Beginning this week we will be showcasing a three part series on a trip undertaken by the author and her son through Meghalaya – the Abode of Clouds
By Dr. Monideepa Das
PART – 1
There is a saying in Assamese (my mother tongue), “Duroi’r porbot xuwonee”, which implies that in our quest for beauty, we often tend to overlook beauty right next to us and seek it far and wide. Although born and raised in Assam, I had not explored our neighbouring state of Meghalaya, apart from a couple of hurried-hurricane day trips to Shillong.
It was only after relocating and living in Bangalore for seven years, that my son and I decided to take a one-week trip to Meghalaya – the Abode of Clouds. We made the necessary reservations for our stay, hired an SUV for our travel from Guwahati and back.
We grabbed a quick, light lunch at Nongpoh and then made a customary stop at the Umiam Lake View Point to stretch our legs and capture a couple of scenic shots. Thereafter, we drove all the way to Shillong, Meghalaya’s capital.
I am fortunate to be blessed with a strong vestibular system (sensory apparatus of the inner ear) and hence motion sickness has never been a concern for me. I have always enjoyed the adrenaline rush of traversing sharp hairpin bends and notoriously deep gorges that are a part of hilly / mountainous road trips.
My son and I had done a 10-day trip to Leh-Ladakh (located in the northern most region of India, bordering Kashmir in the southwest and China towards East. During that summer, we had thoroughly enjoyed crossing the high altitude passes, Khardung La and Chang La on our trips to the Nubra Valley and Pangong Lake respectively.
Closer home, the road to Shillong is way too wide and straight and it would not be wrong to say that for most parts of the journey, it lacks the adventure of an ascent to a hill station. But the scenery enroute is breathtaking.
On reaching Shillong, we stopped at the Don Bosco Museum, more appropriately known as Don Bosco Centre for Indigenous Cultures near Police Bazaar in the Mawlai area. I am very grateful to our driver for suggesting this extremely enjoyable and enlightening tourist attraction, about which I was totally unaware.
My son and I totally lost track of time as we explored each of the exceptionally well-curated galleries displaying a prized collection of art and artefacts, paintings and sculptures which depict the rich history and heritage, culture and lifestyle of the indigenous people of the North Eastern states of India. The mammoth museum spread over seven storeys, each floor dedicated to one of the seven sister states of the Northeast is an absolute must visit, preferably with ample time on hand.
After spending over two hours browsing through the galleries, we were delighted to walk out onto the Sky Walk at the topmost level of the museum. Taking in deep breaths of the cool fresh air, we enjoyed the picturesque and panoramic view of Shillong as we walked around.
This robust building with its unique hexagonal honey comb pattern, standing prominently against the Shillong skyline, is not only the architectural pride of Shillong but is also undeniably one of the largest and best museums in the country. I left this DBCIC feeling very happy and content.
We finally reached our hotel, the Heritage Club – Tripura Castle; and were very happy with the ambience of old world charm which was precisely what we were looking for. Our itinerary for the next two days was well spaced out and included the Shillong Peak, Elephant Falls, Viewpoint of Beadon and Bishop’s Falls, Golf Link and the Ward’s Lake.
On Day 1, we took a leisurely breakfast and then set off on our sightseeing spree. On our way to Shillong Peak, our driver pointed out some forest reserves known as Sacred Groves and added that felling of trees in these reserves is strictly prohibited.
The ascent to the Peak which stands at approx.. 6,433ft was gradual and it felt like driving through clouds and mist while soaking up the beautiful scenery. Up there, we spent time walking around, sipping tea and enjoying the wonderful view with drifting clouds playing truant.
Next on the agenda were the famous Elephant Falls, earlier called ‘Ka Kshaid Lai Pateng Khohsiew’ by the Khasi people, meaning ‘Three Steps Waterfalls’. The mesmerising sight of three mountainous streams cascading down in succession over the lush green fern covered rocks justifiably makes it one of the top tourist attractions of Shillong. A sign read that the falls was renamed by the Britishers because of the stone that had the semblance of an elephant. Although the stone was destroyed during an earthquake, the new name stayed on.
It was close to lunchtime by the time we decided to leave the falls. Suffice to say that my son and I are big time foodies and we love trying out authentic local cuisine. So, we landed up at a roadside restaurant recommended by a friend. The spotlessly clean one-room eatery with white, lacy curtains had two desks and two benches.
Sparkling utensils adorned the wall of the cooking area. The ladies got busy cooking the local fare and served us a simple but delectable platter of the authentic Khasi dishes including Jadoh – rice cooked with chicken and flavourful herbs; Tung-rymbai – fermented soya beans cooked with pork; a huge piece of fried pork; boiled mustard greens and pickled bamboo shoots – my favourite.
The warm hospitality and tasty food truly made our visit worthwhile and we offered our thanks to the ladies before taking their leave. We spent the rest of the day relaxing in the hotel and later in the night we were joined by friends for dinner.
Day 2, we left the hotel after a late breakfast and headed to the viewpoint off Mawlai. We were fortunate to catch an albeit hazy glimpse of Bishop’s Falls and its twin brother, the Beadon Falls gushing down the same steep slope. As there is no motorable road to these falls the only option is to view them from across a deep ravine that lies between them and the viewpoint.
We next made it to sprawling expanse of the Shillong Golf Link. This 18-hole golf course, surrounded by pine and rhododendron trees, is also known as the Gleneagles of the East and boasts of being the largest and the only natural golf course in entire Asia. Our shoes made squishy sounds as we trod on the soft green grass, wet from continuous drizzle. We had almost reached the woods with the tall pine trees when the light drizzle took the form of a heavier shower forcing us to rush to our vehicle.
Finally, we made our way to the Ward’s Lake which has always been one of the most popular tourists spots of Shillong. We had visited it during our previous day-trips also, so we walked along the cobblestone footpaths taking in the familiar sight of the lovely gardens with the colourful flower beds and the beautiful fountain. We walked on the wooden bridge and watched fish being fed by fellow tourists.
A trip to Shillong would remain incomplete without a visit to the main market of Shillong – the Police Bazar. We walked along the crowded roads to Delhi Mistan Bhandar, famous for its sweets and snacks. My father-in-law had shared that he would invariably come here for tea during his frequent work-related visits to Shillong. We remembered him fondly while sipping ‘chai’ and munching on ‘samosas’ and ‘jalebis’.
Seven months after this Shillong-Sohra trip, my son and I travelled to the United Kingdom where my son was to pursue his post graduate course. Apart from visiting the major cities of Scotland, we were fortunate to take a 3-day Scottish Highland Tour in the company of a fabulous Gaelic guide and four fellow tourists .
During this road trip, I realised that the Britishers had good reason to name Shillong as ‘Scotland of the East’. No doubt that the chill is way more severe in Scotland, but the pale sunlight, overcast sky, incessant drizzles, sudden showers are very akin to the weather of Shillong.
Moreover, the landscape comprising lush green valleys, lofty hills, cascading waterfalls and picturesque lakes (called lochs in Scotland) were strikingly similar features. So much so, the Scottish tartan pattern of weave is quite similar to the chequered pattern of the Khasi woven shawls.
A sumptuous dinner on Day 2 summed up our stay in Shillong. We retired early with the idea of starting off for Sohra soon after breakfast the following day.
(To be continued)
Photographs by Piyush Plabon Das
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Dr. Monideepa Das, with a Post-Graduate degree in Medicine from Assam Medical College Dibrugarh, she is a Physician by profession and a homemaker by choice. Penning down thoughts, ideas, experiences and travelogues is her passion. Travelling and cooking are her other deep interests.