Unbridled Mystique

Unbridled Mystique
The lush Laitlum Canyons in the east Khasi Hills, Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Map your way past grove-riddled pathways, meandering streamlets, mystical dens, cloudy terrains, and endless stairways nestled in Meghalaya’s crevices

OT Staff
February 11 , 2021
09 Min Read

Fringed by mountains, mighty waterfalls, and enigmatic lairs, Meghalaya, alias Abode of Clouds, transcends a mere embodiment of nature, and thrusts you into a dimension defined by otherworldly landscapes. Characterised by a streak of tradition, a dash of hospitality, and a trove of biodiversity, the state fosters many wonders within its bounds. While a series of destinations are rooted in rural pockets, Meghalaya is also home to a modern-era undertone, and mediates between the two in fitting proportions. Head to the east’s dense forests, brimming markets, and up and coming nightlife, and witness it all unfold. 

Post-COVID Travel 
Flanked by Assam to the north and the east, and bound by Bangladeshi divisions to the south and the west, Meghalaya makes for an ideal destination amid this pandemic. A low-density region, it isn’t saturated with people, and facilitates social distancing without any disruption. Apart from majoring in nature-oriented expeditions, and offering tourists an opportunity to revel in solitude, the north-eastern state also extends its scope to adventure-centred activities. 

In a bid to prioritise travellers’ safety, Meghalaya’s government has implemented a set of protocols that incoming individuals ought to conform to. In order to visit the state, following is a 6-step guide that travellers have to follow: 

* Download the Meghalaya Tourism App, and register yourself on the same in order to acquire your e-invite. You can connect with a ‘registered tour operator’ to facilitate the conclusion of this step. They can be found on the application, or the state’s website. 

* Upload a photo of yourself on the application. 

* Following this, you will be asked to present proof of a two-night stay (minimum) at an accommodation (home- stay, hotel, guest, or house), and also to present your complete itinerary for the visit. 

* If you’re staying with your family, or friend, you ought to declare their complete address and contact details. An itinerary is mandatory. 

* Now, you’ve acquired your e-invite. Apart from showing this invite at all of Meghalaya’s entry check-points, presenting a negative COVID-19 test along with it is also a prerequisite. 

* If travellers have questions, queries, or doubts, they can choose to contact 8132011037 via WhatsApp or text message between 10AM and 8PM on all working days. 

Waterfalls and Lakes 
The magnificent Krang Shuri Waterfalls
Dovetailing into gushing waters, Meghalaya’s lakes and waterfalls function as a portal to utopia, and acquaint travellers with unparalleled views. Brimming with a multitude of choices, the state is peppered with the likes of Krang Shuri, Dainthlen, Noh Ka Likai, Elephant and Weinia Falls. Krang Shuri Waterfalls, stationed in West Jaintia Hills, parades a stream of water cascading over a cave cocooned by a forested area. About 90 kilometres from Shillong, Krang Shuri is equipped with camping facilities, permits an immersion in its waters on placid afternoons, and cocoons a string of boats within its waters. The Noh Ka Likai Falls in the East Khasi Hills boasts of a thousand-feet-plunge at the precipice of a plateau, and offers a panoramic scene of dramatic cliffs, fascinating pools, and abundant forests. Treks to the bottom of the falls are excessively rewarding, and notorious for rapid transitions in terrain. 

Another gem is upper Shillong’s Elephant Falls displaying a stream of water surging over a slope fashioned with multiple levels, and shepherding tourists into a lake-bound descent via railed walkways. Unwind here by wading in knee-high waters, and indulging in photography. 

The pristine waters of the Dawki river

Memo, Tasek, Ward's, and the Umiam lakes, too, leave visitors spoiled for choice. Nestled in the east Garo Hills, the tranquil Lake Tasek's formation is the result of an earthquake. It lies at a distance of about 220 kilometres from Shillong. Inhabited by indigenous fish, the lake is skirted by vegetation, an eco-lodge, and migratory birds. On the other hand, Ward's, an inner-city lake in Shillong, is accessorised with psychedelic paddle-boats, a wooden bridge, flower-beds, and grassy slopes, while Memo, situated in the East Garo Hills, is bedecked with an ancient bridge reminiscent of the bygone era, and invites onlookers to revel in the sight of its close-packed trees breaking the afternoon sunlight. 

Caves, Hikes, and Treks 
Transcendental in its own right, Meghalaya’s mystique lies in its caves. Like a siren, its lairs lure you in, and usher you into a space reflecting a coalescence of bizarre formations, un- divulged secrets, and astounding visuals. A fossil-riddled Arwah Cave, located at the seams of Sohra, mimics a maze-like arrangement due to its endless curves, and comprises a chamber-like gateway unwinding into a series of caverns. 

