Friday, Oct 07, 2022

Meghalaya’s Untouched Frontier: South Garo Hills

Nature is blessed in the South Garo hills, diverse and lush - drained by the magnificent Siju while the forests are home to rare and unique species

The Garo Hills in Meghalaya
The Garo Hills in Meghalaya Shutterstock

The South Garo Hills are in many ways are an untouched frontier on the growing Meghalaya tourism trail so if you are looking for bragging rights about discovering off-beat locations, then this forested district might the answer you need. Nature is blessed in the South Garo hills, diverse and lush - drained by the magnificent Siju while the forests are home to rare and unique species. The main town in South Garo hills is Baghmara but travellers can choose to stay in Williamnagar (located in the adjoining east Garo hills district) town. If you’re soon venturing out to explore this hidden gem of Meghalaya, there is a lot to experience and here are some of the best stops in the South Garo hills: 

Siju Cave

The unique texture of the Siju Caves
The unique texture of the Siju Caves Shutterstock

Siju Cave is locally known as Dobakkol (bat cave) and lies on the banks of the Simsang River. Currently the third-longest cave in India, Siju is believed to have some of the finest river passages in the world. Siju opens up like a tunnel and features a constant stream of water dripping from the ceiling. the cave is made up of several chambers and labyrinths and is particularly famous for its stalagmites and stalactites. The cave has some magnificent limestone rock formations that can be seen deeper inside. Across the river, is the Siju bird sanctuary offering enchant- ing riverine scenery and a treasure trove of birds for birdwatchers’ to spot. A visit during the winter months will yield sightings of migratory birds, the most com- mon of which is the Siberian duck. the lesser or grey hornbill is also seen around Siju. One rare bird sighted here is the peacock pheasant.

Baghmara Reserve Forest

The carnivorous pitcher plant in the forest
The carnivorous pitcher plant in the forest Shutterstock

Located 86 km from Williamnagar on the banks of the Simsang, Baghmara is the headquarters of the South Garo hills District. Travel another 4km ahead of this town, and you will reach the Baghmara Reserve Forest, right on the India-Bangladesh border. Baghmara Reserve Forest is home to a great variety of carnivorous pitcher plants. the hills and valleys here are covered with dense foliage, with small rivers and streams cutting through most of the forest. Most wildlife enthusiasts visit this forest to catch sight of the elusive leopard, but if you are lucky you will also spot a herd of elephants since this is an elephant corridor. Winter is the ideal time for birdwatchers to visit the forest since many migratory birds also stop here. these environs are the ideal habitat for a huge population of langurs. 

Balpakram National Park

Representative Image: The white cheeked partridge
Representative Image: The white cheeked partridge Shutterstock

Balpakram National Park lies to the south east of William Nagar, headquarter of the east Garo hills district and is located 143 kms away. the name Balpakram translates into the ‘Land of Perpetual winds’, and appropriately so, as winds continuously sweep through this area, located at an elevation of 3,000m. Declared a national park in 1987, Balpakram is a tableland of dense forest, harbouring a rich diversity of exotic fauna and flora. The park’s vegetation is made up of sub-tropical and deciduous plants and trees, which provide the ideal habitat for elephant, water buffalo, sambar, black bear, rare stump-tailed macaque, and various species of felines, including leopard and marbled cat. Birding enthusiasts are in luck, for the numerous and very beautiful water bodies here attract a variety of bird species, including Indian roller and white cheek partridge. Balpakram’s mystical canyons and unchartered forests bear many legends. The Garos refer to it as the land of the spirits and there is a folklore that connects Balpakram to the great epic, the Ramayana too. Then there is the legend of the Mande Burung (a Garo version of Yeti/big Foot), which finds its place here along with Nokrek National Park.