Believe it or not, while the whole world knows of Cherrapunjee as the wettest place on earth, very little is known of Meghalaya the state it is in. You will be surprised they have not even heard of a state called by the name Meghalaya and when they meet our people in the big cities of India, they think that we are from the other parts of the world especially the Far East. Funny isn't it?
Well, to tell you the truth, despite the tremendous tourism potential in the state we have not been able to take full advantage of the world famous Cherrapunjee as the prime tourist spot and place the tiny state of Meghalaya in the global map of tourism. Well it has been publicised as the wettest place on earth but that was all. Very few people know the real potential of the place apart from its geographical fame.
What I am trying to convey is how much of Cherrapunjee do you know? For we have come to know that when tourists come to Meghalaya and opt to go and see Cherrapunjee many tourist taxi drivers and even some tourist guides have taken them only as far as Noh-sngithiang and Noh-kalikai falls; tell them rather brusquely " this is Cherrapunjee" and bring them back to Shillong. You can well imagine how disappointing it must be to some of the tourists who come all the way from across the globe only to be shown just one or two places.
It is for this reason that I want to let you know that there are much more to Cherrapunjee than rains and waterfalls as many people assume. I will endeavour to take you step by step starting from Shillong and 1 bet you will be pleasantly surprised to know that indeed Cherrapunjee deserves to be number tourist destination in the state, also to be placed prominently in the global map of tourism.
Once you are already in Shillong, there is no dearth of accommodation facilities ranging from star category hotels to budget hotels at affordable reasonable rates. And for a visit to Cherrapunjee there are tourist taxis and sumo services easily available on hire, or if you prefer you can avail the daily bus trips organised by M.T.D.C
Cherrapunjee is just 56km in distance from Shillong and will take hardly 90 minutes of pleasant drive to reach on a clear day. However during monsoon when the swirling clouds are thick you have to drive a bit more cautiously and the journey may take just a little longer.
On the way when you pass Mylliem if you like you may stop a while to see the old traditional method of blacksmithy that still survives only in that area. Then as you reach the Laitlyngkot junction at the river, take the right hand side road, till you come to the Duwan Singh or Mawkdok bridge where you can stop awhile to enjoy the breathtaking beauty of nature, for it is the beginning of Cherrapunjee circuit and you will notice that from this junction the scenery abruptly changes to spectacular beauty. There are several small shops where you can take refreshing hot cup of tea with some local delicacies o r buy little little gift and souvenir items produced by the local people.
As you proceed from there on the winding hill-road you will find that the terrain is very steep at some places, the steep hills on your left with lush green vegetation presenting the splendor of nature in all her glory. After passing Umdiengpoh and few small villages you will come across a small hamlet called Sohra-rim, Well this was the original Cherrapunjee village or Sohra as is more popularly known in local language. Proper Cherrapunjee town is a little more further from here.
A few kms before reaching Cherrapunjee there is a black topped road on the right hand side of the road leading to legendary Dainthlen falls where according to Khasi legend a monster serpent thlen that was terrorising the villagers of that area was killed and freed the people from evil.
The magnificent waterfall is still a little over 5kms from that road head. The drive to Dainthlen takes you along gently undulating grasslands and vast stretches of rocks that are beautiful. Indeed the entire upstream present some of the most magnificent rock formations till the place where water roars down the falls in white froths. The place is a popular picnic spot now. On the other side of the falls in Rangjyrthei village there are a few olden times smelting ovens where the people of old made their weapons. Also it is said that Ka-likai who jumped to her death distraught after finding out that her second husband killed his little step daughter and cooked her flesh for dinner when she returned home after a hard day's work in the fields. The smelting kilns are well preserved till date. The view of the falls from that side is breath taking, so do take a little walk across and enjoy the beauty.
Those who are avid nature lovers I would recommend to go a little further from the falls, say for another 5 kms or so to really enjoy the untouched pristine glory of Mother Nature.
As you approach main Cherrapunjee the first thing that greet your eyes are the imposing Ram-Krishna Mission, set against the backdrop of lush green vegetation. It is the oldest educational institution in the area, also in Meghalaya; for Cherrapunjee was the seat of administration during early British times until they shifted the capital to Shillong. Till date the institution is run and managed by the disciples of Ram-Krishna.
See the high barren rocky cliffs? Then you know you have reached the famous Cherrapunjee. If you drive up to the market just above the road you may like to sample the famed sweet-juicy oranges and may even buy a few bottles of orange honey for which the area is famous; that is of course if you visit the place in the right season.
Two kms beyond the market-place lies the most spectacular of waterfalls of Meghalaya the Nohkalikai f alls that thunder down the high rocky cliffs creating most deafening sounds. Most of the times it is covered in thick swirling mist and you can hear only its thunderous sound as it cascade down at tremendous speed, but if you are patient enough and wait for just a few moments longer you will be presented with a spectacle of such magnitude that you are not likely to forget for a long time; for the swirling thick mist do not last for long, they come and go at regular intervals. Unfortunately the majestic waterfalls of Cherrapunjee and its surroundings are only seasonal fed by the monsoon rains, and as soon as the monsoon is over the falls are reduced to mere trickles. So make sure you visit the place during the rainy seasons to see the best of Cherrapunjee and you will never be disappointed. Please note, the best time is from mid May to October.
