Widely recognised as 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.

THINGS TO SEE AND DO

Mawsmai Cave

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.

Inside the Mawsmai Cave, Sohra
Inside the Mawsmai Cave, Sohra

Next to the counter is a paved path fringed on both sides by bamboo trees, which leads to stone-hewed steps going up to the mouth of the cave. Signage at the entrance indicates the ‘flora and fauna’ inside the cave, including algae, fungi, bats, snakes, lizards and cockroaches.

The cave’s entrance is wide, but that is no indication of what lies ahead. The path slowly becomes narrower, claustrophobic, and stones jut out, decreasing the walking area even more. As you walk on, daylight recedes, but there are electric bulbs to light the way. Experienced spelunkers may deplore this, but for novices the light is a godsend. At certain places, where the earth simply seems to fall away, and all you can see is the darkness below, there are iron bridges from one end to the other. At points, water seeps down from the top, making the experience even more thrilling. The greatest challenge, however, awaits towards the end of the trail. Twenty minutes into the cave, the ceiling gets starts getting progressively lower, forcing people into a shuffling crouch. It narrows to a point where there is only rock face, except for a foot-wide opening. That’s your only way out now, feet first! You’ll have to lie down and go down the chute, only to emerge onto a pile of rocks waiting to trip you up. It is a given that even seasoned cavers will stumble before getting their footing. The cave opens up again and there is a sliver of daylight, indicating the path is about to end. But don’t be in a hurry to get out – this is one of the most amazing parts of the cave. Just before the exit, there are rocks jutting out at every angle, with fantastical shapes and structures. There’s one that looks like a cloud, another resembles a face, yet another an owl! But you’ll have to jostle for space, as most people stop to take photographs here. The whole experience takes about half an hour to 45 minutes, depending on your speed, since the path is only 150-m long.

Anwesha Madhukalya
Rock formations, Mawsmai Cave
Rock formations, Mawsmai Cave

The trail from the path leads to the clearing again, where you can stop for a bite before you head back. The eateries cater to tourists, so expect the usual fare of noodles, momos, Maggi and packaged snacks and sodas.

TIP 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

Entry ₹10 Photography ₹15 Videography ₹50

Nohkalikai Falls

Nothing, not even the otherwise mesmerising Meghalayan landscape will prepare you for what is in store here. At the time of our visit during the wintry months, the landscape was brown and sparse, which is otherwise lush and verdant during the summer and monsoon. 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.

Anwesha Madhukalya
Nohkalikai Falls
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.

Entry ₹10 Camera ₹20

WHERE TO STAY AND EAT

Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort (Cell: 09436115925, 09615338500; Tariff: ₹2,730-3,825) lies in Laitkynsew, 16 km from the town. It is an excellent place to find out more about the area and sample local delicacies. Closer to the town is Saimika Park and Resort (Cell: 09863020718, 09862088674; Tariff: ₹2,500-4,000) with spacious, clean rooms and great food. There is also Hotel Polo Orchid (Cell: 08794701636; Tariff: ₹4,349- 11,900), Coniferous Resort (Tel: 03637-235537, Cell: 09436178164, 09615791752; Tariff: ₹1,600-3,000) and Sohra Plaza Homestay (Cell: 09774970825, 07085280530; Tariff: ₹1,500-2,500)

When to go It is pleasant all year round, even though the monsoons are by far the best time to visit here Location In the southern part of the state, in the East Khasi Hills District Air Nearest airport: Shillong, Guwahati Rail Nearest rail: Guwahati

THE INFORMATION

Tourist/ Wildlife Offices

ASSAM

Directorate of Tourism

Assam Tourism

Station Road, Guwahati

Tel: 0361-2547102, 2544475

W assamtourism.gov.in

Tourist Information Office

B-1, Baba Kharak Singh Marg

New Delhi

Tel: 011-23345894

Nameri National Park

Range Officer

Potasali Village, Nameri NP

District Sonitpur

Cell: 08474067329

Tourist Information Office

Tezpur

Tel: 03712-221016, Cell: 09854334080

STD code 03712

Majuli

Tourist Information Office

MG Road, Jorhat

Tel: 0376-2321579

SDO (Civil Admin)

Garhmur, Majuli

Tel: 03775-274424

STD code 03775

MEGHALAYA

Directorate of Tourism

3rd Secretariate, Nokrek Building

Lower Lachumere, Shillong

Tel: 0364-2226054, 2502166

Cell: 09863021744

W megtourism.gov.in