In Northeast India, Meghalaya's tree root bridges are unlike any other. In Cherrapunjee (which was once the wettest place on Earth until the neighboring Mawsynram took over), the locals have trained the roots of Ficus elastica to extend outwards to the other bank.
They did this by using hollowed out beetle nut trunks as a guiding system, and then the plants take root on the opposite bank. Compared to the rather flimsy steel contraptions one has to cross to get to the place, the intertwined roots make rather sturdy bridges that only grow stronger with age.
While descending the 3,000 steps into the subtropical valley, you can't help but feel like you're stepping into one of the last green outposts. The bridges (of which new ones are still being built) take 15 to 20 years to form, and can be used even hundreds of years later, as is the case with the double root bridge of Cherrapunjee.
Meghalaya, straddling the Garo, Khasi and Jaintia hills, lies in the northeast of India. It's one of the seven sister states that are tethered to the Indian mainland by a small stretch of land. Meghalaya is a part of India, yet it's the antithesis of all the summaries you've heard about the country.
For starters, it's spectacularly clean. Even public toilets in far-flung areas are no exception to that statement. Meghalaya is also one of the few places that is a traditionally matrilineal society.
The landscape is a verdant green land, dotted with lakes, waterfalls, quaint houses and churches. The largely Christian population clearly holds their land in great reverence. And even though missionaries have been thorough in this part of the country, ancient traditions are still adhered to.
The root bridges — the only ones of their kind in the world – aren't the only gems Meghalaya has to offer. Some 62 miles from Shillong, in the East Khasi hills, is Mawlynnong. It's also said to be Asia's cleanest village and is certainly fancier than any village you're likely to see. The Mawlynnong root bridge is just a short easy walk down from the village.
Some 19 miles from Mawlynnong lies the border settlement of Dawki, from which Bangladesh is but a stroll away. Running passed it is a beautiful ribbon of blue, the Umngot River. The water is so clear that even at its deepest depths, you can clearly see the river bed.
Children sit on rocks, casting a line or dive straight into the waters. Women trudge by attending to their business. You get an inkling that nobody here is in a hurry. People here don't have much, but they are more than happy to share what they do have, like our boatman's mother who invited us to share her lunch as we were looking for places to eat.
Here are some helpful tips to guide you through the gorgeous region:
Where To Eat
The capital, Shillong, is a young, bustling city with plenty of cafes and restaurants. The people here are musically inclined, so wherever you go, there's always guitar music and people singing. Most eateries serve the usual continental fare, but it would be a shame to come to Meghalaya and not taste some of its wonderful food.
It's a meat lover's paradise here. Head to Jadoh in Laitumkrah for a taste of Khasi dishes like "jadoh." Jadoh is a dish of rice, pork and some sublime smoked pork fry. For a lunch with a view, drive down to Ri-Kynjai, which is a boutique resort located on the fringes of the vast Umiam Lake.
Take in the vast swathes of green while leisurely eating your way through the Cherrapunjee chicken curry, smoked pork (you can't have enough of that stuff) and other Khasi specialties.
Where To Stay
Shillong has options that cater to economies across the spectrum. For the mid-budget traveler, The Habitat Shillong and Cafe Shillong Bed and Breakfast provide comfortable stays and are ideal for travelers looking to stay away from all the hustle and bustle.
For those looking at plusher accommodations, Ri-Kynjai (the aforementioned boutique resort) is perfect, but is a few miles outside the capital.
How To Get There
Most international flights fly to Kolkata. From Kolkata, Guwahati is another short flight away. Shillong is a comfortable three-hour drive from Guwahati.
Make sure you add these incredible destinations to your travel bucket list and prepare yourself for a marvelous journey.