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City Focus: Gangtok, Sikkim

Name a capital city in India with moderately pleasant temperatures throughout the year, 100% organic food, leisurely walk in a pedestrian only market in the center of the city with breathtaking views of the Himalayan mountains that form the border of four countries: India, China, Nepal and Bhutan. The one and only answer for this question is Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim.

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District focus: Kannur, Kerala

In which region in India can you find the following features? White sandy beaches with a blue sea dotted by small islands? Beautiful beaches with hardly any tourists at all? Asia’s longest driveable beach? A Subrahmanya temple with a beautiful stepwell? A mirror made with polished metal and no glass? History of Kerala’s most influential Islamic dynasty? A school dedicated to folk music and dance?

Of course, the answer is in the title of the post itself. The coastal Kannur district in northern Kerala’s Malabar region has all of the above as you will see in the remainder of this post.

Geography of Kannur district

Kannur district is on the west coast of India. So it has the same weather as India’s major west coast cities, e.g. Mumbai, Kochi, Mangaluru, Panaji. The weather is humid and tropical. Winters are mild. But as with the entire west coast, Kannur district too is blessed with plenty of rain during the 4 months of monsoon from June to September. Besides there is a second wave of rain during October – November.

The layout of the district is also similar to the other west coast regions we have seen in other posts: Konkan in Maharashtra and Uttara Kannada in Karnataka for instance. The west of the district is bordered by the Arabian sea and the east is bordered by the western Ghat mountains. To the south of Kannur district is Thalassery and one of Puducherry’s enclaves: Mahe. To the north of the district is Kasaragod district. The highways to the east of Kannur ascend sharply over the western Ghats and lead to the forests and lakes of Wayanad district.

People of Kannur

All the three major religions of Kerala, i.e. Hinduism, Islam and Christianity, can be seen in sizeable numbers in Kannur district. From our observations around the district, none of the three religions can actually be called a minority. This is because Kannur was one of the first districts (alongside Kozhikode) all around India to receive Arabic traders for spice trading and Christian missionaries for education and peace.

Kannur has a variety of occupations, but the major ones are agriculture and fishing. Industries based on the two take up more than half the share of the local revenue generated. Despite the beautiful things to see in Kannur, tourism is yet to catch up. This is true in all of north Kerala, also known as Malabar.

A common trend is Kannur is for youngsters to migrate to OPAC countries (Mallus refer to them as Gulf) like Oman, UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar. They spend several years in these countries, earn a decent income and send money back home. During their visits from Gulf, they bring expensive gifts for their near and dear ones. One amusing thing to try with a Kannur youngster is to point towards any expensive thing they own and ask where they got it. “My uncle got this for me from Gulf”, “My daddy bought this from Muscat”, “My brother gifted me during his visit from Dubai”, will be the most common answers.

The most spoken language in Kannur district is the state language Malayalam. Varying dialects are spoken in regional pockets such as Kavvayi island. English is also well-spoken due to education by Christian missionary schools. While Hindi isn’t spoken very well in the interior areas of Kannur, the coastal areas, like Kannur city itself, are fairly comfortable with the language. But it’s not a language that you would want to use for deep conversations with the locals.

Some history about Kannur

Kannur has seen two major dynasties come and go. The Muslim dynasty by the name of Arakkal, was famous for its influential Begums (queens), rather than Badshahs (kings). Kannur was also part of the Hindu Malabar kingdom, before it joined hands with the other two Malayalam speaking kingdoms – Kochi and Travancore – to form the unified state of Kerala.

The city and the district were called Cannanore by the British. The name continued to be used post independence, but was recently replaced by its original Malayalam name, Kannur. This happened when the state went on a renaming spree, reclaiming plenty of original names, i.e. Cochin – Kochi, Calicut – Kozhikode, Alwaye – Aluva, Alleppey – Alappuzha, Palghat – Palakkad, Quilon – Kollam. The name for the state capital, Thiruvananthapuram, was reclaimed from Trivandrum several years ago.

