One of the most obvious things to do in the Abode of Clouds is to chase waterfalls. I say “obvious” as waterfalls in Meghalaya are ubiquitous. Whether you are in the capital city Shillong, or on a highway to some other place like Sohra or Mawlynnong, you are bound to find plenty of cascades lining your path. It seems a little exotic to us, city folks but for the locals, it is pretty much a part of their home landscape.
The waterfalls in Meghalaya are largely rain-fed and one can see them in their full glory during Monsoons. I was lucky to find them brimming in their pre-monsoon months – April to be precise for it had been raining for over two weeks when I visited these waterfalls. When I did my trip planning, I was stumped with the multitude waterfall options that I had. Chasing all of them seemed impossible during a single trip. That is when Rajiv from North East Explorers came to my rescue and helped picked some of the best waterfalls in Meghalaya for me to chase. The best part about this whole chase – it wasn’t just the scenic beauty of these cascades that intrigued me, but the stories that went with them!
Elephant Falls – 1st of the waterfalls in Meghalaya
Chasing the waterfalls in Meghalaya started with the Elephant falls in Shillong. Located on the outskirts of the city, these waterfalls were one of the few that I was pretty sure I wanted to see. This three-stepped waterfall is considered to be one of the must-do things in Shillong. On reaching here, we were greeted by a picture of our Prime Minister Modi, posing at the bottom-most step of this waterfall. Naturally, this went on the “happening” list of places in my daughter’s diary!
Story behind the Elephant Falls
With a name like Elephant falls, one would expect the shape of the waterfall to resemble the animal. Interestingly, that is not the case. The original name of this waterfall is Ka Kshaid Lai Pateng Khohsiew – which essentially, means “3-steps waterfall”. However, the British found it quite complicated and decided to call it Elephant falls after they discovered a rocky ledge From that resembled an Elephant. That ledge no longer exists as it fell down during an earthquake in the 1800s. However, the name has stuck on!
The beauty of the Elephant Falls
The three steps of the Elephant falls are at right angles to each other. Hence, you cannot, really see it all from a single vantage point. The first step itself is quite stunning with the waterfalls spread wide across the hills. It then becomes narrow and faster as it falls over the 2nd step. The steps to explore this waterfalls lead you along the 3rd step, allowing you to walk alongside the gushing stream. It is a heady feeling to get those water sprays on your face and to top that, it was raining as we made this descend to the bottom of the Elephant falls.
The 3rd step is the epitome of this waterfall. After seeing it for ourselves, we knew why PM Modi chose this step for his photograph.
Wah Kaba Falls
Though Shillong has plenty more waterfalls like the Sweet falls, we had to drop those in favor of the ones that lead us into Sohra – the Wettest Place on Earth. The first significant waterfall of Sohra appears just before you hit the main town and is called the Wah Kaba Falls. The most amazing thing about this waterfall is that you can trace it down from its fall into the valley below. It pretty much reminded me of the drawings of hills and valleys that we used to make as kids.
Legend of Wah Kaba falls
There lived two fairies – one fair and one dark in this Wah Kaba region. They would mingle with the regular folks and lure men to visit them by hypnotizing them. The young men would disappear for months together and return back only later as if they were never gone. They say that the men used to get married to the fairies. Our cab guy said that the legend still lived on here .
The next part of my chase of waterfalls in Meghalaya led me to one of the highest waterfalls in India (5th I am given to understand). The Nohkalikai Falls had us awestruck as it plunged from 340m, in a single stream that bounced off the rock below. The force of the water was quite overwhelming and the sight stunning. We trekked down to the lowest point possible to see this fall, which again is not anywhere close to it but does allow you to experience the majestic cascade.
Legend of Nohkalikai Falls
They say there lived a lady called Likai in a nearby village. Her husband died leaving her behind with one infant. To help herself and the child, she got married again. Remember that the Khasi women are the key breadwinners of the family and quite as expected here, Likai worked herself off as a porter to earn for the family. The remaining time, she spent tending to her infant daughter. Her 2nd husband did not like the fact that he was not getting his due attention. Jealous of the child, he cut the kid up and cooked her, just leaving behind her fingers. Likai came home tired and devoured the meat. As she finished her meal, she came across the fingers of her child and realized what her husband had done. Upset and angry, she threw herself off the cliff, just like the Nohkalikai falls does.
