The West Khasi Hills has a population of 294,290 (in 2001) with an average density of 52 persons per km². It is bounded on the north by Bangladesh (Khulna Division), on the west by the Southwest Khasi Hills and on the south and east by the East Khasi Hills. The headquarters is located in Shillong.
On October 28, 1976, the West Khasi Hills district was formed out of the Khasi Hills district, which was split into West and East Khasi Hills districts.
The district headquarters are in Nongstoin. The district has a total area of 5247 km².
The climate is warm and humid. The avg. rainfall in the district is 1625 mm annually, and it rains almost every day in the wet season (June to September).
The district of West Khasi Hills is divided into four blocks:
According to the 2011 census, the West Khasi Hills district has a population of 383,461 people, which is equivalent to that of the island nation of Maldives. This makes it India's 562nd largest (of 640) (out of a total population of 73 individuals per square kilometre). The density rate is 73 persons per square kilometre (190/sq mi). The population growth rate of West Khasi Hills over the decade 2001-2011 was 30.25%. The sex ratio in West Khasi Hills is 980 females per 1000 males, and the literacy rate is 77.87 per cent.
The majority of the population is Khasi. Garo people are found in significant numbers in Mawshynrut C n RD Block of West Khasi Hills District.
The Khasi people are famous for their traditional colourful attire. The men wear "Jymphong" and "Jainsem", a long sarong-like garment , over which they tie a short jacket called the "Kaplang". The women dress in "Sidai" - a multicoloured striped cloth with slits, exposing the chest. They also adorn themselves with many layers of skirts and attires. On special occasions, they don beautifully embroidered shawls called the "Netrherman".
The Khasi have a rich cultural tradition, full of legends and festivities. Their dance forms find expression in social functions such as weddings and harvest festivals like Ker (the seed sowing festival) and Sarhul (the main agricultural festival). The famous folk dance, Cheraw is performed during the Sarhul festival. The costume of this dance form includes headgear with an ornamental cock's feather stuck in it and a peacock feather at each ear.
The traditional Khasi architecture features the "Syiar", the wooden house constructed from hardwood planks or logs generally carved out from the Dipterocarpus macrocarpus tree. Syiars are generally built with a steep roof facing northwards to keep off snowfall and heavy rain. Modern structures often imitate the syiar style but tend to be much larger because of increased population density and scarcity of forest land.
Forestry and Agriculture are the two main economic activities. Rice, potatoes, maize and other food grains such as sesame, linseed, cotton and vegetables such as cucumber, cauliflower and cabbage are grown in some parts of the West Khasi Hills district. The farmers here follow both wetland rice cultivation (paddy) along with the water bodies during monsoon and transplanted dry season rice cultivation (Jhum). More than half of the total area is covered by forests of West Khasi Hills. Tree crops like pineapple, orange and betel nut palm are also cultivated by many villagers. A large number of people in this district depend on non-timber forest produce; rare varieties of edible mushrooms called "snowflake" fungi are collected by villagers and sold in the local markets.
Many villages are self-sufficient in terms of food production. Most of these villages also produce handicraft items, bamboo items, cane and cane products to supplement their incomes. Khasi people are famous for their indigenous craftsmanship which include wood carvings, decorative furniture pieces made out of bamboo and cane.
The major rivers in the West Khasi Hills district are Someshwari, Simsang (Simal), Umkhrah (Mot Krisha), Mawpa, Myntdu (Mairang), Mawthadraishan and Umngot. The River Simsang is an important river for the transportation of heavy goods. Many waterfalls like Shadthum Fall, Umiam Fall are popular tourist spots.
Umiam or Barapani is India's largest artificial lake that was created due to the construction of the Umngot Dam across the Umngot River. The lake has a large hydroelectric power station which generates much of the electric power in Meghalaya. It also receives water from many small rivers and acts as flood control for the Myntdu-Leshka-Nongkhlaw rivers.
Waterfalls in this district are Shadthum Fall, Umngot Falls, Nohkalikai Falls.
Mawphlang is a small village in Mawsynram, which is noted for its biodiversity. It has been declared as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO with the local name of "Land of the Clouds". This unique designation will help to open up tourism and also protect the biodiversity of the area.
The district has 4 wildlife sanctuaries: Nongkhyllem Wildlife Sanctuary, Mawphlang Sacred Grove (Biosphere Reserve), Siju Jirang Wildlife Sanctuary and Lawitring Park Wildlife Sanctuary.
The hot springs at Lang-at are located about 10 km south of Nongstoin. The water is piped to the nearby Bhoirymbong where it supplies several tubewells.
The district is home to many high peaks. Mawsmai Mountain, at 2,929 m (9,611 ft) is the highest peak in Meghalaya and the highest peak in India south of the Himalayas. Other peaks are Lum Shyllong (2,912 m), Mynziew (2,904 m), and Lum Diengiei (2,860 m).
There are several religious sites in the West Khasi Hills district. The Christian missionary, Reverend Father Camillus Savio Favaretti founded the Catholic mission of Mawphlang on 21 December 1955. This mission is popularly known as "Tawia" or Tawi meaning ‘The New House‘ in the Mawlai dialect. He was the first to build a house in Mawphlang where he stayed for about five years. The priests who succeeded him continued to live in this place of worship. This shrine is dedicated to Mary Mother of God, under the title of Our Lady of Good Health.
