Days 3 & 4 in the North East: Shillong & Cherrapunji

Day Three took me from Kaziranga to Shillong – a good 7-hour journey. On the way I stopped for some more of those delicious pineapples, sprinkled generously with black salt, but slept for most of the journey. I was supposed to see the Umiam Lake on the way, but it was too dark to see anything at all by the time I got there.

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Entering Shillong was a pain. I have never seen this kind of traffic in a hill station, and most of it were local vehicles with ML plates. My hotel was the Hotel Lake View near Police Bazar, and even getting to it meant having to take a long U-turn through Police Bazar. Went out at night for dinner at a place called Qzine Restaurant, where the staff was great, but the food was terribly unexceptional and pricey. Remind me never to trust Google reviews again!

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Day Four was meant for Cherrapunji. I had been there with my parents as a child and remembered very little of it, except that it had rained very heavily that day, and was very cold. Well, this time around, there was no rain, but it was still just as cold.

Cherrapunji, named Sohra now, is the world’s wettest place, as per old school books, although for a few years in between that title was taken away by neighbour Mawsynram. Cherrapunji has wrested it back since, and remains a place where rainfall is measured in feet, not milimeters! But the approach to Cherrapunji is spectacularly green, playing up to Meghalaya’s “Scotland of the East” tourist office sobriquet.

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The scenery on the way to Cherrapunji becomes dramatic at the Mawdok Dympep viewpoint along the way, where a photogenic V-shape valley slices through the plateau. There are ziplines here, but I didn’t quite have the stomach for sliding down a deep valley on a steel cable! Shudder!

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The bridge here is known locally as the Duwan Singh Syiem Bridge, and it effectively begins the Cherrapunji circuit. Steps lead down a viewing platform on one side and a little non-touristy river bank on the other. Near the steps is a stall where I did the most touristy thing I have ever done – dressed like a Khasi woman and posed for photos. There was a kid dressing up as a Khasi warrior too, and his parents very kindly let me take a shot of him in full attire:

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There is a small restaurant and multiple small tea stalls by the bridge too. Grab yourself a cuppa chai from the Lyngdoh stall and have it by the bridge as you look over the deep valley below and the advancing clouds above.

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The second stop was at Nohkalikai Falls. I remembered from my previous trip here that it was named after a woman named Kalikai, and locals told me this time that it indeed is named after the woman who jumped off the cliff into the waterfall when her second husband murdered her little girl and cooked and fed her the flesh of the child.

Since December does not see much rain, the waterfall had shrunk to a twentieth of its size, but it was still a pretty sight! You can see it from a viewpoint located on a plateau at the end of a mountain ridge, and the sight of the foamy waterfall cutting through the luxuriant vegetation all around is truly the stuff of coffee table books. A stairway leads into the deep lush chasms of tropical forest below, but to nowhere in particular. The viewpoint, in spite of being very crowded, still offers some spots for photo ops.

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The view from below

Around the viewpoint, as could be expected, are small stalls selling handicrafts and tea. If you have shopping to do, this is a good place to buy Khasi souvenirs because the price jacks up elsewhere. Bargaining is the name of the game, but do remember, this is where the locals make money, so don’t go too hard on them. I bought a set of arrows and a bow and a treehouse from one of the stalls here.

download-8Next up were the Mawsmai Caves, known locally as Krem Mawsmai. I had taken way too long going up and down the steps and then got lost in the jungle below the viewpoint to do much else, and Kolita wanted to get back to Shillong. But I had to see the caves – it would be stupid to come to Meghalaya and not see even a single cave, so after much prodding, he took me to Mawsmai.

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I had lunch here. Most of the restaurants were full, so I picked a tiny place that served local food and I ordered the only thing available – a plate of Jaddoh and a bowl of boiled pork. It wasn’t much – rice fried in pork fat, and I don’t know if it was this eatery, but it was just bad. I left the meal halfway and went in to the next pure veg restaurant for some soupy Maggi. It’s amazing how many times Maggi is going to rescue me!

So, Mawsmai Caves. It’s not a very long cave, and certainly not the toughest in Meghalaya. However, stay away if you are claustrophobic and/or have issues crouching and crawling. Oh, and carry a light with you – the mobile flashlight works fine. The entrance of the cave is nice and wide, but it is very deceptive, as I saw barely ten meters in. Suddenly the cave closes in from everywhere and you are forced to get down on all fours to pass through.

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Most parts of the cave already have light fixtures to help tourists, but it did take away a little of the thrill you associate with caving. In other places, the mobile flashlight was sufficient. Keep an eye on both head level and the floor because sudden projections and dips appear through the cave.

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There are multiple exits from the cave, and in some places, the cave looks like it could be straight out of The Game of Thrones where Ygritte and Jon Snow get it on. If you have time and are looking to explore some of the other caves of Meghalaya, Mawsmai Caves are a wonderful introduction to what the experience could entail. And surprisingly, even though I ventured into the unlit parts of the cave – some of which were blocked off by large rocks at the end – I did not see any animals, even bats. It was quite strange because multiple animals tend to make these dark, damp, subterranean caves their home.

download-7There are other attractions in the village too – the Thangkharang Park, the Eco Park and Nongriat double-decker root bridge, but my time was limited, and Kolita was one hell of an asshole driver who wanted to get back early so I had to skip these. Ideally, get yourself a booking in a Cherrapunji hotel and stay for about 2 days if you want to explore all of the village’s attractions. Maybe time your visit just after monsoon when the Nohkalikai falls and the Mawsmai falls are in full glory too.

It was close to dark when I got out of Mawsmai, and again, Kolita drove like a mad man to get to Shillong. The next day was kept aside for Dawki – an experience I was really looking forward to. But Cherrapunji hadn’t disappointed even after 20 long years. Who says new memories kill old ones?

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