Plan your trip to Meghalaya - The Meghalaya Odyssey
One of the most beautiful states in India, Meghalaya will amaze you in number of unimaginable ways. From its sheer natural beauty in the form of countless waterfalls, calm lakes and pristine rivers to humble people and their matrilineal culture, Meghalaya lures you into a different world altogether. A world where man does not use nature for profits but lives in harmony with it, be it using living roots of trees to build natural bridges or protecting the rare flora in sacred forests or inhabiting wettest place on earth. If any of this sounds interesting, Meghalaya in north east India is the place for you to be. Read on to know how you can go about planning a trip to abode of clouds - Meghalaya, what itinerary would suit you and what all places you should visit in Meghalaya.
In this series - The Meghalaya Odyssey we take you through some of the best places to visit in Meghalaya primarily in Khasi hills of the state along with recommendations of places to stay. We will also talk about our itinerary of Meghalaya visit. In the first article of the series, we introduced Meghalaya to you and walked you through different parts of the state, the culture of people and our suggestions on best time to visit the state. Now that you might have an idea of all of this, in this second article in the series, we take you through different places you must visit in Meghalaya, how should you go about creating an itinerary and planning your trip.
'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:
2. Plan your trip to Meghalaya - This article
The best way to reach Meghalaya is to reach Guwahati in Assam state of India. Guwahati has an international airport and also is well connected by road, rail and frequent flights from various parts of India. Once you reach Guwahati, you can take a private cab, shared cab or government buses to Shillong which is roughly 120 Kms or 3 hours away. It is advisable to take a private cab for the entire duration of your trip to Meghalaya right from Guwahati airport which will be far more comfortable and time saving than looking for shared cabs or government buses at every point. It will also allow you to wander into hinterlands and villages which would always pleasantly surprise you. Many of the places to visit in Meghalaya, that we will recommend you to add to your itinerary, are offbeat and you might not find a suitable public transportation to visit those places.
Note that Shillong, the capital city of Meghalaya does have a civilian airport 30 kms away from the main city but the frequency of flights here is very low and they tend to be costlier. Flying to Guwahati and taking a cab to Shillong would cost you much less than taking a flight to Shillong. Also note that there is no railways in whole of Meghalaya. The first railway station in the state was opened only recently in 2014 at Mendipathar which is part of Garo hills. Garo hills is much more remote than Khasi hills and most of the places to visit that we will be recommending lie in Khasi hills. Hence, your itinerary will be mostly around places to visit in Khasi Hills and little bit in Jaintia Hills.
Another way of reaching Shillong which is part of Khasi hills could be driving yourself. You can book a self drive car or rent a bike from Guwahati. Though some roads in and around Shillong might be narrow, the roads in general in Meghalaya in Khasi region are pretty awesome. You would definitely be surprised to see smooth roads in some places to visit in Meghalaya like Mawsynram despite being the wettest place on earth.
Places to visit in Meghalaya - Helping you plan your itinerary to Meghalaya
As detailed in our first travel blog in the series - The Meghalaya Odyssey, most of the places to visit in Meghalaya state are in Khasi hills. Don't fret over pronouncing or remembering some of the names of tourist destinations which you will find too difficult as they are in Khasi. We are providing pronunciations of most difficult words to make it easier for you. Note that 'Maw' in Khasi language means 'stone' as you will come across 'Maw' a lot of times.
Places to visit in Meghalaya - Shillong - A must in your itinerary to Meghalaya
Shillong is the capital city and the most urban place you will find in the state of Meghalaya. Though it tends to be much colder than other parts of the state and is relatively crowded especially because of roads being narrower, Shillong does have some good places to see. Museums like - Don Bosco museum, Air force museum, Ever living museum, Rhino heritage museum, lakes like Ward's lake and Umiam lake, Waterfalls like - Elephant falls and Sweet falls; and other attractions like Cathedral of Mary, Shillong peak, Lady Hydari park are the places to visit in the city. A minimum of 2 full days would be required to cover Shillong and it is better to ensure Sundays are not part of it as many places such as all museums are closed on Sundays.
Areas around Police bazaar and Lewduh market are also very popular for those interested in shopping. One can find winter clothes, handicrafts and handmade jewelry and organic produce. As we mentioned in last article, people of Meghalaya are very much passionate about music and you can find many cafes and bakeries themed around legendary rock musicians. You can read more about places to visit in Shillong and plan your trip in our travel guide.
