Cherrapunjee is a nature lover’s dream offering stunning scenic beauty. The mountain town is known for its tropical dense forests, spectacular waterfalls, picturesque lagoons, mysterious caves, and the famous living-root bridges. It is a perfect location for those who love the outdoors and is popular amongst offbeat travelers too.
At 4500 feet above sea level, Cherrapunjee lies in the heart of the State of Meghalaya – “the abode of clouds”. I first heard about Cherrapunjee in Geography textbooks during school as the place that receives the highest rainfall and I experienced this first hand during my stay. It rains in Cherrapunjee throughout the year, earning them the title of the “Wettest place on Earth”. The title has now been passed on to a neighboring village called Mawsynram, located in the East Khasi Hills of Meghalaya.
Cherrapunjee is a paradise for monsoon lovers. It paints a picture, pretty enough to forget the daily grind of city life. The landscapes are unique, mostly lush green surroundings with little or no sun falling on the Khasi hills. Beyond the hills of the mountain town lie stunning views of the flat plains of Bangladesh.
How to Reach Cherrapunjee?
The closest city to Cherrapunjee is Shillong, approximately 50 km away. Booking a private taxi would cost INR 2000. Another comfortable alternative is a shared taxi for 4 pax which will cost INR 300/person.
Sumo’s (jeep) also travel from Shillong to Cherrapunjee. This is the most common form of travel between different locations in Meghalaya. A Sumo has a minimum of 10 pax (excluding livestock) and a seat will cost less than INR 100. Sumo’s also only travel when they are fully occupied, so you might have to wait for your journey to begin. After a half-hour wait for the Sumo to get full, we were on our way to the mountain town of Cherrapunjee.
How to Travel Within Cherrapunjee?
The tourism sector of this region is still in its infancy. Getting around places can be challenging unless you’re with a tour operator. Taxis in Shillong offer 1-2-day packages to Cherrapunjee. The price range would be from INR 3000 to INR 5000 depending on the number of spots you wish to visit. I rented an Activa for INR 300 making it a lot easier to go around and at my own pace.
Places to Stay at Cherrapunjee
The mountain town has a few hotel and resort options offering views of picturesque landscapes. A hostel – By the Way Hostel is another option not too far from Cherrapunjee junction.
However, to get a real experience with the locals and their lifestyle I recommend a homestay experience. I stayed at Batemon’s Homestay, a stone’s throw away from Cherrapunjee (locally known as Sohra) junction. Homestays in this part of the country typically are big families with members of all age groups. Being a big family, there were enough players for a game of football.
Batemon’s Homestay has 4 standard cozy rooms that she hosts. It was a delight getting to know Batemon who narrated adventures with her family in the pristine natural beauty of Cherrapunjee. She shared breath-taking pictures of waterfalls, the best campsites and unexplored treks in and around the mountain town. Batemon and her sister were indeed the best guide to the mountain town of Cherrapunjee.
At the Homestay, I met a group of Bangladeshi tourists who don’t miss any opportunity to crossover to India. Urmi & Debashish were in India for the 8th time in the last 2 years and were planning a longer tour next time around. They accompanied me to a couple of spots and said the Nohkalikai was their favorite falls and how fortunate they were to see it without traveling too far.
What to Eat at Cherrapunjee?
The popular traditional dishes to try here are the Jadoh (rice and pork) and Jhur-Kleh (mixed vegetables). Sundays in the mountain town are celebrated with a meat feast. Residents of the town head to the Sohra market to satiate their craving for exotic meat. The market is one of a kind with umpteen butchers slicing pork mostly, right at the counter in their stalls. I didn’t have the stomach for it.
My go-to place was 5 mins from my homestay, around the main junction at Sohra – a roadside stall that makes the most delicious barbeque chicken. The chicken was tender and served with pickled onions and a chili sauce.
Best Time to Visit
Cherrapunjee is known for its unique weather conditions. It is probably the only place in India where it rains throughout the year. Rainfall varies from heavy to light showers, but rainfall is certain. Having said that October – May typically receives lesser rainfall compared to other months. A strange fact about this mountain town is that it rains mostly at night & there is always sometime in the day when the rains stop completely. Just for a bit!
Major Attractions at Cherrapunjee
Cherrapunjee boasts the most stunning waterfalls in India. I was here during the monsoons and missed the turquoise color waters. Nonetheless, the falls are still spectacular all year round. You have to hike a fair bit to reach most of these waterfalls. During the rains, this has its own challenges.
I had an eventful day at the Dainthlen falls. The incessant rains and clouds descending on the roads obscured our vision. We had to navigate the bike carefully for about half-hour from my homestay to reach the hiking point. The rains refused to stop and when it did it was only a matter of a few minutes before another heavy downpour.
We were drenched and freezing to our bones. Google Maps too left us with a blank screen. Right then, Mother Nature took pity on us and it stopped pouring. In a few hundred meters, we were relieved to see bikes parked. Finally, we were there. We then hiked to within 20 meters of the bed of the falls, is actually only when you can see the falls.
Most pictures of the Dainthlen falls that you come across on the internet are typically by the bed of the falls, a side view. More so because the water gushing from the streams leading to the falls makes it impossible to go across and get a front view.
