Going Offbeat in Meghalaya & Learning Interesting Things

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Nohkalikai Falls, Meghalaya
The famous Nohkalikai Falls at sunset
Following my quest of “Chasing Monsoons”, this July I visited the state famous for its clouds and rains. For years, Meghalaya captured my imagination and when I finally got to visit, I was blown away by its beauty and how! If you thought Meghalaya itself is offbeat, wait until you read my post. ☺

Here are 10 things about Meghalaya that I found to be very interesting.

1.Have you met “Be Careful”?

No? How about “Impossible” or “Be Patient”? I was surprised to know as well, that these are the names of people here. While I didn’t get to meet any of these guys, Yarana, from Samrakshan Tours, our host in Garo Hills, told me about these weird names. Apparently words have been picked up from the Bible and children were named after those words without even knowing what they meant.

2. Cherrapunji is like living in the grasslands of Western Ghats, forever!

Grasslands of Meghalaya around Sohra
Grasslands surrounding the town of Sohra, known as Cherrapunji to the outside world. 
We all know Cherrapunji as the world’s wettest place, a claim lost long time ago but the fame still remains. Locally known as Sohra, Cherrapunji is exactly like grasslands of Western Ghats. But the little patches of forests between the folds of the grasslands are few and far in between. So it doesn’t come as a surprise that the wettest place on earth suffers from water shortage during the dry months. The rains wash away all the soil and there aren’t trees to hold and let the water seep into the ground. All the water floods into Bangladesh and Sohra suffers.


3. Bangladesh is just a stone throw away

Flood plains of Bangladesh as seen from Meghalaya
Flood plains of Bangladesh as seen from Meghalaya
Meghalaya is bounded by Assam on the north and Bangladesh on the south. But what’s a bit surprising is the proximity of the flood plains of Bangladesh to everywhere else in Meghalaya. You can see Bangaldesh from almost everywhere, Meghalaya being on a higher ground. Many times, we were so close that an hour’s trek would take you across the border. We would walk till the edge of the hilltop and the slopes would gradually even out to form the flood plains below. Later in the trip, we actually crossed the border but more on that later.

4. The man moves to the woman’s house after marriage

Matrilineal culture, Khasi, Meghalaya
A Khasi woman in her traditional attire
Yes, they do. Women inherit the property and the children take on the mother’s name. Matrilineal system is prevalent in Meghalaya, across the three tribes of Khasi, Jaintia and Garo. However, talking to the women there, I figured this system doesn’t empower them much. Matrilineal societies are different from Matriarchal societies. Even though property rights stay with the women here, it is still the brother or the maternal uncle of the lady who takes all the decisions. But the girl child is favored here and women keep giving birth to children until they have at least 2 girls because the son won’t take care of the parents, as he will move away to a different house after marriage. Read this article on Tehelka to know more about how women aren’t that empowered here - http://www.tehelka.com/raped-in-a-safe-state/?singlepage=1

5. Meghalaya has a million different kinds of butterflies

Yellow Butterflies in Meghalaya Forest
Walking amidst fluttering butterflies in the forest
Surprised again, I had no idea Meghalaya was famous for butterflies. I would’ve seen so many different kinds of butterflies in those 10 days than all the other days of my life put together. It was like a different world, as we walked through the forest, we would pass by groups of fluttering butterflies of all shapes and colors! Garo Hills of Meghalaya has recorded 300+ different species of butterflies.

6. The first view of a living root bridge will make your heart skip a beat

Living Root Bridges of Meghalaya
Living Root Bridges of Meghalaya, in the valleys several of these bridges are still in use
One of the finest examples of Bioengineering, no amount of reading is going to prepare you for your first encounter with this exquisite creation. It takes 10 years of the Ficus Elastica(Rubber) trees to grow roots and a hundred odd years for them to grow into a strong bridge. Hiking in Meghalaya, it was easy for me to see the need for such strong structures. We had to cross several streams several times between villages. Earlier bamboo bridges were constructed which would either rot or get destroyed in the monsoons, but these living root bridges only get stronger every year!

7. There are about 1800+ elephants in Meghalaya

Elephants in Garo Hills, Siju Rewak Corridor, Meghalaya
Elephants in Garo Hills, Siju Rewak Corridor, Meghalaya
Traveling in the remote Garo Hills, we came across many elephant corridors. I had no idea again, that Meghalaya had elephant population at all. When we were cutting across the very important Siju-Rewak Corridor, we encountered a herd of 7 elephants. Seeing wild elephants at close quarters in an unexpected place like Meghalaya was precious! However, loss of habitat and man-animal conflict is rising by the day in Garo Hills. I hope both the people and the elephants get to live peacefully.

