In a week’s time, we had experienced the most heartfelt hospitality in Shillong and surrounding areas! It was the wintry season of late December. Clear sky, lungful of fresh air and an exotic aroma coming from the deep heart f dense forest kept us company as we explored many hidden tourist attractions of Meghalaya!
A week spent in the breathtaking beauty of Shillong!
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 with all her picturesque lakes, turquoise hue of cascading falls, dense lush forest, robust flavourful cuisine and mysterious blooms! Clouds graze around the grassland… rolling plateau with a carpet blanket of parrot green fields merge with azure sky… streams trudging through vast Himalayan heartland make way to the Gangetic plainland. They all reach Bangladesh in a while, but renders fertile alluvial farm land to the state of Meghalaya on the way! Shillong is the poetic passage!
Meghalaya is known to be the only state in India with a majority of Christian inhabitants. Shillong is the capital of Meghalaya. Shillong’s history has substantial British and army presence. Socio politics of Meghalaya heavily depend on the matriarchal societal weave! This women centric society is a unique feature on the tapestry of Indian culture which is otherwise overwhelmingly patriarchal! A week is barely enough time to scratch upon the surface of Meghalaya. The urban face of the state, Shillong represents a vintage chic refuge for the moon struck!
Chasing the Scotland of the East: Shillong-Cherrapunji-Mawsynram tour for a week!
We descended from the steeps of Bomdila,
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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!
Our plan was to stay put in Shillong for a week. It was the wee end of the year and the city decked yup in pretty strings of neon lights tightly hugging the white glass windows embedded on the quaint wooden cottages. Riot of flower bloom greets you at the door step. At leisure, you can spend a week in Shillong. Just Shillong. You walk through the long stretched road, hike upto the lesser known wonders and get close to the omnipresent nature!
In 7 days, making Shillong a focal point, we could also glance around the best of Meghalaya for a while! We made frequent day trips to the Smit Valley, Dawki River, the Cleanest Village, the root bridges, the cascading falls, Sohra: the place famous for incessant water fall. Few know Sohra also stages the most dramatic sunset sky of India! During a week in Shillong, we witnessed numerous breathtaking sunsets!
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 in Shillong! 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!
Partying in Shillong may fall short of the obvious splendor of the big cities, like Bangalore and Calcutta! However, it was the people’s spirit that stood out! The roads were swarmed with people! The lights flickered in excitement till the wee end of the night! BBQ fire remitted an inexplicable aroma of grilled meat! Life celebrated happiness in the dark long new year Nights in Shillong! We had another week in Shillong.
It was charming to spend the new years eve there! It lacked the chic modern grandeur of fast financial capitals but Shillong is more like a city of romance, not trading machine! The old world charm was alive! The smiles of the dwellers of Shillong city had an unprecedented warmth! A week is enough to experience Shillong but to explore more of Meghalaya, you are wise to count in few more days.
The Matriarchs of Meghalaya!
And Shillong could not be more prouder about it!
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. Even in a week in Shillong, we could feel that empowerment.
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. B
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.
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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The Police Bazar at Shillong: a W
hirlpool 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!
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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 (
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!
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 Shillong and in the rest of 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 in Shillong 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!
In the week we spent in Shillong and explored many other places of Meghalaya, we hired cabs daily and made multiple day trips.
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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 of Shillong, 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.
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 rain-shower for a while. Mountain streams were docile. The highlands that earned Meghalaya the name as Scotland of the East were yellow ochre in
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 at horizon, 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 in Shillong, and then to the distant hinterlands of jungle.
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 in 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! It is one of the main attractions of Shillong!
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.
The trucks here bear the name of Jesus Christ. I live in the Indian peninsula. Infant Jesus happily shares truck
Suggested weeklong Itinerary for Shillong-Meghalaya
- Day 1: Reach Shillong by a 4 hour drive through Guwahati. Helicopters fly on a clear sky day! Local Buses go in abundance.
- Day 2: Reserve a day for seeing many attractions of Shillong. This includes the waterfalls, Barapani, the Police Bazar, the museums of Shillong.
- Day 3: Visit the beautiful Smit valley. Pack a picnic lunch and spend the day there.
- Day 4: Pay a visit to Mawsynram. You can also club it with a visit to the Dawki river. This is a stunning waterbody with crystal clear opacity. You can count the pebbled lying at the river bed! Night stay is possible with camps or local homestays.
- Day 5: Visit the Double decker bridge. you should start early. You can also stay back at one of the homestays and choose to come up next day!
- Day 6: Visit Sohra. Stay back if it rains! Sohra flaunts some of the most stunning sunset skies!
- Day 7: Reserve the day to see more of Shillong. Bid Adieu to this incredible at the end of the day! Head towards Guwahati or Kaziranga.
New Normal Travel Protocol for Shillong
After the Lockdown, Shillong is now open for tourists. You need to carry a negative RTPCR certificate. the test should be carried out in past 48 hours. For those who do not have a test report, make shift camps have been arranged by the government to get the Covid test done.
We spent around a week in Shillong. We made Shillong a base and explored the surrounding destinations with a hired cab from Police bazar. You can bargain and hire a cab for about 2000 per day. Instead, you may choose to shift base and explore other areas of Meghalaya in a week’s time. There are numerous homestays and hotels.
Is Shillong truly the Scotland of the East?
Shillong will make you work hard if you are hard pressed on finding the remnants of Scottish 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! This is also partly true since we spent a week in Shillong in December, which is not exactly the ideal season to visit this cloud country. However, 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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