Chasing Waterfalls in Meghalaya

Our local insider, Sudeshna, explores the remote reaches of Meghalaya to discover why the northeast Indian state has earned itself the nickname “Scotland of the East”.

The plan was to spend a few days in the cooler climes of Shillong, amidst Meghalaya’s misty mountains. Dad and I wanted to escape the clammy heat of Kolkata, and do as little as possible, so I packed a couple of books. 

They never made it out of my suitcase.

Meghalaya literally translates into ‘abode of the clouds’. This small, northeast Indian state bordering Bangladesh was named ‘Scotland of the East’ by early British settlers, thanks to its rolling hills and cloud-covered peaks.

Meghalaya’s capital of Shillong, while nestled amidst the East Khasi hills, is a typically urban sprawl of over-development and traffic congestion.

But tucked away amidst this chaos is Aerodene Cottage, a charming B&B housed in a carefully-restored, historic home, where we planned to hole up during our stay.

As luck would have it, our paths crossed with Peppy, a passionate Shillong boy and travel entrepreneur whose mission is to show off his beautiful corner of the world.

When I asked Peppy to take us to Malwynnong – a tiny village that has ended up on the tourist radar as Asia’s Cleanest Village – he insisted instead on taking us to see lesser-known waterfalls.

We set off nice and early one morning after breakfast in his SUV. As we left the city behind, multistoried buildings gave way to ramshackle huts in little hamlets, and the landscape around us changed to lush, forested hillsides colored in 50 shades of green.

Having just visited Scotland a couple of months’ prior, I could see the analogy – though nothing had prepared me for this raw beauty.

We climbed higher and higher on the narrow winding road, precariously hugging the mountainside. Suddenly, a wall of white descended on us. We were completely shrouded in a thick fog, and visibility was nil.

As I held my breath and onto the car’s roof handles, our guide expertly navigated his way through the fog without missing a beat – luckily, he knows these roads like the back of his hand.

Almost just as suddenly, the fog cleared up, and our surroundings sparkled bright and green, as if with a hint of a wink.

We soon arrived at our first stop: Elephant Falls.

A popular tourist attraction, this wide, three-tier cascade was a good introduction into the world of waterfalls.

From here, we proceeded closer towards Cherrapunji (also known as Sohra) – officially the world’s wettest place.

I was promised I’d be able to go under a waterfall and view it from above – and I wasn’t disappointed.

Next was Kynrem Falls. We made our way down a few slippery, moss-covered steps to get that Instagram-perfect selfie.

Gingerly making my way down, I held on to the handrails for dear life. My heart was in my mouth. Ahead of me, a young mother was braving the adventure with a newborn baby in her arms – just the type of encouragement I needed to make it down without slipping.

Looking back now, the nail-biting descent was well worth it for the views and thrills of Kynrem Falls.

Kynrem Falls. Photo credit: Sudeshna Ghosh

Next, the rather remote Dainthlen Falls, where secure iron fencing allowed us to peer down at the rock pools where the falls land – a rare opportunity indeed.

Local legend has it that a giant serpent (known as Thlen in the local Khasi language) used to live in a cave here, and would eat passers-by, until the villagers decided to kill the snake – and that’s what the falls are named after.

Meghalays, like most such mountainous regions, is replete with such myths and legends, and there are several versions of each.

Dainthlen Falls. Photo credit: Sudeshna Ghosh

Our day’s journey was awash with waterfalls that could only be found with the help of a local: every few hundred meters or so, naturally-formed falls cascaded into small rivulets – thanks to the rainy season.

Our waterfall chase was interrupted by a late lunch stop at a traditional tea room. These immaculately clean, corrugated iron shacks are ubiquitous across the landscape, serving up a typical meal of momos (dumplings), or rice and meat curry, with sweet black tea on the side.

The hearty, home-style food was made even more delicious thanks to the wide betel-stained grin that it was served with, from the elderly Khasi lady manning the ‘restaurant’.

Peppy seemed startled by our enthusiasm for this simple, rustic meal. Inspired by our interest in the local cuisine, over lunch he introduced us to another venture he’s associated with – Campfire Trails, an adventure rural tourism company offering immersive cultural experiences in remote Meghalaya villages.

I was sorely tempted to squeeze in a visit with them to Umden, to see their artisanal silkworm rearing, or Sohliya’s strawberry farms, but didn’t have enough time on this impromptu trip.

But, maybe that’s the best part? Now I’ve got an excuse to go back. Chasing waterfalls had just whetted my appetite, and led me to discover a culturally rich region, with so much more to offer than meets the eye.

This time around, I’m not listening to you, TLC!

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