Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Shillong & Kaziranga --- My first step towards exploring India :)

"Gar firdaus bar rue zameen ast / hameen asto, hameen asto, hameen ast” was what Moghul Emperor Jahangir had to say in persian after being overwhelmed by the beauty of Kashmir, I share the similar feelings when It comes to Shillong, The Scotland of the East, a beautiful capital of Meghalaya & one of my personal favorites :), about 1500 m above sea level. It was quite sparsely populated in the 70’s, but by 90’s due to the immense development in its tourism, Shillong had steadily grown in size and marked a significance in its own traditional way, from a mere village to a prospering city. In the early 90’s (JFYI, I was 7-8 yrs old :P ) my folks decided to take a road trip to this splendid hill station which at that time was one of the very few hill stations with motor able roads. We had just bought a scratchless 2nd hand pearl white Omni, a darling which I adored for years, a big achievement by my dad, for those days owning a car was a big thing for a junior officer with a white collared job with no family royalty. My folks decided, as it was their 1st road trip after my dad learnt driving & routes were unknown to us (we didn’t have Google then, to help :P ) and being a hill station, the curves would be dicey… So we decided to travel with another family (they in their car, we in ours) and make the most of the trip :D. Hopefully, now my friends will understand where do I inherit the wheels on my feet from ( I mean the travel freak nature :P) :)

The more you get to know this place, the more it fascinates you. Additionally to the natural beauty, the Khasi tribe, who are predominantly Christians, a significant Bengali and nepali minorities and a matrilineal society (An interesting aspect for those who don’t know- the mother is head of family; youngest daughter owns all the property and mothers surname is passed on t
o children, sounds exciting right ;)), the 1:1 male female ratio, a very strong literacy rate, makes it a place worth living.

The Assam style houses with slanting roofs, large number of windows and wooden floors look like a piece of art (and happen to be a good idea, considering Shillong's climate where rains and earthquakes are very common). Shillong receives heavy rainfalls during monsoon and the rainy season usually lasts longer than rest of India. An umbrella is therefore a necessity while packing your bag :). Although people avoid the rainy season, it is generally the time when city is clean (rains wash the streets of all garbage) and waterfalls are in full strength.

From Jorhat (a small town in Assam) shillong was 376kms (thanks to tourism & technology today, there are flights plying from these places, there are no rail lines in meghalaya, so guwahati will be the end of your train journey, there are buses (private & govt.), quite old though, which ply from Guwahati and other towns,there are Shared taxis available from Paltan Bazar area. These are generally SUV sized vehicles (Tata Sumo & Mahindra Bolero) shared between 8 people. They take around 3 hours to reach Shillong from Guwahati. There are 3 & 4 star hotels and resorts for available for accomodation) we set course for this exciting trip, & our first halt was Kaziranga -- The land of “on the edge” Rhino’s :). On the Bank of River Brahmaputra, the Reserve Forest was designated in 1900’s after Lord Curzon’s wife found that the precious lives were on the verge of extinction. I must mention a few of my experiences here, The river Brahmaputra, is Gigantic & fierce!!! You stand at the bank of the river (which I have), especially before the rainy season (dude, dont even think about it during the rainy season, it overflows and grabs every thing in its way)... & what a sight it was! You can hear the rustling wind, a haunting noise which could give you goosebumps all over your body. This was the first time I came to terms with the bare reality that mother nature is actually so powerful that if they didn't mind their own boundries, this one river had the complete potential to wipe out the north-eastern states from the map of India :P. Ok! I think I should stop acting dramatic and then get back to my adventure :)

Though we did not put up at kaziranga, the National Park has been one of the best safaris on my list. The majestic Rhino's are a beauty to adore live.
After a short halt there (we went on a boating ride at a resort too), we continued our drive to the hills. Our second halt (for lunch) was a small trekking path on our way. This very place made me discover my inner fear of heights. I was the only one (black sheep ;)) who backed out, when all the men went for a small trek, because I couldn't walk through those not too steep paths. To be very honest that was the first and the last time, I backed out of an adventure :) I never repeated that mistake again, and have always fought my fears (which is quite commendable according to me) :)

