17 April 2010

mesmerizing meghalaya

one fine day in a posh guwahati hotel i woke up to hastened slogans from my dad, "wake up or you will miss the car". i doubted if i heard it right. he had already booked the car and i was supposed to be the more enthusiastic one. yes, it was going to be meghalaya, unexplored and little heard, except for the conflicting reports of cherrapunji and nearby mawsynram to be one amongst the wettest places on earth.

route map of meghalaya
we left for meghalaya viz national highway 40 and jorabat was the first town in meghalaya's ri-bhoi district followed by byrnihat, umling, nongpoh, umsning, barapani (the place of a big lake, umiam, famous for angling and from where the east khasi hills district starts, though i couldn't photograph it), mawlai and finally shillong. we had been stuck up in a major traffic jam for quite a while as it was christmas and tourism was at it's peak but we nevertheless reached shillong by noon. the villages that passed by looked more like cluster of homes no bigger than what we used to draw when kids. my heart was pumping fast. it happens all the time when i embark for an unknown place fathoming the hidden treasures i would see. i had never imagined dad would stretch the journey this far. i hadn't prepared myself. i just knew bits and pieces about the state. it had some of the tallest and the most breathtakingly amazing waterfalls in india i was well aware of, it had one of the finest cluster of limestone caves, deep and big, that was known too, but meghalaya would be so pristine and beautiful i had no idea. that meghalaya would ease my mind of all the trouble i had no idea, that it would bring me in peace with nature and make me a lover i had no idea. meghalaya was heaven. beautifully and perfectly painted by god himself.

on the way to shillong peak
amidst deep gorges, endlessly dark forests, a line of tall areca nut trees (areca catechu), small streams, lakes and people selling pork, pineapples and bamboo shoot pickles we reached shillong. my first reaction was, god!! such a tiny wonderful city. it looked straight out from a comic strip, much like where noddy lived. the roads were undulating and pockets of city unclean and forgettable but otherwise the city was stunningly clean and beautiful. the office of india post, the assembly and all other major buildings were no more than a kilometer of each other. we halted beside a hotel and booked our rooms. it was very cold and getting colder. it was around noon, we kept our luggage in the hotel, had a cup of tea and left for sightseeing.

view from shillong peak
a bird's eye view of shillong from shillong peak which at 1961 m is the highest i have been so far (if not the chilliest), amazing isn't it?

we went around seeing shillong in a mahindra scorpio and shillong peak was to be our first stop. it was amazingly beautiful. the whole city looked so puny but stunning, it was the first bird's eye view for me. the weather was cold and intense. there was an indian air-force base around. the place was clean and a few shops sold souvenirs, pineapples and pakoras. there was an observation tower from where we also experienced minor earthquake tremors. it was an amazing feeling. we took a few snaps and left for the nearby elephant falls (am a game for falls but they have to be big and amazing to appease me, the likes of victoria, iguacu and niagara).

observation deck at the peak
elephant falls was good for being the first fall of my life but i wanted to see more. the rest i saw in shillong was ordinary. the shillong cathedral was huge, but the one in kolkata, st paul's cathedral in pristine white, is by far more appealing and rich in architecture (gothic). this one was beautiful too, no doubt but blue somewhat puts me off. parks and lakes in cities don't amuse me even a bit and moreover it was getting dark. we retired for the hotel and were ready to start the next day for cherrapunji (sohra). the same night i did a round of shillong streets and it was great.

elephant falls
early next morning the same car took us for the mawsmai falls (also called the nohsngithiang and the seven sisters) and the mawsmai caves in the village of mawsmai. nohkalikai falls was certainly in our itinerary but the driver wasn't pretty upbeat about it. he had also mentioned of an unnamed fall at wakhaba viewpoint of which i was sure to research after reaching kolkata. to reach cherrapunji we took a turn for state highway 5 from a place some miles before the town of laitlyngkot on NH 40. first came the duwan sing syiem viewpoint from where we could go down a deep gorge (on staircases that is, till a point and no further) and take stunning pictures and then follow our road to cherrapunji and mawsmai.

duwan sing syiem gorge
looking above from the viewpoint the road that we had been following looked small, insignificant and lost in the hills. but believe me you don't feel even once that your car would skid while pacing on the narrow highway, its all the magic of beauty, beauty at its best. the locals drive so fine, you feel amazed at their finesse.

state highway 5
amazing view
first came cherrapunji, my heart gave a beat (i was actually in cherrapunji, it meant a lot to me) and i read a road sign that arrowed to nohkalikai and another that proclaimed cherrapunji being the wettest place on earth followed by lots of blah blah blah, but we took straight for the village of mawsmai famed for the falls and the caves. the place and its terrain was beautiful, i can't describe how much. the narrow roads, the deep gorges off it and the vast expanse of clear blue sky, unending golden-brown plains and the few shops and fewer people. god, meghalaya was taking my breath away. it was making me fall in love, a deep unsaid love.

mawsmai village is the location of a cave and a fall of the same name

ethereal beauty
the mawsmai falls are called by a few more names including the seven sisters falls (for the seven trails of water that go down during monsoon) and the nohsngithiang falls (hard to pronounce) and are the 6th tallest in india (of the ones known and widely publicized though not entirely true). it was dry when we saw it but the path of water plunging 315 m deep in the gorge below was nevertheless fascinating, i could imagine water flowing down it and became william wordsworth for a split second. i was becoming a lover.