During the walk, you will stumble upon fish bones and crustacea shells fossilised in its walls, and witness the surging falls of Lawshynna Hill gracing one part of the daunting hike. 

The Mawsmai Cave, in close proximity to Sohra, fosters a system that necessitates a tad bit of (physical) adjustment to access other areas, and packages a zip-lining facility, a cup of chai, and a short hike—defined by trilling birds—into one experience. 

Inside the Siju Caves in Meghalaya

About 250 kilometres from Shillong, Siju Caves, alias Bat Cave, pave way for travellers through its arched entrance. Complemented by a hike, the path leading up to the structure is fractionated into meandering streamlets, and lush rock formations. Billed as one of the most extensive systems in the world, Siju Caves introduce you to underground streams, lakes, a lodge, and visuals of Garo Hill’s terrain. 

Meghalaya’s treks, too, are iconic. About 65 kilometres from Shillong, and close to the village of Tyrna, the Nongriat Root Bridges, a testament to the enigma of botanical architecture, entails a descent spanning over three thousand steps. The trek, unique for its double-decker bridges, displays roots of banyan trees weaving themselves into one another, and forming bridge-like structures suspended over the river. Rocks swaddling pools are a sight you will encounter during this trek. 

Here, you can reserve your energy for what’s about to come. An intense voyage to Rainbow Falls, just beyond the multi- layered formation, presents to tourists a sparkling pool and gargantuan boulders. A hidden gem, Rainbow Falls is nothing short of magical. 

Adding another feather in its hat, Meghalaya’s natural bounty is home to the Nokrek Biosphere Reserve, a designated biosphere reserve, that embodies the beauty of the Garo Hills, and is home to hoolock gibbons, Asiatic elephants, and the oldest citrus fruit species to wanderers. Explore this reserve’s nuances from Chandigre Village, featuring traditional huts, and a quaint resort. In shadowing the 16-kilometre trek, cruise past the countryside, plantations, and charming villages before the exploration of the reserve ensues. 

For the intrepid traveller, the Laitlum and Smit trek is another option. The juxtaposition of Smit, hankered after for its countryside visuals, and Laitlum Canyon, usually shrouded with fog, culminates in a path flanked by pines, waterfalls, streams, and stairways that plummet into a valley dotted with a variety of settlements. 

Cuisine and Shopping 
A garo bead necklace
A part of Meghalaya’s culture translates itself into a series of platters fashioning indigenous cuisines. Traditional fare, such as Ktung Bain Nei-Iong, or dry fish garnished with sesame seeds; Wak Tangsek Pura, or pork, complemented by vegetables, powdered rice, and indigenous soda; Doh Sain, or pork cooked with sesame seeds; and Jadoh, Dohkhlieh and Tungrymbai, a conjunction of rice, pork, pork salad, fermented soybeans, and sesame seeds, is deemed one of the many manifestations of the state’s diversity. 

Traditional handicrafts in the bylanes of the city

Apart from this, Meghalaya’s Shillong brims with marketplaces specialising in handicrafts, streetwear, traditional apparels, fruits, honey, and forest products. A promenade through Khyndailad’s recesses chaperones you past street food, cafés, restaurants, and clubs, while an expedition in Lewduh involves weaving your way through intertwining streets thronging with people, buildings, and platforms. With a kaleidoscopic scene at play, saunter past clothing, electronics, fruits, spices, and the ensuing chaos unfolding in every crevice of the market. 

Festivals and Culture
The cherry blossoms in full bloom during the festival

A much-sought after event, Meghalaya’s Cherry Blossom Festival, distinct to Shillong, assimilates a wave of attractions, activities, and programmes into its fold. Festooned with a hue of powder-pink, the capital’s trees evolve into blossoms toward the end of the year. The festival was legitimised in 2016 and witnesses the flowers birth in October, mature into November, and can be seen in full bloom in December. The festival features various attractions across venues such as the Ward's Lake and the JN Sports Complex, and familiarises visitors with the state’s traditional and contemporary culture. 

Performers at the Wangala festival

Wangala, a harvest festival, witnesses the unification of Meghalaya’s Garo community, and orchestrates the convergence of traditional dances, local cuisines, and unique beverages. Shad Suk Mynsiem, predicated on agriculture, unique to the Khasi Hills, and an amalgamation of dance-cum- music, expresses a sense of gratitude towards the creator, and promotes an appreciation for the harvests received by the people.

The Shad Suk Mynsiem celebrations in the state

During Behdeinkhlam, a monsoon-oriented formality, the Pnars of Meghalaya reminisce about their indigenous beliefs, history, and folklore via acts, performances, and rites, while anticipating a bountiful harvest. 

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“You are worthy, Jehovah our God, to receive the glory and the honor and the power, because you created all things, and because of your will they came into existence and were created” Rev 4:11
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