Our groggy and tired eyes weren’t prepared for the vastness of Umiam Lake, or Bara Pani (big water) as the locals call it in Shillong. In our defence, we’d left behind a long journey from Kohima to Guwahati. Peering through our car window, to us, the lake looked like a never-ending mirage — complete with rolling mists emerging from the hills and the sky turning shades of orange to purple before settling on a pleasant blue. Prepare your eyes to be greeted with this view, as Shillong offers a heavy dose of unending mountains, lush waterfalls and thick clouds rising from the valleys.
On a four-day trip to Meghalaya (which literally means abode of the clouds), we decided to check out a mix of touristy as well as less-explored places.
The city of Shillong has a lot to offer — from museums, cafés and markets that are perfect for those evening strolls, to old-school cathedrals and lakes (yes, in the middle of the city). But, our itinerary was charted (many years ago) on some dog-eared pages of Lonely Planet.
What to see
1 Living Root Bridge: In Meghalaya, bridges aren’t built, they are grown. The Living Root Bridge is an example of that. About a two-hour drive from Shillong, near Mawlynnong, the bridge is made of sturdy roots and is often used by villagers. While this bridge is a popular tourist attraction because of its accessibility, the one situated in Cherrapunji is not for the weak-hearted; it involves trekking down over 3,000 steps.
2 Mawlynnong: You’ll pass through this village on your way to the Living Root Bridge. We suggest making a pit stop here, on your way back. The village is very clean and the people from the village are friendly and welcoming. Walk through the tiny lanes and make it a point to check out the neatly-divided residential areas, small drainage canals built along the huts and the bamboo dustbins installed every few meters. Make it a point to grab a meal at the local shacks; these offer a peek into the cuisine from the state. A vegetarian meal here consists of plain dal, rice and a curry, and a non-vegetarian meal is usually chicken cooked with bamboo shoots and served with rice and spicy pickle.
3 Dawki, Umngot River: Crystal clear water is not just an expression, but a reality at Dawki. Passing through the India-Bangladesh border, the Umngot River makes for an ideal spot for camping and barbecues, or just to laze around. Take a boat ride (priced at `400 per hour) along the river and go nuts gawking at the large pebbles on the river bed. Yes, you can see through the water — even 15ft deep at some places.
4 Mawphlang Sacred Forest: The Khasi Hills have many forests that have been preserved by local religious sanctions, which means that these forests cannot be harmed or tampered with. “Don’t even dare picking up a leaf as a souvenir,” instructed our guide. About 25km from Shillong, this sacred forest is an ideal spot for nature lovers, and those who are looking for a moment of peace and quiet. Dense trees, orchids and butterflies are in abundance, and so are religious stones that stand tall in the forest.
Where to stay
1 Aerodene: This charming homestay is part of a restored bungalow built in Assamese and Chinese style, with walls in pastel shades and wooden flooring. Run by the charming and helpful Sharlene, Aerodene is perfect for those who like to soak into local culture and enjoy the slow-paced life. Though the homestay is quaint, it boasts of all modern amenities like Wi-Fi, LCD TVs, room heaters, a mini library and yoga classes for guests.
2 Lakkhotaa Lodge: Built by a couple who are Feng Shui practitioners, this lodge can be a perfect spot for those looking to channelise their zen energies. The food menu is conceptualised by a Le Cordon Bleu pass-out and offers continental fare.
Where to eat
1 Café Shillong: A popular haunt with the locals, Café Shillong hosts regular gigs over the weekends. In fact, Lou Majaw (who organises the famous annual Bob Dylan festival in the city) is a regular here. Order a warm cup of coffee or dig into the Khow Suey here, while you listen to some good old rock ‘n’ roll. Another dish worth mentioning is the Shillong Noodles served with smoked pork, a local delicacy.
Address: LP Building, Laitumkhrah Main Rd, Nongkynrih, Shillong
2 City Hut Dhaba: Situated close to the main square at Police Bazaar, City Hut Dhaba is popular with the tourists. The menu boasts of a mix of Indian and Chinese favourites including Manchurian, momos and wantons. However, the restaurant’s best feature is its quaint, yet vintage-y vibe.
Address: Earle Holiday Home, Oakland Road, Shillong
3 Royal Heritage Tripura Castle: Built in the 1920s by the royal family of the Manikya Dynasty of Tripura, the castle houses The Rice Court, a multi-cuisine restaurant and Café Shillong Heritage that is often a preferred venue by the elite for weekend gigs with barbecue. The castle also offers luxurious rooms to stay.
Address: Cleve Colony, Tripura Castle Road, Shillong