Our recent trip to the North-East began with a brief stop at the sweltering Guwahati, where the only thing we managed to do was visit the famed Kamakhya temple, that too from the outside. The next morning, armed with a good night’s rest, all rejuvenated and excited, we set out for Shillong by road, an approximately 2.5-hour journey if you don’t come across any major traffic jams. We were to stay in Shillong for 2 days.
The roads between Guwahati and Shillong are excellent, and we had a very smooth drive. In fact, we wouldn’t even have realised we had neared Shillong if the quality of the air hadn’t begun to change after a certain point. The closer we got to Shillong, the clearer, the crisper, the colder, the air became. Shillong itself was cold, in the peak of the monsoon season, and we set about sightseeing with jackets and umbrellas in tow.
A brief note about Shillong
From the time of the British rule until 1972, Shillong was the capital of the state of Assam (back then, an undivided state as Meghalaya hadn’t yet been formed). In the year 1972, when Meghalaya became a separate state, Shillong was retained as its capital, while Guwahati was chosen as the capital of Assam.
Shillong is a small but extremely beautiful city – with rolling hills, flowers, waterfalls and pine trees all around. The city enjoys pleasant weather all year round, thanks to its location of about 4000 feet above sea level, but is all the more beautiful in the period from March to June.
The city gets its name from U Shyllong, a revered deity of the local Khasi tribe. Shillong has also been nicknamed ‘Scotland of the East’ because, apparently, the beautiful weather and rolling hills of the city reminded the Britishers of Scotland.
Close on the heels of the British, Christian missionaries arrived in Shillong, establishing churches and schools and spreading Christianity among the local tribespeople. Some of the educational institutes established in Shillong during this period – St Edmunds and IIM-Shillong, for instance – have made the city proud and famous. You will find several relics from the British rule and the reign of the missionaries in Shillong, including the city’s famous rock-and-roll culture. Most of the locals here still follow Christianity, introduced to them by the missionaries. Archery, golf, football and polo are popular sports here.
10 experiences we thoroughly enjoyed in Shillong
We fell in love with Shillong at first glance. As we explored the place, a little on foot and a little by cab, this love only deepened.
Shillong is a popular tourist destination, and it was teeming with people when we visited. We were lucky, though, to manage some off-the-beaten-track experiences here, along with checking out the local tourist spots.
Would you like to know which experiences in Shillong we loved the most? Here you go!
1. Gorging on gorgeous pineapples en route to Shillong
On the way to Shillong from Guwahati, you will come across many little stalls that sell a variety of things, from pickles made the old-fashioned way to local varieties of bananas, jackfruit, banana flowers, pineapples and arum root.
You will come across a vast number of pickles here – bamboo shoot, mango, local berries, gooseberries, raw mango, local fish varieties, and what not. These pickles are made (and sold at these stalls) by people residing in the villages, in the mountains en route. Most of these pickles contain nothing but salt, chilli powder and oil, and are preserved the ancient way – using sunlight.
We made a pit-stop at a couple of these stores, and the beautiful pineapples here were what caught our fancy the most. We ate the loveliest ever pineapples here – perfectly ripe, so sweet the slices felt like they were dipped in sugar syrup, so juicy the juice ran down to our elbows when we bit into them. The taste of these pineapples still lingers on in my mind, and I now realise how much the fruit available in Bangalore pales in comparison to this gorgeousness.
The families manning these stalls are very friendly too, and we had a lovely time clicking photographs of them and talking to them as we ate.
2. Basking in the beautiful views of the Umiam Lake
About 15 km away from Shillong lies the beautiful, beautiful Umiam Lake. This 220 square km man-made lake was built as part of a hydroelectric project by the Assam State Electricity Board. Over time, the lake has grown to become a major tourist attraction and picnic spot for the locals. Now, you will find stalls selling snacks, photo ops, washrooms, a play area for kids, adventure sports and boating facilities here, too.
The lake looks exceptionally lovely, breath-takingly so, during sunset. You can view the lake from a viewpoint on the highway passing above it, too, and this view is extremely pretty as well.
