An Essay on a Trip to Shillong and Meghalaya for a Week

About this blog: A week in Shillong was spent in mirth and joy exploring the nook and corner of this North east Indian state cradled amid the Khasi Jaintia hills! Shillong is beautiful beyond words and no doubt one of the best travel destinations of this part of the world.

Chasing the Scotland of the East: Shillong-Cherrapunji-Mawsynram tour for a week!

We descended from the steeps of Bomdila,  Arunachali Himalayas rather quick and entered into the warm embrace of the Khasi Jaintia hillside in a day, fourteen hours of road-trip to be precise! Verdant landscapes and still bodied Umiam quickly formed a layer on our memory, which was overwhelmed in the awe of snowcapped mountains and frolicking Jia Bharali from Arunachal Pradesh! Countless steel bridges helped us surpass the expanse from two distant states of North East India, one bordering with China, other with Bangladesh!

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Enroute Shillong from Guwahati, Bramhaputra made a stunning appearance with a spectacular sunset. The roadside Assamese Dhabas filled us up with sumptuous thali meal, beaming with the goodness of winter vegetables, carp fish and Posto (poppy seed). All food items are cooked in mustard oil in the region!

Bijou Cinema Hall Shillong
The Bollywood crazy India at Police Bazar, Bijou Cinema Hall, Shillong, Meghalaya!

Meghalaya can easily boast of excellent road connectivity in the entire North East India, barring the plainland of Assam, formed with Bramhaputra’s grace! It is only 3 hours drive from Guwahati to Shillong. We also had an option to fly in with helicopter services but chose to extend the road trip from Arunachal Pradesh instead. The hairpin bends seemed to go smoother as we entered Shillong.

The New Year Eve at Shillong! 

An essay on Shillong can never be written without mentioning her spirit of festivity! The Christmas Eve and New Years are the time of celebration! We arrived during the eve of New Year. The city decked up in pretty neon colored dim lights. The roof, oops.. sloping terrace of the old colonial massive structures reminded of the British days bygone. 

Meghalaya’s capital Shillong was to be home for the next seven days. Nestled in the far eastern hills of the country, Meghalaya has an early schedule for sunset. It was pitch black dark at 5:30 pm! The famed Barapani, Umiam Lake did not make the striking appearance as it does to everyone arriving Shillong in daylight. It mattered in the long run. From the profound mountains and nothingness of Tawang, we fell directly into a sea of men swarming in the suffocating crowd of Police Bazar. Shillong was definitely not a case of love at first sight!

police bazar new years eve shillong
Shillong grew on us, slowly but surely! How fondly I remember the scary crowd of Police Bazar, now! But if you are visiting, I suggest take good care of your electronics, camera and phone and purse!

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The Matriarchs of Meghalaya!

We stopped a few times for Chai. India runs on Chai. Sayantan needs a cuppa to make do with his travel stress, and do away with a quiet but certain slumber depending on the body! The shops or roadside dhabas are run by women in Meghalaya. Soon after, we learnt about Meghalaya’s iconic matriarchal society which refuges to confine to the regular patriarchal rituals of mainland India.

Three women fishing on the Umngot river, Dawki!

Men come and live in the women’s house after and marriage and deal with the in-laws in the process too! His children shall go by the wife’s name and his youngest daughter shall inherit the family house, along with property! We learnt from the taxi driver whom we had hired for a day and who happened to share Bengali ancestry, how he is ready to move into his wife’s house. Because “That is the rule of the land!” Will his mother agree? He laughed. Patriarchy is never only promoted by men of the world! 

I found a pair of tiny and inquisitive almond eyes looking at me from the cover of a red and black checkered Dhara, a traditional attire Khasi women tie on the shoulder. The baby observed me for quite some time as his mother was busy selling the bamboo shoot pickle to tourist buses.

One of the best books on North East India is Is That Even a Country Sir? by Anil Yadav. Basically, this is the book that intrigued me to take this trip! Read here in English and Hindi!

In this part of the world, bamboo is the single most helpful lifestyle product, predominantly used from meal to furniture to making numerous sturdy bridges that support the spiralling mountain streams, helping the indigenous method of staying connected in the extreme geographical areas. Bamboo made chairs will lift you from the deep of a mountain foothill in case of a medical emergency too!

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Steep much? If you cannot walk back, you can hire a man to carry you up on a bamboo chair!

The Police Bazar at Shillong: a Whirlpool of Economy?

