‘Cherrapunji is the wettest place on earth. It gets the highest amount of rainfall in the world,‘ I remember reading time and time again in my geography textbooks at school. Like many, that was my first introduction to Cherrapunji, via school books.
Well, the mantle of ‘wettest place on earth’ has now been passed to the neighbouring village of Mawsynram. Still, I am so thrilled to have had a chance to actually visit Cherrapunji aka Sohra, this place straight out of my school books, on our holiday to North-East India! And, guess what? We happened to visit Cherrapunji right in the midst of the monsoon, when it was at its wettest, wild, gorgeous best!
Cherrapunjee from my eyes
We didn’t have any preconceived notions about Cherrapunji when we visited, and went with an open mind. The place charmed the socks right off us. We were thrilled to meet the sleepy, laid-back, small town that Cherrapunjee is, literally in the midst of the clouds. This land of many waterfalls and lush, lush greenery is still off-the-beaten track for many tourists.
Most tourists who do come here stay for just a day or so. They opt only to visit the Double-Decker Living Root Bridge and, at the most, a couple of tourist destinations. Cherrapunjee, however, is the sort of place you explore at a leisurely place. It is the kind of place where you stay put and do nothing, just sitting in the porch of your hotel with a cup of tea warming your hands, soaking in the prettiness around you. It is the kind of place where you take long walks on the winding streets, on misty mornings. You watch whole mountains being swallowed up by the clouds and mist. You let the clouds and mist envelop you, too, and you disappear into a private, magical space all of your own. Here, you begin to understand why Meghalaya (‘the abode of the clouds’ is called so), and why Rabindranath Tagore was moved to poetry here. You even write some poetry of your own, here. There is a lot to see and do and feel and explore in Cherrapunjee, if you take the time to do it.
We stayed in Cherrapunji for 3 days, and thoroughly enjoyed our time there. We skipped the famous Double-Decker Root Bridge, as we were told it wasn’t a wise thing to attempt with a toddler in tow. We checked out many other spots here, and yet, I have this feeling that we have just barely scratched the surface.
When we visited, it would rain heavily in the early mornings, and everywhere would be filled with mist. At times like these, we would go for a leisurely stroll, just to get ourselves acquainted with the place, gawping at the pretty pastel-coloured houses, the local Ja-Sha (tea & rice) shops, and the many remnants of British culture. We would head for a relaxed breakfast then, the weather beginning to turn very pleasant. A day of exploration would follow. By 5.30 PM or so, it would start getting dark, and we would return to our hotel to rest and recoup. I grew so very fond of these do-nothing sort of days in Cherrapunjee – I would do it all over again in a flash!
Relics from the times of the British Raj
Our cab driver told us fascinating stories of how the British were charmed by Cherrapunjee. ‘The Britishers wanted to make this place their capital,’ he said, adding, ‘but they found life here extremely tough. It was difficult to maintain any sort of records – the rain would wash away the ink on all their official papers. Finally, they gave up, and made Shillong their capital.’
I’m not sure how far this is true, but Cherrapunji does still possess some relics from the time the Britishers spent here. There are some very beautiful ancient churches here, and a few schools that the British set up. Apparently, during the British rule in Meghalaya, many of the local Khasi tribespeople converted to Christianity, which is still the most-favoured religion in the state, Cherrapunjee included.
Neither the husband nor me are enamoured with waterfalls. I mean, we do love the sound of the gushing water – it never fails to soothe and relax us – but apart from that, we aren’t particularly fascinated by them. The waterfalls of Cherrapunji, however, made us fall in love with them! Wahkaba is one such beautiful waterfall we visited here, and absolutely adored. Abundant, powerful, pretty, we stared and stared at this waterfall for a long, long time. Then, the sun came out and made a rainbow in the Wahkaba, magic right before our eyes!
There are quite a few caves and caverns in Cherrapunji, many of them boasting of exotic rock formations and fossils. Mawsmai and Arwah are two of the best-known caves in the area. We decided not to do Mawsmai, as our tour guide suggested against it – it would be a difficult trek with a baby. We went to Arwah instead, and it turned out to be a fascinating experience.
