Shnongpdeng, Dawki & the beautiful Umngot River in Meghalaya

Quaint villages where boats float in the air

I’d flipped through hundreds of mind-boggling photographs of Dawki and Shnongpdeng while planning my Meghalaya trip with parents. Even then I was skeptical about the authenticity of the photographs and prepared myself to be at least a tad bit disappointed. I wasn’t expecting the river to be as picture-perfect as it appeared in most photographs online. But when I saw it for myself, I was blown away by just how stunning it actually was!

Also read- Backpacking in Meghalaya- A Complete Travel Guide

First view of the Umngot River in Dawki
First view of the Umngot River in Dawki

We left early from Shillong to avoid the crowd, and we got our reward. The weather on that day was in a perfect mood too. The water bathed in the soft morning sunlight. It seemed to have cast a magical spell over the whole landscape.

Boats docked at Dawki river in Meghalaya

The famed Umngot river flowing through the two villages of Dawki and Shnongpdeng was certainly as beautiful, if not more, as it appeared in all the pictures I had previously seen! I was delighted beyond words.

Note: Visit Dawki and Shnongpdeng during the dry season to witness its stunning beauty. The water loses much of its clarity during the monsoon season and turns murky when the river flows in a maddening rush.

A boatman rowing on Umngot river
A boatman beginning his day

While Meghalaya kept tossing one beautiful landscape after another, the magic of the Umngot river at Dawki and Shnongpdeng stood out as the most mesmerizing experience for us. I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

Umngot river in dawki
Look at those glittering gems!

The color of the water seemed to change from every vantage point and with the position of the sun. At times the river seemed to be covered with thousands of glittering gems.

Morning rays on Umngot river in Dawki
Fallen stars

Chasing tranquility in Dawki

From afar the rustic colorful boats appear to float in the air, so clear is the water. As you watch the abstract patterns formed by the sunlight and the colorful pebbles in the river bed, you can’t help but gawk in wonder.

Villagers on a boat in Dawki
A peek into the life of locals here.

Most locals still use boats as their daily mode of transportation, to travel from one corner of the village to another.

A little girl rowing in Dawki
I was in awe of this tiny being’s strength and grit! Those oars are certainly not lightweight!
Different boats on Umngot River in Dawki
Boats, boats everywhere. Floating, submerged, docked.

The riverbed transforms into a campsite during the dry season. Camping beside this tranquil river and waking up to this emerald beauty must definitely be a delightful experience.

Camps beside the river in Dawki
Tents setup beside the river

We rowed over the silent waters of Dawki, relishing the silence. Although this wasn’t my first, it was unlike any other boat ride I’d ever been on. After all, how often do you get to see the riverbed while sitting on a boat?

Dawki river
What is this transparency!
A boat ride on the river

Our boatman took us to the other end of the riverbed. We got down from our boat and spent some time sitting among the pebbles. There seemed to be a pebble of every possible color!

Dried riverbe of Umngot river
The dried riverbed. It’s hard to imagine that this very spot would completely submerge during the monsoon!
A boat on Umngot River in dawki
I couldn’t get enough of the colourful boats! These green coloured ones especially!

We had opted for a full-length boat ride almost spanning the whole river and We went from one corner to the other. Floating downstream through the calm waters, with the melody of oars and occasional birdcall serving as the background score. If it weren’t for the crowd which slowly started trickling to Dawki towards the afternoon, I’d have probably spent a whole day here instead of moving towards Shnongpdeng!

Bangladesh border
That’s the Bangladesh border on the other end of the Umngot river! If only all borders were this peaceful.

Shnongpdeng and Dawki lie close to the Bangladesh border. In the picture above, it’s Bangladesh on the opposite side of that wall. Apparently until very recently most tourists who visited Shnongpdeng and Dawki were from Bangladesh. The river forms a natural border. There are BSF outposts on the India side and an outpost from Bangladesh at the riverbank in Dawki.

The bridge over Dwaki
The Dawki Bridge. A suspension bridge over the Umngot river. It was constructed in 1932 by the British for trade purpose.

Dawki has been popular for a few years now. Shnongpdeng is slightly off the tourist circuit and mostly locals frequent it. It has only recently gained popularity all thanks to beautiful pictures circulating in social media. 😉 Dawki is popular and has crowds while Shnongpdeng is laid-back and adventurous.

Umngot river
Why do we need to spend buckets of money on some far off place when we’re blessed to be born in a country gifted with such an abundance of beauty? 😉

How to pronounce Shnongpdeng?

We had a tough time coming to terms with a name like this and when our driver effortlessly pronounced it we were bewildered! I asked him to pronounce it slowly and he laughed and complied. For the curious ones, its pronunciation is sh-nong-puh-deng.

The emerald green river

The greenery of the surrounding densely forested hillside reflecting on the water surface is one of the main reasons for its pristine emerald color. Due to the relatively low current here, there are naturally occurring mosses and algae on the riverbed. This could be another reason. At times it’s difficult to comprehend the absolute transparency of this emerald-blue river in Shnongpdeng. Although the beauty is no less in Dawki, owning to the relatively less crowd in this tiny hamlet, I loved it more in Shnongpdeng!

