For those looking to escape the bustle of the city life, in a 3-hour drive from Shillong lies a rustic yet charming campsite destination in Shnongpdeng. Infact, the North-East with ample countryside destinations gives the perfect opportunity to dust off your tent and get closer to nature. Shnongpdeng with its gorgeous riverfront campsites is considered one of the best camping destinations in Meghalaya. Here you can enjoy the clear waters of the Umngot river or simply kick back and watch a sky full of bright stars overhead. The thrill-seekers can indulge in water sports which adds to the attraction of this place.
How to Reach Meghalaya?
Direct flights are now available to Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya. However, it is cheaper to fly to Guwahati, the capital of Assam.
My journey commenced at Guwahati where I spent the day visiting famous temples like the Kamakhya. From Guwahati, I took a share taxi to Shillong’s Police Bazaar which is the main connecting point in the city. The journey to Shillong (100 km) takes nothing more than 3 hours for INR 400.
How to Reach Shnongpdeng?
Taxis are the most preferred way to commute on the Shillong – Dawki route. Share taxis are easily available at Police Bazaar in Shillong to Dawki for INR 300 per head. I traveled in a share taxi with two friends who were already in Shillong.
Shnongpdeng is another 7 km from Dawki. Most travelers go to Dawki which is known for its turquoise waters albeit its bombarded with tourists. It is also a busy trading hub due to its proximity to Bangladesh.
Shnongpdeng is the lesser-known sibling but it is where the laid-back and the adventurous go.
From Dawki, local taxis charge an exorbitant amount of INR 1200 – 1500 to go till Shnongpdeng. We got lucky and found a bunch of teenagers from Shillong who were going to Shnongpdeng to celebrate their friend’s birthday. We hitched a ride with them. The drive past the tropical forests with bamboo trees was not complete without tunes crying for carpool karaoke. And on came Denver; Country roads, take me home…
Places to Stay at Shnongpdeng
Accommodation options are limited to homestays in the village and a few bamboo cottages with basic amenities. Primitive campsites (no showers, electricity) are closer to the River Umngot. We pitched our tent alongside other tents a few metres from the river. We ran into Nang who runs adventure sports at Shnongpdeng. He helped us with our tents and was great company during our stay.
What Can You Do at Shnongpdeng?
Shnongpdeng offers extensive facilities (adventure sports) within a stumbling distance of your campsite/homestay; like cliff-jumping, snorkeling, zip-lining, and boating. Boating here for about half-hour costs about INR 700. The seating capacity is 4 pax who are secured with a life jacket. It is a marvel to see the riverbed through crystal clear waters. Unless you’re here during the monsoons when the water gets murky.
Fishing is another activity that one can indulge in. Did you know that fishing is a big sport in Meghalaya? They say that you find a fishing rod in every household in Meghalaya.
How I Spent My Time at Shnongpdeng
We reached Shnongpdeng late in the afternoon and it looked like a great camping spot. The campsites, fishing opportunities, and the incredible mountain views generally would mean many backpackers camp here. Nevertheless, there were ample of tranquil spaces available for us to pitch our tents. We parked ourselves a few metres from the river but if the rains were back, we would have to move on higher ground.
Looking at the fishermen & the locals in their boats, we asked Nang to arrange a long-pointed boat for us. Soon we were sailing in paradise. With tall cliffs and small waterfalls on either side, we were enthralled by Umngot and its beauty.
This leisure ride is a must-do and you will feel like you are sailing through the islands in Thailand.
In the evening, we spent time with the locals who set up a bonfire right by the river for us. They spoke of how Shnongpdeng is overlooked because of commercialized Dawki. But they see this as a blessing as they treasure the simple life amidst the mountains.
Later in the evening, we had delicious food at Donbok’s home, a stone’s throw away from our campsite. His family prepared MEGA aalu parathas with lots of green chili. They also cooked fish curry with rice. The river fish is bony but tender and delicious.
