Meghalaya — a State in the westernmost part of India’s North Eastern region. It shares the international border with Bangladesh on the west and the south while it is bounded to the north and the east by several districts of Assam.
Meghalaya is a mountainous state interwoven with hills, deep valleys and highland plateaus. The elevation of the plateaus ranges from 150 meters to a maximum of 1961 meters or 6434 feet above sea level at Shillong Peak—the highest point of the State. And then the rains. Meghalaya is the wettest region on earth with an average annual rainfall of nearly 12000mm. Earlier Cherrapunjee in the State had the all-time record of maximum rainfall and now the honor belongs to Mawsynram, about 10km from Cherrapunjee.
Round-the-year rainfall has sculpted natural rock formations in the State leading the way for thundering waterfalls. The word meghalaya literally means “the abode of clouds” and you stand fascinated by the always-moving clouds everywhere—particularly in the high-altitude areas. Low-lying clouds come down below 6,000 feet and getting influenced by the nearby water bodies and cool surface quickly develop into heavy fog bearing moisture and droplets of water.
In Meghalaya you drive through the clouds, can even touch them on the peaks and often you see the window glass panes of your house getting frosted. The capital city, Shillong, is situated in East Khasi Hills district which falls in the tallest plateau of the Sate.
It takes about two hours to reach Shillong if you hire a car or share a taxi from Guwahati. From Guwahati airport the journey takes about three hours. The buses of both Meghalaya and Assam transport corporations take a little longer. It is a pleasant drive (the four-lane work of the highway completed recently). As you start ascending towards Shillong you catch the nip in the air and if it is raining you have to delve into your bags for woolens almost any time of the year. Before reaching Shillong you are welcomed by Umiam Lake—used as a water reservoir—with its beautiful surroundings. You can feast your eyes on the scenic beauty there. This is the first step on your “water” odyssey to the wettest place on earth.
Located at the highest elevation, temperatures in Shillong rarely go beyond 27 degree Celsius in a year and in winter (December-February) sub-zero temperatures are common. In and around Shillong there are quite a few waterfalls you can visit. The most popular one is Elephant Falls, 10km from the city. Here besides enjoying the beauty of the area you can also go trekking across the uneven terrain.
The next destination is naturally Cherrapunjee, 56 km from Shillong. You can rent a car, hire a cab or take the public transport. However, a car is recommended, because on the way you can stop to take in the grandeur of natural beauty.
The journey is about one and a half hours on a winding and mountainous road more than 5,000 feet above sea level. Rocky hills on one side of the road and a sharp incline on the other lead to the deep lush-green valley down below with streams cackling through or forests of mostly pine and fir trees lining up the road now and then surrounded by cloud-capped hills. An occasional waterfall out of the rocky walls greets you on your way to Cherrapunjee.
Cherrapunjee means “land of the oranges.” This name had a British legacy as the original name Sohra was mispronounced. The State government restored the name Sohra recently.
For us, however, Cherrapunjee is the land of waterfalls. If you visit the place in the wettest month of June and July your view is often blocked by fog that comes as a huge envelope reducing visibility to a few yards. However, you have nothing to lose. The view of the waterfalls, silhouetted against the hills with dense fog erupting from the valley below like white flames and spreading to the mountain peaks, is equally enchanting.
Waterfalls not to be missed include Nohkalikai (the fourth tallest plunge waterfall of the world), Dainthlen Falls, Nohsngithiang or Seven Sisters’ Falls (with seven segments and one of the tallest in India), Langshiang Falls (the third highest in India) and the three-tiered Kynrem Falls. At a viewpoint called Mawlaikhleieh you stand spell-bound at the enchanting sight of three waterfalls flowing down together. Dwan Sing Syiem is another viewpoint offering a panoramic saga of valleys, streams, hills, lush greenery, cloud play and fog. Monsoon being the only season here the short dry spell lasts from December to February.
West Khasi Hills district, Jaintia Hills district and districts of Garo Hills region too have their share of the beautiful waterfalls. While the former two districts offer a lot and are easily accessible from Shillong the latter involves a long journey. Garo Hills region is, however, prone to frequent disruption of law and order.
Of course, if you are the adventurous type you can land up in Tura taking a bus from Shillong and enjoy natural waterworks in and around. After the end of your tour you can come back to Shillong and pamper yourself with all the comforts the beautiful city offers.