Travel Bucket List: India – Meghalaya Part 3

Mawphlang

A beautiful village about 25 km southwest of Shillong, Mawphlang is home to Meghalaya’s Sacred Forest. The village lies in the East Khasi Hills and is named Mawphlang as it is one of the several monoliths in the Khasi Hills. The name Mawphlang means Grassy Stone where maw means stone and maw phlang means a grassy stone, and is one of many settlements in the Khasi hills named after monoliths.

Mawphlang was the centre of Presbyterian Church of Wales missionary and medical activity in the Khasi Hills during the 1890s. A dispensary and then a clinic were established in 1878 by Dr Griffith Griffiths who died at Mawphlang in 1892.

Mawphlang is the site of one of the Khasi Hills’ sacred groves. Located on an area of 78 hectares, the sacred forest is of immense spiritual importance to the Khasis and is home to a variety of flora and fauna and is perfect for nature walks or trekking. Locals believe that the sacred forest of Mawphlang is protected by their deity, Labasa. Members of the Lyngdoh clan are ardent followers of the goddess and the protectors of the forest. According to a legend, the forest was first protected by the Blah Clan, who handed it over to the Lyngdohs when they couldn’t defend it anymore. It began with a condition from a Lyngdoh woman who has a son. She stated she would plant five saplings and if the seedling grew and became trees, her son would become a protector of the forest. People believe that nothing can be taken from the forest. Any disrespect towards the sacred forest is believed to upset the deity who then punishes the offenders. People are said to have fallen sick or even died when they disrespected the forest. The sacrifices to please the deity also have a strict procedure. Believers state that if the deity is happy with the sacrifice, she sends a leopard while if she’s not, she sends a snake.

Located opposite the Sacred Forest, the Khasi Heritage Village has been created to showcase the traditional lifestyle of the Khasi tribes that include the Myliem, the Jirang, the Shella, the Wahadarship, the Nongkhhlaw, the Mawphalang and Nongstin, among others. The village has houses built in the conventional Khasi style with bedrooms, kitchens, storehouses etc. It also has a section for archery with the traditional bows and arrows displayed for visitors. There is also an amphitheatre that is often used to screen documentaries and serves as a stage for artists during the Monolith Festival.

Usually held in March, the Monolith Festival is celebrated to re-unite the Khasi Himas through workshops, shows/ performances, art, culture, sports and competitions. The festival is also perfect to get a taste of the traditional Khasi cuisine and spirits. The monolith festival serves as an ideal platform for musicians and singers from Meghalaya. There are also kiosks selling fresh produce at affordable. A museum is also kept to display artefacts, tools, and weapons, traditional daily and occasional items that were extensively used by the Khasis.

Named after David Scott, a British officer, the David Scott Trail is an old trail and one of the most popular trekking routes in Meghalaya. It is a 16 kilometres long trek that stretches from Mawphlang to Lad Mawphlang, both villages known for their history, culture and folklore. A centerstage of Khasi culture, Mawphlang is one of the settlements in the Khasi hills named after monoliths and having sacred groves. The trail was laid down to connect Assam and Bangladesh during the 19th century. The trek can be done from either side, but it is commonly attempted from the Mawphlang side since it makes it a less ascending trail. The trail is not well marked, but is a storehouse of wonderful landscapes that one experiences as one goes through. Rivers, woods, massive rock formations, cascading waters, streams gushing down from mountains, expansive meadows, forest groves and bridges connecting villages, the trek has it all. The 16 km trek is easy to moderate involving ascent and descent with a gradual descent for an hour, a flat walk of 2 to 3 hours and then a gradual ascent for the last 1 hour. The best time to take up this trail is during the winter months, however, it is not recommended during the rainy season because the trail becomes slippery and the river flows at a high force and crossing the river can be difficult then. The trail also gets infested with leeches during the monsoons and so should be avoided then.

