A Backpacking Guide to Meghalaya

I explored a few parts of North East India in February; my journey started from Guwahati and continued around parts of Meghalaya, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. In money terms, I spent on an average 800 Rupees per day including all expenses. Out of these I thought Meghalaya was really easy to navigate and being in close proximity to Guwahati airport, easily accessible too.

Affordable flight fares to Guwahati from all parts of India has meant Meghalaya has become a happening ‘weekend destination’ for the well heeled traveller who wants to see and experience something new and offbeat. Theoretically it is possible to fly to Guwahati and explore Meghalaya over a long weekend of 4-5 days and go back via Guwahati airport without even going to Guwahati city. I would go as far as to say ‘Meghalaya is the new Ladakh!’

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A modified living root bridge near Nongriat village.

Here is a step-by-step guide for backpacking in Meghalaya :

Arrive in Guwahati

Take an early morning flight or just make sure your arrival time is latest around noon. The Gopinath Bordoloi airport in Guwahati is located on NH-40 and is bang on the highway to Shillong. A right turn on the main road outside the airport will take you to Shillong and the left one will take you to Guwahati. Distance of Shillong from Guwahati airport is 120 kms. This way one doesn’t necessarily have to go to Guwahati and can end up saving valuable time. Also, unlike many other states in the North East, Indian tourists don’t require a permit to visit Meghalaya.

Read : Experimenting with Luxury at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

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Majority of people living in Meghalaya practice Christianity as a religion.

There are shared taxis available all the time just after you walk out of Guwahati airport (look for ML numbered – yellow number plate cars and SUVs). Some of them have come to drop tourists from Shillong and are most likely to ask passengers where they want to go. Rates can be negotiated and are around 200-300 Rupees per person. Meghalaya Tourism buses also ply between Guwahati airport and Shillong twice a day, ask at the MTDC tourism counter. If both these options don’t work, one can always wait on the main road and sit in one of the shared sumos that ply all day between Guwahati and Shillong (these charge 170/- per person) – from Khanapara in Guwahati.

Also check : First impressions of Sikkim

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The locals of Meghalaya are charming and very helpful people.

The road between Guwahati and Shillong is excellent and generally takes around 3 hours to cover. All shared taxis usually make a stop for snacks and food at Nongpoh (after entering the State border of Meghalaya). In Nongpoh, there are delicious pineapples on sale and variety of pickles that can be picked up at the time of the return journey. I won’t advise arriving in Shillong in the night if you don’t have pre-booked accommodation.

Shillong

Widely known as the rock capital of India, Shillong is a bustling city with a wide range of accommodation options. The shared taxi drop off point in Shillong is at Police Bazaar, from where you can either hire a local taxi or walk to wherever you want to go in Shillong. There are small dhabas near the PWD building where the taxi drops you and local Khasi snacks can be tried. Shillong is also the biggest town and capital city of Meghalaya and lies in the East Khasi Hills district.

Also read : Photo Story from Ziro Valley, Arunachal Pradesh

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There are some pretty spine jangling bridges in the remote valleys of Meghalaya, connecting small villages not accessible by a road.

Staying in Shillong can be a costly affair although a few cheap places can be found near the Police Bazaar itself. There are a few eateries where authentic Khasi food can be sampled in Shillong Bazaar. Dylan fans and other shenanigans aside, Shillong does have some fine music and cafés with a dazzling array of offerings. There are frequent buses and shared taxis to all parts of Meghalaya from Shillong.

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Clicked by a humble iPhone in Dawki Shnongpdeng.

Places to visit in Shillong : Ward’s Lake, Shillong Golf Course, Elephant Falls, Smit, Don Bosco Museum of Indigenous Cultures, archery at Siat Khnam, Mawphlang sacred forests. Umiam Lake (Also called Barapani) is around 15 kms before reaching Shillong and is quite serene when there are clouds floating by.

Cherrapunjee (Also called Sohra) 

The distance from Shillong to Cherrapunjee is hardly 55 kms and usually takes less than two hours to cover. There are cute yellow coloured shared taxis (charge Rs. 70/-) and buses (charge Rs. 50/-) that ply all day from near Bada Bazaar in Shillong. The Bada Bazaar is a market place to buy all sorts of produce and fruits.

Buses and taxis drop passengers to the main market in Upper Cherrapunjee (locally called Sohra) near the Sumo taxi stand. There are a few homestays near the main market where local products can be bought. There’s a popular hostel for backpackers in lower Sohra and another dormitory option too for budget travellers.

Also check : Bir, Himachal’s latest beauty. Go now

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Natural water pools, a secret hideaway from Nongriat village. Best place for a leisurely swim.