Places to visit in Meghalaya - Mawphlang - Do not miss out to add this in your Meghalaya itinerary
Pronounced - Maw - phlang (Maw rhymes with Law)
Mawphlang is enroute from Shillong to Cherrapunjee and is mainly famous for its sacred forest. One can also spend some time at Khasi heritage village and Mawphlang dam. The famous David Scott trail also starts from this region and those interested in trekking can do it if it is not too rainy. Mawphlang would require 2-3 hours of sightseeing time plus 4-6 hours of trekking time if you wish to do it. There is no real need to stay here for night unless you would like to visit the sacred forest early in the morning to meditate or do yoga which can be a wonderful experience. If you plan to do David Scott's trail, the whole day might go into this area. You can read more about places to visit in Mawphlang in our travel guide.
Places to visit in Meghalaya - Cherrapunjee - Your Meghalaya itinerary is incomplete without this
Most Indians would know Cherrapunjee for rainfall. It used to be wettest place on earth and part of every kid's school syllabus. It is no more the wettest place on earth, this title is now held by Mawsynram, just 80 kms from Cherrapunjee. However the high rainfall it receives along with sudden steep plateaus makes Cherrapunjee a sanctum of waterfalls. There are so many falls here but the most popular ones are Nohkalikai and Seven sister falls. Apart from waterfalls, Mawsmai caves, Anthropological museum at Ramakrishna Mission, Thangkharang park etc. give some diversity to the type of sightseeing places Cherrapunjee has to offer.
Another major must visit place in Cherrapunjee is the double decker living root bridge. While single living root bridges are many in Meghalaya; Nongriat near Cherrapunjee has a double decker living root bridge and is a must visit if your health allows you to. We will be detailing more around this in our Cherrapunjee travel guides which will be published soon. Cherrapunjee would require a minimum of 2 full days - one for regular sightseeing and one for double decker living root bridges of Nongriat.
Places to visit in Meghalaya - Mawsynram and Mawlyngbna - These offbeat places will be highlight in your Meghalaya itinerary
Pronounced - Maw-sin-rum , Maw - lib - na (Maw rhymes with Law)
Mawsynram as we already mentioned is currently the wettest place on earth. The only thing you can do here is visit Mawjymbuin cave and get a photo clicked with the sign board saying wettest place on earth. But once you go little further around 15 kms from Mawsynram, you will reach Mawlyngbna village. Areas around this village have quite a few interesting things. Firstly it has Umkakhoi which is a lake surrounded by interesting boulders and their formations. One can do some adventure sports such as Kayaking and Zip lining here. The famous carnivorous Pitcher plant is a common sight here, Split rock is interesting and one can also take Luri-Lura trail for trekking. While there is no need to stay at Mawsynram, one night stay in Mawlyngbna would be adequate for all activities and trekking here.
Places to visit in Meghalaya - Mawlynnong - Asia's cleanest village - A must in your Meghalaya itinerary
Pronouned - Maw-leen-ong (Maw rhymes with Law, Leen rhymes with Keen, Ong as in Song)
This small village is a gem which tourists generally tend to commit the mistake of visiting briefly only for couple of hours. Strolling around this village of barely 100 houses and talking to people of Mawlynnong could be highlight of your trip if you are of the inquisitive kind. The social systems and community governance processes are enlightening and the small village is simply beautiful. We would recommend spending at least one night in Mawlynnong unless you want to go trekking into nearby forests which can take few days to a week depending on how deep you plan to go. You can read complete travel guide to Mawlynnong or see our photo story on Mawlynnong.
Places to visit in Meghalaya - Dawki - Shnongpedong - Do not miss out on adding this to your Meghalaya itinerary
Pronounced - sh-nong-puh-deng
Dawki is a small village near the Bangladesh border. It is famous for Umngot river that flows near it. Little ahead lies another small village Shnongpdeng which is where you can spend a night besides Umngot river and enjoy doing some adventure sports. If you are wondering what is so great about this, you just need to hold your breath, see the picture below and raise your eyebrows.
You can also touch upon Tamabil which has India bangladesh border and you can fancy standing on the border. We definitely recommend spending one night camping at Shnongpdeng and get involved in some water sports. The best place to do this is through Pioneer adventures who have a very well kept campsite besides the river. Apart from tasty food and hygienic washrooms, they are the best adventure sports providers. You can do Scuba diving, Snorkeling, Kayaking, Ziplining, Jumping etc. You can read our experience of traveling to Dawki, Shnongpdeng and camping besides Umngot river or can see our photoblog to see how amazing Umngot river truly is.
