On a hot summer afternoon in Kolkata many years ago, a 9 year old me read a poem that transported me to a far away land in the hills, where the air was cool, flowers bloomed to the rhythm of waterfalls and zig zag roads led to rain soaked forests full of pine trees. The poem “Shillong er Chithi” or Letter from Shillong penned by Rabindra Nath Tagore was a masterpiece composition that left an indelible impression. On a recent Shillong Trip, I realized that it was everything that Tagore described including the noise from the speeding cars that displeased him. Right from the time of British rule, Shillong was the capital of undivided Assam until 1972 when Meghalaya was carved out as a state and Shillong retained as its capital while Guwahati was chosen for Assam.
Shillong is named after a local Khasi Deity “U Shyllong”. The British loved the climate in Shillong (1500 meters height) fondly referring it to the Scotland of the East. The rolling hills and cool climes helped them to adjust better than the hot humid plains. The Missionaries came close on the heels of the British setting up churches, missionary schools and spreading Christianity within the local tribes. St Edmunds Shillong is an elite institution with illustrious alumni and of recent IIM Shillong has placed the city on India’s higher education map. Shillong was the capital of undivided Assam until 1972 when Meghalaya was carved out as a state and Shillong retained as its Capital while Guwahati was chosen for Assam.
When and How to Go to Shillong
- Shillong can be visited through the year but the best time is March to June. The temperature is pleasant from Spring to Monsoon and everything is green around with rain off and on
- Air India runs limited flights from Umroi Airport to Kolkata, Jorhat which connect further to other cities. The most optimal route is to fly into Guwahati connected by rail and air to all cities in the country and take a 3 hour road trip to Shillong. The excellent network of shared cabs from Guwahati Airport or Guwahati city connect to Shillong through the day at the rate of Rs 150 to Rs 500 depending on the kind of vehicle and capacity
Things to Experience on a Shillong Trip
The 10 Things to Experience on a Shillong Trip is listed below. Beyond these points there is a Golf Course, Lady Hydari’s Park, St Mary’s Cathedral and other smaller museums and parks.
Umiam Lake or Bara Pani
This is a man made lake on the way from Guwahati to Shillong. Spread out over 220 square kms this sprawling lake and dam was constructed by the government in the 1960’s as a part of a hydroelectric project on the Umiam River. The aerial view from the highway above is breathtaking and so is the sunset from close quarters.
There are various water sport facilities on the lake and is quite a favourite picnic spot for locals from Shillong and Guwahati. The adventurous can spend a day or over night in Lumpongdeng Island in the middle of the lake. The boathouse has limited spartan facilities close to nature
A short distance away from the centre of Shillong on the way to Sohra is Elephant Falls. This 3 tiered cascading waterfalls was christened by the British as Elephant Falls owing to a stone at the bottom of the falls which resembled an Elephant. The stone was destroyed in an earthquake nearly 100 years ago. There are arrows pointing towards the falls as soon as you enter the gate. The first and the second are not as spectacular as the third which can be seen after walking down a path of cemented steps. Even the Prime Minister made a quick stop over at the Elephanta Falls during his recent Meghalaya visit.
This is the highest point in Shillong at about 2000 metres. The road to the peak passes through the Air Force Base Station and sometimes it is kept off limits due to security concerns. Security and Identities are checked for all tourists before allowing entry to the view point of the peak. The breathtaking wide angle vista of Shillong from this point is a treat for the eyes. There is a store which lends traditional clothes and accessories at Rs 100/- odd for photo opportunities. The women with flower crowns holding flower baskets and men in turbans and swords were quite a sight.
Don Bosco Centre for Indigenous Culture
I visit select museums in any place I visit to get an overall glimpse of the history of the place. This museum has an exhaustive collection of artifacts about the indigenous people of all the North Eastern States, their cultures and lifestyle. Most days it is open between 9.30am to 4.30pm except for Sundays when it is opens at 1 pm. Take a trip on the Skywalk to get a glimpse of Shillong and also stop by at the Food Gallery for a taste of North East.
Rabindranath Tagore Art Gallery
This one is rarely visited by tourists but has a special place in my heart. Rabindranath Tagore penned several of his popular works from Shillong including Shesher Kobita, Rakta Karabi and Shillonger Chithi. He visited the city after winning the Noble Peace Prize and stayed at different locations. One of those residences is adjacent to the Meghalaya Legislative Assembly in the Kench’s Trace Area now converted to Rabindranath Tagore Art Gallery.
