Lush Forests and Snow-Capped Peaks: Trip Itineraries in Meghalaya and Sikkim

Walk on living root bridges, trek through rhododendron forests.  
Meghalaya, India
The Living Root bridges of Meghalaya. Photo: Neelima Vallangi

Meghalaya: Sacred forests and folk legends

Shillong is a sparkling take-off point for your Meghalaya itinerary, even though getting there can be a bit of a task. To avoid uncomfortable schedules and layovers, it’s easier to fly to better connected Guwahati, and then drive to Shillong, about 132 km/4 hours south.

Spend an afternoon (around 3-4 p.m.) at the Polo Grounds to witness teer, a daily archery contest that’s a cross between betting and the lottery. Follow it up with a walk around Bara Bazar, the city’s main market: If you can stomach the odours, the narrow lanes of the meat section are fascinating. Head to Upper Shillong that offers elevated views of the state. It was also the post-retirement residence of naturalist Edward Pritchard Gee, who discovered the elusive Gee’s golden langur.

Shillong is perfect for a couple of day trips. Smit, less than an hour away, is the site for the annual Ka Pomblang Nongkrem festival held in November. The five-day celebration when Khasi men and women thank goddess Ka Blei Synshar for the harvest, is vibrant and full of colour. Smit falls under the Khyrim syiemship (kingdom), presided over by a ruler—who is also a practicing doctor. The same day, set out for Mawphlang, about 26 kilometres south of Shillong for the state’s revered groves. Locals believe the Mawphlang Sacred Forest is inhabited by divine beings and fiercely protect it.

The following day, drive two hours east to Nartiang, to see the remains of the summer palace of Jaintia kings. Apart from the palace and a famous Durga temple, the village is renowned for one of the biggest monolith collections in the country, dating back to the 16th and 18th centuries. Prepare for another 2.5-hour drive west of Shillong to Cherrapunjee, now known as Sohra, to see living root bridges. A slightly tough trek leads you to these bridges made from the roots of trees braided together, and nudged to grow across the river. There are many different root bridges that visitors can trek to—each of them appears right out of a fantasy novel. Visit the Khasi settlement of Mawlynnong, considered the cleanest village in Asia (and also a place you can overnight). Finally, catch your breath at Nongriat, the village just before the double-decker bridge. The whole trek round-trip from Sohra should take around 9-10 hours.

Before leaving for Shillong the next day, budget to go to the dramatic Nohkalikai Falls, one of the tallest in the country. You can’t, however, make the trek to the bottom in one day so you’ll have to be content with a view from the top.

Itinerary

Day 1 Reach Shillong, preferably via Guwahati.

Day 2 Walk through the city’s market and Polo Grounds.

Day 3 Visit Smit and Mawphlang. Return to Shillong.

Day 4 Visit Nartiang and leave for Sohra.

Day 5-6 Trek to the living root bridges and stay in Mawlynnong or Sohra.

Day 7 Visit Nohkalikai Falls and leave for Shillong.

Day 8-9 Leave for Guwahati.

Tip

★ Ask your guide to narrate some Khasi folk tales. They are beautiful stories with the most heart-warming messages, embellished with mystique and legends.

–Sejal Mehta

Appeared as “Bridges That Breathe” in the March 2015 issue.

Next Page: Sikkim

  • Sejal Mehta is a writer and editor. She is consultant editor at Marine Life of Mumbai, and writes about science, wildlife, travel, fiction and is a published author of children's books. Her past work includes Lonely Planet Magazine India, National Geographic Traveller India, Nature inFocus.

  • Neelima Vallangi is an itinerant freelance travel writer and photographer who enjoys purposefully getting lost in the mountains and going to faraway corners where Google Maps fail. She tweets as @i_wanderingsoul.

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