This post is part of my fortnight long backpacking across North-east India, specifically covering parts of Meghalaya – Assam – Arunachal Pradesh I had planned to visit Shillong – Smit – Cherrapunjee – Mawlynnong – Dawki – Ribhoi- Shillong during my weeklong stay in Meghalaya.
The planned solo trip started when I boarded the BLR- GAU bound flight to Guwahati. An argument over having to pay an additional Rs.50 per head for turning the A/C on for 1 passenger’s need in a shared taxi from Guwahati airport ended when the drive uphill pulled-off at Police Bazaar in Shillong at 3.00.p.m. While the streets were bustling with the weekenders finding their way out of the hill state, an acquaintance who had offered to let me stay at her place was waiting for my arrival. Thus started my weeklong backpacking trip at Meghalaya and my first day at the capital town, Shillong.
On my first ever solo trip, it being my first day in an unknown city and having very little time with daylight left (The sun sets early in the North-eastern part of India), I decided not to move too far from my friend’s house and eventually cause trouble to people in finding me. I dumped my luggage at the house and started to explore the city by foot.
My Itinerary for Shillong:
Day 1: Arrive at Shillong by 03.00.p.m., Walk around the residential lanes, Shopping at Police Bazaar
Day 2: Golf course, drive to the outskirts (Laitlung valley), local city tour, Elephant falls, Shillong peak & Sweet falls
Day 3: Proceed with the next day’s itinerary
The first day went pretty well where I tagged along with another solo-traveler and together we were able to explore the markets, street food and have a fine conversation about travel & music- we kind of struck similar chords. We shopped for woolens, thermals and shoes at dirt cheap prices on the streets of police bazaar. We tasted a lot of local fruits and even picked up some ‘Bhoot Jhalokias, world’s spiciest chilly as mementoes to our relatives.
While we were walking through the narrow residential lanes of the city, we learned about the architecture of the buildings here. Shillong falls under the red belt for earthquakes. Hence, the houses are constructed with light-weight roofs- usually a combination of hay and metal sheet. Also, the houses are usually constructed a few feet above the ground with insulating materials to keep them warm during the winters. Although, a few buildings seemed to have been constructed of concrete, I was told that the walls were mud smeared and if a hole was made with a slightly large nail, the sand from within would ooze out and eventually collapse the wall. This was to protect the people from earthquake & chilly winters together. Pork forms a major part of Khasi cuisine and that made us eat a lot of it (chops, barbequed, fried etc.) since pork goes into almost all dishes. All in all, my landing on the first day in the North-eastern India as a solo traveler went rather well without seeming so lost!
Day 2 can be broadly divided into 3 parts:
- Taxi ride to the outskirts (Smit & Laitlung valley)
- Walk around the city
- Taxi ride to the cantonment area (Shillong peak & Sweet falls)
An early morning walk down the road from my friend’s house lead to the Golf course- The largest, oldest, wettest and the toughest to play in Asia. Green pastures have been scientifically proven to have a soothing effect on human mind and it was nothing different to expect from this golf course. I walked back up to the Police Bazaar and hired a taxi thereon to Smit.
Part 1: Taxi ride to the outskirts (Smit & Laitlung valley)
The drive of 25kms was refreshing as I passed through potato farms and scenic Khasi villages on the way. After a small stopover, we drove to Laitlung valley- about 5kms further. The beauty of the valley with 360 degree greenery and fresh air cleansed my mind off half my worries and tension. The villagers I met on my way enriched me with the simplicity and content of life. After a good walk down and up the beautiful valley of Mawkeynrew, my tummy had started to call out for me. I savoured the plantains offered to me by the villagers and sat down with a few school kids who were excited to catch up for a conversation with a foreigner in English! I managed to get breakfast at one of the stalls where a simple plate of noodles was served with a heavy dose of warmth and humility. (Click here to read more on this visit to Laitlung valley)
Part 2: Local city tour
After reaching back to Shillong, I enquired with a few taxis to show me around local sightseeing places. For a backpacking budget that I had, the taxi charges seemed to be expensive. Hence, I decided to explore the city by foot with support from my best friend: Google maps. With a little bit of browsing, I listed down many places, all located within a radius of 5 kilometers. Depending on what one’s interest lies in, it is possible to find something for everyone in this little hillstation.
Things to see in Shillong include:
• For the museum bums: Air force museum (at Upper Shillong), Forest museum (Inside Lady Hydari park), Rhino heritage museum, Zoological museum, Anthropological museum (at Mawsbuit/ahead of Happy Valley), Botanical museum, Arunachal museum, State museum, Don-Bosco centre of culture (At Mawlai).
• For the water & nature lovers: Shillong peak, the Wards lake, Bishop Beadon falls, Spread eagle falls (also called as Sati or Umkaliar falls), Crinoline falls and Elephant falls.
• For the spirituality seekers: There are a large number of Cathedrals and churches where you can attend the Sunday mass with hymns melodiously sung in the Khasi language.
Part 3: Taxi ride to the cantonment area (Shillong peak & Sweet falls)
By sunset time, I realized that I had done several rounds of the same roads and had checked off very few places. And that’s when I decided to take a taxi and visit the farthest of the city’s sightseeing landmark. I was heading towards the highest point of the hill station: Shillong peak. However, the road taken towards the peak was blocked by the Indian air-force staff due to security reasons. So, that’s when my driver offered an alternate plan for me to spend the remaining evening. I nodded to his idea and sat back as he drove through the ‘Happy Valley’ and the army cantonment area at Mawsbuit to show me the most beautiful of all places around Shillong: the Sweet falls.
Being tucked away from the city crowd and having limited access to people due to the army area, this place was very serene, clean and beautiful. However, apart from a couple of riders who had dropped over for a drink, the place seemed to be very secluded. Since this was my “first” solo backpacking trip, I wasn’t feeling great about being in a less-crowded place like this one. So, I went back to the taxi and decided to be driven back to the city area.
Just then, I had a surprise waiting for me inside my taxi. My driver fallen sick and seemed to be partially unconscious. He was struggling to respond when I tried to talk to him. I suspected that his sugar levels had dropped and quickly gave him some toffees from my bag. After letting him rest in the car for a while, he seemed to come back to normalcy (at least enough conscious to be able to drive the car out of the deserted area). He then dropped me back to the city and bid me farewell.
After a short shopping break at the Police bazaar market, I headed to MTDC (Meghalaya Tourism Development Corporation) office where I thought I would be able to plan my next day’s itinerary… and what happened next is history.!!
• It’s a safe and a friendly city for the solo travelers.
• Time required for covering all places in the city- 1.5 days
- For the music buffs: Attend the Shillong Weekender NH7 music festival
- For the cultural buffs: Attend the Nongkrehm festival of the Khasi tribes at Smit
- For the foodies: Try Khasi cuisine at the many restaurants and give it a try for street food post 6.00.p.m across the city.
- For the shopaholics: lots of amazing winter wears, shoes and boots at dirt cheap prices across the city!
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