Our Vegetarian Food And Drink Journey In Shillong

The moment anyone gets to know about the trip we recently undertook to parts of North-East India, the first question they usually ask is – ‘What did you eat there? I have heard there is no vegetarian food to be found there!’. Now, after our brief sojourn in the North-East, I know that this is a myth – of course, there is vegetarian food to be found there! The husband and I had the same doubts, the same apprehensions, before we undertook this journey – all laid to rest now.

Finding vegetarian food in the North-East, Shillong included

Yes, the North-East is predominantly a meat-eating province. People here are used to eating animals of all sorts, every part of the animal, without wasting anything. That doesn’t mean that there are no vegetarians at all here. There are locals and tourists in the North-East who prefer vegetarian food, and consequently, there are restaurants there that cater to them. Pure-vegetarian places might be tough to come across, but you will surely find vegetarian food in places that serve non-vegetarian food – you should be okay with that before you undertake a trip to the North-East. Also, if you are going to be constantly on the go, flitting from one place to the other, you might not be able to find a purely vegetarian eatery where you are.

Shillong, in Meghalaya, being a major tourist attraction and a town, has a generous smattering of restaurants, small and big. Most of these eateries are located around Laitmukhrah and Police Bazaar. There are several stalls selling eatables of all sorts around tourist spots in and around Shillong, like Umiam Lake, Don Bosco Cathedral, Ward’s Lake, the Don Bosco Centre For Indigenous Culture, and Lady Hydari Park. Walk around any of these areas, and explore the local foods at your pace, that’s what I would recommend!

Our foodie sojourn in Shillong, Meghalaya

Now that that is off my chest, let me tell you all about the vegetarian fare we enjoyed in Shillong, one of the places we stayed at in the course of our holiday.

Indian sweets at a nameless sweet shop in Laitmukhrah

Post our sojourn at the ancient Don Bosco Cathedral in Laitmukhrah, Shillong, we headed to a little sweet shop without a name, nearby, for cups of tea. It was tea ‘o clock too, but the husband and I got fascinated by the Indian sweets on display in the glass showcase at the front of the shop. We ended up ordering some, and getting delighted by one of them in particular.

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Top left: Rasmalai, Bottom left: Mishti doi, Top right: Gulab jamun, Bottom right: Malai chamcham – the sweets we sampled at the shop

The gulab jamun here was average, and the mishti doi was sour and utterly forgettable. The malai chamcham was beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, though – so very well done, fresh and light and mildly sweet. The rasmalai here was exquisite, too.

I don’t remember exactly how much we paid here, but I do remember that it wasn’t much. The grub here was far, far less expensive than it would have been in a place like Bangalore.

Vegetarian Khasi fare at Red Rice, Police Bazaar

In the bustling Police Bazaar area in Shillong, restaurants are aplenty. You’ll find pure vegetarian food here, as well as eateries serving a mix of vegetarian and non-vegetarian fare. Then, there’s the plethora of street food available here – in the evenings, this area veritably turns into a street food haven, especially for meat lovers.

We wanted to sample some Khasi fare, the food of the Khasi tribe that majorly inhabits Shillong. At our tour operator’s suggestion, we headed to Red Rice in Police Bazaar, a place that prides itself on serving authentic vegetarian and non-vegetarian Khasi food. We ended up thoroughly enjoying our meal here.

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Left: The vegetarian Khasi thali that we had, Centre: Buddha’s Delight, Right: Khasi-style red rice, at Red Rice

The husband had a vegetarian Khasi thali that was an extremely simple, yet hearty affair. The daal cooked with greens was simply beautiful, as was the mustard-y onion salad. The mixed vegetable curry and chutney that were part of the thali were oh-so-flavourful, too!

I got myself a bowl of Khasi-style red rice and one of Buddha’s Delight, the last one being a mix of soup, thin noodles and veggies. The Buddha’s Delight was, again, such a simple thing, but so very flavourful – adding oodles of oomph to the plain red rice.

It was, sort of, marvellous to see how a meal could be cooked up with so little ingredients and yet be fulfilling. We, city-dwellers, do have a lot to learn from people like the Khasis, who live every day in the face of hardships.

We paid about INR 250 for this meal, as far as I can remember.

A blah dinner at Cafe Shillong

Most of the travel guides we read about Shillong seemed to mention Cafe Shillong, all praises for the local bands that play here over the weekend and the wonderful food the cafe serves. When we visited, though, it was a week day, and there was no band.