We reached much earlier than the opening time at 10 am and had to be content peeping through the windows. Walked over to nearby JeetBhumi a sprawling bungalow which was his actual residence now owned by an individual outside the Tagore family. I peeped through the tall iron gates to get a whiff of the air that prompted him to compose “Letter from Shillong” for his grand daughters that also inspired me several decades later.
A short walk down one of the many roads from Police Bazaar leads to Wards Lake. Just ask anyone and they will point out the right direction. This horse shoe lake is typical of the lakes in the hill stations with green lawns around. Perfect family time with children, feeding the ducks, rolling on the lawns, boating or simply strolling around the cobbled path.
Air Force Museum
This museum is located on the highway leading to Sohra very close to Elephant Falls. A huge collection of models and machinery that have been used during war in 1962 and 1971 and of course India’s prowess in the air space. This museum will be interesting for people who are interested in aeroplanes, aeromodeling or simply proud of our forces. Opens every day at 9am. Club it with a trip to Elephants Falls since they are across the road from each other.
Khasi Cuisine is very aligned to Assamese cuisine with its style of preparation and proximity to pork and chicken. Most of the curries are prepared in mustard oil, lots of garam masala and ginger, onion paste. If you are a non vegetarian then the trip to Shillong will be complete after relishing a plate of Jadoh, the traditional Khasi dish very akin to a Pulao. The best places for Khasi cuisine is Trattoria and Red Rice in Police Bazaar and Jadoh in Laitumkhrah
Rock Music and Cafes
Shillong is the rock music capital of India. I had done a Cafe Walk in Shillong and I loved the ambiance at Dylan’s cafe, peppy beats, old tunes, delicious desserts and cool breeze. It is a great place to hang out with Bob Dylan’s chart busters. I love the narrow ledge like balcony in Shillong Cafe; where live bands play every Sunday evening. The food is great too and Laitumkhrah Road is dotted with eateries where you can go for a food walk.
Shopping in Police Bazaar
Police Bazaar is the heart of Shillong; teeming with people and brisk business in every lane. While there are branded retail outlets around; the woolen stuff , bamboo handicrafts sold in the tiny shops along the lane near the ramshackle Bijou Cinema or around Centre Point are reasonably good at affordable price. I prize the woolen cap purchased from one of these shops.
Cheap Travel Hacks around Shillong
For a Solo Traveler paying Rs 1200 to Rs 1500 for a sightseeing trip around the city is a pocket pinch. I was not convinced to pay so I used public transport as much as possible and walked around. This gave me the flexibility to visit the places when I wanted and spend my time at my will. Most of the places can be reached by
- Shared Taxis ( Black and Yellow Maruti 800) shared with 4 people paying Rs 10/- to Rs 30/- per person
- In case of Umiam Lake; take a cab to Gadi Khana from Police Bazaar and then another one along the highway towards Umiam Lake. Total Cost Rs 50/-
- In case of Elephanta Falls, walk to Bada Bazaar and take a cab that goes towards Air Force Station. Get off 200 metres after Air Force Station, and walk right for 5 mins towards Elephanta Falls. Do not mention Elephanta Falls since they will refuse assuming a drop to the gate of the Falls. Total Cost Rs 30/-
- No known public transport to Shillong Peak, best done on the way to Sohra
Sightseeing Trips from Shillong
There are several sightseeing trips from Shillong to different destinations in Meghalaya. Click on the name of the place to take a virtual trip to these places.
- Mawphlang ~ 25 kms away is known for its Sacred Forest revered by the local Khasis
- Mawsynram ~ 60 kms away; 35 kms beyond Mawphlang is the rainiest place on earth.
- Sohra ~ 56 kms away is the land of waterfalls, caves and living root bridges
- Mawlynnong ~ 78 kms away is the cleanest village of India overlooking Bangladesh with machans, tree houses and living root bridges
- Dawki ~ 80 kms away and 35 kms from Mawlynnong is a border town where the crystal clear Umngot flows along the Indo-Bangladesh border
- Laitlum ~ 15 kms away is home to breathtaking gorges and deep canyons.
- Nartiang ~ 62 kms away is the summer capital of erstwile Jaintia kings, with a monolith park and an old Durga Temple