The desire to go for a backpacking trip in Northeast India had been on my list since 2012. Arunabh (a school friend of mine) and I would tag each other on Twitter on posts like Dzukou Valley, Living Root Bridge and more.
We finally managed to set out for our first backpacking Meghalaya trip on the 27th of June, 2015. The plan was to go on the flow, decide and explore only after reaching the places. That’s what we exactly did. We planned only after reaching the places like Shillong and Cherrapunji.
It was my second trip to Meghalaya. My first Meghalaya trip was when I went to attend the RYLA in 2014 at RRTC, Umran of Ri Bhoi district. We were taken on a Shillong sightseeing tour by the RYLA organisers. That was the first time I visited Shillong – the capital city of the state of Meghalaya in Northeast India.
BACKPACKING MEGHALAYA TRIP – Our Meghalaya Itinerary
Day 1 – The Journey of two Backpackers
Arunabh and I began our journey from Guwahati in Assam to Shillong in Meghalaya. We were dropped somewhere before Police Bazar Area. Police Bazar is considered the centre of Shillong City. During, the RYLA in 2014, we were given a pamphlet and map about Meghalaya tourism. The foldable map of Shillong tourist places became very handy. Instead of using google maps, we were using the informative map of Meghalaya tourist places provided by the Meghalaya Tourism Department. We indeed felt like an explorer.
After walking for a while, we searched for backpacking hostels but all of them were full. We eventually found a small hotel named Hotel Meghalaya on the Quinton Road of Police Bazaar.
Not knowing where to find any public means of transport, we hired a local car to help us in exploring the city. The Shillong Sightseeing tour thus began. The weather favoured us, no rain but was a little cloudy.
We started with Elephant Falls in Shillong. Unlike, last time when it was dry, we were blessed with the best view of the waterfall. Elephant Waterfall is a multi-step waterfall located in the Upper Shillong area of Meghalaya. One can try the traditional outfits of the Khasi ethnic group at the entrance of the waterfall. Though we missed doing it, we took our time at the waterfall to witness the gushing white waters and peaceful ambience of the Elephant falls.
The drive to the highest point of Shillong i.e. the Shillong Peak (Laitkor Peak) was refreshing. The sun shining through the clouds highlighted the agricultural farms in Upper Shillong. The Laitkor Peak height is 1948 m (6391feet) above sea level. Luckily the clouds faded away offering us to witness a panoramic view of the city.
We visited the Air Force museum while returning. You can get a glimpse of Northeast India’s cultural diversity in the museum.
The Cathedral of Mary Help of Christians is one of the famous Cathedral Church in Shillong. We reached late at the venue and thus missed visiting it. We could only have a glimpse of the marvellous blue church architecture.
Day 2- Fascinating Living Root Bridge, Asia’s Cleanest Village & the Misty Seven Sisters Falls.
Have you heard of Asia’s Cleanest Village?
In 2003, Discover India Magazine awarded the Mawlynnong Village in Meghalaya as the cleanest village in Asia. In Mawlynnong Meghalaya, the Khasi villagers use bamboo dustbins to collect waste and then use them as manure. The use of polythene is banned including the burning of plastics and smoking. Each of the families participates in the overall cleaning of the village.
We hired a cab from Shillong which would first take us to Mawlynnong Village and then Riwai Living Root Bridge. Yes, people generally refer to the living root bridge near Mawlynnong as the Mawlynnong Living Root Bridge. But, the living root bridge is actually in the Riwai Village of Meghalaya.
The journey from Shillong to Mawlynnong was magical. We were driving through the misty roads above the clouds. We stopped for a while beside a purple plum tree. The plums in Meghalaya are actually larger than the ones at our home.
While we enjoyed the plums, the sight of kids sitting and a lady fishing from the top of a boulder by the tranquil river was comforting.
One can find out why Mawlynnong Village is considered the cleanest village in Asia. We hardly saw any plastic material as we entered the village, not even wrappers or packets. Bamboo dustbins were installed alongside the clean roads.
After lunch in the village, we went on a walk to explore the village. The rain poured gracefully and the trees bathed in it. I spent time watching the tiny droplets of rainwater decorated over the flower, a hen searching for grains and listening to the prayer songs of the nearby church. Little moments like these indeed help you to connect with the present and thus to happiness.
There were two Bamboo Tree Houses in Mawlynnong Meghalaya. One at the entrance and the other with a view of the plains of Bangladesh. The very thrill of climbing these bamboo tree houses was unique. Mawlynnong ought to be on your bucket list if you come to Northeast India.
About 2.4 km from Mawlynnong Village, the Single Decker Living Root Bridge is located in the Riwai Village of Meghalaya. The Riwai Living Root Bridge is one of the best examples of nature and culture connection. It is amazing how without harming nature such sustainable bridges can be built. These living root bridges are built from the roots of Indian Rubber trees (Ficus elastica).
We were lucky that there weren’t many people visiting the living root bridge that day. It was relatively peaceful. On learning about the Nohwet Viewpoint – another bamboo treehouse, I climbed the stairs leading to a village above the living root bridge. The weather turned foggy and started drizzling. Though I reached the Nohwet Viewpoint to witness the different waterfalls, I could only hear the sound of the gushing waterfalls.