Tourism in Kannur

Here is what we have to say about Kannur. Enjoy it while it LASTS. Right now, NONE of northern Kerala’s hotspots, Kannur district included, has received the limelight that the ‘typical tourist Kerala’ has received. The websites, tourist packages and brochures focus on Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram, Alleppey house boats, Munnar and Thekkadi. Pilgrims focus on Sabari Malaa and Guruvayoor.

Everything to the north of Guruvayoor, i.e. Kozhikode, Kappad, Mahe (although in Kerala’s landmass, it is part of Puducherry UT), Thalassery, Kannur, Wayanad, Palakkad, Kasaragod, Malappuram and Kotakkal Ayurveda are conveniently blindspotted by tourist packages. The tourists you will see around Kannur’s beaches are local Malayalam people or a few foreigners who have got wind of the sparseness of Malabar.

Enjoy Malabar while you can. It is only a matter of time before tourism catches up. But what should you enjoy? Here goes.

Beautiful beaches with white sand, blue water and forested islands

Here are some of the beaches you should see.

Dharmadam: is the southern-most beach in Kannur district. It is on the geographical border of Thalassery and Kannur districts. The beach has views of small tree-lined islands off the coast. It is possible to use a local fishing boat to explore these islands.

Thottada: is in our opinion, the most beautiful beach in north Kerala. It is just south of Kannur city (about 20 km away from city centre). The sand is rich, thick and white, a pleasure to walk on without footwear. The water is azure and clean. To exploit the beauty of the beach, small sea view wooden & bamboo cottages have come up at the area where the beach sand ends. A feature of Thottada beach is that it is a little walk away from the main road, where you’ll need to leave your vehicle. A small river runs parallel to the beach. The authorities have not bothered to build a road bridge, but only a pedestrian bridge to cross the river. So people who are too bored to walk, leave this beach alone.

Payyambalam: is the city’s own beach, similar to Mumbai’s Juhu, Chennai’s Marina and Thiruvananthapuram’s Shankhumukham. The beach is at the northern end of the city, an area which is fast developing with skyscrapers.

Ettikulam: is a beach about 16 km to the north of the city and is great to watch for its multicoloured fishing boats. The beach is just south of Ezhimala, a hill that contains a lighthouse and belongs to the Indian Navy. Ezhimala is off limits for civilians.

Muzhappilangad / Edakkad drive-through beach

If you have ever fantasized about drag-racing your car by the sea or drawing shapes with your vehicle’s tyres on the beach sand, then Muzhappilangad beach is the longest beach in all of Asia to do so. At Muzhappilangad, a 5 km stretch of firmly packed sand and gentle waves are perfect for any car. But a powerful SUV can do more. While low ground clearance cars should stay away from the salty sea water, SUVs can splash around in the gentle waves to create special effects. The southern end of the beach is at Muzhappilangad village, while the northern end at Edakkad. So the beach is referred to by both names.

Driving our car through Muzhappilangad / Edakkad drive-in beach.

There is a nominal entry fee to take your vehicle into the beach, but going by foot is free.

Kavvayi island

Kavvayi is a group of islands off the coast of Payyanur, a town north of Kannur city. The islands are formed by the backwaters of the Perumba river at its mouth. Kavvayi is inhabited. The islands are connected by several road bridges and also by ferries. The jetty point on the main land is at Kotty, about 3 km from Payyanur city.

Backwaters of Perumba river seperate Kerala mainland from Kavvayi islands.

We found it fun to drive on the road on a narrow strip of land between Payyanur and Kavvayi’s main island. On both sides of the road are the backwaters of the river. Kavvayi has a few beach resorts, river side resorts, eco park and a few houseboats on the backwaters.

Driving from Payyanur to Kavvayi, with water on both sides.

Arakkal dynasty museum

Arakkal were long-time Muslim rulers of Kannur. They had fine taste for teak furniture and special mirrors which we’ll talk about in a minute.

The Arakkal museum used to be one of the several residences of the Arakkal rulers and overlooks the Arabian sea. The national highway NH-66 Mumbai – Kanyakumari coastal highway passes right by the Arakkal museum and you cannot miss it.

