Meghalaya is a beautiful state in the northeastern part of India. One of the 7 sisters, its name literary means the “abode of clouds”. There are no requirements for an Inner Line Permit for foreign tourists to Meghalaya. Our (my wife and myself) journey began early in the day, from Guwahati, as we reached Paltan Bazar to hire a cab.
Hiring a cab from Guwahati could cost between Rs. 1500 to Rs. 2000 or else one could travel in the shared cabs which range from Rs. 200 for AC Taxi to Rs. 140 for non AC. We veered past one of the busiest and rather polluted highways in the northeast – connecting Guwahati to Shillong – with uncountable trucks plying in this one-lane thoroughfare. A tidy and comfortable journey of three hours takes one to the state of Meghalaya with a brief stopover at Nangphu. Usually, there are few roadside dhabas lined up here which serve as a breakfast or lunch stopover for the tourists and passengers, travelling between the two states. However, if one is fond of pickles, this is the place to be – from mango to bamboo shoot pickles – every variety is available here. After a quick lunch, and our cab resumes the second leg of our journey to Shillong.
Waiting eagerly with bated breath we finally come across the spot I had yearned for – Barapani Lake – a sweet water lake situated amidst the verdant abundance of nature. Originally known as Umiam Lake, located in Ri Bhoi district, it is widely known as Barapani, this is the biggest artificial lake in the state. It’s surrounded by sylvan hills with an assortment of green Khasi-pines and azure blue skies. Barapani is situated just 15 km from Shillong on the Guwahati-Shillong National Highway and developed upon the reservoir of the Umiam Hydro Electric Project. For the adrenaline junkies, there is the Water Sports Complex that provides a choice of row-boats, paddle-boats, cruise boats, sailing boats, water scooters and speed boats. This is a very popular place for picnics, fishing and watersports. Besides, it is Lum Nehru Park, which is another popular picnic spot.
It’s well past noon as we reach the meandering road on the outskirts of Shillong. We had booked our accommodation well in advance and stayed at one of the most reputed and picturesque hotels of northeast – Pinewood Hotel. Perched in a secluded area, away from the heart of the town, it offers a cosy ambiance even as one steps in from the entrance. The flooring is wooden and lounge is spacious with photographs of mountains of northeast displayed on the walls of the lounge. A unit of Meghalaya Tourism Development Corporation Ltd, the rooms stood as individual cottages. The rooms had an inbuilt chimney with all modern amenities.
With a quick shower and a refreshing cup of tea, we hit the busy streets of the town. One of the most lively places is the Police Bazar. On offer is an array of roadside shops for the street smart shopper or the swanky malls for handicraft items. Also, don’t be surprised if you see a Tata Nano here as a tourist or city cab. India’s smallest and cheapest car may not have made an impact on the middle class, but here it seemed to have hit the right chord as public transport. We decide to explore Shillong on the third day and tour Cherrapunji the next day.
The cab makes for a neat Rs. 1500 for the trip to arguably the world’s wettest place. The package includes sightseeing of some of the most breathtaking beauties Meghalaya – known as Scotland of East – and rightly so. In the next four hours we would be seeing Nokhalikhai Falls, Seven Sister Falls, Eco Park, Cave, and Ramkrishna Mission. The distance is about 55 km from Shillong and once we enter the village of Cherrapunji, thick dark fog engulfs our cab throughout the curvaceous hilly roads. Even ten feet visibility is a far cry. “The occurrence of fog here is very uncertain,” said our driver Aditya Sarkar, who hails from Shillong. With shrunk spirits we begin to walk towards the Nokhalikhai Falls entrance gate. The entrance fee is Rs. 10 each. As we make our way towards the thick expanse of fog, we discover to our utter displeasure and shock, a thick blanket of fog covering the entire hill overlooking the Nokhalikhai Falls. Only thing we could hear is the shrill waterfalls falling from over a hundred feet into the depth of the forest below. “This is a lean tourist season. The peak season is from October to February. You had been lucky had you been here a bit earlier in the morning,” says the Khasi lady owner of a hotel and handicraft shop just beside the fall.
Khasi tribal community is more women centric and more gender sensitive. According to Khasi tradition, the youngest girl of the family is not married away with her groom. Instead, the groom comes and settles with the youngest bride’s family. Gita is based in New Delhi and has come to her parent’s house on a leave. She has three sisters and all are engaged in their family shop. How do you earn your living in this extreme climate? “We don’t face much difficulty as expected. The flow of tourists from entire northeast and rest of the country and abroad is good enough to make us sustain our investment. There is also a steady sale of handicraft items which adds to the revenue,” she replies, oozing confidence.
We next went to the Eco Park, which is the source of the Seven Sister Falls, from an unbelievable height, consisting of dense forest and rocky terrain. The entire park is an undulating landscape with lush greenery and flowers, with a stream running in between. The charming fog accompanies us with its presence every few minutes. It was established by the Meghalaya government in the plateau, and has an abundance of hybrid and indigenous orchids in the Green House. Not to be missed, it offers breathtaking view of distant Sylhet Plains of neighbouring Bangladesh.
Satisfied we ask our driver about the next destination – Caves. Situated under the thick dark forest land spread over a distance of 150 metres, the Caves are lit on the inside. It is highly rocky terrain with dripping rain and constricted space that allow passersby to sneak through. We cautiously took off our shoes and walk barefoot. In certain parts, the water is knee-deep and hence one has to be cautious not to bring any bags, documents or shoes inside. We felt it might be risky to take children inside. As we come out, we are hit by hunger pangs. A slew of hotels are lined up outside the Caves with an airy ambience and warm food on offer.
Lunch done, we returned to Shillong. Another two hours journey took us back to our hotel. After this whirlwind tour of Cherrapunji, we hit the bed till dinner. The next day was kept for exploring Shillong and we started early. Being the headquarters of East Khasi Hills District, Shillong is situated at an altitude of 1,496 metres above sea level. It has a bracing climate throughout the year. The capital city has been the seat of Government since the consolidation of the British administration in this part of India more than a century ago. Shillong is an important place in the north-east with a lot of institutions of administration, military, education, power, judiciary, policy etc. centered here.
We began with Shillong Golf Course and were enchanted with its lush, verdant view, trying unsuccessfully to play a shot. Developed in 1898, as a 9 Holes Course, it was later converted to 18 Holes in 1924 by Capt. Jackson and C.K Rhodes. Both did a remarkable job in preserving its natural beauty and carved out the course amongst pine trees on gently undulating land. It is the third oldest Golf Course in India and was first surveyed in 1933.
Next stop was the Shillong Cathedral Church. The entire building was painted in blue. It was one of the largest Cathedral Churches I have ever known, seen or heard of. We then move towards the highest peak of the town – Shillong Peak. The view from the top leaves one speechless. The feeling is soothing as we view the entire city with its surrounding hills covered by clouds. If you are a shopaholic this place does not disappoint.
Now we had to descend to the Elephant Falls. Stepped in 165 staircases, the waterfall comes in three layers taking tourists from the topmost layer to the extreme below. Tourists can also get photographed in traditional Khasi attire for Rs. 50.
This entry has been shortlisted for Holidify’s Travelogue Writing Contest in association with Linger. The content and pictures may not be used without prior permission of the author.
Submitted by: Amit Sengupta