What happens when you wake up early one morning and decide to travel to the nearest hill station? We ended up visiting Shillong for the umpteen time this Saturday, rushing through some of its most famous places, all in a day.
We started early, at around 6.30 am. The good thing about Assam in June is that the sun rises at 4.30 in the morning and this gives you a near 14-hour day. We wanted to reach Umiam Lake (or Bara Paani as others call it) in time for breakfast and get into Shillong early so as to avoid the traffic. As we crossed the lake, the heavy rain-laden clouds were brushing the higher slopes. We turned right towards Shillong and very soon the four-lane highway gave way to a two-way road on the outskirts of the city.
After a light breakfast, we eventually ran into some traffic. The streets in the city are very tight and you have to be careful to navigate yourself out of what may seem like impossible passes. The locals get a little worked up in case you bump your car into theirs. So it’s best to stick to your side and chug ahead slowly.
We headed straight for Shillong’s golf course, knowing that it would be relatively empty this early in the morning. Unlike other courses, this one has a public road snaking through its greens. Staff from the golf club sound whistles and halt passing cars as the players tee-off from some of the holes. At nearly 5,800 feet, the golf course is one of the highest in India and the wettest in Asia. The damp fairways and bunkers are sure to test the best professionals. More so, it is one of the most picturesque tracks as well, especially as the sun peeks out of the clouds.
Ward’s Lake was another place on our day’s itinerary. Located very close by to the polo grounds, the lake and its park is a nice getaway for the locals on weekends. Shillong maintains its public areas exceptionally and this park was a prime example. The diverse flora includes a wide range of orchids and other blossoms throughout the year. You could feed popcorn to the fish or just go boating on the lake. We considered visiting the Lady Hydari Park as well, but as we wanted to be at Sohra by lunch, we decided to skip it.
The 45-kilometre drive from Shillong to Sohra-Cherrapunji is perhaps one of the most scenic routes in India. The undulating hills of the plateau and the deep valleys offer a beautiful drive filled with view points and stopovers. One of them is at the Mawkdok Valley point. The area offers a panoramic view of the monsoon clouds ascending the East Khasi Hills and is lush with greenery. The point is a popular tourist spot and on weekends it draws quite a crowd. There are a few eateries for a quick bite but the food was very average and 40 rupees for a plate of noodles may seem a bit too much.
We sped downhill towards Cherrapunji, soaking in more of the vistas. We could see the plains in Bangladesh as the valley opened further south. Lining the cliffs were numerous waterfalls with some of the drops more than a hundred meters. The most famous one would have to be the Seven Sisters falls. On a clear day, the falls are visible from the entire road that circles the area. We stopped at the Eco Park, constructed around the river that gives way to the waterfalls. It is a good place to spend time to gulp some fresh air and look into the distance, but was nothing spectacular.
Cherrapunji offers a lot of homestay options for not that much. Prices at these places could range from 200-500 rupees a day, which is reasonable enough. There are travellers’ lodges as well if you don’t mind bunking with other people. The food is good in the area and you will see a lot of Indo-Chinese influence in the cuisine. There a tons of places to see around Cherrapunji including caves, monoliths, natural parks, hot springs and even more waterfalls. So spending an entire day is definitely something you should consider. The place is very quiet and humble and offers a nice getaway from the madness in the cities and a chance to find some much-needed peace.
We had our lunch and were driving back to Shillong now. The weather had cleared even more and the late afternoon sun was making the grass and the leaves gleam. We were absolutely lucky to be having that kind of weather and the drive back was even better. Shillong’s notorious traffic delayed our arrival into the city. We decided to skip Shillong peak altogether – we had been there each time we visited the area. Police Bazaar was our final stop and we were praying that we find a vacant parking spot. You could choose to park your car way ahead and take the long walk to the bazaar. Thankfully a spot opened up and we neatly parked our car with no trouble.
Police Bazaar is jam-packed on weekends with as many locals as there are tourists.The market has everything, from inexpensive leather goods to high-end fashion brands. Hawkers line the constricted alley selling fruits, vegetables, wooden items and cutlery. We found peaches, strawberries and passion fruits in abundance and happily bought them. The prices were considerably lower than what we used to pay in Guwahati. Food lovers should definitely mark Legacy Cake Shop in Dedar Market on their maps. The place is known for its cakes and sweets. We bought two of each of their various cupcakes and some pre-packed homemade biscuits. If the quality of their food makes you happy, you will be even more delighted with the pricing. Their butter cupcakes were priced at 8 rupees each and their most expensive cupcake was only 40 rupees.
With our bellies full and sweet teeth satisfied, we began our journey back home. It is perhaps cruel to say that Shillong and Meghalaya can be covered in a day. There are so many other places in the city like the church, polo grounds and various restaurants we wanted to visit. Then there is Dawki, Jowai and West Meghalaya that cannot be left unvisited. We bookmarked all these areas for yet another day, knowing that we will continue to be fascinated and enthralled every time we visit the land called the abode of the clouds.