Arakkal dynasty museum

Inside the two storeys of the museum, you will see really rich-looking teak furniture sets patronised and used by the dynasty. The teak pillars of the museum are also artful. The staircase to go between the storeys also consists of teak stairs.

But the best exhibit in the museum is the Aranmula mirror, a special mirror that is made of metal. No glass is used. The metal is polished by hand until it becomes perfectly reflective like a mirror. While you can see small hand-held Aranmula face mirrors at museums in Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram, Thrissur, Kozhikode and Nilambur teak museum, the one at Kannur is a full body height dressing table mirror.

Full body length Aranmula mirror at Arakkal museum.

St Angelo Fort

St Angelo is a sea fort that was built by the Dutch during their rule in southern India. There are multiple levels of ramparts, defunct cannon guns, walkways both inside the fort and on its perimeter and a magnificent view of the Arabian sea and some of the beaches around Kannur.

Inside St Angelo fort.

Kerala Folklore Academy

While not inside the city sprawl, the Kerala Folklore Academy is located 16 km to the east at Chirakkal village. The word Chira in Malayalam means a lake and true to the name, the academy is located at the bank of the shallow swamp water lake which is home to migratory birds. While the lake itself is interesting, it is the institution on the eastern bank that is more so.

Museum gallery inside Kerala Folklore Academy

Kerala Folklore Academy is an institution that teaches traditional Kerala dance, music and play forms. The institute has its own museum with displays of folk stories, performance dresses, masks, props and instruments. While casual tourists are not allowed inside the classrooms, you may be able to see a few practice performances that are routinely done in the central courtyard of the academy.

Peralassery temple

Equidistant from both Thalassery and Kannur cities and to their east is Peralassery village. The highlight of this village is the Subrahmanya temple, where Lord Subrahmanya or Kartikeya is worshipped as a serpent. As per Hindu mythology, Lord Subrahmanya is the son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati and freed the world from the evils of demon Tarakasura.

But a feature outside the temple is more interesting than the temple itself. A fresh-water pond with a seven-storey stepwell is extremely eye-catching. In fact, a photo of this stepwell on TripAdvisor was all we needed to peel off the NH-66 highway between Thalassery and Kannur to take a detour to visit this beautiful work of architecture.

Stepwell at Peralassery temple.

The pond is below ground level. So you enter the stepwell at its seventh storey and descend your way to the level of the pond through the main staircase. Or for fun, you can use one of the several criss-crossing staircases across the levels. To the north of the pond is a Shiva Linga. Inside the pond, we can see colourful fresh water fish. The fish are considered sacred and it is common to see worshippers feed them rice grains.

Dressing rules in Kerala temples are quite strict. Many prohibit entry without dhoti and saree. Peralassery is among the lenient ones as you are allowed to wear western clothes, so long as they cover your shoulders and legs. But since we were roaming at the beaches around Kannur on a warm day and our decision to visit Peralassery was impulsive, we were not prepared. Our attire was tee shirt and shorts (Hari) and a knee-length and sleeveless frock (Priya) (See our reflection on the Aranmula mirror at Arakkal museum). ‘In your dreams!’, Kerala temples would say, so we didn’t even try. Our attraction was the stepwell… and that we got to see!

Reaching Kannur

Kannur is a well-connected city in Kerala. It has several transport options available.

By Air

Kannur is served by the airport at Mattanur, a suburb of the city. There are regular flights to Kannur from New Delhi, Kozhikode, Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Chennai, Hubballi and Goa’s Vasco. International flights are also available from several destinations in Gulf, the most connected ones being UAE’s Dubai and Oman’s Muscat.

By Rail

Kannur is a railway station on Southern Railway’s Shoranur division. By extension, it is one of the major stations on Indian Railway’s Konkan railway stretch that covers the beautiful coastal route of Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka and Kerala. All major trains connecting Kerala to Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, western and northern India halt at Kannur, including special trains like Rajdhani, Shatabdi, Duronto, Humsafar and Tejas.