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Part of the decor at the famed Cafe Shillong

The food here, sadly, didn’t meet the high expectations that we had had. The vegetable clear soup we ordered was strictly okay – watery and lacking in taste. The Pasta Arabiatta was just average, too, as was the Singapore Fried Rice. Well, maybe, this isn’t a great place for vegetarians, I am guessing!

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Left: Vegetable clear soup, Centre: Pasta Arabiatta, Right: Singapore fried rice, at Cafe Shillong

Cafe Shillong happens to be an expensive place, with prices at par with several high-end cafes in Bangalore. I think we paid about INR 900 for this meal.

Pav bhaji and aloo chop at a nameless shop in Laban

Walking around the streets of Laban in Shillong, we came across this small shop run by a Marwari gentleman, a place without a name that sold only vegetarian food. Apart from regular fare like parathas, chowmein and fried rice, this eatery also sold tea, aloo chop, pav bhaji and a variety of chaats.

We had lunch at this little shop one day, and absolutely loved the aloo chops that we tried out. The tangy, spicy, mustard-y sauce that was served with the aloo chops was just brilliant – it was a Shillong special version that tastes both like chilli sauce and kasundi. Must try!

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Left: Pav bhaji, Right: Aloo chops with mustard-chilli sauce and tomato sauce, at the nameless shop in Laban

The pav bhaji we had at this shop wasn’t mind-blowing, but was definitely good.

A beautifully simple Khasi meal at Dew Drop In

While in Shillong, we had the opportunity of staying at Dew Drop In, a lovely place owned by a Khasi family. 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.

(Read more about Dew Drop In in my post here!)

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The delicious meal we had at Dew Drop In. Centre: Rotis, From top left, in clock-wise direction: Khasi daal made with greens, mixed vegetable curry, jado stey, pickle, curd and green salad

I know for sure that I am going to try making the Khasi daal and jado stey at home!

Gorgeous juicy 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.

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.

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Left: One of the little shops selling pickles, pineapples and a variety of other things, en route to Shillong from Guwahati, Right: The gorgeous pineapples that we sampled at one of these stores

Apparently, the weather, the rolling slopes of the hills, the soil all over Meghalaya are extremely conducive to growing pineapples, and they abound in the state, lovely ones at that.

An utterly forgettable dinner at Lamee’s

One of the days we stayed in Shillong, we dined at Lamee’s – a big, multi-cuisine eatery that offers both vegetarian and non-vegetarian fare – at Police Bazaar. Sadly, the meal was utterly forgettable, with everything that we tried out lacking in flavour.

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Left: Green salad, Centre: Vegetarian chowmein, Right: Burnt garlic fried rice, at Lamee’s

The vegetarian chowmein at Lamee’s was nothing special, and neither was the burnt garlic fried rice.

The prices at Lamee’s are on the higher side, though. I remember paying about INR 700 or so for our meal.

Vegetarian momos and jhalmuri near Ward’s Lake

We tried out the vegetarian momos from one of the street-side stalls outside Ward’s Lake, for all of INR 20. The momos had a thick, floury shell (as opposed to the thin covering I am used to in momos in Bangalore), but the filling was delicious. The same was the case with the vegetarian momos we tried out at a street-side stall in Police Bazaar, too.

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Left: A plate of vegetarian momos, Right: Jhalmuri, outside Ward’s Lake

The jhalmuri we had from another street stall at Ward’s Lake was not great, though.

Local berries at Golf Course

We came across this lady selling assorted local berries, while walking around the Golf Course in Shillong. She was sweet enough to oblige us for some photographs, and sweeter to offer the bub a toffee!

We had a good time trying out this berry and that. Most were lip-puckeringly sour, though, and, I am sure, would have made for gorgeous pickles. I forget the local names, though.

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Left: The lady selling local berries at the Golf Course, Centre: The assorted berries the lady had on offer, Right: One of the types of berries that we sampled – sour, sour, sour!

You can find these berries on sale at Police Bazaar, too, in case you are interested, along with oranges, apples, bananas, strawberries and litchis.

The lovely litchi drink from Bangladesh

Our cab driver suggested that we should try our this litchi drink from Bangladesh, commonly available in Shillong. We picked up a couple of bottles, for INR 10 each, and they were absolutely delightful!

We even got some of these bottles back to Bangalore as souvenirs!

In conclusion…

Well, that was all about the food (and drink) that we tried out while in Shillong. So, you see, vegetarians aren’t exactly in a position to starve to death in this part of the world, at least not in Shillong? 🙂

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I hope you have been reading and enjoying my other posts about our trip to North-East India! If you haven’t, here are the links for you!

