Home to the wettest places on earth, Meghalaya is truly nature’s gift to mankind. It is the most fascinating hill state in north-east India, with a unique geography and amazing climate conditions. It rains all through the year and clouds play peek-a-boo with you. It is Meghalaya, the Abode of the Clouds, in Sanskrit.
Nestled amongst the hills of the Patkai mountain range, Meghalaya is flanked by the tea valleys of Assam in the north and the rice plains of Bangladesh in the South. Its people are the hill tribes of Mongoloid descent. They were the first inhabitants of the densely forested hills. These indigenous people were cut off from civilisation for centuries, and remained dependent on the forest for livelihood. The practice continues even today, with sustainability as the underpinning.
On the world map
True to its namesake, the State of Meghalaya is a place where clouds and rains are a part of life. An umbrella, shorts and boots are must-haves to get around. Forested hills interspersed with bare rocky outcrops, pine forests veiled in cloudy mists, gushing streams and cascading waterfalls, Meghalaya is a paradise with many claims to fame. It hosts the wettest places in the world, Mawsynram and Cherrrapunjee barely 11 kms apart. The longest natural cave system in the Indian subcontinent is in Meghalaya, rendered unique for its natural tunneling through hills. The unique ‘Root Bridges’ have also put Meghalaya on the world tourist map.
Yet, in a complete disconnect from the rustic simplicity of tribal lives, the capital Shillong is worldly and modern. A throwback perhaps to the colonial times when the British made it their summer home earning the sobriquet ‘Scotland of the East’.
Limestone Caves and Waterfalls
With a record 780 caves crisscrossing the forested hills, Meghalaya offers a wonderful caving experience. Whether you choose to explore the 31 km-long Krem Liat Prah or opt for the more accessible well-lit 6 km Mawsmai, each cave offers you a unique adventure. Caving in Meghalaya is an unforgettable experience, wading through pools and river passages, often slipping and sliding across slithery rocks while waving off bats. The labyrinth of huge caverns and barely passable low height spots offer glimpses of amazing limestone formations, and some unique flora and fauna endemic to this region. A guided caving tour is the best way to explore the diverse attractions of the caves open to tourists.
Interspersed with pine forests, mountain streams and caves are Meghalaya’s mystic waterfalls. Tiered, plunge, fan, segmented, rectangular, terraced waterfalls, it is a complete on-site lesson on waterfalls.
The striking elegance of the waterfalls in some of the most stunning sites are yet another of Meghalaya’s attractions. Waterfalls in Meghalaya have overlook platforms, perfect for waiting out those few minutes for the cloud cover to move away and reward you with the magnificent views.
In Meghalaya, every rocky outcrop, waterfall and cave has a tribal legend. The 335 metres Nohkalikai Falls is the most popular, for its beautiful backdrop and emerald plunge pool. Dain-Thlen, the Python Falls near Cherrapunjee, the three-tiered Elephant Falls near Shillong and the ‘Seven Sister Falls’, are other popular waterfalls hotspots.
One-of-a-kind Roots Bridge
Bridges in Meghalaya are centuries-old architectural wonders created by the hill tribes for navigating streams and gullies. Roots of rubber trees were woven with the strong trunks of betel trees placed across a stream, allowed to grow and strengthen. Hence, known as ‘living roots bridge’. The oldest double-decker root bridge is near Nongriat Village, more than 250 years old, a living testimony to how indigenous people can look to nature for their needs. Some of them like the Umshiang Double Decker Root Bridge can test even seasoned trekkers, but is definitely worth the experience.
Flora and Fauna
Meghalaya has hundreds of unique flora and fauna, many on the endangered list. Wherever you go, you will come across insects, butterflies and vividly coloured flowers. Nature has found its way to trap insects that bother you, with the ubiquitous Pitcher plant unique to Meghalaya. Watching it in action is an unforgettable experience. Even the State flower, the Lady’s slipper orchid acts as an insect trapper! But for the tribes, it is a symbol of prosperity and luck.
Where Sustainability Is a Way of Life
As the State discovers the enormous tourist potential, the indigenous communities find themselves suddenly exposed to high tourist traffic. The lure of quick money notwithstanding, they are doing their best to stick to age-old sustainable practices. Women continue to be the custodians of family wealth and land holdings. The locals who have never ventured out of the hills look upon the forests as their life-giver, who needs to be nurtured for a continuity of life.
A journey to Meghalaya is a trip into another world and bygone era, completely dominated by sustainability and simple living in the cradle of lush greenery.