They say the Umiam lake looks different at different times of the day, depending on how the light falls over the waters. It looks different in different seasons, too, apparently. We spent some quiet time here, just sitting and gazing at the calm, seemingly unruffled waters of the lake, in awe of its beauty.
3. Getting up close and personal with the ducks at Ward’s Lake
All of us – the husband, bub and I – absolutely loved Ward’s Lake in Shillong. This large lake, with a big garden around it is so very pretty! In a lot of ways – the variety of trees in the park, the sloping grounds, the cobbled pathways – reminded me of Sims Park in Ooty, a place beloved to the husband and me.
We spent quite a bit of time at Ward’s Lake, leisurely walking around the garden, soaking in the beauty around us. We had a lovely paddle-boat ride in the lake – something we dismissed as a very touristy thing to do initially, but absolutely loved it once we got into it. The bub loved, loved, loved watching the ducks at the park in action – they are so used to people that they get really, really close to you; we had never seen ducks at such close quarters before.
If we had had more time, I’d have loved to lounge around in Ward’s Lake for hours on end, reading a book and just inhaling as much of that pollution-free air as I could.
4. Exploring the delights of Police Bazaar
Police Bazaar is one of the biggest markets of Shillong city, a bustling place that is best explored on foot. Here, you will find shops selling everything, from readymade garments, cosmetics, footwear and groceries to the locally produced betelnut, knives, berries, plants, fruits and vegetables and bamboo handicrafts – all at very reasonable rates.
In this bazaar, you will find several traditional eateries, modern cafes, bakeries and sweet shops, too. Come evening, and the bazaar comes alive, transforming into a food lover’s paradise, with road-side stalls selling kebabs, chaat, roasted peanuts, noodles, chowmein, fried eggs, and what not.
We loved the time we spent walking around the bylanes of Police Bazaar, taking in the sights and sounds and smells, trying to capture as much of the action as we could on camera, bargaining and shopping, understanding the ways of the locals, experimenting with local food.
Yes, the Police Bazaar area can become quite crowded, especially during the evenings, but I would highly recommend a visit here. This place will definitely give you a taste of local flavours.
5. Checking out the ‘Skywalk’ at Don Bosco Centre For Indigenous Culture
The Don Bosco Centre For Indigenous Culture in Mawlai, Shillong, is a great starting point if you want to understand the cultures of the many tribes that reside in North-East India. The museum houses pictures of the various tribespeople, their clothing, utensils and jewellery, as well as life-size models depicting their daily lives. The little shop in the museum sells Meghalaya-special souvenirs, such as locally grown tea and turmeric powder, as well bamboo handicrafts. There is a small cafe in the museum premises, too, which will give you a taste of North-Eastern food.
To be honest, the husband and I weren’t too impressed with the museum. It is extensive, yes, and it is definitely a good place to understand North-Eastern cultures. That said, there was an air of commercialisation around it, that feeling of there being too many models and not enough actual relics from the past like you would expect to see in a museum like this. That said, I still maintain that this is a place you mustn’t miss out on, on your visit to Shillong.
The part of the museum that we absolutely loved was the ‘Skywalk’, a winding pathway that takes you up, up, up, from where you can get breath-taking views of Shillong. Don’t forget to check out the Skywalk whenever you visit the museum!
6. Soaking in the peace at the Shillong Gaden Choeling Monastery
The Shillong Gaden Choeling Monastery is not your typical tourist destination. It is a place of worship for Buddhist monks, a small place nestled in the foothills of Lumparing, Shillong. It is a scenic place, though, and a very peaceful one.
We visited the monastery early in the morning, while incense was being burnt near the prayer wheels and the chants of the monks filled the air around us. There were no other tourists, and the place emanated a pleasant, peaceful, relaxed vibe. We just walked around for a while, looking at this and that, and that sat in to bask in the peaceful atmosphere. Absolute bliss, I tell you!
7. Staying at the home of a Khasi family, at Dew Drop In
The husband and I have always loved staying in homestays wherever we go. We think it is a great way of understanding local culture and cuisine, a wonderful opportunity to interact with locals. Now, with the bub travelling with us, homestays work out best for us, where we manage to get kid-friendly food and other necessities under the same roof, without too much of a hassle.
