The Meghalaya Odyssey - Experience Dawki, Shnongpdeng and adventure sports on Umngot river
Meghalaya is a state in North-East India where you wake up to a view of misty mountains and verdant landscapes. It is a perfect home away from home for a discerning traveller. Meghalaya surprised us ample of times while on our trip with its cold breeze and relaxed lifestyle in Shillong, the culture of worshipping nature in Mawphlang, cloudy abode plus living root bridges in Cherrapunjee and beauty of a village and its obsession with cleanliness in Mawlynnong. However, the best was yet to come. Umngot river, also popularly known as Dawki river had already left us amazed from the photographs we saw on Internet. To be frank, we felt many of the online images were morphed. However, seeing this beautiful crystal clear river with our very own eyes left us simply speechless.
'The Meghalaya Odyssey' is a series of 10 travel blogs and 2 photo blogs. Check out other blogs in the series by clicking on the below mentioned links or photographs:
9. Experience Dawki, Shnongpdeng and adventure sports on Umngot river - This article
Umngot river forms a nature division between Khasi hills and Jaintia hills (Understand what are Khasi and Jaintia in Introduction to Meghalaya). We came across 2 different forms of Umngot river - firstly near Dawki very briefly and then spent an entire night besides it at Shnongpdeng. In this article we take you through our journey to the southernmost section of Khasi hills where we witnessed the turquoise waters of Umngot river near Dawki, then touched Bangladesh at Tamabil border before heading upwards towards Shnongpdeng in Jaintia hills, performed some adventure activities with Pioneer Adventures and spent a night on the banks of Umngot. You can see the exact route in the map provided here. Note that one can reach Dawki directly from Shillong or Cherrapunji or Mawlynnong. In the below map, we have taken the starting point 'A' as a small village which would anyway come on the way to Dawki.
Journey to Dawki
Dawki, our next destination after Mawlynnong in Meghalaya, is a small village famous primarily because of how magical Umngot river looks here. Part of Jaintia Hills, Dawki is the last post on the road connecting to the neighbouring country, Bangladesh. You might recall from our earlier travel guides, the plateaus of Meghalaya give way to plains of Bangladesh. Due to this Bangladesh was visible from Cherrapunjee as well as sky view points of Mawlynnong. Hence most of the road towards Dawki is kind of downhill. Before reaching Dawki, the first sight of Bangladesh would be a vast expanse of land with number of trucks mining sand. Sand mafia as they are called are very powerful in Bangladesh and they mine sand from rivers and sell it to builders and even export them. On the left you would get the first glimpse of Umngot flowing into Bangladesh.
Umngot river at Dawki boating point
Soon after this sight, you would reach the Dawki boating point and get the first glimpse of the emerald green waters of Umngot river. Stunned by the soothing sight, we just could not help staring. Various shades of greens reflected from water coming from East of Shillong Peak silently making its way between two hills towards Bangladesh. The radiant sun shined on some portions of the Umngot river while other parts lay in shades of hill resulting in a wide spectrum of green with some bright coloured spots of boats. There was a time when there were very few boats here and boating in the river was cheap. However the popularity of Umngot river has been increasing rapidly and so are number of boats and rates.
Note: Boating in Umngot river may cost you anything between INR 500 - INR 800 depending on season. They take upto 4 people in the boat and you can get down at Dawki Island which is full of boulders and pebbles.
Dawki Bridge and Jaflong zero point
Close to Dawki boating point, the road leads to a suspension bridge constructed by British in 1932. This bridge is crucial acting as an international trade highway between India and Bangladesh. One has to cross this bridge to reach Dawki village and border areas. Just after crossing the suspension bridge comes Jaflong Zero point. Lot of crowd from both sides of border flocks this area and one can do boating from here too. Near Jaflong zero point lies the imaginary international border across Umngot river. One can easily row into Bangladesh here but military personnels keep a watchful eye ensuring there is no illegal migration.