Cherrapunji

Located about 54 km southwest of Shillong, Cherrapunji is also known as Sohra which is connected to Shillong by a 50 km scenic road. It is the traditional capital of the Ka Hima Sohra or the Khasi tribal kingdom and the town is known for its double-decker living root bridge. Cherrapunji used to be the wettest place on the planet, but today this distinction has been taken over by Mawsynram which lies close by. However, Cherrapunji still holds the record for the most rainfall in a calendar month and a year. It received 9,300 mm in July 1861 and 26,461 mm between 1 August 1860 and 31 July 1861.  This sub-divisional town is famous for its rich flora and natural attractions. Other natural attractions include cave formations such as the Mawsmai Caves and Krem Phyllut. Asia’s cleanest village, Mawylyngnong is another famous tourist spot here, where visitors can live and experience the food and culture of the village. The misty valleys and the waterfalls in the region make a long drive through Cherrapunji ideal for those who love road trips. The breathtaking panoramic views of the valley and waterfalls such as the Nohkalikai Waterfalls are wonderful experiences to be had.

The original name for Cherrapunji was Sohra which was pronounced Cherra by the British. This name eventually evolved into a temporary name, Cherrapunji, meaning the land of oranges, which was first used by tourists from other parts of India. It has again been renamed to its original Sohra. The history of the Khasi people, the native inhabitants of Cherrapunji may be traced to the early part of the 16th century. Between the 16th and 18th centuries, they were ruled by the tribal Syiems or chiefs of Khyriem’ in the Khasi Hills. The Khasi hills came under British authority in 1883 with the submission of the last of the important Syiem, Tirot Sing Syiem. The superstructure of Khasi society rests in its matrilineal system. Despite abundant rainfall, Sohra faces an acute water shortage and the inhabitants often have to trek very long distances to obtain potable water. Irrigation is hampered due to excessive rain washing away the topsoil as a result of human encroachment into the forests. Recent developments in rain-water harvesting techniques in the area have greatly helped the town and its neighbouring villages.

The Jingkieng Nongriat Double Decker Living Root Bridge is hidden deep in the lush, green forests of Cherrapunjee. Also known as the Umshiang Double Decker Living Root Bridge, this area is famous for root bridges made of Indian rubber trees, but the Double Decker Bridge is the most famous due to its large size. It is 3 km long at a height of 2400 feet with the Umshiang River flowing beneath it. Because it is a double-decker bridge, the bridge has two decks or tiers, created due to the entanglement of the roots. The upper bridge is 20 meters long and is difficult to reach if one is not physically fit enough to climb to the top. These bridges are crafted by hand, as done by the Khasi people for centuries, intertwining and weaving together the aerial roots of banyan trees on opposite sides of a stream-filled gorge. These bridges are made from the Indian rubber tree which has strong roots and only grows in the Northeastern part of India. The roots are trained to be shaped into a bridge by pulling the roots and twisting them or braiding them in the required direction. But, the bridges cannot be used immediately after shaping. The roots require at least 15 years to grow strong enough to withstand the weight of people walking across. The Jingkieng Nongriat Double Decker Bridge is said to be over 200 years old and only 50 people can use the bridge at the same time. The bridge starts at the village of Tyrna and crosses the Umshiang river during its journey. Getting to the actual bridge is a bit of a trek. The hike down to the bridge has about 3500 to 3600 steps each way to the bridge and back from the base village of Tyrna, which is 20 km from the main town of Cherrapunjee. On the way to the bridge, one can find several other smaller bridges, some of which are not naturally held up. At the site of the bridge, there is also a guest house where tourists can stay for a very low price. It is advised to not visit the bridge during the monsoons, between May and September, because the trek is slippery. The trek takes around 4 to 6 hours depending on the trekker’s speed.

Known as the tallest plunge waterfall in the country, the Nohkalikai Falls are the fourth highest waterfall in the world which plunges 340 meters from a verdant cliff. Tucked in between the evergreen rainforest of Khasi Hills the falls plunge into a plunge pool with an unusual shade of green. The falls are fed by the rainwater collected on the summit of a comparatively small plateau and decrease in power during the dry season, from December to February.

