Travel Bucket List: India – Meghalaya Part 5

Khasi Hills

Named after the Khasi tribe, the Khasi Hills are a low mountain formation on the Shillong Plateau part of the Garo-Khasi range and connect with the Purvanchal Range and larger Patkai Range, a series of hills found across the Indo-Myanmar border. The Khasi Hills is and further east. Khasi Hills, and the whole Garo-Khasi-Jaintia range, are in the Meghalaya subtropical forests ecoregion.

With deep lush valleys and conical peaks, these hills are famous for housing the Sohra or Cherrapunjee scarp, one of the regions with the highest annual rainfall in the world. The Nongkhum island, the second largest river island in Asia, is also located within this area. The dense forests mingling with tributaries that eventually drain out into the Brahmaputra, combined with the rich biodiversity of the region have earned the Khasi Hills the title of Scotland of the East.

The Khasi Hills are a great convergence of lush forests, endless verdant grasslands, majestic hills surrounded by playful clouds, waterfalls, and rivers flowing through the creeks, and ancient monoliths filled with mystical caves. Complemented by the abundance of diverse wildlife seen throughout the area, the Khasi Hills region is world-famous for being a prime ecological hotspot.

The region is inhabited mainly by tribal Khasi dwellers, which are traditionally in various chieftainships, states known as the Khasi Hill States. One of its capitals, Sohra, is considered one of the wettest places in the world. The majority of Khasis are Presbyterians followed by Catholics and Anglicans. The highest peak is Lum Shyllong which is 1,968 meters or 6,457 ft high.

The best time to visit the Khasi Hills is from October until April. During this period one will be able to enjoy the natural beauty of the land with waterfalls brimming with life due to the recent monsoon rains, and the flora & fauna will be soothing to the soul. The winters can be chilly, so adequate coverage is required. Avoid going during monsoons, as they are marked by heavy showers, which may prove to be inconvenient.

Places to Visit in East Khasi Hills include Asia’s cleanest village, Mawlynnong as well as Smit which can be reached through the winding roads offering an elegant view of the mountains. The village of Laitkynsew is famous for the 53 feet-long living root bridge which is over a hundred years old known as the Jingkieng Deingjri. The Khasi Hills are an adventurer’s fantasy come to life, with countless caves, peaks, and viewpoints spread across its entirety. Private treks are organised all across the Khasi hill range which is rich with the thriving greenery infused within the hills and accessorised by lakes and waterfalls.

With Meghalaya housing one of the largest cave networks in the world, the labyrinth of rock formations is a sight to behold, with years of mineral deposits from the tributaries of the Brahmaputra creating incredible stalagmites. The excess of impressive structures like monoliths and mighty hills offers tourists a chance to engage in the sport of rock-climbing with the giant monolith Kyllang Rock a favourite amongst rock-climbers and trekkers. The abundance of lakes offer tourists the rare opportunities to enjoy a nice relaxing picnic as well as boating services to immerse oneself in the tranquillity of the area. With its amazing ecological diversity, the region is home to numerous natural parks, where one can marvel at the lush greenery which has been so beautifully maintained by the locals.

Jaintia Hills

Located further east of the Khasi Hills, the Jaintia Hills used to be a part of the Jaintia Hills District. The district has been bifurcated into two separate districts, namely, East Jaintia Hills and West Jaintia Hills on 31 July 2012. Part of the former Jaintia Kingdom, the Jaintia Hills is a land of majestic hills filled with rich natural vegetation and mineral deposits. It is part of the Patkai hill range that extends across the Indo-Myanmar borders and is a relatively smaller hill district as compared to the Khasi and Garo Hills. The twelve Chiefs of the elaka or the tribal province of the Pnars, a Khasi Sub-tribe are styled Dolloi, and the land is called after them in Khasi: Ka Ri Khadar Dolloi or the Land of 12 Tribal Chiefs. The Jaintia hills comprise of two districts: the East Jaintia Hills and West Jaintia Hills. The only princely ruler of the area was the Raja of the Jaintia Kingdom whose winter capital, Jaintiapur is today in Bangladesh, while his summer residence shifted from Sutnga where the family started as Syiems to Nartiang and also has a palace in the commercial centre Borghat.

The best time to visit the Jaintia Hills is during the summer season, when it is mostly warm, with little or no rainfall. The hills receive heavy rainfall during the monsoons. The Jaintia Hills is home to one of the most beautiful waterfalls of India, the Krang Suri Falls. Set against the backdrop of the rugged rocks with the verdant creepers and trees, the unreal shade of blue taken on by the water inspires the artistic side of anyone who views it. The beautiful village of Nartiang is also situated in these fascinating Jaintia hills where one can find the remnants of the Summer Palace of the Jaintia King. The Nartiang Monoliths, a large collection of mighty stones set since the stone age may also be found here. Jowai, the administrative headquarters, is the most developed town in this region and is the only place connected to other towns outside the hills.  Krem Liat Prah is the longest cave, and Synrang Pamiang is the deepest cave, both which are located in the Jaintia Hills. Thadlaskein Lake is a man-made lake, popular among the locals as a picnic spot. The lake is considered to be holy by the people of Raid Mukhla who worship and offer sacrifices near the lake. A popular place among the locals, Khim Moo Sniang is significant for the pig-shaped rock that lies here and is worshipped by the Jaintia community. It is believed that the stone has the power to protect them. Syndai is famous for many caves and caverns in the limestone-borne area which were used as hiding spots during the war between Jaintia Hills and foreign intruders. Borghat village is situated close to the Bangladesh border and the temple there has a significant history because sacrifices were offered here and the temple was damaged during the 1987 earthquake. The Ruparsor Bathing Ghat was made for the recreational purposes of the Royal family. The ghat is made with granite and the water it gets is from the Ruparsor stream, which flows through a Ridge resembling the curved trunk of an elephant.