Places to visit in Meghalaya - Jowai in Jaintia hills - Add this to your Meghalaya itinerary if you have additional few days
There are few places of interest all around Jowai (capital of Jaintia hills) such as Monoliths and Durga temple in Nartiang, few lakes and caves etc. but what we would definitely recommend here are some of the waterfalls. Krang Shuri waterfalls would blow you away and other number of falls would make your detour to Jaintia side of Meghalaya worth it. While spending one night around Jowai would be recommended, you can spend few hours in some key attractions and go ahead to next destination in case you have less time.
There are so many such smaller interesting places to visit in Meghalaya that one might require a month or more to cover the whole state. One can also venture towards relatively unexplored Mawphanlur in west khasi hills and Jakhrem famous for medicinal hot springs. In this article we are not even touching Garo hills which is roughly a third of Meghalaya. Garo hills too have number of interesting places but is much more remote and unexplored with very few and basic facilities for travelers. Most tourists visiting Meghalaya visit above listed places and some might skip few places due to lack of awareness or time.
Meghalaya Itinerary outlining the best places to visit in Meghalaya
If you look at all the listed places they form a fork type shape with Shillong-Mawphlang being part of the handle and (1) Mawsynram-Mawlyngbna, (2) Cherrapunjee, (3) Mawlynnong-Dawki-Shnongpdeng, (4) Jaintia hills being four prongs. However, one can go from Shnongpdeng to Jowai and circle back to Shillong making it a 2 prongs and a spoon!
We would recommend you plan a minimum of one week of trip to Meghalaya if you want to cover most of the destinations listed above satisfactorily. The more time you have, the deeper you can go into hinterlands and explore some amazing unfrequented places. Assuming you are coming from Guwahati airport, you would most likely reach Guwahati in early noon. It might take around 3-4 hours to reach Umiam lake with lunch. Our recommended itinerary to visiting Meghalaya would be as shown below.
1st day - Umiam lake (Night stay near Umiam lake)
2nd day - Mawphlang - Mawsynram - Mawlyngbna (Night stay at Mawlyngbna)
3rd day - Cherrapunjee (General sightseeing, Night stay at Cherrapunjee)
4th day - Cherrapunjee (Double decker living root bridge in Nongriat, Night stay at Nongriat or Cherrapunjee)
5th day - Mawlynnong (Night stay at Mawlynnong)
6th day - Dawki - Tamabil - Shnongpdeng (Night stay at Shnongpdeng)
7th day - Jaintia hills - Shillong (Night stay at Shillong)
8th day - Shillong (Night stay at Shillong)
9th day - Head back to Guwahati airport
In case you have more time, we would recommend adding a night stay at Mawphlang and do David Scott's trail or adding night stays at Jowai and Mawphanlur in your plan or spending more time at Cherrapunjee. In case you have less time, we would recommend leaving out Mawsynram, Mawlyngbna or even Jowai in Jaintia hills from your plan. A shorter trip would mean heading to Cherrapunjee from Mawphlang and while returning from Shnongpdeng, heading straight to Shillong.
However we strongly recommend you plan a trip to this part of the world only when you have enough time on your cards. Clubbing Kaziranga sanctuary or even packing Arunachal pradesh in the same trip would mean your trip to Meghalaya would be too short to make the most of it and you will miss out on most of the very interesting places to visit in Meghalaya.
Some other tips for planning your Meghalaya trip
Mobile connectivity can be poor in some remote areas such as Mawlyngbna. Also in most other villages you would get mobile network but internet connectivity would be very poor. You will get 4G connections in Shillong, Cherrapunjee and nearby areas
You should get ATMs in most of the state but carrying more cash would be advisable as credit cards would not work in most rural areas
If you go around January, prepare for cold weather. Nights can be really cold along with good winds especially around Shillong so pack your woolens accordingly. Cherrapunjee or other places closer to Bangladesh are relatively warm due to plains nearby
Learn 'Khublei' (Pronounced - Khoo-bley). The Khasi word for Thank you. Though you will find people speaking fluent or broken English everywhere, interacting with rural folks in remote villages can be difficult and Khublei would definitely bring a smile on their faces
Having a driver who know local Khasi language can help especially with roads and interacting in few places
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We have a separate travel guide for each of these places to visit in Meghalaya as part of the series - The Meghalaya Odyssey. Follow our upcoming blogs to know more about the places in our Meghalaya itinerary. So if you are planning your trip to Meghalaya, subscribe to our newsletter so that you know when those blogs are published. Did this article help you to plan your trip to Meghalaya better? Do you think we can add any specific detail which could make this article more useful to readers? Do let us know your thoughts below.