A solo backpacker’s guide to North East India | Part 3 — Meghalaya
I am writing this series to give Solo Backpackers information to travel the North East of India. I have divided this series into three parts — Part 1 will cover my travel in Arunachal Pradesh, Part 2 will cover Assam and Part 3 will cover Meghalaya and other places. There are other states in the North East but you’ll have to look elsewhere for information on them. If you missed Part 1 or Part 2, make sure you go read them.
My initial plan was to make my way to Cherrapunji and Nongriat in Meghalaya after I was done with Majuli. However, since I had to stay in Majuli an extra day, I realised I didn’t have enough time to go all the way to Nongriat. I decided to just visit Shillong before making my way back to Guwahati to catch my flight back to Chennai.
Shillong is the capital of Meghalaya and is more cosmopolitan and happening than Guwahati, the capital of Assam. You get shared sumos and buses going to Shillong from Guwahati and it is a 2–3 hour ride. I paid ₹400 for a seat in a sedan that left from Khanapara bus stand. Since I had never planned to stay over at Shillong and since I needed company to make getting around Shillong cheaper, I decided to stay at a hostel called Isabella. Nothing great but at ₹400 a night, it isn’t too bad either. They offer local Khasi food but I didn’t have time to try it. The location isn’t ideal. Police bazaar is the central location and it would be good to find a hotel there.
The main form of transport within Shillong are shared cabs — maruti 800s painted black and yellow. Shillong is also very touristy and commercial unlike the other places I visited in North East India. You will be followed by car drivers offering you packages to take you to main sites in Shillong. Ignore them.
Pro Tip: The best place to get packages is the Government Tourist Centre in Police Bazaar that does day trips to Cherrapunji and Dawki for as low as ₹500 per person. Great deal.
I found some fellow solo travellers in the hostel and we rented scooters and went around Shillong. We visited Elephant falls but I didn’t like it much since it was too commercialised. We also visited the Shillong view point which wasn’t great either.
However the ride to these places was very beautiful. It reminded me of the South of India with its lush vegetation and cool humid air. Roads curve dangerously and once in a while you come to a clearing where the hills roll out into the distance. Again, the vegetation of Shillong was unique and different from Assam and Arunachal.
There was a Cherry Blossom festival going on in Shillong the weekend I visited. We made our way there and saw a few cultural performances . There was also a huge food fair where we sampled various types of local cuisines. I was surprised to learn that Cherry Blossoms are present in the Himalayas. In retrospect, I did see a few pink trees on my way back from Tawang, but it never struck me that it could be Cherry Blossoms.
Even though I couldn’t make it to Nongriat, I’d like to give some information for those who plan to visit Meghalaya. Nongriat is a tiny village in Meghalaya. To get to Nongriat, you need to take a shared sumo from Shillong to Cherrapunji (Sohra). You can find the sumo stand on Google Maps. Once you reach Cherrapunji, you need to make your way to Tyrna by hiring a taxi or taking a bus. From Tyrna, there is a 2000 step trek to Nongriat which takes 2 hours going and 3 hours while coming back. During the trek, you will see the single and double decker root bridges. These are bridges that the local Khasi tribes build over years using only the roots of the trees there. My fellow travelers whom I met in Shillong managed to go to Nongriat and here are some images from them.
Once at Nongriat, you can stay at Serene Guest House. There are also other attractions close-by that you can trek and visit such as Rainbow falls. Nongriat is the non-touristy part of Meghalaya and it captured the essence of the state. I regret not being able to go there.
Another place to visit in Meghalaya is Dawki where the water in the river is so clear that boats seem to float in mid-air. It is also near the Bangladesh border and you can see the other side from there. You can visit Dawki on your way back from Nongriat or you can also do a day trip from Shillong.
I spent ₹6000 over 4 days in Assam to which you need to add ₹8000 for the flight tickets from your city to Guwahati. Of the ₹6000, I spent ₹1200 on transport, ₹400 for accommodation, ₹900 for food and the rest for miscellaneous expenditure.
North East — mysterious no more
This was my first time traveling solo and it was also my first time to the North East. I had always imagined this part of India to be isolated and backward and in many ways mysterious. I was wrong. The people are warm and kind. The food is fresh, organic and delicious. The infrastructure is what you get anywhere in India. There are more similarities than differences. The people there are just like you and me. I watched the English Premier League with locals in Tawang over the weekend. I attended rock concerts with locals in Shillong, Meghalaya. There is a KFC, even in rural Majuli.
Since it was my first time traveling alone, I imagined that I would keep myself company throughout the trip. However, I found great company everywhere I went. I met new friends, exchanged different perspectives, lost track of time and made peace with myself. We try so hard to control everything in our lives. Our jobs, relationships, the future! We can’t control anything. All we can do is put our best foot forward.