The ride from Shillong to Syntung is rough – but just like most other places, once you reach your destination, it becomes worth it. Syntung is a quaint little village located in Mawkynrew of East Khasi Hills District, Meghalaya. With a population of just about a 1000 people, this village houses approx. 180 families as per census 2011.
The Wah Rashi Kshaid river is a congregation of nine waterfalls, known as the Wahrashi Water Falls. To reach the Wahrashi Waterfalls, one has to take the route starting from Shillong, continuing towards Smit, Thangsning and passing through Laitdiengsai, Jongsha, Mawkynrew, Jatah and Pashang. Phasang is the last village before Syntung. From Shillong and back, the journey is around 150 km. The roads leading are broken and in a very bad condition, which is why the journey becomes longer than it should be. According to legends, Syntung is considered to be one of the oldest villages of the East Khasi Hills. The Suting, Nongrum, Mukhim and Lynshiang clans were the earliest settlers here.
The Wahrashi Waterfalls Complex cum Recreational Centre in Syntung was opened to the public as recent as December 2015. This project was approved by the North Eastern Council, DONER, GOI, at a total cost of 51 lakhs, of which 11 lakhs were donated by the Dorbar Shining, Syntung – which is the project’s implementing agency. A peripheral footpath, a parking lot, a small rain shelter, an observatory park cum children’s playground and toilets were taken up as part of the project. This was done with the sheer motive of developing the tourism industry in the State. Meghalaya – with its many picturesque waterfalls, beautiful landscape and pleasant climate – has the immense potential to become one of the major tourist destinations in the country, and has the ability to create avenues for income generation for the local people in the different parts of the State.
The department of tourism, Meghalaya has indeed done a lot to preserve the area around these falls. After travelling for almost three hours from Shillong, we finally reached our destination. Once there, we could hear the waterfalls even before we actually saw them. It was a beautiful day and we soon found out that we were the only ones there. The path from the main street to the actual falls, is laid out well with concrete steps that lead to a small rest house for visitors.
The weather in the East Khasi Hills is mostly cool and wet, with light rains and fog, and an average visibility of just 10 km that tend to reduce to 2 km during monsoons. This is one reason why one has to be extremely careful while driving as the broken, steep and narrow roads can be a cause of severe accidents. During peak time, there are usually many students of Meghalaya University, leading the crowd around the place, assisting them with life jackets, food and other sorts of help. The Wahrashi Falls are encircled by a cluster of sacred hills.
For over a century, the villagers have preserved these hills and till today, no one is allowed to cut their trees. That is why the locals call it their sacred grove. The nine-tier falls, start from these hills, form beautiful gorges and finally become a part of the Wah Rashi Kshaid river. According to Phiso, my friend and local guide (a student of Micro Biology, Meghalaya University), the villagers maintain a strong sense of community to protect and preserve these rivers, so much so that they maintain the status of a human being. A lot of individual effort goes into maintaining these water bodies. Most of the older folk, till date turn to face the river when they pray. This is an age-old belief that still holds weight.
Until now, only tier 3 of the waterfalls are made accessible to the public. The other levels, although visible, are not accessible. The area surrounding the waterfalls is mostly marshy land with a lot of wild vegetation, with pitcher plant saplings growing in abundance.
According to our guide the main reason why these falls are still unknown to the rest of the country is because of the commutation. The road to Wahrashi is extremely bad and the authorities have just developed the few areas surrounding the falls. This makes it very difficult for common people to access the waterfalls.
The first tier of these falls begin Northwards from the Khasi hills and the second tier from the North. There is a dam in between these two falls, where they merge together to make the third tier of waterfalls and so on. There is a bamboo bridge constructed to make movement possible from one side of the river to the other. However, on rainy days, this bridge becomes extremely wobbly, and hence will soon require reconstruction.
The area around the falls are mostly slippery slopes and during monsoons, major accidents can also happen. Further, what may stop visitors is the fact that the area if mostly isolated. If anyone has to trip and fall, there is little or no means to shout for help. So a word of caution to those who are travelling to be extremely careful and go prepared. Just a few life vests and perhaps a guide, and you are all set to have the best weekend in the East Khasi Hills. And like my sibling said, “Who needs to go to the Niagra Falls, when you got your in your backyard.” Couldn’t agree more!
All images have been clicked by the author.