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Northeast Diaries-My Surreal Trip To Cherrapunji, Meghalaya-A Slice Of Heaven On Earth!

Munmi Barthakur

Amongst the numerous beautiful places in India, I feel one must include a trip to the North-East! And what better than Cherrapunji, the wettest place in the world! It holds the world record for the most amount of rain in a calendar month. I highly recommend this exotic mix of scenic beauty comprising natural and man-made wonders, hills and mountains meandering across the landscape, spectacular waterfalls, caves of worldwide fame, all of which makes Cherrapunji a worthwhile visit.

The best part of my trip here would definitely be the arduous, yet so rewarding climb to reach the wonderful double decker living root bridge! A magnificent feat of nature engineered by mankind is what comprises a living root bridge.  They are spread across Cherrapunji and Nongtallang. The double decker bridge is believed to be 200 years old, painstakingly created by a calculated concept of training the arial roots of Ficus elastic trees and improvised across generations. 

It was worth climbing down those 3557 steps! This was not a mere feat I must tell you. I had to take several breaks in-between; luckily there are plenty of small shops selling water, tasty, soupy Maggie and simple snacks along the way. However, as I reached the bridge, the sheer beauty left me spellbound and I paused to absorb the impact of such pristine surroundings! As it seeped into my very bones, the numb tiredness disappeared in the blink of an eye. It was spectacular-the exotic blanket of flowers, the rain-drenched skies, wisps of clouds seemingly almost touching our heads, my imagination soared in rampant exhilaration!

It took us approximately 3 hours one way and another 2 hours to come back up. Though a guide is not needed, it would be a charitable gesture to hire them, as this provides the local people with financial support. This is one of the ways they can keep the area clean. As I mingled with the residents, I appreciated their resilience, staid doggedness, single-mindedness and determined endeavor to preserve their habitat, till now untouched by the mechanical developments of the digital world. Their profound respect and love for nature is sadly lacking in most places in our country.  One needs such unshackled beauty to make us aware of our natural surroundings.

It was awesome to dip our feet in the river Umshiang and let tiny fish nudge us fleetingly, darting in and out of the swirling waters. At night it was simply splendid to sit near the bridge-basking in the moonlight, the sound of the water lapping at our feet in a soothing melody, breaking the silence of the night. Fireflies buzzed around our heads and the very atmosphere made it a surreal adventure. In retrospect, as I delve into the memory etched inside me, it seems almost a dream.

Let me warn you though your legs would take a toll, but the trick is to take it slowly. Minimize your stuff, a medicine kit is most essential and be sure to include rain gear. Also, make sure you wear proper shoes with rubber soles since frequent showers tend to make the stairs treacherous to negotiate. Buy a walking stick, believe me, it serves as a fantastic prop to keep you on your feet and helps in negotiating steep, uphill trails. You can buy it for 20 bucks at the starting point in Tyrna village. Also, do remember to carry insect repellent. There are railings for support, but I would not take small children or elderly people.

It is also wise to start early in the morning when energy levels are at an all-time high. If you intend to take a plunge in the waterfall, do take a change of clothes. There are changing rooms for your convenience. Guides are available for those traveling alone, but there is always safety in numbers. You must visit this amazing place before it is too late-my apprehension is that very soon such natural wonders may succumb to man's innate instinct to manipulate and convert then to technological achievements.

If you are fine with simple accommodation and basic amenities, I recommend either Serene Homestay or Village Guest House. Hotels such as the Polo Orchid Resort and the Cherrapunji Holiday Resort are also just a few kilometers away. You can refer to Tripadvisor for more options; I think that the best time to travel is from November to March.

Now to take you through nearby trails. When you reach Nongriat, try to go further and see the spectacular Rainbow Falls. And you simply must see the Nohkalikai Falls, the tallest plunge in India. Cinnamon trees in dense profusion as one approaches these gorgeous Falls are a treat to the eyes. Curio shops and others selling cinnamon sticks dot the path. The view is breathtaking, though in the rainy season, hovering clouds do make visibility poor and our photographs came out misty.

You must also not miss the Seven Sister Falls − they are simply mesmerizing. There is no entry fee here. It is only approximately 65 kilometers from Shillong and the drive is beautiful-interspersed with deep valleys, rolling hills and spectacular greenery.

Since Meghalaya is famous for caves, Mawsmai is a must visit! The entry fee is 20 rupees per person. A flight of about 80 stairs takes you to the cave. Then begins the adventure almost like in the movies-wriggling through narrow openings, slipping and sliding on the rocky path and the kids weaving a story of a treasure hunt pretending to check in the crevices and tunnels for hidden gold coins! You can hire a vehicle and keep it waiting for the entire duration.

For other beautiful spots in Cherrapunji, you can refer to my article "Northeast diaries-Scenic Meghalaya". I hope I have managed to lure you to this part of our country, so dear to my heart.