Jayanta Chakraborty, The Lazy Backpacker – as we fondly call him here at Backpacking Series, is back. Earlier this year, he nudged himself out of a monsoon-inspired slumber, put on a ragged coat, and went hiking the slippery slopes of the Bamboo Trail of Meghalaya to meet the King of Stones! He shares a memorable experience and answers all your questions!
Meghalaya – The Abode of Clouds
Home to the wettest places in the world, the state is organized into three areas viz. Garo Hills, Jaintia Hills, and Khasi Hills. Towns like Cherrapunji (also known as Sohra) and Mawsynram are known to record highest rainfall on earth. It sports few of the wildest national parks, some breathtaking waterfalls, rivers, and lakes, and the famous living-root bridges.
Speaking of bridges, Meghalayan folks have a tradition for and are highly skilled at building them. While the iconic living-root bridges remain the most visited and popular, there are such carefully crafted marvels all over the state. The Bamboo Trail of Meghalaya is a fine example, that every visitor must try.
U Mawryngkhang is The King of Stones
Let’s begin with my all-time favorite phrase to start a story: once upon a time, there was a king! Umm, let’s put a twist: once upon a time, there was a stone! Just that, a handsome and powerful stone. Be honest – how many times have you heard a story of a handsome stone? Meghalayans have a penchant for folklore. Read on.
His name was U Mawryngkhang. In a war for supremacy, he defeated many competing stones in the region. When visiting a neighboring kingdom, he met and fell in love with a girl, another stone! Oh, but is it ever easy to find the love of you life and then live happily ever after?
So, when U Mawpator, the neighboring king, got wind of it, he waged a bloody fight. In that epic battle of stones, U Mawpator lost his life. U Mawryngkhang lost his left arm but won himself a beautiful bride.
Ever since, U Mawryngkhang is referred to, in the local folklore, as the King of Stones. He stands tall, as a big rock, but without one arm. In a happily ever after stance, his bride (a smaller rock) is always beside him. Whereas the decapitated head of the vanquished can be seen when you trek to the top of Mawryngkhang.
The King of Stones is considered as a sacred venue by the local community. The adventure to get to the top is now popular as the Bamboo Trail of Meghalaya. Ready to hike?
The Bamboo Trail of Meghalaya: Keep Calm, Keep Climbing
At 11:00 am, the sparsely populated hamlet of Wahkhen was active. The chores had taken over the morning’s beautiful mist. Some folks chopped jackfruits, others walked past offering a smile, while few kids kept a watchful gaze. Their curious looks suggested locals were not yet accustomed to seeing visitors.
In a small town such as this, word gets around quick. While we were absorbing the newness of the lifestyle, our guide showed up. Born and brought up here, Mr. Singh worked as a teacher in Shillong and would return to meet his family once a while or when he led tours to Mawryngkhang. His teaching experience meant, he knew how to handle a diverse group. Quick introductions later, we were on our way.
Light drizzle continued to slap the earth with irregularity. While its nothing that a poncho cannot take care of, our feet were tentative in stepping on to algae-covered rocks and stairs. The freshness of nature is preserved by the local community’s focus on cleanliness. Even waste baskets are made of bamboo!
But where is the Bamboo Trail? I didn’t have to wait long for that answer. The first sight of the bamboo bridge to cross the river had us perplexed. Somehow, as if by a wild stroke of luck, it managed to balance itself over a roaring river underneath.
Sure, the arched bridge looks rickety and is likely to raise few eyebrows. The beautiful river, that I would otherwise just want to admire from its banks, looked ominous from the top of that bridge. I was scared. But sometimes, especially when you are in group, the momentum keeps you going. Crossing the bridge also preps you for everything bamboo-stone-and-water that follows.
The rest of the trek is relatively an arduous ascent on more such narrow, rickety-looking but high-strength bamboo bridges cutting through broomstick cultivation or along the edge of a cliff. At places along the hike, bamboo gives way to big boulders that you might need to duck under to cross. At other points, the emerging landscape, as the cliff takes a turn, would have you hold tight to the railing and just stand in awe.
Colorful flags, along the route, mark the trail. Zoom-in to the summit picture (above) of the King of Stones and you’d notice not just the markers but possibly the trail too. By the way, here’s something to pollute your mind: gaps in the creaky trail will show you just how high in the sky you are holding on to dear life:)
Why The Bamboo Trail of Meghalaya?
Dude, Have You Been to A Bamboo Skywalk, Ever?
It’s unlikely that you’d get to experience a Bamboo Skywalk elsewhere. Let us know if something like this exists – I would love to add that to my bucket list and link it here as a sister site!
Witness Intangible Heritage
Secondly, Meghalayans are known for their intangible heritage of building bridges. Let me emphasize it again – an intangible heritage. What that means is, they need no formal training. They just know how to bend nature and create a path for themselves. If you have visited the legendary living-root bridges, you’d know that they trust their skills enough to let their kids play hide and seek on these. Guess what? The same people have built this Bamboo Trail in the sky.
The village of Wahkhen sustains on broomstick cultivation and a seasonal harvest of oranges. The community has recently built the Bamboo Trail to showcase not just their skill but also one of their most sacred places to the world. The trek just happens to be breathtakingly beautiful! Your visit will directly support local eco-tourism activities. Oh, and when in Wahkhen, do not forget to check out their music cottage!
When to do The Bamboo Trail of Meghalaya?
