Meghalaya primarily comprises of three hill ranges, Khasi Hills, Jaintia Hills, and Garo Hills. They are named respectively after the predominant ethnic groups living in those areas. In order to explore Meghalaya, you need to understand the state.
Khasi Hills is centred around Shillong, the capital and the only real city in the state. As a result, this region is the most developed and attracts the most number of tourists. Other major tourist draws such as Cherrapunji, Mawsynram, and Mawlynnong are also located within the Khasi Hills and not far from Shillong. This area is well-developed with lots of hotels, homestays, and resorts at every major destination. From waterfalls to living root bridges and from lakes to jungle-hikes, there is much to do in the Khasi Hills.
The Jaintia Hills is adjacent to the Khasi Hills, located on the east of it. The Jaintia People are one of the most ancient inhabitants of these hills with a rich history and culture. They inhabit the eastern areas of of Meghalaya, known as Jaintia Hills. In the medieval times, they had a powerful kingdom extended to the areas of present-day Assam and Bangladesh. The partition has robbed off some of their rich history as the erstwhile capital of the Kingdom called Jaintapur now lies in Bangladesh. The biggest town in the Jantia Hills is Jowai, which is around 66 KMs from Shillong. The primary attractions here are the deep blue waterfall of Krang Suri, the mysterious menhirs of Nartiang, and of course, the transparent river of Dawki, which has become famous in the recent years.
The Garo Hills is the remotest and least explored region not only in Meghalaya but in the entire country. This area, located on the western part of Meghalaya bordering Bangladesh. Tura is the biggest town here and it itself has a lot of potential as it is surrounded by picturesque locations. It can be reached easily from Guwahati rather than Shillong. The dense and primal forests of the Garo Hills are hiding many secrets even in thsi day and age. The names like Balpakram and Nokrek still get the heartbeats racing for seasoned adventurers.
How to Reach Meghalaya?
Guwahati in Assam is the biggest city in the entire Northeast and its well connected to the rest of the country. The road to Shillong from Guwahati is well mainatined and it takes no more than 2 hours to cover those 80 KMs. Tura in Garo hills is also connected with Guwahati directly. Other tourist attractiosn such as Cherrapunji, Dawki, and Mawlynnong etc are located within the 50-60 KM radius of Shillong and buses and shared cars easily are available for them.
There is no genuine train connectivity in Meghalaya. Efforts are being made to connect some areas bordering Assam. Guwahati remains the nearest major station from Shillong and you can find Shillong-bound cars right outside the Guwahati Railway Station. .
The only functional airport in Meghalaya is located near Shillong. It has direct flights to and from Kolkata and connecting flights with many other major cities. Otherwise, you can also take a flight to Guwahati and Shillong-bound cabs are easily available from outside the Guwahati Airport.
Helicopter Services are also available connecting Tura to Guwahati and Tura to Shillong on Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday/Friday and also connecting Guwahati and Shillong daily except on Sunday. It takes only 20 mins to reach Shillong from Guwahati and around an hour from Guwahati to Tura.
People and culture of Meghalaya
As mentioned already, Meghalaya is inhabited by three distinct ethnic groups, namely the Khasis, Jaintias, and Garos. All three have different languages, cultures, and customs. Matrilineal system is common in most of these societies, i.e. the girl child inherits the property instead of the son unlike most other cultures. Some of them in remote regions may still be following ancient traditions but generally most of the native inhabitants in Meghalaya have converted to Christianity. Nevertheless, traditional music,, dance, and other customs are still very much alive and can be experienced, if you visit at the right time. dance, and other customs are still very much alive and can be experienced, if you visit at the right time.
Meghalaya remains easily approachable throughout the year. The winters are generally cold, dry and easy to move around. But as a result, the landscape also dries up and the lush greenery is replaced by brownish hues. While it rains incessantly between April to September, most people prefer this season rather than the winter because the nature is seen at its best during the rains. The green hills get that tinge of additional colours in the form of wild blossoms and orchids and the waterfalls also come back to life as the rain starts.
Additionally, tourists nowadays also prefer the brief window between the autumn and winter, the month of November, because cherry blossoms turn Shillong and many other places pink during this season. The Cherry Blossom Festival is now organized to celebrate this phenomenon and promote tourism.