By Bus

Kannur’s bus depot, situated right outside the railway station to its east, has services to all major cities in Kerala, the most common connections being Kozhikode, Kasaragod and Thrissur. Interstate buses ply to Karnataka’s Mangaluru and Udupi.

Self-driving

Reaching Kannur by drive is quite straightforward since the city lies right on a major national highway. No detours or deviations. The NH-66 (erstwhile NH-17) west coast highway starts at Mumbai’s Panvel suburb and runs straight to Kanyakumari. It goes like so: Mumbai – Panvel – Alibaug – Ratnagiri – Malvan – Panaji – Madgaon – Karwar – Honnavara – Udupi – Mangaluru – Kasaragod – Kannur – Thalassery – Mahe – Kozhikode – Kochi – Alleppey – Thiruvananthapuram – Nagercoil – Kanyakumari.

If you are driving from a western state such as Gujarat, western MP (e.g. Ratlam or Indore) or interior Maharashtra (e.g. Pune), you should join the NH-66 at Mumbai, Panvel, Alibaug or Ratnagiri. If you are driving from north, central or eastern India, then join the Grand Trunk highway at Delhi, Agra or Nagpur. The highway continues from Nagpur to Hyderabad and then Bengaluru.

At Bengaluru, take the highway that runs as Bengaluru – Madduru – Mysuru – Coorg – Subrahmanya – Mangaluru and join the NH-66 to reach Kannur. The Coorg route itself is a pleasure to drive on.

Roads from Tamil Nadu join various cities on NH-66 via the following highways: Coimbatore – Palakkad – Thrissur – Kozhikode, Trichy – Dindigul – Pollachi – Valparai – Chalakudy – Thrissur – Kozhikode, Madurai – Theni – Munnar – Kottayam – Kochi. If you are driving from Chennai, then the Coimbatore – Kozhikode route is your shortest one.

Conclusion

Kerala is a widely advertised state for tourism. But most tourism focuses on southern Kerala for places like Kochi and on western Ghats for places like Munnar. The Malabar region in general and Kannur district in particular have been ignored. But that can act in your favour as you can use this blog post to enjoy a leisurely and crowd-free getaway. You will thank us later 🙂

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History revisited: The romance of Etiben and Jina, a folk tale of Ao tribes

In the middle of Nagaland is the district of Mokokchung, the home region of Ao tribes. The Ao tribes speak a language of the same name. Like any other community in the world, the Aos too have their own music and historic tales. One such tale is the legend of Etiben and Jina, two lovers seperated by a huge wealth gap and family objection. They could never come together as a married couple, but for Aos they are the symbol of unshakeable love. As a walk down the history lane, we are going to recollect this very popular Ao historic tale and also take you to the place where the two lovers lived and are still celebrated today — Mopungchuket

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Travel tip: Travel through your kitchen

The rampancy of Corona virus has put a suspension to everyone’s travel plans. In most cases, not only are you forbidden from going to another city, but also forbidden from commuting to another part of your own city. Since modes of transport have been brought to a halt by the suspension of bus, train and plane services, there is no question of planning a hobby travel for at least another month. In fact, we’d even be grateful if regular routine returns to normalcy. During such times, you can only relive some of best travels through photos and videos. But what about another way to relive your best travel moments in a more active way? What if you can reproduce the aromas and flavours of the lands that you have been to?

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Anecdotes: How Paite tribes in Manipur kept us safe in a land without technology

During our trip around India, we spent two days riding our motorbike in some of the most remote regions of Manipur. The hills in the south-west of Manipur is home to Paite tribes. We drove through Paite territory as part of our ride from Imphal (Manipur’s capital) to Aizawl (Mizoram’s capital). The drive goes through a ‘highway’ that has no layer of tar for several kilometres. Electronic communication is of little use since there is very little mobile phone signal and absolutely no 2G/3G/4G signal at all. Yet, the Paite tribes maintain a communication channel mainly through word-of-mouth and through their limited BSNL mobile phones. You’ll be surprised how fast word spreads from one village to another. Here is one such intriguing story.

