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Shillong abode of the clouds

The best part about this quaint hill station is that it is a round-the-year tourist destination. The generous tourist facilities, breathtaking scenic vistas, happy and charming people, billowing clouds and stately pine trees, majestic mountains, gorges and lush green pastures, all make Shillong an irresistible destination.

This cool, wet and pine-fresh mountain city, set on dramatic horseshoes of rocky cliffs, offers exciting activities like angling, rappelling, caving, trekking, paragliding and more. Cherrapunjee and Mawsynram nearby are statistically the wettest places on earth. Most of the rain falls between June and September, creating very impressive waterfalls and carving out some of Asia’s longest caves. The city extends for six kms on a lofty swathe. It is actually positioned on a highland terrain and is surrounded by the Umiam gorge in the north, on the imposing Diengiei Hills to the northwest and the undulating hills of the Assam valley to the northeast. The Diengiei hills in particular reach heights that are all of 6,077 feet above sea level and makes for a truly intimidating mountain backdrop. The city’s primary source of water is derived from the glistening Umiam River, which is nourished by the Umshyrpi and the Umkhra streams.

Until 1864, Shillong was just a miniscule hill village in northeast India. Later on, it developed into a bustling new civil post of the Khasi and Jaintia hills. For many years it served as the summer capital of East Bengal and Assam. However, in 1874, Shillong was declared as the capital of undivided Assam. The city was completely devastated in the 1897 earthquake but rose like a phoenix from the ashes of the earthquake to become one of India’s most alluring hill stations. The city came of age in the year 1972 when a separate state – “Meghalaya” was carved out of undivided Assam and Shillong was chosen as its capital. We found Shillong to be unlike any other hill station as there are no landmark monuments. It is nature all the way and there are verdant parks, plenty of sparkling waterfalls and endless mountain vistas.

Most visitors come to Shillong to view its gorgeous waterfalls, which are amongst the best that India has to offer. Shillong derives its name from the guardian deity of the hills – “Lei Shyllong” who is worshipped by the natives of the Khasi and Jaintia hills. We found the ubiquitous Shillong Peak, which is located on the outskirts of the city at a distance of 10 Kms, to be the most attractive spot in the city. From the elevated Shillong Peak, with a height of 1,965 meters, we basked in the uninterrupted panoramic vistas of the city, which appeared like a well spread out carpet. The hills with houses looked like a million studded diamonds embroidered on the mountainous city.

Other noteworthy peaks are the Sohpetbneng Peak (1,343 m), The Dingei Hill and the Dumpeep Peak (5,100 m). The Dingei Peak is ideally located in close proximity to the Umiam stream. We found the path to the Dingei Peak via the charming Umiyangka village, located at a height of 1,000 feet above sea level, to be a fabulous trekking trail and saw groups of avid trekkers climbing uphill.  The Dumpeep Peak on the other hand, located at an elevation of 5,100 feet, also offers breathtaking scenic vistas of the surrounding mountainside.

One of Shillong’s most enduring tourist landmarks is the beautiful Ward’s Lake. In order to visit this spectacular lake one has to venture inside the impeccably landscaped Botanical Gardens. The garden is replete with many hued flowers. The central landscaping element of Colonial-era Shillong, this attractive lake has a pretty ornamental bridge, flower beds, coy courting couples and gaggles of geese. Walk 15 minutes northeast of the lake to visit the rolling meadows of Shillong Golf Course, bordered by pine trees and fronted by a pretty clubhouse. Its breathtaking locale, referred to as the “Glen-eagle of the East” by the United States Golf Association Museum has 18 holes located at an altitude of 5200 ft and was built by Captain Jackson and C K Rhodes in 1924. No visit to Shillong is ever complete without a trip to Barapani, which is popularly referred to as the “Umiam Lake” in local parlance.

This picturesque lake is on the Guwahati – Shillong Road and one comes across this sparkling lake during ones journey to Shillong from the plains of Guwahati. In a bid to attract the attention of the discerning world traveler, the Department of Tourism, Government of Meghalaya has built a fabulous Lake Resort designed to perfection by one of India’s top architects – Charles Correa.This marvelous lake resort has all the trappings of a master architect and the signature Correa-effect is there for all to see. The resort is in the midst of pinewood and offers unparalleled scenic vistas of the lakefront. A great way to unwind at this lake resort is by indulging in fabulous water sports like Kayaking, Water Skiing and Water Cycling. Many tourists are so enthralled by the sheer beauty of the lake that they decide to spend a day or two at the magnificently appointed Orchid Lake Resort. But we headed for Shillong proper.

Our next stop was the majestic Gunner’s Falls, which attracts tourists in hordes. Shillong is more than undulating hills and endless vistas of mountain panorama. The city’s half-timbered architecture has been rather swamped by lots of drab modern concrete, but areas such as Oakland and Lumsohphoh retain many older houses. More centrally located is the Pinewood Hotel, a 1920s tea-growers retreat, which is particularly representative and looks great at night. The 1902 All Saints’ Cathedral would look perfect pictured on a biscuit tin. The Anglican Church, perched above Police Bazaar, is a graceful structure fronted by pretty lawns.

We found the music scene of this northeastern hill station to be pulsating, to say the least. Shillong is the cradle of Rock ‘N’ Roll of northeast India.

The Rock Bands of Shillong are a breed apart who mirror themselves on international bands like AC/DC, Mettallica, Guns & Roses, etc. At the end of our Shillong jaunt, it was time to bid farewell to Meghalaya in style – by getting Wet & Wild in the world’s wettest place – “Cheerapunjee”. Here it literally rains everyday and more so in the monsoons.
Subhasish Chakraborty

Subhasish Chakraborty

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