Wet and Wild in Cherrapunjee

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Wet and Wild in Cherrapunjee

We had been on the trail for close to an hour, our progress hampered by the rumpled terrain. We trudged gamely on through the thick forest around Cherrapunjee in the North Eastern state of Meghalaya, arguably the wettest place on earth. Sweat streamed down our brows and our eyes smarted from its salty bite. Finally, we skirted a cluster of enormous boulders and were rewarded with a grand visual treat – a Living Root Bridge.


Living Root Bridges are bio-engineering marvels that are constructed by training the secondary roots of the Indian rubber tree over swift rivers and streams. Each bridge – suspended pathways of knotted roots – takes 20 to 25 years to build and has a life span of 600 years. They can measure up to 100 ft and can carry as many as 50 people at a time. Somewhere in the mountains, streaked with waterfalls and alive with the song of birds, our guide informed us, there was a two-level Living Root Bridge.

Given the fact that Cherrapunjee is a strong contender with the neighbouring ridge of Mawsnyram and an island in Hawaii as the wettest place on earth, the terrain was surprisingly barren and seemingly arid in parts. This, our guide informed us, is because the rainfall here is so heavy that it washes off the topsoil giving plants little chance to take hold and drop roots. However, the troughs and folds of the land where the topsoil soil collects were swathed with dense forests which are referred to as Sacred Forests. Around 300 varieties of orchids and wild flowers grow under the canopy of these ancient eco-systems splashing the mossy floor with daubs of colour – blues, pinks, purples and whites.

The gods were in a generous mood when they created Cherapunjee for they bestowed it with many treasures that, thankfully, have not been abused by man; not as yet anyway. One such gem is nature’s own Jacuzzi: Rock Pools at the head of Dainthlen Falls. Here we stepped into natural spa pools and let the gentle flow of streams cascading into the rocky depressions massage our bodies.


Back on the adventure trail we set off to explore the Mawsmai limestone caves that lie between Cherrapunji and Shillong. We gave the more popular touristy cave the miss and opted to venture into a less explored one. Kitted in caving gear – bright orange jumpsuits and helmets fitted with head lamps – we entered a narrow cavern on all fours, the spotlight on our helmets lighting the path in front of us. We slithered and crawled through narrow passageways till we reached a ledge that looked down into a yawning cavern; its walls draped with curtains of stalactite and stalagmite formations. With a little imagination, nature’s abstract sculptures started to take myriad forms: mushroom clouds resembling a nuclear holocaust, bouquets of flowers, cabbage patches, mysterious forests teeming with exotic animals, birds, insects…



Neil, our caving guide, leaned across and switched off the beam of our spotlights. Darkness closed around us like a vice. We waited for our eyes to adjust to the darkness but since no light whatsoever filtered into the deep recesses of the earth, the sea of intense blackness only deepened and a pregnant silence filled the void around us. Shafts of fear and claustrophobia were blunted by a sense of awe and wonder. We had we had touched a reality that had no form or substance.                               W'falls-9

Yes, our caving adventure had in a sense captured the essence of Cherrapunjee: we had ventured into unknown territory and were rewarded with a host of pleasant surprises.


Fact File

The nearest railhead and airport is Guwahati (103 km) which is well connected by road to Meghalaya. There is also a helicopter service between Guwahati and Cherapunjee via Shillong the capital of Megalaya.

By way of accommodation Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort, tucked some distance from the main town, is a charming option. It serves as an ideal base for a trek down to the Living Root Bridges and embarking on camping and caving expeditions. One can also look at the option of checking in at the Ramakrishna Mission Ashrama.

Visit Meghalaya State Tourism at http://megtourism.gov.in




 Dream it. Plan it. Trip it at www.TheTripWorks.com


Gustasp & Jeroo Irani are a husband and wife team of travel writers/photographers, more accurately, travel junkies always on the lookout for the next fix, the next trip... They have travelled across India and the world. But eventually they return to the city they call home: Mumbai The footloose couple have edited Indian travel magazines, researched and written two guides for South African Tourism in India. Gustasp is the author of the book Once Upon a Raj.