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Thematic trips: The 6 abodes of Lord Murugan in Tamil Nadu

Lord Karthikeya, known in Tamil language as Murugan, holds a special place in the heart of the Hindu natives of Tamil Nadu. In fact, it is the only state where we have observed really high importance given to the second child of Lord Shiva. In most other states, Lord Ganesha is held in high regard while Karthikeya gets a small sanctum somewhere in a corner shrine in major temples. In fact, so important is Lord Murugan to Tamil Nadu that they have the concept of Arupadai Veedu, or the six abodes of the Lord. This is comparable to Maharashtra’s Ashtavinayak, the Char Dham of Uttarakhand and the Shaktipeeths across India.

The Arupadai Veedu concept appears in literary works of Tamil poets and story writers who were staunch devotees of Lord Murugan. A good example is Arunagirinaathar’s work Thiruppugazh and Nakkeerar’s work Thirumurugaatrupadai. Both names are quite a mouthful for our non-Tamil readers. So let’s make this post easier and go on a tour of the six major Murugan temples around Tamil Nadu. Continue reading

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How we travelled India for a year for the price of a Maruti Alto?

As we have pointed out in our We Are The Living blog, the one habit that gave us the freedom to travel is keeping note of of our expenses. We kept up with the habit during our travel too and have an accurate picture of our costs. What was surprising even for us is that the entire year’s travel cost less than what it did to live in a city. Yes, it indeed cost us less than a brand new Maruti Alto. And it is possible to do even cheaper.

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Natural Wonders: Pangong Tso lake, Ladakh Union Territory

From the Bollywood Hindi movie Three Idiots, do you remember the scene where Phuntshuk Wangdu (played by Aamir Khan) is re-discovered by his best friends from college? Do you remember the lake in front of which they talk? Have you wondered where the lake is? It is Pangong Tso in the Ladakh region, part of Jammu & Kashmir when we visited, but now a union territory ruled directly by the central government. While the lake was made famous by the movie and has since received increased tourism, it has been considered sacred for centuries by both Ladakh and Tibet. Continue reading

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Thematic trips: Sea forts in Maharashtra

Between the late 17th century to the early 19th century, the Maratha empire had a formidable navy. Started by Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj as a way of countering invastion by foreign forces from the west coast of India, the navy flourished under the Peshwas with the able commandership of admiral Kanhoji Angre. Maharashtra’s coastline was particularly strong because of the presence of some strong forts along the coastline. While not all of them were built by the Marathas, several of them were captured by them and held for more than a century. Most forts fell to the hands of the British when the Marathas were defeated in 1818.

Here is a glimpse of the most important sea forts in Maharashtra.

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How we covered it: Meghalaya

Meghalaya translates to the ‘abode of the clouds’ (Megha Aalaya in Sanskrit). The state is home to green mountains, forests, man-made tree root bridges, spice gardens and natural caves. We covered parts of Meghalaya that are usually not covered by tourism packages. Because we covered the state on motorbike. But also, we went there during the north-east monsoon season. So a lot of interesting spots such as deep cave exploration and hidden waterfalls were closed due to flooded paths. Still, in this post we cover our path through Meghalaya and what important points we covered. We will also list some of the places we couldn’t cover and from where you can get there.

Geography of Meghalaya

Meghalaya is a mostly mountainous state, with the only low-lying area at Dawki near the border of India and Bangladesh to the south of the state. The state is divided into three north-south regions based on the tribal communities. The west-most region, which is the least touristy, is known as Garo district. The middle region, which contains the most populated and touristy destinations such as Shillong, Sohra (Cherrapunji) and Dawki are part of Khasi district. The east most region is named Jaintia and has some of the most interesting treks and cave exploration. Jowai is the most important town in Jaintia region.