The beginning of school, and a schoolmoon

Visiting the abode of Kamakhya, the powerful menstruating Goddess

10 reasons to plan for at least a day’s stay in Mawlynnong, Asia’s cleanest village

Playing hide-and-seek with the clouds in Meghalaya

10 experiences we thoroughly enjoyed in Shillong

The living root bridge of Nohwet village, near Mawlynnong

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The Living Root Bridge Of Nohwet Village, Near Mawlynnong

I am sure every person who has ever dreamt of going to North-East India has read about the living root bridges that are common in this part of the world. These bridges, made by joining the roots of rubber trees (Ficus Elastica), are very much a part of living trees and are, in consequence, live too. They are believed to have the ability to renew and strengthen themselves, as the trees grow and gain strength. Quite safe and sturdy, these living bridges form part of everyday life for the various tribes inhabiting North-East India.

The lesser known living root bridge of Nohwet Village

The living root bridge of Cherrapunjee, a double-decker one, is perhaps the best known of all such bridges. Crossing the Cherrapunjee living root bridge (a UNESCO heritage site) is said to be a must-do, a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience. The scenery around is extremely beautiful, but the trek is an arduous one, involving the climbing of over 3000 steps. At the end of this tough trek, you are amply rewarded with a glimpse of the gorgeous Rainbow Falls, but this task that can take hours on end is not meant for the faint-hearted, people who aren’t really fit or used to trekking. Our tour guide advised us not to attempt the trek with a child in tow, and the husband and I acquiesced, understanding that our fitness levels are definitely way below good.

Contrary to popular belief, though, the Cherrapunjee bridge is not the only living root bridge that exists – there are many more, some lesser known, some not known to tourists at all. There’s an equally beautiful and awe-inspiring living root bridge in the village of Nohwet, near Mawylnnong, relatively lesser known to tourists, for instance. Our tour guide suggested we visit this bridge, seeing that we weren’t in a position to do the Cherrapunjee one, considering getting down to this one wasn’t as tough a job to undertake. And that is exactly what we did.

Scenes from the Nohwet living root bridge

The minute you land in Nohwet, a little village, the site of the living root bridge, you begin to feel a definite change in the surroundings around you. This village is very well structured and organised, and it is clear that a lot of thought has gone into its layout. There are proper channels for rain water to flow, cobbled streets and lamp posts. The houses are small but beautiful – thatched huts with a small porch, a little patch of green around the front, hens roosting here and there. Following the example of Mawlynnong, I suppose, Nohwet too is very clean, with spotless roads and conical bamboo dustbins set up everywhere to collect waste. For a proper tourist spot to be that clean is, I believe, something highly commendable.

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A thatched house in Nohwet village

Walking along the beautiful Nohwet village, following the signboards clearly directing us, we headed towards the living root bridge. Along the way are quaint little shops, selling pineapples and local berries and jackfruit and bamboo artifacts and what not.

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A shop selling snacks and refreshments at Nohwet village, just before the trek to the living root bridge begins

After just a few minutes of walking, the gorgeous sound of water gushing and gurgling filled our ears, and we knew we had arrived. A minute or so later, we came to a place that I can only describe as heavenly – lovely, lovely green all around, almost a jungle, the sound of water and crickets chirping renting the air, a river gushing by, and a magnificent bridge made entirely out of the roots of trees straddling the river. I couldn’t help falling in love with the place there and then, and a ‘Wow!’ escaped me. If this lesser-known bridge was so beautiful, just how beautiful would the double-decker living root bridge of Cherrapunjee be?

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The rocky descent to the living root bridge

The descent to the spot of the living root bridge is rocky, but not very tough. We managed to get down in about 15 minutes, walking slowly and gradually, holding on to each other and the bub. The sight that met our eyes was totally worth every ounce of energy we spent on the descent, that is for sure.

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The living root bridge over the river Thyllong, at Nohwet

The Thyllong, a river held sacred by the Khasis, flows extremely picturesquely beneath the bridge. The living root bridge has been prepared by the locals by training the roots of rubber trees, trees which were planted as far back as 1840. The plaque at the spot doesn’t indicate when exactly the bridge was built. It is, however, clear that the bridge was built so as to enable people from the surrounding villagers to cross the river, which I hear gets unimaginably swollen in the monsoons.

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Another view of the living root bridge at Nohwet

The bridge is still very much in use by the villagers and, in return for a nominal entry fee (INR 20 per head or so), tourists are allowed to visit it as well.

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Another view of the Thyllong river

It is such a serene, magical place, something straight out of the pages of a fairytale. We managed to visit at the best time, just before the sun went down, when there were not many tourists around. I would have loved to lounge around this place, sitting on a rock by that gurgling river and reading or simply staring at all that bounty of nature, soaking it all in. Sadly, though, we had a hotel to check into, a drive to head on, places on our to-do list to check off, and could spend only a short while (much too short for my taste, actually) here.