Travel:

Bus - For places within city limits, city buses is a good option. There are two kinds of buses that pass from Shillong - City bus and Bazar bus. City buses are what tourists should use. Bazar buses are for villagers coming to Shillong to sell their products. City buses are notoriously slow. Drivers move their buses from bus-stop only when the bus gets packed or another bus arrives. Many a times you will find that walking would be a better idea. Bus tickets are max. Rs. 5 for one journey. You will find many locals paying in form of betel leaves instead of cash.

Taxis - Black and Yellow unmetered shared taxis ply within city limits. These are faster and are always shared; rates may vary from Rs 5/- to Rs 15/-.
For sightseeing it is a good idea to hire a taxi cab for a full day. Try fixing the fares before the travel. Hotel staff will be able to give you an idea of the reasonable rates. Most of the infrastructure around is basic and many roads outside the city are in a bad shape due to heavy rains and poor maintenance, but within the city the roads are quite good.

Site-seeing:

Umiam Lake (north of shillong):

A beautiful lake, north of Shillong, resembles the 'Lochs' or lakes of Scotland, and is a must-see for all tourists. This lake is man-made and is better known as 'Badapani' (big water) for its sheer size. There is a water sports complex & a garden ( Lum Nehru park) beside the sports complex. This was the first time I had been to a "huge" lake, and was soo excited to go on a speed boat ride :) A small temple like structure and the beautiful meadows on the banks were an unforgettable sight.

Don Bosco Museum of Indigenous North East Culture:

Run by the Salesian order of the Catholic Church, the Don Bosco Museum is a truly amazing repository of information on the entire North Eastern states of Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Tripura. Located within the precincts of the Sacred Heart Church, the edifice itself is shaped like a spiral and its distinct form is discernible from quite some distance away. It has an amazing collection of attire, accoutrements, weapons, ornamentation and rare photographs. This is also the largest cultural museum in the whole Asia.

Wards Lake:


Wards Lake is an artificial lake surrounded by a fairly large garden, boating facilities are available. It has a wooden bridge connecting the 2 banks & Lots of lotus plants on either side of the lake. One can find amazing colorful fishes too. A small cafeteria is there to provide refreshments. A fountain, dancing to the tunes of songs is a crowd puller.

Lady Hydari Park:

The park has variety of local flowering plants and orchids & a small zoo within. It’s the best hang out for kids, as there are few swings, sea-saws, slips for them. It is a famous picnic spot for local population & this was the place where we dug into our picnic baskets too for some tasty goodies :).

Sweet Falls:

Located in the Happy Valley, it was a very steep fall. Extreme caution is advised as there are no barricades and rocks & always slippery (due to rain or dew). We were three kids in the group, and as I was the senior most :P It was my responsibility to look after the kiddy’s(reminder, I was 7-8 yrs old then :)) My little sister and the other gal, were holding umbrellas due to the drizzles caused by the falls, you can imagine the force & height from which the water was falling. The elders barred us from going to the lower ends of the falls, as the path was too slippery and dicey. But what a sight it was, even today, its as fresh as vegetables in my mind ;), what an analogy :P

Elephant Falls:


It is located in Upper Shillong area which also houses the Eastern Air Command of the Indian Airforce :) (This was the place where we were put up for those 2-3 days). The scenic fall is not continuous as it is a collection of smaller falls. It has footpath leading to bottom of the fall where it reaches a small lake. Its name elephant falls was given by British, because there was a rock by the side of the fall which resembled an elephant.