Tamabil zero point
Going further ahead, the road finally leads to Tamabil zero point which is a hotspot for trade between the two nations – India and Bangladesh. You would come across lots of trucks waiting for their immigration papers to be cleared off so that they can deliver goods such as limestone, coal, boulders, rice, maize, oranges etc. to the other side. Over past few years, as the trade relations between the two countries have improved, a Friendship gate is recently built at the Tamabil border. We were surprised to see that barring a small fence and a stone pillar, there was nothing to suggest that this was indeed an International border. Minimal security presence implied that this was truly a Friendship Gate. Just standing there and seeing Bangladeshis visiting the border on the other side and knowing that just one more step will land us in Bangladesh was a unique experience and we would definitely recommend visiting Tamabil.
Next, one can drive to a small village named Shnongpdeng on the banks of Umngot River. Shnongpdeng has become an epicenter of adventure activities. Lot of campsites have cropped up in Shnongpdeng and a village before it called Darrang. These campsites usually offer water sports such as country boat rides, kayaking etc. Note that it is strictly forbidden to use any motor driven boat on Umngot river. One can also choose to stay in couple of homestays available here. This area is also famous for annual water sports festival that happens around Feb-April. Preparations for this annual water sports festival was going on when we visited Shnongpdeng. Sadly we could not stay for the actual event due to lack of time.
Umngot River is considered to be one of the cleanest rivers in India. Have one look at it in Shnongpdeng and you would be convinced that it definitely is. The greenish shades of Dawki are no longer the attraction. Instead Umngot river is eerily translucent at Shnongpdeng. One can climb onto a foot suspension bridge over the river to enjoy a panoramic view. The water is emerald green in color and is so crystal clear that you will be able to see pebbles at the bottom of the river even from the bridge. When we visited Shnongpdeng, sunlight unfurled nature’s wonders to us. The water was shining silvery bright and it created an imagery of flying boats. Seeing something this stunningly beautiful in reality was just a different feeling.
Pioneer Adventures campsite at Shnongpdeng
Travelers generally do not spend a night in Dawki and head back to Shillong or Cherrapunjee after visiting the Tamabil border and boating in the Umngot River. We, on the other hand, were very excited for our adventurous stay near Dawki with Meghalaya’s first professional adventure company with certified and licensed instructors for adventure activities - Pioneer Adventures. Pioneer adventures is truly a pioneer in adventure activities in Meghalaya. They were the first ones who identified the potential of adventure sports in Shnongpdeng and have a campsite here. Apart from this, they also have a zipline across Mawkdok Dympep Valley at Cherrapunjee.
Our experience with Pioneer Adventures
The little camping site of Pioneer Adventures felt like we had a piece of island to ourselves. Our waterproof tents were already pitched and were warm and cosy with a zipped opening. We had comfortable blankets and inflatable pillows in the tent and we were too excited to spend a night minimalistically without electricity, bed or any kind of furniture. The dining space and the washrooms were perched on top of a hill with stony pathway leading to them. They have 2 bathrooms with shower and 2 toilets (One Indian and one western) which are the only cemented structures. Rest of the setup is temporary as water levels rise up during monsoon. We came here with no expectations and were pleasantly surprised with all the arrangements. The large buffet spread for lunch was similar to home-cooked food and was delicious. We were free to choose the activities that we wanted to do and several instructors from Pioneer adventures were present on the shores to help us with it. The adventure activities included kayaking, zip-lining across the river, scuba-diving, snorkeling and cliff jumping into the river. We decided to opt out of cliff jumping, scuba diving and snorkeling as the water was very cold and decided to start off with other activities.
Note: There is only BSNL network here and no charging point. However you can give your charger and batteries or mobile to local boys working at Pioneer Adventures. They keep going back to village where they can get it charged.
After an initial safety briefing, we were ready for our zip lining session. We climbed a small elevation towards the back of our camp where a certified instructor was waiting for our zip-lining session. This was certainly the longest zip-line we were about to experience. Another instructor stood on the other end of the Umngot River who was to receive us. We were properly safety briefed by our instructor while he also gave a demonstration of how we should apply brake in time to avoid slamming into boulders. Finally, we were ready to fly. Flying above the stunning river with wind gushing onto our face surely made a mark on our minds. Once on the other side, we were helped to get out of the protective equipment and were sailed back to our campsite.
