Meghalaya (Abode of Clouds in Sanskrit, pronounced "meg-hah-lah-yah") is one of the seven North-Eastern states of India. Famous for its high rainfall, subtropical forests and biodiversity, it is abutted by Assam in the north and east and by Bangladesh in the south. The River Brahmaputra (or Luit as called locally) forms the border in the west.
The state's territory constituted the Khasi-Jaintia Hills and Garo Hills districts of Assam until 1972. Most of the terrain is hilly and experiences heavy rainfall during monsoons.
Meghalaya is home to three major tribal populations - Khasis, Garos and Jaintias (in order of population).
- 2 Cherrapunji — tourist hotspot of Meghalaya, gateway to waterfalls, caves, swimming holes, and living root bridges
- 3 Mawlynnong — village locally famous for having been declared the "cleanest in Asia" by an Indian magazine
- 6 Baghmara — South Garo Hills. Gateway to Balphakram National Park and other jungle scenery destinations
- 1 Balphakram National Park — located in the Garo Hills in Meghalaya, a well known park in India for its scenic beauty and various species of flora and fauna
- 2 Nokrek National Park (Nokrek Biosphere Reserve) — a small population of Red Panda reside in this park, though visitors rarely if ever see them. It is habitat for the Asian elephant, species of cats and primates. It is also an important area for birds. Rongbang Dare Water Fall and Nokrek Peak are located in this park with tall thick forest. Visitors mostly come for trekking and scenery.
The British came to Sylhet in 1765. At that time the Khasis used to come at Pandua on the border of Sylhet to trade in silk, cotton goods, iron, wax, honey and ivory in exchange for rice, salt and dried fish. Limestone from the Khasi hills used to fulfill the demand in Bengal then. Soon British officials of the East India Company began trading in limestone and thus came in contact with the Khasis. In 1824, the Burmese invaded Cachar and also appeared at the border of the Jaintia Hills. The British sent a small force to reinforce the Jaintia Rajah’s troops. On 10th March 1824, a friendship treaty was signed by the Rajah accepting the protection of the British. Other Khasi chiefs also allowed the passage of the British troops through their territories. After the Burmese invasion was over, the British demanded a corridor through the Khasi and the Jaintia Hills to connect Assam valley with Surma valley. Most of the Khasi chiefs agreed, and the road was completed in March 1829, but only after quelling an upheaval by U Tirot Sing. The story that followed after putting down the uprising by U Tirot Sing was the signing of several treaties with different Khasi chiefs. In 1862 the Jaintias revolted under U Kiang Nongbah. By virtue of these treaties, the British gradually took control of the mineral deposits and side by side subjugated the chiefs and also took control of judiciary.
The most dominant language of Meghalaya is Khasi, spoken by the native population of most of central Meghalaya, including Shillong and Cherrapunji, and widely understood in the eastern part of the state too, though most people there speak the related Jaintia language. However, in western Meghalaya, Khasi is replaced by Garo, an unrelated language, and Khasi is generally not understood there.
English is the official language of the state, and the main way that people from the west and the east communicate with each other. However, in rural areas many people still speak almost zero English. In Shillong, on the other hand, most people can speak some English, and you'll meet many who are completely fluent.
Hindi is also spoken as a second (or third) language by many people in Meghalaya, and is perhaps a bit more widely understood than English. And around the edges of the state it's common to find areas where most people speak Bengali or Assamese.
The Shillong Airport, located around 35 km from Shillong is the only airport in Meghalaya where commercial flights operate from. A limited number of Air India flights (ATR42 type) are available from Kolkata per week. However, the Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport at Guwahati, serves as the nearest major airport to Shillong. It is connected by daily flights to all Indian cities and also to Bangkok.
The Government of Meghalaya operates a twice-a-day helicopter service from the Guwahati Airport to the Shillong Heliport, located 10 km away from the city centre. Tickets are modestly priced at ₹1500. A 2 hour 30 min long journey by road from Guwahati to Shillong (and vice-versa) is cut down to just a 20 minute flight if travelling by helicopter. (As of 2023, the price has likely doubled, assuming the service is still running.)
There are no railway lines in Meghalaya. Guwahati is the nearest railway station located around 104 km from Shillong.
Shillong is connected with Guwahati by NH 40. Various modes of transport including Shared taxis, Buses and private cabs ply on this route. Shared sumos are available from right outside Guwahati Railway Station to Shillong for ₹160 per seat (probably more now). There are also morning and overnight bus and Sumo routes to Shillong from Silchar, though they're much longer and less convenient that going from Guwahati.
Various bus and shared taxi services also run between local areas of Assam and other parts of the Meghalaya, particularly Tura in the west.
Visa and Restricted Area information
No Inner Line Permit or Protected Area permit is required to enter Meghalaya. The Meghalaya government tourism website contains a lot of resources for tourists.
Any Meghalaya excursion should start from Shillong or Guwahati for convenience. Local non-AC buses, share sumos connect several parts of Meghalaya and other destinations of the North-East. Though cheap, these buses are infrequent and inconvenient. Best is to hire a taxi for a day and cover your destinations. Standard Maruti 800 taxis cost about ₹1200 (with fuel) for standard day excursions (Mawsynram, Cherrapunjee, Nartiang) as of Nov 2008. Bargain if you want to explore places other than regular tourist sites. Shillong City Tour costs about ₹500-₹700. Since Meghalaya is a small state, destinations are not very far apart in the regular tourist circuit, so retaining a car is not a cost effective idea. If one visits Orchid Lake Resort or Cherrapunjee Resort, cars are not readily available from these offbeat spots. So plan your itinerary in advance and accordingly make arrangements from Shillong for pick up from the resorts on the return leg. Otherwise, you may have to face delays. As tourism initiatives are mostly limited to Shillong and East Khasi Hills, travellers to Garo Hills (Tura, Williamsnagar), Jaitia Hills (Jowai) and West Khasi Hills (Nongstoin) should plan their route/itinerary considering the lack of proper tourism infrastructure (food/lodging/transport/roads).
