Where is Nongriat?
I will talk about that, but first let me define it for you. There are times when Mother Nature creates extremely beautiful people and places, and hides them in a secure place, like a Momma Cat who stashes up ‘finds’ for later, and then forgets about it. Nongriat is one such gem in the ‘abode of clouds’- Meghalaya.
It is in Sohra (Cherrapunji), close to a village called Tyrna.
First things first. What are the number of steps in the Nongriat hike?
The entire trail has 3500+ steps (or somewhere close to 3.5 kilometres) according to the local folks.
Nongriat is a blindingly green trek, divided into three parts:
1. The leisurely staircase
2. The steep, winding staircase
3. The bridges
1. The leisurely staircase Effortless, scenic and beautiful. Down you go, almost running. The steps are made of concrete.
2. The steep, winding staircase These need caution and a certain level of fitness, because at some places, there is not enough space to wedge your entire foot. Couple that with slight algae-kind of formation on the stairs. Thankfully, this level of the trek has hand-rails alongside at most of the places.
3. The bridges These need EXTREME caution if you are a non-trekker or/and have a fear of heights. There are a total of three bridges. One is made of bamboo, and the other two are made of iron. Nevertheless, both have loose-rods clustered together with wires, and the whole thing sways dangerously while one is walking on it. To be able to tread on these, you will need to have your hands free to hold the side wire-rope. Not only that, don’t let the gushing water-body underneath distract/scare you.
I remember, just as I reached the middle of one of these seemingly never-ending bridges, it began to rain. Apart from worrying about my camera getting drenched, thoughts like ‘did I put the lens cap back on, or not?’ ‘Could the droplets be entering from the sides?’ ‘What if the camera DOES get soaked?’ started an emergency siren-of-sorts in my head. Just when I thought of stopping to check, the whole bridge started swaying like an off-centered pendulum, and I held on to it for dear life.
I could not decide whether the bridge might snap undone because it could be weak, or would it do so because I carry ‘the weight of being a foodie’? Never again will I look at another Basil Pesto Pasta, dear God, please let me live this one time.
Somewhere toward the end of stage 2, the path diverges.
One goes to the single decker Living Root Bridge, and if you stay on the main trail, you reach the village of Nongriat. It is latter that has the double living root bridge, but even the single root living bridge has a fair number of visitors every day.
The path is well-marked to inform you of places.
[Traveller’s tip: For some strange reason, people will tell you that going down into the valley is tougher than coming back up, even though latter is more strenuous an activity. No, it is NOT the fatigue. I went down and came up on different days, and I agree with the bit. That said, the fact that ‘trekking is more of a mind game than anything else‘ is applicable here.]
Just after the last bridge is a ‘chai’-shop. That marks the end of the trek, and beginning of the village.
The beauty of the trail is, there is the fragrance of cinnamon and bay leaves all through. These are the two spices that grow in abundance here. Strange insects and animals provide a constant background-music and company. On one of the nights, I went to the bed with this sound (somewhere very close to my window), and woke up with it too. It created such a ‘hollowness’ in my auditory senses once it stopped, that it almost felt like my eardrums are missing a part of themselves.
Since I just cannot sleep without fresh air, I kept the window open even when my mortal fear of waking up with a snake on top of me kept screaming itself hoarse.
The insects, especially the butterflies are straight out of on-screen digital manipulation, or so it seems. Huge, colorful and wild; these things are simply surreal. Some of these are as big as your palm, or maybe even more. Take time to behold and enjoy the sight. Give that camera/phone a break and experience #unplugged life.
Time taken: Nongriat can be pursued as a day-trek, as many tourists do. It ought to take you 2 hours (way down) + 2 hours (way up). You might have to factor in the fatigue-level depending on your physical fitness.
Traveller-tip: In case you ask a local person as to how long a particular trek might take, and you don’t belong to the hills, just multiply the suggested duration by 1.5 times.