Attractions and places to see in Cherrapunjee : There’s a weekly market in upper Sohra held on a different day every week, ask the locals for the same when you are there. Dympep viewpoint has fabulous landscapes of the canyons en-route Cherrapunjee. Rama Krishna Mission Ashram is in upper Sohra and is a must visit for its Tribal Khasi Museum.

Nohkalikhai waterfalls are the fourth highest in the world. They make for a grand sight and lie only 4 kms from Cherrapunjee. One can walk to the top of the waterfalls via a 40 minute path and experience other waterfalls and strange rock formations on the way to the top. Mawsmai caves is also a must visit place with fascinating stalactites and stalagmites. Mawsynram is the wettest place on earth (Cherrapunjee’s claim to fame!). Among other places to visit are Dainthlen falls, Khasi Monoliths and the 1846 built First Presbyterian Church.

Read : The Dilemma of Responsible Travel : Secret Villages in the Himalayas

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Dazzling sight of Nohkalikai waterfalls, supposed to be even better during the monsoons.

Living root bridges of Nongriat : The most fascinating activity and attractions around Cherrapunjee is the trek to the ‘double decker root bridge’ of Nongriat village. There are two routes for the same; the first one (easier) is from Tyrna village and involves a descent of around 3000 steps while the second one is a long trek that begins from the view point of Nohkalikai waterfalls. Tyrna village is approx. 26 kms away from Cherrapunjee.

It is advisable to stay for at least one day in Nongriat to allow the knees to rest and enjoy nature’s bounties. There are many living root bridges (indigenous method of the villagers to make bridges with roots of growing trees) in close vicinity of Nongriat.

Read : Autumn Colours in the Himalayas

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An indigenous living root bridge just before reaching Nongriat.

There are affordable stay options in Nongriat and it is a great place to see rural life of the Khasi tribe of Meghalaya. Walk to the spectacular rainbow waterfall and stumble around to find natural pools of water. I highly recommend spending lots of time around both these sites. There’s a small church in Nongriat and also one in Tyra. Allow 3 hours to walk back to Tyrna village from Nongriat. Hitch a ride with one of the vehicles from Tyrna that is headed to Cherrapunjee.

Dawki/Shnongpdeng

If you have seen rustic boats floating in crystal clear water in photographs of Meghalaya on the internet, most chances are that they are taken on the Umngot river. Dawki is the last village on the Indian side of the Bangladesh border of Tamabil. The route to Dawki bifurcates around 25 kms on the Cherrapunjee-Shillong highway; so one can access it from Cherrapunjee without having to go to Shillong again.

Read : My Favourite Eateries & Cafés in Goa

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Unbelievable colour of water of Umngot river. The bridges in Dawki and Shnongpdeng are the best places to click these aerial shots.

There are regular buses and shared sumos going to Dawki all day from Shillong (Bada Bazaar) and the distance is around 80 kms. The plains of Bangladesh are visible as the bus makes its way to Dawki. Dawki is located right on the highway and is in fact a dirty town. It makes sense to go to a small hamlet by the name of Shnongpdeng to experience the beauty of the pristine waters of Umngot river. Shnongpdeng is 7 kms away from Dawki and is accessible by a rough road, shared taxis are available.

There are a few homestays in Shnongpdeng, most are cute structures made of bamboo and stand on a stilt, prices charged are around 400-700 Rupees. The river bank resembles a Goa type of atmosphere with shacks and bamboo huts scattered around a small beach. Camping options are available too in Shnongpdeng. The best time to photograph is from early morning till 2 pm in the afternoon. Aerial shots can be taken from the bridges in Shnongpdeng and Dawki and one can also enjoy boat rides on Umngot river.

Read : Himalayan boy goes to the islands of Thailand

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Perfect place for a morning boat ride with a local fisherman to enjoy the pristine colours of nature.

Attractions near Dawki Shnongpdeng : Activities like scuba diving, cliff jumping, fishing, snorkelling, rafting, zip lining can be experienced depending on the season.

Mawlynnong has been bestowed the title of the cleanest village in India; there’s a bamboo skywalk to reach a viewpoint with a landscape of Bangladesh plains. Riwai living root bridge is closeby and can be seen if one has not visited Nongriat.

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A fisherman begins his day on the Umngot river in Shnongpdeng.

Food in Meghalaya

While both vegetarian and non-vegetarian food is easily available, sometimes on Sundays (when most businesses are closed) vegetarians may have an issue. Keep emergency food ready with you and remember that fruits are available in plenty in Meghalaya. Enjoy nature’s goodness!