Quite a gruesome tale to know but interesting in context of the waterfall. The name “Noh-Ka-Likai” refers to “Jump of Ka Likai”, Ka being a respectful term in Khasi to address women. Try saying this name – Nohkalikai. I found it quite musical! I wonder if you do too!
Nohsngithiang Falls or the Seven sisters falls
I cannot still pronounce this name – but that does not matter for these falls are also, called the Seven Sisters Falls. One look at the waterfalls and you will guess why. The 7 streams that flow together over the hill in parallel formation. These waterfalls are right opposite the Mawsmai caves – another popular sightseeing spot in Sohra. Given the location, they are also, termed as Mawsmai falls. There is no unusual legend behind this waterfall -except that I have my own story here.
My Story of the Nohsngithiang Falls
No legend but a true version of what happened. As we reached here, we could well see the 7 falls its full glory. Within minutes we snapped up the waterfalls and then, started goofing around with some fun family shots. I think the clouds here realized that we were done seeing the waterfalls and quickly (within seconds) they descended around the waterfalls, completely obscuring the view. It was nature’s way of dropping the curtain on the stage and telling us that the show was over :-). Such is the magic of Meghalaya.
The Dainthlen Falls was my favorite in the entire list of waterfalls in Meghalaya. I frankly, did not have this on the list but added them on after Rajiv’s suggestion. It is not one of those extremely popular waterfalls and one of the reasons why it is not visited often lies within its legends. The waterfall experience here was just unusual – with no trekking required nor a distance viewing of the waterfall. The Dainthlen Falls allows you to walk on its bed till it becomes a waterfall!
Legend of Dainthlen Falls
The Dainthlen waterfalls were named so owing to the demonic snake called U Thlen. The snake used to eat humans and as the story goes, met its end with the village getting together to kill it. Legend has it that the snake had to be cut into pieces and devoured such that not a single part of it remained. The villagers had a feast but unknown to them, an old lady saved a piece of meat and took it home for her sick son. Sadly, she missed giving it to him and the demonic snake was reborn to reside within the women and her clan. The snake is said to take various forms and they say that the tribe from the woman still resides in the Khasi hills.
The Dainthlen Falls is said to be the place where the serpent was slaughtered and the markings on the hills are said to be reminiscent of the snake fight. I did not know of this tale till I got back to Bangalore and heard it from my friend Pradeep Bahirwani, who had incidentally, written a lovely story set in the hills of Meghalaya. After I heard this tale, I looked back at my pictures to see if I could see those markings – well! Must have been quite a gigantic serpent – isn’t it?
The magic of Dainthlen Falls
The aura around the Dainthlen Falls was just magical. When we reached here, there was 100% visibility till we stepped out of the car and started walking towards the waterfall. Suddenly, we could not even see our car for the wind swept the clouds over the entire terrain. Since we had driven so many miles to arrive here, we decided to wait out and enjoy the little water streams that gushed past us.
The three of us spend time jumping into the water, walking through the cold streams, collecting smooth stones and generally, splashing around till we won our battle of patience against the mighty clouds. As the clouds lifted, we realized that all the fun we had was actually atop the same waterbed that rushed to fall over a cliff into the giant Dainthlen Falls.
Once the mist lifted, we could see that the terrain was quite unlike the other river beds we had encountered. Rugged and beautiful, a brilliant contrast to the surrounding, these definitely seemed enchanted!
The Countless & Anonymous waterfalls in Meghalaya
Seeking waterfalls in Meghalaya is hardly a challenge for they are everywhere. However, this does not take away the thrill of chasing waterfalls for each one of them is just so refreshing and charming. Among the many that I encountered along our journey through Meghalaya, there were two that I hold quite dear. The first one I have already mentioned in my post on Dawki. The 2nd one was a small one right across the Wahkaba Falls. We saw some small cascades when crossing the road and decided to just walk to them. It was fun perching by them and dipping your feet in the cool cascades of Meghalaya. An experience that my hubby and I absolutely relish and one that my daughter will never forget for this were her first major waterfall chasing experience.
Aren’t you tempted now to try one of your own?
- The best way to visit these waterfalls is to hire a cab either in Shillong or Sohra. You can even do a day trip from Shillong to Sohra and catch all of these waterfalls. On the best way to reach Shillong from any part of the world, please refer to the getting here section of this post.
- Please be careful when trekking to the waterfalls as it is extremely damp and slippery here. There are only bamboo fences that line the steps
- Except for the Dainthlen falls, all the others are quite popular and have restroom facilities available around them. You can also, get some basic snacks and beverages in the tiny shops here.