Tag Archives: Shillong tourism

Gateway to the abode of clouds- RiBhoi

This post is part of my fortnight long road trip across North-east India, specifically covering parts of Meghalaya – Assam – Arunachal Pradesh I had tagged along with two other travelers and drove around the state of Meghalaya visiting Shillong – Smit – Cherrapunjee – Mawlynnong – Dawki – Ribhoi- Shillong.

A long winding highway up the hill from Guwahati leads to Meghalaya: Abode of the clouds. And up there, one will be greeted by blue waters of a calm lake flanking the road on the right with no sign boards indicating the arrival at Ri Bhoi district. With no major landmark to explore for a typical tourist, this small distrct is full of fables and legends. If you’re someone interested in fairy tales, I highly recommend you to take a local person with you and follow my trail.

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The Umiam lake from NH40

The Umiam Lake or Barapani has been gracefully present there in a serene backdrop of green hills of the state. There is no passerby who doesn’t stop for at least a minute to capture the beauty of this place! This is a man-made lake formed due to the construction of a reservoir across the Umiam river. Today, this reservoir is one of the main sources of potable water to Shillong. For people looking for a leisure trip, one can go for boat rides in the clear waters of the lake. It is also called as the ‘water of tears’ named after a legend which talks about two sisters who were travelling to heaven. It is beleived that one of the sisters slipped from the hills and died, the other sister cried out of grief and her tears are said to have trickled down and formed the lake!

We had read about this place called ‘Lum Sohpetbneng’ close to Umiam and asked our driver if he could take us there. Although he himself had never been there earlier, he readily agreed to take us there. ‘Lum Sohpetbneng’ is a sacred grove of pine trees where a golden ladder is believed to have existed which connected Heaven and Earth. Although there is a motorable road, the place looked eerily deserted with absolutely NO ONE until the peak. We kind of got lost with several deviations in the route but since we were in the middle of the forest, we decided to reach the destination before we gave up. We wanted to know how the ladder looked like that connected God and Man. Finally, we arrived there… Only a dilapidated structure what appeared like some prayer hall and an under-construction structure was there, which our driver told us was a place where an annual fair is held with a large congregation of Hindus.

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An epitaph at Lum Sohpetbneng

A few steps away from the concrete structure, our driver took us to a neglected patch of land under an old withering tree. He pointed at a rock and told us, “See, these massive footprints here? It is of the humans who tried to climb heaven. Back in the days, humans used to be massive in size. One day, God realized that heaven was getting full and so he cut-off the ladder which laid right here, where this tree is now growing.” Although the shape of a feet with heels and toes were demarked clearly in the footprints, it is interesting to know how we grow up with fables without understanding the scientific logic behind.

There isn’t much to do on the peak apart from a good view of the Umiam Lake on one side and the Jaintia hills, Shillong airport, the Asian highway on the other. We drove back to Shillong.

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A view of Umiam lake from Lum Sohpetbneng

I personally would not recommend this trip if you are on a packed schedule. But if you are an explorer, interested in studying religion and culture, I would advise you to go there with a person familiar and knowledgeable about the place. A deviation from Umiam Lake can help one to explore the Diengiei Peak, where a crater formed by an extinct volcano exists. Dwarksuid is yet another place we gave a miss on the Umroi Bhoilymbong road where a rocky lake exists and is believed to be ‘Devil’s doorway’ because of the dark colored rocks surrounding the lake.

Closing remarks: Being the first scenic spot while entering Meghalaya through NH40, Umiam Lake is a good stop-over to watch the sunset and chill with friends on the banks. There, you can flip your arms open and let Meghalaya breathe some life into you before you head over for a wonderful trip ahead!

Tripping in Scotland of the east- Shillong

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 Details:

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:

  1. Taxi ride to the outskirts (Smit & Laitlung valley)
  2. Walk around the city
  3. 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.

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The Ward’s lake at Shillong

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.

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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.!!

Closing Remarks:

• It’s a safe and a friendly city for the solo travelers.
• Time required for covering all places in the city- 1.5 days

Must dos:

  • 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!