Recollections of my first visit to Shillong being very hazy, since I was barely three at that time I decided to visit the place once again during my college days in Guwahati. India is blessed with many hillsations, but if you have been to Shillong you’ll know what I mean when I say that every other hill station in India fails to compete if not in terms of beauty, for the sheer variety that en-capsules Shillong and its pristine beauty.
The declaration of the independent state of Meghalaya by the late Mrs Indira Gandhi brought into focus a small, yet extremely charming destination by the name of Shillong. The capital of Meghalaya, where the clouds reside, or the abode of heavens, is what aptly describes this small town - now almost a city. It is a two and half to three hour journey by road from Guwahati.
There are of course plenty of buses that you can take to Shillong, the roads are unfortunately, now wide enough, thanks to many cuts in the hills. We however took a cab with a khasi driver in tow to give us a better feel of things. As we inched towards the outskirts of Guwahati, our man Friday narrated the funny fact that one side of the road was Meghalaya and the other fell within the boundaries of Assam, which to him meant picking up cheap liquor from the other side called Meghalaya.
The drive fro Guwahati, with its breath taking beauty prepares you for the lovely destination beyond. As you near Shillong, the sudden change in ait temparatures bring home the feeling that our destination is close by.
Almost as a gateway to Shillong and enhancing its beauty is the huge Barapani Lake which also happens to be a major source of water to these hilly areas. Like every one else we took a break at Nongpoh. The uphill drive thereon mingled with tall pine trees and the unmistakable chill in the air announced the arrival of Shillong.
Like most other hill stations, Shillong is marked by its rambling houses and small flower pots which carry more flowers than they can hold. The air of Shillong almost hits you with its freshness and sudden chill. Unlike most hill stations in India, Shillong is quite big, not only in size, but also in its wide roads and ample shopping destinations. The beauty here is not only restricted to its locales but also intricately connected with its people.
We had been booked at Hotel Pinewood Ashok, which is centrally located place in Shillong. I am of the firm belief that, if you want to enjoy the true essence of a place, book yourself in a good hotel. The ambiance of Hotel Pinewood Ashok with its old Scottish flavour warmed us up to the ‘Scotland of the East’. Like all tourists, we wanted to see everything at once. But being major foodies and like every other starved hostelite we decided to check out the much recommended momos at Broadway. Tulcked into the heart of Police Bazar, the momos were served in plantain leaves about 30 in a plate. It will suffice to say that till date it is perhaps the best steamed chicken momo I have even had. Melting in the mouth and hot, it is paradise for momo lovers around the world.
Having filled our tummies we walked around the brightly lit Police Bazar and witnessed the pretty fashionable tribal girls in their wrap around skirts distinctly different from each other distinguishing the different tribes that inhabit this state capital. Inhabited mostly with the Khasi, Garo and Jaintia tribes, Shillong is almost the face of the north east. The predominant Khasi tribe, which is incidentally matriarchal, shows off its ladies with great panache. Walking down its enchanting roads, rather than driving around, is the way to experience the true essence of Shillong, like exchanging pleasant "Khubleis" with the betel nut stained, pretty Khasi's carrying babies on their backs.
Like most tourist places, Shillong has more than its fair share of attractions, as we discovered in the following two days of our holiday. Built by the British as a summer capital and education centre for their children, Shillong boasts of some of the biggest and best convent schools.
There were other places of interest that we visited like the Wards Lake, Shillong Peak and the three magnificent waterfalls of Bidon, Bishop and Elephanta, which made for a full itinerary for us. We were told that most tourists visit upper Shillong and it’s the beautiful golf course and graceful churches.
We had already completed two days, almost time to go and yet the heart said that there was so much to see. The uniqueness of Shillong unlike most other hill stations in India comes from the fact that one never gets bored here. Even a month long stay is perhaps not enough to appreciate its true beauty. The more one sees, the more fascinating it becomes. The blooming orange trees, the little topsy turvy roads, the wooden houses blazing with forget-me-knots, Shillong was like a soul music that we didn’t want to end.
On our last night as I sat out in the garden I watched with silent appreciation at the place I had fallen in love with. As in most hill stations, night comes on suddenly and with great stealth in Shillong. Gazing down the hills, I witnessed the mesmerizing sight of millions of fireflies lighting up the mountains. Perhaps like all other visitors, I shall take back the image of a charmingly, refreshing place where the orange blossoms vie with the forget-me-nots and tiny children in their blazers walk up the lovely streets. Shillong is an essence I shall carry.
( Image courtesy Google)