Day 10: WATERFALL CRAM SESSION
Given the 3-hour flight delay yesterday, we knew we had a lot of catching up to do today. So we awoke at 6am, had a rushed breakfast at 7am, and left the hotel at 7:45am.
In any case, it looked like Shillong was already wide awake and busy. After fighting our way through traffic, we proceeded to continue onwards for the next 53km to Cherrapunjee (also known as Sohra).
This area was known as the wettest place on earth, but from looking at the vegetation showing brown, I began to wonder whether this place would live up to its reputation. Imran warned us that this year’s monsoon was weak and there wasn’t much water right now.
Still, we prodded along the bumpy paved roads trying not to be too bothered by the diesel smell from our vehicle and those being belched by large trucks slowing traffic in front of us.
As we got closer to Cherrapunjee, we could see the road was kind of on top of some moor or plateau with dropoffs to our left. These dropoffs revealed deep valleys lush with vegetation, and it was pretty reminiscent of some of the valleys seen in tropical places like Hawaii.
At around 9:20am, we saw a tall but thin waterfall way off in the distance of some escarpment as it was doing its dive in a way that reminded us of some of the waterfalls found in the Blue Mountains in Australia. But the unimpressive flow of the falls kind of confirmed that either this year’s monsoon was weak as feared or these falls just don’t last very long and you have to be here during the monsoon itself, or both.
Continuing on, at 9:45am we’d eventually find some unsigned stop that offered us angled views of what was supposed to be the Seven Sisters Falls, otherwise more formally known as Nohsngithiang Falls.
Of course, the falls really looked more like a few thin strands that were barely visible through the morning haze so any further views of the falls further from the one we were at were probably futile.
At 10:10am, we were at the Thangkharang Park. This manicured park with botannical gardens and open lawns offered up a waterfall we didn’t expect to see prior to booking this trip – Kynrem Falls.
It actually had a little better flow than the Nohsngithiang Falls plus it had a winding road crossing near its base for a good sense of scale. That road actually continues to snake its way towards Bangladesh further down into the hazy basin below us. From this viewpoint, we could get the whole context of the falls. We didn’t take the road leading to the base of the falls a further 7km further.
Imran told us that Kynrem Falls would have several more thicker columns of water during the monsoon. But it looked like the lone major strand left would probably go dry next month. Imran further told us that Indian people tend to visit this area during the monsoon.
We left the park at 10:35am and ten minutes later, we were at some viewpoint of Shiva’s Lingam. There’s also the top of some tall waterfall up here, but we couldn’t really get a good view of it so it wasn’t anything to brag about.
Nonetheless, the walk around this area was interesting as it seemed like we were on the very top of some escarpment with the lowlands of Bangladesh right below us. Indeed, it seemed like we were on some kind of frontier between Indian and Bangladesh, but this would be the most of that country we’d be seeing on this trip.
At 11:20am, as we were headed towards Nohkalikai Falls, we made a quick detour towards some Eco-Park that featured Missing Falls, which was really nothing more than a waterfall that disappears into a narrow chasm. The folks here built a well-like structure where you can peer into the falls. Imran told us that this falls eventually becomes part of the Nohsngithiang Falls. Personally, with the unimpressive flows of the falls, we probably could’ve saved time by not doing this.
Now this one was worth all the trouble of coming here.
Nohkalikai Falls was a very tall plunging waterfall leaping off an overhanging escarpment with a colorful blue-green pool at its base. It’s been said that this is the world’s 4th tallest waterfalls, but somehow I doubt that claim.
The falls has a pretty healthy flow, and we could see that the drainage responsible for the falls had some pretty healthy vegetation. That might explain its decent flow despite the fact that the drive to get here was through a plateau that was now nothing more than coal quarries and grasses (Imran said it used to be full of trees).
Julie noticed some steps leading down to some lower viewpoints so we went ahead and took the stairs to see where it went. The stairs would eventually end at a real steep gully, where further progress seemed rather dangerous. The viewpoint itself wasn’t signed, but I guess the end of the steps kind of hinted that you could proceed at your own risk. I’d imagine the path would ultimately lead to the base of the falls, but we knew we were short on time if we were to try to see the falls near Shillong before it gets dark.
