Once the wettest place on earth, Sohra – or Cherrapunjee as it is popularly known – still remains a much-visited destination in Meghalaya. The distinction of being the wettest place currently lies with the neighbouring village of Mawsynram. A trip to Sohra will reward you with unparalleled views of its diverse terrain. After driving past lofty hills on one side of the road and steep cliffs on the other, the landscape of this town will take you by surprise.

Here, you will only see brown meadows stretching as far as the eyes can see, punctuated by small wooden houses. During monsoon, however, the seemingly barren landscape turns into a brilliant shade of green.

It is not an overstatement to say that even the culture and sartorial choices of the people here is influenced by the climatic conditions. During summers, the weather is just the right mix of warm sunshine and cool breeze. In winters, the temperature drops as low as 4 degree Celsius and the landscape changes once again to a shade of light brown.

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Thick clouds settling in around Cherrapunjee
Thick clouds settling in around Cherrapunjee

The village’s outskirts resemble the Scottish countryside, with vast grasslands set against a backdrop of rolling hills. Driving along the well-paved, winding road, you will pass plateaus, gorges, streams, hamlets and fields, and soon you will realize that Meghalaya offers some of the most eclectic nature views.

HISTORY

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.

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Khasi stone monoliths near a house, Mawsmai village
Khasi stone monoliths near a house, Mawsmai village

ORIENTATION

A two-hour drive from Shillong, Sohra makes an excellent day trip option. The eco-friendly village also serves as a good base for exploring the surro-undings. Unlike Shillong, Sohra can be covered on foot, and a taxi can be hired to visit the sites nearby. Visitors from Shillong will have to hire a cab for the entire day. Although the most mesmerizing sites of Sohra are tucked deep inside the folds of hills, they can be easily accessed via concrete roads.

THINGS TO SEE AND DO

Sohra is a great destination for nature lovers and photography enthusiasts. The village is situated on a 1,400-m- high plateau in the Khasi Hills. Owing to the heavy monsoon showers that the area receives, the village boasts some of the most majestic waterfalls in India. No matter how much time you spend here, exploring, it would never seem enough. The sight of a fiery sun setting behind the misty plateaus is a perfect end to an already immensely rewarding day of sightseeing.

Mawkdok Dympep Valley

Viewpoint

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.

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Limestone formations at the mouth of the Mawsmai Cave
Limestone formations at the mouth of the Mawsmai Cave

Mawsmai Cave

A half-hour drive from Sohra lies the immensely popular Mawsmai Cave. This cave holds the distinction of being the only fully lit cave in Meghalaya. Although the cave system is quite extensive, only a stretch of 150m is open to the public. Mawsmai is famous for its fascinating limestone formations that can be seen along the cave trail.

The drive to the cave is somewhat disconcerting. With extensive brown-hued fields and meadows spreading into the distance, you might begin to wonder where the cave is located. The first sign of being in the cave’s vicinity is when you reach a gate with cement pillars, which is opened only when tourist vehicles approach. The road leads to a circular clearing, where stands the ticket counter as well as several tiny eateries.

Next to the ticket counter is a concrete pathway, flanked by bamboos, leading to stone-hewed steps going up to the mouth of the cave. A signboard at the entrance lists the flora and fauna that can be seen inside the cave, including algae, fungi, bats, snakes, lizards and cockroaches. Intrepid explorers who still wish to go inside despite this warning can proceed at their own risk.

The cave’s entrance is wide, but that is no indication of what lies ahead. As the trail progresses, the path becomes narrower, with stones jutting out, further decreasing the walking area. Gradually, the daylight recedes, and electric bulbs light the way. At certain places, there are iron bridges connecting one end to another, with the ground seeming to vanish in the darkness below. There are a few points, where water seeps from the top, making the experience even more atmospheric.

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The ever-present mist floating by the Khoh Ramhah monolith
The ever-present mist floating by the Khoh Ramhah monolith

The greatest challenge, however, awaits at the end of the trail. Twenty minutes into the cave, the ceiling gets lower, forcing people into a shuffling crouch. It narrows down to a point where there is only rock face, except for a foot-wide opening. You will 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 expert cavers will stumble before they find 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 are the limestone formations jutting out at every angle in various shapes, sizes 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 pause a while to take photographs here. The whole experience takes about 30–45 minutes, depending on your speed and agility.

