Shillong is a hill station in the northeastern part of India and the capital of Meghalaya, which means “The Abode of Clouds”. Shillong lies on the Shillong Plateau, the only major uplifted structure in the northern Indian shield. The city lies in the centre of the plateau and is surrounded by hills, three of which are revered in Khasi tradition: Lum Sohpetbneng, Lum Diengiei, and Lum Shillong.
It is the headquarters of the East Khasi Hills district. Shillong is the 330th most populous city in India with a population of 143,229 according to the 2011 census. It is said that the rolling hills around the town reminded the British of Scotland. Hence, they would also refer to it as the “Scotland of the East”.
Shillong, the capital city of Meghalaya is just 100 km from Guwahati, which can be accessed by road along NH 40, a journey of about 2 hours 30 minutes through lush green hills and the magnificent Umiam Lake in between.
The Shillong Municipal Board has a long history dating back to 1878, when a proclamation was issued constituting Shillong and its suburbs, including the villages of Mawkhar and Laban, into a station under the Bengal Municipal Act of 1876. Inclusion of the villages of Mawkhar and Laban (Lumparing, Madan laban, Kench’s Trace and Rilbong) within the Municipality of Shillong was agreed to by Hain Manik Syiem of Mylliem under the agreement of 15 November 1878. But, there is no trace of Shillong in the British era maps dating back to 1878, up to 1900.
Shillong was also the subject of the great earthquake that occurred on 12 June 1897. The earthquake had an estimated moment magnitude of 8.1. Twenty-seven lives from Shillong town alone were lost and a major part of the town was destroyed.
How to go
By air: Shillong Airport in Umroi is a small airport that is available for the flights and is located at a distance of 40 km from Shillong. Bus services are provided by Meghalaya Transport Corporation from the airport to the various cities of the state. There are regular flights from Shillong to Ahmedabad, Aizawl, Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi and various other destinations.
By rail: There are as such no proper rail lines in Meghalaya. Guwahati railway station is the nearest railway station situated at a distance of 105 Km from Shillong. The city is well connected to all other major cities of the country via rail medium. There are also taxi as well as bus facility for Shillong.
By road: Assam State Transport Corporation and Meghalaya Transport Corporation run buses from Guwahati to Shillong. The main interstate bus stand is located near to Guwahati railway station. Reasonable prices for different types of buses like AC, AC Sleeper, luxury and Volvo buses are available for Shillong. Some of the places nearby which you can visit are Cherrapunji and Jowai.
Places to visit
Umiam Lake: Umiam Lake, a mesmerizing man-made reservoir, is located at a distance of 15 kilometres north of Shillong which is the capital of the north-eastern Indian state of Meghalaya. The lake was formed after a dam was constructed to generate hydroelectric power. The scenic Umiam Lake is encircled by lush green East Khasi hills that form one of the best panoramic sights for nature-lovers in the country. The sunrise at the lake is a treat to watch and shouldn’t be missed. The Umiam Lake has a park adjoining it which is a hotspot for picnics and frequented by locals for a getaway from their busy scheduled.
Elephant Falls: Named after an Elephant like stone at its foot, the Elephant Falls are amongst the most popular falls in the North-East, situated next to Shillong. It is a tourists’ paradise with three layers of the falls accessible to the layman from different vantage points. The Britishers named this fall so owing to the presence of an elephant-shaped rock on one side of the fall. However, the stone disintegrated and was washed away due to an earthquake in 1897. Elephant Waterfalls is a superb place for spending some time in the midst of nature while capturing the incredible moments for your keepsake.
Police Bazaar: Police Bazaar is the major market of Shillong, and a popular shopping haunt for locals and tourists alike. In addition to an array of restaurants, hotels and big brand stores, the Police Bazaar also has a flea market section which is pocket-friendly and draws the maximum number of tourists owing to its traditional handicrafts stores, exquisite Meghalaya merchandise, regional apparels, junk jewellery and the like. The colourful market is thronged by shopping enthusiasts as well as foodies.
Laitlum Canyons: Perched on the East Khasi Hills, Laitlum Canyons is a less explored but one of the most picturesque tourist and trekking destinations in Shillong. The canyons are located about 21 kilometers south of Shillong which is about a half-hour drive away. Literally, translating to ‘End of hills’, this exotic viewing site offers the best panoramic views of the whole of Meghalaya embraced by the majestic hills and valleys. The spot is secluded and serene, ideal for quiet and peaceful getaways. It can be visited by families, friend groups as well as couples. To catch this place at its best, visit Laitlum Canyons either during sunrise or sunset.
Shillong Peak: At the height of 6449 ft or 1965 m above sea level, Shillong Peak is the highest point of Shillong. It offers a breathtaking panoramic view of the entire city, the Himalayas, its waterfalls as well as of the Bangladesh plains. A telescope is available for tourists to get a bird’s eye view. Trekking up to this semi-circular Shillong Peak is highly recommended for the best views but it is often bounded by heavy fog.
