After reaching Nongriat in the dark, the first place that we went to was the Community Guest House on the left just before the double decker bridge. It is also called Nongriat Village Guest House and is the first place that comes upon reaching the village. The price asked was 200 Rupees per person and also included dinner. It seemed like a nice little place but there were a few tourists drinking alcohol and we decided to try our luck at Serene Homestay, run by Byron. There were other homestays too, but it was dark and we didn’t want to waste more time trying.
Nongriat village had a nice and relaxed vibe to it and few kids roamed around the open space near Byron’s home while some huddled near the TV. There were many travellers sitting and playing carrom in the dining area of the homestay. I asked Byron for a cheap room and he suggested that I take a bed in the dormitory on the lower floor; which cost around 150 Rupees. Eldad and Erica had got a room for around 350 Rupees. The dormitory was a nice space with 5 beds laid side by side in an open verandah and the sound of a nearby stream provided the right music to start my love affair with Nongriat.
It was dinner time straightaway which was priced at around 100 Rupees per person. There were bowls of veggies, dall, rice, salad, and french fries and it was self service system. The place had a traveller camaraderie and I was instantly friends with everyone who was staying there. There was a man from Germany who had been there for a few weeks, another guy from UK had been exploring the region for months, and old hippie lived in a hut nearby and was happy to while away time and a surprising entry was an Indian who had been living at Serene Homestay for over a month. Among some people leaving the next day was a musician from Kerala and a lawyer from another part of India.
We played carrom after dinner and even the kids and Byron joined us. It seemed like a perfect life, where everyone was happy and there was no emphasis of speed of any type. There was only one rhythm in Nongriat, and it was slow. Even the water flowing in the stream had a melodious hum rather than a rushing sound to it. One by one we all said our goodnights to each other and were in deep slumber with a lovely breeze blowing.
The next morning I was woken up early with the sound of the chirping birds and also because sunrises in the northeast happen early. There were also a few tents set up in the open air verandah for travellers who would like the camping experience. At Byron’s homestay, everyone was expected to keep their own account of food and pay it when one checked out. I asked for a fresh fruit bowl and chai for my breakfast and then topped it with a round of french toast.
The long time stayers were headed what they called the ‘selfie pool’ and also asked me if I wanted to come. I was keen on going to the Rainbow Waterfalls and was delighted to know that it was on the same way as the lagoons that the others were heading to. Among other secrets, the joys of Nongriat included pristine pools and lagoons, hanging suspension bridges, rainbow waterfalls, the Umshiang double decker root bridge (as it is over the Umshiang river) and the various folklores of the Khasi tribals.
Even though I had arrived only one night earlier, Nongriat’s general friendly vibe meant that I felt as if I had been there for a long time. The air was nice and fresh and we all left with our daypacks. In less than 15 minutes, we reached the place from where the lagoons are just a short walk away. I waved goodbye to the folks and promised to join them after coming back from the Rainbow Falls. The path to Rainbow Falls was the same and I was told I would reach there in around 30 minutes.
I heard the Rainbow Falls before I saw them! It was an incessant climb for my already wobbly knees (remember last day’s trek from Nohkalikai Falls to Nongriat?) It was a cloudy day and that meant the colour of the water was a beautiful blue but there was no rainbow to be seen. I chose a rock where with a nice view of the waterfall and the pool below it. A few youngsters from nearby villages (presumably) also reached the Rainbow Falls and were having a jolly good time with packed picnic lunch.
Two adventurous boys went right down to the base of the waterfall and began swimming in the super cold waters. There was a huge rock near the blue lagoon and one of them climbed on top of it for superb photographs. For a brief while even the sun came out but the rays were not on the waterfall and again no rainbow! When I saw the mist coming in around noon, it was time to turn back and join my newfound friends at the ‘selfie pool.’
They were perched on a superb vantage point near the intersection of two lagoons and I had to wade through knee deep water to get there. When I asked them the reason for this name; they said that there most Indians who came to the pool just did it for the selfie photographs and that they had no intention of spending time here! Haha, and hence they named it selfie pool.
The foreigners are experts with the wood collecting and lighting a fire and make maggi, the packets of which they have carried from the homestay. One of the guys has a kettle too and another one is carrying the local honey, someone goes and collects some bay leaf and within no time our concoction is ready. They have carried glasses too and I relish this fantastic moment. Out of nowhere, an old hippie has made his way to the pool. He is known to everyone and has the jolly good nature of a happy old man.
The water is so clear that we can see the pebbles and rocks at the bottom. At around 3 in the afternoon, when everyone has had their fill of swimming and enjoying in the water; we head back to Byron’s homestay. These guys have been around for long and fill me in with some excellent knowledge.
