A reader recently wrote in to enquire about Cherrapunjee. She and her husband were planning a trip to the picturesque hill-station, Shillong and wanted to visit the nearby tourist spots as well. But before I could write to her about Cherrapunjee, she postponed her plans due to ticketing issues. Pity, for April-May is a great time to visit Shillong. Come June and come the famous rains. In Shillong, most often, God opens the rain ‘tap’ and forgets to close it. So what do you get? Rains rains and more rains, non-stop, sometimes goes on for 15 days without taking a breath!!! But then, it’s these rains that make Shillong so beautiful. And as my husband says, what is Cherrapunjee without a little rain, without the usual thick cover of fog? Admit, Cherrapunjee can be really bare without both. August, September, October is a great time to visit too.
Now if you are planning to go to Cherrapunjee when you are in Shillong, which you MUST, for it’s a must-see, do note that Cherrapunjee will take you an entire day. It’s about two and a half hours to three hour’s drive from Shillong city. That makes it about 6 hours on the road. Start at about 7 am in the morning – this way you will make it to Cherra in good time. Plus you would have beaten the infamous traffic snarls in the narrow roads of Shillong. Dare not clash with the school timings. You’d be stranded unnecessarily!!!
Once you have crossed the city limits and are in the upper reaches of Shillong, you will start enjoying the drive. Here’s a tip. Stop by Elephant Falls. Elephant Falls is very beautiful and will take just about 30-45 minutes more. A very short detour will take you there. Do make an effort to climb down and see it in its full glory. Charge yourself with some ‘chai’ from the Khasi kongs on your way up and you are set to enjoy the rest of the drive to Cherrapunjee.
Did anybody tell you that the drive to Cherrapunjee is beautiful? You will know why now. The hills that are unending, undulating, with a thick cover of pine trees; the road flanked by the hills on one side and a deep gorge on the other (lose your concentration while driving and you know where you will land 😉 ); the tiny village you cross every now and then; the crisp air that makes you feel you are alive; and if lucky enough, the occasional fog that enters from one side of the car window and gets out from the other (literally!!!); believe it, it is real even though you might feel that you have been transported to another world.
Soon you will reach Sohra, aka Cherrapunjee. You have reached the land of waterfalls – here you will see that famous Mawsmai Falls, or the Seven Sisters falls. After you have photographed yourself against the falls, walk a yard or two ahead and look to your front. Down below, far into the plains, it is Bangladesh. Mawsmai village is also famous for its caves. They allow you inside the lighted cave. Try it if you can stop yourself from thinking about snakes and lizards – I managed to do it only once, and believe me, it’s an out of the world experience. You get to see beautiful formations off limestone rocks inside with water trickling away and the lights giving it an unearthly look.
This done, head for the Thangkharang Park – they have a glass house with a good collection of orchids and pitcher plants. This park also overlooks the Bangladesh plains. Another majestic falls, Kynrem, is easily visible from here and makes for great photographs. We would get our picnic hamper and lay down our blankets here for lunch. You could do the same. However, you won’t get to buy any food here, as they don’t sell any. In case you are not carrying any food with you, your only bet is the restaurant near Mawsmai falls. Or else the local food at Sohra village. I suggest you carry your own food – that way, you won’t waste time looking for food. Instead, use it to behold nature at its best.
Many Bengalis also go looking for the Ramakrishna Mission in Cherrapunjee. You there if you want to. You won’t be disappointed.
Try to start back from Cherrapunjee by 2 pm. This will enable you to reach your hotel by 5-5.30 maximum. Remember, Shillong is in the north-eastern part of India, and the sun sets rather quickly here. On your way back, and if you are a flower lover, stop by to buy orchids and gladiolis from the locals. Their rates are any day better than the ones at the city. Another round of chai in their white, gleaning cups, and you are ready to enter Shillong city just as dusk is falling.