With mesmerising hills, valleys, waterfalls, and the ever-present set of serene clouds, Meghalaya is nothing short of a treat for travellers. Deep in Meghalaya’s forests grow its most famous attractions: the living root-bridges. These bridges lie scattered all through the state, the bridge in Mawlynnong being the most famous. But if you think like me, and would love to skip the usual known places, then choose to visit Nongriat village, home to the grand double-decker bridge: Umshiang. Upon arrival is when you’ll realise that Nongriat is about more than just the bridge.
Nongriat is a land of legends and tales, secret lagoons, and myriad waterfalls. Getting there, however, is the biggest hurdle. You have to walk about 3.5 km through a series of steep climbs on stone-hewn stairways.
It doesn’t matter if you reached there the day before, or a week ago, Nongriat’s friendly vibe will make you like you’ve been there for a long time.
The residents of this pretty village live in small huts on raised platforms built with wooden planks. The village is filled with small shops, most of them are run by women. Nongriat is home to the Khasi tribe who follow the matrilineal culture. In fact, that's the case in most of Meghalaya. The children take on the surname of the mother.
A stone’s throw away from the village lies Umshiang, the double-decker living root-bridge. At 20 metres, it is a 150+-year-old man-made and natural wonder. According to the locals, the tribe members grew the second level after a heavy monsoon caused water from the river beneath to reach the first level.
Another self-navigable 1.5 hr climb from here leads you to the hidden gem known as Rainbow Falls. With thick foliage blocking views of the sky, the trek is really out-of-the-world. The water here is so clear that you can see the pebbles in the streams. It is easy to lose track of time, and one has to remember that Nongriat follows Tea Garden Time, which is an hour ahead of IST (getting anything to eat in the village after sundown is a real task). The return trek can be tiring but keep your eyes open for some of the beautiful butterflies and ears open to soothing sounds made by the flowing creeks.
Shops run by women are present on these trails too. There are signboards marking important landmarks and the way to different villages, so even if you forget the way you came, you won’t get lost here.
It gets a lot of rainfall, so an umbrella, waterproof shoes and bag covers are a must. Carry a mosquito repellent, and pack some energy bars for the trek.
Head to Cherrapunji (also known locally as Sohra) from Shillong. Shared taxis run on this route. From Cherrapunji, find local transport to Tyrna Village that lies 20 km away. Nongriat is a 3.5 Km trek from here. Remember it’s a ‘stairway to heaven’.
Where to stay
Nongriat has several guesthouses. Rooms vary between Rs200-500 per person. Reasonably priced Indian meals and snacks are available here.