Shillong, India, (which has the, Scotland of the East, moniker) is a two hour drive from Guwahati and lies at an altitude of 1500 metres.
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 road to Shillong.
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 (more pleasant than Gangtok, which is surprising considering it is closer to Bangladesh and the Bay of Bengal). It actually 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 catch up on the waterfalls.
- Get even more out of town and head to Cherrapunjee or 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 reality and alternative could be…
- Take in Shillong by mingling with the residents.
- There are huge traffic jams on Saturday mornings to get into Shillong as half of Assam is trying to do the same.
- Do not trust Google Maps when driving to Shillong view point on Shillong Peak, the only place from where the town can be viewed. Instead take the longer route as the shorter one goes through the gate of an Indian Air Force base.
- The best accommodation in Shillong is available on AirBnB. Some of the commercial properties are nice but the prices are increasing by the day.
Cafe Shillong is overrated except when there is a band performing.
Cafe ML 05, though a bit out of town, is good fun.
- 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 of top of a hill is a must visit cafe both for the ambience, location and food. It is part of the Tripura Heritage hotel but is located on the other side of the road.
If driving 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. And you do not need to visit every other waterfall unless you are writing a book on them.
- Walk around Shillong’s roads especially when it is raining.