According to local legend, in a village called Rangjyrteh, upstream from Nohkalikai Falls, there lived a woman named Likai who found she had no choice but to remarry following the death of her husband because she was left with an infant daughter and scant means of earning a living, so to sustain herself and feed her child she took on the arduous job of a porter. Her work required her to leave the child unattended for long periods and what little time she could spend at home was devoted almost entirely to caring for her baby. Realising that raising a child required both parents, Ka Likai married a second time for the sake of her daughter. However, as the mother to an infant, she was obliged to give her daughter constant attention, at the expense of giving her second husband the love he thought he deserved. Consumed with jealous rage and a hatred for his stepdaughter, he killed the infant in cold blood and cooked her flesh, after first throwing away her severed head and bones to hide all traces of the murder. When Likai returned, she found the house empty, although someone had prepared a meal. She wanted to go and look for her daughter but was so famished from her labours that she fell upon the dish of cooked meat, devouring it until she could eat no more. Ka Likai usually chewed a betel quid after her meal but was horrified to discover a severed finger near the place where she usually prepared her betel nuts and betel leaves. Realising what had happened in her absence she went mad with anger and grief and began to run in a frenzy, all the while swinging a hatchet in her hand. She finally ran right off the edge of the plateau, plunging to her death, unable to bear any longer the thought that she had unknowingly eaten her murdered daughter. The waterfall from which she leapt was named Nohkalikai Falls as a grim reminder of the tragedy that had befallen the unfortunate Ka Likai.

The best time to explore the falls is between October to December and from March to May as these are the clearest months in Cherrapunjee. However, even then, one cannot guarantee a good sight of the falls due to imminent cloud cover. In winters the lagoon below the falls is largely dried up, while it brims with water in the summers. Angling, trekking, landscape photography, bird watching and swimming are some of the activities that can be enjoyed at the falls. The falls are open from 8 am to 5 pm and have an entry fee of INR 10 per person.

The Wakaba Falls are another scenic falls located in the area as are the Dainthlen Waterfalls which is one of the popular falls in Cherrapunji. Legend has it that in the caves near the falls an evil snake was once killed with the snake representing greed and evil. There are carving on the rocks and caves nearby. The Dainthlen Falls are about 5 km from Cherrapunji. The Mawkdok Dympep Valley View is a viewpoint developed by the state government that lies at the beginning of the Sohra tourism circuit.

Meghalaya is home to some amazing and mysterious cave systems and the Mawsmai Cave is by far the most popular of the lot. Located just 6 km away from the heart of Cherrapunji, the Mawsmai Cave is a breathtaking maze of caves in the East Khasi Hills. The well-lit caves are a view to behold when the glistening light meets with the limestone to create countless hues and patterns of light. There is plenty of flora and fauna within the cave which is 150 m in length and is not as long compared to the other caves in the region but it provides one a glimpse of life underground. One should carry a torch in case they wish to explore the darker corners of the cave system at Mawsmai. The cave is open between 9:30 am to 5:30 pm and has an entry fee of INR 10 per person with a camera fee of INR 15 per person.

Located south of Cherrapunji, the Krem Phyllut is a major tourist attraction owing to the caves. There are three different entrances to the caves and two separate river passages within and it is always crowded with locals and tourists.

The Eco Park is another local favourite because the Shillong Agri-Horticulture has given this park many beautiful orchids that are housed in the Eco Park’s greenhouse. The Eco park’s biggest USP is the viewpoint from where one can enjoy views of the massive, yet exotic Sylhet Plains of Bangladesh.

The Khasi Monoliths are located close to the Mawsmai Falls. These are amazing underground mazes and passages of age-old caves and are stones standing as memoirs of various ancestors.

