Thursday, September 25, 2014

North to Northeast India 2017 Itinerary

One of the world's most spectacular living root bridges, which is a tough but immensely rewarding day-hike from a village where we'll be staying a few nights. Believe it or not, the whole span is made of rubber tree roots that were trained across that canyon over the course of a few decades by local villagers, making it one of the world's most striking examples of biological architecture. During this trip, we'll be staying in two very different villages, in a little visited corner of Northeast India that's simply abounding in fantastic things to see.


 The Northeast Indian state of Meghalaya receives more rainfall than any other spot on the globe, is one of the few places in the world with centuries old living root bridges, and is home to some of India's friendliest and most interesting tribal communities: the Khasis and Jaintias. It's a place of stunning beauty, of four thousand foot deep mist filled canyons, where there's literally a waterfall around every corner, and where the average day's walk involves crossing raging, monsoon-swelled torrents over suspension bridges not much wider than your foot that are strung across rocky chasms......, this is not an itinerary for the faint of heart, but I guarantee, visiting the place with the world's very most dramatic weather, and seeing that weather at its very most dramatic, is an experience that you'll take with you the rest of your life. Just be ready to get rained on!

Dainthlen Falls on a misty morning, from a spot close to the village of Nongriat. You only get views like this if you're ready to spend a few nights in the village.

Our itinerary will also take in some of the "Classic" Indian sights, such as the Taj Mahal and the bustling lanes of Old Delhi, and will give you a truly unique opportunity to get both on and off the beaten path.  You'll see the famous stuff in Delhi and Agra, but also dozens of incredible temples, mosques, mansions, bazaars, and ruins that most visitors miss. 

EMAIL ME AT: if you would like more information or if you would like to reserve a seat. 

Surrounded by kids in Delhi. Yes, one thing the North and Northeast Indian phases of our trip will have in common is hordes of little kids. Photo by Glen Saunders. 


The itinerary is 16 days long. It starts MAY 15 2017 and ends MAY 30 2017, not counting travel to and from Delhi International Airport.That means that I'll be at Arrivals at the Delhi International Airport to pick you up on the 15th, and will be there to drop you off on the 30th. In order to confirm a seat, please send me a 250 dollar deposit via paypal by MARCH 15 2017. I'll need the balance by APRIL 15 2017.


What I'll need is U.S. 2500payable through Paypal. 

WHAT THAT COVERS: All accommodation. All in-country transport, including internal flight tickets, train tickets, metro cards, airport/train station pickups/drop-offs, local transport including auto-rickshaws, taxis, etc. Entree fees for monuments. Camera fees. Guide charges. Tips. All expenses including food, drinks, accommodation, transport, and guides in the villages of Nongriat and Shnongpdeng. 

WHAT THAT DOES NOT COVER: International airfare. Visa/passport processing. Health/travel insurance. Gifts. Meals in Delhi, Agra, Cherrapunji ( Average meal cost: 2-4 U.S).

The Taj...which looks just like this photo, only much bigger and much whiter.


[Note: Be advised that India is a very flexible place, which means that to adapt, we'll also have to be flexible. Be ready for a few on-the-spot emendations to this itinerary once we get there...unpredictability is a vital part of the Indian experience!]

Humayun's Tomb, the architectural predecessor of the Taj Mahal, and the first major sight on our itinerary. Delhi.

Day 1-Landing: Arrive at New Delhi International Airport. I'll pick you up there, and then we'll transfer to our hotel in Majnu-Ka-Tilla, Delhi's center of Tibetan culture, which also has some of the city's best value budget hotels. We'll settle in, and get some sleep.

Day 2-Delhi: We'll start the day with a ride on Delhi's world class metro. From Jor Bagh Station, we'll take our first auto rickshaw ride to fantastic Humayun's Tomb, the mausoleum of the second great Mughal emperor and the direct architectural predecessor of the Taj Mahal.

From there, we'll head to Connaught Place, and take a brief sojourn to Delhi's most impressive step-well, Agrasen Ki Baoli, and one of it's most bizarre monuments, an 18th century astronomical observatory called the Jantar Mantar, which are both within easy walking distance of each other.

Agrasen Ki Baoli, Delhi's most impressive step-well, which is improbably located right in the middle of the city's main business district. 

We'll then retreat to the air conditioned metro before the worst heat of the afternoon sets in, and spend the middle part of the day resting in our hotel. Those who still have the energy can come back out with me at around 3:30-4 in the afternoon, and walk to the nearby, though rarely visited (at least by foreign tourists!) Northern Ridge, an area of urban jungle with the most monkeys I've ever seen!

