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Meghalaya: The marvellous land of clouds

Meghalaya offers a stunning mosaic of biodiversity, natural vistas, tradition, and culture. A visit to this state will ensure you take back a lifetime of memories.

Meghalaya: The marvellous land of clouds

Friday October 14, 2022 , 6 min Read

Meghalaya, which literally translates to ‘the abode of clouds’, is every bit as lyrical and romantic as one conjures it up to be. True to its name, this northeastern state, sandwiched between Assam and Bangladesh, sits in the lap of breath-taking beauty—flanked by misty clouds that appear from nowhere, stretching endlessly beyond one’s imagination.

Home to the hills of Garo, Khasi, and Jaintia (also the names of the major matrilineal tribes that inhabit the region), Meghalaya is quite unlike other hill stations in India. Calling the state the ‘Scotland of the East’, as it is often referred to, seems banal, robbing it of its intrinsic identity and character.

Meghalaya

Picture-perfect landscape

With undulating hills, virgin forests, tumbling waterfalls, rollicking rivers, and meandering streams at every turn and curve, the place looks straight out of a richly painted canvas. If you are the poetic kind, you may compare the state’s landscape to a ballad with vivid imagery and slow love notes. (Excuse the abundant adjectives, for it’s natural to get carried away in the face of such beauty.)

There’s so much to see, do, and experience in Meghalaya that a hurried trip just won’t do. This place calls for slow travel so you can take the time to absorb the sights and sounds and immerse yourself in the cosy embrace of everything the state has to offer. 

Meghalaya

For nature lovers and the adventurous kind, it is truly a paradise, replete with bamboo trails and trekking paths leading to waterfalls cascading over rocks, living-root bridges across rivers, and mysterious limestone caves.

Even if adventurous escapades are not what you seek, the place has a magical pull. A hike across a rough trail with rickety bamboo ladders or a descent down a few thousand steps may seem improbable to accomplish, but you will be tempted to trundle. At the end of it is a hidden gem waiting to be savoured with all your senses. And when you are tired of all the hectic treks, you can resort to aimless wandering and languid walks.

Wei Sawdong and Krang Shuri waterfalls

(L) Wei Sawdong three-tier waterfall in Sohra, East Khasi Hills; (R) Krang Shuri waterfall, West Jaintia Hills

Krang Shuri and Wei Sawdong waterfalls, Mawsmai and Arwah caves, Mawphlang Sacred Grove, Dawki river (with crystal-clear water if it’s not raining), and Laitlum Canyon are some of the places worth visiting in the state. Of course, one cannot miss the living root bridges in Riwai and Nongriat villages in the East Khasi Hills district, nurtured by the tribal communities here. The roots bridges, which were formed by directing the aerial roots of the Ficus elastica tree (Indian rubber tree) to knit together over a stream or a river, are examples of harmonious existence between nature and humans.

living root bridge

Living root bridge near Riwai village, East Khasi Hills: The bridge was formed by directing the aerial roots of the Ficus elastica tree (Indian rubber tree) to knit together.

There is also the garden of monoliths in Nartiang village in the West Jaintia Hills district, comprising arguably the largest cluster of ancient monoliths in a single place in both upright and flat positions. They are believed to have been erected in memory of kings or events.

If you are planning a visit to Meghalaya, you could keep the capital city of Shillong as your base and explore state via day trips, for many places are just a 2-3 hour long drive away.

You can also stay in Mawlynnong, touted to be the cleanest village in Asia, 90 km from Shillong, bordering Bangladesh. This is a quaint little place where every falling leaf is picked up with relentless zeal. Though the hamlet appears a tad made-up (Mawlynnong is on every tourist’s to-do list), you may choose to stay here for a day for the squeaky-clean experience in one of the many homestays that dot the village.

Mawlynnong

Mawlynnong, touted to be Asia’s cleanest village, in East Khasi Hills

Then there’s Cherrapunji (locally called Sohra), a little over 55 km from Shillong, the second-wettest place in the world, having lost the top spot to its neighbour Mawsynram. A stay in a rustic cabin overlooking hills and brooks is perfect for curling up with a book, over a cup of steaming tea.

However, if you are visiting Sohra during the monsoon season, be ready for some heavy battering and howling winds, especially at night—the kind that makes you think that your dwelling could be swept away by morning. This experience is one of a kind, provided you don’t mind the power outage that accompanies the monsoon medley.

If it rains cats and dogs (and it certainly will!), you can always take cover under the knup, the traditional rain shield made of leaves and bamboo, used commonly by the locals.

Meat, momos and music

When you take a break from the sights and sounds of Meghalaya, it’s time to indulge your taste buds.

Pork plays a meaty role in Meghalayan cuisine—be it the Jadoh (a red rice and pork preparation), the Doh-Khleih (a salad made with minced pork, onion, and green chillies), or the Pudoh (boiled powdered rice with pork pieces). As for vegetarians, there’s always the simple meal of dal and rice, which the locals eat with relish.

If you are in the mood for momos and coffee, head to one of the many cafés of Shillong that also offer a lively ambience and foot-tapping music. Dylan’s Café (a tribute to singer Bob Dylan) and Café Shillong are the hip joints in the city, drawing young locals and tourists alike.

The city pulsates with music and energy. Called the Rock Capital of India, Shillong is the birthplace of some of the best rock talents in the country. To recognise and promote musical talent across the state, the Meghalayan government has launched a grassroots music project, featuring music performances at popular cafés and resorts and busking on the streets.

Everlasting memories

If you think your trip is incomplete without souvenirs, there’s plenty of local ware to choose from—bamboo baskets, wooden handicrafts, black pottery, Eri silk stoles, and handwoven Khasi shawls. Or how about the traditional Jainkyrshah drape that Meghalayan women wear?

Apart from a bagful of souvenirs, a visit to this stunning state will ensure you carry with you a lifetime of memories.

A quick cheat sheet

Best time to visit the state: Between October and June, after which the monsoon is in full swing. People generally drive from Guwahati to Shillong, which is about 100 km and takes less than three hours. The route is scenic and makes for a pleasant ride. You can stop at Umiam Lake (also known as Barapani Lake) on the way for boating and a quick bite.

Places to visit: Krang Shuri falls and Wei Sawdong three-tiered waterfalls, Mawsmai and Arwah caves, Sacred Forest, Dawki river, Laitlum Canyon, and living root bridges in Riwai and Nongriat villages

Popular cafés/food joints: Dylan’s Café, Café Shillong, and ML 05 Café in Shillong; Orange Roots in Cherrapunji

Where to shop: Police Bazaar, Shillong for souvenirs; Kiniho, a charming studio in Shillong for Eri silk clothing


Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta