Being Shillong the capital of the Indian state of Meghalaya, which literally means “abode of the clouds” due to high rainfall, I was received by a grey clouds that in a few minutes became a storm, with the dark sky to light up with the sound of thundering, lowering the temperature and reminding us how unpredictable is the climate in mountain areas. After the storm was time to walk through the city center looking for budget accommodation. A task that has proved exasperating, similar to what had happened in Guwahati: many hotels don’t allow foreigners, it was weekend and Shillong attract people looking for fresh air, and some event that brought many visitors from the rest of India.
After the round the various hotels where the answer was almost always “full”, even when apparently the place was desert, finally comes up to a site – Marwari Basa Hotel – modest and reasonably priced, yet little warm considering the weather in Shillong. Followed another round, always trough the steep streets of the city, which proved fruitless, due to inflated prices and by the usual response of “full” in places that don’t have a license to host foreigners. Accepting the defeat, with fatigue making the legs heavy but with high morale, it was time to return Marwari Basa Hotel, that despite all show to be the best option… but to my astonishment, arriving at reception I’m received with discouraging “full”… how is it possible?!?!? 15 minutes before there more than ten rooms empty?!?!? Faced with the situation that it was obvious that there were no guests there, the owner has agreed to provide me a room, but at twice the price !!! Faced with such an unpleasant and idiot attitude, I turn back and restart my search. But this time, the reasonable knowledge acquired from the city center, allowed me to find a “cubicle” where to sleep, too expensive but comfortable and using the manager words “more or less clean”!
Shillong, the state capital of Meghalaya, due to the fresh and mild climate of the mountains attracts the inhabitants of the neighboring state of Assam, seeking relief from the scorching heat of the plains, in a city that is less than 3 hours from Guwahati.
Here the urban atmosphere wins an exotic touch by the presence of the inhabitants from the local tribes, the Kashi and the Garo, whose Mongols faces with fair skin, small and with a different outfit, easily stand out from the rest of the Indian population.
From the supposed atmosphere of British colonial times, that choose this place because of the fresh climate, little left in this concrete city, perched on a hilltop, and spread by the surrounding slopes. Here and there appear houses whose architecture reveals links to Europe, by the large windows, porches and gardens, but where the typical roofs, quite inclined and with complex configuration, were being replaced by the rusty color of metal rooftops.
The city center, locally designated Police Bazaar, surrounded by gray concrete buildings and a nearby roundabout, that link several main roads permanently busy, with heavy traffic, noisy and polluted, particularly the GS Road. Surprisingly the commercial area of the city has become modern and cosmopolitan with many shops selling the most popular international brands of clothing, which is reflected in the way of dressing of the younger population, which fully adopted the Western style.
Apart from this cosmopolitan area, located near the Police Bazaar, Shillong has other shopping areas, less sophisticated but more stimulating.
Wandering by gray and sad streets of decaying buildings along dirty and muddy streets we arrive at the Bara Bazaar (also called Bar bazaar). A market where is sold a bit of everything, where small shops align along narrow and winding streets, and whose merchandise extends beyond the limits of the shop, making even more difficult to walk along the crowded streets.
A vibrant and lively market, the Bara Bazaar is a good first contact with the population of the Kashi tribe, which dominates the hills of this area of Meghalaya state, and gather here to sell and purchase products, ranging from traditional artifacts to modern clothes, from plastic toys to farming tools, from homemade cakes to wild mushrooms!
Women from Kashi tribe, in addition to facial features, are easily identified by the outfit using a cloth, usually of chess pattern, which is fastened in the shoulder, covering the western style clothes that almost everybody dress.
Wandering through the market streets, the attention is diverted to the variety and originality of the food available so that from time to time one foot slips into a muddy hollow of the pavement. Here and there resemble curious and smiling eyes, in round faces that don’t allow photos.
Where to stay in Shillong:
There are lots of choices for accommodation, but the prices are too high for the conditions offered, with hotels more focused in Indian family style tourism and in businessmen, and not so much for backpackers. There are no proper guesthouses, but just hotels. Shillong is a popular weekend destination for Indian tourists from West Bengal state.
Near the Police Bazaar, along the GS Road, and on the back alleys Police Street, there are several options:
Marwari Basa Hotel: single 300 INR, double 600 INr, shared toilet. The rooms are very basic but with good light, all with shared bathroom. The building is old, entrenched between concrete buildings but has some charm. It lies between the GS Road (which is well labeled) and the Police Street, a narrow street that connects the two main arteries of the city, away from the GS Road noise. The owner’s son, apparently the boss, is very unfriendly.
Hotel Lamlyn (GS Road) single with toilet: 600 INR. Staff friendly but with a noisy environment. Some rooms have no window, as is the case of the individual room. Reasonably clean, with a modern en-suite and hot shower.
Apparently, there is a Youth Hostel in Shillong but couldn’t find or get any information.
Onde comer em Shillong:
In Shillong stand the Indian food restaurants, from the most modest to the most sophisticated.
But the choice was for the momos, a obvious Asian influence, in a small and humble restaurant in the pedestrian streets that linking GS Road and the Police Street (AC Lane). Only momos are served there, vegetarians and with meat, and a soup, a thick chicken broth, with a meal costing only 40 rupees. The restaurant is open all day, but closes early, shortly after the setting of the sun, which here is ore or less, 5 pm.
In Bara Bazaar there are some restaurants, and along the streets is possible to find vendors, some with the delicious coconut cakes, steamed, that are a specialty from the neighbouring village of Sohra.
Transport in Shillong:
There are little to see in Shillong, and the center of the city can be done on foot, but all the streets are steep. The Police Bazaar Street is the most enjoyable for walking because it’s closed to traffic.
How to go from Shillong to Sohra (Cherrapunjee):
Few buses run on Saturdays in Meghalaya. No public or private buses to Sohra (Cherrapunjee) on Sundays; the only alternative is the sumo (shared taxis) or a taxi. On Sunday, there is no public transport in Meghalaya.
Anyway, sumos or buses depart from the same place, a bus terminal located near the Bara Bazaar. This terminal, a seemingly unfinished concrete building, are on the first-floor sumos to Sohra, that runs all day, since 6 a.m. and depart when they are full (11 passengers).
- sumo (shared taxi) from Shillong to Sohra: 70 INR
The journey takes 1.5 hours. The view is beautiful and should seat on the left side of the vehicle, near the window. The sumo makes the first stop in Sohra Market, and the second stop in Lower Cherrapunjee, where is most of the lodgings and restaurants, and is what you might call tourist area.
How to go from Shillong to Guwahati:
Buses connecting Shillong to Guwahati depart from Bus Station that is located on GS Road, less than 5 minutes from the main roundabout. Directly opposite the station is an official Tourist Office, but little has interests because the maps provided are vague and has little information. But this Tourist Office can be useful for those who want to rent a vehicle with driver.
- Bus ticket from Shillong to Guwahati: 135 rupees (4h)
Alternatively, you can make this trip in less time using a sumo (shared taxi). The sumo runs from Guwahati Keating Road, one of the roads out of the main roundabout.
- sumo Shillong to Guwahati: 170 rupees (the journey takes at least about 2.45pm, depending on traffic)