8. Fishing is big here

Monsoon Fishing in Meghalaya
Monsoon time is fishing time!
During monsoons, one gets to see a very interesting sport here in Meghalaya, fishing! Well, with so many streams flowing through these pristine mountains, it makes sense that locals do fish a lot for food. But it was surprising to see the scale in which fishing was taken up as a hobby. By late afternoon people would settle by the banks of the many ponds and fish. There are fishing tournaments conducted with prize money to be won up to 7 lakhs! Not just in the towns but also in the remote villages, monsoons are synonymous with fishing.

9. So are the caves!

Siju Cave, Garo Hills, Meghalaya
That's me exploring Siju Cave in Garo Hills, Meghalaya
This didn’t come as a surprise as I knew already that Meghalaya was famous for caves. There are several explored and even more unexplored cave systems in this state. Caving is getting popular by the day and the caves here are some of the longest in Asia. We went to the spectacular Siju cave in Garo Hills, thought to be more than 3kms long. The entrance was flooded with water and we waded through the knee-deep stream in pitch darkness towards the end of the long chamber. The sound of water flowing in the darkness was freaky but also cool in a weird way. I’m not that into caving but if that’s your thing, Meghalaya is where you should be.

10. The wild beauty of Garo Hills

Wild Garo Hills, Meghalaya
Wild Garo Hills, Meghalaya
The biggest revelation of this trip has to be Garo Hills for me. Very rich in bio-diversity and wildly beautiful is how I remember Garo Hills. The muddy waters of the raging Simsang River flow through the heart of Garo and enter into Bangladesh where it is takes a new name, Someswari. Along the sides of the river are pristine forests and undisturbed ranges of hills. Clouds move in and out of the valleys and when it rains, it pours. Due to rampant insurgency and its remoteness, Garo Hills is a very difficult place to visit but totally worth it.

So how did you like this glimpse of Meghalaya that I experienced?

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64 comments

  1. Awesome images... have seen many pics of that falls, but the falls with the sunset is an epic combo...

    Have visited in schooldays but not as a traveller... need to get these places soon... did you also venture into Jaintia hills?

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    1. Thanks Jitaditya, waited for a long time at the falls, didn't look like sunset colors would appear but just as I was about to leave, the sky changed and brought what colors! :)
      And couldn't go towards Jaintia, Khasi and Garo hills took all our time, have to make more visits for sure.

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  2. Lovely visuals. The sights are indeed mesmerizing. I spent around 10 months working there. It was a lovely experience.

    Regarding your point no. 1, here is something that I encountered during my work there.

    http://vinay-upadhyay.blogspot.in/2009/03/whats-in-name.html

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    1. Wow, that must've been such an experience working in a place as beautiful as Meghalaya. And I thought Be Patient was as weird as it could get, but Toilet? Ha ha, really??!! :)

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  3. These 10 things are really interesting to know - especially butterflies! I love butterflies :) Our country has immense beauty...endless...even a lifetime is less to fully explore all of it!

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    1. True that Renuka, so many places to see here only! If you love butterflies, you will love Meghalaya. They are everywhere and in so many colors!

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  4. Lovely Pictures Neelima. And the info you've provided is wonderful. Never know that Meghalaya had so much to offer. Thanks for sharing.
    Cheers
    PS Waiting for that post where you guys wandered off into Bangladesh :) Must have been quite an experience

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    1. Ha ha, that was one crazy road trip. Will try to post details soon. You can get an idea looking at this google maps route though - http://goo.gl/maps/Vp9XB ;)

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  5. Awesome pictures Neelima.. really interesting facts.. I want to visit this lovely place.. I appreciate your interest in travelling :)

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    1. Thanks Mahathi, welcome to my blog. I hope you get to visit Meghalaya soon. :)

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  6. Oh my God ! Some of the photographs look like you have been to Avatar ! Amazing ! Simply amazing !!

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    1. Ha ha, this has to be the best comment ever! It was, in some ways, like discovering a far away exotic land. :)

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  7. Brilliant captures from Meghalaya! Thanks for sharing interesting information about the state.

    http://www.rajniranjandas.blogspot.in

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    1. Thanks Niranjan, Meghalaya has so many more stories, very fascinating place.