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The Thyllong river

Some other time, some other vacation, I am going to make sure I stay put at this place to my heart’s content.. Till then, I will make do with memories. 🙂

Tips for travellers

  1. A trip to the Nohwet living root bridge can be combined with a visit to the adjacent village of Mawlynnong.
  2. A boat ride at Dawki and a visit to the India-Bangladesh border at Tamabil can also be combined with a visit to this living root bridge. Do check with your tour operator on this.
  3. Mawlynnong, as far as I understand, can be accessed only via taxis, private or shared.
  4. The living root bridge can be visited any time of the year, but monsoons are the best time to do this, actually. During monsoons (between March and August), the river is apparently at its beautiful best.
  5. There is an Eco Park at the same spot as this living root bridge. We weren’t able to visit it due to paucity of time, but I hear it is very beautiful too.

I hope you have been reading my posts about our recent trip to North-East India, and enjoying them too. If not, please do check them out!

The beginning of school and a schoolmoon

Visiting the abode of Kamakhya, the powerful menstruating Goddess

10 reasons to plan for at least a day’s stay at Mawlynnong, Asia’s cleanest village

Playing hide-and-seek with the clouds at Meghalaya

10 experiences we thoroughly enjoyed at Shillong

10 Experiences We Thoroughly Enjoyed In Shillong

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.

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One of the little stalls that we passed en route to Shillong from Guwahati. Look at all those bottles of pickles lined up!

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.

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Aerial view of Umiam lake, from the highway above. Isn’t that super picturesque?

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.

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Part of the beautiful, beautiful Ward’s Lake in Shillong

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.

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Women prepping the locally grown betelnut at Police Bazaar, Shillong

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.

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A church, set against the backdrop of the city and the hills, as seen from the Skywalk

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.

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Prayer wheels at the monastery

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.

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Dew Drop In, the charming homestay we stayed at, in Shillong

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.

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At the Don Bosco Cathedral, Shillong

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.

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At the beautiful Golf Course, Shillong

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.

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The very Khasi meal we had at Dew Drop In

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!

In hindsight…

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.

Apart from these experiences, we also visited the Rabindranath Tagore museum and Lady Hydari Park in Shillong. In this post, though, I chose to write only about those experiences that we absolutely loved.

I hope you had fun reading this!

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Have you read my other posts about our North-East trip? If you haven’t yet, please do!

The beginning of school and a ‘schoolmoon’

Visiting the abode of Kamakhya, the powerful menstruating Goddess

10 reasons to plan for at least a day’s stay at Mawlynnong, Asia’s cleanest village

Playing hide-and-seek with the clouds in Meghalaya

Playing Hide-And-Seek With The Clouds In Meghalaya

You know you are in Meghalaya when you often feel like you are standing amidst clouds. Here, you will often come across clouds obscuring an entire mountain range, wiping it out of your eyesight. Here, you will often feel clouds wrapping around you, leaving you mesmerised and cold, as if you have just stepped inside a life-size refrigerator.

While holidaying in Meghalaya, one of the husband’s and my favourite pastimes was playing hide-and-seek with the clouds. Like two excitable kids, we would shout out – ‘Look, there come the clouds!’. We would watch, fascinated, as the clouds would blot out things as big as elephants from our line of vision, letting us see only that which they wanted us to see.

See, for instance, this set of pictures taken at the Arwah caves in Cherrapunjee, Meghalaya. These pictures have been taken within seconds of each other and, yet, how different the landscape looks in each one!

This was the scene in front of us when we reached Arwah caves…

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Clouds rising up from a valley amidst the mountains

… which, within seconds, went to this…

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Rising up, up, up

… and then this…

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Higher and higher and higher go the clouds

… and this.

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Can you tell there is a mountain behind those clouds?

I could go on watching this for hours on end! I would have done just that, if I had been on a long, long trip, without having to bother about a budget or time or other destinations to check out.

The name ‘Meghalaya’ is so very apt for this north-eastern state, I say. It means ‘abode of the clouds’ (Megh-alaya), and the clouds, really and truly, do reside here. I’m not sure who coined the name, but is surely is perfect. No wonder Rabindranath Tagore loved this state enough to spend a large part of his life here, and was moved enough to write poetry.

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I hope you have been reading and enjoying my posts about our recent trip to North-East India. If you haven’t checked them out so far, please do!

