A treasure trail through Arwah Caves in Meghalaya

posted in: Asia, India, Meghalaya, Nature | 64
First Published on July 4, 2017

Where there are waterfalls, there are caves. Or so we discovered is the case in Meghalaya. The gorgeous waterfalls in Meghalaya were a perfect smokescreen for the treasure-laden caves in Meghalaya. Our caving in Cherrapunji helped us uncover these hidden wonders – some within the depth of the dark caverns and some just along its walls. Adding to the thrill of this treasure trail were the mysterious turns and twists of the Meghalaya Caves.

Discovering the caves in Meghalaya with Arwah Caves in Cherrapunji

We visited two of the many caves in Meghalaya – one being an offbeat Arwah Cave and the other slightly more known called Mawsmai Caves. This caving in Meghalaya was the first experience for my daughter and she does claim this to be the highlight of her trip to Meghalaya. She absolutely enjoyed the thrill of walking through the unknown. Why she loved it is what I shall share in the next two posts.

Why two posts?

Well, even the little minx felt that clubbing both the caves in a single post was being unjust to one!

Caves in Meghalaya

The artistic contours of Arwah Caves in Sohra - one of the many caves in Meghalaya

Meghalaya is known for the longest and deepest caves in India – some of them even featuring in the World caves list. The Meghalaya caves are primarily limestone ones and have some freshwater streams running through them. To be honest, the caves in Meghalaya were the ones that sold the destination to me. Meghalaya are three different mountain ranges – Khasi, Jaintia and Garo Hills and all of these have these mysterious caves or Krem (as they are called in the local language) hidden within them. Some popular and must-visit caves of Meghalaya include –

Caves in Khasi Hills

  • Mawsmai Caves in Cherrapunji – a well- developed tourist site that can be explored without a guide. This was one of the caves that were a part of my Meghalaya itinerary.
  • Arwah Caves in Cherrapunji – A little offbeat but well worth your time. This post is going to be your virtual tour of the Arwah Caves.
  • Krem Mawmluh in Cherrapunji – This is the fourth largest cave in India. Through the year, you have to wade through water to get in. In summers, the same water turns into quicksand.

Caves in Jaintia Hills

  • Krem Liat Prah – The 30 km long cave is India’s longest cave. In fact, it is said to the longest in South East Asia
  • Krem Chympe – This one requires a bit of swimming. You have to swim at least 3.5 km through lakes to reach the 5th longest cave of India.
  • Synrang-Pamiang Caves – The 3rd longest cave of India will delight you with its colorful stone walls.

Caves in Garo Hills

  • Siju Caves – Bats in a cave can be scary and thrilling. Siju cave is perfect for those seeking that experience.
  • Korekol Caves – Up and down through the mountain but only with torchlight is what you have in store for you when you venture into the Korekol Caves in Meghalaya.

With most of my Meghalaya itinerary spread through the Khasi hills, the two experiences that we included were – Arwah Caves and Mawsmai caves. Of these, the rugged trail through the Arwah Caves in Cherrapunji will always be my favorite. It is time I lead you through the dark crevices of Arwah Caves.

Incidentally, I have also, seen the 2nd longest cave in India and no! It is not in Meghalaya. It is actually in Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh. The Belum Caves have been well developed and are worth a visit for their natural formations. Also, hidden within them are meditation chambers used by the Buddhist monks in the area. Check out this amazing journey through this post.

Arwah Lumshynna Caves in Meghalaya

The scenic bridge that takes you to Arwah Lumshynna Caves in Cherrapunji

A little before you hit Cherrapunji town (Sohra), you can see a small dusty board that shows a left turn to the Arwah Lumshynna Caves. The road is slushy and muddy and you might just find your taxi guy reluctant to take you here. Insist you must! For what follows later is so worth the squabble. 