For slow-travellers like me, it is advisable that you stay in the village. Absorb the nothingness and visual heaven at disposal. I stayed there for two nights, and still wish that I wasn’t so pressed for time. I can do ‘nothing’ like it is no one’s business.
The village offers two guest-houses for stay purpose:
1) Byron’s Homestay (or Serene Homestay)
2) The village guest house; managed by affable Challi and team.
Both the home-stays are extremely basic fare. In case you are looking for luxury, consider taking a day-trek only. When I say basic, I mean just that. If lack of television, internet or/and gadgetry wonders perturb you, look elsewhere.
I stayed at the village guesthouse. It does not have a fan, heater etc. The washrooms do not have taps. The water has to be filled in buckets, from the hand-pump outside and taken to the washroom.
Alright, I’ll be honest; even the electricity is a guest here!
Food: Food is simple and rustic. You might need to understand that it cannot be gourmet fare, given the circumstances. Three kilometers down into nothingness, life cannot be as fancy and random as one might be habitual of back home. One cannot suddenly demand ‘vada-pav’ or onion-bhajias.
During my stay, breakfast options were porridge, egg, Maggi (noodles). Lunch was simple daal (lentil is referred to as that in India)-rice-vegetable fare and dinner was veg/non-veg curry and khasi style rice.
If you ask me, I am happy anywhere if I get an unlimited supply of ‘chai’.
Traveller-tip: [To be on the safer side, carry some of your own food. For example, I carried a small pack of corn-flakes, coffee pouches, cookies and some fruits.]
Double Decker Living Root Bridges
These are natural wonders engineered by mankind and executed by Nature. A tree from the family called Ficus Elastica has its roots matted with pebbles, planks, logs, and is directed to grow horizontally towards the other bank. These bridges have been around for years and have stood the test of time (frequent rains and floods too), and embody the tribal spirit of resilience and resourcefulness.
Beyond the village guest-house, across the stream is this region where the villagers have their agricultural land. There is forest and trails much beyond the area where the village-settlement lies.
Why the Double Decker Bridge?
Meghalaya is a land of heavy and frequent rainfall. For years, it was just the lower deck of the bridge, but it used to get submerged in the stream in case of heavy rainfall; thereby disrupting life. This is how the top deck came into existence.
Nongriat is a small hamlet of the ‘khasi’ tribe. Khasis are extremely hard working folks, and have a matrilineal society. I have talked about this society in the post about Mawlynnong (the cleanest village in Asia).
Nongriat cultivates honey (the one you buy from here would be the purest; the forest all around is completely organic) as one of the cash-yields. You can also buy cinnamon and bay-leaves from the village shops.
Nongriat is uncharacteristically quiet. There are places so silent, that the noise of the thoughts in your head makes you restless; this is one of them. You have a limited view of the sky above, like a frog in the well. During the course of a single day, it alternates between being spotlessly blue, and having lowly hung rain-laden clouds.
An umbrella of lush greenery, Nongriat is overwhelmingly dense, coupled with one of the best water bodies to spend one’s day in. The difficult bit is to get it to yourself, minus the Indian tourists (the college bunch, lechy men and families that think that waterfall is a part of their living-room).
The onslaught of tourists slows down after 3:00pm approximately, which is when you are free to become a mermaid under the waterfall. For me, the hours spent in that natural pool were some of the best on the whole trip! It is only when the evening drizzle started that I rushed back to the guest-house, which was practically thirty steps away from the water-fall.
The water at the fall is so clear that it is unbelievable! It is a well-maintained spot, with a changing room and a few dustbins here and there. The stream can be heard from the room, in the dead of the night.
On my first night here, I requested Challi to put the cot out in the open. The star-studded sky and sleeping-out-in-the-open reminded me of my annual visits to our ancestral village during my childhood.
Some time during the middle of the night, we (another girl from Bombay and I) felt that it was getting w-a-y too cold for us, despite our blankets. The top layer of the blanket was damp, probably from a drizzle or dew, not sure which of the two. We decided to head to our respective rooms for the rest of the night.
