Earlier this year, I made my first venture to the unexplored paradise of India with Meghalaya as the focus. The stunning waterfalls, the mysterious caves and the thrilling wonders of nature like the Living Root Bridges made this trip an unforgettable one. Not just for me, but for my family as well. Particularly my daughter. While I have already shared some of my unique experiences in some of earlier posts, I did not really touch upon the charming capital of Meghalaya – Shillong. Time I do that before the year ends.
Shillong is not atypical city. It is a hill station with green meadows, beautiful parks and numerous waterfalls. The one thing that makes it enchanting are the vestiges of its colonial rule. Yes, the British absolutely loved this place and made it their station for a few years. Even today, there is some of that influence that still lingers – be it the manner of people there or the architecture. All in all, Shillong totally won me over and I for one, would love to consider this as my retirement home. With no dearth of things to do, chances of me getting bored are minimal. However, it could be confusing for you on where to start and thus, my top 10 things to do in Shillong.
1) Water sports at Umiam Lake, Shillong
Did you know that Shillong was called the Scotland of the East? And one of the key reasons for it is Umiam Lake or Barapani as it is called. Enroute to Shillong from Guwahati, as we turned around the corner of a mountain, a vast expanse of blue stared back at us. The Umiam lake as I discovered, was one hotspot for all people visiting Shillong – for its sheer beauty and the little dash of adrenaline that one would desire. The lake is a man-made lake that is a result of a dam activity across Umiam river. The lake has been around since the 1960s and is quite a popular spot for picnics and day-outings in Shillong. For people like me, it is ideal for that adventure, for here is where you can do kayaking, boating or water skiing.
2) A hand at Golf in Shillong
Welcome to the “Gleneagle of the East” – one of the World’s largest natural golf courses. Set up by the British, this 18-course Golf Course, is quite a challenge as you direct your way past the beautiful rhododendron trees and green pastures. Miraculously the rains disappeared as we reached the Golf course and sprawled on the green grass to stretch out like cats in that sun.
The Shillong Golf course looked like a scene out of DDLJ or a Swiss landscape. With its green meadows dotted with people and grazing sheep and the street at the far end, there was no other way anyone could feel. We did not really have to play golf to enjoy the place. The fresh air and the greenery are enough to encaptivate you. And if you need more entertainment, sport a frisbee, join a football game that might be happening there or observe the kids doing acrobatics in its sand pit. You will not know how time flies.
3) A date with the ducks at Wards Lake
If the picture above makes you feel as if you are looking at a still from a movie like Mary Poppins, I will definitely not blame you. Right in the hub of Shillong, the Wards Lake is one gorgeous park for some quiet time. With that bridge and stunning flower beds, this is a paradise for the chronic Instagrammers. If you happen to visit this during Winter, you are treated to pretty pink Cherry blossoms. You can choose to head here for a leisurely walk or try some boating on the Lake that was built in the 1890s by Sir William Ward.
While I was here, I was quite envious of all the people in Shillong. I sure would have liked a date with those ducks every day when I used the park for my morning runs. Maybe, that is why I might want to retire here. 🙂
4) Catching butterflies at Lady Hydari Park
If butterflies and orchids are what you desire, you don’t have to go too far in Shillong. Another park in the heart of the city, this one is quite different from Wards Lake. Set by the wife of the first Commissioner of Assam, the Lady Hydari Park is not just fun for adults but has a lot of stuff for kids too. They have a mini zoo and a small play area for them to enjoy while you get your serene time with the refreshing atmosphere of the park.
5) Shopping at Police Bazar
While there maybe plenty of other places to shop in Shillong, my favorite is Police Bazar. Walking down that street, you can buy almost anything from trinkets to curios to carpets, winter wear, shoes and even local fruits. Bargaining and haggling is almost a part of the deal but what is amusing and interesting is observing and interacting with the locals. Land up on a Sunday and even though the main shops are closed, the streets are lively as ever. I would not say no to things from here for they are really value for money.
6) Get a Bird’s Eye view at Shillong Peak
Trek or Drive – completely your choice and both equally beautiful. Get up the birthplace of Shillong for a gorgeous 360 view of this city. Legend has it that Shillong was named after U Shyllong – a youth born out of a virgin mother. It seems he was stillborn and his mother buried him in the garden. A few years later, a young guy walked up to her and surprised her by declaring that he was the stillborn who she buried. A protector of the city, the place, and the peak was named after him.
