Shillong, Meghalaya – The abode in the clouds

hillong, as we all know, had been the capital of the whole of Assam Province that was created during the British Rule. It remained the capital of undivided Assam until the formation of the state of Meghalaya in 1972. The capital of Assam was then shifted to Dispur, a part of Guwahati, and Shillong remained capital city, now of Meghalaya.
Located around hundred kilometres from Guwahati airport, the entire journey by road is an exciting one. The moment you cross Assam border it seems nature descends on you and puts its best face forward. All along the road the scenic beauty is there to behold in all its great splendour. The hills gradually start merging. Along the route one finds small dhabas and joints which serve really tasty food. Fifteen kilometres short of Shillong is Umiam Lake. As one drives past it, one experiences the mercury dropping and there is a distinct chill in the air.

Scotland of the East
It is said that the climate was one of the main reasons that brought Britishers to this part long back. Once fondly called ‘Scotland of the East’ it was acquired by the British in 1862 from twenty five principalities ruled by Khasi kings. The city was planned carefully both for resident and English rulers as it functioned as district headquarters. As its location is strategic, military authorities also set up a cantonment in Upper Shillong. Then started the arrival of Europeans, businessmen, tea planters, etc. who came and settled here. Before India become independent this area full of forest hills and lush green fields was known as Assam Province. But later seven states were carved out, known as the seven sisters. Meghalaya means the abode of clouds and was formed by carving out two districts from the state of Assam namely the United Khasi Hills and Jaintia Hills, and the Garo Hills in January 1972. Before attaining full statehood, Meghalaya was given semi-autonomous status in 1970; the tribal people make up the majority of Meghalaya’s population.
The Khasis are the largest group in Meghalaya, followed by the Garos and others like the Jaintias, the Koch, the Boros, Hajong, Kukis, Mikir, and Nepalis. There is also a sizable population of mainland Hindus and Sikhs. In independent India as the capital of undivided Assam the city saw exponential growth. Today it has some of the best schools, colleges, universities and hospitals. The other notable thing is that the city is extremely clean; including the most crowded area of the city. It certainly is today one of the most happening places in the North-East.

The Police Bazar
There is plenty to look forward to while one is in Shillong. It’s a walkable city but other transportation modes are also available. Taxis plying within the city charge you nominally and are also available on shared basis. Transportation is simple, hassle and haggle free unlike Delhi and other metros. But as I said it’s a walkable city; you can explore it on foot as well. Police Bazar or PB as it is popularly called is a must visit. It is strategically located from where visitors find it easy to reach tourists spots. The street is packed with eateries, and restaurants offering a variety of food to satisfy your taste buds. It has a wide range of brands and chain stores. Here ‘Iewduh’ or local weekly market is held. Weekly markets have colourful stalls selling a wide range of local produce such as handmade knives, cotton bags, shawls, bamboo cutlery and other bamboo products at very competitive rates. There is a Government Emporium too near PB.

Today Shillong has some of the best schools, colleges, universities and hospitals. The other notable thing is that the city is extremely clean; including the most crowded area of the city. It certainly is today one of the most happening places in the North-East

Shillong Peak
Ten kilometres from the city is Shillong Peak, a picnic spot. It is located at a height of 6433 ft. above sea level. It is the highest point in the State and gives you a panoramic view of the countryside. The point also gives an opportunity to view the city’s spread from a bird’s eye view. Just one rider is that the area is under the control of armed forces so one needs to take a permit to enter. But that is easily given. A walk in Ward Lake is a delightful experience. It is an artificial lake with a beautiful garden and boating facilities. The lush green carpet invites you to stretch yourself on the ground. If you are a bird watcher then it’s a place of great interest for you. The other places of interest in Shillong include the Lady Hydari Park, a kilometre long park with a mini zoo, Shillong Golf Course, which is one of the largest golf courses (the world’s wettest too). While the Shillong Golf Course is scenic and enjoyable, it is rather challenging too.

Cherrapunjee: wade through the sky
A visit to Shillong is incomplete without a drive to Cherrapunjee. It’s located about sixty kilometres from the city. The drive itself is so exciting that on a rainy day one is actually wading through the clouds. It possibly is the only place in India which has just one season – Monsoon. It’s also famous for its living bridges – a local technique for growing roots of trees into large bridges. The entire process takes five to ten years and these bridges last hundreds of years. If you happen to visit Cherrapunjee between May and September you can see very heavy downpour. The entire region from Shillong to Cherrapunjee is sparsely populated. The roads are almost
free of traffic.

Mawjymbuin Caves
On your way back, you must head for Mawsynram, a small village located at a distance of around 15 kilometres. This village is visited by scores of tourists every year. Here, a walk inside the Mawjymbuin Caves is an experience in itself. Mawjymbuin Caves are famous for stalagmite whose shape is similar to that of Shiva lingam. Right outside the caves there are eateries and souvenir shops. Though North Indian food is available one must try Khasi food here.

Elephant Falls
One of the most popular destinations, Elephant Fall is about 12 kilometres from the city. It is located in the Upper Shillong area. One has to climb down 120 steps to reach the falls also known as three step falls. There are two other waterfalls in the same region.
As a footnote, if you are interested in liquors, the prices in Meghalaya are considerably low because of low rate of taxation compared to other states. But on Sundays liquor shops remain shut as per government orders.
Even bars are not opened. But if you are enterprising you can still get a drink but for a price.

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