Backpackers guide to the root bridges of Meghalaya
Welcome to one of the most beautiful areas of the country, Meghalaya has it all. Good food, beautiful landscapes, abundant wildlife and friendly culture. What more could anyone ask for from a holiday destination? Until very recently, it has not been possible to reach here, and for the first time visitor, it can seem very difficult to work out where to go. So in this post, a Backpackers guide to the root bridges of Meghalaya I will be helping you to find your way this beautiful corner of the universe.
It is one of the most accessible parts of the northeast as Shilong is only a short drive from Guwahati. This is a fantastic place to start exploring the seven sister states. Unlike everywhere else, this area of Meghalaya is very structured. So by coming here, you have made an excellent choice. Let us now delve into the secrets this state has to offer and talk about how to get around so that you can make the most out of your time.
Now for a brief background of the area.
These stunning bridges are created by guiding the roots of the rubber fig tree Ficus elastic across one of the many rivers in the area. As it grows the tree strengthens, and the people can use them like bridges. The Khasi people who inhabit the hills in this great state have been making them for generations and as far as we know these extraordinary bridges are today still the only sustainable structures that human beings have ever made. That is to say; it is the only known entirely symbiotic relationship between the natural world and human beings. The tree becomes more robust every year, and the people have a way to cross the raging rivers.
The hills here are some of the wettest places on earth with as much as 18 meters of rainfall in a year. For most of us, that is an amount of water that’s hard to get your head around, and most of that falls in a short space of time. So for centuries, these bridges have been essential to the local communities.
The local Khasi culture is fascinating in itself. The people have distinct food, traditions and customs. One of the more famous aspects is they live in a matrilineal society, and that is to say, the woman rules the roost. In a country where female oppression is rampant, this particular aspect stands out.
The food is quite unlike anywhere else in the country and is a joy to discover. The dishes are well flavoured with a meagre amount of spice involved. The Khasi people consume a lot of pork as well as chicken, beef, lamb, rice and freshwater fish. This food is unusual to find in India, so it is a good idea to eat local as much as you can. They are very proud of their culinary heritage and quite rightly so. The people here are predominately Christian, so they have no hangups about the consumption of pork. I have to say that is something I took full advantage of many times.
For a list of must-try dishes in the area for any foodie, check out this informative post and start crossing off your finds. After all, travelling your tastebuds is one of the joys of being out on the road, right?
To visit the area, almost everyone will come through Shillong. It is the capital of the state and a charming town to relax in. It takes time and planning to organise public transport from here so you will probably have to spend a couple of days.
Check out the two tourist information offices that are in the centre of town. One is straight across the road from the central bus station. They are both accommodating and can give information that’s hard to find elsewhere. There is a park that houses wards lake and the heritage pinewood hotel. Stop there for a cup of tea and enjoy the grandeur of the place. It can make a pleasant way to take up an afternoon.
To get to Shillong is pretty straight forward. There are many public busses from the bus stand near the railway station in Guwahati and Its only 2.5 hours away Aizwal 16 hours, Dimnipur 10 hours and Cherrapunjee 2.5 hours.
There are also many shared jeeps going all around the area. They leave from just below the roundabout in the main square. The MTC bus stand is on jail road and very central to all of the hotels.
Many hotels do not accept foreign tourists, two hotels I know that does is Hotel rainbow 1500 to 2300 rupees for a room. This place is comfortable, and the rooms are cosy. Another option is the quirky Earle Holiday Home. Its has a classic 1920s feel to it, and the attached restaurant sells some of the best food in town. Rooms are from 800 rupees upwards and very atmospheric if not basic. The town centre is tiny, so it is easy to find your way around and if you get lost the friendly locals will point you in the right direction.
Shillong is not near any of the bridges but it the gateway to the countryside. If you plan on visiting both Mawlynnong and Cheranpunjee, you will have to come back here and sleep a night as you cannot connect between the two without hiring a private taxi, despite the fact they both link on to the same main road. There are no connecting jeeps between the two.
Guide to the root bridges of Meghalaya.
The Khasi Hills are picturesque, but its the whimsical bridges that bring in the tourists. So now I will talk about each area of interest individually to make everything clear for you.
The root bridge in Mawlynnong (pictured above) is one of the most famous. When you arrive at the village, there are many places to sleep. Still, they are very overpriced as the village has a rather ominous reputation for being the cleanest village in Asia and this has made it popular with domestic tourists. I would advise Spending the night and go to the bridge in the morning to get the place alone and for the early morning lighting that gives it even more appeal.