We landed at the peak on a cloudy rainy day but got lucky for a few minutes that the clouds decided to part, allowing us a lovely view of Shillong below. On a clear day, they say that you can see the various waterfalls from here as well as the Bangladesh plains. However, I assure you that clear day or not, you will love what you see from here.
The Shillong Peak is controlled by the army and hence, there are some restrictions that you have to adhere to in terms of timings and things that you can carry. Remember to dress up in the local attire and get a photo clicked. You can hire the clothes from the shops up on the peak.
7) Refresh at Elephant Falls in Shillong
While there are plenty of waterfalls in Shillong itself like the Crinoline falls and the Sweet falls, the Elephant falls remains my favorite. For the simple reason that it is one stunning gush of water that makes you want to rush right under it. Why even PM Modi loved it for his picture greets you right at the entrance.
The story behind these waterfalls is also, quite interesting. I have shared this story in one of my earlier post on waterfalls of Meghalaya and you must click through to know why these falls are called so. And if you are keen for some more fun. why not go rappelling under those falls? I bet it will be one thrilling experience.
8) Discover the unique churches of Shillong
The one thing that filled my camera memory card was the lovely churches of Shillong. Small or big, they were all over the city and each one better than the other. If I had my way, I might have gone church hopping but sadly, as always, time ran out. The one church that we managed to see was Cathedral of Mary Help of Christians. Very close to the Hydari park, this church was first a wooden structure that got destroyed in a fire. The new church was built over 50 years ago and is one of the most popular ones in Shillong.
Its tall arches and stained glass artwork definitely had me curious but it was the Statue of Mary holding Jesus that totally enraptured me. The expression and haunt in her eyes tug my heart – very slightly but significantly.
9) Visit the Don Bosco Center for Indigenous Cultures
Warning! You need at least half a day to see this one properly. A museum dedicated to the lives of the North East Indian tribes, this places gives you a beautiful understanding of the culture of that entire region of India. It showcases the homes, the daily tools and the festivals followed in these regions. Each floor is a treasure trove of information. And once you are done with each level, you can treat yourself to a skywalk that allows you a spectacular view of Shillong city.
Check out my account of the pleasing culture of Meghalaya on this post.
Skywalk at Don Bosco Center for Indigenous Cultures, Shillong
10) Sample the Local food
If you are a foodie and a non-vegetarian, you will find yourself having the time of your life. The locals favor a lot of pork which with the local flavors is said to taste heavenly. I would know not but I can sure tell you that the vegetarian options though limited were quite scrumptious. Red rice with the local vegetable curries (Jhur Sdieh) is a definite try as is their local Radish salad. Don’t miss the Bamboo pickle called Lungsiej – you might find yourself wanting to take some home. To get the best of local food, you can head to Police Bazar. There are plenty of options but I would recommend Red Rice Restaurant.
Besides the local flavors, go for a quick snack with chaat on the streets. It is quite a different version from what you get in the other parts of India and pretty safe to. The one thing you will notice and appreciate is how clean they are before making it, while serving it and post serving it. Almost every vendor has a plastic bag attached to his cart to ensure that you dispose waste responsibly. 🙂
Well, those are my top 10 things to do in Shillong. Frankly, the list is endless but these can be your start. Let me know which of these would be your favorite and why.
How to reach Shillong?
- The nearest airport to Shillong is Guwahati, which is around 100 Kms away. However, as the roads are pretty decent, you should be able to get to Shillong in 3 hours.
- There are cabs that you can hire directly at the airport to take you to Shillong.
- There are regular flights to Guwahati from most cities of India.
- There is no railway connectivity to Shillong.
- A helicopter ride is another option that can get you to Shillong from Guwahati.
Where to stay in Shillong?
- Shillong has plenty of options for a stay. You can pick the same based on your budget.
- You can book these hotels in Shillong through any of the travel websites. You can even opt for home-stays through these sites. They are fairly clean and comfortable.
- Shillong is best visited from September to April. The monsoon months have a heavy downpour and it becomes difficult to visit many of these places.
- It rains throughout the year and a raincoat or umbrella is a must-have. Being a hill station, it is quite chilly here, especially in winter when you may need a few layers.
- Go for closed flat shoes to beat the chill, the rain, and the long walks
- Most of the tourist places close by 5 pm