Shillong is the capital of Meghalaya, and also the hub for exploring it. On arrival, it might appear to be just another crowded city, with traffic jams everywhere, but beyond noise and pollution, Shillong offers a number of destinations, not to be missed.
By all means, the chances are, you arrived either in Police Bazaar, or Bada Bazaar. You can barely navigate through the crowded streets even when on foot and the noise levels would lead you to escape the city for quieter destinations like Sohra, better known as Cherrapunji, undoubtedly a place that should not to be missed.
There are, however, plenty of relaxing places in Shillong as well, including some easy hiking trails through beautiful pinewood forests, a number of parks and lakes, lively markets and cafes.
Depending on how much time you have, you can explore parts of Shillong in a day or spend a few leisurely days there.
If you have a day to explore Shillong, you can register yourself for the one day bus tour, offered by Meghalaya Tourism. You can book the trip at Meghalaya State Tourism Office in Police Bazar, a day in advance. The bus costs Rs 500/person or less. You can also hire a cab and go to the places that you wish to explore or rent a motorcycle or scooter.
1. Ward’s Lake: For Rs. 20 entrance fee, you can spend a couple of leisurely hours in the park surrounding the Ward’s lake. This would probably be the first recommendation that you will get. Locals come here to relax on the slopes and to stroll around the lake at a leisurely pace, enjoying the beauty of trees and plants that are planted all around. I went there in mid-November and so missed out on the Cherry Blossoms which had already bloomed. I have heard that in spring and autumn, beautiful flowers bloom around the lake and it makes for a pretty site. It is a nice place to spend anywhere between a couple of hours and an entire day. It closes on Monday as do most other attractions in Shillong.
2. Botanical Garden: A lesser known cousin of the Ward’s lake, the Botanical garden is a quiet green space in the centre of Shillong, and the entrance is free. Located right next to the Ward’s Lake, it is often overlooked in favor of the Ward’s Lake. There are plenty of old trees with roots intertwined around each other. Very few people visit this place. It is closed on Monday like most major attractions.
3. Golf Course: Shillong boasts of one of the oldest and finest golf courses in the world. A part of golf course is open to the public for no fees. There are a couple of signs instructing visitors to be careful of some stray golf ball, however I didn’t see any golfers around so you can soak up the sun carefree.
4. Lady Hydari Park: At a small entrance fee of Rs. 20, this neglected and shabby park and zoo must look like a mere shadow of it’s glory days. I visited this park on a cold, foggy November evening and was instantly transported back in time. The park is neglected with moss covering the lake and under fed animals packed into small cages. The attention should be drawn towards the condition of birds and animals and they should be rehabilitated in more humane spaces. In spite of everything, this park has an old world charm.
5. Umiam Lake/Barapani: This lake is 22km away from Shillong and can be reached by a shared cab that can be taken from Bada Bazaar for around Rs. 50. This beautiful lake can be accessed through Nehru Park, however this park is closed on Mondays. You can also access the lake through the State maintained park, a little way ahead of the Nehru Park. Water activities and adventure sports are available. Cabins are available for those who would like to spend a few days there.
6. Shillong view point: Only Indian citizens can go up to the Shillong view point to admire the view of the entire city. You need an Id card that needs to be submitted. The entrance fee is Rs 20. There are two ways of reaching there. One is by hiring a cab or by your own vehicle. The other more interesting way is hiking up there through the pine forest. The trekking point is on the Upper Lumparing Road, near Shillong Gaden Choeling Monastery. You can either switch to a trail in the forest that runs parallel to the cemented pathway or stick to the constructed way if you don’t want to get lost over and over again. The people at the ticket booth were delighted to see us coming from the trekking path since few people ever take that road. The trek has been listed below.
7. Rhododendron trek: Since I was there in November, I didn’t see any rhododendrons but this trek must be beautiful during the peak bloom season. Secondly, this trek was supposed to take us to the Shillong view point but we came out of the forest, about a mile before that. The trek is supposed to start from Upper Shillong to Shillong view point. From the other blogs, it looks like it is a pretty relaxed trek and for a while it was pleasant walking on a trail through the pinewood forest, but since there were no signs indicating the way, we ended up taking far too many wrong ways, going up and down steep slopes, covered in pine trees and through some prickly bushes. I still enjoyed it. If you find the trek path, please share it with me in the comments below.
8. Don Bosco Museum: For a nominal fee of Rs. 100, the museum offers a glimpse into the life of the tribal communities of the seven north eastern states of India. The exhibits are spread over seven floors and there is a sky walk as well. You can easily spend half a day in this museum.
9. Gaden Choeling Monastery: It was closed when I reached there but it is a tranquil place to visit. It is located on the Upper Lumparing road.
10. Upper Lumparing to Shillong View Point trekking: A cobbled path takes you to the Shillong View point. You have the option to leave the path and wander through the forest instead, a lot more fun. The journey in this case is a lot more rewarding than the destination.
11. Langkyrding Pine Forest trek: There is no sign indicating the beginning or end of this trek but if you stay in Langkyrding, you would see a pine forest from your window or across the road. The idea is to find some stairs or slope that will take you to the trail. You can then walk in the palm forest and bask in the sunlight filtering through the tall trees and be at peace while strolling through this forest.
12. You and I cafe: If you are travelling with friends, or solo, it is a great idea to go and spend some time in this cafe. The food items include traditional Khasi snacks and dishes and there are a number of Khasi herbal tea to choose from. The interiors are cosy and tastefully decorated. The staff is nice and welcoming. It’s a not for profit cafe that provides employment to youth that dropped out of school or college. The cafe promotes local handicrafts which are displayed around the cafe and local musicians play music there. Meghalaya is known as the rock capital of India and I highly recommend that you listen to it while you are there.
13. The glass mosque: So you made it this far. Here’s another unique site for you. Take a look at this beautiful mosque with the dome and the pillars made out of glass. Go see it when it’s dark and all lit up.
I hope this blog post would help you in discovering this beautiful city beyond the usual tourist spots and enable you to admire it the way I do.