Nongpoh

Nongpoh is the administrative centre of the Ri-Bhoi district and is located about 52 km north of the state capital of Shillong and about halfway between Shillong and Guwahati. A small town north of the East Khasi Hills, Nongpoh is situated very close to the gorgeous Brahmaputra plains and is used as a stopover between Shillong and Guwahati. The town is filled with beautiful rivers, plush green trees and serene climatic conditions. The Lum Nehru Park is a one-hour drive from Nongpoh and is a lush garden. Full of scenic beauty with lush green lawns and gardens, aviaries and wonderful orchids, this garden is a local favourite and when one visits the park, one can see why. Mythologically significant, the Lum Sohpetbneng is located about 40 km from Nongpoh. Popularly known as the Navel of Heaven, it is a pilgrimage site for the local Khasi population. At a height of 1343 metres, the Lum Sohpetbneng is enveloped in verdant greenery and surrounded by majestic peaks creating a viewpoint for the visiting tourists, serving as a perfect place for nature photography. The peak of Sohpetbneng symbolises the deep-rooted spiritual belief of the Hynniewtrep or the Seven Huts people predominating the West Khasi Hills, East Khasi Hills, Ri-Bhoi and Jaintia Hills.  It is believed that it was on this spot that a golden ladder connected Heaven and Earth, creating a direct connection between man and God. The connection was later severed according to a divine decree and every year in February, the Khasi people gather at Lum Sohpetbneng to conduct their rites and rituals. The beautiful Church of Christ is just at a stone’s throw away from the famous Lemawlong Market.

Mawsynram

Reportedly the wettest place on Earth, Mawsynram is a town in the East Khasi Hills, about 61 km southwest of Shillong. With an average annual rainfall of 11,872 mm or 467.4 inches, Mawsynram received 26,000 millimetres (1,000 in) of rainfall in 1985 according to the Guinness Book of World Records. On June 17th 2022, Mawsynram set a new record by receiving 1003.6 mm in 24 hours which has now become its highest single-day record for June and for its all-time single-day record beating its former record of 944.7 mm on June 7th 1966.

The Maw in Mawsynram is a Khasi word meaning stone and symbolises the unique megaliths unearthed in the Khasi Hill area. The village is well known for its huge formation of a stalagmite, which takes the shape of a Shivaling. The rains are so powerful in Mawsynram that the locals make use of thick grass to soundproof their homes from the thunderous rain. About 25 km away from Mawsynram, Mawlyngbna is known for rich fossils and a natural geyser.

The Mawjymbuin Cave is located in Mawjymbuin village and is a religiously significant site. Made of calcareous sandstones and having numerous stalagmites which are formed as a result of calcium carbonate depositions, weathering and the dripping of mineral-enriched liquids, the 209-metre-high cave is of special interest to geologists who conduct special research here. Inside this cave is a pair of notable speleothems that are stalactites shaped like a cow’s udder over a large stalagmite. The Mawjymbuin Cave is also thronged by naturalists, photographers, pilgrims and tourists alike. A rock-shaped structure arising from the earth, shaped like a shiva linga is the primary attraction of the cave and is highly revered by Hindus. It also has a thin stream flowing towards the eastern end of the cave. There are many rift entrances and passages to the cave, some of which are tough to enter through. The Mawsmai caves are an ideal location for cave exploration and cave diving.

The Nohsngithiang Falls is also known as the Mawsmai Falls because it is situated in the Mawsmai Village. One of India’s tallest waterfalls and a major tourist attraction, the Nohsngithiang Falls falls from a height of about 1033 feet, segmented into seven different sections, giving it the epithet of Seven Sister Waterfalls. The waterfall is seasonal and plunges over limestone-covered hills only during the rainy season. The falls are symbolic of the seven sister states of Northeast India namely Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Nagaland, Tripura, Mizoram and Meghalaya. The mesmerising waterfall cannot be entered into but creates a spectacular viewpoint to view the surrounding beauty of Mawsmai. The beauty of Nohsngithiang Falls is indescribable during sunset when the rays of the sun fall on it creating a perennial rainbow, which is also one of the major highlights of the place. The falls are open between 9 am to 5 pm daily.

The next part will continue to showcase some well known and little known places in Meghalaya.

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