We thought a good while back and forth if we should write about Nongriat. This is one of those very rare places left in India, where immense natural beauty, an intact ecosystem without any roads disturbing the peace and villagers living rather traditional lives are quite accessible and even offer a very basic infrastructure for visitors. Furthermore, villagers and local supporters agree so far in limiting tourism to a healthy minimum so that a peaceful and harmonious co-existance between nature, villagers and visitors is possible. This fragile balance could be destroyed in the blink of an eye and Nongriat as it is now would be forever lost.
In the name of the local people, the nature and those few conscious travelers who learned to love the place and its people already: Help to protect this beauty! This is not Goa! If you are here for a solid trance party, drinking and stoning yourself – it is really not the place to go. If you require comforts and a certain level of luxury, find it elsewhere.
If you decide to visit, do it full of respect for what might await you and do your part of preserving it!
We already wrote here about our great start in Meghalaya in only Shillong and surroundings! We came for a different reason though and should not leave disappointed.
The undisputed highlight of our visit were without question the magnificent valleys, lush forest, waterfalls, root bridges and villages south of Cherrapunjee (locally known as Sorah). We heard of a small village called Nongriat, where it is possible to stay as a visitor and without fully knowing what might expect us, we set off – the smiles of those who told us were far to revealing.
Why to go?
If you’d like to escape the roaring engines and endless honking festival of India’s roads and seek for a secluded oasis of silence and nature, you won’t find many better places. Nongriat is the village that offers any infrastructure for visitors. It is a sleepy settlement of scattered houses at a forested slope stretching along a rocky riverbed that offers deep blue pools and gentle waterfalls in the dry season and roaring floods during monsoon. The most popular attraction of the whole area might possibly be the famous living root bridges. A twisted network of roots of the ficus elastica tree has been cultivated over years to form formidable and highly resistant bridges over the rivers in different places around the area. From Nongriat several walking trails lead to countless beautiful water pools of clear, drinkable and cool mountain water, waterfalls, living root bridges and the idyllic neighboring villages. We arrived end of March when most of India was suffering under the scorching sun already – Meghalaya offered a pleasant escape. Day temperatures around 25°C and very pleasant night time temperatures help to enhance the experience.
Like explained in the introduction, we, other travelers and surely many locals are afraid that the place might change rapidly. It is just too beautiful of a spot that it is a matter of time Lonely Planet will list it in the Top 20 India experiences. For now the secludeness is saving it – but already right now it can be hardly called a secret place anymore, as every day small groups of new travelers arrive, including bunches of day trippers at the weekends. Fortunately so far mostly people seek respectfully what this place offers – nature, silence, simple life.
What to do?
Simple: Enjoy nature! Switch off your phone (you possible won’t have any connection anyway), store your notebook deep in the bottom of your backpack, put on the sturdy hiking boots and set off.
No guide is necessary to explore the surroundings along a network of partly concrete – supported, mostly rough and rocky trails. It is tough to get lost, as you are in a deep valley with the riverbed the center point and most trails at the slopes.
Visit the scattered living root bridges, the beautiful rainbow waterfalls or just spend whole days climbing magnificent boulders as high as multistory buildings around amazing pools formed by the river in dry season. Refresh yourself jumping in and observe fishes in the crystal clear water. If you like insects, you will love the crazy variety of gigantic butterflies. Take something to read, especially in the rainier times!
Socialize! Many people of the small community speak basic to good English and are just amiable. For us one of the highlights was meeting fellow travelers – partly domestic Indians, partly from all over the world. But all had a great respect for the place in common and a certain gratitude of being here. Hiking together, jamming, playing games, evening bonfires at the river – beautiful times, with beautiful people.
When to go?
There are two probably very different times to go, like in most of India: Dry season or wet season. We visited during the dry months, consequently our experience is limited – although we got a good taste of what the rainy season must be like in the last days of our stay.
The dry season is probably better suited if you want to be active. The trails are much better to hike, the river forms pools and the riverbed is actually accessible, the risk of mosquito bites is pretty low (we were only bothered mildly around sunset) and you can just spend much more time outside. It is easy to light a fire and to cook yourself our to just use it as a social focal point under a starry nightsky with others around.
The wet season will definitely offer a much more spectacular and beautiful landscape. We could only imagine the thousand waterfalls splashing down the canyon walls, the roar of the river being adjoined by many smaller streams from left and right and the lush green the powerful flora would develop. There would be serious dangers though: Travelers fell victim to the river (flashfloods!) in the past and already in dry state difficult parts of some steep trails could be serious traps. We imagine it as a great time to sit at a roofed terrace, book in hand watching the power of nature unfold all around you.
Where to stay?
Byron of Serene Homestay is your man. He is the local fixer for accommodation, the chef and shopkeeper. Serene Homestay offers small, simple rooms (double, so if you are alone you might have to share the room) for 300 Rs per head. Alternatively, the community owned Nongriat Resthouse was in the phase of renovation after a fire, but offers four basic double rooms with bathroom for around 250 Rs per head. Hopefully it continues to be an option to just pitch a tent or hang a hammock on the roof of the Resthouse for around 50 Rs per head. If you don’t have camping equipment, Byron will rent you. If all fails, through Byron our just by asking around, you might be accommodated in a simple villager’s home for a fee.
Where to eat?
Eating options are just as limited. Serene Homestay offers snacks, porridge in the morning, noodles for lunch and a great all you can eat dinner with various tasty dishes (130Rs per head). As we camped at Nongriat Resthouse and couldn’t afford that great dinner every night, Byron sold us vegetables and we cooked ourselves at a fire in front of the Resthouse. But be advised to bring some basic resources down from Sohra, as you won’t get much in Nongriat!
For chai, simple rice – veg. dishes or omelet, right at the double decker root bridge you will find a simple wooden tea stall selling cookies and other snacks as well. Further down in the village another shack like that can be found.
Be aware that everything in the village has to be carried down the strenuous trail from Tyrna by porters – consequently add about 30% to the regular price of each product. Just fair, if you ever watched those guys heaving 30kgs or more down the nearly 2000 steps!
How to get there?
Your arrival in Meghalaya will probably be in Shillong. From there take a local bus or a shared sumo from Bara Bazar to Sohra / Cherapunjee (70Rs). From there two directions are possible. The more common and much easier trail down to Nongriat starts from the village Tyrna, reachable by shared taxi from Sohra for around 40Rs, and will take around two hours on conrete steps with great views.
Alternatively take transport or hike from Sohra to the nearby (5km) Nonkalikai waterfall (beautiful in dry season, must be breathtaking during monsoon). From near the end of the plateau to the right side a small, unmarked trail starts sneaking down the slopes. Mostly lose rocks and pretty steep, you will feel your legs for at least two days, especially if you carry heavy luggage. It should take around three hours to reach Nongriat.
Note: Sohra is a nice small town in a beautiful location itself – and afterall the wettest place on earth with an average rainfall of 11777mm per year. An easy but pretty hike from there, explore the Mawsmai cave or if your timing is right, enjoy market day (every eight days) in the center of Sohra. So it is well worth staying for a night or two and it could offer an additional advantage: As you’ll probably return to Sohra after your stay in Nongriat, you could ask the guesthouse to drop some stuff there. You’ll be glad about every kg that needs no carrying down and up the valley slopes!