Dinner in one of the many good Tibetan restaurants in MAJNU KA TILLA.

Rhesus Monkey's in the Northern Ridge Reserved Forest. This is about a 30 minute walk from our hotel. I've never seen a higher concentration of Rhesus monkeys than in the Northern Ridge. Delhi. Picture by Erin Potter

Day 3-Delhi to Agra: We'll get up early and transfer to the New Delhi Railway Station. From here, we'll take an early morning train to Agra, arriving at around 8:15. We'll then transfer to our hotel in the Taj Ganj neighborhood of the city, right next to the Taj Mahal.

For the rest of the morning, and the first half of the afternoon, we'll rest up (it's going to be hot, so we'll probably want to wait out the middle of the day!) and eat at the hotel restaurant. 

After our siesta, we'll head out across the river Yamuna to visit several lesser known Mughal garden tombs, including the Chini-Ka-Rauza, or China Dome, and the Itimad-Ud-Daulah, otherwise known as the Baby Taj. After that, we can visit Mehtab Bagh, a beautiful old Mughal garden on the banks of the Yamuna directly opposite the Taj which gives one perhaps the best view possible of the famous mausoleum. 

Incredible stone inlay on the side of the baby Taj. Though it's not nearly so famous, some people like the Itimad-Ud-Daulah it just as much as its more famous neighbor.

Dinner at our hotel.

Day 4-Taj Mahal-Agra Fort-Delhi : As early as possible, we'll wake up and walk from our hotel to the entrance of the Taj Mahal, so we can visit the mausoleum in the least crowded, coolest, part of the day, under the best lighting conditions. We'll spend a while wandering about in the tomb complex, and then come back to our hotel and have lunch. 

Inside the mosque next to the Taj.

Our train back to Delhi is not until the evening, so later in the day we'll be able to go out and do one more thing: Visit the Agra Red Fort, which contains the world's highest concentration of Mughal era palaces, along with another spectacular view down the Yamuna. 

The Diwan-i-am, or hall of public audience, in Agra Fort.

Following that, we'll have an early dinner at our hotel, and then head via train back to Delhi, reaching our hotel in Majnu-Ka-Tilla around 11-11:30 PM.

Day 5-Delhi: We'll devote this day to the exploration of Old Delhi, starting with the Jama Masjid, one of India's grandest and most historically important mosques. From there, we'll plunge into Old Delhi's fascinating back lanes, where we'll visit an assortment of old crumbling mansions, numerous bazaars specializing in everything from silver jewelry to wedding decorations, along with numerous temples and mosques.

A street of colorful houses belonging to a family of Jain jewel merchants, who have occupied the area for several centuries and have sponsored a nearby temple. Every little lane in Old Delhi has a story to tell.

As the heat of midday approaches, we'll retreat to out hotel for our daily siesta. In the afternoon, we'll head back out to Old Delhi, and this time visit the Gadodia Market, a surreal amalgamation of crumbling early 20th century architecture which is also Asia's largest wholesale spice market. After that, we can do a bit more sightseeing as we work our way back to the metro.

We'll get back early to Majnu-Ka-Tilla and get a good night's rest.

The Gadodia Spice Market. The bags are, in all likelihood, filled with several hundred pounds of chili peppers. Tons of red peppers move through this building every business day. 

Day 6: DELHI-GUWAHATI-SHNONGPDENG : This will be one of our tougher travel days. We'll get up early, transfer to the Delhi airport, take the earliest flight possible to the Assamese city of Guwahati, and then start the (roughly) 5 hour journey to Shnongpdeng, in the state of Meghalaya. The journey will take us up from the plains of Assam to the Khasi hills, passing through the city of Shillong on the way. Beyond Shillong, we'll descend through the spectacular canyon country of southern Meghalaya  before reaching the small border town of Dawki, which is only a few feet from Bangladesh. From there it's a short bumpy ride through the jungle to our destination: Shnongpdeng village, on the shores of the river Umngot. Your day will begin in the maddening urban chaos of Delhi and end world's away, by the serene waters of the clearest river you'll ever see.

The bridge over the river Umngot, next to Shnongpdeng village. This bridge will be only a two minute walk from our guest house.

DAY 7-8 SHNONGPDENG: Shnongpdeng is Meghalaya's most relaxing village. Located next to a huge river so clear that you can see the shadows of boats crawling along the bottom, there's no better place in the Khasi Hills to take a nap, or ( weather permitting!) you can go out in the middle of the afternoon and ride a boat upriver for a while. Yet, if you're feeling energetic, Shnongpdeng also makes a great base for expeditions to some of Meghalaya's most incredible off-the-beaten-path adventures. The village is one Northeast India's best kept secrets, though not for long!


