Perched high in the Khasi Hills of the Northeastern state of Meghalaya, bestowed with incredible natural beauty, and cocooned in soft tufts of clouds, is one of the dreamiest destinations in India: Shillong. This small village was made the new civil station of the Khasi and Jaintia Hills, by the British in 1864. It served as the summer capital of the Eastern Bengal and Assam for almost a century, and remained the administrative capital of composite Assam until 1969, when the autonomous state of Meghalaya was formed. Today, this charming hill station is rapidly edging towards commercialisation, yet the largely Christian population maintains its tribal traditions, culture, food habits, and way of life. For both first timers and seasoned travellers, Shillong is a revelation. By Satarupa Paul
Replete with green valleys, coniferous forests, waterfalls, and other natural treasures, Shillong is a wonderland waiting to be explored.
Ward’s Lake lies glistening in the centre of the city, with small isles and a whitewashed wooden bridge over it. Lush gardens rise up its banks, and cobblestoned paths meander around it. Boating and feeding fish are top pastimes here. Elephant Falls is a sight to behold, especially in the rainy season. The shallow pool below the cascade makes for a fun swim. The twin falls of Beadon-Bishop tumble down the forested hills into a yawning ravine of the River Umiam. The Umiam Lake, 15km north of the city, stretches for miles on end, its blue waters amidst dimpled hills.
Tales of Dales
Called the ‘Gleneagles of the East’, the 18-hole Shillong Golf Course is an enchanting meadow of undulating green. Set amidst it, against a backdrop of thick pines, is the Golf Club which still retains its colonial charm. The Lady Hydari Park is a favourite among tourists and locals alike. A small zoo, an aviary, and a deer park are housed among tall pines and cedars. While here, take lazy strolls or simply lie on the grass and read a book. Mawphlang Sacred Grove is a 192-acre forest protected by the natives since ancient times. Nothing is allowed to be taken out of this sacred grove, ‘not even a leaf, stone, or a dead log’. But a walk here is highly recommended to appreciate the beauty of wilderness.
The most popular trekking trail in Shillong, the David Scott Trail, is a beautiful 16-km trek from Mawphlang to Ladmawphlang. It’s part of the historic horse-cart track built by the British administrator of the same name, which stretches from Cherrapunji to Bangladesh. The trek takes you through forests, grassy meadows, and villages. Providing a bird’s eye view of the hill town and its surroundings is Shillong Peak—the highest point in the area.
Shillong is a short drive away from many other tourist attractions. A couple of hours away are the towns of Cherrapunji and Mawsynram, both famous for alternately holding the crown of the ‘wettest place on earth’. Peppered with majestic waterfalls, the towns are home to several resorts and homestays, ideal for a weekend getaway. About three hours from Shillong is Mawlynnong, ‘the cleanest village in Asia’. It features unique attractions such as a living root bridge and balancing rock. Another hour or so away, Dawki, near the Bangladesh border, attracts many with the crystal clear River Umngot. Enjoying a colourful boat ride on its calm, beautiful waters is a must-do.
The State Museum and Don Bosco Museum offer insights into the ethnic tribal culture and traditions of Shillong through exhibits, clothing and artefacts. The Wankhar Entomology Museum houses an outstanding private collection of rare varieties of moths, butterflies, beetles, centipedes, and tarantulas. The Air Force Museum, located in the Eastern Air Command headquarters just outside Shillong, features weaponry, aircraft models, and technology used by the Indian Air Force. The beautiful Mary Help of Christians Cathedral is the most prominent among dozens of churches in Shillong. The stunning blue facade of the cathedral stands on the site of the first church built by the German fathers, who were the first Catholic missionaries to set foot on these hills. The annual Bob Dylan Festival showcases Shillong’s love for music. Held in May, on the birthday of the singer-songwriter, the decades-old festival sees live music shows by local and touring artists, poetry slams, and tribute gigs.
WINE & DINE
Shillong loves to unwind with great food and music, and you will find a plethora of cafes and pubs in the city.
The most famous of the many cafes that dot the picturesque hill station is Dylan’s Cafe. With cool written all over it, you’ll find old vinyl records lining the staircases and rare photos of Bob Dylan greeting you from the walls. It’s an ideal place to kick back with good coffee, continental nibbles, and great music. Another lively cafe with foot-tapping music and a cosy ambience is Café Shillong, located in the district of Laitumkhra. It serves continental and local dishes, but the must-haves are roasted pork ribs, Shillong-style beef steak, and Irish coffee. With quirky interiors decorated using old motor parts, ML 05 Café is a quirky, travel-themed cafe, nestled in the woods of National Highway 106.
Café Shillong Heritage is an elegant restaurant that serves momos, pork roast, and spare ribs. The warm wooden interiors come with a fireplace and an airy al fresco dining overlooking the hills. Lamee Restaurant and Barbecue Chinese Restaurant are two popular restaurants located close to each other in the busy Police Bazaar. Decked out with Chinese paraphernalia, they o er an extensive menu of Asian fare.
A visit to Shillong warrants a taste of traditional Khasi fare. And one of the best places to sample it is Jadoh, which is named after the staple rice and meat delicacy. In the frenetic depths of Police Bazar is a tiny joint called Trattoria. Join the long queues for a taste of authentic Khasi dishes like jadoh, dohneiiong, and jhur kleh.
The Evening Club is one of the oldest and swankiest addresses in Shillong to let your hair down over drinks and upbeat live music. In business since 1958, it’s frequented by the who’s who of the city every night. The iconic Cloud 9 at The Centre Point Shillong is famous for hosting special theme parties and performances, over delectable pan-Asian food and a sophisticated ambience. Part bar and part discotheque, Tango RestroBar & Lounge is popular for hosting some of the best live events and parties in Shillong. Polo Irish Pub is, as the name suggests, designed as a typical Irish pub and serves a selection of international and domestic spirits, with a range of delicious bar nibbles.
Shillong is a shopper’s paradise, with markets sporting the hippest street wear and latest trends from world ramps.
A number of shopping mall may have come up in Shillong, but the favourite choice for shopping still remains the bustling Police Bazar. A pedestrians-only market, the central promenade here branches off to numerous tiny lanes on either side, all of which are lined by scores of shops and open-air stalls selling the trendiest jackets, jeans, and woollens. But the best buys here are the footwear in latest designs.
For indigenous souvenirs, head to Megha Emporium and Khasi Emporium that deal in locally-woven bamboo and rattan artefacts of all kinds. Purbashree Emporium and Meghalaya Handloom and Handicrafts Development Corporation Ltd are two good places to score traditional Manipuri and Naga shawls, Scottish cloth is another unique product to be bought in Shillong, and Hanumanbux is a popular shop for it. Very classy, the Scottish check cloth material can be turned into jackets, skirts, shrugs, and dresses.
One of the biggest open-air markets in Asia, Bara Bazaar is where you can stop for the best of local products, including Khasi knives, wooden smoking pipes, Khasi bows and arrows, as well as fresh, organic produce sourced right from the forests and farms. Tura Bazaar is another lively farmer’s market, where you can buy cashews, and jams and jellies made of local mulberries, raspberries and sour Sohphie berries.