Backpackers guide to the root bridges of Meghalaya
Here is my guide to the root bridges of Meghalaya. Welcome to one of the most beautiful areas of the country. This incredible state has it all. Good food, beautiful landscapes, abundant wildlife and friendly culture. What more could anyone ask for from a holiday destination? However, it is the awesome root bridges people come from around the world to see.
These stunning bridges are created by guiding the roots of the rubber fig tree Ficus elastica across the many rivers in the area. As it grows, the tree strengthens, and the Khasi people use them during the monsoon to get from one side to the other.
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 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 that would otherwise be impossible.
Until very recently, it has been a real challenge to reach these parts. Even now for first-time visitors, it can seem very difficult to work out where to go. So in this post, I will be helping you to find your way to this beautiful corner of the universe.
It is one of the most accessible parts of the Northeast of India as Shilong is only a short drive from Guwahati. This is a fantastic place to start exploring the seven states. Unlike everywhere else in the area, Meghalaya has a good infrastructure. 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.
How to visit the living root bridges of Meghalaya?
Before I carry on talking about them let us first talk about how to visit the living root bridges of Meghalaya. Almost everyone will come through Shillong. It is the capital of the state and a charming little 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 so you may as well make the most of it.
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 straightforward. There are many public busses from the bus stand near the railway station in Guwahati and It’s 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.
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 is the gateway to the countryside and pivotal to reaching them. 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.
Accommodation in Shillong
The truth is that many hotels do not accept foreign tourists. I have been here a few times so I have a couple of firm favourites and here they are. Hotel rainbow offer rooms between 1500 to 2300 rupees s night to stay. This place is comfortable, and the rooms are very cosy. Another option is the quirky Earle Holiday Home. It has a classic 1920s feel, 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 Khasi Hills are picturesque, but it is 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 at the top of the page) is one of the most famous. When you arrive at the village, there are many places to sleep. However, they are very overpriced as the village has a rather strange reputation for being the cleanest village in Asia and this has made it popular with domestic tourists. I would advise Spending the night and going to the bridge in the morning. You will get the place to yourself and the early morning lighting is just delicious in the dry season for photography.
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. Most jeeps leave in the early morning, so plan on spending two nights here. That is not an issue as there is a lot of beautiful stretches of 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 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. They are scattered all around the jungle so they take some serious time to explore. Budget 5 days minimum to visit them all. Most tourists stay in Sohra, where there are a few guesthouses.
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 their 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.
Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort
When I visit, I much prefer to stay in Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort. It is ridiculously overpriced at 3700 for a room with a 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 guest houses in the village, and they get booked out quickly, so it’s good to have a connection.
The downside to staying here is you will need a private taxi from Sohra to drop you off as it’s pretty 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 onto a valley floor, 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 its steepness, 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 in Nonggreate 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. Unfortunately, in the peak season, the number of foreign guests becomes overwhelming for the tiny village. Not all residents are thrilled about all these people flooding their village, so if you decide to stay down here, please be respectful.
I have no choice but to mention this: 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 exciting part of the world with ease. Challenging to obtain permits were only lifted a few years ago. That decision was controversial as it boosts the local economies but puts its people and wildlife at the mercy of mass tourism.
A stunning waterfall close to the village called rainbow falls 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 to 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 lies on the fringes of the extensive stretch of wilderness. 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 local people have had to send out search parties.
When I was there last time, a tourist went for a walk and could not find his way back. He was close to the village but lost in the dark, so he had to stay still with no food or water until the morning. Now Let’s be honest, that is not the best way to spend your holiday now, is it?
The picture you see here is not a scene from Jurrasic Park. It is, in fact, the waterfalls just outside of Sohra. For some more awesome suggestions on what to do here, why not check out the government tourism website?
Khasi food is quite unlike anywhere else in the country and is a joy to discover. I know this post is about the bridges but it is good to know what to expect as it takes a lot longer than a couple of days to experience them. Plus the chef in me wants to share this wonderful cuisine with my readers.
The dishes are well flavoured with a meagre amount of spice involved. This food is unusual to find in India as you can really feel a shift in the dynamics of the food. so it is wise to eat local as much as possible. 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 and I have to say that is something I took full advantage of many times. chicken, beef, lamb, rice and freshwater fish also feature heavily on the menu here.
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?
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 at least 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. If you put the time in you will be handsomely rewarded in your experience.
I hope you have enjoyed my guide to the root bridges of Meghalaya and found this post useful. 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. With that said I will say goodbye, so until next time my fellow Intrepid traveller, happy trails.
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