The beginning of school and a schoolmoon

Visiting the abode of Kamakhya, the powerful menstruating goddess

10 reasons to plan for at least a day’s stay at Mawlynnong, Asia’s cleanest village

10 Reasons To Plan For At Least A Day’s Stay at Mawlynnong, Asia’s Cleanest Village

About 80 km away from Shillong and Cherrapunjee, amidst the hills of Meghalaya, there lies a little village called Mawlynnong. In June 2015, the village was recorded to have 500 residents.

Nature is at its bountiful best in and around the village, as it is everywhere in Meghalaya, and the Indo-Bangladesh border isn’t very far. These aren’t the things that the village of Mawlynnong is known for, though. The village – often referred to as ‘God’s own garden’ – is known for the cleanliness it maintains. The Discover India magazine did a feature on the place in the year 2003, calling it ‘the cleanest village in Asia’. Mawlynnong, slowly and gradually, began to get famous post this. Today, it has hundreds of tourists visiting it, wanting to check out whether it is actually as neat and clean as claims have been made for it to be.

I got interested in Mawlynnong after seeing this video about the place, a while ago, a WhatsApp forward. I thought it was definitely a place that I would like to at least ‘check out’. Then, I mentally added the place to my ever-growing list of places-I-must-visit. Little did I know then that my wish was about to come true, and soon enough at that.

When we were planning for our ‘schoolmoon’ to parts of North-East India, our tour guide asked if we would like to visit Mawlynnong. It was then that a tubelight flashed on in my head, and I made the connection – The video I had seen some time ago? That place was in North-East India, near Shillong, where we would be staying for a bit. We HAD to visit it – this was a God-made plan! ‘Of course!,’ I told him. And that was that.

‘Not many people stay in Mawlynnong, though,’ he warned us. ‘Most tourists just go there, look around for a while, take a few pictures, and then head back. There’s nothing much to do there – it’s a small village, after all. You guys will be staying there for a night, since you are on a week’s holiday,’ he clarified.

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When We Reached Mawlynnong..

… after a ride through extremely scenic roads, we realised what our tour guide had meant. Charming as the village was, with its huts and cobbled streets and greenery everywhere, it was small – we could walk through its length and breadth in the matter of an hour. However, at the end of our day’s stay in Mawlynnong, the husband and I had fallen in love with the place. Mawlynnong had turned out to be the highlight of our entire trip – the place we had bonded with the most. When it was time to go, we left Mawlynnong with heavy hearts, wishing we could have been there longer, promising each other we would come back to the village, hopefully soon, hopefully for longer.

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See how seriously the village takes cleanliness?

Yes, there’s nothing much to do in Mawlynnong, if you consider the place from a tourist’s perspective. But, that is precisely what we loved here. We loved the way silence engulfed us here. We loved the fact that there is nothing – absolutely nothing – to divert your attention from the village – no TV in the homestay we stayed at, no Internet connection, no WiFi. We loved walking through the clean, clean, clean village, listening to the sound of a mountain stream gushing by, admiring the little gardens in everyone’s front yards. We loved talking to the locals, watching them go about their everyday business. We loved the quaint, ancient church that the village houses. We loved climbing up on to the viewpoints that have been built in the village, here and there, gawping at the views that they had to offer.

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A treehouse that acts as a viewpoint, in Mawlynnong village

So, whenever you get around to planning a trip to Meghalaya, the husband and I would urge you not to make Mawlynnong just a stop-over. We would highly recommend staying here, soaking in the charms of the village, at least for a day.

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10 Things We Enjoyed Doing In Mawlynnong, And Think You Would Too

Here are the things we loved doing in Mawlynnong, things that we would suggest you do too.

1. Walk around the village.

A walk around the village is surely something that I would suggest you do, either early in the morning or in the evening. Take the time to watch the villagers go about their daily chores, and be prepared to get touched by how simply they lead their lives. Talk to them, learn about their lives, the way we did – we found them so friendly and jovial!

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One of the houses in Mawlynnong village. Prettiness, ain’t it?

The village is small, but very pretty, with cobbled streets and huts with thatched roofs, little gardens in the front yard and roosters crowing in them. And, yes, Mawlynnong is really as clean as clean can be – it is tough to come across a speck of dirt on the roads. Villagers take sanitation and cleanliness seriously, and any locals or tourists who litter, defecate or spit on the roads are instantly penalised. Bamboo dustbins line the streets, and that is the only place trash goes to in this village, very seriously. Smoking is prohibited, and the use of plastic is extremely limited. There is no home without a toilet.

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A house in Mawlynnong. Can you spot the pineapples on the porch?

