Geography of Meghalaya

Did you know?

The current era and geographical times we are living in has been named as the 'Meghalayan era.'

Studies of the stalagmite at the Krem Mawmluh Cave located in the Khasi Hills, in Cherrapunji, Meghalaya, conducted by geologists revealed a climatic catastrophe that has occurred (a mega drought) some 4,200 years ago that had literally wiped out most of the bronze-age civilisation, which included the Harappa civilisation.

The caves in Meghalaya have been around for centuries, shrouded with mysteries and secrets kept perfectly hidden from the rest of the world. For instance, there are clues dotted all around these caves that point out to the fact that Meghalaya was once an island some 3.5 billion years ago. It was also once home to mangrove forests.

Yes, the history of Meghalaya is fascinating in every aspect. Tucked away amid the hills on the north-eastern region of India, Meghalaya is indeed a mystery to all. Home to the clouds, it is not only endowed with some of the most spectacular vistas spanning from lush green valleys to cascading rivers and world-famous living root bridges, but is also a haven for geologists. Made up of three main ranges covering the East Khasi Hills, Garo Hills and Jaintia Hills, Meghalaya has as many as 1,700 sandstone and limestone caves that stretch over 491 km.

But how did all this begin? Let's find out!

Earth took its first breath of life some 3.5 billion years ago and that was when it all started. Continents shaped up and so did the vast oceans and seas that cover almost two-third of the world. Alongside continents, the deep-blue waters were peppered with little islands that somehow resembled small stones strewn all over the globe.

Continents were formed due to the blitz of meteorites that resulted in volcanic activities, erosion and sedimentation, which shaped into small proto continents. For 2.5 billion years, these grew until they reached their current size. Ever since, these continents have been torn apart, collided and expanded until some 300 million years ago when the individual lands fused to form a super continent called, 'Pangaea'.

The next 100 million years saw Africa, Australia, and Antarctica pulling out from the Indian plate to which they were connected. Water invaded the empty spaces that formed between these continents, where once dry land existed. As a result, dense tropical forest lands shaped up along the coastal areas of the seas. It was at this time that an island rose from the topical ocean brimming with sharks – this coral island is the region we know today as 'Meghalaya'.

Since Meghalaya was then an island replete with coral reefs, limestone eroded and got deposited under water, while inland rivers brought with them sand that formed the coastal area. Sandstones started building up, and hence, the island's huge mangrove forests got buried. Meghalaya experienced a long decaying process. Coal beds were formed while the seas would flood its landmass, violently at times, downward-thrusting and uplifting the region several times. These changes and movements resulted in an accumulation of up to five cycles of large lenticular limestone fossils which swapped with sandstones or passed into each other crosswise. During several stages, certain regions of Meghalaya were pushed upwards to substantial heights, which is what we know today as the 'Shillong' plateau. The sedimentary rocks that the caves of Meghalaya are made of reveal evidence of this formation. Heavy rainfall, limestone, and elevation are the major factors that caused the formation of these caves in Meghalaya.

Concealed within the hilly terrains for many centuries, geologists and cave explorers have begun to take interest in the caves in Meghalaya. While tourism takes the top spot in the state, scientific research and excavations are being conducted to unearth the hidden gems of Meghalaya.

Take for instance the Krem Puri (which translates to 'fairy cave), which was recently discovered is known to be the longest sandstone cave in the world measuring 24.5 km in length. This cave is located in Mawsynram (known as the wettest place on Earth). During excavations, shark teeth and fossils of Mosasaurus - a giant aquatic carnivorous reptile that populated the seas some 70 million years ago – were found. Though the caves don't show any evidence of humans residing in them, a few of these are believed to have been used during war as shelters and a burial ground.

Geographically, Meghalaya lies between the valley of Brahmaputra (north) and Bangladesh (south), in the north-eastern region of India. The region is known as 'Shillong plateau' or the 'Meghalaya plateau' covering a total area of 22,429 square kilometres. It is 300 kilometres long from east to west and about 100 kilometres wide.  

The rock formations are an integral part of the geography of Meghalaya, which includes the Khasi Hills, Garo Hills and Jaintia Hills. A few of the lower ranges of Assam flank its borders. An extension of India's peninsular region towards the north-eastern stretch, Meghalaya's elevation measures somewhere between 150 meters and 1961 meters above sea level.

The climate of Meghalaya is greatly influenced by the state's elevation and geographical attributes. The region witnesses four major seasons - summer (March-April), monsoons (May-early October), cold season (early October-November) and winter (December-February).

Meghalaya is blessed with a diverse range of natural vegetation. Garo hills are seen with a lower range of tropical mixed forest lands spanning to high-altitude pine forest lands. Though grazing and deforestation have destroyed the region's natural vegetation, there are a few other regions that are inaccessible and hence unaffected. Bamboo, Pine and Sal forests dominate the region. Staples like rice, potatoes, pineapple, banana and maize are few of the many other major crops of Meghalaya. Birds and mammals inhabit its subtropical forest lands.

Meghalaya is divided into seven districts - East Khasi Hills, West Khasi Hills, Ri-Bhoi, East Garo Hills, West Garo Hills and South Garo Hills. The state has large deposits minerals such as Base Metal, Clay and Kaolin, Coal, Glass-sand, Gold, Granite, Gypsum, Iron ores, Limestone, Phospherite, Quartz and Feldspar, Sillimanite, and Uranium.

Meghalaya is home to rivers and waterfalls that form an integral part of the geography of the state. The region is fed by prominent rivers, some of which are dangerous while some are navigable.

Northern System: Rivers that flow from west to east through Garo hills are the Ajagar, Chagua, Dudnai, Didram, Kalu, Krishnai and Ringgi. The Kalu and Krishnai rivers are the only navigable ones.

Southern System: Bandra, Bhogai, Daring, Dareng, Sanda and Simsang rivers form part of this system of which the Simsang River is the largest and partially navigable for 30 km in the Garo hills. Among others, the Bhupai and Nitai rivers are navigable.

As part of the central and eastern part of the Meghalaya plateau, Digaru, Umiam, and Umkhri rivers flow towards the north whereas Barapani (Umiew), Kynchiang (Jadukata), Myntdu, Mawpa, and Myngot rivers flow towards the south.

Meghalaya is nothing short of a geographical wonder and there are a few regions that are yet to be unearthed and explored, making this hilly region a perfect place for a leisure getaway, adventure escapades or for retreating.