Located on the banks of the Simsang river, the terrain of Williamnagar adds more variety to the already varied landscape of the state. As the landscape continues to change, you will move past enormous gorges and meadows and pass luscious hills covered in neat lines of paddy and vegetable plantations. This slash-and-burn technique of cultivation, colloquially known as jhum cultivation, is a very popular feature of the district. Though these cultivations might appear to be a treat to the eyes, they are detrimental to the land as it loses its fertility after bearing a few batches of paddy and vegetables.

The headquarters of the East Garo Hills district, Williamnagar was christened after the founding Chief Minister of Meghalaya, Captain Williamson A. Sangma. The location of Williamnagar was where the Garos put up the last major resistance to the British in 1837. After the British occupied the Garo Hills, the district was divided into East and West Garo Hills districts.

THINGS TO SEE AND DO

River Simsang

After the undulating misty hills and plateaus of the rest of the state, the Simsang river might appear to be a welcome change. Keeping in tandem with the continuously changing landscape of Meghalaya, a mere turn amid the lofty hills gives way to a surging river. The river originates at the Nokrek Peak and flows eastwards, passing Bangladesh as the Someshwari river. It is also the only river in Meghalaya with a considerable population of electric eels. So, when you set out on a boat ride or a jet ski, remember that your trip could be electrifying – literally and metaphorically.

Sandipan Chaterjee
Casting a net, Simsang river
Casting a net, Simsang river

The river is a popular fishing destination. If you are visiting during the winter then time your trip to coincide with Nathok Wari, a fishing festival organised by nearby villagers.

Siju

If the more commercialised Mawsmai Cave left you wanting for a more thrilling experience, then head to Siju located 52 km south of Williamnagar and explore the Siju Cave, also referred to as Dobakkol (bat cave). Unlike the Mawsmai Cave, this cave is seemingly easier to navigate as it opens up like a tunnel. However, there is a constant trickle of water from the ceiling, leading to a wet floor and visitors will have to jump from spot to spot. Look out for the impressive stalagmites forming on the floor and the stalactites overhead. The grim and ominous ambience of the cave is simply overwhelming. But as if rewarded you for your courage, you will be able to see some of the most magnificent limestone rock formations deeper inside the cave. One of the formations, christened as Princess Di’s Chamber can at best only be described as one of nature’s masterpieces.

Sandipan Chaterjee
Steps leading to the entrance of Siju Cave
Steps leading to the entrance of Siju Cave

Located on the other side of the Simsang river, not far from the cave is the Siju Bird Sanctuary, which offers some captivating riverine landscape. A haven for birds of a variety of species, this bird sanctuary is an ornithologist’s and birdwatcher’s paradise. Migratory birds like Siberian ducks are spotted here during the winter months. Apart from these, birdwatchers are likely to catch sight of the grey hornbill, pheasant peacock, along with a plethora of common birds. Another attraction here is right before you enter the premises of the sanctuary. A steep climb of about a kilometre will take you to a stretch of incredible rock formations.

Balpakram National Park

The Balpakram National Park territory, 127 km northeast of Williamnagar, encompasses a canyon-cum-gorge. The terrain of the national park resembles that of the Grand Canyon in the USA on a clear wintry morning. The name Balpakram literally translates to ‘Land of Perpetual Winds’, and appropriately so, as winds continuously sweep through this park located at an elevation of 3,000 m. The Garo people consider Balpakram as a sacred place where departed souls take refuge before embarking on their final journey.

Sandipan Chatterjee
Countryside around the Simsang river, Baghmara
Countryside around the Simsang river, Baghmara

The Balpakram National Park, along with its exquisite views, also boasts a great variety of exotic orchids. Declared a national park in 1987, Balpakram is a habitat for the Asian elephant, water buffalo, Indian bison, langur, cheetal, primates, birds as well as various species of felines including leopards. While exploring the dense forest, visitors will come across certain spots that are considered mysterious by the locals. It is also believed that a creature resembling a yeti haunts the forest. These stories lend an air of thrill and mystery to the forest, which is a great attraction for tourists.

WHERE TO STAY AND EAT

Meghalaya Tourism’s Williamnagar Tourist Lodge (Cell: 09436113337; Tariff: ₹500-1,000) in East Garo Hills is the only place to stay here. There are seven spacious rooms and meals can be arranged on request. The Tourist Lodges at Baghmara and Siju are currently under renovation.

When to go Any time of the year, especially the monsoons Location On the banks of the Simsang river in the East Garo Hills District Air Nearest airport: Umroi 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