Tips for safe travel:
- Pack the following in your day-pack: mosquito-repellent, umbrella, rain-coat, pain-relief cream, snacks, water bottle, torch (flashlight, if you aren’t an Indian).
- Start the trek in the morning, latest by 8:00am. By the time the sun is overhead, you would have reached your destination. If you start late, like I did, not only do you get doubly exhausted due to the overhead-sun, you also have the mental stress of rushing back in case you are taking up a day-trek. In case you are looking for interesting places near Shillong, then Nongriat could be one of the options, provided you start early.
- There is no scope for trekking up or down once it is dark. Neither is it advisable.
- Keep warm clothes handy. When you begin the trek, you are on top of the valley, and hence the air is cooler and lighter. As you step down, closer to Nongriat: a) you start sweating because of continuous descent b) down into the valley, near the water-bodies, the air is sultry. You can smell the moisture and feel the heaviness in the breeze. And because of this, you sweat some more.
- Your phone might not work once you start descending into the valley. Inform all your kith and kin of your plans, before you start your trek. [I was blissfully unaware of the lost signal reception, and realized this only when I took out my phone to wish my best friend on her birthday on 9th of Oct. I had mini heart-attack of sorts the minute I realized that I won’t be able to call her, felt helpless for a while, and then resigned to the lack of cellular connection.]
- Be VERY well equipped to face unplanned rain. It is Meghalaya; it rains almost without notice. More so, if you happen to be here because during the wetter months. If you do not have an umbrella and/or a rain-coat, you will not have any option but to get soaked.
- Cover your electronics carefully, preferably in water-proof bags, or polyethene. If you have a camera, lens, and other sensitive gadgets, store them with silica gel. You can buy Silica gel online here. Or this is another inexpensive option.
- Travel light. I had planned Meghalaya on my return journey from Bhutan, and my backpack was already weighing 22kgs with the entire world of ‘nothing’ that I had bought. Had it not been for Hebrit, owner of a backpacker’s hostel called By The Way, you wouldn’t have been reading this post. Not only did he offer to keep my luggage, he also laid out the whole plan for me, AND helped me regarding booking my stay at Nongriat. I travelled to the village with just the essentials in a day-pack.
- Carry a waste-pouch. Put all your wastages like wrappers, bottles, sanitary pads, condoms, etc in it and carry it back up with you, and bin it in the dust-bin that landmarks the beginning of the trek. In case you are wondering why I say so, the village has absolutely no system for waste-management. And it was horrifying to see our Indian tourists trek down with quintal of stuff to ‘make a picnic’, and then leave behind a mound of wrappers, aluminum foil, water-bottles, beer-cans, and liquor bottles. The waste that is left behind is simply burnt. There is no other way to deal with it, presently.
- Do not trek in slippers, sandals or anything which does not hold your feet snugly and covers it completely.
- Start the trek back up latest by 2:00pm. Sohra sees the early sunset as it follows bagan-timing. The image below was taken at 5:15pm.
- The prices of a few commercial things like biscuit, chips, water-bottles, noodles etc might be around 30% more as compared to the MRP. In case you belong to the lot that flares up at ‘injustice’ and ‘day-light robbery’, do them a favour; carry everything on your own from Shillong/Cherrapunji itself.
- While on a no-plan holiday, it is easy to forget which day of the week it is. Please don’t be like me; keep a track of the days. Do NOT make any plans for trekking back up without a transport on a Sunday. Sohra is completely shut on Sundays, and there is almost negligible chance of you being able to find a public/private transport back to anywhere. Two travellers from Mumbai understood my plight and I hitched hike with them to Cherrapunjee, which is approximately 17 kilometers away.
- The point where your vehicle will drop you, and from where the trek starts, is called Tyrna.
- The spoken language of the village is English, apart from the regional ‘khasi’ language. Please note: Almost no one understands Hindi here.
