Meghalaya meaning ‘the abode of clouds’ in Sanskrit is a State in the Northeast part of India and Shillong, the capital city. It’s a hill station situated at an altitude of 1,491 m above sea level and derives its name from U-Shyllong, a powerful deity. Nicknamed as the “Scotland of the East” for its striking similarity in landscape, there is more that draws the comparison. Waterfalls, lakes, music festivals & cultural extravaganza of this vibrant city.
It’s always a pleasure being in an organization which cares for you. But when they care equally for your family, it’s truly a privilege. Taking along my spouse for an official tour by paying just the fare was part of my entitlements and there she was, tagged along with me this time as we took the cab from Guwahati – The Gateway to Magical Northeast India after reaching here by an early morning flight from Kolkata.
Two days of work for me while she roamed around the town carefree and then an extended holiday of three days for us, exploring a bit of Shillong and around.
The journey from Guwahati takes around two and a half hours with some breathtaking views of the mountains, lake, nature and clouds as you travel. Founded in the second half of the nineteenth century by the British, Shillong town has enjoyed a cosmopolitan core since its beginnings. This reflects in the unique culture of Meghalaya’s scenic capital – a place where music and every festival is celebrated with zest and as a traveler you will stumble upon cuisines from across the country and the world.
The city lies in the centre of a plateau called the ‘Shillong Plateau’ and is surrounded by hills, three of which are revered in Khasi tradition: Lum Sohpetbneng, Lum Diengiei, and Lum Shillong.
We had reached the Umiam Lake which is also called the Barapani Lake. Once you are here you get the feel that you are almost there with the city being just 15 km away. The lake is a man-made reservoir situated in the slopes and the chief catchment range of the lake and dam is spread over more than 220 square kms. It’s a great vacation spot for the state of Meghalaya and is a well known destination for water games and adventure sports like scooting, kayaking, water cycling and drifting.
Located close to this beautiful lake is the ‘Lum Sohpetbneng’ hill, a revered site for the Khasis, as the natives of Meghalaya are known. They have a fascinating belief system and their landscape is an important part of their folklore.
One of their central stories is that of the umbilical cord, or natural bridge that connected heaven and earth many ages ago that existed on top of this gentle hill. Sohpetbneng translates to the ‘navel of heaven’. Because of human pride and sin, this bridge was severed. Every year the believers make a pilgrimage to the summit to celebrate and acknowledge their legends and to pledge to keep alive their unique traditions. The summit of ‘Lum Sohpetbneng requires a gentle climb. The views of the lake from the top is fascinating along with the tranquil, pine-crested nature all around.
While during my last official solo visit I had opted for a Two Nights stay at the Heritage Club – Tripura Castle, this time we decided to stay right in the heart of the city at Police Bazaar, where all the action is.
Although ‘Centre Point Hotel’ is the best hotel around there, that’s not exactly the peace den we wished to be in when on a holiday. The Cloud 9 Nightclub on the rooftop in the hotel plays loud music till late in the night and you can feel the vibrations in the room, as was my experience during my first visit to Shillong. But you should not miss out on the experience of Cloud 9 on one of your evenings, if you are a Western Music fan. So we settled for ‘Pegasus Crown Hotel’ just a few minutes away and closer to Ward’s Lake, a big attraction of Shillong.
After my first two working days we set about exploring the city & beyond. Come travel with us to check out the places you must not miss during your visit here. We start with Ward’s Lake just next door to our hotel.
Ward’s Lake is a man-made refreshing pool surrounded by beautiful gardens in the heart of the city. The serene lake and the cool shades of trees around it, makes it a nice spot for sightseeing and boating. A stylish white wooden bridge suspended in the middle of the lake is the most recognizable feature of Ward’s Lake.
The lake was named after a British officer, Sir William Ward, who was then the Chief Commissioner of Assam. Meghalaya then was a part of Assam, which now is a separate state. Though he was the one with the initial plan, it was Colonel Hopkins who oversaw the Lake completed in 1894. Since then, it has become a favorite with both locals and tourists.
Lady Hydari Park is one of the well-known attractions in Shillong. Named after the first lady of the province, Lady Hydari, wife of the Governor of Assam, the Park is spread over an area of more than a km and features a mini zoo that has about 73 species of birds, 140 species of reptiles and other mammals. Besides all this the park has a wide variety of local flowering plants and orchids, and is landscaped in Japanese style. You can take a walk and enjoy watching deer that are present in the one corner of the park. The Park is best known for beautiful bed of roses that blossom here in various colors. The park also has a butterfly museum and a special play area for kids.
