- Tuesday, 13 May 2014

A week in Shillong, Meghalaya, India

Capital city of the state of Meghalaya, Shillong offers a perfect mix of old world and modern charm. Tucked away in East Khasi Hills, this city offered a much needed respite from continuous travelling, through gruelling road conditions in much of the rest of north-east. Shillong travel circuit can easily boast to have best roads, connectivity and tourist amenities and hence probably more people travelling to this state than any other out of our lovely seven-sisters.

Being a popular destination, much has already been written about Shillong, so I kept wondering what is it that I should cover that might be unique about this done-to-death destination in north east. I spent about a week in Shillong and my experiences were not as marvellous or spell binding as in rest of north-east. Not because of anything else, but just because Shillong is well touched by tourists and didn't offer an awe moment to me. Yet there was something everyday that I was learning about it - things very familiar yet giving feelings ranging from amusement to sadness. And that is also important sometimes, when travelling. I decided to write things to do/see based on these experiences- some popular from guidebooks & totally worth it while some based on my own observation.

1. Barra Bazaar

If you think Police Bazaar (PB, as called locally) , the central business district of Shillong is where all the action is, then wait till you visit Barra Bazaar. Often dismissed by cab drivers or guides as 'just a place to buy wholesale vegetables', this huge local market place, characterised by criss-crossing narrow alleyways, often allowing only one person to pass at a time, is a world in itself. Its a street photographer's dream come true ! One can easily get lost in this labyrinth selling all things under the sun for everyday needs, and there are whole alleys specialising in one single product- from obvious fruits, vegetables to kitchen utensils, cane furniture, fish, all kinds of meat, grocery, cloth, sweets. Morning hours is the best time to see all the buzz, consider having breakfast in one of the alleys serving quintessential poori-bhaji.

For my full photo-story, follow this link.

2. Elephant Falls

Occupying one of the top positions in things-to-do in Shillong guides, it definitely is worth it. The unique feature of this fall is that it gushes out water in three different steps. The name 'Elephant' was given by British after a rock bear the fall which had the shape of an elephant, it later got destroyed in 1890s in an earthquake. Proper steps have been made for tourists to get down to the falls and watch it up close. Here are the pictures.

3. Take a drive to Cherrapunji and visit Mawsmai Caves.

Even though a day- trip to Cherrapunji might involve 7-8 sight-seeing stops, but I feel Mawsmai caves are the best or perhaps the only thing worth doing in the whole trip other than of course enjoying the spectacular valleys and scenery around. The drive is so good that so-called tourist spots stand irrelevant. And yeah, one can well enjoy some street food on the way, like these giant veg momos (pic below) we found on our way ! :)

Please follow this link, to see my complete story on Mawsmai caves.

4. Stay in Laitumkhra

It doesn't matter how much you are coaxed into staying at one of the hotels in Police Bazaar, promising good connectivity etc, do not opt for it. PB is just way too busy and it just doesn't matter how good or luxurious the hotel is. Its always a better choice to stay at places little off from the city centre, say Laitumkhra, which was much quieter in the nights. Laitumkhra has couple of really good cafés (the best one too ) and eating joints and is connected to PB by shared taxi at Rs. 20/head. The place is a hangout zone for most school and college students of Shillong owing to several educational institutions in the vicinity. I stayed in Hotel Yalana which offered good rooms and facilities at very competitive rates. Another good option is to stay at Café Shillong B&B or if you have more budget then opt for Aerodene Cottages.

4. Chill out at Café Shillong

Located in Laitumkhra, ambience wise this café has everything you need in a typical upmarket coffee house, from comfortable lounge style seating to wooden table chairs to outdoor compact terrace seating.  Menu is limited and offers a much needed change to other wise very 'chinese' dominated food in rest of Shillong. It has a selection of authentic coffees which tasted really really good. Food was just about okay, not close to what one might expect after tasting their yummy coffee. What else? They have live gigs every Sunday evening. Not to be missed :)

5. Try food at Munchies

Yet again located in Laitumkhra, this little discreet (no signboard) café- restaurant is going to surprise you! Well located on the main road, just a few steps away from Café Shillong, this little eatery has everything on offer what you don't get otherwise in Shillong commonly. Absolutely yummy freshly made thin crust pizzas to just perfectly cooked juicy burgers to pastas. And guess what ? They don't have chinese or any rice item. The owner is frank enough to tell us he has refrained from keeping any rice item, because pretty much all eateries boil rice on one day and keep reusing it by frying it, for next 3-4 days. In fact he was the one who took us to by lanes of Barra Bazaar on one of his early morning shopping spree for his outlet. They genuinely use fresh ingredients and one can taste that well in their food. Just that one needs some patience, because fresh cooking on order can take some time. Easy on pocket, this little eatery also offers an open air patio seating along with cozy bamboo structure built on a level up which can pretty much give you a feeling of climbing up a tree house. 

6. Drinks at Pinewood Hotel Bar

Visit this bar on a weekend evening for that perfect old-school feel. Hotel is an English style bungalow and the bar holds an old world charm about it with heavy wooden tables and chairs, windows opening to spectacular views of Shillong valley through the manicured garden. And all this at prices which are far more competitive than say the more popular sister in Police Bazaar, Cloud 9. 

Photo: Direct Hotels

7. Street Food in Shillong

Best avoided in Police Bazaar- However, if you feel tempted to try out, after looking at a hoard of street food stalls, neatly placed next to each other in a row, you may, as it is not going to cost more than Rs. 10/- for any item. But my recommendation would be to try some outside Ward's Lake or on your drives out of city. 

8. Visit Mawlynnong

A two-hour drive away lies village of Mawlynnong, once claimed to be Asia's cleanest village. It might not necessarily be the cleanest, because I wondered what were the standards set when Discover India magazine claimed it so back in 2003, but certainly extremely clean and one of the very few well tended village I have ever been to. Apart from the village, one can visit the world famous living root bridges with just a 10 minute hike. I have covered Mawlynnong in detail in a separate story which can be found here.

9. Walk Walk Walk

I always hold this mantra tight when travelling. Nothing else can help you get a truly local taste than walking. And this is what we also precisely did on all days in Shillong. Even though its a busy city, there are clearly marked pedestrian paths laid out through out the town and walking is easy. It was while walking that we noticed those period school buses (the ones which look like a truck in the front, but are actually buses) with wodden sliding windows, the dominance of Maruti 800 on the roads, little ice cream parlours everywhere, huge number of men's salon.

Note: This write up has also been published in The New Indian Express, Bangalore, dt. 29th May 2014 and can be accessed here.


  1. Lovely write up & very informative too.

  2. I have planned a trip to Shillong in Sept/16. This article was very helpful. I have taken down the hotel names and the places of interests. Many thanks for this article, Richa!

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Christopher! Glad this could help. Have a great trip to Shillong! :)

  3. Thanks a ton for the informative post about Shillong/Meghalaya. Just curious to know if public transport is available for budget travelers to nearby lakes/caves/waterfalls as I am reaching Shillong this weekend