The trail from the path leads to the clearing again, where you can stop for a bite before you head back. You can choose from noodles, momos, and packaged snacks and sodas.

Tip It is not possible to go back once you enter the cave because there is a constant stream of people coming in, and in places, the path is not wide enough to support two people. However, if you simply wish to catch your breath or take a picture, there are certain areas where the track widens, and you can stop for a while.

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A Khasi mother with her child
A Khasi mother with her child

Seven Sisters Falls

Locally known as Nohsngithiang – or Mawsmai – Falls, this waterfall is located a kilometre south of the village of Mawsmai. The falls can be viewed from a deck located on the side of the road. This viewpoint overlooks a valley with the cluster of waterfalls – seven to be precise – plummeting from the cliff on the left.

The limestone cliff segregates the falls into seven parts from where the Seven Sisters gets its name. The falls, with a drop of 315m, is one of the tallest waterfalls in the country.

There are small shacks on the other side of the road sitting on the foot of a hill, with packaged chips and tea on offer. Sip a cup of warm tea under the clear blue sky and take in the beauty of these falls, which are a sight to behold during the monsoons. But if you are visiting during winters, you might be greatly disappointed as the gush of water is reduced to a trickle. However, you can see the conspicuous trail that the raging falls leave behind, exposing dry patches of brown amidst the otherwise luscious green hills. Even in the absence of the raging falls, the sight of the glorious valley will compel you to stop here, especially in the evening. The setting sun, with the last rays illuminating the entire valley, makes the water glisten, with the mist clearing up for a bit to reveal the tiny hamlet hidden in the gorge.

Thangkharang Park

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.

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Road to Cherrapunjee
Road to Cherrapunjee

Although Kynrem is one of the highest falls in the country, chances of seeing the falls in all its glory depends on the timing of your visit. The waterfall is best visited during the monsoon – when the water rages down the cliff face in a voluminous gush – however, the looming clouds might obscure the views. On the other hand, if the waterfall is visited on a clear, bright day in winter, the otherwise 50-m-wide falls is an uninspiring trickling stream of water, almost invisible to the naked eye. But even so, do not be disappointed, for the park is home to the famous Khoh Ramhah.

The striking Khoh Ramhah rock formation also goes by the names Shiva Rock, Pillar Rock and Mothrop. Perched precariously over a small hill, this 60-m-high cone-shaped rock can be found on the other side of the park, right opposite the park entrance. A small bridge helps visitors to cross over to the other section of the park. Owing to its shape and structure, Khoh Ramhah attracts a great number of curious tourists.

The history of the rock is steeped in local folklore, with different versions of it being circulated by tourist guides and the locals. If you are accompanied by a guide, you will most likely be introduced to Khoh Ramhah as a giant shivalinga. An alternative version of the legend is shrouded in Khasi myth, according to which the rock is a fossilized cone-shaped basket of an evil giant. It is believed that the people of Sohra killed the terrorizing giant by preparing him a meal mixed with pieces of iron and nails. The giant died upon consuming it, and his basket fossilized to form the rock.

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The spectacular Nohkalikai Falls, one of the highest waterfalls in India
The spectacular Nohkalikai Falls, one of the highest waterfalls in India

The Khoh Ramhah rock formation stands in the vicinity of two similar-looking rocks. During monsoon, the rainwater gushes between these rocks, forming a beautiful waterfall, with the water flowing underneath the small bridge connecting this spot to the park. Like most waterfalls in this area, these falls are best seen during monsoon. In winter, the force of the water weakens considerably to reveal the black rocky surface of the cliff. Another highlight of a visit to the park are the 4.00pm rains, which are a regular feature in this part of the region in the rainy weather. As is characteristic of many tourist hotspots, the small clearing at the top of the cliff, where the water lingers momentarily is not very clean. But even so, the accomplishment of standing on the summit of a mountain and soaking in dramatic views of this rock formation makes you overlook the shortcomings.