The stairs were steep, but they offered different perspectives not seen from the uppermost viewpoints. According to a sign at the start of the steps, it looked like it was completed some time in 2005-2006. But it was too bad the steps were lined with litter spoiling an otherwise divine scene.
After the sweaty climb back up, we had ourselves a quick lunch at one of the local shacks nearby. And by 1:05pm, we left in the direction of Shillong. It was a good thing we saw Nohkalikai Falls when we did because fog was rolling in with a vengeance thereby obscuring the views. Imran also told us that early morning here would be too foggy as well, so we timed it just so we could see the falls at midday.
Being short on time, we skipped the Mawsmai Caves. But then we made an unexpected stop at the top of the first waterfall we photographed today. Still, it merely conspired to waste more time on a day when time was precious.
This falls was actually a series of three small cascading waterfalls. A sign here said the British renamed the falls (originally named by the Khasi as translated to “Three Step Falls”) to Elephant Falls based on a rock that resembled an elephant. But that rock was destroyed by erosion (earthquake?) back in the late 19th century.
Of the three falls, the bottom most one was the most impressive.
At 3:05pm, we returned to the car. We made a quick stop to Shillong Peak at 3:30pm, which was nestled within some Air Force base. The peak offered views of the city of Shillong, but the haze (not sure if it was due to smog or moisture or both) kind of made the views unimpressive, and we probably could’ve done without this detour.
Imran was telling us that we probably wouldn’t be able to make it to Sweet Falls today. But in my mind, I thought it was going to be a tiny one like the Elephant Falls. We also made a quick run at some swimming hole called Crinoline Falls, but the locals said it was dry and not recommended.
So with the fading light, we decided to hedge our bet that we might not have enough time tomorrow to catch any waterfalls before our flight out of Guwahati tomorrow and visit the Beadon & Bishop Falls.
And by 4:30pm, we made it to some unsigned overlook with views of a pair of very tall and surprisingly high volume waterfalls. We were joined by a group of five attractive local Khasi girls, who were looking at us with curiosity as if we were the only Asian foreigners here.
The size of these falls took me by surprise as I expected something dinky. But these falls were legit, and when I asked Imran whether the Sweet Falls was bigger than these falls, he said it was about the same size as the Bishop Falls except it was vertical instead of slanting. That bit of news kind of bummed me out as now I really wished we got to see Sweet Falls. But alas, the 3-hour flight delay yesterday really messed us up, and I guess it just wasn’t meant to be.
Still, Beadon Falls and Bishop Falls, which kind of tumbled side by side into a deep canyon was probably at least 100-200m tall in my estimation. Beadon Falls, which was on the left, was harder to see and photograph due to vegetation and power lines getting in the way. But Bishop Falls could be seen at an angle in profile and was easily visible.
Finally with these falls seen, we opened the door for the option of revisiting these falls on the way to Guwahati tomorrow morning. But at least if we’re short on time, we could skip the revisit if needed. Now, we could head back to our hotel as clearly there wasn’t any more light left in the day. And by 5:20pm, we were back at the hotel.
So we crammed what Imran said was a two-day itinerary into one day. I guess considering the circumstances, we didn’t do that bad, but I certainly wished we could’ve seen the Sweet Falls. Oh well, wasn’t meant to be. But with hindsight being 20/20, I knew I’d be fruitlessly replaying in my mind what might have been had we been more efficient with our time by spending less time in Cherrapunjee and more time near Shillong (where the waterfalls seemed to have had healthier flows and were bigger than I expected; perhaps I should’ve done my homework before the trip to let Imran know how we wanted to prioritize the sights).
But after a day and a half of visiting this part of India, Julie and I sensed that this visit really felt like we were in another country. After all, the people here were mostly Khasi, which Imran said they had Mongolian ancestry. So that probably might explain why most of the people here looked more southeast Asian than Indian. Plus, the jungle sights and smells were also quite different than what we had seen in India up to this point.