Shillong, India (with the Scotland of the East moniker) lies at an altitude of 1500 metres and is a two and half hour drive from Guwahati and is a great hill destination for various things to do and experience.
The clamour for getting involved in the “Shillong Trade” starts at Guwahati airport when the taxi drivers start asking if you need to be dropped in Shillong. Which is rather amusing because the airport is in Guwahati, a much bigger city but it is assumed that you are in Guwahati because you want to go to Shillong.
Meghalaya of which Shillong is the capital was created as late as 1972 by calving it from Assam. The road to Shillong starts from the outskirts of Guwahati which is the border of Assam and Meghalaya. Fuel is cheaper in Meghalaya and many Guwahati citizens get their vehicles filled up on the Meghalaya side. In fact, there is a fuel station every few kilometres on the Shillong road.
The road winds and clamours its way through the hills gaining altitude every metre. But it is an excellent road and most probably one of the best roads in the North-East. Pineapple vendors line up the road at critical junctures as this is a fruit that is grown here.
Shillong for a lot of travellers means the following.
- Get away from the heat of the plains. Shillong is much cooler throughout the year and is more pleasant than Gangtok which is surprising considering Shillong is closer to Bangladesh and the Bay of Bengal. It used to snow in the 1970’s which is another indicator of changing weather patterns.
- Catch up on a rock band on Friday or Saturday at Cafe Shillong.
- Catch up on the local sights because they usually do not know what else to do.( Ward’s Lake, Police Bazaar, Don Bosco’s Centre for Indigenous Tribes…)
- Get out of town to take photos near the waterfalls especially Elephant Falls.
- Get even more out of town and head to Sohra(Cherrapunjee) and Mawsynram, the wettest places in the world.
- Get so far out of town, that you go to the international border with Bangladesh to reach Dawki.
The alternative things to do list could have…
- Take in Shillong by mingling with the residents. Shillong is a clean town and hilly terrain gives a good reason to exercise the legs under pine trees and grey clouds.
- There are huge traffic jams on Saturday mornings on the outskirts of the road leading to Shillong as tourists and half of Assam are trying to get in. So time it well and stay in the Lachumiere area to avoid further traffic jams.
- Decent and sometimes inexpensive accommodation is available on AirBnB but has to be booked in time. Some of the commercial properties are nice but the prices are increasing by the day.
- Do not trust Google Maps when driving to Shillong view point on Shillong Peak which is the only place from where the town can be viewed. Instead take the longer route which also goes to Sohra as the shorter one goes through the gate of an Indian Air Force base.
- Cafe Shillong is a regular cafe except when there is a band performing. But the food is first class.
- Cafe ML 05, though a bit out of town, is good fun. It is located in a farm on the road which leads to Sohra and offers pleasant and scenic views.
- Cafe Dylan must be the worst Bob Dylan tribute cafe in the world. But it is centrally located and is open when most of the other establishments are closed. And if you are empathetic with the serving staff, they will let you know as to how much they are over worked.
Cafe Shillong Heritage located on top of a hill is a must visit cafe for the ambience, location and food. The views again are excellent and food is gastronomic. It is part of the Tripura Heritage hotel but is a little ahead of the main building.
- If driving your own car is your mode of transport into Shillong, try to get a tent as you can picnic at any place outside of Shillong. There are rolling hills and great weather throughout the year.
- Laitlum Grand Canyon is another wonderful place to have a picnic and is less than two hours from Shillong.
- Don’t go to Police Bazaar unless it is for shopping. People love to chew betel nut in the North-East and this place is a spittoon mine field.
- The best waterfalls are near Cherrapunjee. Nohkalikai Falls and Seven Sister Falls are impressive because of the height. Visiting the falls in the monsoon season is tricky because the clouds usually envelope the falls and thus the sights get hidden. And you do not need to visit every other waterfall unless you are writing a book on them. You may want to get your tripod if you are a photography enthusiast.