What is commendable is that this cleanliness drive is an initiative not by the government, but by the village itself. I understand there was once a bad bout of cholera in the village, following which the villagers decided to always actively keep their surroundings clean. They have been at it ever since.

This is no ordinary Indian village – you will surely enjoy walking through its nooks and crannies.

2. Visit the beautiful, ancient village church.

Mawlynnong houses the Church Of The Ephiphany, a beautiful, beautiful structure that was established as far back as 1902. It is a delight to walk around the church, imagining village life as it might once have been, when it would have been inhabited by the Britishers. There are still hints of the British Raj here – the very English accents of the locals, their difficulty in comprehending Hindi, their very Christian ways of living and praying.

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Church Of The Ephiphany, at Mawlynnong

The church doubles up as the village school and, as we walked around, we heard the voices of kids repeating their lessons aloud after their teachers. Their melodious voices and cherubic faces (we couldn’t resist a peek in!) lifted our spirits to no end.

3. Check out the neighbouring plains of Bangladesh.

If you climb up – high, high, high – on one of the few viewpoints in Mawlynnong, you can view the plains of Bangladesh that are right next to the village. The bamboo viewpoints are very well constructed, and the one that we climbed up on was quite sturdy and easy to access. The view from the top is lovely – you get a bird’s eye view of the entire village, all the greenery it is filled with, as well as the beginning of Bangladesh.

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Those plains in the distance, beyond the stand of trees? That’s where India ends and Bangladesh begins. Viewed from atop a viewpoint in Mawlynnong village.

You would be required to pay a small sum (INR 20 per head, I think) to use the viewpoints.

4. Breakfast at a village shack.

There are no fancy restaurants or even medium-sized eateries in Mawlynnong. There are a few small shacks, though, that serve a limited number of snacks, drinks and food items. Most of these shacks have the owner’s family living out back.

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One of the shacks serving tea and snacks in Mawlynnong village

It is a good idea to sit down for a while at one of these shacks, nibbling on some snacks and sipping on a cup of tea as you look out at the villagers going about. It is an experience that will surely rejuvenate you, for the fact that it is so very simple.

5. Shop for souvenirs at a local store.

As you walk around Mawlynnong village, you will come across a few stores (thatched huts that act as stores, actually) selling pineapples, jackfruit and some other souvenirs.

Bamboo is abundant in this part of the world, so you will definitely come across some bamboo artifacts. Considering the proximity to Guwahati – home of the rhinos and Kaziranga National Park – Mawlynnong also sells rhino souvenirs. Most of these souvenirs are quite reasonably priced, and you might want to pick some up for family and friends back home.

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A shop selling fruits and snacks, at Riwai village, just outside Mawlynnong

I treasure the papier mache rhino toy that I bought for Bubboo at one of these stalls, as well as the bamboo tray and miniature waste-paper basket I bought here as keepsakes.

6. Sleep to the light of the fireflies and the sounds of the forest.

At Mawylnnong, we stayed at one of the few homestays within the village. This was no luxurious place, mind you, just a basic place to stay with very basic facilities. We absolutely loved it, though.

We were asked to keep the wooden windows open because of the high humidity levels and cover ourselves with the mosquito nets that had been provided. Bedtime that night proved to be an experience that we will surely cherish, for a long time to come. As we lay down on our beds, the sounds of the forest (there’s a veritable forest in Mawlynnong, what with all the greenery around!) enveloped us. We stopped talking, and just listened – insects chirping, birds calling out, the wind rustling among the trees. We glanced up to see fireflies dancing around above our mosquito nets.

A short while later, it started raining heavily – a thunder shower. Every time lightning struck, it would be so loud that we would jump, feeling as if our very bed had been hit. The sounds soon lulled us to sleep.

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Stairway leading deeper and deeper and deeper into the greenery, in Mawlynnong village

We woke to more forest sounds – birds chirping incessantly, a mountain stream gushing nearby in full force, crickets singing – and those of people beginning their morning chores.

For city dwellers like us, who have gotten overly used to living in a concrete jungle, this experience was nothing short of bliss. I would do it all over again, in a heartbeat.

7. Bathe in the mountain stream.

There is a gorgeous, gorgeous mountain stream flowing right through Mawlynnong. It was in full force when we visited, thanks to the rainfall.

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A stream gushing by.. we thoroughly enjoyed the cold waters of this stream!

We had an absolutely delightful time getting into the cold, cold, cold waters of the stream, bathing under a canopy made by trees, watching crabs scuttling by. The bub loved this experience so much she refused to get out of the stream!