On approaching the Police Bazar area (the hotel Center Point), we fell prey to the wrath of office leaving homecoming crowd. The mess is unprecedented, and I say that after walking the Purani Dilli streets and surviving Panagarh Traffic of West Bengal! It took us about a couple of hours to reach the hotel and crash on the bed! I do not recall how we regained energy to walk out of the room, walk across the street and eat the legendary pork dishes of Meghalaya. But we did!

Lady Hyderi park, Shillong!
The moon. As spotted at the Lady Hyderi Park, Shillong!

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Shillong is the place where Rabindranath’s experimental romantic novel, Sesher Kobita (the last poem), was staged. RNT must have found his own “saloon compartment” amidst the romance blossoming in the Nil Mohor trees (Jacarandra bloom of Shillong in winter) dotting Lady Hyderi Park.

I was hoping to soak my soul in the lingering romance of the sprawling valleys, golf course, the dense crowd pine and rhododendron trees. Shillong laughed and put me directly into the brawl of Police Bazar’s chaos! 

Kwai strange things to eat in North east India
Kwai, Betel Nut being sold by a local woman at Police Bazar. Note the fresh oranges too!

I put a kwai, a portion of betel nut in my mouth and take refuge to one of the quaint little cafes before plunging back into the urban madness! The Kwai, a tamboul sold in abundance in the entire northeast and spit in blood red is a welcome home sign in the region! 

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Besides sniggering at the family room, women in Meghalaya are extremely beautiful and appear with delectable fashion sense! From the high boots and LBDs to flowing bridal gowns in lavender and peach, they define grace and beauty effortlessly! Same happens when a lady with cherry red lipstick on her lips scolded a rude cabbie for charging us more than the meter! “Wow”, I gaped! 

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There are lanes so narrow at police bazar that hardly one human can pass. By those lanes, housed are the tiny tourist hotels where the bulk of group tour people are lodged. Most of them are Bengali. They need there Rice and Daal and fish. The restaurants are in place serving fish curry in a typical Hindu hotel style! Stone’s throw away, you get freshly grilled chicken legs, fresh Mosambi juice, country liquor and a taxi stand. These taxis will guide you home! 

The Tiny Taxis of Shillong, which you are likely hire for your day trip!

If not Bombay, where else you shall find those cute little Maruti 800 cars turned into black and yellow taxi? They brave the uneven mountain roads and run at a bullet speed to take the day trippers to Sohra (local name for Cherrapunji, where record rainfall happens), Dawki- the border area with Bangladesh and Umngot river, the “cleanest village” Mawlinglong and more!

Also Read: Living Root Bridge Trek , the very famous double-Decker bridge of Meghalaya

The Music of the Khasi Jaintia Hills!

Mountains are falling prey to humans in Meghalaya, at an alarming rate. They are the personal property of the tribesmen and cut open, made into stones and sold at open market. “Will that not impact the environment?” I ask a local. He smiles and shows me the stage where NH7 was staged!

He deviates, “Shillong is the rock capital of India!” While that is omnipresent by the music played by the cabbies, it is hard to believe the age-old celebrated relationship with nature is being destroyed by people from the same community who also holds high respect for consecrated forests in the highlands. 

My souvenir from Meghalaya, a stone shaped like an oyster!

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Half an hour’s drive from downtown Shillong and you are brought out to the open of nature! It was the end of winter. Meghalaya stopped the incessant rainshower for a while. Mountain streams were docile. The highlands that earned Meghalaya the name as Scotland of the East were yellow ochre in color, void of water! Jhum cultivation, a procedure to burn the land after each cycle of the crop has taken a heavy toll on the fertility of the region. 

Have you read the story of mount Sohpetbneng and the golden stairs of Niam Khasi (those who did not convert to Christian religion?)

Finding Jesus Christ in the Hills of Meghalaya!

Just when you thought you have drifted far away from the world and its tiring cacophony and can find your “own self”, you will be greeted with a grin from the Khasi children of the nearby villages! I wonder in my mind, how rich they are, having an unbound horizon to play under! Villages dot the sparse vegetation, atop the mountain or at the foothill. Crystal clear mountain streams provide for water. Electricity has reached here. Before that, Western education came hand in hand with the Christian missionaries.

An international Open border between India and Bangladesh. One of the very few “friend zoned” border area that our country shares with the neighbors!

