Stunning Beauty of Umngot River in Dawki & Shnongpdeng

It was already 3 in the afternoon. The days end early in the north-east. Not one vehicle stopped for what seemed like an eternity. Then a cab slowly came to a halt; I ran toward the driver. I asked him ‘Dawki’; he didn’t understand it. Turned out that he knew neither hindi or english; but it was evident that he wanted to help but we were both unsure how to go about it. I was trying to make it to Dawki – Shnongpdeng to see the surreal waters of Umngot river.

Dawki
Bus scenes in Meghalaya.

I used my wits and drew a 50 Rupee note from my pocket. He gestured me to get in and drove fast. For a while I wondered if I had gotten into any trouble by sitting in the cab with a driver who had not understood where I wanted to go! I was coming from Cherrapunjee (Sohra) after a successful trek to Nongriat and had got down on the bifurcation of the road close to a place called Laitlyngkot.

Dawki
This is a phone click… Didn’t realise the magnitude of this photograph until after the trip was over!

In Cherrapunjee, the locals had suggested that going to Shillong was the only solution. I wasn’t convinced at all and a quick look at google maps proved that I was correct. The road to Pynursla and Dawki would bifurcate halfway on the Cherrapunjee to Shillong highway saving me at least 40 kms of travel. And thats why without a second thought, I had alighted from the shared taxi from Cherrapunjee to Shillong and stood on the side of the road. There were very few vehicles going on this road and when no one stopped in an hour, I began getting jittery.

Dawki Shnongpdeng
A bird’s eye view of Umngot River clicked from Shnongpdeng.

I was hungry too; after having made the climb to Tyrna from Nongriat; then hitching a ride to get to Sohra market. My food troubles (read : no roti) had just started and I only drank one lal chai in a restaurant before boarding the shared taxi. I had been looking at my watch incessantly and wondering if getting down in the middle of nowhere was the right decision or not. So, when the ride finally came along I was more relieved than anything else.

Also read : A Backpacking Guide to Meghalaya

Dawki
One of the good looking eateries in Dawki. Most tourists visiting this region stay in Dawki as it is a sizeable town on the highway.

I think we had just reached the next town after driving for around 30 minutes and I was perturbed when the car was brought to a halt. The driver got down and began chatting to someone else. I sat still for a minute and then opened the door and stood with my backpack; in a moment of good luck a Dawki bound bus appeared and the driver indicated that I should get in. I tried to give him the 50 Rupee note but he wouldn’t take it and muttered Pynursla. I think he meant he would have taken it if he had dropped me to Pynursla!

Dawki
Clear water of the Umngot River clicked from the bridge in Dawki.

There was no empty seat in the bus and I stood for some time until I could sit. It was a comfortable but slow ride; the landscape was surrounded by green bamboo trees bathed in golden evening light. We passed Mawlynnong on the way but I had already had my tryst with the living root bridges in Nongriat and had Dawki on my mind. Dusk approached quickly as the bus made its way to the market in Dawki. The plains across Bangladesh were visible from the window on the way and it was a pretty sight with the twinkling lights.

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I wasn’t pleased with my first sight of Dawki. It appeared to be a dirty, filthy town full of horrible smells and lots of smoke. A helpful guy on the internet had thrown the word ‘Shnongpdeng’ at me before the trip. It was entirely dark and I had no clue of what to do! I only knew that I was very close to the Bangladesh border and like all borders there would be scrupulous elements around here too. There was no trace of Umngot river though as it was night. I couldn’t hear the sound of water flowing too.

Also read : The Dilemma of Responsible Travel : Secret Villages in the Himalayas

Shnongpdeng
Village kids playing on a Sunday. It was a very festive atmosphere in Shnongpdeng on a holiday.

A chance conversation with a passerby local on the road informed me that Shnongpdeng was 7 kms away and no public transport or shared taxi plied at that time. I was thinking of resigning myself to fate and get a cheap room in Dawki. And then my luck worked again; as I used the word ‘homestay’ – the local (semi drunk) told me that there was someone going to Shnongpdeng if I could wait for some time.

Shnongpdeng
A lot of people have asked me if I carried a drone. This bridge acts as a platform from where one can click pictures of boats on Umngot river.

Now, I did not mind waiting but was caught in two minds. Here was a drunk man who had told me I could go to the remote village of Shnongpdeng. I had no idea if I would get a place to stay in Shnongpdeng and also the road would understandably be dark as well. The gentleman just walked out though and put my worries to rest, he was well behaved and said that we will leave in 15 minutes. The road from Shnongpdeng to Dawki was in a horrible condition and we had been joined in the car by another drunk man. I was a little bit perturbed still and heaved a sigh of relief when the gentleman mentioned that there were many homestays in Shnongpdeng and most were run by him.

Shnongpdeng
Isn’t this a great place to camp by the river? As seen from the suspension bridge in Shnongpdeng.

