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An offbeat guide to Shillong, the Scotland of the East
If Meghalaya is a mystical land, then Shillong is its most cherished treasure. Although a city, Shillong does not conform to the typical parameters of an urban community. While it has its city trappings, the location and its surrounding environment speak otherwise. Surrounded by hills, valleys, rivers, and forests, Shillong is as good as it gets for a retreat.
Most travelers to this Northeast town often end up at the touristy place that the books read. Not that the charm of Dawki or the magic of Sohra/Cherrapunji is any short of spellbinding, but there’s a lot more to discover in and around Shillong if you seek.
Explore the sacred forests
The forests of Mawphlang on the East Khasi Hills is believed to be a sacred zone in the state. Spreading across a massive area of 192 acres, the moist-deciduous forest was home to the ancient hill tribes of Meghalaya, some of whom still reside along its fringes. The beauty of the forest lies in its originality which has been untouched since the early settlers lived here. The locals believe (and still do) that this is a divine sanctuary of their presiding deity Labasa, who appears in the form of a leopard and protects the forest and everything thereof. There is an old altar for worship, made of monoliths. There is also a rule that the locals abide by- nothing can be ever removed from the forest at any time, not even a dried leaf or a dead tree. That is why these jungles remain as it is since its origin. Locals often host festivals here to celebrate their tribal culture and appease to their deity. Besides its cultural significance, the Mawphlang forest is also home to the most exotic plants and trees, like ferns, aroids, and unique varieties of orchids. Some of these plants are endemic only to this region and are at least 1000 years old.
How to travel
The forests of Mawphlang is 27 Km from Shillong and takes less than an hour to reach. If you are traveling from Guwahati, you can hire a cab to Shillong and make a day trip to the forest. The taxi fare from Guwahati to Shillong is reasonable and you can use the same car for your forest trek.
Make a trip to the East Garo Hills
The East Garo Hills is the most scenic stretch of Meghalaya and is known for its natural caves, perennial waterfalls, and mountain streams. One of the most prominent ones and a must-visit is the Rong’bang Dare, or the Rong’bang Falls. A tributary of the Simsang River, the gurgling cascade drops down the steep cliffs of the East Garo Hills and cuts through lush bamboo forests. It is not as popular as a tourist attraction but definitely makes for a perfect picnic spot. The Pelga Falls is another charming locale in the neighborhood.
Tour the ancient Caves
When you are exploring the East Garo hills, you cannot miss the Siju Caves. Located near the town of Williamnagar, this is a cluster of ancient caves on the banks of the Simsang River. With a dense network of passages, niches, and tunnels, this deep, dark place is the longest cave system in the Indian subcontinent. Some parts of the caves are not even open to the public for exploring and the inner sanctums of the caves are inhabited by huge populations of bats. That is why this is also referred to as the Cave of Bats.
Discover the food trail of Shillong
Besides its natural beauty, Shillong is also rich in its culinary offerings, which adds to its experience. The food of Shillong is a mix of cultures and communities that have made the city their homes. The traditional cuisine of Meghalaya is Khasi but it also has influence from Manipur, Mizoram, West Bengal, and Bangladesh. You can find almost all varieties of ethnic flavors from these communities, along with Chinese and Tibetan food. If you want to sample the street flavors, then head to Police Bazaar. Otherwise, for specialty Khasi food and fine dining affair, you can go to Laitumkhrah.
How to travel
You can book a reliable and licensed taxi service in Guwahati, which can take you to Shillong and do a proper food tour. With this, you can stop by different cafes, street-side vendors, or signature restaurants and sample different flavors.
Walk the nature trails
The best way to experience the natural landscape of Shillong and its surroundings is to do day treks and camping in the forests, or spend a night at the tree houses. Some of the popular trek routes are the David Scott’s Trail, Krem Mawsmai, Krem Mawmluh, and Krem Umshyrpi Caves Trail. You can also trek to the Elephant Falls and the Laitkor Peak. For a more holistic tour of Shillong and around, you can rent a bicycle and ride through the tea gardens, strawberry fields, and bamboo plantations.
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