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A Week In Shillong

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The capital city 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. The Shillong travel circuit can easily boast best roads, connectivity and tourist amenities and hence probably more people travel to this state than any other of the 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. I spent about a week in Shillong and my experiences were not as marvellous or spell binding as in rest of North-East.  Yet there were things very familiar yet evoking feelings ranging from amusement to sadness. And that is also important sometime. So what should you do when you get there?
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. It’s 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 fruits, vegetables to kitchen utensils, cane furniture, fish, all kinds of meat, grocery, cloth, sweets. Morning hours are  best to see all the buzz, consider having breakfast in one of the alleys serving quintessential poori-bhaji.
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For my full photo-story, follow this link.
2. Elephant Falls
Occupying one of the top positions in the  things-to-do in Shillong guides, this is definitely worth it. The unique feature of this fall is that it gushes out water in three different steps.These steps have been made for tourists to get down to the falls and watch up close.
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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
 Please follow this link, to see my complete story on Mawsmai caves.

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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. It’s always a better choice to stay at places little off  the city centre, say Laitumkhra, which is 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/ per 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.
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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 but 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.  They have live gigs every Sunday evening. Not to be missed.
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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 expeditions for his outlet. They genuinely use fresh ingredients and one can taste that well in their food. But 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.
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 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.
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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.
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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.
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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 wooden sliding windows, the dominance of Maruti 800 on the roads, little ice cream parlours everywhere and huge number of men’s salons!

Richa Gupta is based in Mumbai, is an avid traveller and also passionate about writing and encouraging responsible and alternative travel ideas. After having worked in the  fashion industry for over six years,  she decided to quit and started with a little not-for-profit initiative to help people with  travels which not only help support local culture, economy and environment but also offer life changing experiences. Her work and blog can be found at http://travels-and-stories.blogspot.in/

 

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