A boat floating on the river
Sunlight creating an illusion of the boat floating in thin air

Pictures clicked from the suspension bridge in Shnongpdeng are often mistaken for drone shots. I’ll let you in on a secret! If you can somehow manage to be careful and extrapolate your hand over the bridge; even a blind press at the shutter button of your phone or camera can manage to get you great shots!

The suspension bridge in Shnongpdeng
The suspension bridge in Shnongpdeng from where the ‘drone-like’ pictures are clicked.
A boatman docking his boat
A boatman docking his boat. Clicked from the suspension bridge in Shnongpdeng.
Tourists kayaking in Shnongpdeng
Tourists kayaking. Notice the pebbles and rocks visible on the riverbed even from such a height!

The colorful boats sailing on the pristine and clear Umngot river in Shnongpdeng provided for great photographs and I walked from one end of the bridge to another trying to balance myself on the wobbly bridge and capturing as many small details as possible.

A red boat on the river in shnongpdeng

With the landscape surrounded by green bamboo trees, with the river bathed in the golden evening light, the glittering diamonds sparkling off its surface, Shnongpdeng felt like a spectacular little heaven.

Waters of the Umngot River at Shnongpdeng and Dawki are emerald, turquoise, blue and golden depending on the point from which you happen to see. They are as clear as glass at some points. This is not an exaggeration. You’ve got to see it for yourself in order to believe it.

The patterns on the riverbed in Shnongpdeng and Dawki
The sunlight creating patterns on the riverbed. The pebbly river bed visible through the transparent waters.

The water so clear, that one could count the pebbles in the river bed! The water so clear, that the shadow of the boat was easily visible on the riverbed!

A boat on the Umngot River
Exquisitely clear, emerald-green waters. See the shadow down below!

Brief Travel Guide

How to Reach Dawki and Shnongpdeng

Dawki is well connected to Shillong by buses and shared taxis. The distance from Shillong to Dawki is 80 km and roughly it takes around 3 hours to reach. Shared taxis also run from Dawki to Shnongpdeng but you might have to wait for some time.

An alternative route, via Jowai town also connects Shillong to Shnongpdeng but it’s a bit longer. Distance from Shillong to Jowai is 66 km and from Jowai to Shnongpdeng is 54 km.

A bamboo bridge
A bamboo bridge in Shnongpdeng

Places to stay in Dawki and Shnongpdeng

There are lots of homestays and hotels in Dawki. But considering its popularity and the small size, it appears crowded and cramped. It’s best to stay in Shnongpdeng. There are bamboo cottages and homestays in Shnongpdeng. Camping facilities are also available.

Boulders in the river in Shnongpdeng and Dawki

Things to do in Shnongpdeng and Dawki

  • The best and the most popular thing to do in Shnongpdeng and Dawki is boating. You’ll be able to see the river bed right till the bottom while on a boat ride if the sun wills you to see it. The experience is surreal and mesmerizing.

Note: Day ends early in the Northeast. Boating and kayaking at Shnongpdeng are available from 10 am to 4 pm.

  • The water clarity makes it easy to spot and catch fish and you can spot many locals fishing here. Either perched up on the rocks or lying flat on their tummy in boats and using small nets to scoop the fish one by one. If you’re sporty enough, you could try your hand at fishing with the locals. The villagers use homemade fishing poles and nets and have adopted a sustainable lifestyle, using the river for their livelihood.
  • At Shnongpdeng, take a walk across the rickety suspension bridge and capture as many beautiful shots of the river as possible. The stunning beauty of this place can be captured by even the most ordinary of the cameras. The bridge feels very wobbly and sways most of the time hence take care and ensure to hold on to your processions!
  • Shnongpdeng is a heaven for adventure and water sports enthusiasts. You can do cliff jumping, scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking, and zip-lining here.
  • You can also hike in the woods around the Umngot River.
  • If you’ve ever wished to camp by the riverside, Shnongpdeng and Dawki can be the two best places to do it. These campsites can either be pre-booked or on the spot. You could get your own tent too! Imagine huddling in front of a bonfire, listening to the music of the river in the darkness, or waking up to the first rays of the sun beside a riverside in a quiet village…
boats on the river
Clicked from the bridge in Shnongpdeng

Best time to visit Shnongpdeng and Dawki

The true beauty of Shnongpdeng and Dawki can be witnessed only during the dry season. November to May are the ideal months. Although the rest of Meghalaya glows during the monsoon, this river water turns murky and loses its transparency.

Ensure to visit Shnongpdeng and Dawki when the sun is up and bright. The sunlight hitting the water gives it the illusion of it being transparent and renders a surreal look and feel.

Evening sunlight on the river
Another photograph taken from the bridge. The evening sunlight has entirely changed the colour of the water!

Responsible travel, not an option anymore

Responsible travel, be it anywhere, can’t be treated as an option anymore. It is the need of the hour!

Dawki and Shnongpdeng two precious pieces of paradise were tucked safely away from the prying eyes of irresponsible tourists till a long time. Now though it finally seemed to have succumbed. It was painful to see this heaven maligned by garbage and trash littered throughout.

Although I urge you to travel to this absolute gem as soon as possible, please do it responsibly. Remember to be mindful of your actions. Also, urge and educate everyone around you to do the same. Let’s only leave our footprints behind. A little more awareness and sensitivity towards the environment will keep these exquisite places, exquisite forever.

A boat in Umngot river in Dawki
A solitary boat
The river with the colourful boats

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