By the time you have finished absorbing the peaceful serenity of the bridge, and before the hordes of tourists turn up All transport would be completed for the day as most leave in the early morning, so plan on spending two nights here. That is not an issue as there is a lot of beautiful countryside to stretch your legs in. Jeeps leave from the centre of the village in front of the restaurants.
To get to Mawlynnong from Shillong, you have to go to a bustling multi-storey car park that is downhill from the central part of town. It is a little hard to find, so ask in town for directions. There are only a couple of jeeps a day so find out when they leave before you turn up with your luggage.
The other set of bridges are in an area called Cheranpunjee, and they are scattered around. It takes time and effort to visit them all. Most tourists stay in a town called Sohra, where there are a few guesthouses, and most are expensive. It is a charming place with curious standing stones just outside the town similar to that you would find in England. The downside to staying here is it is far away from any bridges; however, it is possible to walk to Nongreate from here. I have not done it myself but gear yourself up for a long walk. Just ask anyone for directions to the start of the path down.
From Sohra it is only 4.4 km to the dramatic Nohkalikai falls, and you can either walk or get a taxi to the viewpoint. The falls are a lot more exciting in the rainy season when they swell twenty times there normal size. These falls are iconic to the area, and the journey to get here is a delight.
There are a couple of cheaper places to stay around the town, and they tend to be clustered around the sumo stand. Sohra has much better amenities here than elsewhere in the area, so now is your last chance to stock up on anything you need.
When I visit, I much prefer to stay in Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort. It is ridiculously overpriced at 3700 for a room for full board. However, they have bunks in a dormitory, and they are only 750 rupees per bed. I stay here because it is in a good place, close to many bridges and they are very experienced at organising stuff such as rooms in Nongreate that are hard to come by. There are only two guests houses in the village, and they get booked out quickly, so its good to have a connection.
The downside to staying here is you will need a private taxi from Sohra to drop you off as its quite far and while the food is excellent it is a little pricy on a backpacker budget.
The upside is you are in the middle of all the action. There are lots of walks in the area, including one to a sharp drop in the mountains where you can look down on the plains of Bangladesh below.
Walking to Nongreate is a 2000 step walk down although I hear there is now a road, much to the villager’s dismay. The countryside is stunning, particularly between December and the beginning of February when the water is calm and forms many colourful pools. I would recommend walking even if there is a road. Despite it being very steep, it is simply soul charging to walk between one tiny hamlet and another, and the views are unforgettable. It would be a shame to miss it all in the back of a car.
When the two tiny guesthouses get full, the villagers tend to offer a bed in their homes, but you can’t count on that. Byron’s guesthouse is above a steep set of stairs, and the owner does his best to accommodate his many guests. In the season the number of foreign guests becomes overwhelming for the tiny village. Not all of the residence are thrilled about all these people flooding there village so if you do decide to stay down here, please be respectful and be on your best behaviour.
I have no choice but to mention this as the northeast is just opening up to tourism, and there are over two hundred distinct ethnic minorities here. So as tourists, our actions have a significant impact, and quite frankly we are lucky to live in a time when we can move around this bewitching part of the world with ease. Challenging to obtain permits where only lifted a few years ago and that decision was controversial as it boosts the local economies but puts its people and wildlife at the mercy of mass tourism.
There is a stunning waterfall close to the village called rainbow falls that is only accessible in the dry months. To find this place and go for a refreshing swim in its crystal, clear waters follow the path away from the double-decker bridge and onto another set of bridges. When you get the other side keep left, and you will eventually get there. Please do not attempt this walk in the rainy season as it becomes incredibly slippery, and the path can get washed away. Tourists have died in the past trying to get there so be sensible.
Another word of caution is the whole area lays on the fringes of the extensive stretch of wilderness, and while there are many delightful villages and walks to have in the area, it is easy to get lost. Stay on the main paths and if you do go for a walk on the wild side, take a guide. Tourists have been lost out here for days, and the local Khasi people have had to send out search parties.
When I was there last time, a tourist went for a walk and was unable to find his way back. He was close to the village, but lost in the dark so had to stay still with no food or water until the morning. Now Let’s be honest that is definitely not the best way to spend your holiday now is it?
In summary of my Backpackers guide to the root bridges of Meghalaya.
Needless to say, this place is well worth the trip, and you are sure to be rewarded for your efforts. Budget on two weeks to have a look around and have time to take it all in. This is the northeast where things don’t run so smooth as they do elsewhere. I hope you have found this post useful and for more ideas for other intrepid journeys to make around India have a look at my post, and hopefully, this will inspire you.
As usual, if you have any more questions or if you have any ideas on how I can bring a better service to you and this includes issues you would like me to write about, leave your comments in the box provided and I will get back to you. Until next time my fellow Intrepid traveller happy trails.
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