SHILLONG

Surrounded by rolling hills, the British fondly dubbed Shillong as the ‘Scotland of the East’. The city still appears to bask in the British legacy as is evident from its culture and architecture. As is the case with most northeastern towns, Shillong’s society is highly anglicized.

Orientation

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.

Meghalaya Tourism Development Corporation (Tel: 0364-2226220) arranges customised day tours by taxi and bus for sighteeing for ₹2,800 for 2 pax and ₹400 per head respectively.

THINGS TO SEE AND DO

Ward’s Lake

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

Swapan Nayak
The spectacular horseshoe-shaped Ward’s Lake
The spectacular 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 flower beds surrounding the horseshoe-shaped perimeter of 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 the erstwhile governor of Assam, commissioned this park, which also houses a small zoo, aviary, deer park and a museum. 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 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 natural swimming pool. The waterfall is quite popular amongst tourists and photography enthusiasts. A restaurant nearby offers a variety of delicious food items.

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 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 panoramic views of Shillong, surrounded by lush 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 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.

Tip Wear comfortable clothes and sturdy shoes as this is a long trek

Vivek Das
Traditional Khasi boat roofs at Ri Kynjai Resort
Traditional Khasi boat roofs at Ri Kynjai Resort

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 orna-ments, musical instruments, as well as paintings from these states and housing patterns. The expansive library contains 10,000 volumes of literature. Try the museum’s Sky Walk, for sweeping views of Shillong.

Timings 9.00am–5.30pm summer; 9.00am–4.30pm winter Closed Sunday W dbcic.org

WHERE TO STAY AND EAT

The Orchid Lake Resort (Tel: 0364- 2570258; Tariff: ₹2,250–4,495), situated 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 bar, 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 the 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, a 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, table tennis and snooker.

Waterfalls, a common sight in the hills around Mawlynnong
Waterfalls, a common sight in the hills around Mawlynnong

MAWLYNNONG

In 2003, travel magazine Discover India declared Mawlynnong the “Cleanest Village” in Asia. The road from Shillong to Mawlynnong passes through such diverse terrain that it takes time for one to come to terms with the fact that you are still within the geographical bounds of the same state. A sharp turn leads past an enormous range of tablelands, while another through meadows. Just as you begin to get used to these landscapes, a third turn leads you past a hamlet and the next past a quarry. In the midst of this changing terrain, finding Mawlynnong might not be an easy task, owing to the lack of signage along the route to the village. Hence, it is advisable to be accompanied by someone who knows the location.

Orientation

Located in the Pynursla block of East Khasi Hills, the picturesque village of Mawlynnong stretches along the India-Bangladesh border. Shillong serves as a good jumping-off point to Mawlynnong.

THINGS TO SEE AND DO

Walk Around

Even though the state is blessed with unprecedented natural beauty, this fairy-tale village raises the bar even higher. The narrow, winding road leading to Mawlynnong takes you past fields, hills, streams and stark wilderness.

As you enter the village, you will be greeted by the 100-year-old Church of the Epiphany, an elegant black-and-white structure surrounded by orange and palm trees. You may have to park your vehicle in the field adjacent to the church and start walking from here. Don’t miss the treehouse nearby. This seemingly fragile-looking, but charming, tree-house affords stunning views of the plains of the neighbouring state of Bangladesh. Note that it takes great agility to climb the three bamboos that form the pathway from the ground to the treehouse.

Ahtushi
A living root bridge
A living root bridge

The concrete road cutting through the village will take you past small wooden houses with colourful gardens, unravelling why Mawlynnong is known as the cleanest village not only in India, but also in Asia. The village has around 80 households, a majority of which are on a mission to keep the village spotlessly clean. There are bamboo baskets tied to trees outside every house to prevent people from littering. All this waste is collected in a pit, and later used as manure. Residents take turns to clean the roads, which are lined with flowering plants. Littering is a punishable offence and plastic has been completely banned in the village.

Boasting a 100 per cent literacy rate and being extremely environment con-scious, villagers are devoted to protecting the surrounding forests. The concrete road ahead of the village leads to a clearing where stands the village’s only eatery, Halathygkong. The thatched sitting area looks out over to the clearing and one could not ask for a more serene setting. The eatery serves the most flavourful rice thali around.

After a hearty meal, resume your walk. The region awaits you with its numerous gurgling streams, majestic waterfalls and several viewpoints.

Tip Be sure to keep your camera handy

Living Root Bridges

There are a number of living root bridges across Meghalaya, most of which can be reached by undertaking a long trek. These formations are unique to the state. The most easily accessible of these is the living root bridge located in the neighbouring village of Riwai.

This hamlet is only a couple of minutes away from Mawlynnong, and has found its way on the tourist map because of the bridge. As you enter Riwai, a small clearing serves as a parking lot, and it is surrounded by many eateries selling local dishes. A paved road takes you to the ticket counter.