They have observed that almost all visitors to Nongriat inexplicably just come there for a day trek; i.e. start the trek early in the morning from Tyrna, spend some time in Nongriat, and go back to Tyrna on the same day. I was really surprised to know that, especially because of the simple reason that the trek up and down is excruciating for the knees… and to do both the legs in a single day is inexplicable. Maybe it is the paucity of time. I am sure everyone wishes they could have spent some time in Nongriat, when they reach here and cherish the idyllic paradise it is.
There are a few people near the double decker living root bridge and some are relaxing and dipping their feet in the water pools beneath the bridge. I roam around, sit for a bit, talk to the lady managing the ticket counter of the double decker root bridge and head back to the homestay. It is a tranquil evening in the village, the sky changes colours like a masterstroke by a painter but this time I’ve kept my camera in the bag and choose to savour the moment rather than capture a photograph. Later at night, we sit and gaze at the moon while playing carrom; Byron rolls a joint and everyone is merry.
The pool also operates as a lounge area for the travellers, who can dip their feet in and relax in the crystal clear water. Sometimes tourists play guitar at the site and enthral other visitors.
Next morning, I woke up late and met a few interesting people who were on a day trip to Nongriat. After a hearty breakfast, I made the account and paid Byron and headed to Tyrna village, which is the preferred way for the trek to Nongriat. It was around 11 am and the trail was a descent on cemented path first, through the forest. The scenery was lush and there were numerous water crossings on dangling bridges, but I was used to it now. The sun was becoming very strong and I had already started perspiring.
After 10 odd minutes of an easy trail, a sea of never ending stairs appeared. I crossed a few locals on a bridge who had began from Tyrna village in the early morning hours and were about to reach Nongriat. The scenery was magnificent but the non stop climb was taking its toll on the knees. Plus, I had a heavy backpack too. After walking for an hour, I came upon a villages on the way. There were a few shops selling snacks. A small signboard indicated the way to the living root single decker bridge.
Most of these shops were run by women. In Meghalaya, the Khasi tribals follow matrilineal culture. After the wedding, the husband of the youngest daughter goes to live with his wife’s family, who owns the property. Another interesting fact is that the children take on the surname of the mother. Interesting, is it not?!
My knees tremble and legs shake from the continuous climb. The slippery and swaying suspension bridges have given way and all I am doing is climbing approx. 3000 stairs to get back to the road at Tyrna.
After coming back, I hear about the news that the government is considering building a road in Nongriat valley : I have mixed feelings about it; in a place with such outstanding natural beauty, culture, and beautiful harmony between man and nature have sustained for centuries, a road might jeopardise the delicate balance between man and nature that has been maintained for so long.
Currently, Nongriat valley itself is only accessible by foot, thereby automatically limiting the number of visitors to a manageable level.
On the way I pass stacks of bay-leaf, trees with jackfruit, pepper and betel-nut trees, bamboo trees and many other herbs, ferns and other greenery. The villages are pretty and have small huts on a raised platform, built with wooden planks and a colonial-style small verandah. It is nice to take small breaks on the climb up and chat up with the locals.
After finally making it to the road in Tyrna village, I was happy to click the church and gaze at the colourful houses before reaching the highway from where I was more likely to find a vehicle that would take me back to Cherrapunjee.
More about Living Root Bridges :
A living root bridge is a unique natural wonder so important that the Umshiang double decker bridge is in the UNESCO world heritage list. The living root bridges are made by guiding strong roots of indigenous rubber trees by villagers over decades to interlace with each other and form a single bridge strong enough to support the movement of people.
Traditionally, the roots were guided across spaces by using the straight trunks of betel nut trees for increased support. These days, cables are also used as a base for root bridges. Umshiang, the double-decker root bridge in the Nongriat village, is around 200 years old. There are many living root bridges in this region of Meghalaya. The one at Mawlynnong village is popular with tourists because the village is accessible by road.
How to reach Nongriat?
From Shillong to Cherrapunjee is around 65 kms. Tyrna village is around 20 kms from Cherrapunjee and a few buses and shared taxis also ply regularly between Cherrapunjee and Tyrna. Thereafter it is a trek from Tyrna village, the double-decker root bridge at Nongriat is approx. 4 kms away. The path consists of a continuous downhill movement of 3,000 steps which passes through Nongthymmai and Mynteng villages.
Nongriat valley is a land of tales and legends, and myriad waterfalls falling from great heights. We stumbled upon secret pools and lagoons in the forest and had my most memorable experience in the north eastern region of India.
Bye bye Nongriat Valley.
Also read : Spiti Valley in Winter : A Travel Guide