Shillong Peak:

It is the highest point in the state of Meghalaya (1965 meters above sea level). There is a view-point where you can get a breathtaking view of the city. The city view at night is a scene a memorable one. It is a host to a radar station for the Indian Air force and tourists are advised to declare their cameras while reaching view-point and not to take pictures of radar facilities.


My personal take on places to visit:

  • Take a walk through Iewduh (Bara Bazar) - It is one of the biggest market in North-East India.
  • Visit the State Central Library - Located near Dhankheti, it was started at the time of British and holds many rare books and almanacs.
  • Explore the forest around Shillong peak - There are no large or dangerous animals and forest is full of rare and exotic plants - orchids, pines including the famous insect eating pitcher plant (Nepenthes khasiana).
  • Elephant falls; one can get his/her picture taken in traditional Naga dress at the falls. The dress is provided but you have to shoot your own picture.This place is a difficult outing, especially harsh on knees. An elderly person may get a coronary climbing 250 steps.

For the shoppaholics, Traditional bamboo handicrafts and woolen handmade shawls are most popular buys. Additionally art-crafts made of wood and bamboo funitures are popular. Bamboo shoot pickles are favorites of the tourists. Two or three small shops at elephant falls sell traditional naga dresses, variety of caps, bamboo artifacts, jungle knives and birds carved out of wood. Bargaining is a great way to get the best for the best price :)

Fooooddddd:

There are a variety of restaurants in Shillong. Most of the better ones are located in Police Bazar area. Try Momos (steamed Tibetan dumplings filled with cabbage and pork). Shillong has a pre-dominantly Christian population, therefore pork and beef are easily available in restaurants run by local Khasis, although cleanliness remains an issue in smaller food-outlets. I don’t remember where all we stopped for a snack, but these are a few inputs I got from my dad and net, Ginger at Hotel Polo Towers is good, Royal Heritage has a nice restaurant.

Shillong is the drinker's paradise. Because of the tax exemption on alcohol in this state, you will be hard pressed find cheaper drinks anywhere else in India, if you are the type who buys liquor from a shop and drinks in your hotel room. If you like partying, then Shillong has quite a few pubs & clubs. Though those days none of these exisited:

Platinum, Hotel Polo Towers
Cloud 9, Centre Point
Picadilly (English Pub), Hotel Polo Towers
Tango at Police Bazar in a shopping arcade
Cocktails at Hotel Alpine Continental
Nightlife is generally at its peak on Fridays and Saturdays. Sundays are very very dull.

After an exhaustive yet memorable tour around that city, we finally bid adieu to the place, and made a promise to visit it again. I did visit it 2-3 times later, but after moving out of North east, I never got an opportunity to go back. But if you are sick anired of the crowded and exhaustive list of hill stations in India, and are really keen on rejuvenating and feel a the difference in the air, Shillong is the place for you :). A colleague of mine, visited Shillong & got a different flavor of it as they luckily met Mr Pradip Modak-a great Govt guide & taxi-driver for years. He is honest & loves to portrait his motherland to the visitors,

Without any time limit. They could see many remote & rarely explored places because of him. His contact no. is 09863087418 / 09862996431 & you can just call him before u reach Shillong. My colleague suggested that I put this info on the blog and help others who want to enjoy the true essence of Shillong.

He also suggests that people who have ample time, should go for the daily excursions by taxi to well known places like Cherapunji, Mawsinram, Northiang, & Mynenglong. According to Shillong tourism there are 5-8 sites in each place, to be visited within stipulated 6-8hours by taxi, & prices are prefixed.

Best time to visit would be between end of Sept to March & with this my friends, I sign out from this long blog post :) Hope you travel freaks would find it helpful :)


2 comments:

  1. hey woow..

    I wish I travel in India too!!
    Havent discovered my own place, lo chale world tour kerne! silly me!! But am waiting for my time :)

    And post I should say as a fellow blogger - very informative, good pics, and too good explanation....very well Didi!

    Hope u recognised me by now :P

    Ramya :D

    ReplyDelete
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