Authored by David Hoffmann
When the British first arrived in India in the 1850s, at the start of the British rule of the country, they had no idea what to expect. For them, this was uncharted territory.
What they found in some of the northeasternmost reaches of India was like stepping into a dream. There, they ascended into a world of hilly landscapes, misty mountains, cascading waterfalls, and lush, green valleys.
The people called this state Meghalaya, which translates to “abode of the clouds.” But to the British, it reminded them of another place, thousands of miles away, so they nicknamed it “Scotland of the East.”
India is like a microcosm of the world, and it is the unique topography that provides some of the best things to do in Meghalaya, which feels like a world within a world.
From the gorgeous natural beauty to the ingenious man-made marvels to the divine street food, I was in heaven from the moment I arrived to the day I left.
As of August of 2019, I’ve visited India three times, but even I was blown away by my experiences in northeast India. Thinking of visiting? These are the top 5 things to do in Meghalaya!
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7 Things to Do in Meghalaya, India: The Scotland of the East
Image credit: Subharnab Majumdar (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr
The first thing you’ll want to do in Meghalaya is set up your home base in the capital city of Shillong. This is the largest city in Meghalaya, and is located within a two-hour drive of nearly all of the state’s prominent attractions.
Shillong is a hill town at an altitude of 1496 m above sea level. And while it has rapidly developed into a modern Indian town, it remains a paradise for nature lovers with beautiful lakes and waterfalls set in pine forests and green mountains.
Of things to do in Shillong, Elephant falls, Sweet Falls and Bishop & Beadon Falls are some of the breathtaking waterfalls in the region. And, with some fairly spectacular panoramic views of the scenic country side, Shillong Peak is the highest point in the State and should also be on your list.
To get to Shillong, I rode two-and-a-half hours from the city of Guwahati in the neighboring state of Assam. Even the drive was spectacular, as I journeyed from the flatlands of Assam to more mountainous landscapes.
The dense greenery clinging to the mountains and hills, combined with the thick fog, reminded me of time I had spent in Costa Rica and Malawi.
One of the most immersive things to do in Meghalaya is to visit Shillong’s Iewduh Market. This traditional market, also known as Bara Bazar, is truly a feast for the senses!
As you wander through the labyrinth of tight lanes, you’ll be able to smell a mixture of meat, animal blood, spices, tobacco, fish, and much more. It’s also not unusual to see men carrying the entire, skinned carcasses of cows to nearby stalls to be butchered.
The sight was just the latest of many that reminded me that Meghalaya is quite unlike the rest of India. Here, the main local tribes – the Khasi, the Garos, and the Jaintias – identify as Christian, so there is no taboo surrounding eating beef.
Inside the market, I recommend eating at Nat Khasi Restaurant. This tiny eatery serves a fantastic pork feast that includes a pork-and-rice dish called jadoh and a creamy pork, potato, and onion salad called dohklieh.
If you like organ meat, their pork liver and pork intestine sausage are also mouthwateringly good!
For great shopping and eating, check out Police Bazaar, which is the beating heart of Shillong. There, you will find shops and vendors selling a variety of items, including clothing, accessories, fruits and vegetables, and home goods.
My favorites were the beautiful Khasi shawls, which I bought four of after haggling with the vendor. Be sure to return to Police Bazaar a couple of times per day.
Delicious dishes like puri with sabzi, dohklieh, chicken curry, smoked beef curry, and a sweet rice cake called pitha, are sold in the mornings. Double back after dark to try the mouthwatering barbecue chicken, grilled pork stomach, chicken momos, chow, and nasi goreng.
As mentioned, one of the top things to do in Meghalaya is a trip up to Shillong Peak. One of my favorite things to do when I travel is to get a bird’s-eye view of the places I visit, and this peak about 15 minutes outside the city provides the best vantage point.
The vistas are gorgeous!
Two-and-a-half hours south of Shillong is the area of Cherrapunji, which has the distinction of being one of the wettest places on Earth. The local town, Sohra, is surrounded by dense forests, valleys, and waterfalls.
In the town itself, I highly recommend a stop at Iew Sohra Market, which is every bit as raw and intense as Iewduh Market in Shillion. At Iew Sohra Market, you can enjoy a wonderful meal in a very tight (and packed) restaurant.
There was only standing room for me when I visited, but the pork-based feast I enjoyed was so delicious, it was worth standing for!
Another of the most amazing things to do in Meghalaya is visit the waterfalls of the Cherrapunji area. One of the most beautiful is Wei Sawdong Waterfalls, which boasts three tiers and drop-offs.
The trail to get there is steep and fairly treacherous, so I don’t recommend visiting during the rainy season. The other waterfall I visited is Dainthlen Falls, which has one high drop and overlooks a valley that’s reminiscent of Jurassic Park!
Visit the Living Root Bridges of Cherrapunji
The main reason most people visit Cherrapunji is the opportunity to see its famous living root bridges up close. These bridges aren’t natural creations, per se, but are still a magnificent sight to behold.
The bridges were constructed by locals, who wove and twisted the roots of massive banyan trees together to create sturdy, “natural” bridges across swollen rivers.
I dare anyone to visit these bridges, especially the famous Umshiang double-decker bridge, and not be amazed by their beauty and practicality. They’re durable enough for people to walk across and are said to only get stronger over time.
You’ll have to hike for about 45 minutes to reach the living root bridges. I recommend visiting early in the day because of the amount of time it takes to hike there and back to the road.
Adults will have to pay 20 rupees each (roughly $0.28 U.S.), but be aware that there are additional charges if you bring a camera. Camera or no camera, visiting these amazing bridges is one of the best things to do in Meghalaya.
Check out this guide for more information.
Check out the Cleanest Village in Asia
Near the town of Dawki in Meghalaya’s West Jaintia Hills district is the village of Mawlynnong. Mawlynnong may seem unassuming at first, but before long, as you wander its paths and streets, you’ll notice something odd: there is no debris or garbage anywhere.
That’s because Mawlynnong is known as the cleanest village in Asia, where it is mandatory for the locals to keep the paths and streets clean and clear of debris. The town has also famously banned smoking and all products made of plastic!
When I visited, I came across a young boy removing twigs and leaves from a footpath! But Mawlynnong isn’t just extraordinarily clean; it’s also remarkably close to the India-Bangladesh border.
A tall, bamboo structure called the Sky Walk rises above the town and gives visitors a near-perfect (if not a little hazy) view of the flatlands across the Bangladeshi border. Climbing the Sky Walk is one of the top things to do in Meghalaya, especially if you’re a fan of observation decks!
Experience the Beauty of Shnongpdeng
Along the Umngot River in the Dawki area is another well-hidden gem: the tiny town of Shnongpdeng. The river is known for its crystal clear water and the suspension bridges that cross it.
This pristine area of Meghalaya also serves as a popular campground and is a great spot to fish or go for a swim. A boat ride, led by a local boatman, is a must.
For 700 rupees, or about $10 U.S., you can take a roughly 30-minute ride down the river and back. It’s a serene, stress-relieving ride that reminded me of areas of Central America or taking a ride down the Amazon.
One of the highlights of my Shnongpdeng visit was the lunch I had at a riverside hut. There, I was served a spectacular spread that consisted of river fish, an oxtail-like beef curry, earthy jackfruit, jungle vegetables, a spicy tomato chutney, and more. It was one of my favorite meals in Meghalaya!
The state of Meghalaya will challenge everything you think you know about India. The food, culture, and geography are very different from other parts of the country, which makes exploring it a unique adventure you can’t have anywhere else.
If you ever have the chance to visit this state, please do so. It will be one of the best travel decisions you’ll ever make.