Meghalaya is known as the ‘abode of the clouds’. It’s a fitting description for this state in Northeast India, which is mostly covered in the lush rolling green Khasi Hills that sees metres of rainfall each year. Hidden in the south of the state towards the Bangladesh border, you’ll find the small Khasi village of Nongriat. This village is home to the natural wonders that are the living root bridges, which are formed by the roots of the trees by the local Khasi people.
These bridges have become one of the main drawcards for Northeast India and Meghalaya tourism. However, they’re only accessible by hiking in from nearby towns and, because of this, few travellers make it all the way to Nongriat. If you’re planning on travelling to Northeast India, then this guide on how to get to Nongriat and the living root bridges will help you reach this beautiful natural paradise.
When is the best time to travel to Nongriat
The best time to travel to Meghalaya is from November to June when the weather is moderate and there is less rainfall. The best weather in the state is usually between April to June, with warm dry days. However, winter from November to March is also a pleasant time to go hiking and is usually dry.
The wet season from July to September is particularly intense in Meghalaya. The Khasi Hills around Nongriat are known as one of the wettest places on earth and it sees heavy rainfall during these months (we’re talking metres of rain!). It’s also humid and sticky during the rain season and unpleasant for hiking.
Shillong is the capital of Meghalaya. It’s a nice city and is often considered one of the more progressive and enjoyable cities of the Northeast region. It’s the only hill station in the state and was the former capital of colonial Assam before independence.
There’s not much left of the colonial era and you’ll find mostly concrete buildings and bustling crowds. The centre of the city is known as Police Bazaar a hectic roundabout surrounded by markets and an open mall.
If you find yourself with a couple of days in the city, I suggest the following things to do in Shillong:
- Don Bosco Museum of Indigenous Cultures – an interesting place to learn about the different tribes of Meghalaya
- Ward’s Lake and Botanical Garden – a nice small splash of nature in the city
- Elephant Falls – just outside of the city, these are impressive falls after the rain season
- Umiam Lake – to the north of the city, this picturesque lake is a nice place to escape the hustle and bustle
Shillong is well connected by bus and shared jeep/sumo to places in Meghalaya and other states, especially Assam. However, it can be a little confusing in Shillong with parking lots and bus stations in separate places.
Anjali Jowai Parking | This is the main shared jeep/sumo parking area. You’ll find a relatively organised line up for various destinations including Jowai, Dawki, Cherrapunji and Guwahati. You’ll also find some bus services, including the overnight bus to Siliguri departs from here.
ASTC Bus Stand | Just down from the major roundabout in Police Bazar, this is the main public bus station in Shillong. You’ll find regular services to Guwahati as well as some other local services to Cherrapunji and Dawki. Ask the ticket counter for the schedule.
Private taxi stand | At the Police Bazar roundabout or also known as Centre Point, you’ll find plenty of taxis that you can hire for private trips around Meghalaya. There are also shared taxis available to Guwahati which leave when full.
Baba’s Tourist Lodge | This is one of the most popular places to stay in Shillong and has one of the most convenient locations. It’s right in the middle of Police Bazar and walking distance to all transport. The staff are very friendly and helpful and the onsite restaurant has good food.
Rockski Boutique Bed and Breakfast | This comfortable B&B is a great mid-range option in Shillong. It gets rave reviews from travellers for it’s clean and modern rooms and nice staff. It’s a decent 2km from Police Bazar but is perfect for a more relaxing stay. Check the latest prices here.
Travelling to Shillong? Check out all the accommodation options here.
How to get to Nongriat
Meghalaya’s major tourist drawcard is the living root bridges around Nongriat village in southern Meghalaya near the Bangladesh border. Many people start their journey from Guwahati, the capital of Assam and the major transport hub for the entire Northeast region. If you’re coming from Guwahati to Nongriat, then you should allow two days for the trip.
First, you need to travel from Guwahati to Shillong. There are plenty of transport options between these two state capitals and the road is well paved the whole way. You can find buses heading to Shillong from both the ISBT (outside the city centre) or the ASTC (next to the train station in centre) in Guwahati. Perhaps more convenient, are the shared sumos/jeeps which leave when full from outside the ASTC near the train station. You will hear the hawkers yelling “SHILLONG”. Expect to pay around 200 rupees (AU$4) for a seat.
The journey from Guwahati to Shillong takes around 3 hours, usually with one stop halfway for refreshments.
Shillong to Cherrapunji
Once you find yourself in Shillong, you will want to make your way to the Police Bazar area. You have two options to reach Cherrapunji from Shillong; bus or shared sumo. Buses leave from the ASTC bus stand, although usually only once or twice per day. More convenient are the shared sumos which leave from the parking lot known as Anjali Jowai. You’ll find sumos here with signs saying Cherrapunji or Sohra (another name for Cherrapunji) and they leave when full fairly consistently throughout the day. They charge around 70 rupees (AU$1.50) for a seat.