Meghalaya receives rainfall for 8 to 9 months every year. Mawsynram village in Khasi region is the rainiest place in the world, with an annual rainfall of 10,000 to 11,000 mm (i.e. 393 to 433 inches). The state receives rain from both the north-east and south-west monsoon winds. It can rain practically any time all over Meghalaya. There is a dense cloud cover for most of the year, with cloud build-up happening several times per day, leading to rains, thus earning the state its name.

Our route through Meghalaya

In our trip, we did not cover Garo hills, i.e. the western region. We were told by other motorbiking groups that while the region was beautiful, it was hard to get by with English or Hindi in the region or to find accommodation. Garo region is not yet open to tourism and there is still work to do.

Meghalaya was the last state in India 360 that we covered. We entered Meghalaya through Assam. Since we were travelling from Tezpur, which is to the east of Meghalaya, we took the west-bound highway to Guwahati via Nagaon and took the south-bound exit to Meghalaya at Jagiroad town. If you are driving from Kolkata or Guwahati, you will reach Jagiroad from its west and take the same exit.

After staying in Shillong for a couple of nights, we covered Sohra (previously called Cherrapunji) district. From Sohra, we drove to Mawlynnong, the village rated as the cleanest village (frankly, reason not convincing enough for us). From Mawlynnong, we drove to the river-side town of Dawki. From Dawki, we started driving towards Assam to complete our trip India 360. But instead of driving all the way back to Shillong on the same route, we used the Jaintia region to drive via Jowai and Nartiang before exiting Meghalaya at Khanduli.

Our route through Meghalaya. Click to enlarge.

Here are the places we saw along the route.

Khasi Hills: Guwahati – Shillong – Sohra

Umiam lake: Umiam lake is a lake on the entry to Shillong. It was formed in the 1960s after building a dam over the Umiam river. It is the main catchment area for Shillong city for water supply. You will not miss Umiam lake if you are driving to Shillong from Jagiroad. It is right on the way.

Umiam lake is the main catchment area for Shillong city.

There is a road near Umiam lake that goes straight to Shillong airport without passing through Shillong city. It is called Shillong bypass road. Going beyond from Shillong airport, this road leads to Jowai in Jaintia Hills. After showing tourists around Meghalaya upto Dawki, some tourist taxis prefer to drive to Jowai and then drop tourists off either at the airport or back to Shillong city.

Shillong city: Shillong is the capital of Meghalaya. It is commercially the most important city among the hilly states in north-eastern Himalayas. The main language spoken in Shillong is Khasi, since the city is in the Khasi Hills. Shillong itself has several places of interest, which we will list in the points to follow.

City centre point, Shillong: The city centre point is a commercial hub inside Shillong city that has five roads meeting at one junction. One of the roads is a walk-only promenade with several street side shops, restaurants, cafes and hotels.

Pedestrian-only promenade at Centre point.

Ward’s lake: This is a lake in downtime Shillong. The lake has a walkway surrounding it. There is even a small wooden bridge as a walkway crossing the lake. The lake has pedal boats. Outside the lake are several eateries where you can eat common snacks such as momos and frankies. The lake area is a good place for relaxing and for photography.

Ward’s lake is a nice place to spend a relaxed evening on the day that you arrive at Shillong.

Shillong peak (Laitkor): Shillong peak is a hill just outside Shillong city. Most of it belongs to the Indian Army as a place to watch over Shillong and the surrounding area. Visitors are allowed on certain days upto a watch tower inside the campus. The rest of the campus is off-limits for civilians.

On top of Shillong (Laitkor) peak. Photos are not allowed inside the military area of the peak, so we took one where we could.

Captain Williamson Sangma museum: Named after the late Lok Sabha speaker, the Sangma museum is a place where you can look at the history of Meghalaya state and get a glimpse of its culture.

Captain Williamson Sangma museum shows a glimpse of Meghalaya culture in all three regions.

Don Bosco museum: Don Bosco museum is in a quiet suburb of the city with less crowd and traffic. The museum is a seven-storey edifice with glimpses into all the 8 states in north-east Himalayas (Arunachal, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tripura). On the terrace is a view point with a view of the entire city of Shillong surrounded by Khasi Hills.

