PUBLISHED AUGUST 2018 issue SPICE ROUTE magazine, the in-flight magazine of Spice Jet Airways
Cherrapunji in the Indian state of Meghalaya has the distinction of being the second wettest place on earth. But it’s not just a rainy, sleepy town.
It has its share of adrenalin pumping activities with tourists making a beeline for living root bridges, mammoth limestone caves, natural parks, unique flora and fauna and a plethora of waterfalls.
If you are a nature lover, this is just the place for you.
Twelve hours of non-stop rain and sometimes 24 hours too; and this is not the kind of rain that sounds like pitter-patter on scenic tin roofs. Instead, its sheer awe and amazement that greet you when you visit Cherrapunji in the East Khasi Hills district in the north-eastern state of Meghalaya, during the Monsoons, like I did.
Despite being told that the best time to visit this Wales like scenic destination is during the relatively lesser rainy months in winter, I decided to come here in June and not once did I regret it. Like they say: you come to Cherrapunji to look at the clouds from eye level if nothing else and I’m completely in agreement!
After taking a Spice Jet flight from Delhi to Guwahati, I made a quick halt and then embarked on the driving journey to Cherrapunji via Shillong that took me, roughly three hours. The roads are beautiful, winding, and scenic and have various locations where one is greeting with awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping beauty. It is a largely pleasant drive with some amount of sightseeing too; such as the Shillong Peak and the Elephant Falls that one encounters on way.
Cherrapunji, as the British called it or Sohra, as the local name goes by, is not for the faint-hearted traveller. It is for people who want to experience the uniqueness of this place, that’s like a jewel buried under a cloak of deep, lush, wet greenery that you wouldn’t see elsewhere unless you travel to far off Scotland or Wales.
Along with many hotels and homestays, the place has everything that a nature lover would look for. Unique flora and fauna, deep gorges and valleys, living root brides over 100 years old, caves with a view of stalactites and stalagmites it also boasts of an unmatched production of the best quality oranges and pineapples that make it a fruit lover’s paradise too.
When I arrived in Cherra, the day was slowly beginning to fade into the evening and the sleepy little town was downing its shutters by around 7 pm. Everybody retires early here so the day is the best time to do the local sightseeing bit. As the evening gave way to the night, I could hear the gushing sound of one of the waterfalls that make up the Seven Sisters Falls or the Nohsngithiang Falls, clearly visible from the viewpoint built across our cottage at the calm and serene Pala Resorts in the Kutmadan area of Cherra. It was one of the reasons that I chose to stay at this fairly unpretentious, no frills place. The breath-taking view of the waterfall, coupled with clouds floating up to the veranda of the cottage, was a mesmerising sight to behold. And beyond the clouds were visible the wide expanse and panoramic views of the borders of the neighbouring country of Bangladesh.
That whole night, it rained buckets and it was a strange feeling to imbibe in this atmosphere of one of the wettest places on earth. The subsequent morning, however, the rain subsided and I took in some local sights of Cherra, such as a beautiful Presbyterian Church built to commemorate the first missionaries that settled here, and the Lumshynna caves that were on way as I went for a lunch-date to Meghalaya’s capital city Shillong, just an hour’s drive from Cherra, where one cannot miss the tourist attractions like the Wards Lake, the Lady Hydari Park, to mention just a few and of course, a customary stroll in the main commercial hub, Police Bazaar that stocks fashionable stuff to take back home.
It was late evening when I made my way to Cherra where I encountered dense fog all the way that can at times give an eerie feeling. This is why it is sometimes called a ghost town, also because of a large number of graves in various hillocks buried by Christian missionaries who first came to the place in the 1800s. Definitely not a place for faint hearted travellers!
Also, the inclement weather can make dressing up a bit confusing. Just make sure you carry light woollies in the summer and monsoon seasons and thick ones in winter. Food is not a problem at all; to get a feel of the local food, ask for Khasi or Jaintia thalis or else your palate can be satisfied with Chinese, Indian and Italian cuisines that are widely available. The locals speak English and are usually friendly and ready to help out.
As for the USP of this place: I’d say it is checking out the fourth longest cave in the Indian subcontinent, the Krem(Khasi word for cave) Mawmluh Cave, that is located about half a kilometre to the west of Cherrapunjee. It’s exploring a world unknown when you see the deep caves with black quicksand, that are usually open to tourists. You can enter the cave by a short trek near the Mawmluh village.
Another must do here is the double-decker and single-decker root bridges that are unique to this part of the world where you can see tangles of massive thick roots, intertwined to form a bridge that can hold several people at a time. They are usually made from the roots of the Ficus elastica tree, which produces a series of secondary roots that are perched atop huge boulders along the streams or the riverbanks to form bridges. Some of which are over a hundred feet long, take ten to fifteen years to become fully functional, but they’re extraordinarily strong. They are alive and growing and gain strength over time.
For a hardcore nature lover like me, this place has it all and I’m definitely going back for more!
What To SEE THERE—
- The Krem Mawmluh: The fourth longest caves in the Indian sub-continent that also has a little pool inside formed by five different rivers.
- Living Root Bridges: The Double Decker living root bridges located in various places in the region. In Tyrna village, the two-tier bridge is 100 feet long in length and is known as the 150-year old man-made natural wonder.
- The Seven Sisters Waterfall
- The Nokrek National Park: one of the last habitats of Red Panda in India
- The Thangkharang Park: It has a one-way road built amidst the lush green trees, a basket-shaped rock, and overlooks the spectacular Kynrem Falls that cascade down three steps.
- The Dainthlen Falls
- The Mawkdok Dympep Valley View famous viewpoint: located at the very start of the Sohra tourist circuit.
- View of the Bangladesh border