Ideally, if you are planning a vacation, it is recommended to do this trail in winter. The grass is dry, the weather won’t make you sweat as much, and hey, winters are just so much fun to hike! But. And it’s a real but.
While hiking can get intense in the rains, monsoons lend an unparalleled charm to Meghalaya, home to wettest places on earth! If you can bear the potential wet clothes and dodge slippery rocks on the trail, you’d get to see some milky water falls, in their full might. See how they lend a powerful flow to a river and eventually cut across picturesque landscapes.
How to Get to The Bamboo Trail of Meghalaya?
Ride to Wahkhen can be magical. I still have the misty aroma of that monsoon morning firm in my memory. The lush green patches with idyllic houses scattered in the distance, few locals fishing lazily at ponds and lakes, it all adds to the aura of a place.
Oh, and in that weather, Puri Sabji is an unmissable breakfast. For one, the taste of tangy vegetables and deep fried piping hot puris is best enjoyed on a wet day. Secondly, considering quantity of food served, the price in a rural area never disappoints. Anyhow, let me not digress here:)
The Bamboo Trail is a relatively a recent phenomenon. Hence, getting to the trail’s starting point in Wahkhen, is not exactly a door-to-door public transport deal.
Luckily, you could hire a cab. With scenic hills enroute, the ~200 kms or so from Guwahati (my hometown) was a breeze. The southbound route (toward Pynursla) turns west from a highway town of Pomlum and, after 15 more kilometers, you reach Wahkhen. To make the most of our day, we started about 07:00 am.
Note: You may also plan your trip from Shillong, Meghalaya’s state capital. Wahkhen is just about 50 Kms.
How to Plan for The Bamboo Trail of Meghalaya?
Rent a Tour – Recommended
Given the remoteness, I chose to go with Discover NorthEast, a specialist tour company, and am happy to recommend them. They are a bunch of jolly, young, and high-energy professionals. I had a lovely time and, chances are, you would too!
For a day’s plan (Ex-Guwahati), they charge about INR 1500-2500 per person depending on group size and type of vehicle. The minimum group size (for the smallest car) is – four people. Note: Rates are subject to change. Swing by their website to check out what all they do and how or just write to them: email@example.com.
Do it Yourself
Ask your hostel / guesthouse (Guwahati or Shillong) to help you arrange a cab for the day. The deal should work in a way that the cabbie waits for you while you complete the hike and then bring you back to your hostel. Cab rates can vary depending on time of the year and demand.
Oh and don’t just hire any guide. You are about to spend a day out in the wilderness. Make sure to create memories and bring back stories to share! Find the right company. Thank me later:)
Please contact Mr. Snar Singh Malngiang, Assistant Teacher, Seng Khasi HSS, Jaiaw, in Shillong, Meghalaya. 793002. While he works in Shillong, he grew up in and continues to have a home and family in Wahkhen, Pynursla, East Khasi Hills, Meghalaya. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or, better yet, message him at his Facebook Profile.
Who Should do The Bamboo Trail of Meghalaya?
This is an under-5-hours hike (Wahkhen-Mawryngkhang-Wahkhen). However, as with many other places in North East India, the time-to-summit can be a misleading factor. Hence, it helps to begin with a good fitness level.
The Mawryngkhang trek can be moderately challenging, especially if you are scared of heights. So if you are not comfortable with heights, you might want to give it a second thought. Other than that, it is something that offers a great outdoors opportunity for pretty much everyone.
Things to Remember on The Bamboo Trail of Meghalaya
- Respect the Culture – Mawryngkhang is a sacred place for the local community. Do not violate local rules or norms that might invoke punitive actions from the villagers!
- Get a Good Guide – For this trail, like many others in North East India, you must hire a good guide.
- Be Hands Free – At various points along this hike, you may need to use both hands to, say, scale a ladder. Avoid carrying stuff in your hands.
- No Overnight Stay – The Bamboo Trail at Wahkhen does not offer options to sleep unless you choose to camp (not the easiest thing to do). Your local guide should be able to advise. Heed to that!
- Bring Packed Food – When heading for this, or any other trail in North East, always carry your own food. Your guest house or hostel should be able to arrange for a packed lunch.
- Keep it Clean – North East India is beautiful, and it hosts one of the cleanest villages of Asia too! As a visitor, be mindful of your litter. Keep the region clean.
- Get the Right Shoes – When hiking in North East India, especially in monsoons, wear shoes with a good grip. The rocks, stones and bamboo, it all gets very slippery.
Think North East India
For those who do not know, North East India comprises of eight states – Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, and Tripura. The Himalayas and its waters define the region’s terrain, climate, rich biodiversity, and the peculiar indigenous lifestyles her people follow. That North East India is bound by Bhutan, Nepal, and Tibet to the north, Bangladesh to the south and west, and Myanmar to the east hints at the eclectic mix of cultural, ethnic, and linguistic diversity. This is where elements of Asia come together to do what they do best – cast a spell.
The region’s innate charms have remained under-explored. Travelers, who figure out how to backpack in North East India, find gems such as Dzükou Valley all to themselves. Importantly, the hospitable people of the region make sure that visitors take back the choicest of memories.
Meanwhile, pick up a copy of the book Backpacking North East India: A Curious Journey. It covers over two dozen places and attempts to answer the question – what is it like to travel in the region? Give it a read and make your own choices. Buy now!
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Have you trekked to Mawryngkhang, the King or Stones? How was your experience on this Bamboo Trail? We would love to hear from you.
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