With high expectations, I gazed towards the sky. A dark grey cloud surrounded by fairer companions hovered over the distant hills, chasing my cab and growing in stature as I entered Cherrapunji in northeast India. It was an invigorating moment. After all, I was about to experience rainfall in the wettest place on earth!
Words & Photography: Sugato Tripathy, travel 3Sixty° travelsmiths
My joy knew no bounds when the first droplet grazed my eyelashes. But to my utter dismay, Sohra (the historical name of Cherrapunji) had different plans for me. I roamed around the entire day in anticipation, only to realise in the end that the first raindrop to fall on me was indeed the last one.
Sohra is a 2.5-hour drive from Meghalaya’s state capital, Shillong. The scenic meandering road cuts across the East Khasi hills, offering spellbinding views of numerous waterfalls and deep gorges. Predictably there are several places along the road with designated viewpoints.
With every bend of the road, I expected a change in the landscape, searching for a steep climb, expecting huge mountains to emerge from the horizon and hoping the clouds transform to a menacing greyish hue. My overenthusiasm had made me forget the fact that we was driving from Shillong to Cherrapunjee, which are at similar heights above the sea level and I was unlikely to encounter steep ghats and hairpin bends.
I came to my senses when my driver suddenly stopped the car and asked me to venture out to another view point. Seeing the deep gorges and the first waterfall of my visit, I realized that I was already 4000 feet above sea level.
Rarely have I seen such a beautiful plunge pool at the end of a falls. Plunging straight as an arrow from a height of 1000 feet, this is the most beautiful waterfall in Cherrapunji. The blue puddle is a unique feature of Nokkalikai Falls and is best viewed on a bright sunny day. I was fortunate to get a glimpse of it during a brief period of sunshine.
Vendors have set up shop on this beautiful place, selling souvenirs, jute hats, puffed masala rice (a local snack), bells and trinkets. Manned by Khasi women, they reminded me of the matrilineal culture prevalent in this magical state of Meghalaya. Loitering on the hill top, I was intrigued by the landscape. It was neither rugged nor plain, neither barren nor fertile. It seemed a hybrid of everything.
A nominal fee is required to enter the hill top.
Less than 20kms from the centre of Cherrapunji lies a unique giant 200-foot natural rock formation resembling an upturned Khasi basket. You can always hear some overenthusiastic tourist guides pointing towards the plains of Bangladesh in the backdrop.
Spread across an area of 5.5 hectares, this is a park with abundance of breathtaking vantage points. Be it the view of the Khoh Ramah rock, the green fields and meandering rivers in the panoramic view of the Bangladesh plains or the spectacular visual of the 1000-foot-high Kynrem waterfalls cutting across the serpentine roads, the experience will be unforgettable. It also doubles up as a perfect picnic spot for families with dedicated playing areas for kids.
I discovered my unknown anxiety for constrained spaces for the first time in the dark, gloomy caves of Cherrapunji. Walking through the 150-metre-long natural limestone formation can be quite challenging. There are several spots where one has to crawl or do a 90-degree bend to pass through. Magnificent formations of centuries-old stalactites and stalagmites adorn the cave interiors.
Set up by the state government on top of a plateau, it houses indigenous orchids and a golden expanse of autumnal grassland. The park offers magnificent views of the surrounding Khasi hills and the Sylhet plains of Bangladesh with which Meghalaya shares a border more than 400 km long.
Lost in my thoughts, I was wandering along the edge of the cliff when a few strong gusts brought with them greyish white clouds that engulfed the valley. There is certainly something magical and mysterious about these white wonders that come and go. To present a perfect contrast, and to end my delightful day trip with an enchanting note, the setting sun cast a golden hue in the evening sky.
I was waiting for rain, some unrestrained showers that would add a touch of credibility to a good monsoon story. But nature had other plans. However, the long winding roads, the peculiar topography, the verdant surroundings and the ubiquitous waterfalls gave me ample memories to treasure forever.
BEST TIME TO VISIT October to May
GETTING THERE & AROUND The best way to explore Cherrapunji is to hire a private cab from Shillong for a full day trip. Roundtrip fares start from Rs 3500. AirAsia has daily flights from Delhi & Bangalore to Guwahati, a 3-hour drive from Shillong.
Lower Cherrapunjee, East Khasi Hills District
Phone: +91 3637 9436178164
Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort
Phone: +91 3637 9615338500
An ex-banker hailing from the beautiful city of Bhubaneswar, Sugato Tripathy is currently a b-school professor, travel writer and amateur photographer. His idea of nirvana is to vegetate on the beach or wander aimlessly in the mountains. Check out his photo essays at www.tripography.in.
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