Little did I know that the drive from Shillong to Cherrapunji would be so filled with such interesting and unique experiences that each one of them would be etched into my memory without a single location being forgettable.
After my lightning round of 2 days in Aurangabad visiting both ancient locations of Ellora Caves and Ajanta Caves, I spent a full day flying to Guwahati India followed by a very long drive to Shillong. All this so that I could make my way to see the amazing root tree bridges of Cherrapunji. I was a bit exhausted.
However, I was still in Shillong. I couldn’t just go straight to the massive hike to the tree bridges in Cherrapunji, instead I took a day to make it through the final two hours of driving that would leave me at a hotel at the beginning of the hike.
Now was the time to explore the beautiful country-side of this odd location that was nestled between Bangladesh and Bhutan. During the ride I was able to see Bangladesh from the road side views which gave me a phenominal landscape of both close and distant steep mountains. Looking out the window during my ride I couldn’t help but think about how I was going deeper and deeper into the jungle on roads that were progressively getting worse.
Visiting Elephant Falls
While still in Shillong, my first stop was the enchanting Elephant Falls, one of nature’s awe-inspiring creations – pictured above. The falls are a triple cascade of water, each with its own unique character and beauty, which tumble down a steep mountain gorge. Even better, It was a quick stop because the falls were not very far from where we were able to park nor was it far from my hotel in Shillong where I stayed overnight. Pictures below
Elephant falls are actually a series of three successive falls, each with a unique character, that cascade down a steep mountain gorge. The first fall is the most impressive and the largest, with a height of about 20 meters.
I learned that for Khasi people, who were local to this area, Elephant falls has a cultural significance and is considered sacred. They even hold an annual festival to celebrate the harvest season called Shad Suk Mynsiem.
The surrounding landscape is just as interesting. There is lush greenery and towering trees that provide a stunning backdrop, enhancing the beauty of the falls. The sound of Elephant Falls adds to the calming, unforgettable experience before you turn around and continue on the waterfall and cave trail.
Visiting Mawphlang sacred forest
The next stop was Mawphlang sacred forest. The forest is preserved by the local Khasi people and as a visitor you are not allowed to remove anything from the forest itself. Initially, I thought that this would be a pretty boring visit. I figured it would just be a small walk through a bit of the forest, which I typically find a bit interesting but mostly a way to get a tiny hike in.
Since this is India, a guide walked me through the Mahphlang forest. The Khasis believe that the Mahphlang sacred forest is home to powerful deities and spirits that protect the area and ensure the well-being of the community and for generations they have been protecting it from deforestation and other destructive activities. As a result, the forest is a thriving ecosystem that is home to rare and endangered species of plants and animals.
I was in the forest in the winter when the bulk of the larger animals are hiding from tourists such as myself, however I was really taken with the look of the forest and the culture that existed in it and still exists today in it. For example, the Khasis have a long standing tradition of sacrifice in the forest and I was able to see where they performed their sacrifices.
According to Khasi tradition, the sacrifice of an animal, usually a goat, is seen as a way to honor and appease the spirits and deities that are believed to reside in the forest. The sacrifice is carried out by a designated person, usually a shaman or a village elder, who performs the ritual in a respectful and ceremonial manner. They do eat the sacrificed animal, which made me a bit more comfortable with the idea.
The small bit of the forest that I got to explore I found very cool! It is a short visit and I would recommend it.
A visit to the Garden of Caves India
Ka Bri Synrang, is also known as the Garden of Caves, it is a remarkable cave system that required me to walk along a thin path on a cliff-side with phenomenal views to get to. The limestone formations found in the caves are estimated to be millions of years old and have been shaped by natural erosion and weathering. The caves are a popular tourist attraction and offer visitors the chance to explore a unique underground landscape filled with fascinating geological features.
I particularly remember walking into the first cave-like waterfall thinking that this was amazing and most likely the only thing to see. I was very wrong. This is not a single experience. This is not a single cave. This is a set of experiences that have all come together in a single area. One of the more interesting points as I was exploring deep inside a dark cave, was that the last time my guide was at the cave, there was an exit. That exit had caved in over the last week.
That got me thinking. In the United States, this would just be a fully closed off area, but because I was in India it was just part of the experience.
A visit to Arwah Cave, India
Etched into a mountainside in the dense forests of Meghalaya lies a subterranean world like no other. Arwah Caves, sculpted over millions of years by underground rivers, are a stunning testament to the power of nature. With their colossal limestone formations towering over 30 feet tall, these caves are a true wonder to behold. As I explored the winding dark passages by the light of my cell phone flashlight, I discovered hidden pools, sparkling stalactites, and even a rare species of bats who for the most part left me alone. Pictures below.
The most interesting part of this visit for me was the incredible views off the cliff as we approached, followed by being able to see and touch fossils from 65 millions of years ago of prehistoric mammals, reptiles, and fish. In fact Arwah caves are known for providing insights into the evolution of various animal species and helping scientists to better understand the geological history of the region. The fact that I could both walk by and touch the fossils in the cave was crazy to me, but an amazing moment.
I will note that deep inside the cave I went into an area that is usually inaccessible due to water. Since it was winter and it had been dry for a longer than usual the water had receded and I got to explore a place that my guide had never been able to get to before.
A visit to Nohkalikai Falls
The final stop on my drive from Shillong to Cherrapunji was a scenic view of the beautiful Nohkalikai falls. Nohkalkai Falls is one of the tallest waterfalls in India, with a height of around 340 meters (1115 feet). Legend has it that it was named after a woman named Likai who jumped off the cliff next to the falls after her husband killed and cooked their daughter, a gruesome tale. However the falls themselves were amazing.
The Nohkalikai falls are fed by rainwater collected in the plateau above and cascades down into a green-blue pool at the bottom, the unique color is caused by algae. However, the legend states that the color of the water is due to the presence of the daughters flesh, gross! Pictures below.
Final leg of the waterfalls, caves and sacred forest drive
Driving from the last location to my hotel near the top of the Cherrapunji hike, I could only think about how lucky I was to have taken the time to stop at each of these spots. As the drive continued to my hotel I sat back and reflected on my day and was quite happy that I took the time to complete that drive.