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  8. Thanks for lovely photographs and introducing us to some of the unknown facts.
    Please also mention places for stay, travel mode and routes followed by you

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    1. Thanks Harish, will do a guide post soon.

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  9. Very beautiful captures and a window to not so touristy region. Totally mesmerised.

    www.bnomadic.wordpress.com

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    1. So am I, totally mesmerised by Meghalaya. :)

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  10. I'm going to quickly add Garo Hills to my list of places to see!

    Great pictures.

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    1. You should, what a wild place that was. Will never forget it. Also the nicest people there!

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  11. Awesome photos and would like to more inputs even in brief about stay and other infos( Tips ) if anyone of us would like to visit those places in near or far future.

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    1. Thanks Vinay, yes, would do that soon. Will put up a guide to Offbeat Meghalaya.

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  12. Awesome. I enjoyed every line of this. The images are also excellent. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Nice to see you here Neloy, thanks, Meghalaya is a spectacular place! :)

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  13. beautiful photos.... and amazing facts about Meghalaya...

    thanks

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    1. Thank you, glad you found it interesting! :)

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  14. Neelima, these are some stunning photographs. Meghalaya is beautiful, no doubt, but I'd give some credit to the photographer too. Did you click these? And really, "Impossible"? "Be careful"? Wow I am trying to imagine calling out to someone called "Be Patient".

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    1. Thanks Nishi, yes, I am the photographer too. :)
      There are apparently even weirder names than Be Patient, take a look at this - http://sinfulfiction.blogspot.com/2008/12/some-names.html

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  15. hi Neelima,
    i am quite a fan of your photography and your traveling..
    presently i am planning a tour in Meghalaya, can you please guide me how can i protect my DSLR against the rain/water without hampering the photography??
    will be grateful of your suggestion.
    thanks.

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    1. Hi Pratik, Most DSLRs ate not as delicate as we believe them to be. They can take some rain, some heat, some dust and so on. Next thing is a good camera bag. Lowepro bags are weather proof. I used one of those on this trip. Also had an oversized rain jacket to cover the camera bag and myself when it rained. Also I always keep a dry cloth and umbrella handy to dry the camera or lens if needed.
      Have a great trip in Meghalaya!

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  16. Neelima,

    I enjoyed "Offbeat in Meghalaya" !! Thanks for sharing beautiful pictures from this part of the world !

    -Shikha

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    1. Great to see you here Shika! Have seen your website and you've got some spectacular images there. :)

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  17. hello hello this is Jagan again... back after my breathtaking trip to Jammu and kashmir incuding Stok Kangri.... details separately... now i got to be in meghalaya for 12 hours.... did a lighting fast trip in a personal taxi.. visited all but living root bridges for lack of time.. the nohklakai falls... wanted to climb down to the bottom and started but gave up half way realising the time involved and the time we had..
    mawsmai caves... and the view points at the entrance to cherrapunji... and in a different place... then the elephant falls in shillong...
    will share a couple of nice pics that i have later... and btw i just loved the mountains there.... cant explain in words...
    one final thing is Meghalaya is sure shot repeat visit place.... thing to be noted is i never ever repeat a place .... and i was aroud just 30 km away from bangaldesh border somewhere.... wanted to go there badly... but driver told me it would extra 3 hours which i could not afford....

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    1. Super, congratulations on the successful summit. I went to Mawlynnong and it was so "Meh". Didn't get what the big deal was about, I think it's just a clever ploy to attract more tourists. Didn't do any of the usual tourist places or view points as such, was a nice quite and very very offbeat exploration. The other side of Meghalaya is surely awesome!

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  18. did u visit the Mawlynnong village... i desperately hope that u did not miss that at least... for me time constraint...

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  19. Thanks for taking us to every corners of India… I just loved your way of expressing the journey.. and the photographs were awesome…
    One thing… It’s been a long time not seeing the bike.?? Don’t leave it behind feeling bad along with the bike  hope nxt time..

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    1. Thank you, I love showing every corner of India on my blog too. :)
      And yes, it's been quite a while since I took out the bike. Should do that next year for sure. :(

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  20. Awesome captures - esp the 2nd one. And gr8 blog always a pleasure visit the places thru them:) Keep it up.