While in Shillong, we were thrilled to know that our tour operator had arranged for a day’s stay at Dew Drop In, the home of a Khasi (one of the local tribes) family. The property is extremely beautiful, well managed and maintained. We had a delightful time staying here, looking around the place, admiring the artful way the house has been done up, checking out the gorgeous plants here, just chatting, reading on the terrace, and gorging on some wonderful Khasi food. Our guests were super friendly and courteous, taking care of our every need, and that made our stay all the more pleasant.
Don’t miss staying at this place whenever you are visiting Shillong. I can assure you that the experience will be totally worth it!
8. Relaxing at the Don Bosco Cathedral
The Mary Help Of Christians Cathedral in Shillong, popularly called the Don Bosco Cathedral is quite a popular tourist spot in the city. And why not? The church, said to be one of the oldest is Shillong, is a beautiful, beautiful Gothic structure. The surroundings are lush green, filled with the flowers that are a common sight all over Shillong. What’s more, you get a majestic view of the mountains of Shillong if you climb all the way to the top of the cathedral. I also hear the Cathedral housed refugees in times of war, saving them from the clutches of hunger and death.
This is the sort of place that fills you with peace the moment you set foot in it. There is that charming, old-world aura to the place, and memories of all those prayers that must have taken place here rush to you as you walk around. All that unadulterated, natural beauty around is sure to make you feel heady, as is the beautiful weather of Shillong. We spent a couple of hours here, much more than the average 15-20 minutes usually allotted to this place, just relaxing and soaking in the loveliness of it all. We absolutely loved every bit of it.
9. Walking along the very pretty golf course
The golf course at Shillong is a beautiful, beautiful thing. You might think – as we did, initially – about what exactly there is to see at a golf course. But, there is! This golf course is a huge expanse of green, dotted with pine trees, with some gorgeous views.
You must spend some relaxed time here, like we did – walking around, soaking in the peace, sampling local berries from the women vendors who frequent the place, taking pictures of the amazing surroundings, reading a book or listening to music, collecting pine cones, sitting below the pine trees and taking in their gorgeous scent as the wind ruffles their branches… this surely is a place that needs to be cherished.
10. Hogging authentic Khasi food at Red Rice and Dew Drop In
Being the foodie that I am, I wanted to try out at least a few authentic Khasi dishes while we were in Shillong. Considering that we are pure vegetarians and that the people of the North-East are predominantly meat-eaters, this was a slightly difficult task. Thankfully, our tour guide directed us to the right places where we did manage to get hold of some very authentic, vegetarian Khasi food.
During our stay at Dew Drop In, our Khasi hosts were more than happy to cook us an authentic local meal with vegetarian ingredients. Here, we got to sample Khasi daal (made with greens), mixed vegetable curry, jado stey (a Khasi dish of rice cooked with turmeric, green peas and onion), a pickle made with local sour berries, along with rotis, curd and green salad. Every single dish that was a part of this meal was absolutely delicious – simple but hearty, well cooked and flavourful.
Another such beautiful meal was at Red Rice in Police Bazaar, a small eatery that prides itself on serving proper Khasi food. Here, we sampled a Khasi thali, served with the locally consumed red rice. It was, sort of, marvelous to see how a meal could be cooked up with so little ingredients and yet be so fulfilling, so lovely. It set me thinking as to how we city dwellers do have a lot to learn from these people of the hills, who live every day in the face of hardships.
Khasi fare is definitely something that I want to try out in my own kitchen. Hopefully, soon!
Well, that is all about the experiences we loved having in Shillong city. But then, of course, that is not all there is to Shillong. There is a whole lot more to be felt, explored, in the city, and I am so sure we have simply touched the outermost fringes. Beneath its touristy, vibrant exterior, there are surely layers to Shillong that we can fathom only when we make several more journeys to the place.
I hope you had fun reading this!
Have you read my other posts about our North-East trip? If you haven’t yet, please do!