Mawphlang: Mawphlang, home to Meghalaya’s Sacred Forest, is a beautiful village situated 25 kilometres away from Shillong, the capital city of the north-east Indian state of Meghalaya. The village lies in the district of East Khasi Hills and is famous for its sacred groves. The village is named Mawphlang as it is one of the several monoliths in the Khasi Hills. The name Mawphlang means Grassy Stone and is a land of legendary stories, sacrifices and unique culture. For the ones who want a glimpse of the tradition, culture and lifestyle of the Khasis that is fading away in the modern world, Mawphlang is the place to visit.
Ward’s Lake: A pretty artificial lake surrounded by gardens is an ideal evening get away! Also known as the Polok Lake, it is usually flocked by couples, picnickers and locals.
Don Bosco Museum: Hailed as Asia’s largest Museum of Indigenous Cultures, the Don Bosco Museum is the house of the beautiful culture and tradition of North East India. It is conveniently located in the Mawlai area, near the Police Bazaar. With its seven storeys, it rises into the skyline of Shillong and flaunts 16 laid out galleries that showcase artifacts, paintings, figures significant to the Northeastern culture. Not only do these provide a feast to the eyes of the visitors, but also give an insight into the lifestyle of the North-Eastern people.
David Scott Trail: Most popular trekking routes of Meghalaya, this path was originally laid by David Scott, a British officer as early as in the 1800s. It is still used to commute between Assam and Bangladesh.
Mawlynnong: Mawlynnong is a small village situated around 90 km from Shillong in the East Khasi Hills, Meghalaya and is also known as God’s own Garden. It was declared as the cleanest village in Asia in 2003 by Discovery India which certainly which makes it one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Indian state. Mawlynnong village is a community-based ecotourism initiative where the entire community made collective efforts in making and maintaining the cleanliness of the village.
Why visit Shillong?
Rarest and friendly tribes: The Shillong population mostly belongs to the Khasi tribe, who are predominantly Christian. There are also a significant number of Assamese, Bengali and Nepali minorities. An interesting aspect of the Khasis is that they are a matrilineal society. Therefore the mother’s surname is passed on to the children and the youngest daughter inherits the ancestral property.
Can you imagine the celebration the birth of a daughter entails? And the special pampering the youngest daughter receives?
Thrilling peak: Located at a height of 1,496 meters above sea level, Shillong is a great destination and a treat for nature lovers. Situated 10 kilometers from the city, the Shillong Peak offers spectacular views of the city from a lofty height of 1,965 meters above sea level. Being the highest point in Shillong, it gives impressive views of lush greenery and cascading waterfalls. On a cloudless day you will be able to view the majestic Himalayan peaks and the forever inundated Bangladesh plains in the distance. The Indian Air Force has its radar station here.
Cherapunjee: Meghalaya or the Abode of the Clouds is famous for Cherrapunji and Mawsynram, which are the wettest places on earth. This makes it a popular monsoon destination. Cherrapunji, which lies 15 kilometer to the east of Shillong, offers guest houses, resorts, cottages and home-stays for visitors. Eating in Cherrapunji is a great experience. You can enjoy the succulent Khasi cuisine like pork rice. Sohra Pulao, which is rice cooked with oil and vegetables without spices, should not be missed.
Living Root Bridges: Deep in the dense tropical forests of Meghalaya, and shrouded in cloud and rain for much of the year, are some astonishing natural wonders. Known as living root bridges, and preserved as UNESCO heritage site, these roots of ancient rubber trees or Ficus Elastica have been trained by the Khasi tribesmen, to grow in a tangled mess, which have then been intertwined and intermingled to form double and single decker root bridges that are intriguing the world. Strong as they are, the bridges take 10 to 15 years to become functional enough to hold the weight of more than 50 people at a time. The wonderful bridges are alive and still growing and thus get stronger over time.
Mawsmai Caves: Meghalaya has the longest cave system of India situated in the Jaintia Hills. Of them all, Mawsmai are easily the most favourite caves for many travellers, as it is one of the few caves one can explore without a guide. Just about 6 kilometers from the main town of Cherrapunji and an enchanting drive through golden autumnal grasslands, one finally reaches a thick grove. Mawsmai, the limestone caves, lie hidden beneath these trees! The cave has a wide opening but it soon gets narrower and is best avoided if one is claustrophobic, has health issues or weight problems.
The cave is a one way road, so the adventurous visitor enters from one end and goes out of the other. In the middle, there are places where you’ve to bend and squeeze yourself out. The channel gets narrower and the walking pace is slow, but there is no turning back! The cave is well lit with electricity and you can see each and every detail of the rock formation.
The colours and shapes come alive and you can interpret different figures for the fun of it. Rocks glint in the light as water drips down from the stone tips. It’s a marvel how these tiny drops change the appearance of hard rocks, working on them tirelessly for decades like a patient artist. With bats and insects flying around, tiny passages where one shrinks and crawls, shadows and shapes filling the air and the thrill of being inside a cave, the mere 150 meters of the cave length appears unending and hugely exciting.
So what are you waiting for? Pack up your bags and set out to seek the unknown!