I took a shared jeep/sumo and the journey took two hours. The ride is very beautiful, so try to get a window seat if you can.
It’s best to stay in Cherrapunji for the night, as getting to Nongriat requires a decent amount of time, especially if you want to rely on public transport.
Accommodation in Cherrapunji is slowly progressing as Meghalaya tourism has exploded in recent years. Still, the limited hotels in the centre of town are generally overpriced. There are some great homestay initiatives in the area but it can be difficult to know where to stay. I stayed at a great guesthouse that I can highly recommend although it can be a little unreliable as to whether it’s open.
By the Way Hostel | This guesthouse is actually in Lower Sohra, which is a 3km walk downhill from the main bazar area of Cherrapunji town. The owner is a great guy who is extremely helpful and friendly. However, he had shut down the hostel that he had previously run on his property and is now operating a couple of cabin-style rooms at the back for walk-ins. He doesn’t generally accept bookings and there was no sign out the front. The rooms were very clean but had an outside toilet. He’s unsure how long he will keep accepting walk-in visitors like me but try your luck because he had lots of information on how to get to Nongriat and he stored my luggage for me while I was gone.
D-Cloud Guesthouse | This guesthouse has almost replaced By the Way Hostel as the best place to stay for budget travellers. It’s a little further down the road from By the Way but the owner is also very friendly and prices are very affordable starting from around 1500 rupees (AU$15). Check the latest prices and availability here.
Cherrapunji to Nongriat
To get from Cherrapunji to Nongriat, you need to first get to Tyrna village. From there, the only way to get down to Nongriat is to hike.
A local bus leaves Cherrapunji and passes through Lower Sohra between 9-10am on its way to Mawlong. If you stand on the main road and flag it down it should stop. It passes outside By the Way Hostel and the owner will explain where to be to ensure the bus stops.
You need to get off the bus at the Tyrna turnoff. The bus driver should know that’s where you want to go but otherwise ask for Tyrna. They will drop you at the turnoff and you need to walk from here. Another way to get to Tyrna is by taxi from Cherrapunji.
You need to walk through Tyrna village to the end of the road. You will find a couple of snack shops and signs indicating the start of the trail down to Nongriat. There are around 3000 concrete stairs straight down the valley. It’s a beautiful hike and it should take between 1-2 hours.
Visiting the living root bridges
Once you arrive in Nongriat village, you can explore the area on foot. There are concrete paths leading to most attractions. The top things to do in Nongriat include:
- Long living root bridge | Just before you come into Nongriat you’ll see a sign indicating a living root bridge to your right. This is the first one you’ll come across and worth a short side trail to reach. It’s one of the longest of the bridges.
- Double decker bridge | This is the ultimate attraction of Nongriat, the now-famous double decker root bridge is an incredible sight. There are kids manning a sort-of entry ticket booth and you should pay the small fee as it goes directly to the community.
- Rainbow Falls | If you admire the double decker bridge, you should continue on the trail past it and hike for another hour or so through the jungle to this incredible waterfall. It’s also possible to swim in the water if you can clamber down the bank.
- Nearby caves | There are some caves that you can explore around Nongriat. Ask Serene Guesthouse for direction or your own homestay host should be able to explain.
- Mynteng | The next village after Nongriat is Mynteng and a nice place to explore that sees far fewer visitors. There’s also a couple of homestays here if you want complete seclusion.
I suggest staying at least one night in Nongriat village. This will allow you time to really explore the area and get to know the Khasi tribe that inhabit the hills. There are a number of homestays now available in the village which are basic but were a real highlight of my time in the Northeast. I stayed for three nights in the village.
Santina’s Homestay | This is where I stayed and it was an incredible experience. It’s just at the start of the village after the welcome sign. Santina is a kind Khasi woman who opens her small home to visitors. The family hardly speak English but the smiles are enough to communicate. The bedroom is basic and the toilet is outside, but the stay is very authentic. She charges around 300 rupees per night (AU$6).
Serene Guesthouse | This is the most popular place to stay and was the first homestay in the village. It’s a large concrete building with numerous rooms. The owner is very helpful and speaks decent English.
Note that there’s no real shops or restaurants in the village. You’ll have to rely on your host family cooking you dinner and breakfast. If you ask around for some food at lunchtime you’ll likely find someone who will be happy to give you a plate. Near the double decker root bridge, you’ll find a small snack shop with some chips and drinks but not much else. Be aware that whatever is for sale has been brought in on people’s backs from Cherrapunji.
There’s very poor phone signal in Nongriat and no Wi-Fi offered by homestays.
Nongriat back to Shillong
To return to Shillong, you have to return the same way that you came. I hiked back out of Nongriat to Tyrna where I took a shared taxi (although these are few and far between) back to Cherrapunji.
I got out in Lower Sohra to collect my luggage from By the Way hostel and then continued onto Cherrapunji town where there are sumos leaving for Shillong whenever full from the central bazaar area. Once you get back to Shillong, you can either stay the night there or even continue back to Guwahati on the same day.