After a short food stop in Shillong, I went to the taxi stand near Anjali Hall and was surprised to see huge buildings with a sea of yellow painted taxis. As with most journeys, I was travelling solo in Meghalaya and other parts of the North East and was trying to get a shared taxi from Shillong to Cherrapunjee (Sohra – as called locally). Luckily, I found a seat in a bus headed to Sohra. It took around 2 hours to reach Cherrapunjee from Shillong.
While the best time to visit this region is believed to be from May to September, when the plentiful rains drape the place in a resplendent green, it was incredibly beautiful in February too. My flexible plan had the name Nongriat on top of it; famous for the double-decker root bridge, one of the must-visit attractions in Meghalaya.
Check : A Backpacking Guide to Meghalaya
After staying for a night at a cheap hostel in Lower Sohra, I was unsure of where to go next. At the nearby breakfast place, I happened to talk to a traveller couple who were staying in the same hostel and decided to head to Nohkalikai falls. We were also keen to go to Nongriat after that, and therein lie the dilemma. The easier access to Nongriat was through the village of Tyrna which was opposite in direction to the road to Nohkalikai falls. After speaking to some locals, we found out that there was an alternative way to reach Nongriat : from Nohkalikai falls itself.
After enjoying our time gazing at the majestic waterfalls, we went for a short hike to the base of the waterfalls. It was incredible scenery to see the rocks in various designs and sizes shaped by the running water. Everything seemed to be in a orange hue and felt like a million years old. And then we came again to the viewpoint and enjoyed looking at the water falling from a height of 1100 ft, that also makes Nohkalikai waterfalls the highest plunge waterfall in India. The white coloured water falls into a lovely blue-green pool that is surrounded by lush greenery. I wondered if this place could get any more prettier during the monsoon season! And secretly hoped to come back when it rains.
It is already getting late and we are not sure of the way either and I am almost wondering if the trek to Nongriat from Nohkalikai Falls is such a great idea after all. Since me and Eldad and Erica (traveller couple) have decided to hike to Nongriat together, I don’t even want to leave alone. The clock shows 1 in the afternoon and we are finally having lunch at one of the local restaurants at the waterfall viewing point. Food is delicious and is priced at 60 Rupees (including refills) per person.
At around 1400 hrs, we pay the entry fee and cross the gates to begin the hike. I have picked up a small packet of cinnamon sticks from an old lady selling it for Rupees 10. The start proves tricky and we already know this isn’t going to be easy at all! As you may have guessed, we lose our way instantly and have to rush back and ask some locals for the ‘way to Nongriat.’
We are elated to see the first signboard pointing towards a steep downhill trail and confirm before descending that we have to follow this path till the very end. The locals tell us that this path is not used very frequently and that it is possible that we may not find anyone else on the trail. Further, we were told that it would take us around 3 hours to reach Nongriat beginning from the Nohkalikai Falls route.
Now, the facts : It was the first half of February and people who have been to the North-East would certainly know that sunsets in this part of the world happen ridiculously early.
For the record, as a solo traveller I make sure of reaching the intended destination in daylight. Travel brings with it rules as simple as common sense but the bigger picture is that when you are hiking / trekking with other people, everyone is together in it. The trekking path to Nongriat is a non-stop descent with uneven stones and within 40 odd minutes, Erica had began to struggle. The steep path was hurting her knees and it kept getting worse and worse. We had not even covered half the distance and I saw the clock cross 4 pm.
I was loving the hike and was skilfully skipping through the landscape rather than putting my whole foot on the rocks. Mountain folks have taught me the fine art of descending on trails without exerting too much pressure on the knees. The sun was already behind the mountains and it was only a matter of minutes before it would steadily go dark.
Erica was stopping every 10 minutes and was almost on the verge of tears. Eldad began to sense my discomfort and suggested I should move ahead. To which I replied, ‘If we start a trek together; we make sure to end it together.’ This exchange brought a smile to everyone’s face and we began to enjoy the cool breeze blowing through the forest. At which point, the trail too flattened out and we were relieved to walk on plain surface for some time.
While we sat resting on the huge wooden logs on the side of the path, we heard the sounds of other human beings who were carrying sacks of bayleaf and dry wood from the forest. For a minute, I thought they were tribals and we were being attacked in the rapidly descending darkness. Thankfully, no such thing happened and the locals confirmed that we were on the right path. Another 40 minutes and we should reach Nongriat, they said. By the time we got up from our long break, it was totally dark and it was my turn to ask for help.
Both Eldad and Erica had headlamps but I was quite concerned with the lack of options with me. Eldad again noticed my predicament and asked me to not worry at all. He said that I could walk between Erica and him and that their lights would be sufficient for all of us. Hardly 10 odd minutes of resuming our hike, the path was now slowly ascending and we came in front of our first bridge! Now this wasn’t a normal concrete bridge.
I stood and shook at the sight of the bamboo and iron bridge. The sides had steel wires to hold onto for support, so I walked with the local walking stick in one hand, the mobile (for light) in the other while the bridge shook and swung when I walked over it. It was quite an unnerving experience to walk on it, with the sound of water flowing from below.
I heaved a sigh of relief after crossing this bridge but the joy was short lived as we were instantly in front of another scary looking ‘bridge’. All I could see was some stones put among the roots of trees; this was a mini living root bridge and turned out to be an easy crossing. We could still not see the lights of Nongriat village and it was pitch dark, although the time was only 5:30 pm. It was a full moon night and felt beautiful, although my mind was preoccupied with thoughts of having made a mistake by not reaching in the daylight.
The North Eastern states have long been demanding a separate time zone for the region because the days in the North East begin early and end early. For instance, sunrise is usually at 5 am and it is totally dark by 5 pm.
After 5 minutes of walking on level ground, in front of us was a dangling monster of a bridge! I call it like that because the end of the bridge was nowhere to be seen from the starting point. The sound of water flowing beneath was terrifying and with the lack of a good light source with me, I was literally shaking. Eldad led the way and like soldiers on the march, we clung to the iron cables on both sides.
Eldad sang a song in Hebrew that meant, ‘Life is like a bridge and we don’t know whats on the other side.’ I remember this incident so well because the hum of the song enabled me to cross the bridge without thinking too much about the dangers. It was a smooth walk thereafter as we crossed an open field and the lights of Nongriat were seen in the distance.
Although I had started off thinking I’ll make a single post, but the memories of Nongriat are so vivid that it seems to be better to break it into two parts. In the next post, Life in Nongriat awaits. Psst… Secret pools and lagoons, rainbow waterfalls, double decker root bridge and the various folklores of Nongriat. Stay tuned?! As the telly promos say.