We crossed an entry gate to Shnongpdeng and I was dropped near a homestay because apparently either the costs were too high or the homestays were full. He told me that his home is just a bit ahead if in case there is any trouble or I am unable to find a place. I promptly got down and saw a board for a homestay on the left side of the road. It was a bamboo home and the owner was there too. He was very kind and gave me a comfortable looking room for 400 Rupees. I quickly ordered for some vegetarian food and requested him to make it tasty since I hadn’t eaten anything since morning!

Umngot River
The colour of water is so clear that the rocks can be clearly visible.

The next room was occupied by 2 Israeli backpackers and while we chatted over dinner, its happened that they knew Eldad & Erica (the ones who had trekked from Nohkalikai Falls to Nongriat with me!). Dinner was tasty and we immensely enjoyed it. The weather was nice and cold in February and a cool breeze blew. The common bathroom was just 2 steps away from the room and I slept early; very happy and relieved to have made it to Shnongpdeng.

Shnongpdeng Dawki
There are these rustic structures on the river bed in Shnongpdeng along with basic dhabas and restaurants serving local food and snacks.

I woke up early in the morning and as usual had no plans for the day. I wanted to see Umngot river (for which I had come to Dawki) first and maybe stay in this homestay in Shnongpdeng for another day. We were served black tea and bread for breakfast. I wasn’t keen on eating bread and just had the tea; asked the locals for directions to reach the river and started walking. In no time I reached the end of the road, the downward path led to Shnongpdeng village and Umngot river while a bridge was visible if i took the right turn.

Shnongpdeng
A couple dressed up to go to Church for the Sunday Mass in Shnongpdeng village.

I descended down the steps and walked through the greenery to come across camps and tents scattered across the river bed. It was a lovely location to camp by the river, some basic shops were also there and I reached one of them and asked for veg breakfast. It was a sunday and I began to witness first signs of trouble! They had only jadoh (pork rice dish) and red tea, and no vegetarian food was available. I drank another red tea and prepared myself for a quick walk around Umngot river in Shnongpdeng.

Check : Failures on the Road – Stupidity in Changthang, Ladakh

Dawki
The colour of water of Umngot river seems different from different angles.

There were also a few bamboo cottages being run as guest houses in Shnongpdeng and I wondered if I would have liked to stay there if I had arrived during the daylight! Then I climbed the stairs and headed straight to the walk-only suspension bridge. The waters of Umngot river looked very pristine and clear and the small boats provided for great photographs. I walked from one end of the bridge to the other and clicked a lot of photos.

Shnongpdeng Dawki
This one was clicked from the phone. The water is so clear that these boats appear to be floating!

On the other end of the bridge, there was a a docking station for the boats and also a camping site with around 15 tents on a flat surface. It was a tranquil space and would make for a fantastic place to stay with the pretty river for company. Some fishermen and locals were heading to the waters in their boats and it made me realise I would have loved to have a boat ride too! As I walked back to the homestay, I wanted to give the local shops another chance. Alas, everything was closed! It was Sunday; men and women were well dressed and were going to the Church to attend the Sunday Mass.

Shnongpdeng Village and Sunday Mass at the Church. Most people in this region of Meghalaya practise Christianity. 

I picked my backpack and said goodbye to the homestay owner; when some small kids took me to the Church. Prayers were being sung and I stood outside for some time. After finally realising that it was already 11 am and that I was better off to try and reach Dawki as soon as possible. In my mind, I was certain that since Dawki was a bigger town I would find some vegetarian food to eat. I walked a part of the distance and was given a bike ride to reach Dawki.

Read : St. Francis Church, Kochi & India’s Colonial History

Homestay Dawki Shnongpdeng
View from my homestay early in the morning. Always prefer local way of simple living in places like Dawki.

To my astonishment, Dawki also resembled like having a holiday atmosphere. The shops were all closed and there were no orange sellers too. There were no buses running and nor were there any shared taxis (sumo) to be seen. I was thinking of going to Shillong but wondered if it was a mistake to get out of the homestay in Shnongpdeng. I kept walking out of Dawki and spotted a dhaba serving basic breakfast with a dazzling view of Umngot river. It wasn’t great but served its purpose.

Dawki Shnongpdeng
A camping site in Shnongpdeng. Highly recommend staying here rather than Dawki.

As I moved ahead the colour of the river began changing and turned into a shade of green. There were uncountable boats now in Umngot river and tourists were also seen. Most tourists come to Dawki and I was witnessing the more popular places even on a Sunday. I learnt that it is possible to go on hour long rides in a boat for less than 500 Rupees and the cost is even lesser if there are other people to share it with.

Dawki
Clicked from the bridge in Dawki; from an iPhone!!

The dslr camera was inside the bag and I was caught in two minds. Whether to enjoy more time near the Umngot river in Dawki – or quickly get out of there and try and reach Shillong. The colour of water was so clear that the boats appeared to float. It was an inexplicable sight and the phone pictures don’t do justice (In hindsight I should have kept my bag somewhere and clicked pictures with the dslr). There were also bamboo shops selling tea and basic necessities near the river but the sight of so many people just made me continue walking.