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Kwai eating Khasi tribe of Meghalaya can be very helpful even in times of a language barrier as I found out.

Other information :

English is widely spoken by Khasi people across Meghalaya but in remote towns it is possible for someone to not know both Hindi and English. Do not fret, sign language works best when there is a language barrier.

Meghalaya and most States in the north east practice a matrilineal system, where women take the family name and are dominant in the household affairs. Most shops are managed by women. Observe this welcome change while you are in Meghalaya.

Meghalaya takes its holidays seriously and Sunday mass is widely attended by everyone. There is singing in the church and all men and women are smartly dressed while all shops and local taxis are on holiday.

Kwai is local betelnut that everyone seems to enjoy all the time everywhere in Meghalaya (and the entire northeast). You can try it too, remember to ask the locals to give you kwai with as little of the white accompaniment as possible.

Check : Travel to Spiti Valley in the Winter

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Rainbow waterfalls near Nongriat village, no rainbow is visible in this photograph because there was no sun that day.

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32 Comments Add yours

  1. saakshirajat says:

    Wow! Great post! I am also writing a post on similar lines 🙂

    Like

    1. Hehe, thanks. I wondered about what to write and then made this post. Meghalaya is seriously good and easy to explore and ticks all the spots for travelling anywhere from India due to the proximity of a well connected airport. Will check your post too 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Your pictures and the write-up makes Meghalaya look even more beautiful and quaint. Must visit soon!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Meghalaya is totally wonderful and must be explored soon!

      Like

  3. Pratik says:

    Great travelogue ! 👍👍

    Like

  4. Poonam says:

    Hi Shubham, What a great post with handy tips on planning a trip to Meghalaya. This needs to be bookmarked and referred by anyone who wants to go there. Brilliant.

    Like

    1. Wow! Many thanks for this fabulous comment.

      Like

  5. Apurva Jalit says:

    Hey, Beautiful articles. Can you share the places that you stayed at? Did travel to and from from shillong or stayed at different places?

    Like

    1. Thanks Apurva. In fact I didn’t stay at Shillong. Drop me an email and I shall be happy to share the names. 🙂

      Like

  6. Syed Irfan Riyaz says:

    Very simple & precise !!! Good job , planning to visit Meghalaya next month , very helpful … Thank you

    Like

    1. Thanks for the appreciation. Happy journey 😀

      Like

  7. Vj Sharma says:

    Dude – you have compiled it very well. I am planning a trip and all these details are very helpful.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Have a great time on your journey VJ bhai. Thanks for the appreciation 🙂

      Like

  8. Tarun Mittal says:

    Heyy man. i have been to meghalya and i relived my memories from your blog, and i am curious where did you take the iron suspension bridge pic??

    Like

    1. Yay! So glad to have done that Tarun. The iron suspension bridge pic was taken at Shnongpdeng.

      Like

  9. NileshRK says:

    Wow !! Makes me want to leave right now.

    Like

    1. Hehe, thanks Nilesh! Hope you make that journey soon 😀

      Like

  10. enidhi says:

    Useful post. Let me see how much I can make use..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks sirjee! Somehow missed replying to this comment earlier.

      Like

  11. This is a wonderfully informative post… I just loved reading it. I remember my childhood days when I used to live in Guwahati and on every visit of friends and family we used to go to Shillong and Cherapunji. Back then, it was much different. Now, many remote areas are explored and Dawki and Nongriat and quiet famous. I just can’t wait to visit the state again 🙂 Thanks for sharing such useful tips. Your pictures are amazing, with special mention to the Umngot boat picture.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yay! That fantastic comment made my day.

      Best wishes for your journey 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Meghalaya is known worldwide as one of the most unique naturally formed structures, that stands strongly since its inception and is frequented by travelers from around the world.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can barely understand what you are trying to say there, but it did make for some funny reading !

      Like

  13. Souptik Biswas says:

    How did you do the sight seeing in all the places other than Shillong? Are local cabs available in plenty in all places?

    Like

    1. I travelled mostly by buses and shared sumos. Local cabs are available in plenty in all the popular places.

      Like

  14. Jai Singh says:

    Hey , planning to go there in October after attending ziro music festival. Any tips for that season. Also any idea about caving activities ????

    Like

  15. How did u click tht picture of fisherman at dawki ? I want to have one clciked exactly. btw thts superbly amazing.

    Like

  16. Prashant says:

    Your post I suppose will be quite helpful as I am traveling there over next weekend… Could you please let me know the name of the hostel in lower sohra… Happy travel!

    Like

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