Terrace of Don Bosco museum

Lachumiere wall paintings: In Lachumiere neighbourhood in the centre of the city, some of the government buildings facades and compound walls have beautiful paintings. I will let the photos do the talking.

Wall paintings at Lachumiere

Laitumkrah cathedral: This beautifully constructed cathedral is the chief cathedral for the entire state of Meghalaya. People from all over the state gather here for important Christian festivals.

Elephant waterfall: On the highway between Shillong and Sohra, you will come across the entrance to the trail that leads to the Elephant falls. No one really knows with certainty why the falls are named that way. You will hear quite a few stories about it. While you can visit the falls when you are in Shillong, there is nothing extremely beautiful about it and there are better falls around Sohra.

Elephant falls are near Shillong, but are hardly eye-catching compared to really beautiful ones like Nohkalikai or Krang Suri.

Sohra: The town was famous by the name Cherrapunji until a few years ago and used to be the wettest place in the world. The record has been taken over by Mawsynram, also in Khasi Hills. But over the last two years, Agumbe in Karnataka and Mahabaleshwar in Maharashtra have received more rains that Khasi Hills, which has faced a couple of drier monsoons. Sohra is a town where you can stick around for a day or two to explore the nearby destinations, some of which are legendary.

Nohkalikai falls: These falls are near Sohra and can be seen from a viewpoint. The falls plunge from a height and form a clear blue pool at the bottom. There is a way to trek down to the base of the falls, but you’d need a local guide for that.

Nohkalikai waterfall near Sohra.

Mawsmai caves: These caves are a teaser for caving in Meghalaya. While it is too short and too touristy, it can serve as a good starting point if you wish to explore more secluded caves in Meghalaya.

Stalactites inside Mawsmai caves, Sohra.

Nongkriat living root bridges (single and double): In the village of Nongkriat, a trail goes down to the depths of the forest where you can witness something unique to Meghalaya. The roots of trees have been used to build bridges to cross a river. Meghalaya’s most famous landmark is the double-root bridge, where the roots of two trees across the river have been used to build a double-decker bridge, with one bridge slightly above another. We could not cover another destination on the same trail, i.e. Rainbow falls. When we went to Nongkriat, it was raining once every 10 minutes and all the hidden trails were flooded.

The legendary double decker root bridge of Nongkriat

Kutmadan: Kutmadan is a small village in Sohra district, from where one can literally see the plains of Bangladesh, while standing on a hill top. In fact, if you search for mobile networks on your phone, you will be shown Bangladeshi phone networks, whose towers seem to beam more power to this village. Only certain areas in the village, e.g. the kitchen of a resort where we pitched our tent, are capable of receiving Indian mobile provider signals.

View of the plains of Bangladesh from Kutmadan.

Khasi Hills: Mawlynnong – Dawki

From Sohra, it makes good sense to point your vehicle towards Mawlynnong and then further to Dawki. Here is what we saw along the route.

Mawlynnong: This village is supposedly the cleanest village in Asia. While we definitely saw people working hard to keep the village clean and also teaching their children how to, we definitely cannot be convinced that this is the ONLY clean village in India or even the north-east. We have seen several places which are equally clean despite being more populated. Another disappointing thing is the exorbitantly jacked up prices of the guest houses around the village, which are a result of the ‘clean tag’ and the resulting curious tourism. Many people also find Mawlynnong less crowded than nearby Sohra, especially tourists from abroad, who prefer to use Mawlynnong as a quieter place to stay and use from further travel.

Main village square at Mawlynnong.

That said, Mawlynnong has its own activities such as canopy walk, its own living root bridge and a balancing rock, which is a large rock sitting on a smaller rock with immaculate balance.

Mawshun caves: Mawshun caves were discovered and opened for tourism quite recently (2017). It is in Mawshun village on the highway from Shillong to Dawki. But unlike Maswmai (Sohra), Mawshun attracts few tourists. This is because it takes a nimble body to explore these caves. While Mawsmai has only one narrow passage, Mawshun has a series of narrow passages, where one needs to duck, squeeze and wiggle. The walk inside the cave is conducted by a bunch of Khasi kids who look like secondary school students from lower middle class families. But they speak impeccable English and are experts around the caves. You are given torches, special shoes and helmet to explore the caves, along with one guide.