The climb up to Arwah Caves itself is magical. You get to see some amazing, amazing vistas, as you ascend.
You can choose to sit and rest at any of the stops during the climb, and take in the beauty around you. We did the climb real slow, soaking in every moment of it.
Good we did that, too, because when we got to the caves, we found we couldn’t get in too deep while carrying the kid – parts of it are real narrow and you need to double over to enter.
We were so drunk on nature by then that we didn’t mind this one bit. Not exploring the cave meant more time for us to lounge around and breathe in more of that gorgeous, fresh air.
Nohkalikai is another amazingly beautiful waterfall in Cherrapunji. When we visited, the water was abundant and gushing. At this spot, we fell in love with waterfalls all over again.
This brilliant waterfall has a rather gruesome story behind it, associated with a young local lady called Ka Likai (‘Ka‘ is a prefix given to women in general in Khasi). After Ka Likai’s husband died, she remarried, as is customary in this part of the world. Ka Likai had a baby daughter by her first husband, and would spend a lot of time with the little one after she got back home from work. Local legend says this made her new husband so jealous and furious that he killed the baby, and used the meat to cook a meal for his wife. That evening, the wife, hungry after her work, ate the meal. It was only later, when Ka Likai discovered a little finger lying in the house that she realised what had happened. Overcome with grief, she ran off the edge of a nearby cliff and died. Since then, the waterfall emanating from this particular place began to be called the Nohkalikai Falls, after her.
Sad as the story behind Nohkalikai Falls is, the place is quite the tourist attraction now. The atmosphere at the site resembles a small village fair, with everything from local handicrafts, woollen garments and toys to forest honey, a variety of pickles, fresh cinnamon bark and bay leaves on sale. I loved this part – I walked around the fair to my heart’s content, took pictures and shopped till we almost dropped!
The Ramakrishna Mission, set up in Cherrapunji in 1924 by Swami Vivekananda, is a big-time tourist attraction here. We found it just like the Mission in other places, nothing extraordinary. I loved the museum within the Mission premises, though, which is full of information and models depicting life in the North-East Indian states and their history.
Photography is not permitted here, and so, I don’t have any pictures of this place to show.
A large park maintained by the government, Eco Park is something of a tourist attraction in Cherrapunji. It isn’t much, to be honest, sort of poorly maintained, but it does offer some amazing views. We enjoyed walking around the park, photographing the breath-taking Missing Falls (named so because the source of the waterfall is untraceable). The kiddo had a grand time having a go at the swings in the children’s play area here!
Seven Sisters Falls
The Nohsngithiang Falls in Cherrapunji is popularly called the Seven Sisters Falls, because it is segmented into seven parts, naturally. Considered one of India’s tallest falls, this is supposed to be quite a beautiful spot. When we visited, however, we found only very thin streams of water cascading into the valley below, a kind of disappointment after the gorgeous falls we had been witness to in Cherrapunji earlier.
So, that’s about all that we managed to do in Cherrapunji. Like I said before, I believe we have only just scratched the surface of all that the place has to offer. Well, next time..
The best way to visit Cherrapunji is to reach Guwahati, either by air or train. Cherrapunji, about 180km from Guwahati, can be reached via state transport buses or private cabs. Alternatively, you could travel to Shillong from Guwahati (via bus or cab), and then travel ahead to Cherrapunji.
Private cabs are the best way to cover all the major tourist destinations in Cherrapunji. It is a great place to walk leisurely around in, but you really need a cab to sight-see. Our entire North-East trip was planned and managed by North East Explorers.
There are a handful of good homestays, guest houses, hotels and resorts in Cherrapunji. Polo Orchid Resort, Cherrapunjee Holiday Resorts, Sohra Plaza, D Cloud Guesthouse are some stay options available here.
Orange Roots, Halari, 7 Sisters Falls View Inn, Cafe Cherrapunjee & Inn and Rain Cafe are some of the popular eateries here.
I hope you enjoyed reading this post, and found it useful! Please do tell me in your comments!