Garo Hills

Situated close to the Indo-Bangladesh Border, the Garo hills are part of the Patkai hill range, which extends across the Indo-Myanmar border. The hills get their name from the Garo tribe who inhabit the area. The Garo Hills, spanning 8000 sq meters, offers magnificent viewpoints, densely populated with subtropical forests and rare endemic species of animals and birds. The area has been divided into five districts. The Nokrek peak is the highest peak of this hill range, but the Arabella hills and the Tura peak also offer some breathtaking scenery. The Nokrek Biosphere Reserve, one of the most important national parks of international importance, is located in this nature-rich area. The hills are also decked with splendid waterfalls, enriching the ecological coherence of the place. It is one of the wettest places in the world and part of the Meghalaya subtropical forests ecoregion.

The Garo tribe are a culturally rich ethnic group, attaching tradition and significance to many parts of their natural surrounding. In doing so, they protect and respect their habitat, thereby preserving the immaculate allure of their surroundings. The tree of Boldak Matchu Karam, the rock of Naka Chikong, and the lake of Napak are all examples of these traditions, and the maintenance of the same attracts hordes of tourists all year round. Between September and December, the post-harvest festival of 100 Drums Wangala is celebrated with great pomp at the Asnang village, now becoming a multicultural attraction with neighbouring tribes participating in the festivities with great enthusiasm as well. The largest town in the hills is Tura, which is also the most developed area and home to all the important administrative buildings.

The society is matrilineal like the Khasis and the Jaintias. From birth to death, an individual belongs to the mother’s family, irrespective of sex, even after marriage. Marriage within the clan is completely prohibited and severely punishable for both the Khasis and the Garos. The institution of bachelors dormitories which are gradually disappearing is found in the Garo villages. In such dormitories, young people stay and live together till they are married. They receive various training like making various A’chik music instruments, wrestling or traditional sports, and the making of traditional bamboo baskets. This institution is similar to the ancient agoges of Sparta. Today the Khasis and Garos are mostly Christians but were nature worshipers previously.

The Garo Hills is known for its abundance of wildlife and attracts naturalists and photographers. Two mountain ranges, the Arabella range, and the Tura range pass through the Garo Hills, forming the great Balpakram valley in between. The headquarters town of Tura at an altitude of 657 m. The highest point in the Garo Hills is Nokrek Peak at an elevation of 1412 m.

The Garo Hills is a hub of ecological biodiversity. The Nokrek Biosphere Reserve was added to UNESCO’s official list of biosphere reserves in 2009 and is the home of the plant Citrus Indica, first discovered by researchers in this region. The Balphakram National Park is famous for its canopy-covered gorge and unique physical and biological formations and is an ecological hotspot. The Siju Caves is the third longest cave system in India, made of limestone deposits over centuries, by the Simsang river. One can find rare bat species here. A tributary of the Simsang River, the Rongbang Falls is flanked on either side by massive verdant hills of bamboo.

The Garo hills are a hotspot for natural biodiversity, evidenced by the large Nokrek Biosphere reserve and the neighbouring Balphakram National Park. The Selbalgre Hoolock Gibbon Reserve is a great spot to view the rare Hoolock Gibbon. There are several picturesque waterfalls around the hills as well. With limited road connectivity, one must trek through this scenic landscape to reach many villages past the outskirts of Tura. The Tura Peak and Arabella range offer magnificent views from the top, with the Tura peak being relatively easier to scale. Nongkhnum Island located in the West Khasi Hills district is the biggest river island in Meghalaya and the second biggest in Asia. The island is formed by the bifurcation of Kynshi River into the Phanliang River and the Namliang River. Adjacent to the sandy beach the Phanliang River forms a lake. The river then moves along and before reaching a deep gorge, forms a waterfall about 60 meters high called Shadthum Fall. Located near Sohra, the Kshaid Dain Thlen Falls are the falls where the mythical monster of Khasi legend was finally butchered. The axe marks made on the rocks where Thlen was butchered are still intact and visible. On the top of Diengiei, there is a huge hollow, shaped like a cup, believed to be the crater of an extinct pre-historic volcano. A scenic pool with wide, rocky sandbanks located on a stream alongside the Umroi-Bhoilymbong Road is known as Dwarksuid or Devil’s doorway. The highest point of the Garo Hills region of the State, Nokrek Peak stands 1412 m above sea level. The mother germoplasm of Citrus-indica has been discovered by scientific researchers within Nokrek Range which led to the establishment of the National CitrusGene Sanctuary-cum-Biosphere Reserve at Nokrek covering an area of 47 sq km. Imilchang Dare is a waterfall with a deep, wide pool at the bottom making it an exciting swimming pool, full of fish of varied sizes and colours.

After this series, I realise that Meghalaya has so much natural beauty and I am itching to explore this beautiful state soon. The state has so many unexplored places that one may feel like an explorer making a grand discovery. Hopefully, I get to explore this state soon.

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