Further down the road as you enter the main Cherrapunjee there is an old church building of ancient sculpture, which is, as you guess right is the oldest Presbyterian Church established in 1835. Now that you are in the heart of the town you may see around the following. Ka-kpep Syiem or the royal cremation ground where in the olden days members of the royal family were cremated.
David Scott memorial; the Mawlong peak with its panoramic view and a lovely picnic spot; t he crowned monoliths the only ones of its kind; some caves at Mawlong; and the illuminated cave of Mawsmai to enter which you have to pay an entrance fee.
For lunch or refreshments there is Halari a small eatery where you can get good food and toilet facilities. The workers here are all ladies, reminding you of the practice of matrilineal system of the state. Little beyond is the majestic waterfalls of Noh-sngithiang also sometimes refer to as the seven sisters. The volume of water here is not so great like the Noh-ka-likai but magnificent nonetheless for the water falls in several silvery rivulets. The mist is thick here too but not to lose heart for the mist will clear sooner or later.
8 kms further there is the Thangkarang Park constructed over high rocky cliffs overlooking the vast plains of Bangladesh. The park is run and managed by the state Forest Department and they take a small entry fee. From this park you can see the imposing Kynrem falls just across cascading down majestically in three stages. The falls is about 1000 ft in height and easily one of the highest falls in the state. A stone's throw away there lies the giant Koh-ramhah a natural single rock formation in the shape of an upturned koh or basket, which is above 200 ft. in height. Close to this giant rock are two similar formations of equally imposing height that stand out like a pair of giant sentinels best seen from below a few kms down from near the bridge at Wahlong village.
Close by there stands the Mahadev temple at Laittyra where you may be surprised to see the priest is a local tribal. Past the high rocky cliffs, a small village and at the outskirts of Wahlong village near the bridge, stop the vehicle and lo! The giant sentinels mentioned above are just about 200 m away. If you like you can trek upto the rocks which will take you hardly 20minutes along the stream or you can take an easier way along the village frail. Here in this village there are several beautiful caves with magnificent stalagmites and stalactites in them. They are not open to tourists but if you want to explore you have to ask for guides from the village who will readily oblige. The caves are not far from the road, they are within half an hour's trek.
Back the same way upto Halari from where we can go westward to Cherra holiday resorts at Laitkynsew-15 kms from Cherrapunjee along some of the finest landscapes of nature. Halfway through where the David Scott's trail intersects, from a small mound above the road you can see lots and lots of waterfalls cascading from all directions. In fact not less than 12 waterfalls can be seen from all sides from that point alone.
Once you are in the Laitkynsew, you can go trekking, or take spring baths at the gurgling streams below, or even caving, but I would definitely recommend the trek to the Umnnoi living root bridge about 2 kms down steep cobbled stone pathway that will take you hardly 45 minutes to reach. This living root bridge measuring about 53 ft is said to be more than 100 years old constructed over a small stream and used by the villagers to reach their betelnut gardens, Wonder why it is called a living root bridge? well you know very well that Cherrapunjee and its surrounding areas receive the maximum rainfall, and hence the wear and tear of the land is great; frequent landslides are common thus creating deep eroded gorges. Therefore because of its highly volatile nature no roads could be constructed for even the wooden or bamboo bridges across the torrential streams often get washed away in no time. Necessity is the mother of invention it is said, here I would like to agree 100%; for precisely for this very reason the people of the southern areas had evolved an ingenious method of training the hair thin tiny hanging roots of a particular Banyan tree, intertwine them with boughs and twigs and allow them to grow naturally. After a few years the intertwined roots and branches become strong enough for people to use it as the bridge across the stream. One advantage is that such root bridges do not get washed away by the strong currents of the rains, it remains permanent and in fact grow stronger year by year.
And don't ever miss the unique double decker, a feat of bio-engineering wonder that is located at Tyrna village not far away from Laitkynsew. Of late this has become the most popular site for the tourists for they say they have never seen anything like it in the whole world. If you are wondering what it is, let me tell you, well it is a two-tier living Root Bridge measuring 59ft and 83 ft in length respectively. The trek to this double deckeris tough and will take approximately one and a half hours down very steep village path through forested areas; on the way passing four other smaller living root bridges of various shapes and sizes and a traverse across an iron cable suspension bridge hovering above 45 ft above a chasm of roaring waterfall. Below, the deep pool is the colour of pure jade. The trek is hard, certainly not for the faint hearted but the exhilarating experience is well worth it. Believe me, you'll never ever regret. If the trek is too hard for you, Bah Denis Rayen who runs the Cherra Holiday Resort can arrange for koh carriers, on payment of course, so that you don't over stress yourself too much.
When you get back to the resort do take a cold bath and get the massage it will surely relax your tired muscles. So next time you visit Cherrapunjee please do not come back after seeing only one or two places and be satisfied, for you certainly will know you have missed a lot.