How often do clouds stop by your home, for a little tête-à-tête and linger around for a while before gliding away as silently as they skimmed in?
How often do you find random stalks of gladiola flamboyantly blooming along the sideways of winding roads along with instant creeks that spring up after a brief spell of rain?
Now, imagine a city which has a perpetual love affair with the rains, and not keeping an umbrella while heading outdoors, would be a terrible folly!
Only those who have had the opportunity to live amidst the alpine terrains of Shillong at some point in their lives can allude to the fact that every moment in the mystical and unassuming city is nothing less of a poetic experience, where time stops still, and people coexist harmoniously with nature.
Nestled amidst the undulating peaks of East Khasi hills, Shillong is a beautiful hill station that one stumbles upon after driving through the flat and sultry plains of Assam.
Instead of a sudden assault on one’s senses, the city opens up its arms to a traveller slowly and progressively, like a bottle of vintage wine which gradually leads one to a state of bliss.
Through the dense forests of towering pines that entrance you with a mild yet unforgettable fragrance, every vista is a frame befitting picture postcards that are replete with quaint little cottages and cathedrals tucked in its folds, where gigantic roses bloom in clusters like natural bouquets, and stunning orchids bedeck the unlikeliest of places.
The reason why Meghalaya is known as the abode of clouds can be exemplified through the city, for the constant presence of clouds like guardian spirits is something you can’t quite get over.
Although it is believed that the city derives its moniker from the Shillong peak (Bada peak), a common myth surrounding the name can be traced back to the legend of U-Shyllong (the one who grows naturally), the local presiding deity who is still revered in the state.
Interestingly, Shillong had been a civil station during the British reign, whose officials called the city, ‘Scotland of the East’, as well as the capital of the erstwhile Assam before the present-day Meghalaya was formed in 1972.
Besides the native tribes of Garo, Khasi, and Jaintia, the metropolitan space of the city comprises of a fairly dense population of Bengali, Assamese, Bihari, Marwari and even Punjabi settlers who made the city their home during the colonial period.
So when you head to Police Bazaar for a shopping trip, you wouldn’t find a more diverse mix of languages and cuisines in a single place!
Shillong epitomises a symbiotic confluence of both worlds under a single sphere. Functional cantonment perimeters take one back to the times of imperial rule, and they coexist alongside modern day structures and thriving markets where one can find even edible bugs and worms for sale.
The bonhomie of the residents in Shillong is of another kind. People go out of their way to help you and if you are lucky enough to be invited to someone’s home, never say no to a cup of a locally brewed tea or ‘sha.’
Prepared without milk, it is unlike anything that you have had, and you need to try one to experience its sharp and distinct taste!
You would be hard pressed to find a more modest and sweet-natured collection of people, who greet you with smiling visages and an interesting rendition of Hindi, where you are either addressed to as a sister or a brother while older folks are bestowed with the tags ‘mummy’ and ‘daddy’ by folks managing stores.
Known for its musical inclination and plethora of indie music bands, it is no surprise that Shillong has been conferred with the tag of India’s Rock capital.
With a number of rock music festivals and concerts that is organised every year, the city has been slowly carving a space for itself in the international ambit in recent years.
While Police Bazaar and Laitumkhrah might be some of the happening places in the city that would appeal to tourists for its delectable delicacies and chic street fashion, the real charm of Shillong, however, lies in its rustic towns and villages amidst wide expanses of lush greenery.
With its inherent matrilineal culture, Jainsen-clad women with swaddled babies on their backs climbing hills to work on fields, are amongst the common sights you would repeatedly come across as you explore the rural territories.
Most settlements have small streams and groves that are religiously guarded by the locals—a practice that has been passed down to people from their ancestors.
One of the most adventurous yet fulfilling things that you can do here is to take a sip from the crystal clear rivulets that spring up mysteriously amidst the rocks. No bottled water could ever come close to the sweet, spring water when it comes to quenching your thirst after a rather gruelling trek through the hills.
While pears, strawberries, and pineapples are commonly grown by families in every nook and corner, what you should really not miss is the red-tinged Kafal, also known as ‘Soh Phi.’
A local fruit that you might probably not find elsewhere in the country, Kafal is best consumed when it is semi-ripe, and sprinkled with spices, though people in the region also make pickles out of the sweet-sour fruit.
But one thing is inevitable, you can never, ever, stop at just one!
Travel itineraries for Shillong will undoubtedly list popular tourist places like Lady Hydari Park, Laitkor Peak, Ward Lake, museums, and countless waterfalls that you should definitely not miss for the experience sake.
However, it is when one leaves behind the city limits and heads out to more natural settings, that Shillong comes alive in its full glory.
Having lived in the city for little over two years while I was growing up, Shillong is one of the few places in the world that I will forever be in love with, and if again there would be a chance to live in the city, I’m sure that Shillong would remain as welcoming as it was almost over a decade ago.
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