- Balpakram National Park
- Elephant Falls
- Lady Hydari Park
- Nokrek National Park
- Shillong Peak
- South Garo Hills, Pitcher Plant sanctuary, Siju Caves
- Umiam Lake
- Wards Lake
- Living Root Bridges
Meghalaya is a caver's delight. The area around Cherrapunji has quite a few limestone caves that can be visited, such as the caves at Mawsmai near Mawsynram. Earlier in 2018, the world's longest sandstone cave has also been discovered in the area at Krem Puri. At nearly 25km long, its length is almost three times the height of Mount Everest. Some dinosaur fossils have also been found in this cave.
Apart from caving, you will also enjoy visiting the beautiful waterfalls around Shillong and Cherrapunji. You should also not miss visiting at least one of the Living Root Bridges. These are natural bridges, created by the local tribals by training the roots of trees to grow in certain directions and weaving them together with mud to create a passable bridge over a stream.
Rice is the staple food and different varieties from the red rice to the sticky glutinous rice are grown and eaten in Meghalaya. The red rice from the Sung Valley is known to be particularly delicious. Pork in every form is enjoyed by all three communities. The Khasi and Jaintia cuisine are similar and use black sesame seeds to add a distinctive taste to the pork and other dishes. A cold salad of shredded pork with onions and ginger is also very popular.
During the early monsoon, different varieties of mushroom sprout all over the Jaintia and Khasi Hills and these make their way to the local markets. The mushrooms are either cooked in combination with the meat dishes or just fried lightly on its own. Rice is cooked either plain or in combination with onions, ginger and turmeric, giving it the characteristic yellow colour; this is known as 'jastem'. Another variation is the 'jadoh' which is rice cooked with meat (namely pork). Rice cakes called 'putharo and the drier flaky pumaloi are prepared from rice flour. Another variety is the deep fried jaggery sweetened pukhiein and steamed pusla usually eaten as snacks with tea.
The Garo cuisine is simple to cook with different variations adding richness to the flavour. One of the most popular dishes among the Garos is the Nakham Bitchi dish, which is prepared from special dry fish, chillies and a pinch of soda. This is a hot spicy soup and is usually served with rice, together with some other fish or meat dish, usually boiled with yam, pumpkin, gourd, chillies and a dash of bamboo ash water. These dishes are sometimes cooked wrapped in leaves or in fresh bamboo cylinders over an open fire, thereby infusing the food with the flavour of the leaves and green bamboo. Also popular among the Khasi, Jaintia and Garos is fish and meat preserved either by drying in the sun or smoking over fire. A variety of chutneys prepared from different types of herbs, fermented soya bean and fermented fish always accompany the meals.
Major tourist destinations in Meghalaya usually have a few hotels, various guesthouses (smaller, locally-owned hotels), and numerous "homestays" (more local and casual yet). Outside of the main tourist circuit, most major towns have at least one or two guesthouses, but smaller villages may not. A few places, like Wahrew riverbank south of Cherrapunji, have pre-pitched tents that you can reserve to stay in.
Most accommodations do not provide wifi, and some (particularly in warm-weather areas) don't provide hot water for showers, so if either of these things are critical to you, make sure to ask in advance (an in-room water heater is called a "geyser", pronounced "geezer").
Many accommodations here are not listed on hotel aggregator websites, and if you do use one of those to book online, make sure to the still contact the place directly once you've booked - it's not unusual in India to get mix-ups where the places didn't see your online booking or don't even honor online bookings anymore. The recommended way to find a wider range of accommodations is to search in a map app, and then either just show up to one or contact them directly if you can find a phone number (sometimes visible in photos of the place's sign even if it's not in the listing). Homestays and some guesthouses expect you to contact them ahead of time, since they don't have reception desks.
Be aware that some places with "hotel" in the name are actually only restaurants with no rooms available. Usually you can figure out the difference by looking at online reviews, or by assuming the worst if there are no reviews.
Government run guesthouses, called "Inspection Bungalows" or "IB", are sometimes a good option in smaller towns. They prioritize government officials, but tourists are generally allowed to stay too, though you may need to apply for permission (same day) with the local police. Though they are basic, and may have squat toilets or no hot water, they are generally both better-kept and cheaper than low-end hotels and commercial guesthouse (in 2023, at least one charged as low as 100₮/night).
Like most of Northeast India, Meghalaya is generally considered safe for travelers, especially compared with more-frequently-visited parts of India like the north and west. Street crime is uncommon, and it is not unusual for women to travel alone or walk at night. Pickpockets are said to be an issue in the crowded bazars of Shillong, though apparently not as bad as in some other parts of India and the world.
While Meghalaya does have a recent history of violent insurgency, like the other states of the northeast, the days of rebel attacks and bombings seem to be over, and this is thought of as probably the safest state in the region. Some outsiders might advise you to avoid it during elections, as supporters of opposing candidates and parties can get rowdy, but locals don't seem to think this is a safety issue for travelers.
The vast majority of people in Meghalaya are Christians, especially in the villages, and they're generally very serious about it - on Sundays you should expect most shops to be closed, and much fewer transportation options.