What we do during our time in Shnongpdeng will depend on the weather. Clearer weather will make doing more outdoors stuff easier, though one doesn't need perfect weather to do a hike (make sure to have umbrellas and rain clothes no matter what.) However, if it's raining hard, just staying in the village and watching the rain roll in across the river is a beautiful thing to do, and getting the chance to see some of the nearby bodies of water in spate is something you won't forget....In short, it's hard to be bored in Shnongpdeng.

Suspension bridge and canyon near Shnongpdeng. 


1: Shnongpdeng is on the banks of the river Umngot. If you can stand the cold, and it's not raining (or likely to rain) swimming upstream is an experience you'll never forget. Additionally, it's possible to hire a boat from the village  and explore the canyon of the Umngot a certain distance upstream. Also, if you're interested in angling, Shnongpdeng is one of Northeast India's best fishing spots!

2: Shnongpdeng makes a convenient base for one of Meghalaya's greatest day hikes: The trek to the Great Bridge of Kudeng Rim. This tough but rewarding hike will take you to one of the most incredible sights in all of Northeast India. The Great Bridge of Kudeng Rim is a living root bridge that is around a hundred feet long, around a hundred feet above the stream it crosses, and is in front of an amazing waterfall. The hike also goes by two other spectacular living root bridges, three remote villages, and a small but interesting short, one of the trekking highlights of Meghalaya.

3: Another truly wonderful hike is possible to the small, charming, and completely undiscovered village of Burma, one of the friendliest places in Meghalaya.

4: can just relax....that's also definitely an option!

Waterfalls, rocks, a boat, and a deep pool, upstream from Shnongpdeng.


On this day, we'll leave Shnongpdeng behind and travel to the town of Cherrapunji (known locally as Sohra). The drive will only take around three hours, so there won't be any rush to get out of Shnongpdeng early.

Our accommodation for the nights in Cherrapunji will be a simple, cozy, clean, backpackers hostel called By The Way.

Depending on the weather and how much time we have, we'll have the opportunity to visit one of several spectacular viewpoints in the near vicinity, overlooking either waterfalls in the the Khasi Hills or the plains of Bangladesh.

Looking out over the plains of Bangladesh. Photo: Vick Kelsey

Day 10 Cherrapunji-Nongriat: On this day, we'll start by having breakfast in Cherrapunji, and then transferring, via a spectacular, half hour drive, to a village called Tyrna. From there we'll start our 1500 foot decent through the jungle to  our home for the next three nights. On the hike down we'll cross two exciting wire suspension bridges over rushing rivers, and also two living root bridges.

There won't be any rush. We can take our time getting there, and once we do, we can settle in and relax.

Dinner in the village.

Crossing one of the wire suspension bridges on the way to Nongriat village. Photo: Vick Kelsey 

Day 11-12: Full days in Nongriat: These will be our two full days in the village of Nongriat. Again, there's no point coming up with a comprehensive itinerary for these days, as what we'll do on each will depend to some degree on the weather and how energetic people are feeling.

The famous Double Decker Living Root bridge, which will be a literal one minute walk from our guesthouse.


Like Shnongpdeng, Nongriat is a place equally good for relaxing and for having incredible adventures. There are tons of tough hikes to do in the immediate vicinity of the village, but just staying in and visiting with the locals is also very rewarding. Additionally, we'll have to keep an eye on the weather. If it's raining hard we won't be able to do as much hiking, but then again, there will be waterfalls around every corner.

Nongriat in the mist.


1: There are seven living root bridges in the immediate vicinity of Nongriat, all of which can be seen in wet weather.

2: There is an additional, partly ruined, though still very interesting, root bridge, that we can see, though walking out on it is too dangerous.

3: There are five dramatic wire suspension bridges (which are composed of steel cables that have been placed across streams) within ninety minutes walking of Nongriat. These bridges are perfectly safe, and they give the most spectacular views of the rain-swelled streams (as in, from a vantage point where you're suspended directly above them).

4: There is one bridge that is made from both steel wire and roots.

5: There are seven other Khasi villages within a day's walking distance of Nongriat. Most of these see far fewer foreign visitors than Nongriat, and are worthwhile day hiking destinations in and of themselves. The trails between these villages have many of the most spectacular viewpoints in the area. 

6: There is another living root bridge in the vicinity of the village of TYNDRONG, which is the remotest village in the area. The hike to it is one of the best in the area.

