Searching for Shillong
In the abode of Clouds
Shillong, the picturesque capital of the state of Meghalaya, located at an altitude of 1,496 meters above sea level is easily one of the most happening hill stations of North East India. It is also one of the most fashionable and rocking destinations in the whole of North East India. The best part about this quaint hill station is that it is a round the year tourist destination. The generous tourist facilities, breathtaking scenic vistas, happy and charming people, billowing clouds and stately pine trees, majestic mountains, gorges and lush green pastures all makes Shillong an irresistible mountain tourist destination.
The city extends for 6 Kms. on a lofty swathe. The city of Shillong is actually positioned on a highland terrain and is surrounded by the Umiam gorge in the north, on the imposing Diengiei Hills to the Northwest and the undulating hills of the Assam valley to the North East. The Diengiei hills in particular reach heights that are all of 6077 feet above sea level and makes for a truly intimidating mountain backdrop. The city’s primary source of water is derived from the glistening Umiam River, which is nourished by the Umshyrpi and the Umkhra streams.
Even until 1864, Shillong was just a minuscule hill village of North East India. Later on it was developed into a bustling new civil post of the Khasi and Jaintia hills. For many years it served as the summer capital of East Bengal and Assam. However, in the year 1874, Shillong was declared as the capital of undivided Assam. The city was completely devastated in the 1897 earthquake but rose like a phoenix from the ashes of the earthquake to be one of India’s most alluring hill stations. The city came of age in the year 1972 when a separate state – “Meghalaya” was carved out of undivided Assam and Shillong was chosen as the capital of this newly formed state.
We found Shillong to be unlike any other hill stations as there are no admirable monuments. It is nature all the way and there are verdant parks, plenty of sparkling waterfalls and endless mountain vistas. Most visitors come to Shillong to view its gorgeous waterfalls, which are amongst the best that India has to offer. The waterfalls are most impressive during the monsoon.
The hill station of Shillong derives its name from the guardian deity of the hills – “Lei Shyllong” who is worshipped by the natives of the Khasi and Jaintia hills. We found the ubiquitous Shillong Peak, which is located in the outskirts of the city at a distance of 10 Kms. to be the most attractive spot of the city. From the elevated Shillong Peak, with an elevation of 1,965 meters, we basked in the uninterrupted panoramic vistas of the city, which appeared like a well spread out carpet. The hills with houses looked like a million studded diamonds embroidered on the mountainous cityscape.
Other noteworthy peaks are the Sohpetbneng Peak (1343 m), The Dingei Hill and the Dumpeep Peak (5100 m). The Dingei Peak is ideally located in close proximity to the Umiam stream. We found the path to the Dingei Peak via the charming Umiyangka village located at a height of 1000 feet above sea level to be a fabulous trekking trail and saw groups of avid trekkers climbing uphill. The Dumpeep Peak on the other hand located at an elevation of 5100 feet too offers breathtaking scenic vistas of the surrounding mountainside.
One of Shillong’s most enduring tourist landmarks is the beautiful Ward’s Lake. In order to visit this spectacular lake one has to venture inside the impeccably landscaped Botanical Garden. The garden is replete with many hued flowers and a collection of unusual plant species. As we walked through the alleyways of the garden, the thought of “Eden on Earth” seemed to be a reality.
No visit to Shillong is ever complete without a trip to Barapani, which is popularly referred to as the “Umiam Lake” in the local parlance. This picturesque lake is on the Guwahati - Shillong Road and one comes across this sparkling lake during ones journey to Shillong from the plains of Guwahati. In a bid to attract the attention of the discerning world traveler, the Department of Tourism, Government of Meghalaya has built a fabulous Lake Resort designed to perfection by one of India’s top architects – Charles Correa. Many a tourist are so enthralled by the sheer beauty of the lake that they decide to spend a day or two at the magnificently appointed Orchid Lake Resort. We however headed for Shillong proper.
