About Nohkalikai Falls
Nohkalikai Falls was one of the taller waterfalls in India. It made a dramatic free leap from a fairly well-forested drainage into a rocky base accompanied by a pretty blue pool. While Julie and I noticed that most of the waterfalls in the Cherrapunjee area had really lost their luster outside of the monsoon season, this waterfall seemed to have maintaind its performance. In fact, when I compared our experience with other photos in the internet taken even later in the season than during our visit (for example, in January and later), we saw that they had better or comparable flow to what we saw. Thus, it further reinforced the notion that this waterfall had staying power even outside the monsoon.
I suspect that the relatively healthy drainage upstream of the falls was largely due to the moisture-retaining foliage that remained forested and untouched (though this might be threatened based on what we saw, which we’ll get into later). In fact, we even saw a pair of light flowing companion waterfalls making similar dramatic leaps off the escarpment. I’d imagine in wetter times, there could have been many more companion waterfalls flanking the main one.
I had read that the origin of the name Nohkalikai Falls was said to come from a tragic story about a widowed woman named Ka Likai. To make a long story short, it basically involved Ka Likai’s second husband who didn’t like the attention she gave to her child. So the man killed and dismembered the child then made the child into food. Upon learning that Ka Likai had unknowingly eaten her child in a meal cooked by the envious husband, she eventually jumped off the cliff above the waterfall (it turned out that “Noh” was Khasi for “jump”).
Anyways, Julie and I learned that viewing Nohkalikai Falls might be a bit of a roll of the dice given the fickle nature of the weather here. That was because the area was frequently shrouded in clouds. On our visit, we just so happened to enjoy an hour or so of fairly clear (albeit hazy) skies before the fog really rolled in with a vengeance. Our guide mentioned that late morning to midday provided the highest likelihood of satisfactory viewing while the lighting (if sunny) was good at this time as well.
The Cherrapunjee town and vicinity (also spelled Cherrapunji and locally known as Sohra) had a reputation for being the wettest place on earth. But this maybe an outdated reputation from what we could tell because the area seemed to dry quickly outside the monsoon months (as evidenced by the presence of lots of brown foliage and lack of vigor in its watercourses).
We also observed that there was plenty of coal mining, diversion, and deforestation along the road leading to the falls (as evidenced by large coal mounds and mine shafts as well as moorish grasslands, which our Assamese guide said was once fully covered in trees). We weren’t sure if this had anything to do with the apparent lack of lush vegetation for a place that was supposedly the wettest place on earth, but I’m sure it couldn’t have helped. In fact, this activity may have conspired to alter the region’s ability to retain the moisture or produce the quantity of precipitation that gave it the statistical edge that beat out places like Mt Wai’ale’ale in the Hawaiian Island of Kaua’i for the title of the world’s wettest place.
As for the height of the Nohkalikai Falls, we’d seen some rather outrageous claims about this falls being the 4th highest in the world (including some Bank of India sponsored sign proclaims this at the sheltered overlook). We had also seen claims about this falls being the second highest in the country according to our 2007 version of LP.
So far the only number I had seen regarding its height was that it was 335m tall, which if true would make this taller than both Jog Falls and Dudhsagar Falls assuming you believe the height numbers claimed for those waterfalls as well. However, Julie and I had hard time corroborating that 335m number since we were looking down at the falls from a distance. This would be one instance where I certainly wished that I had employed the best-in-the-field-method-period for measuring the height of the falls.
In any case, it was pretty clear to us that this waterfall was the pride of Meghalaya tourism and there was a fairly busy car park as well as some basic infrastructure to experience the falls. In addition to the walkways and overlooks hugging the cliff edge peering down at the falls, there were also various fruit and food stands (if you’ve got a strong stomach) run by the local villagers.
As Julie and I were exploring different ways to experience Nohkalikai Falls besides the overlook, we also noticed a series of stairs (apparently opened back in 2005) that took us to lower viewpoints of the falls. The path had some distressingly high amounts of litter alongside it, and the concrete stair-stepped path ended well before it got to the bottom.
Even though the path looked like it did continue rather steeply with a fair bit of hazards towards its bottom, we were hesitant to continue once we saw the end of the concrete. At least we did notice a little bit of graffiti on one of the big rocks near the plunge pool for the falls so I’m sure it must have been somewhat possible to get down there if you were willing to assume the risk.
In total, we probably spent around a half-hour total on this side excursion to get closer and lower towards the falls. I’m guessing it would’ve taken at least an hour or more round-trip to get right down to its base.
It’s about 53km from Shillong (where we were staying) to the town of Cherrapunjee. We were escorted here taking about 1.5 to 2 hours of driving in each direction as we were undoubtedly slowed down by plenty of lorrie (i.e. truck) traffic as well as some local buses; all of which belched out some pretty lethal and visible doses of diesel exhaust.