mawsmai fall - dry
the mawsmai caves were beautiful too but i was expecting bats inside, i found none, not even a spider or a cockroach. it was not very deep but only fit people will be able to cross it and i did (phew!!). my dad said he had done on an earlier visit but i was finding it hard to believe until he gave me a am-your-dad-and-you-ought-to-believe-me look.

mawsmai caves
we returned back from mawsmai and headed towards nohkalikai, allegedly the tallest waterfall in india. it had to be sheer beauty i knew. the driver told me it could only be seen from far away, and that it was worth seeing only during the monsoon and it wasn't exactly what one would call a' beauty'. i wasn't paying attention though. i just looked outside the window and wondered what the fall would look like and why god made meghalaya so thick with beauty and amazement.

finally our car halted and we booked our tickets (yes, most of the sights in maghalaya come at a modest price of around 20 bucks per person plus 50 bucks more if you happen to carry a camera, and of course i had a camera, no prizes for having guessed that right).

the first scene of the mighty nokhalikai left me speechless. my heart was beating so fast i can't describe. it was love at first sight. i had never seen such an amazing thing in my life ever before. it was sheer beauty and nonsense are those who think otherwise. i didn't mind the distance, i didn't mind the low trail of water plunging down. jets of thundering and misty water falling down smoothly and from such great height, i could even hear the sound from so far away. the blue pool of clear water beneath was amazing. i can't describe it man. let the picture say it all.

nohkalikai falls
nohkalikai falls, 335 m, the tallest plunge fall in india, and one of the most amazing places i have ever ever seen and perhaps would ever come across

my camera wasn't just stopping, i took a zillion photographs of the beauty (who cares what the driver said) and from every possible angle and was amazed to find the wrong mention (done in haste) that it was the 4th tallest fall in the world when it was actually only the 5th tallest in india (the height is a mystery and there might be many more still undiscovered and possibly taller). here is a prove with my parents as witnesses.

mom n dad
dad and mom posing in front of the board by SBI falsely claiming nohkalikai to be the 4th tallest in the world when it's only allegedly the tallest in india

i just felt like staying there forever and not coming back but my parents were in hurry. my dad had commitments back home and we were getting late but i still climbed down many staircases to go further deep in the gorge and took more pics and finally returned to the viewpoint. the cloud was lovely here.

the clear sky
we decided to leave, but i was satisfied having witnessed heaven from so close. all the while returning i kept thinking of nohkalikai (it has a tragic story behind its name which you need to discover for yourself). then came the wakaba viewpoint from where i saw yet another fall whose name was nowhere written. i was sure of one thing though. it appeared taller than nohkalikai and mawsmai falls (we were looking at it from close and that made it appear taller maybe). it could either be langshiang falls (337 m) or maybe the kynrem fall (305 m). the view wasn't particularly amazing from there.

unknown fall
the unknown waterfall from wakaba viewpoint. notice the trail of water at the bottom left. the viewpoint was wrongly constructed (or maybe i was at the wrong end) and you just got to have a tiny look at the otherwise amazing fall

unknown fall
another pic of the unknown fall. thankfully you can see more of it here

we reached our hotel and left for morigaon in a car the same day. the driver was a bengali and that made me feel good (kolkata connection you see). he talked little, said he had ambitions of becoming a model. he was a good driver and dropped us right in front of our apartment. it was already dark and he had to go back all the way to shillong tired and driving.

i visited the holy shaktipeeth of kamakhya in guwahati a day later and then headed for kolkata and the moment i reached my city i told the world about how amazing the state of assam (for the true souls) and meghalaya (for just about anybody) was.

kamakhya temple, guwahati
hotels in shillong are a bit expensive but they are comfortable no doubt, they range anywhere upward of 1500 bucks per night on a twin sharing basis but other than that it's pretty cheap. the food, the artifacts, the traditional clothes, the bamboo handicrafts, the pineapples and the pickles are good buys. bargaining is rampant and widespread.

P.S: the unknown fall i had seen at wakaba viewpoint was the iapkhne falls (also called the canyon or wakaba falls) about which nothing is mentioned on the internet though my guess says it would be anywhere between 200 m to 250 m tall and a few months later a friend i had made there sent me the pic of mawsmai falls in full glory, here it is..

mawsmai falls


  1. No doubt Meghalaya is mesmerizing but the way u u described the Heaven is also mesmerizing.

    what else should i say.. m totally spellbound after seeing the breathtaking waterfall pics..
    M proud of my country...

  2. @anumita : thanks for liking the post dear, yeah meghalaya truly is heaven...

  3. Hi. Found the post as you had mentioned on my blog. How do you manage 2 blogs at once!! And is there some reason for that. You have really described your trip to Meghalaya superbly. You must come again around August-September. That is the best time to visit as all the falls will be full of water. Take care

  4. @arpit: thanks for the visit brother..
    this one is solely for my travelogues n the other one (wordpress) for contest posts n ramblings.. thanks for reading n liking the post, i so much wanted it to be read by someone from the state.. i surely would visit once around august.. :) take care

  5. wonderful place to visit ...it is really a heaven