- Carry a few essentials like copy-pen, umbrella, shoes (if you can afford it happily), and gift to the village-folks. One of us, while trekking back up, had hired a porter to lug her stuff. Personally, I am strictly against porters lugging one’s stuff while on a trek, but this porter gave me another perspective. He charged Rs.300 for taking her things up to Tyrna. He told us that he often does this thrice-a-day!! With the earnings from lugging the baggage, he was funding his college education, and keeping alive the dream of being a footballer.
- Nongriat follows ‘bagan-timing’, which is almost an hour ahead of the mainland India. This is a photograph that I took at 4:30pm in Cherapunjee.
The Money bit:
Entry fee for Double Living Roots Bridge: Rs.10 Camera: Rs.5 [Please don’t scrimp here. This fund takes care of the most basic needs of this village.]
Stay: As of now, there are two options:
- Serene Homestay (Byron’s guesthouse): Probably the only house in this village which has a fridge. Byron is a local go-to person of sorts for stays, food and everything in between. Even if you land up with both the guest-houses sold-out, this man will arrange something for you.
Contact details: 91.9436739655, 91.9615252655, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Village Guest-house: Managed by affable Challi and his team. Four double-rooms. You pay on the per-person basis, instead of per-room basis.
Contact details: Challi: 91.8575787340
Traveller-tip: If you do not get through any of the phone-numbers, just take a chance and go. People with threadbare resources often have the kindest of hearts. Moreover, these folks are often too busy organizing things for people who are staying and hence miss calls.
How to reach:
1) If you are looking for off-beat places near Shillong, Nongriat fits the bill beautifully.
a) Public transport:
Take a taxi from Bara-bazaar taxi stand in Shillong. The taxi will drop you off at Sohra. Fare: Rs.70.
From Sohra to Tyrna, take a private taxi: Rs.300 [If you want to take public transport from Sohra to Tyrna, at about 9:10am, a bus goes to Tyrna. Just to be on the safer side, reach the road forking towards Tyrna at 9:00am.]
Also, ask the driver for the return-timing too.
b) Private transport:
You can get a private taxi from Police Bazaar in Shillong.
These taxis charge somewhere between Rs.1800-2500 for the day. [Please make a note: if you intend to take it as day-trek, make sure that the taxi driver is suitably fed to wait for you at Tyrna for 4+ hours. I bumped into a driver, who was hungry, angry and listless as the family he had driven to Tyrna, had set off on the trek saying “abhi aatey hain (we will be right back! )”.
2) If you are in Sohra, and want to experience things to do near Cherrapunjee/Sohra, Nongriat is where you go. You can follow (a) or (b) from Point no.1 for whichever way suits you.
[Traveller’s Tip: Have the foresight to arrange for a return-taxi in case you are going to be staying in the village for a couple of days. See if your taxi driver agrees to pick you up when you need to return to Cherrapunji. If he doesn’t, then keep your hitchhiking radars up throughout your stay, and arrange for something with the tourists who you meet in the village. ]
Taxi-detail for Sohra-Tyrna: A local driver called Heaven Star ( no, don’t ask me why he was named so) drove me to Tyrna. He can be reached at 91.8974318636
Distance between Shillong and Sohra/Cherrapunji: 60 kilometers
Distance between Sohra and Tyrna: 17 kilometers
Distance between Tyrna and Nongriat: 3.5 kilometers
Wet Seasons: May, June, July, August, September, October
Dry Seasons: November, December, January, February, March, April
If ever you are left wondering what to do in Meghalaya, you know the answer now.
Any of you who would like to gift a few pairs of shoes to the folks from the village? Most of these guys go up and down several times in a day in bathroom slippers. Any of you know someone who would? Or an organization that would like to take this up as a part of their CSR initiative? Write to me at email@example.com, in case you see yourself as an enabler of positive change.
Also, there is a bit of a news:
1) I am on Instagram, finally! Say ‘Hola, girl!’ here, if you are on Insta too.
2) It all started with Alice at The Teacake Travels featuring a bunch of us here.
3) Then, Matador Network featured A Borrowed Backpack; here is the link.
4) And then Huffington Post (U.K.) followed suit, here.
Thank you for all the love, folks!