Meghalaya - The abode of Clouds
April 17, 2019
by Mohit Arora
Meghalaya, a culturally distinct state, is located in the northeastern part of India. It has a very unique geography that is comprised of elevated plateaus and numerous rivers. Cherrapunji, a town in Meghalaya, is one of the places that receive the highest rainfall in the world. Meghalaya is the perfect place to explore authentic tribal ways of living in addition to the untouched beauty of virgin nature. The terrain makes it an ideal place for bag packers to go trekking, camp by river-sides and waterfalls, and experience local cultures first hand.
It is extraordinary, in the truest sense of the word, since it is still relatively undiscovered by the mainstream population. It is highly recommended if you want to experience India through the alternative lens of tribal lives and explore their cultures, cuisines and relationship with nature.
A Tale of Two Cities: Shillong & Sohra
Shillong is the capital of Meghalaya and a 2-hour drive from Guwahati, the closest Airport. It is known as the rock capital of India and has a thrilling gig-scene. You can expect to walk into a random café, enjoy locally brewed rice beer and Khasi food whilst listening to a local band jamming on ‘70s rock music. You can head over to the Don Bosco Museum in Shillong to witness the abundance of tribes that live in the region and prepare yourself for the adventure that follows.
The locals here are very approachable and welcoming. I remember having a mesmerising conversation with my cab driver on world politics while listening to his favourite band, Dire Straits, on the car stereo.
Cherrapunji is around 50 km from Shillong and you can either reach here by cab or the public vans. These vans are generally cramped up but they are cheaper and you travel in there with the locals like a local. You can also find yourself in the middle of a conversation and make friends before you have even reached your destination.
Sohra, as Cherrapunji is locally called, is where you will witness the beauty of such landscapes. On your drive there, you will come across majestic waterfalls at every bend of the road. You will literally be driving through clouds which in fact is what the word “Meghalaya” means in Sanskrit: the abode of clouds.
When you’re there, feel free to get into your trekking shoes and venture outdoors. There are innumerable trek paths that lead into small hillocks and valleys. While exploring this, you will meet the tribals who have been living here for generations. Some of them have tea shacks where you will find some awesome black tea with biscuits. These paths generally end in scenic waterfalls where you can relax and enjoy the peace.
The Hidden Gems of Sohra
When in Sohra, you should definitely visit the Arwah Caves. These caves are one of the oldest remnants of Stalactite and Stalagmite deposits in India and the cave network extends to as long as 30 Kilometres deep inside the East Khasi Hills! You will be thrilled to see the exotic fossil deposits of molluscs and fish on the walls of the caves and also discover the plethora of fauna that flourished in here once upon a time. It is one of the breath-taking experiences when you trek inside the cave networks and you are awed by the richness of historicity that these caves exhibit. You might encounter a bat or two but they are harmless and just curious to know who the visitors are!
After you have discovered the hidden dungeons of Arwah, you should head over to Daintlem Falls for the perfect sunset. Daintlem falls is situated on the top of a plateau with a river tributary dissecting it from the middle and falling into the valley. The clouds hang low while the hillocks rise above them and the sun sets softly at the horizon. This creates an almost majestic scenario as it looks like the river descends from the sky itself. You can peacefully sit on one of the many hillocks and be a part of this exuberance.
Best Places to eat in Meghalaya
In Shillong, Trattoria is a traditional Khasi restaurant located in the police bazaar area. It is a must go to have lip-smacking Jadoh, rice cooked in pork fat and other traditional dishes such as Dohjem, Dohnud and Doh Salin which are varieties of pork and mutton cooked in local Khasi style. If you have trouble deciding what to order, the manager there will help you order the best and patiently explain to you how it is cooked!
On your way to Shillong, you should take a break at Nongpoh and must try the juiciest pineapples ever! Seriously, these pineapples are out of the world! Also, pick up some traditional bamboo and chilly pickle from Nongpoh. You will find here the hottest chilly in the world: the infamous Bhut Jolokia. These pickles are an essential part of the diet of the tribals here and are mostly sold by them directly. Thus, you are interacting with them and also supporting them through this.
In Sohra, you should try the local shacks for their pork and beef curries served with rice and home-made pickles for an authentic experience. You will find many of these lining the main market in Sohra. You should visit Nalgre restaurant for a filling lunch that serves its famous “thalis”. Make sure you’re not too late as the food runs out there very quickly!
In a Nutshell
Meghalaya is a perfect place to find a balance of adventure and culture. Shillong and Sohra will give you a taste of what the state has to offer and make you want to explore more of Northeast India. The best part about the entire experience is that it is very cheap to travel in Meghalaya. There are ample options for cheap accommodations and the local travel too is inexpensive. The food is pocket-friendly and delivers the authentic experience at a very subliminal cost. Since it has not become a mainstream tourist destination, the whole experience is affordable to bag packers on a strict budget. Above all, it is truly a region worth exploring in your lifetime!