Update March 2020: I revisited Nongiat in January 2020 and was totally startled to see its state. Overtourism has killed the place. Where last time I found local families in Nongriat too welcoming and heart-warming to be true, this time they were too busy to even speak to. Kids were busy selling fake ‘natural honey’. The root-bridge was slowly dying. Read More: Nongriat Isn’t Worth Visiting Anymore.
Now let’s continue with the story I wrote after my first introduction to Nongriat in 2015/16. Please note that some of the facts given below may be outdated…
Nongriat is a combination of two words “Nong” meaning village and “Riat” meaning cliffs or ridges. So it literally means “A village surrounded by ridges” – and that’s exactly what you are going to find in Nongriat, in addition to its mesmerizing beauty, natural swimming pools and friendly people
It is about 64 kms from Shillong and to reach there, you’d have to take a shared Jeep or hire a cab from Shillong to Cherapunji (otherwise known as Sohra) and then to Mawshmok. From Mawshmok you’d walk towards Tyrna which takes approximately 10 minutes.
Alternatively, if you want to go a little wild, you can walk all the way from Shillong to Cherapunji which will take around 3 days walking through the plump and comely hills of Meghalaya.
From Tyrna you walk on foot to Nongthymmai and then to Nongriat which is around 3500 stairways (and a hell lot of sweat) from Tyrna. Not to forget that they are not really proper stairs, at times they are mere boulders and rocks smeared with moss which makes them extremely slippery.
The villages around Khasi Hills – including Nongriat and Mynteng, among many others were not known until very recently and were a part of the “unknown wonders of the world”. Though the place has lately picked up in the charts of must-visit places thanks to its root bridges.
The root bridges of Khasi hills are unique in the world. Deep inside the jungle, shrouded in cloud and rain these root bridges are indeed some astonishing man-made natural wonders. It took around 20 years to build each root bridge and some of them are over 150 years old. Not to forget, you can find a total of 11 such functioning root bridges around this area, and possibly many, many more around the entire Khasi Hills.
But how did the people of Nongriat come across such a wonderful idea? Well, there’s a story…
Being the inhabitants of “Thied Dieng” (where people were experts in building tree roots and created a lot of root handicrafts) people of Nongriat realized that maintaining wood and bamboo bridges was a burden. So they planted rubber trees on either side of the rivers and waited and weaved the roots to get a strong Root Bridge. The first-ever root bridge on “Umshiang River” was built some 180 years ago, but it got overflowed by the rainwater during monsoon.
This encouraged the villagers to build another one above the old bridge and that’s how the popular Double Decker Living Root Bridge – a unique in the world where man and nature collide and cooperate to withstand the rage of Umishian River – came into existence. Double Decker Root Bridge is moreover the first and the strongest root bridge ever built in this area.
People of Nongriat
People of Nongriat are extremely welcoming with many of them quite well-versed with English. As soon as you’ll book a room in two of the only options available at the village you’re going to be treated with a 5-star hotel like hospitality and a cup of tea. And trust me, that is exactly when your love affair with Khasi Hills and its people will begin.
As I found, people in Nongriat are very simple, shy, hospitable, friendly and hardworking. They are short and thin but strong and healthy. The best part about them? They worship land and nature and call themselves “Animists”.
People of Nongriat – The True “Animists”
People of Nongriat live in harmony with nature. Traditionally, people here always found ways to use plants and animals to their advantage. Since everything is derived from nature, the relationship between nature and person is like that of mother and child, they believe. “We live in perfect harmony with nature because we are animists” I remember my localhost often claiming it to me.
No wonder, the people here have always regarded nature and all the living beings that exist on it with respect – and their traditional Khasi dish known as Jadoh is a perfect example of that.
Jado, An Absurd Food Item On Earth
Because Khasi people do not waste any part of the animal – not even their eyeballs, if they kill it to obtain meat – Jadoh is a traditional Khasi dish which includes rice cooked in either pork or chicken’s blood with some sort of disgusting meat pieces – generally pork’s brain and intestine. It is like a different version of a less spicy Biryani, except for its texture and the feeling you get while you chew it in your mouth.
A little Background About People Of Nongriat And Their Bioengineering
After migrating to India, people of Nongriat originally lived on the other side of the valley in a village named “Thied Dieng”. This was around 200 to 250 years ago. But in a strafing battle ensued between “Mawphu” and “Thied Dieng”, the latter lost and fled to the present valley. There were five clans, so they split into five villages namely, Tyrna, Nongriat, Mynteng, Ramdait, and Nongkrong – this was to fend off any further aggression by its neighboring kingdom and villages.
The people of Nongriat and of neighboring villages are known as Khasi people; Khasi means WAR. Originally Khasi people were nomads, who hailed from Cambodia and Northern Thailand – moving to Myanmar and then to North East India. Some ended in the present state of Meghalaya whereas others moved to Bangladesh. These people have their indigenous religion, traditions, and culture.
About the Land
Nongriat is a thick tropical rainforest. Most of the land here is owned by local villagers, whereas some of it is owned by the whole community – among which some parts are “Sacred Grooves”. Sacred groves are special parts of the forest where sacrifices are being made to keep away the spirits.
Forest is the source of livelihood to the people – apart from its tourism – which, indirectly again relies on the forest. The main products are Bay leaf, Wild Black Pepper and broomsticks – during harvesting season (between October and April).
Almost all of the Khasi villages and community areas sit on top of a great plateau which provides comfortably cool weather, and below them are the plains of Bangladesh. The temperature of Bangladesh and land conditions makes border areas of Bangladesh a perfect place to cultivate many vegetables and fruits including oranges and import them into India.
If getting lost is your thing, I’d most certainly recommend you to visit Nongriat. It is one of those rare places where natural beauty and the local people work together to ensure that your appetite for nature is completely satiated with them. If you’ve any questions about how and when to visit Nongriat to get the best experience, feel free to get in touch.
Disclaimer: The facts provided in the story are majorly based on the folk knowledge