This Church is situated at Mawroh Romawia just outside Lumshnong in the West Khasi Hills district. It is believed that in 1897 when a woman named Wayam Rani brought her high feverish young son to this spot for his daily prayers, the child recovered instantly. Ever since then both Christians and non-Christians have flocked to pray at this site of miraculous healing. Many people come to this shrine on 23 April and on 15 August of each year.
There are several limestone caves in the district. Krem Mawmluh is the largest cave and its chamber measures more than 1,500 sq m. Thawhliah Tangsiar Cave and Rongbanglong Cave near Cherrapunji and Dambana and Siju Caves near Nongstoin are also worth visiting.
Umngot Falls: The Umngot river forms the Umngot falls. It is in the West Khasi Hills. The height of this fall is about 100 meters. It is also known as the "Seven Sisters Falls."
Siju Caves: It is located in the West Khasi Hills district of Meghalaya state. The height of this fall is about 775 meters. It has three big entrances, which are locally called 'Umshis'. The cave has plenty of stalagmites and other major tourist attraction and has become very popular for white-water rafting.
Shadthum Fall: It is located in the West Khasi Hills district of Meghalaya state. The height of this fall is about 100 meters and it has a free fall of 30 m (98 ft).
Mawsmai Caves: These are situated in the West Khasi Hills district of Meghalaya state. The height of this fall is about 700 meters and it is a five-story cave formation. These caves were occupied by the cow worshipping tribe, called 'Pnars' which means that these caves have been excavated from one single rock.
Umngot River: It flows through the West Khasi Hills district of Meghalaya state. The river originates at about 2,000 meters above sea level in the Jaintia Hills and is joined by various tributaries such as Myntdu, Mawpa, Sairang etc. before it flows into Bangladesh.
Lang-at Hot Springs: The Lang-at hot springs are situated in the West Khasi Hills district of Meghalaya state. The height of this fall is about 900 meters and it has a free fall of 500 m (1,600 ft).
Umshiang Double-Decker Root Bridge: It is located in the West Khasi Hills district of Meghalaya state and is a unique root bridge in the world. There are many such bridges across rivers in Mawsynram, but the Umshiang Double-Decker Root Bridge is different from all others because it has two decks for crossing over to the other side. The lower deck has decayed naturally and the upper deck is in good condition.
Nohkalikai Fall: It is located in the West Khasi Hills district of Meghalaya state. The height of this fall is about 335 meters and it is the highest plunge waterfall in India. It has a free fall of 315 m (1,033 ft).
Kynrem Falls: It is located in the West Khasi Hills district of Meghalaya state. The height of this fall is about 300 meters and it has a free fall of 75 m (246 ft).
Mawmluh Cave: It is located in the West Khasi Hills district of Meghalaya state. The height of this fall is about 100 meters. It was occupied by the cow worshipping tribe, called 'Pnars' which means that these caves have been excavated from one single rock.
Ri-Kynjai Falls: It is located in the West Khasi Hills district of Meghalaya state. The height of this fall is about 100 meters and it has a free fall of 40 m (131 ft).
Mawo Pynes: These are hot water springs, and are another tourist attraction. They are located in the West Khasi Hills district of Meghalaya state.
The West Khasi Hills district is the home of the world-famous Shillong plateau or 'Meghalaya subtropical pine forests.' The name, Shillong, derives from two words in Khasi 'SyiHlon' meaning "the rock" and 'ngot', a word used to describe mischievous monkeys. Thus "Shillong" means 'the place of mischievous monkeys'. It was formerly called "Umsning" by the Biate people. Another source says that it comes from three stones ("Sohra"), …and hence the name Umsning which has evolved into Shri (reference, Gazetteer). The language spoken here is variously called Kurmali, Pnar and SyiHlon.
The inhabitants of the district are primarily the native Khasis who form a majority of more than 60%, followed by Jaintias, Garos, Hajongs and Bengalis The Khasis belong to Proto-Mon–Khmuic stock and their language is associated to that of the Biates. They call themselves 'Syi' or 'Sauer-' which means "people" in their own dialect. The traditional dress for men consists of a loose garment known as "Jymphong", worn mostly during ceremonial occasions. A turban-like headgear is also donned on such occasions apart from earrings worn by married women. Sodrul Chitarthu is the famous and popular festival of West Khasi Hills celebrated by indigenous people all over on the 1st day of the new month in November every year.
There are many folk songs and dances in the district. Some of these folk songs and dances include the War Dance. In the olden days when people were not much affected by urbanization, they would celebrate 'Chad Sukra', a festival to propitiate the rain god. This festival is now celebrated as a part of the Ri-Kynjai Festival. The Khasis have a rich tradition of folk songs and dances, with each clan having its own repertoire. During marriage ceremonies which last for several days, they put up musical performances in their courtyards, inviting professional singers from other parts of Meghalaya to perform.
The only means of transport in the district is by road. NH-40 or The National Highway 40, which runs from Jamshedpur to Shillong via Guwahati, Meghalaya and Mawlynnong village is an attraction not for its landscape but also because it passes through one of the world's 15 longest single-lane suspension bridges of 2.5 km (1.55 mi) in the vast expanse of the Umngot river valley at Nongriat village in Meghalaya state.
The nearest airport is in Shillong located at a distance of 40 kilometres from the heart of the city. One can even opt for helicopter services which are available at a high cost especially during peak season and tourist rush. The best way to reach West Khasis is by road, bus or car from Guwahati.
There is no one specific "best time" to visit the West Khasi Hills district. But, the best time to visit the district is during winters and autumns when the weather conditions remain pleasant and favourable.
Khasi Hills Division
Garo Hills Division
Jaintia Hills Division