7: It will be possible to go out for short hikes after nightfall, on the wide, safe, concrete trails near Nongriat. All sorts of interesting animals are more active during the night, including civets, several varieties of crabs, various amphibians, and numerous insects, including a number of species of huge stick insects. 

Typical for Meghalaya: Waterfalls and living root bridges. 

Day 13 Nongriat-Cherrapunji: On this day we'll hike back up out of Nongriat, return to "By the Way" in Cherrapunji, and take the afternoon and evening easy. The hike up will be a tough one, but we'll have the whole day to do it so there won't be any rush. 

Dinner in Cherrapunji. 

Day 14 Cherrapunji-Delhi: We'll get up bright and early, ride to the Guwahati Airport, fly back to Delhi, transfer to our hotel in Majnu Ka Tilla, and have dinner.

Day 15 Delhi: I'm keeping this day free. If there was something else in Delhi that we missed earlier in the trip, we can see it on this day. Also, we can start shopping for presents and souvenirs.

Day 16 Delhi-End of Itinerary: Transfer to onward destination. 

These Khasi children will be sorry to see you leave.


This trip WILL INVOLVE QUITE A BIT OF WALKING, much of it over very difficult terrain. Most of the trails in Meghalaya are little more than thousand foot staircases. Additionally, we will have to do some of these hikes with large packs. While we will not be in a rush at any time, and people of different physical abilities will be encouraged to go at their own respective paces, it is highly recommended that you be prepared to do some fairly tough hiking. All the most beautiful views in Meghalaya are won with physical exertion.

To train, walk up and down lots and lots of stairs!

Additionally, anyone with either a fear of spiders, or of heights, should be advised that we will be seeing plenty of both, frequently at the same time.

An ancient, scenically rugged stairway in the Khasi hills. Much of our hiking will be over stuff like this.

CLIMATE (and how we'll beat the heat)

As this is a Summer trip, the temperatures will be quite hot. In North India, we'll plan it out so that we'll be indoors during the middle of the day. This does mean that we'll be going out and doing some of our sightseeing before breakfast. This has some advantages besides the temperature being at its most moderate. For example, we'll see the Taj Mahal in the best light of the day, at the time when the crowds are smallest, and when there's the least hassle. We'll also be out during most evenings.

Still, it won't be possible to avoid the heat entirely, so go in expecting it to be hot at least some of the time.

Nohkailikai falls, the largest and most spectacular waterfall in the Cherrapunji area, and arguably in all of India.

In Meghalaya, it's probably going to rain....and when it does rain, it rains ALOT! Unfortunately, it's very difficult to predict. Three days of sunny skies might be followed by a week of solid deluge. Bring rain-gear, and make sure you have some sort of waterproofing on your backpack. Umbrellas are widely available in India. Fortunately, the temperatures in Meghalaya are more moderate than in North India. Still, when it's not raining, the air will be exceptionally humid. When it is raining, the temperatures are usually quite pleasant, verging on cool.


[Note: I am not a doctor, and you are advised to consult with a trained medical practitioner several months before departing.]

FOOD: Food tends to spoil easier in the Summer months due to the heat. For this reason, meat should generally be avoided unless it's from a relatively upscale restaurant with decent health standards. Leafy greens and unwashed fruits/vegetables should also be regarded with suspicion. Eating street food is generally unwise, particularly cut fruit. There are some exceptions, which I'll show you when we're there. Fruits with peels or rinds (bananas, oranges, litchis, unopened watermelons) are usually fine. 

WATER: In Delhi, Agra, and Cherrapunji, only drink bottled water, and avoid drinks with ice. DO NOT PUT TAP WATER IN YOUR MOUTH FOR ANY REASON! Do not share water bottles, as this can facilitate the transmission of stomach ailments (this goes even if you're feeling fine). 

The water in Nongriat village is potable, though bottled and filtered water will also be available. 

HEAT: Particularly in Delhi and Agra, always make sure to have at least 2 two liter bottles with you. Drink as much water as you can. Additionally,  never go out into the heat of the day when you are hungry, as having an empty stomach will magnify the physical stress of being out in the hot weather. Salty foods and snacks prevent dehydration. Bring plenty of snacks with you, at all times.

BUGS: While you should consult with your doctor as to specific medications to be taken to combat certain mosquito and other insect born diseases, it is also highly recommended that you have a ready supply of bug spray. 

Erin Potter stands on a rarely visited living root bridge near the village of Mynteng, about a 40 minute walk from Nongriat. 


Contact me at to reserve a seat or to receive additional information.

See you in India!

Spectacular carvings on the outside of the Jehangiri Mahal, Agra.

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