Cherrapunjee, which used to be the wettest place on the planet, was one of the more fascinating places in my Geography textbook till its title was usurped by Mawsynram a few years ago. However, despite its replacement in the textbooks, it is safe to say that Cherrapunjee, with its average annual precipitation of 11,430 mm, will always be quite rainy.
The closest well connected airport is Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport in Guwahati, Assam, which is about 145 km away from Cherrapunjee. The road linking Guwahati and Cherrapunjee is exceptionally good for an Indian Highway (see the picture below). However, it is still steep with many hairpin bends and it is important to have an experienced driver at the wheel. On the way to Cherrapunjee, I would recommend making detours along the way to visit Shillong (the capital of Meghalaya), a pretty hill station at 4,908 feet and Barapani (which is, literally, a large lake).
Meghalaya was carved out from the state of Assam and encompasses three distinct areas: the Khasi Hills, the Garo Hills and the Jaintia Hills which are inhabited by the Khasi, Garo and Jaintia tribes respectively. The state is mountainous with stretches of hills, highland plateaus (said to be reminiscent of Scotland) and valleys and; it truly lives up to its name, which means ‘abode of the clouds’ in Sanskrit. Driving through the hills, amidst the clouds, you come across lovely stretches of countryside dotted with small lakes and large waterfalls.
Places to visit:
1. Umiam Lake
Umiam Lake, better known as Barapani, is a reservoir located about 15 kilometres to the north of Shillong. Barapani was created by damming the Umiam River and has a principal catchment area spreading over 220 square km. On the road between Guwahati and Shillong, it is a popular tourist destination and is known for water sports such as kayaking and water skiing etc. We stopped at a lovely resort called Ri Kynjai (which means ‘land of serene environs’ in Khasi) for some Khasi food, which I would recommend most highly.
Shillong is a lovely little hill station 4,908 feet above sea level and the capital of the state of Meghalaya. It is a charming and quaint town and is quite well known for restaurants serving delicious momos. Most of the restaurants are located in the central area of Police Bazar. We stayed at walking distance from all of these eateries at Hotel Center Point. The hotel has wonderfully relaxing showers, which are capable of banishing all of your problems (at least temporarily), and free wifi. The Khasi Hills are well known for delicious pineapples. Don’t miss them!
The 60 km between Shillong and Cherrapunjee make for a beautiful drive. The area is sparsely populated and is reputed to be haunted, which is not entirely unbelievable since it can be quite eerie. There was a mild drizzle the whole time we were there and some of the views were breathtakingly beautiful.
We first visited Nohkalikai Falls, which is named after a tragic story about a Khasi woman named Ka Likai who jumped to her death here (‘Noh’ is Khasi for jump). Nohkalikai is the tallest plunge waterfall in India at a height of 1115 feet. The view point is directly across the falls at a higher altitude. However, a clear view of the falls is not always guaranteed since the weather here is fickle and the area is often covered in a haze of clouds. Luckily, there was no haze when we reached and we got an incredibly clear view of the waterfall and the lovely little turquoise pool at its base.
Dain Thlen Waterfall
A beautiful waterfall near Cherrapunjee, it derives its name from a Khasi legend. As per the legend, there was an evil Thlen (python) living in the region. The people decided to overcome their terror of the Thlen and chased it to the edge of the waterfall where they cast it to its death. It is said that the imprint of the Thlen’s tail can still be seen around the waterfall and that it still haunts the area, occasionally possessing the local people. Whether or not you manage to see the imprint of the Thlen’s tail, the waterfall is well worth the visit.
About 5 km from Cherrapunjee lie the Mawsmai Caves. They’re the most easily accessible limestone caves in the region and should not be missed by visitors to the area. They are only about 150 metres long and are well lit by Meghalaya Tourism so thrill seekers are likely to be disappointed. However, the lighting allows one to fully appreciate the interesting rock formations in the caves.
Living Root Bridges
The living root bridges are possibly one of the best known features of the area. Unfortunately, we lacked the time to visit them but I intend to go back and see them soon.
Whenever I return to Cherrapunjee, I also intend to stop at Cafe Cherrapunjee for a meal. The cafe was, sadly, closed when we reached but the advertisements on the highway have me sufficiently intrigued. I’m definitely going back.
The highland plateau is geologically rich containing deposits of coal, limestone and uranium and there are many open cast coal mines to be seen along the highway. The mining activity has led to some deforestation and other environmental concerns. One can only hope that tourism and industry don’t taint this serene and beautiful land amidst the clouds.
Ri Kynjai, Umiam Lake: http://www.rikynjai.com/
Hotel Center Point, Shillong: http://shillongcentrepoint.com/welcome.html#/HOME