy rate. A landmark of the village is a 100-year-old structure, the Church of Epiphany. The living root bridges near Mawlynnong have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But due to heavy footfall the bridge is being impacted.
A lesser known destination in the east, Tura is filled with gorgeous landscape, great picnic spots and hills green with local produce. Agriculture is the main source of income for the Garo tribes that inhabit Western Meghalaya and the markets are full of interesting products like jackfruit seed cake, meat grilled in bamboo sleeves, and a variety of lemons and herbs used by the locals to season their food with. In the villages oil is rarely used and most food is steamed, grilled or boiled with Michinga leaves.
The architecture of the well made long bamboo huts complete for your attention as does the vibrant costumes worn by the clans.
The Wangala festival has now gained popularity. It is delightful to catch the tribes doing what they do best – all dressed in their colourful costumes and headgears, dancing to the beat of a 100 drums played by the young men of the various clans. Enjoy traditional cuisine and rice beer in the numerous stalls set up by the locals.
The Pnar (Jaintia) people of the Jaintia Hills follow a form of indigenous religion known as Niamtre. Its thick forests kept the hills relatively isolated from, which has helped preserve some unique cultural traditions in the region. The stone menhirs (upright stones) of Jaintia hills, found in the village of Nartiang, are awe inspiring. These megaliths, locally known as Moo Shynrang (meaning “men”) for the upright ones and Moo Kynthai (“women”) for the flat, horizontal ones used to be sacred spots of worship, burial grounds, markers of religious sites or commemorative stones. A day trip from Shillong can be organised. Jowai,the main town has comfortable basic home stays and lures the traveller with its breathtaking scenery and lakes.