Known more by its famous name Cherrapunjee, the wettest area on earth, today this place is currently referred to by its historical name of Sohra. The distinction currently lies with neighbouring Mawsynram but Sohra still remains the most popular tourist destination of Meghalaya.
A trip to Sohra means that you cover a great part of the state as every site is located deep inside the Meghalayan hills and would require considerable travel time. It also means that you see vistas that are unparalleled and unprecedented. After you pass by lofty hills on one side of the road and steep cliffs on the other, the landscape of Sohra will take you by surprise.
Here, you will only see brown meadows stretching as far as the eye can see, punctuated with small wooden houses, and with the clear blue sky above.
This part of Meghalaya can be visited throughout the year. During the monsoon, the entire state experiences rainfall in the extreme, transforming the landscape and turning everything in sight to a shade of rich green. In fact everything is affected by the rains, and it is not an overstatement that even the cultures and sartorial choices are influenced by the climatic conditions. In summer the weather is just the right mix of warm sunshine and cool breezes.
During winter the temperature drops as low as 4 degree celsius and the landscape changes one more time to a shade of light brown. Visitors claim the countryside resembles the stark Scottish countryside with vast glades and lovely hills, which make for breathtaking scenery. As you take the well paved, winding road, you will pass plateaus, gorges, streams, hamlets and fields, and it will not take you long to realise that Meghalaya offers the most eclectic assortment of views.
The Khasi Hills, part of the Garo-Khasi Hills in Meghalaya, were ruled by the Syiems (rajas or chieftains) of Khyriem between the 16th and the 18th centuries. The inhabitants of this region, including the ones from the villages (punjee) of Cherra, or Sohrarim, were answerable to the Syiems of Khyriem. But when the British occupied the Khasi Hills in 1883, they set up their headquarters at present-day Sohra. The intensity of rainfall here led the British to establish a meteorological office and the highest rainfall of 9,300mm (in a month) was recorded here in the year of 1861. Sohra also served as the capital of undivided Assam from 1832 till 1866, when Shillong was declared as the state capital.
THINGS TO SEE OVER A WEEKEND VISIT
A mere half hour drive south of the tiny settlement of Sohra lies the immensely popular Mawsmai Cave. The drive will take you past large brown fields and meadows spreading into the distance. The first sign that you are nearing the cave is when a gate looms ahead. There is no defined boundary, just a gate with cement pillars, opened only when cars approach. The road leads to a circular clearing, with several tiny eateries and a ticket counter buzzing with tourists. It is not possible to go back once you enter because there is a constant stream of people entering, and in places, the path is just not wide enough to support two people. However, if you just wish to catch your breath or take a picture, there are certain areas where the track widens, and you can stop to let people pass.
Nothing, not even the otherwise mesmerising Meghalayan landscape will prepare you for what is in store here. The best time to visit this place is around evening, when the only purpose of the sun seems to be to accentuate the unearthly beauty of the Nohkalikai Falls. One would require a ticket to access the deck overlooking the valley and the falls, which can be purchased from the counter adjacent to the metal gate. The deck to the right side from the gate sits on top of a cliff overlooking the luscious green valley with the gargantuan falls of 1,115 m on the right. The evening sun illuminates the entire valley, with its soft rays permeating through the clouds. It is almost a heavenly sight, quite surreal and magnificent. The deck is surrounded by shops selling an assortment of things from scarves, hats and souvenirs to packaged chips and warm tea. You could also pick up bottles of local honey Meghalaya is famous for. Just before reaching the parking lot there is a small playground with a couple of rusted swings and see-saws, which adds to the quaint charm of the site.
Mawkdok Dympep Valley
En route to Sohra from Shillong lies the beautiful Duwan Singh Syiem Bridge, widely considered as the gateway to the Sohra tourist circuit. A couple of kilometres from here is the breathtaking Mawkdok Dympep Valley, stretching far into the horizon. It is almost customary for tourists to stop here for a while, before heading to Sohra. The valley is a dramatic sight, located in the midst of a deep gorge, with lush hills rising on either sides. Built by the Forest Department, the viewpoint here can be accessed by a flight of stairs. On a sunny day, the vantage point affords far-reaching views of the spectacular landscape. However, it must be mentioned here that a clear view of the valley is a matter of chance, for clouds obstruct views on most days.
Another popular tourist destination here is the Thangkharang Park, situated around 8km from Sohra. Perched on the edge of a rocky cliff, this park overlooks the lush floodplains of Bangladesh. A treat for nature lovers, it abounds in exotic orchids and other rare plants endemic to the area. The park is peppered with stunted trees that provide much-needed shade on a clear day. The main attraction here, however, are the breathtaking views of the waterlogged Bangladesh plains, as well as of the majestic 305-m-high Kynrem Falls. A deck, sitting on the edge of the cliff, affords spectacular views of the falls.
These spectacular 80–90-m-high falls are located around 2km before the village begins. The waterfall derives its name from the legend of a thlen (Khasi word for snake). According to the myth, there was an enormous thlen that used to live in a cave in this area. Tired of the snake’s evil ways, the locals decided to slaughter it. Adjacent to the spot where the thlen was killed lie these falls. This myth-laden waterfall is frequented by crowds of tourists. Like most other waterfalls in Meghalaya, the force of Dainthlen reduces during the winter months. But during monsoon, the falls appear akin to a smaller version of the roaring Niagara Falls.
Located in the southern part of the state, in the East Khasi Hills District, Sohra is 52km SW of Shillong.
Nearest airport: LGB Airport, Guwahati (155km/ 4hrs) is a good option. Umroi Airport (32km from Shillong) is connected only to Kolkata.
Nearest railhead: Guwahati Railway Station in Assam, is served by trains from Delhi and other metros. Meghalaya Transport Corporation (MTC) runs bus services to Shillong from Guwahati (3.5hrs), coordinated with train arrivals.