Tucked away in the northeast of India, Shillong is an absolute study in contrasts. While stylish young men and women (think coloured hair and calf length boots) can be spotted in its streets, the region is also home to the Khasi tribal group, with their traditional Jainsem robes.
Shillong came into its own under the British as a garrison town, and retains a laidback colonial charm with its cathedrals and cottages dating from that era. Although at first glance it feels like any other noisy, overcrowded Indian town, it needs a gentle scratch under the surface to see its innate beauty. And if the commotion gets too much to handle, there are plenty of easy getaways from town, from day trips to weekend vacations.
Some suggestions on what to see and do in Shillong to get the best out of this city:
A Dylan Pilgrimage
Shillong is aptly known as the rock capital of India, boasting of an annual Bob Dylan festival on the legendary musician’s birthday in May. The city is a great place to pay homage to this artist, beginning from the new Dylan Café in the busy Laitumkhrah neighbourhood. Complete this experience with a live concert at night by Lou Majaw, Shillong’s Bob Dylan, at Café Shillong or at Cloud 9 Restolounge.
Shop at Bara Bazaar
From fresh meat to many varieties of chillies, punctuated with stalls selling colourful winter wear and quilts, Bara Bazaar promises a sensory overload. The best time to visit is in the morning, just when the bustle is at its peak.
Don Bosco Museum of Indigenous Cultures
For a clear understanding of the history and culture of the northeastern states, collectively known as the Seven Sisters (along with brother Sikkim), there is no better place than the Don Bosco Museum of Indigenous Cultures. Spread over seven floors of interesting and instructive exhibits, this museum presents glimpses into this fairly unexplored part of the country—from agricultural practices to natural resources, from handicrafts to musical instruments.
A Bird’s Eye View
It is an easy drive out of the city through the towering evergreen trees of Upper Shillong towards Shillong Peak. Visit early in the evening for panoramic views of the city in the distance, just as the twinkling lights of shops and homes get switched on. Before this, make sure to turn off at the road leading to the Air Force Museum and go on to the popular Elephant Falls to see how lush Meghalaya really is. Fuel up with coffee and sandwiches at the ML05 café on the way, cleverly themed around bikes and cars.
An Archery Lottery
In this unique and fascinating local sport called Teer or Siat Khnam, groups of archers from the local Khasi Archery Association gather at Polo Grounds every evening. The archers let fly dozens of arrows at a cylindrical bamboo target in the middle. The shooting stops in four minutes, and the arrows are counted. The last two digits of the number of arrows are the winning lottery number for the day.
In the heart of Shillong is the picturesque Ward’s Lake, a favourite evening rendezvous spot for locals and tourists alike. With small fountains and flowering trees, this is a quiet oasis in the midst of all the urban chaos. For an even more pleasant experience, make your way to Umiam Lake, a quick 45-minute drive on the road to Guwahati. Sprawling over 200 square kilometres, the soothing blue waters of this lake lend themselves to a range of activities, from kayaking to angling.