More advanced than the simple Mawsmai caves, the Mawshun caves have tigher crawling, ducking and wiggle spaces! Thankfully, we had our GoPro ready to shoot instead of having to fidget inside our bags while wiggling!

Dawki: Dawki town is on the western bank of Dawki river where it is joined by Goyain river. To the south of the confluence is Bangladesh’s Jaflong town. At Dawki, the river water is so clear that you can see through to the bottom and the boats appear to be floating in the air. There are several lodges in Dawki, but the best way to stay here is river-side camping either with your own tent or through a camping company.

Since the shadow of the boat can be seen so clearly in the water, the boat seems to be floating in the air.

Jaintia Hills: Dawki – Jowai – Khanduli

To the east of Dawki river, the Khasi region ends and Jaintia region starts. The highway crosses from west to the east of the river thus putting you in Jaintia region. But not before passing near Tamabil checkpost. This checkpost is on the border of India and Bangladesh. Trucks carrying goods between India and Bangladesh need to get through customs at this checkpost. As a result, you will see a humungous row of trucks waiting for their turn on the lane of the highway that leads to the checkpoint. The lane that leads towards Jowai is virtually empty. It is amusing to see hundreds of trucks stretching into a line several kilometres long. From the length of the line, we estimated that the last ones would take two days to reach the checkpost!

A line of trucks that is kilometres long. Watch our for people who use our lane to overtake the trucks.

Be careful while you drive along this road. Really careful. Since the trucks take up one side of the two-lane road for days together, the traffic bound from Jowai to Dawki can do nothing but stray towards the lane that is used by the Jowai-bound vehicles. Be really careful to avoid head on collisions, especially with local motorbikes who zip along in the wrong direction at really high speeds. There are no dividers on this highway and for once, I have to say that it is with good reason. Otherwise, cars and motorbikes would have to stay behind the trucks for days. But honk away at every blind turn and drive reaaaaallly slow, not exceeding 20 kmph, until you see the last of the trucks. No ego or thrill necessary here. It is your safety at stake.

Jowai: is the principal city of Jaintia Hills. From here a highway goes westward to Shillong airport (the same Shillong bypass road that passes Umiam lake), while we remained on the north-east path towards Nartiang. Jowai is a road-head for several caving and rarely used trekking trails in Jaintia Hills, which are yet to receive the kind of attention they deserve.

Waterfalls, caves and treks: None of which we could cover ( 🙂 ) since all the trekking trails and cave paths were inundated in knee deep water. We were practically laughed at when we asked for trekking information at Jowai town. It felt like asking to see snow in July. We phoned a friend who had visited Meghalaya recently, but he responded that he had seen only Khasi and hadn’t visited Jaintia region at all.

But here are some things you can see if you visit at the right time of the year (October – March): Krang Suri falls, Phe Phe falls, Umlawang caves (the longest mountain caves at 31 kilometres!), Mookhuri falls, Moopun falls, Tipka falls, Kremlabit caves (also 20+ km)….. and many more that are still being discovered!

Nartiang menhirs: This place has a stone-henge like feel to it. Inside a park, we can see several stone menhirs stacked in several shapes. The menhirs are also called ‘monoliths’, since each one is carved out of a single rock. The monoliths are said to be carved by the Hindu rulers of Jaintiapur. Jaintiapur city is now in the plains of Bangladesh, but the region, as you know, is still named Jaintia Hills.

Nartiang menhirs / monoliths, created by the Jaintia rulers.

Conclusion

While we drove through a lot of regularly visited sites in Meghalaya and even some of the not-so driven paths, we couldn’t do justice to the really beautiful state, because we visited in May when monsoon is at one of its fiercest in the state. We would really love to head back here during the last quarter of some year soon. But using this post, you can plan a trip as beautiful as or even better than ours 🙂