On a rainy evening, we were driven into Shillong. After navigating through busy evening traffic through hilly roads we reached our hotel located on the top of a beautiful green hill, The Heritage Club – Tripura Castle. A castle, owned by the royal family of Tripura, converted into a hotel, is beautiful and serene – the old-world charm adding to the allure of Meghalaya!
This trip was overdue for many reasons. Meghalaya, a beautiful state close to Tripura, my home, is a place that I have always wanted to visit but somehow never did. This was my first outing since I recovered from a fractured ankle that bound me home for over four months. It was a difficult period not just for my partial physical immobility but for the unforeseen loss that my family encountered. Therefore, when I got back on my feet I rushed home to Agartala. Shillong, being close by, was a trip easy to plan and offered us the solace and the break that we needed.
While we were being led to our ‘Valley View’ room in The Heritage Club it had started drizzling – silver rains dripping through the dark and dreamy mountains. It rained through the night into the morning. We set out for Cherrapunji as planned while it was still raining. Unlike other places, rain doesn’t play spoilsport in Meghalaya, rather it adds to the charm. A state, known for its rivers, lakes and waterfalls, blossoms in monsoons. As we were driving out of the city, we came across many small waterfalls dancing down the hills. “You will see these only in the monsoon Maa’m,” said our driver. “During winters even some of the famous falls dry up.”
Our first stop was 3-tier Elephant Fall which lies in the outskirts of Shillong. Originally called Ka Kshaid Lai Pateng Khohsiew, which translates to “the three-step waterfall”, it was renamed Elephant Fall during the British Era. The Englishmen had spotted an elephant-shaped rock next to the fall. Unfortunately, the rock was destroyed by an earthquake in 1857.
It was still raining. As we were wondering whether we should get out of the car our driver pointed to a few shops and said, “You will find umbrellas on rent ma’am.” With our umbrellas, we started climbing up the rocky steps. Though my ankle has healed, I was still walking warily behind my mother. We saw the first fall and climbed down to the other two, enjoying the sound of the water gurgling and splashing on the rock.
There were many falls and viewpoints en route to Cherrapunji. We would sometimes climb up the hilly slopes in drizzling rains to see the swelling silver falls. At times we would stop by the mountains as foggy clouds passed through the lush green slopes. The road would be enveloped by fog at times, with trees from both sides almost kissing our car. What a dreamy drive it was!
Our next stop was the Garden of Caves in Cherrapunji which only added to the dreamy magic. With rocky natural caves and cascading waterfalls, the place is outstanding. We walked through the King’s Cave to reach Ka Synrang Syiem and Ki Stieh Maw Falls. The King’s Cave carved flawlessly with bed-like structures, was once a resting place for a king or clan chief. The stone structure of the caves, and the beautiful waterfalls, were mesmerizing indeed. For a while, it felt like I was in a different world.
The Garden of Caves has 11 attractions comprising caves, waterfalls and rock formations. Of course, it took a lot of climbing up and down the wet and stony stairs to reach those. I walked nimbly at first, but soon gathered confidence and caught up with Mom. Walking up and down the mountains made me realize my ankle has healed. We stopped by the heart-shaped rock, the 11th attraction, as we reluctantly exited this beautiful spot.
We headed to Seven Sister Falls or Mawsmai Falls which was unfortunately covered by dense fog. We tried in vain to pierce through the fog for a while and finally left after enjoying the music of seven sisters pacing downhill. Mawsmai Falls, one of the tallest falls in India, which, we were told, almost dries up in the winter.
Mawsmai Cave, another attraction in Cherrapunji, we avoided. The cave gets narrow and uneven inside. I couldn’t afford another fall now that the memory of a broken leg is still so fresh.
Cherrapunji also houses the double-decker Living Roots Bridge. The bridge is a beauty and a wonder made by the Khasi People by shaping the living roots of rubber plants. As per Khasi mythology, their ancestors descended from a living roots ladder that connected heaven and earth. However, we would need to climb down 2500 steps to reach the bridge, which was not possible on a day trip. “Meghalaya has a few more living root bridges. I will take you to the one closer to Dawki,” our driver promised.
I will spend a few nights in Cherrapunji next time, I told myself as we headed back to Shillong through narrow mountain roads, with rain-washed greens on both sides. We reached Shillong late afternoon. The once quiet town is now a busy metropolis and that has lost a bit of its allure to the traffic and the crowd. I was glad for the quiet surroundings of The Heritage Club that took me back again to the dreamy world of the Khashi hills.
We planned to visit the beautiful town of Dawki which lies on the banks of the Unmgot River next. An unforgettable experience that I will write about in my next post.