Shnongpdeng
Bamboo cottages on the beach : Perfect for staying in Dawki – Shnongpdeng. These also come with a river view!

The last stretch of the road had even more beautiful views of Umngot river and within no time I had reached the green bridge in Dawki. There was an officer stationed on the bridge and he told me that there will be no bus for the day. I decided to try my luck and hitchhike. While wandering on the bridge, I saw that the boats with tourists made for great subjects with the water of Umngot river and convinced the officer to let me click!

Check : India’s French Colony : Pondicherry, A Photo Story

Shnongpdeng
A ‘tourist advisory’ signboard in Shnongpdeng village, near the riverbed of Umngot River.

What happened next was the stuff of dreams! A Dzire car was seen coming; I ran towards it and stopped it in the middle of the road. It was a couple in the car, they asked me where I was from? I answered, Rajasthan. In the meanwhile, the officer had also joined me in the request. The man asked me to show the id to confirm that I wasn’t an illegal Bangladesh immigrant because the border was so close! After two rounds of please; he asked me to get in!

Shnongpdeng
Another one from a different angle : Notice how the water appears a light shade of turquoise green.

They were going all the way to Guwahati. It was a comfortable car and the guy was a wildlife photographer as well! They had stayed in Mawlynnong and were visiting Dawki for a day visit. The wife was Assamese and told me a bit about festivals of Assam and Bihu. When they learnt that I was starving and that my main reason of getting out of Dawki was food, they decided we should stop at the best place on the entire route for lunch.

Dawki
The usual place where most instagram pictures of Umngot river and the boats are taken in Dawki.

The restaurant was designed in a traditional style and the interiors were made of bamboo. I don’t remember the name of the restaurant but can tell you that it was around 20 kms after crossing Shillong. I ate like there was no tomorrow! The bamboo shoot curry was yum and so was everything else that we ordered. A cool breeze blew on that cloudy afternoon.

Read : Top 12 Instagram Photographs of 2017

Dawki Shnongpdeng
Tranquil lifestyle : Random village kids will come and pose for you!

The kind couple wouldn’t let me pay even my own share of the bill. I made them aware that I was saving a lot of money because of their ride and after a lot of convincing them I paid my part. If you are reading this : ‘Thanks a million for the ride! Please come to Jaipur someday.’

Dawki
Another one clicked from the vantage point of the bridge in Dawki.

This comfortable ride meant that I reached Guwahati in the evening and wasn’t tired at all. I put my bags at the ChaloHoppo guys’ place. Thanks Nishant, John and Chetan for the delicious plum wine!

Read the next leg of my journey : Chasing Tranquility in Majuli island

Dawki
The ripples of water in the tranquil and serene water of Umngot river.

Brief Travel Guide for Dawki – Shnongpdeng

How to Reach Dawki?

Dawki is connected to Shillong by buses and shared taxis. The distance from Shillong to Dawki is around 80 kms and the buses take around 3 hours to reach from Shillong.

Dawki
Another photograph taken from a different spot and the sunlight has caused an entirely different colour in the water of Umngot River!

Where to stay in Dawki?

Dawki has a range of choices from homestays, guesthouses and hotels for travellers to stay. As mentioned in the post; Shnongpdeng is a small village 7 kms away from Dawki and is a much better place for tourists to stay. There are camps, tents, homestays and bamboo cottages to stay in Shnongpdeng.

Best time to visit Dawki

According to the locals, the best time to visit Dawki to see the crystal clear waters of Umngot River is from October to March. During the summer season and the rains, the water is not clear and that may likely lead to a disappointment.

Interested in checking other posts on North East?

Photo Story from Ziro Valley, Arunachal Pradesh

A Mixed Experience – Mechuka in Arunachal Pradesh

Dawki
Stunning, surreal, spectacular, splendid scenes! (Are there any adjectives left?)

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11 Comments Add yours

  1. neelstoria says:

    Another Great piece….loved it 🙂

    1. Yay! Thanks so much. Glad you liked it.

  2. Niranjan says:

    Wonderful read of your experience. Loved it.

    1. Thanks Niranjan. So glad you liked it!

  3. jyotirmoydas says:

    Thanks for Coming to North East and showing the people through this wonderful piece of writing, do come again !

    1. My pleasure sir. Thanks so much for checking it out and the appreciation.

  4. Abhishek kumar rawat says:

    thanks shubham, your post are so much helpful to first time travelers. I can relate to each and every pic and writing when i visited dwaki last week…thanks buddy keep travelling…

    1. Many thanks Abhishek for the kind words of appreciation. Happy travels to you too.

  5. North east is very adventure place to experience the nature in india . thanks for sharing the information for were to stay and what isthe best to visit to see clear crystal water

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