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    1. Thanks VP, glad you like what you see here. :)

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  21. Wow! I visited Meghalaya a long time ago, as a kid, part of a whirlwind NE tour. Need to go back!
    And that photo of the sunset above the falls is just breathtaking!

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    1. Meghalaya is so breathtaking I can't even tell! :) Before visiting I was a bit apprehensive on how I can get off the beaten track but save for Shillong and Cherrapunji, everything else is pretty much wild and offbeat. Thanks, do visit soon.

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  22. Wow. this is just amazing. I doubt why people keep on saying they want to travel abroad to visit awesome places when we have better places.
    I was planning but somehow the trip got cancelled. now the urge to visit Meghalaya is even strong. Thanks for this great post :)

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    1. You said it Ayush, which is why I never even attempted to travel out of India. Not just yet. There is so much to explore here. You should plan to visit Meghalaya, such a gem of a place that is. :)

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  23. Wowwwowowww!!!! I always knew I had to visit Meghalaya... but now this has gone right on top of my travel wish list. What an amazing post!! India is so damn pretty!!! <3 <3

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    1. Ha ha, I know right! More I explore India, the more I fall in love with it. :) Hope you get to visit soon.

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  24. That simply amazing. Meghalaya and other NE states have so much to offer. We will visit for sure in coming years.

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    1. I swear, haven't even scratched the surface of North-East, if I call it so, the last truly wild places of India are in NE . Even I will be making many more visits in the coming years, can't get enough of this awesomeness!

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  25. Hey Neelima...description was awesome...can you tell more about the food and living(something different) if have tried.

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    1. Their food is simple and they don't use much spices, it is often bland and boiled. They eat bamboo a lot, many dishes using many parts of bamboo. Sticky rice and fish is eaten a lot. They eat all kinds of meat, dogs, elephants, clouded leopards included[I didn't eat any of these btw] :)

      Living, they all live in wooden huts and houses built on raised platforms. Very interesting architecture.

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  26. Excellent pictures Neelima :) wud like to travel one day to NE.

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    1. Thanks Harish, tell me when, I'll join, NE is that awesome. ;)

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  27. Whoa! beautiful pictures Neelima:) and an interesting write-up too. Makes me want to visit North East some day. Keep sharing !

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    1. Thanks Shweta, glad you found the post interesting! :) North East is a hidden gem, one of the most fascinating places I have visited so far. Do visit soon.

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  28. You were very lucky to have such awesome weather in Meghalaya

    We came back with very dry memories and could not like the place.

    and Shillong which we wanted to visit for its Rock Scene, did not have anything on when we were as it was exam time for some schools.

    did you get to hear any great bands?


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    1. Well, we were stuck with hot and humid weather in the valleys of Khasi hills even during peak monsoon but Garo Hills quenched all our thirst for torrential downpour. :) But irrespective of weather, Meghalaya is one awesome place. You need to get off the beaten track to enjoy Meghalaya better because like any other commercialized place, Shillong and Cherrapunji have lost their charm already IMO.

      And I'm not much into rock scene at all, so no bands. :) In fact stayed in Shillong only for one evening, as a transit stop.

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  29. After reading this, I wanna go back to Meghalaya. I visited Shillong last month but did not get much time to explore other places...This coming year Meghalaya is surely on my top list...

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    1. There is so much more to Meghalaya than what we hear about from far away. It's a wonderful place with unmatched natural beauty. Do make a longer visit and I'm sure you'll not be disappointed. :)

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  30. Loved your post as well as the pics. Never knew Meghalaya is so beautiful. Will surely go for a trip in the rain :)

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  31. Hi, Your Nohkalikai Falls picture has been featured in our article here www.travelspeak.in/cherrapunji-monsoons-dont-end/

    Great capture!

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  32. Superb pics....meghalaya was never on the bucket list.... You have just added it to our list!

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  33. Spent my childhood there, when my father (Ex. AirForce) was stationed in Assam. Wish to go there again someday!

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  34. Neelima my parents are traveling to Meghalaya in July. Will rains be bad? Also would it be possible to hike to living root bridges for them, considering it will all be mushy?

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  35. Neelima my parents are traveling to Meghalaya in July. Will rains be bad? Also would it be possible to hike to living root bridges for them, considering it will all be mushy?

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  36. hey! i really liked your blog...i am planing to visit meghalaya in December and i am looking for a really local experiences....in your blog you have mentioned that getting to garo hills is a bit difficult...can you share some details of people or contacts who can help me plan my trip more locally???

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