Next, we opted for kayaking. We were quite experienced with kayaking as we had done it several times before. Still we were briefed on how far we can go and were helped with the life jackets. We slowly kayaked in the mighty river towards the suspension bridge, halting now and then to see the silver fishes in the crystal clear water, taking photographs and watching the sun slowly setting on the other end.
As much as we tried to stay away from the cold water, the kayaking session confirmed that there’s ample marine life under water. Hence, we decided to snorkel. We had snorkeled quite a few times before; so we quickly put our snorkeling gears on and stepped into the freezing water. The very first step in the cold water made us reconsider our decision. But we held hands, mouthed some encouraging words to each other and together put our heads inside water. Once we started floating, we forgot how cold the water was. Big and small fishes of varying colors circled around us. The water was extremely transparent even on the shores and everything was clearly visible through our snorkeling masks. There were hundreds of little silver fishes. They traveled in schools and were totally unphased by our presence. We still cannot get over how utterly blue and clear the water was. We were able to go super-close to these tiny creatures and that was pretty incredible. We snorkeled in the cold water for about half an hour and we wish we had more time; it was undoubtedly one of the most surreal experience of our life.
As the dusk approached, it started getting cold and soon Mr. Adrian arranged for a bonfire. The staff placed small cute lanterns in front of everyone’s tents for convenience.All the people who came for camping sat around the bonfire to keep them warm. We made some pretty good friends there – chatting, making sand castles, barbecuing, playing, singing and listening to other guest’s travel stories. We even had a pretty good chat with Mr. Adrian, who narrated us how Jason & Gary - 2 brothers identified the potential of adventure sports in Meghalaya and started Pioneer Adventures, the challenges they faced and slowly how other campsites came up on nearby shores. It was great to know the history, struggles and efforts of the managing team. We liked the fact that Pioneer Adventures has been employing and training locals since the beginning. It became pitch black dark in the night and only source of light were our mobile flashlights and what was left of the bonfire. We retired in our tents besides the most amazing river we had ever seen.
We woke up to the music of chirping birds and vague sound of the river water. It felt so good to wake up amidst such a beautiful landscape. Pioneer Adventures gave us a time of our lives that we would never forget. The staff stood on its feet throughout to make our stay comfortable and our experiences richer. We realized that it is not easy to arrange everything for the guests on the island like shore, but they certainly did a great job – right from picking and dropping each of us from the other end of the river, assisting in activities, pitching tents, bringing the raw material for preparing food, cooking, ensuring everyone’s tastes, managing to light a bonfire in such windy conditions, maintaining proper cleanliness in the washrooms and across the whole campsite. Everything sounds easy but very difficult to achieve with so many uncertainties on a river bank.
Sitting on the river bank early in the morning, sipping a cup of hot tea, we decided to return back someday. The river was calm on this day and slowly the boatmen were back in their boats, some fishing while some taking tourists around. We watched them perform their morning chores as the time stood still. Never wanting to go back to our busy lives, with heavy heart we bid farewell to our new friends and the humble staff of Pioneer Adventures. We would like to thank Jason and Adrian for their hospitality and time. We would surely suggest you to stay one night at Shnongpdeng and book with Pioneer Adventures. You can check their current rates and directly contact them through their website - http://www.pioneeradventuretour.com/
Hence came to end yet another memorable experience in Meghalaya. Entering Jaintia hills part of Meghalaya from Umngot river, Dawki to Tamabil to Shnongpdeng, each place had something unique to experience. Pioneer Adventures made our visit to this part of Meghalaya even more special. Hope this travel blog would help you chart a detailed itinerary and make your bookings for stay. Did you find this article useful? Would you like us to add any other detail? Do let us know your thoughts in comment section below.
Note: All opinions expressed in this blog are our own and not influenced by Pioneer Adventures in any manner.