After satiating our hunger cravings, we went back to our tents and put out our sleeping bags. With wilderness on all sides, we lay amid the gentle hum of the Umngot river. A soft breeze blew past us although slightly sticky. A night under hundreds of stars & away from other campsites was ideal for a sense of solitude. However, be assured of the company of mosquitoes and flies that are plentiful from June to October. Ensure you carry an insect repellent.
Most importantly during the monsoons be mindful of where you pitch your tent. Keep away from lone trees, and mountain tops. It is best to be amid the dense growth if there is a storm or lightning. Also, check with the locals if the water level rises by night if you plan to pitch your tent closer to the river.
The next day began with a spectacular view of the Umngot river and the towering mountains on the background. We got ourselves some hot tea from a nearby hut & found a flat rock by the river to enjoy the view. The sky was fairly clear and I was hoping Nang would take us snorkeling. But, due to the ongoing monsoon season, there was little hope as the water level is higher and the water is muddy. We weren’t able to find Nang & so decided to walk around.
We went to a suspension bridge to get a few clicks and believe you me, I’d any day pick the living-root bridges over these. The suspension bridges are not half as sturdy. Beware this one in particular has two loose rods at different spots. So, watch your step. I spent some time soaking in the beautiful view from up here before crossing over to the other end of the wobbly bridge.
Nang was back, he had gone for mass to the Baptist church a few hundred metres from the campsite. He reconfirmed snorkeling would not be possible due to the muddy water as it had been raining for a few days. However, Nang, Batskhem – Donbok’s son and other locals around had shared stories last evening about a secret trek to a hidden village called Kudengrim.
We knew where we were headed next!
The very beginning of the trek was steep up until Amkhoi village and the extended monsoons made the trek tougher than we expected it to be. We were warned by the locals of the challenging start to the trek where most people turn back down. But they also assured us that once we get to Amkhoi the path is rather straightforward. We also hoped for lesser leeches to encounter on the way forward.
Reaching Amkhoi was a sense of achievement given that I chose to trek immediately after Nongriat. We were only halfway there but pleased that the next hour till Nongbareh was scenic.
Once we reached Nongbareh, the next village on the route, we were accompanied by a bunch of school kids who were thrilled to lead the way to Kudengrim. One of the boys was a football enthusiast and a Hazard fan. Of course, I educated him all about the fantasy league 😅
We had reached KUDEN – Definitely not GRIM! What lie ahead were natural pools and waterfalls. I felt a sense of fulfillment in being able to get into the water surrounded by wilderness on all sides.
Kudengrim has acres of untouched forest land. You can be charmed by the beauty of the waterfalls, take a dip in these beautiful natural pools with turquoise color waters, play football at the open grounds or just sit back and relax at the tree houses.
In the North East, people are naturally talented at football and they can easily pull off some tricks with the ball. We played a quick game with the school kids who accompanied us to Kudengrim. After surpassing the expectations of the Kudengrim footballers we wandered into the forests looking for a natural pool.
In the picture, the bamboo bridge is an example of the finest architecture by the locals. The unsteady bridge gives you goosebumps as you trust the bridge to hold on. The bridges (living-root, bamboo, suspension, etc.) of Meghalaya are a complete thrill and an experience to be had.
Best Time to Visit
November – May. You must avoid the monsoons as the crystal-clear waters is the prime attraction of this place. If you are into fishing then ideally March-May is the best time to visit because the fish don’t take bait in the winters.
How to Travel Responsibly in Shnongpdeng?
With the growing popularity of the place as a campsite destination and its close proximity to the Bangladesh border, Shnongpdeng could slowly lose its beauty and charm. Plastic waste and alcohol bottles lying around campsites and the river bank are a nuisance. As responsible travelers, we need to be more sensitive to the environment. Ensure you carry your own trash bag and eventually dispose of all your waste in bins planted around the campsite.
Travel Tips for Shnongpdeng
- There are no ATM’s available in Shnongpdeng. The closest ATM is in Dawki. It is advisable to keep cash handy before you pass Dawki.
- Camp here mid-week as Shnongpdeng is only 2kms from the Bangladesh border. On weekends the place is anything but quiet unless that is what you’re looking for.
Hope this read satisfies the inner outdoors-man in you.