The British failed to conquer the distant parts of Khasi Jaintia hills, the heartland of many tribes with a weapon. But Jesus Christ did! With a book of Bible, came many missionaries since the beginning of the early eighteenth century.

Surprising it may be, Khasis welcome the Christian teachings and inculcated many intricacies of Pagan culture into it! Along with the mountain and river deities, Christ made a profound impact on the way the Khasis started to worship and document their history and culture. 

Legend says a preluding deluge had stripped them off the sacred Khasi script. Today, the dominant religion of the Indian state of Meghalaya is Christianity! The Don Bosco Museum Shillong stands witness to the course of time and showcase how Khasis retained their indigenous identity and yet became the follower of a foreign faith! 

Khasis belong to an official ethnic minority group. The Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council regulated their laws, taxation is slightly lower than elsewhere in India, land is set aside for specific use in tribal zones, and a quota system is in place for higher education and civil service jobs.

Root Bridges Meghalaya
The Green Unknown! (Have you read the book?) The ancient famed root bridges of Meghalaya.

The trucks here bear the name of Jesus Christ. I live in the Indian peninsula. Infant Jesus happily shares truck name plates in the part of the country with Sri Krishna, Satnam Guruji or Allah Rakha.

However, the Meghalayan Trucks are predominantly Jesus’s bahon. The Christian missionaries had called this pretty place with lakes and lush green carpeted hills as “Scotland of the East!” Down south, you have Sylhet of Bangladesh, whose Jaflong border finds many mentions of Humayun Ahmed’s books. However, the Umngot river is crystal clear within Indian border. In Bangladesh, she becomes a muddy torrent.

Is Shillong truly the Scotland of the East?

Shillong will make you work hard if you are hard pressed on finding the remnants of Scotish days. It is the customs and culture of the indigenous people that intrigued me the most and not the Scottish nostalgia! A meal with bamboo shoot and pork blood soon punctuated by a glance at the local markets selling chunks of farm-bred pork to the fine jacquard fabric of many tribes, Shillong offered a plethora of human heritage!

Shillong dims out in comparison to other wonders of North East India, say Manas National Park or Majuli or Kaziranga and Arunachal, of course! But it is the people of Shillong who will make your trip worth remembering! Or is it because I was longing for cordial human connect after all the time in mountains exploring Tawang?

The city is one of the largest in this region and houses 1.5 Lakh people. The crumbling heritage, very much like that of old Delhi or North Kolkata, is prominent on the streets. A walk on the streets of Shillong is pretty rewarding if you have the eye to find history’s gnaw!

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19 thoughts on “An Essay on a Trip to Shillong and Meghalaya for a Week”

  1. Wow what an interesting read, it’s packed with so many facts! Funny how the family household dynamics work there with the kids taking after the mother’s name etc.

  2. Wow, matriarchy, unbound nature and Christian monasteries – what a trip! Shillong sounds like such an unusual part of India. I love places like this, that seem to be taken out of context. Would love to visit the area one day.

  3. Love the comment about India running on chai! This is so true! Thank you for sharing, as I had not heard of this place before. Will be adding it to the list as I love places with rich cultural history. I’m really interested to go and learn more about the preservation of the Indigenous tribes and the effect of Christianity (very interesting, hadn’t read about this before!) And the views aren’t bad, either!

  4. Super helpful post. I would love to visit Northeast India hopefully on my next visit to the country. It is such an incredible yet underexposed part of India 🙂

  5. Shillong is a very nice place. I am reading your blog and i get the right information about week travel trip to Meghalaya. Such a useful blog. Thanks for sharing helpful information.

  6. Hi I’d just like to correct one part. The “dhara” attire you described is actually called “jainkyrshah”. The dhara on the other hand is pinned on both sides of the shoulder and is never checkered in pattern. Also, I’d recommend you go to Laitlum, Rainbow falls, Weisawdong falls and Krangsuri falls, which are only a few of the most breath taking sceneries in meghalaya. I assure that they will not “dim out in comparison” to other wonders of the Northeast. Thank you for describing the other parts of the article in a knowledgeable manner. 🙂

    • Thank you so much for correcting me! I will update accordingly 🙂 I loved Meghalaya but you know what I visited in December so it did not play out the mystique that it usually does in the rains, as Rabindranath described on his novel! I absolutely loved Dawki border and the river though. Yes, I visited Laitlum and loved it too.. Pity I have not written about all of them yet! 🙁 Time is a luxury you see! Thanks again!


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