Surrounded by rolling hills, the British fondly dubbed Shillong as the ‘Scotland of the East’. The narrow winding roads of the city are filled with Maruti 800s that violate almost every traffic law. Taking a big vehicle to Shillong is a mistake every visitor promptly regrets. The saving grace, however, is that the temperature drops drastically once you have entered this mountainous state. So, even though the wait to reach its capital city might seem endless, enjoy the cool breeze and drink in the stunning views all around you.

As is the case with most northeastern towns, the society of Shillong is highly anglicised. The city still appears to bask in the British legacy as is evinced from its culture and architecture.

History

Formerly a small village, Shillong was made the civil station of the Khasi and Jaintia hills in 1864. Due to its strategic location between the Surma Valley and the Brahmaputra River, Shillong was declared the summer capital of Eastern Bengal and Assam in 1874.

This decision was also taken because the climate of Shillong was much cooler than the rest of tropical India. It served as the capital of undivided Assam till 1972, when Meghalaya was carved out as a full-fledged state during reorganization by the government.

Getty Images
A brightly lit church stands out amongst the other buildings in Shillong
A brightly lit church stands out amongst the other buildings in Shillong

Orientation

The nearest airport is at Umroi, located 30km north of Shillong. However, the Guwahati Airport, in Borjhar, is 118km from Shillong, and is the most convenient way to reach the city from the rest of India. There are no rail lines in Meghalaya and the nearest railhead is in Guwahati, 128km north of Shillong.

Taxis are available for travelling in and around Shillong. However, a great way to explore this crowded city is to set out on foot. Much of the city’s streets go uphill, so walking around tends to get a bit tiring, but is fun nonetheless.

Things to See & Do

Meghalaya Tourism Development Corporation (Tel: 0364-2226220) arranges customised day tours by taxi and bus for sightseeing and it costs 2,800 for two people and 400 per head respectively.

Police Bazaar

Lying in the heart of the city, this bustling market is one of the main attractions of Shillong. Though there are no malls and grand complexes here, clusters of shops selling the most eclectic clothing, electronic goods, and fresh fruits, make up for the lack of it. These shops also sell exquisite artefacts and handicrafts made by local tribes, which make for great souvenirs. Another attraction is that prices are contingent on bargaining skills. Though some shops have fixed prices, most others agree to a huge rebate.

Swapan Nayak
Raj Bhawan, near Ward's Lake
Raj Bhawan, near Ward's Lake

Ward’s Lake

Locally known as Nan-Polok, this horseshoe-shaped lake is amongst the landmark sites of Shillong. Ward’s Lake is situated about a kilometre away from the centre of the city, near the Raj Bhawan. Even in a place as scenic as Shillong, the Ward’s Lake makes for a spectacular sight, complete with isles and bridges. The lake also offers boating facilities. The lake’s shimmering waters bustle with numerous visitors paddling their boats, irrespective of the season.

Swapan Nayak
The scenic horseshoe-shaped Ward's Lake
The scenic horseshoe-shaped Ward's Lake

You can buy packets of puffed rice and popcorn available on site to feed the colourful fish in the lake. However, you might have to jostle for space on the bridge to feed them, as it is as popular an activity as the boat rides. Alternatively, you can take a walk along the winding pathways that meander around green mounds and charming flower beds surrounding the lake.

Lady Hydari Park

If you fall in love with Ward’s Lake and end up seeking a similar site, then head to Lady Hydari Park, located just behind the Shillong Civil Hospital. Lady Hydari, wife of erstwhile governor of Assam, commissioned this park, which also houses a small zoo, aviary, deer park and museum. There are no other zoos in the city. The park is remarkable for its well-manicured lawns. Stretching for over a kilometre, it is filled with rhododendrons, roses and an abundance of other colourful flowers, as well as drooping willow trees.

Adjacent to the Lady Hydari Park, but still tucked away in the woods, is the breathtaking 13-m-high Crinoline Falls. At the foot of the falls is a naturally forming swimming pool. The waterfall is quite popular amongst tourists.

Spread Eagle Falls

Spread Eagle Falls derives its name from its unique shape of an eagle spreading its wings. Locally known as Umkaliar and Sati Falls, this waterfall lies in the Shillong Cantonment area, on the outskirts of the city. Spread Eagle, like most other attractions in Shillong, is a spectacle of surreal natural beauty. However, do mind your step here, as the rock edges tend to get slippery and the walk can easily become somewhat treacherous.