Set in verdant environs, this single-decker bridge at Riwai spans over a gushing stream dotted with rocks. The living bridge was fashioned from the roots of the rubber fig tree by the Khasi villagers in order to cross over the stream. Such root bridges become stronger with time, and take 10 to 15 years to become fully functional. The bridges are, however, strong enough to hold the weight of upto 50 people at a time. Visitors can even descend to the stream below and take a dip in the cool waters.

Entry ₹10 Timings Sunrise–sunset

Ahtushi
Thick clouds settling in around Cherrapunjee
Thick clouds settling in around Cherrapunjee

Sky View

Another attraction is the Sky View, or ‘Machan’, a 26-m-high watchtower made of bamboo. The structure was fashioned by Rishop Khongthongreh, a local school teacher. The steep climb to the top will lead you to a spot offering a bird’s-eye view of the village, as well as distant views over neighbouring Bangladesh’s verdant plains.

Although there are other vantage points that offer panoramic vistas of the Bangladesh plains, but this particular spot must not be missed, simply because of the thrill that the climb involves.

Entry ₹10 Timings Sunrise–Sunset

WHERE TO STAY

Mawlynnong Guest House (Tel: 2502420; Tariff: ₹3,000) has two rooms on offer. The facilities may be basic, but cater to your comforts.

Location In the East Khasi Hills District, 80km S of Shillong Air Guwahati Rail Guwahati

SOHRA

Once the wettest place on earth, Sohra still remains a much-visited destination in Meghalaya. The distinction of being the wettest place currently lies with the neighbouring village of Mawsynram. A trip to Sohra will reward you with unparalleled views of its diverse terrain. During summer, the weather is just the right mix of warm sunshine and cool breeze. In winter, the temperature drops as low as 4 degree Celsius.

Orientation

A two-hour drive from Shillong, Sohra is an excellent day trip option. It can be covered on foot, and a taxi can be hired to see sites nearby. Visitors from Shillong will have to hire a cab for the entire day.

THINGS TO SEE AND DO

Seven Sisters Falls

Locally known as Mawsmai Falls, this waterfall is located a kilometre south of the village of Mawsmai. The falls can be viewed from a deck by the side of the road. This viewpoint overlooks a valley with the cluster of waterfalls plummeting from the cliff. The limestone cliff segregates the falls into seven parts from where the Seven Sisters gets its name. The waterfall, with a drop of 315m, is one of the tallest in the country. Bear in mind that in winter the falls are reduced to a trickle.

Thangkharang Park

Another popular tourist destination here is the Thangkharang Park, situated around 8km from Sohra. A treat for nature lovers, it abounds in exotic orchids and other rare plants endemic to the area. The main attraction here, however, are the breathtaking views of the waterlogged Bangladesh plains, as well as of the majestic 305-m-high Kynrem Falls. A deck at the edge of the cliff, affords spectacular views of the falls.

Dainthlen Falls

On the way to Sohra, a road to the right leads to these spectacular 80–90-m-high falls, around 2km before the village begins. The waterfall derives its name from the legend of a thlen (Khasi word for snake). According to the myth, there was a thlen, an enormous demon python, that used to live in a cave in this area. Tired of the snake’s evil ways, the locals decided to slaughter it. Adjacent to the spot where the thlen was killed lie these falls. Spread across in the shape of a semicircle, this waterfall is popular with tourists. The force of Dainthlen reduces during the winter months, but during monsoon, it appears akin to a smaller version of the roaring Niagara Falls.

WHERE TO STAY AND EAT

Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort (Cell: 09436115925, 09615338500; Tariff: ₹2,730–3,825) lies in Laitkynsew, 16km from the town. Closer to the town is Saimika Park and Resort (Cell: 09863020718; Tariff: ₹2,500–4,000) with clean rooms and great food. There is also Hotel Polo Orchid (Cell: 09856000222; Tariff: ₹4,349–11,900) and Coniferous Resort (Tel: 03637-235537, Cell: 09436178164; Tariff: ₹1,600–3,000) .

Location 52km SW of Shillong

FAST FACTS

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

Tourist offices

Directorate of Tourism, 3rd Secretariat, Nokrek Building, Lower Lachumiere, Shillong, Tel: 0364-2226054, 2502166, 2500736, W megtourism.gov.in

Tourist Information Centre, Police Bazaar, Shillong, Tel: 2226220

STD code Shillong 0364

GETTING THERE

Air Shillong’s Umroi Airport (32km/ 1hr) is connected by Air India to Kolkata. Taxi to town is about ₹600, bus ₹100 per head. However, Guwahati Airport (128km/ 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 is well-connected to all major cities of India. Meghalaya Transport Corporation (Tel: 0364-2223200) bus services (3.5hrs/ ₹250 per head) 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 Local running charges are ₹18/ 25 per km (Contact: Khasi Hills Tourist Taxi Stand, Police Bazaar, Shillong; Cell: 09863023694) Bus MTC bus to Shillong available from Guwahati ISBT Helicopter This service can be availed from Guwahati to Shillong (20mins) and vice versa (Contact: Meghalaya Helicopter Service Cell: 09859021473)