Nohkalikai Falls

Situated around 5km from Sohra, Nohkalikai is amongst the highest waterfalls in India. The drive to the falls is a scenic one, winding through elevated tableland and culminating at a cliff. During the winter months, the landscape, which is otherwise lush green, turns into a shade of brown and becomes rather sparse. As the road winds through the brown meadows, the cold, crisp air punctuated with clouds hovering just overhead makes you realize the high elevation. The brown grass on both sides of the road – peppered with black rocks – and a wooden house appearing intermittently, is the landscape that will accompany you all the way up to the falls.

Just when you think the landscape could not get any more beautiful, you reach the concrete clearing which seems to be located at the end of the world with a magnificent gorge spreading ahead. The best time to visit Nohkalikai is around evening, when the golden rays of the setting sun seem to accentuate the ethereal beauty of the falls. A ticket is required to access the deck overlooking the valley and the falls, which can be purchased from the counter adjacent to the metal gate.

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A weekly market on a rainy day
A weekly market on a rainy day

The deck is surrounded by shops selling an assortment of items, from scarves, hats and souvenirs to packaged chips and tea. You can also pick up bottles of local honey that Meghalaya is famous for. Just to the fore of the parking lot, there is a small playground with a couple of rusted swings and see-saws, which only seem to add to the quaint charm of the site.

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Dainthlen Falls

On the way to Sohra, a road to the right leads to these spectacular 80–90-m-high falls, 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 a thlen, an enormous demon python, 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. Spread across in the shape of a semicircle, 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 appears akin to a smaller version of the roaring Niagara Falls.

WHERE  TO STAY AND EAT

Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort (Cell: 09436115925, 09615338500; Tariff: ₹2,730–3,825) lies in Laitkynsew, 16km 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, 09615925210; Tariff: ₹2,500–4,000) with spacious, clean rooms and great food. There is also Hotel Polo Orchid (Cell: 09856000222; 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: ₹1,850–2,500).

AROUND SOHRA

Dawki (85km)

Located on southeast of Sohra, Dawki sits on the India-Bangladesh border. This small and beautiful border town is blessed with the best of both worlds: the rolling hills of Meghalaya and the tranquil riverbeds of Bangladesh. As you move towards the international border, the road will take you past deep gorges and ravines, which makes for an exciting drive.

Upon reaching Dawki, you will be greeted by a single-span suspension bridge, built in 1932 by the British to connect the banks of the Umngot river. The river also serves as the venue of the annual boat race held in March or April. It is held at Umsyiem, located 4km northwest of Dawki.

Dawki has a modest number of attractions. The highlight here is the Rupasor Bathing Ghat, a beautiful bathing pool that was constructed for the Jaintia royalty. A flight of steps leads into this beautiful pool that was carved out of a single piece of rock from the bed of the Rupasor stream. Right opposite this staircase is a rock elephant that is said to have been carved out of the same rock. The pool is overlooked by two enormous rocks with the images of the sun and moon carved on them.

Another place worth visiting is Lawmusiang, the largest market in the Jaintia Hills, from where you can pick up aromatic spices. The market is held once in eight days and attracts people from nearby villages, who come here to sell their merchandise. n

Inputs by Shreya Sarkar

FAST FACTS

When to Go June and July get the heaviest rainfall

Tourist Offices

The Directorate of Tourism, 3rd Secretariat Nokrek Building, Lower Lachumiere, Shillong, Tel: 0364-2226054,2502166, 2500736

Tourist Info Centre, Police Bazaar, Shillong, Tel: 2226220, W megtourism.gov.in, STD code Shillong 0364

GETTING THERE

State Meghalaya

Location In the southern part of the state, in the East Khasi Hills District

Distance 52km SW of Shillong

Route from Shillong SH5 and NH40 via Nongpiur, Umlympung and Mawjrong

Air Nearest airport: LGB Airport, Guwahati (155km/ 4hrs) is a good option. Taxi charges ₹1,500–3,500 from the airport to Shillong and then ₹18 per km from the tourist taxi stand in Police Bazaar for your onward journey. Umroi Airport (32km from Shillong) is connected only to Kolkata

Rail 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

Road The Tourist Taxi Association at Shillong offers taxis for Sohra and other Shillong arounds for ₹18/ 25 per km (minimum)