Next, we headed to Sohra (Cherrapunji). The clouds were a blessing. The roads became foggier and clouds flowed down the road.
We sipped a cup of hot tea and enjoyed the play of clouds from the Mawkdok Dympep Valley view point on our way to Sohra. Mawkdok Dympep Valley Zipline is a must-do if you love adventure. We didn’t do it though as we were getting late.
After reaching Sohra finding accommodations was a dilemma. The reasons being we didn’t book any hotels beforehand. We eventually managed to get a room at Coniferous resort, a hotel by the soothing waters of a river stream.
The misty fog weather continued. We decided to walk the rest of 2.8 km to the Seven Sisters Falls. The Seven Sisters Waterfall Meghalaya is also known as the Nohsngithiang Falls. After a slow walk beside the river stream, watching the femur bone-shaped hills and enjoying the misty roads, we reached the Nohsngithiang Viewpoint.
The weather in Meghalaya during the monsoon is unpredictable. Luckily, the clouds faded and the view of the Seven Sisters Falls shined. It was also the first time I was seeing the plains of Bangladesh.
A cup of tea, momos and pakoda in the cold foggy weather with a view of the beautiful Seven Sister Falls; it was perfect. We reminisced our childhood games by playing with the kids. I thanked them by saying “Khubleishibun” (Thank you very much), to which they replied with a smile.
DAY 3 – The Nohkalikai Falls, Cave Exploration & the Foggy Sohra
A morning worth remembering! Imagine waking up to the sound of a flowing water stream and fully foggy weather with zero visibility and drizzle. Beautiful right?
Sceptical whether we would be able to have a good time, we set out to explore the places to visit in Cherrapunji.
On our walk back to our hotel, we saw the road that led to Mawsmai Cave. Though we initially thought of going there on foot, the weather had different plans. We, therefore, hired a cab that took us to Mawsmai Cave, Thangkharang Park, Nohkalikai Falls and Arwah Cave.
We regretted going to Thangkharang Park we couldn’t see much at the park due to the dense fog but could only hear the echoed sound of the waterfalls.
The experience at Mawsmai Cave was unique. Unlike other tourist caves in Meghalaya where there’s only one way in and out, Mawsmai has a passage that allows you to exit from a different point of the cave. The naturally formed shapes of the cave were even more fascinating. The cave was well lit and relatively easier to pass through than the Arwah Cave.
At Arwah Cave, it was exciting. We had to walk through a trail at the edge of the hill to reach the entrance of the cave. A guide led us to the cave with his torch. A ray of the sun passed through the gap with tree roots hanging from the top of the cave while drops of water fell once in a while, soothing right?
I found Arwah Cave way more interesting than Mawsmai. It was adventurous; you had to carefully traverse through the cave. To see naturally engraved fossils on the cave walls and a stream passing through the cave was an out of the world experience.
Nohkalikai Falls was one of the best places we visited in Sohra Meghalaya. It is considered one of the tallest plunge waterfalls in India. Nohkalikai Waterfall falls from a height of 340 m (1,115 ft). We loved interacting with the kids we met and even played football with them.
Not repeating the mistake of hiring another costly cab from Sohra, we boarded a public bus from Sohra to Shillong. The thrill of travelling like a local in an unknown place is indeed very empowering.
What I loved the most about this backpacking trip to Meghalaya if you ask? I would definitely say the freedom to make your own choices and the essence of slow travel. The short yet meaningful conversations, participating in a fun activity with the locals and just enjoying being in the present moment are what I loved most about this trip. If you are in Meghalaya, you can’t miss the strawberries and trying out their local dishes. Our day ended with a delicious local dish in Shillong.
FAQ on Places to Visit in Meghalaya
What are the best places to visit in Shillong?
The best places to visit in Shillong are –
1. Elephant Falls
2. Laitkor Peak for a majestic view of the city.
3. Don Bosco Museum For Indigenous Cultures to know about the culture of Northeast India.
4. Ward’s Lake during Cherry Blossom Festival.
5. The Cathedral of Mary Help of Christians for its architecture and view.
6. Laitlum Grand Canyon for a majestic view of the hills and clouds.
What are the best places to visit in Cherrapunji?
1. Nohkalikai Falls
2. Double Decker Living Root Bridge.
3. Rainbow Falls
4. Mawsmai Cave
5. Arwah Cave
6. Seven Sisters Falls
Which locations should I add for a Guwahati Shillong Cherrapunji tour?
1. Chandubi Lake & Kamakhya Temple in Guwahati.
2. Elephant Falls, Laitlum Grand Canyon, Donbsco Museum, Laitkor Peak in Shillong.
3. Nohkalikai Falls, Seven Sisters Falls, Arwah Cave, Mawsmai Cave in Cherrapunji.
What are the best offbeat tourist attractions in Meghalaya?
How to Reach Meghalaya?
The regional Shillong airport is located about 30 km from Shillong Town. LGBI Airport in Guwahati, Assam is the nearest International Airport. Guwahati Railway Station is the nearest railway station from Meghalaya. Cars, cabs, public and government vehicles can be boarded from Paltan Bazaar or Khanapara.
Have you been to Meghalaya? Which places did you like the most? Do share your stories in the comments.
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