Accepting my fate for the time being with pictures clicked alongside the Dainthlen falls, we took off to other nearby waterfalls.
This picture was clicked later in the evening only after we found a hidden path covered in moss and streams with a much lesser flow of water. My shoes that helped me trek almost 100 km in Uttarakhand a few months back, was losing its grip in this tricky trail.
Once the mist lifted, I could see the rugged bed of the waterfalls which was in contrast to the other waterfalls. A couple of tumbles later, the joy of getting almost the entire falls brimming in one frame was priceless. The best part of the Dainthlen falls was the scenic beauty but moreover the adventure that it brought along.
Wei Sawdong Falls
After the adventure at Dainthlen Falls, a plateful of hot Maggi noodles was blissful. Not surprisingly, the rains were back. We didn’t sit too long but took the bike a kilometer ahead from where you hike to Wei Sawdong falls.
Wei Sawdong is a hike down a steep rocky path. You will also have to go down a few wooden ladders where one can easily lose balance. In the rains, the wood becomes slippery which makes it more difficult. After a 15-minute hike, we reached a flat area and right in front covered in mist were the cascading Wei Sawdong falls.
I was looking forward to this waterfall the most, for its natural beauty and the turquoise color water. No turquoise color in the monsoons but the cold splash of water that falls on your face brings a scent of fresh air.
Nohkalikai Falls easily makes a postcard-worthy picture. At a height of 1115 feet, it earns the title of the tallest plunge waterfall in India. The waterfall is at its raucous best, during and right after the monsoons. The force of the water is quite overwhelming and the sight stunning.
The Legend behind the name “Nohkalikai”
The name “Noh-ka-Likai” refers to the jump of “Ka Likai”. Ka is a prefix for women in Khasi. Likai was a lady from the neighboring village who threw herself from the cliff. As the legend goes, Likai lived with her daughter who was often left alone after her father’s death as Likai worked as a porter to earn a living. This prompted Likai to marry a second time.
Unfortunately, Likai’s second marriage only led to her spending more time with her daughter and the husband felt ignored. The jealousy made him commit a dreadful act of killing the daughter and cooking her flesh. Likai who was at work then returned home to an empty house and ate what her husband prepared.
Likai usually had a betel leaf after a meal and went to get herself one. In the betel leaf basket, she found a finger and realized what had happened. The pain and agony she felt made her run to the edge of the cliff and jump. Giving the waterfall its name.
Seven Sister Falls
Another picturesque waterfall is the Seven Sister Falls, also known as Nohsngithiang Falls or Mawsmai Falls which is at a height of 315 meters and is 70 meters wide. The water from these falls’ splits into seven segments and thus the name.
Sometimes beauty lies beneath the surface and often in the most unexpected areas. Nine of the ten longest and deepest caves in India are found in Meghalaya. Exploring Mawsmai and Arwah caves was a thrilling experience.
Mawsmai is the most frequently visited cave in Meghalaya and the only cave in the state which is well lit. To me, lights don’t add to the experience but Mawsmai makes for a perfect start to the many caves in the state. Wander inside and you see limestone cave formations of stalactites and stalagmites that will leave you awestruck with its splendor. It is left to the viewer and his imagination to see abstract patterns in these natural formations.
Mawsmai caves are a fine example of nature’s best-kept secrets. The entrance to the cave is huge, but as you get deeper past pools of water the path gets narrow. During monsoons water constantly drips from the magnificent jagged stalagmites. Although the cave is big, only 150 meters is open to visitors.
Alongside a picturesque pathway, behind a small waterfall lies another hidden wonder of Meghalaya. The trail to Arwah cave (Arwah Lumshynna) is laid out on a wooden bridge. Instantly I was in a dilemma whether to stay put and enjoy the beautiful view of these towering mountains or explore the hidden gem lying ahead. After spending some time admiring the beauty of the valley I started walking towards the caves. Cave guides are easily available outside. Once I got a guide, I was ready to go!
While Mawsmai Caves boast of fancy limestone formations, Arwah on the other hand was a real adventure. The height of the cave requires you to stay low through most of it or you could easily hurt your head. Exploring this cave was a thrill as there are no lights in here. Thus, I couldn’t capture the intricate rock formations the cave had to offer.
The most interesting aspect of Arwah caves are well-preserved fossils of marine creatures. The narrow path, tight bends, and the eerie echo the ceiling creates makes Arwah an interesting cave to wander into. The cave has plenty of gateways possibly leading to someplace or maybe to nothing at all.
Double Decker Living-Root Bridge
One of the main attractions near Cherrapunjee is the Nongriat trek which takes you to the double-decker living-root bridge.
- An absolute must is a raincoat/windcheater which you’ll most likely need at all times.
- Monsoons or not, it always is slippery around a waterfall and inside a cave. Ensure you have the right footwear to avoid any injuries.
How to Travel Responsibly?
- Do not litter the beautiful town Cherrapunjee is. Carry a trash bag and dispose it of appropriately.
- You don’t need a guide to explore the Mawsmai cave. But for the more challenging caving experience, do not venture without a professional guide. You could get lost and will find it hard to find your way out.
Most travelers spend a maximum of 2 days in this untouched paradise. I’d suggest be a Khasi in the Khasi Hills and explore leisurely.