8. Bask in the greenery surrounding the village. 

Mawlynnong is blessed with abundant greenery and natural beauty, like I said before. Betel nut, pineapples, bay leaves and the plant used to make brooms abound here. As per our cabbie, Mawlynnong is one of the country’s biggest producers of betel nut, bay leaves and brooms, supplying them to different states!

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Check out how green the village is, and how clean the roads! All the trash goes into these cone-shaped bamboo baskets that line the streets.

We had never seen fresh bay leaves or the jharu (broom) plant before we visited Mawlynnong, and thoroughly enjoyed these little discoveries. This was also the place where we saw, for the first ever time, pineapple growing on a plant and a blood orange tree (we had always seen these fruits only on supermarket shelves before!).

Sitting on the little balcony of our homestay, looking out at the blessedly green village is another thing that we loved, loved, loved doing. Fat chance of doing something like that in an urban jungle like Bangalore!

9. Gorge on the gorgeous pineapples.

The weather, the rolling slopes of the hills, the soil all over Meghalaya are extremely conducive to growing pineapples, and they abound in the state. You can spot pineapples growing here, in the wild, just like that. There is something special about pineapples of Meghalaya, too – they are beautiful things, too, very sweet and juicy. We had some of the best pineapples we have ever had, in Meghalaya, fresh in a way fruits in the city can never be, explosions of flavour in our mouths, naturally sugary sweet, juice dripping down to our elbows. Mawlynnong – part of Meghalaya, too – was no exception.

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Our first sight of pineapple on a plant!

 

Whenever you visit Mawlynnong, don’t forget to pig out on the locally grown pineapples!

10. Check out the balancing rock.

Mawlynnong is also home to the ‘balancing rock’, the surprising natural phenomenon of a large rock balanced on a tiny one. It is a small sight, true, nothing very grand but, hey, where else do you get to see such a thing?

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The balancing rock at Mawlynnong

You need to pay a small token of INR 10 per head to visit the rock and photograph it. Don’t miss it!

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Tips for travellers

  1. We didn’t see any ATMs in the village, and most of the shacks and stalls accept only cash. Make sure you stock up on cash before you plan for a stay in the village.
  2. Just outside of Mawlynnong, the village of Riwai houses a beautiful living root bridge and an Eco Park. These can be visited en route to Mawlynnong, before you enter the village. Alternatively, you could make the short trek of about 1.5 km to these sites during your stay at Mawlynnong. Do check with your tour operator regarding this.
  3. Private or shared taxis are the only way to enter Mawlynnong. You can easily find cabs plying to Mawlynnong from both Shillong and Cherrapunjee.
  4. A boat ride at Dawki and the Indo-Bangladesh land border at Tamabil can be done en route to Mawlynnong. Please check with your tour operator on this.
  5. Considering that there are only a handful of homestays in Mawlynnong, each with just a couple of rooms, you might want to book your stay well in advance, whenever you plan to visit.
  6. Though Mawlynnong can be visited throughout the year, March-August is the best time to do so. This is when the village is at its greenest best, thanks to the monsoon rains.

Are you tempted enough to plan a stay at Mawlynnong?

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I hope you have been reading, and enjoying, stories from our recent trip to North-East India. If you haven’t, here are the links for you!

Visiting the abode of Kamakhya, the powerful menstruating Goddess

Visiting The Abode Of Kamakhya, The Powerful Menstruating Goddess

An almost three-hour flight journey took us from Bangalore to Guwahati, Assam, the first leg of our recent journey to North East India. The plan was to stay in Guwahati for a day, and then move on to Shillong, from there on to Cherrapunjee, then to Mawylnnong, higher and higher and higher in the hills of Meghalaya.

Guwahati, the largest city in Assam, was sweltering hot when we landed, at about 8.30 AM. The owner of North East Explorers, who had planned this trip for us, met us at the airport. He was quick to assure the crestfallen us of better weather in Meghalaya – where we were to spend the bulk of time during our holiday. With him, we drove to the Kamakhya temple in Guwahati, the first pit-stop of our holiday.

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The beautiful exterior of the Kamakhya temple

I have been fascinated by the Kamakhya temple ever since I read about it, a few years ago. I had heard that this is the temple of the ‘menstruating goddess’, the goddess who bleeds once every year and that people consider her menstrual blood sacred enough to dip their handkerchiefs in it and carry them home, as tokens of good luck. This temple was, definitely, one of the spots I had eagerly wanted to visit, as we planned out this trip to the North East.

History and significance of the temple

Maata Kamakhya or Kamakhya Devi, also known as Maa Shakti, is the presiding deity at this temple, located on the Nilachal Hill, a short drive away from the city centre. The temple is believed to be over 2000 years old, but has been destroyed and rebuilt a few times in the course of time. The structure that exists now is said to be about 500 years old.