The muddy ride lasted just for a few minutes till we reached a proper parking and ticketing counter to Arwah caves in Sohra. Here you will find volunteer guides who help you discover the caves. Do not decline these guides for there are no marked paths within these caves. Once you are in, you are at their mercy to get out 🙂

View from the bridge to Arwah Caves in Meghalaya
Caves hidden amidst the cascades of Meghalaya

A scenic wooden bridge takes you along the Khasi hills to the main entrance of Arwah caves. A walk along this bridge is so refreshing for you to experience the misty showers of the waterfalls that fall along the bridge. It is here that I realized how the cascades of Meghalaya concealed the myriad entrances to the underground wonders of nature. I felt quite conflicted with an urge to stop and enjoy the valley view from here or start exploring the Arwah Lumshynna Caves. With the little minx enthusiasm of seeing the caves, I abandoned the first urge.

Squeezing through the Arwah caves in Cherrapunji

Start of our treasure trail in Arwah Caves, Sohra

The entrance to the Arwah caves is an immediate descent to the underground world. From here, starts your challenge of crawling through narrow holes and squeezing through the crevices of the Arwah caves. Doing this in bright sunlight is going to be easy but what makes it even more thrilling is the whole dank and dark atmosphere of the Arwah Lumshynna caves.

Jumping through the crevices of the Arwah caves into the stream
Crawling through the narrow tunnels of Arwah Caves, Cherrapunji

With just a torchlight to guide you, there are some things that hit you by surprise. Like how we climbed a few crevices to jump and PLONK! You land into a stream of cold water on the other side.

Then you squirm through the narrow passage to emerge out into a wide chamber with glistening walls – quite like a toothpaste.;-) The passages were just shaped naturally and appeared so artistic and beautiful. Some of the crevices within the caves were narrow slits that got us to turn sideways to just pass through. It was squeezing through these narrow slits that re-assured me that I had not put on weight 😉

Crawling like a baby is pretty much expected of you -especially if you want to escape the closed quarters of a low cave passage. This is where my height was to my advantage. It was a piece of cake for me to conquer those spaces. My little minx had a time of her life – for this was one thing that she could do better than her tall dad. 🙂

Stalagmites & Stalactites of Arwah Caves in Sohra

The stalactites of Arwah Caves in Sohra - one of the many caves in Meghalaya

The artistic touch in the caves in Meghalaya comes with the various stalagmites & stalactites. Arwah caves had its fair share of them. My daughter’s first encounter with the stalagmites and stalactites was at the Baratang caves in Andamans. Her biggest high was to be able to recognize these through this caving expedition. What she claims as the key difference between the two caves was that the ones here were wet! 

Wet and how – they were dripping of water and limestone droplets. At one particular section, you could see a limestone stream that made its way into the clear underground water.

Limestone stream in Arwah Caves of Meghalaya
Limestone water droplets from a newly formed stalactite in Arwah cave
The stalactites of Arwah Cave that brush around you

Quite unlike the Mawsmai caves and the Baratang caves, there were fewer central “limestone masterpieces” to admire. The artistic formations of the caves were set along the walls & ceilings of the Arwah Caves. If there is a fairytale or a familiar setting that I could relate to, it was Alladin’s cave with glistening walls that lead to a treasure chest.

In fact, the same limestone water is the cause of these caves. As explained by a board kept at the entrance of the Arwah caves, the carbon seeps through the decaying plant life through the gaps of the limestone surface along with the water. This water keeps depositing this calcium carbonate into the walls and slowly these become caves. The entire geological process takes place over millions of years.

Arwah caves struck me as one of the younger caves in the geological process as the wet stalagmites and stalactites were still quite small. In fact, at certain sections with a low ceiling, you would be standing super close to them. It is quite an effort not to touch them – especially since it is said to stunt their growth. 

The stunning ceilings of Arwah caves - one of the caves in Meghalaya
The artistic walls of Arwah Caves in Meghalaya

Fossils in Arwah Caves of Meghalaya

The key highlight of the Arwah Caves is the various fossils that you can spot along its walls. Mollusk shells and fish bones were primarily what I identified here. Our guide knew where exactly to flash his torch and was rewarded by our Oohs and Ahs! For my daughter, this part of the tour was straight out of her Geology book.