We are now at the Elephant Falls which was the British name of what the local Khasi people once referred to as Ka Kshaid Lai Pateng Khohsiew (or “Three Steps Waterfalls”) since the falls actually consisted of three sections in succession. The British renamed the falls because there used to be a rock resembling an elephant near the left side of the main falls. However, that rock was destroyed in an earthquake back in 1897.
The Cathedral of Mary Help of Christians is a Cathedral of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Shillong and serves as the seat of the Metropolitan Archbishop of Shillong. The Cathedral is the principal place of worship of the over 300,000 strong Catholics of Shillong. The Cathedral Church was built over 50 years ago. This place of worship stands on the very site of the first Church built by the German fathers. The earlier 1913 building – The Church of the Divine Saviour – was a wooden structure. It was destroyed by the Good Friday fire of April 10, 1936.
At a distance of 10 km from the city and located at the height of 1961 meters above sea level, Shillong Peak is the highest point of Meghalaya that every traveler to Shillong never misses out on. The peak offers a magnificent panoramic scenic beauty of lush green landscapes as well as the bird’s view of Shillong. We were lucky it was not too foggy on that day.
The next day we moved out after breakfast for Cherrapunji which is 54 kms away from Shillong and takes around two hours to reach. The original name for this town was Sohra, which was pronounced ‘Churra‘ by the British. This name eventually evolved into the current name, Cherrapunji which means the ‘land of oranges’. It is credited as being the wettest place on earth. However, nearby Mawsynram currently holds that record. The Meghalaya state government has renamed Cherrapunji back to its original name, Sohra. The journey and then time to go around and visit the top spots.
Nohkalikai Falls is the tallest plunge waterfall in India. Its height is 1115 feet (340 metres). The falls are fed by the rainwater collected on the summit of a comparatively small plateau and decrease in power during the dry season. The name of the falls in Khasi language meaning “Jump of Ka Likai” is linked to a legend about a local woman Likai, who jumped off the cliff next to the falls. Our next stop, the fascinating Root Bridge. It’s man-made and not natural as many may think it is. One needs to be careful while attempting to cross over.
Life in Shillong & Meghalaya
Shillong – Music is a way of Life
For Shillong, western music is a way of life. Throughout the year, music is played and celebrated. Practically every house has an instrument for music and almost everyone can play an instrument. The Bacardi NH7 Weekender is a yearly event that is much awaited by the music-loving crowd of the state.
This is the only place every year celebrating the birthday of Bob Dylan here in India. Also in this area, Bob Marley has earned a name. They celebrate his birthday and young and old meet to sing and dance to his songs of freedom. Over the years there have been many legendary musicians who call this home. Shillong is also known for its emerging café culture and this is one of the prominent ones, where you could enjoy a relaxed time over some coffee and music. Dylan’s Cafe.
Our last day was to completely relax. We got up quite early in the morning and were back to ‘Ward’s Lake’ for some fresh air, some coffee and then a short walk to a handicrafts shop at Police Bazar circle to add few items to our memories.
We were back to the hotel for our breakfast. After freshening up and relaxing a bit it was time for a nice Chinese lunch at the hotel itself. As it was approaching 3 PM we prepared to move out.
Gambling, the traditional way in Shillong
Our Bengali driver the previous evening had motivated us for this trip insisting that we must experience this event. My wife though was more enthusiastic as she believed I had great luck, having witnessed me winning many a times in these small time gambling games.
Shillong has this very interesting gambling game. Teer (meaning Arrow) is a curious phenomenon that blends archery and the interpretation of dreams and has got people hooked. Men, women, and even children run the thousands of Teer stalls throughout the city. “How does this work?” I had asked. “You choose numbers, and they shoot arrows. They shoot at 4:00 PM and 5:15 PM at the Polo Ground.” he had replied. We were soon there.
I approached the counter to check out the rules and to buy a ticket. Each round, 50 archers fire arrows at the target not less than 300 arrows and not more than 1,000. 5 Teer officials then each count the arrows and take the last two-digits of the number as the round score. If 825 arrows hit the target in round 1, the recorded score is 25. Just for fun I invested Rs 50 (USD 0.7) for one round and we waited and observed. The round was about to start. I had put my money on my ever lucky number 23.
Once the counting was over they announced the number. 723 arrows. Would you believe it? Yes I had won once again. Not a fortune, but Rs 400 (USD 5.40). And we were excited. My wife more than me. “See, I told you” is what I remember her saying. It was turning out to be a memorable holiday. But when you are here for your holiday and before you are leaving, don’t forget to pack back with you a specialty of the state. The Wonderful Sweet Pineapples of Meghalaya.
Shillong. A majestic hill station. With unmatched class and a charm of its own. Come over to experience a bit of heaven.