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View of the city from atop Nilachal Hill

This temple has several legends associated with it, one of them being about Sati, wife of Lord Shiva. Centuries ago, King Daksh, father of Sati, organised a great yagya, to which he invited everyone except Lord Shiva. Sati went against her husband’s wishes and visited her father’s house, only to be met with humiliation. Saddened, Sati jumped into the sacrificial fire to end her life. On hearing of this, Lord Shiva came running to King Daksh’s place and, in a fit of anger, began performing the tandav nritya (the dance of destruction), holding Sati’s burning body in his hands. Parts of Sati’s body began falling on earth – apparently, 51 different parts of her body fell at 51 different earthly places, most located in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Later, Shakti Peethas (temples that are storehouses of power) came into existence at each of these 51 places. The Kamakhya temple, one of the Shakti Peethas, is the place where Sati’s female organs fell.

Every year, around June or so, the idol of Kamakhya Devi in the temple is said to menstruate. The temple remains closed for the three days of menstruation, when the Goddess is said to be resting. The water that is used to cleanse the idol collects in a pool outside the temple, and this water turns red during the three days that the Goddess is believed to menstruate. After the said three days come to an end, the temple re-opens with the fanfare and celebration of the Ambubachi Mela, a festival that attracts devotees, tantrics, photographers and tourists from all over the world.

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Bells tied by devotees outside the Kamakhya temple

Kamakhya Devi is believed to be a highly powerful Goddess, having the ability to grant all the wishes of her devotees. Thousands of young women visit the temple daily, to pray for wedded bliss and fertility. The temple is considered to be an important spiritual destination and a must-visit tourist spot in the city.

Our experience at the temple

When we visited the temple, it was a weekend. At about 9.30 AM, there was a huge, huge, huge queue of people waiting to get into the temple, snaking up as far into the hills as the eye could see. We had no VIP pass (an idea that I’m not very fond of, to be honest), and, from the looks of it, would have to stand in queue for at least 3 hours to get inside the temple. The walk into the temple, too, would involve much pushing and rushing, being shut in rooms a la Tirupati.

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Pooja items on sale at various shops outside the temple

From the quick look-around that we had outside the temple, though, an unmistakable aura of commercialization came through. Touts called out to us, asking if we would like to meet the Goddess directly, without wasting any time. A number of priests told us they could perform a special pooja for us, in return for a small fee. Scores of shopkeepers tried to cajole us to buy pooja items from them and leave our footwear with them. All this while, throngs of people pulsated around us, pushing and pulling and jostling. The atmosphere was not unlike that at Kalighat in Calcutta, a place whose touts we had been warned against by numerous cabbies. At the Kamakhya temple, the surroundings were, sorrily enough, way too overwhelming and frustrating. I don’t mean to offend anyone’s sentiments here – I’m merely stating what we felt.

(Here‘s a much more prosaic depiction of the surroundings at the Kamakhya temple.)

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The bathing area behind the temple

We were exhausted, hot and hungry, having started from Bangalore as early as 2.30 AM, and the bub was beginning to get cranky and disturbed. The OH and I quickly decided to pay our respects to the Goddess from the outside, and head to our hotel. That is just what we did.

Tips for travellers

  1. The temple is located at a height of about 800 feet, atop a hill. Vehicles can be driven right up to the temple.
  2. There are several viewpoints built around the temple, from where you can get magnificent views of Guwahati city.
  3. There are a huge number of people visiting the temple every day, more so on weekends, festivals and other auspicious days. The temple is open from 8 AM to 1 PM and then from 2.30 PM to 5.30 PM, daily. If you wish to avoid crowds, you should probably consider visiting closer to noon or in the early afternoon.
  4. Beware of the touts who offer devotees a ‘quick’ darshan, in spite of the crowds, in exchange of some money.
  5. You can leave your shoes at any of the several shops selling pooja paraphernalia around the temple, before you enter. You might be required to buy some stuff from them in return, or pay them a small amount for safeguarding your footwear.
  6. General entry to the temple is free of cost, involving a humongous crowd. You could get Special Entry and VIP tickets from the temple ticket counter too, which are believed to get you easier access. For defence and police personnel, these tickets are available at slashed prices.
  7. Photography and videography is prohibited inside the temple.
  8. Animal sacrifices are allowed at the temple, on certain days. If you want to avoid gory scenes, please find out the days these sacrifices are allowed, and plan your visit accordingly.
  9. There are small eateries around the temple where you can grab a quick bite, if you want to.