Things to See and Do in Meghalaya
Soak in the Colonial Charm of Shillong
Shillong is one of the best known traditional hill stations in India, in the same league with Shimla or Mussoorie. As expected of a hill station built by the British, it comes with a good dose of colonial charm and nostalgia. Even though the city has grown fast of late, you can still walk back in time as you walk through those winding alleys, dotted with numerous old bungalows, churches, and even a picturesque golf course. You can go for a romating pedal boating session at Ward’s Lake, another piece of colonial nostalgia, that remains covered with all sorts of blossoms in summer and turns pink with cherry blossoms in the November. The roaring Elephant Falls makes you gape in awe while the the freshly roasted local corn at the Shillong Peak takes you even closer to heaven.
Go Waterfall-hopping at the Wettest Place on Earth
Similarly, the waterfalls in Meghalaya are some of the most beautiful ones in the entire country. Shillong itself has several waterfalls around the town. In case you are planning to explore, you will find a lot more around the town. The perennial rainbow of Nongriat, the roaring depths of Nohkalikai falls, and the aquamarine cascades of Krang Suri Falls are only a few of those delights that are fed by persistent rains in this region. You can device an entire itinerary built around the top waterfalls in the state and rest assured that every waterfall here will give you something unique.
Cross a Living Root Bridge
The Living Root Bridges are one of the most unique examples of sustainable bio-engineering that draws people from all over the world. These bridges are built over small rivers and streams by guiding the roots of certain trees. As the tree grows over the years, the bridge also grows and becomes consolidated. The Khasis of Meghalaya have been doing this for several centuries. Just imagine a bridge built without cutting a tree and without using any modern machinery or damaging the ecology. Modern civilization can learn a lot from this. There are many root bridges in the Khasi Hills and you can just drive to some of them while some others take a bit of hiking.
Boat along the Crystal River
Nobody knew Dawki untill a few years ago except the local visitors from Shillong and Guwahati. However, some of the images made it to the internt aand they went viral! So, Dawki is now the most sought after destination in the state. You can take a borat-ride along that crystal river, where the water is so clear that you can see the sand at the bottom. The andy banks of the river are also a good place for camping and bonfire, just in case you are in the mood for the same.
Learn the secrets of the idyllic village of Mawlynnong
Mawlynnong suddenly achieved fame in the last decade as a travel magazine hailed it as the “Cleanest Village in Asia”. The ethos of cleanliness is deeprooted in Khasi culture and it can be seen in other villages too. But Mawlynnong has developed as a tourist destination with homestays and lodges where you can stay and get aquainted with the locals. Additionally, you can also find a living root bridge nearby and climb up the bamboo towers to get a glimpse of the plains of Bnagladesh.
Go Caving in MeghalayaM
This region is also known to have some of the longest natural caves in India. They can be found all over the state although ones near Cherrapunji are the best-maintained for tourists with proper lighting and guidance. These areas are so remote that new caves keep being unearthed even in the 21st century. Recently another cave called Krem Puri was discovered which turned out to be the longest cave in India at almost 25 Kilometres. A hike through these primordial portals feel like a journey to the centre of the earth as imagined by Jules Verne.
Attend the Cherry Blossom Festival
Shillong is a highly cosmopolitan city known for great eateries, and western music scene. While the lush greenery of monsoon months are preferred by visitors, in the early winter, it the city turns pink with cherry blossoms (just like they do in Japan). In order to celebrate this ethereal phenomenon, the tourism department has started celebrating the Cherry Blossom Festival every November, where traditional festivities are combined with rock concerts, ramp walks, and unlimited rice beers.
Transportation & Accommodation within Meghalaya
Bus service exists but limited within Meghalaya. Most major towns are connected with Shillong through shared cars. Shillong has multiple taxi stands and in order to visit any place, you need to find out which stand caters to your destination.
Shillong is a big city that has all sorts of hotels, resorts, and restaurants catering to all types of budgets. Additionally, all the major tourist hubs in the state such as Cherrapunji, Mawlynnong, Nongriat and Dawki have good homestays, resorts, and lodges.
Phone and Data Connectivity in Meghalaya
Phone and data connectivity is generally good all over Meghalaya, especially in the major towns of Khasi and Jaintia Hills while it is somewhat weaker in Garo Hills due to its remoteness. You will get disconnected only if you try to enter some remote village or cave and in such case, you should keep your friend and families informed. Otherwise all major towns in the state have good connectivity.