Laitlum Canyons

A treat for adventure enthusiasts, Laitlum Canyons is a largely unexplored destination in Shillong. The place is a 45-minute drive from the city. Needless to say, the beauty of this place will leave you spellbound. A trek to the summit will reward you with a panoramic view of Shillong, surrounded by verdant hills and bamboo plantations. The best time to visit the canyon is around noon, when the sun reaches its peak and the mist gradually clears up. It is a long trek up and might not be suitable for everyone, but the splendid views are worth the effort. Keep your camera handy, as every sight will beg you to take a shot. Wear comfortable clothes and sturdy shoes as this is a long trek.

Don Bosco Centre for Indigenous Cultures

This three-in-one institution comprises a museum, a research centre and a publication centre for preserving and promoting the rich cultural heritage of the northeastern states of India. The museum has a unique structure – the seven-storey high hexagonal building rises to form a flame, signifying the unity of cultures. The centre’s seven floors are devoted to each of the seven sisters of the Northeast. The 17 galleries here display cultural artefacts, such as weapons, costumes and ornaments, musical instruments, as well as paintings from these states. The expansive library contains 10,000 volumes of literature. Try the museum’s Sky Walk for magnificent, sweeping views of Shillong. Timings Summer: 9.00am–5.30pm; Winter: 9.00am–4.30pm Closed Sunday  dbcic.org

Where to Stay & Eat

The Orchid Lake Resort (Tel: 0364-2570258; Tariff: 2,250–4,495), located on the banks of Umiam Lake in Barapani, is a great place to get away from the city. Run by the Tourism Department, the resort has 27 rooms, a restaurant, and organises sightseeing and boat rides. Ri Kynjai Resort (Cell: 09862420300/ 01; Tariff: 7,000–12,000 is a beautiful boutique property near Umiam Lake.

Hotel Pinewood (Tel: 2223116/46; Tariff: 2,800–10,000) was built in the 1920s on the pattern of an English country home. Run by Meghalaya Tourism, it is a few minutes’ walk from Ward’s Lake. The hotel has a golf course and a billiards room. Royal Heritage-Tripura Castle (Tel: 2501111/ 49; Tariff: 4,500–9,000) was the private residence of the Tripura royal family.

The veteran Hotel Polo Towers (Tel: 2222341-42; Tariff: 5,950–10,950), situated near the Polo Grounds, has 51 rooms. Hotel Centre Point (Tel: 2220480, 2229839; Tariff: 3,000–7,500), situated in Police Bazaar, has 31 rooms and its own restaurant and bar. Hotel Alpine Continental (Tel: 2220991, 2223617; Tariff: 4,366–6,292), located opposite Congress Bhavan near the Police Bazaar, has 31 rooms with room service, restaurant and bar. The Shillong Club (Tel: 2225497; Tariff: 2,500–4,500) takes in guests on prior notice. It has 21 rooms on offer, a bar (for members only), restaurant and various indoor sports facilities such as billiards and table tennis.

The Information

When to Go All year round. However, December to February can be very cold, and June to August very wet.

Tourist Offices

 The Directorate of Tourism, 3rd Secretariat Nokrek Building, Lower Lachumiere, Shillong. Tel: 0364-2226054, 2502166 (megtourism.gov.in)

Tourist Information Centre Police Bazaar, Shillong. Tel: 2226220

Getting There

Air Shillong’s Umroi Airport (30km/ 1hr) is connected by Air India to Kolkata. Taxi to town is about 600, bus 100 per head. However, Guwahati Airport (118km/ 3hrs) is better connected to other cities. Taxi costs 1,500 (Indica) and 3,500 (Innova). Shared taxi to Shillong costs 300 per head

Rail Nearest railhead: Guwahati.

Meghalaya Transport Corporation (Tel: 2223200) bus services, operating from 6.00am–5.00pm, are coordinated with train arrivals and departures at Guwahati. Shared taxi is 300 per head

Road From Guwahati, take NH37 and NH40 via Dispur, Jorabat, Barnihaat, Nongpoh and Umiam. Taxi charges are 18–25 per km (Contact: Khasi Hills Tourist Taxi Stand; Cell 09863023694)

Bus MTC bus to Shillong available from Guwahati ISBT.