This marvelous lake resort has all the trappings of a master architect and the signature Correa-effect is there for all to see. The resort is in the midst of pinewood and offers unparalleled scenic vistas of the lakefront. A great way to unwind at this lake resort is by indulging in fabulous water sports like Kayaking, Water Skiing and Water Cycling.
Most visitors to Shillong come with the sole intention of having a date with some of Shillong’s renowned waterfalls, which are amongst the best that the country has to offer. We started our Waterfalls trail with a visit to the Crinoline Falls located strategically in close proximity to the Survey of India Office. This is a fall which is around 12-13 m in height and there is an exclusive swimming pool at the bottom of the falls.
Our next stop was the majestic Gunner's Falls, which attracts tourists in hordes. Actually there are two versions – Gunner’s Fall 1 and Gunner’s Fall 2. The former is all of 24-26 meters in height and is ideally located at a distance of 1.6 Kms. from Shillong GPO while the later is located in the picture perfect backdrop of the Happy Valley. The Shillong Golf Course with its breathtaking locale is referred to as the "Glen-eagle of the East" at the United States Golf Association Museum and is a must visit site. We were enchanted by this 18 hole golf course, which is ideally located at an altitude of 5200 ft and was built by Captain Jackson and C.K.Rhodes in the year 1924.
Shillong is not only about undulating hills and endless vistas of mountain panorama. We found the music scene of this Northeastern hill station to be pulsating to say the least. In many ways, Shillong is the cradle of Rock ‘N’ Roll of North East India. The Rock Bands of Shillong are a breed apart and vouch for their loyalty to International bands like AC/DC, Metallica, Guns & Roses and what have you….
One of Shillong’s favorite musician is the much affable Lou Majaw. We were told that he is regarded in the local Rock ‘N’ Roll circles as the “Dylan of the North East”. The 61-year-old Lou was obsessed by Bob Dylan’s songs during the 60’s decade. As a tribute to Bob Dylan, every year he organizes a concert that coincides with Bob Dylan’s birthday. So for those Rock ‘N’ Roll aficionados who are eternally searching for that dream concert be there in Shillong when it matters most – Bob Dylan’s birthday.
Having studied Anthropology at the graduation level, I knew the importance of the Khasi tribe that dwell in the state of Meghalaya. The Khasi people have Mongoloid features and incidentally were the earliest Mongolian invaders in this part of the world. We were amazed to know that they spoke an Austric language, which to my knowledge is largely prevalent in Cambodia, Java and Nicobar Islands. The most remarkable feature of the Khasi social system is that it is matriarchal, which is not found in any other tribes of North East India.
As we came towards the end of our Shillong jaunt, it was time we bid farewell to Meghalaya and we decided to do it in style – that’s getting Wet & Wild in the world’s wettest place – “Cheerapunjee”. Here it literally rains everyday and more so during the monsoons. We were told by our cab driver that there were instances of crazy tourists who came from all the way across the globe just to be here at Cheerapunjee and get drenched. Indeed a nice way to wind up our trip to the Scotland of the East.
Traveler’s Fact File:
Shillong is easily accessible from mainland India via Guwahati, the capital of Assam and the gateway city of North East India. Guwahati is well connected by air, rail and road to the rest of India. The nearest international airport is located at Guwahati at a distance of 128 Kms. from Shillong and Paramount Airways operates regular flights from key Indian cities. From Guwahati one can drive all the way to Shillong along the all weather Guwahati-Shillong Road. There are buses operating to Shillong from Guwahati every hour and vice versa. Hired taxis too are available at Guwahati Taxi stand at Paltan Bazar.
There is no dearth of quality accommodation at Shillong to suit every budget. Hotel Pinewood is up market as is the Orchid Lake Resort, which falls on the way to Shillong. If you are on the lookout for budget category hotels, the area surrounding the Police Bazaar and G.S. Road are choc-a-bloc with hotels.
For further information
The Directorate of Tourism
3rd Secretariat, Nokrek Building