Fossils of Arwah Caves in Sohra
Arwah Caves Fossils

The Arwah Caves Fossils are largely formed by the Molluscs. The formation is said to be over 56 million years old and is a part of the evolution process that the Meghalaya plateau has undergone. They are not just present in one particular area but can be seen throughout the Arwah Caves.

Adventure of The A-Team

Adventures of the A Team in Arwah Caves in Meghalaya

My daughter called this whole experience of caving as the “Adventure of the A-Team” ( “A team” as all our names begin with that letter). She says that she felt as if she were Anne of the Famous Five series who found hidden caverns and mysteries behind it. She thinks that the parts we were not allowed to go in must have some “King’s treasures” or some “Robbers” were hiding there.

I tend to agree with her on the part where it felt like the Famous Five adventure. The dark cave chambers lit only by our torch, filled with sounds of our feet splashing through the underground stream and with its twists and unexpected turns could not be anything else. For those who have forgotten Famous Five, think Pirates of the Caribbean. I am pretty sure that those stories found their inspiration here.

The A team at the Arwah Caves in Meghalaya

The Arwah Caves were quite raw compared to the next ones that we visited. This is why I rate Arwah Caves in Cherrapunji as the best among the caving in Meghalaya. That is not to say that we did not enjoy the Mawsmai caves. They were different and there were some interesting discoveries there too. What they were – stay tuned as I share them soon. For now, pin-up Arwah Caves on your board.

Caves in Meghalaya

How to get to Arwah Caves in Cherrapunji?

  • Arwah caves are very close to Cherrapunji. To reach Cherrapunji, you first need to reach Shillong and then take a cab that takes you here.
  • On how to reach Shillong, please click through this post and read through the Getting here section.
  • The cab drivers in Shillong will offer you a package of things to see in Sohra. Arwah caves will not be a part of it. Make sure you negotiate and include the same in your package.

What is the best time to visit Arwah Caves in Sohra?

Arwah Caves can be visited throughout the year. There is no particular season that is best for it. The caves are open from 9:30 am to 5:30 pm every day.

Travel Tips

Entrance to the Walkway of  Arwah Caves
  • The entrance to the cave is INR 20 per adult and INR 10 for children. For cameras, you will need to be pay INR 50 while for cell phone photography, it is INR 20
  • Arwah caves are not lit in certain sections. Please ensure you have a torch with you when you visit these caves.
  • Remember to take a guide with you in these caves. There is no fixed price for the guide. You can pay them as you think is appropriate. They claim to do this as a voluntary service but it is always nice to give them some tips.
  • Wear comfortable, flat shoes that can work well in water. The entire cave has an underground stream running through it.
  • Remember there is a fair bit of roughing out that goes in these caves. You might need to jump or squeeze through gaps. This is fairly easy for most people but it is important to be cognizant of it, especially if you have kids or elders with you.
  • There are a lot of slippery surfaces within the cave.
  • Stay clear of areas that have been marked as out of bounds.
  • Carry a light raincoat while exploring as there is water dripping even from the roofs of the cave.
  • There are restrooms at the entrance of the cave. A small wash area for you to rinse your hands and feet is also, available here.
  • You can find a small shop with refreshments in the parking lot of the caves,
  • There is a lovely restaurant called Orange roots, right before reaching the left turn for Arwah caves in Sohra. It is called Orange roots and one can grab a hearty meal before or after your caving expedition.
  • A plea – Please do not dirty the caves by leaving behind waste. This is truly an unspoiled natural wonder. Please enjoy it for what it is and leave it pristine as is.  

Booking Resources

  • Booking.com  is great for picking your stay or hotels in Shillong. They have limited options for Cherrapunji.
  • Click through to North East Explorers for any tours in North East India. You can take up their packages that even include cabs and stays with a guide or just what you require. I used them to book my cab and stay in Meghalaya and highly recommend them. 
  • For any of your travel accessories or even home needs click through to Amazon from my website.
Disclaimer: This article includes affiliate links. This means that at no cost to you, I will receive a small commission if you purchase through my link. Thank you for supporting me with this.
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