Thursday, July 01, 2010

Shillong - A City Of Waning Splendour

It feels doleful to write about Shillong, a city once known for its natural beauty - hilly location, fresh air, pine forests, blue skies and fleecy clouds. When we arrived at Shillong after a tiring journey from Guwahati, I felt I flew out from Bangalore and arrived at Bangalore again - traffic moved at snail pace, it was hot, it was noisy and crowded. I had a totally contradictory image about the city, I had reckoned it to be a laid-back town with few houses dotting the mountains, a very rustic kind of picture I had in mind, but it turned out to be just the other way round, which was quite disappointing.


We stayed at MES guest house which was located on the mountain slope surrounded by pine trees and were treated royally with all the military chivalry. We spent three days in Shillong, the first of which we spent in local sightseeing, on second day we went to Cherrapunji and on third to Dowki (yet to be blogged). Shillong is an extremely commercialized tourist destination, not the kinds that I would yearn to go, but Shillong acts as a base camp for heading towards Cherrapunji, Dowki or other far-eastern states.


Elephant falls is located in upper Shillong, slightly ahead of Eastern Air Command (EAC) HQ. Somehow I felt it's over-hyped by the websites and local tour operators, I would rate the place very ordinary. They charge 10 bucks per person and 20 per camera, it's not worth a farthing. A faint stream fell down the rocks and formed a pool and I didn't feel it was touristy and worth visiting at all. I was wondering how many unnamed waterfalls I've seen in our Thirthalli-Sringeri region more elegant than Elephant falls of Shillong.


There is an airforce museum inside the EAC HQ which is quite interesting and has photographs of Indo-Pak war, Indo-China war, the awards winners, the fighters, models of a missile, helicopter and a fighter jet. The entry to the museum is free, we were briefly interrogated as to where are we from and what we did. From airforce museum we continued to Shillong Peak, a view point on the mountain that overlooks the Shillong city. Indian Airforce has made this area a prohibited one and the driver has to surrender his license at the entry gate. One can have a panoramic view of the city with pine trees in the foreground, but everything was obscured by smoke cloud rising from the city.


It was lunch time when we came back to Shillong city downtown and I wanted to try out Suruchi restaurant in Police Bazaar, known for its Bengali cuisine. I wholeheartedly thank Wikitravel for suggesting this restaurant, the Bengali food there was very delicious and palatable for my wife, for the food was mildly spiced and very delicious. It consisted mainly of rice, dhal, aubergine fry, fish/mutton curries and sweetened curd. We shopped some fruits in the market, they were exorbitantly priced, I was told by one of the vendor that all fruits are shipped to Shillong and nothing grows there, hence so expensive.


We went to Shillong Catholic Cathedral, it's gigantic but not very elegant, especially for me after having seen some of the most grandiloquent cathedrals in Mexico, I felt it was just a concrete structure with few embellishments. The design isn't that great, the blue paint makes it worse. Don Bosco museum in Shillong is definitely one of the must-visits. Just check for the regular power-cut timings of the city before you head to the museum, for they charge a lot more for switching on the generators. The best part of the museum is the power saving mechanism they've employed, they have person actuated lights - the moment someone enters the room the lights are turned on automatically. The museum explains everything about north-east not just about Meghalaya. There are arts, crafts, ruins, photographs, hunting & harvesting tools, house plans and everything one could think of about north-east in the museum and it requires more than an hour to see everything in detail.


We stopped over at the Shillong Golf Course for a while and walked around on lush green lawn, before we retired for the day. It was wonderful to see vast stretches of green land on both sides of the road, but it was terrible to see people littering it without slightest concern for cleanliness. I saw broken beer bottles and lots of plastic trash on such beautiful landscape. I just hope Meghalaya tourism does something to prevent littering of the city and other tourist places.


Umiam lake (Badapani) is on the outskirts of Shillong and one could see while arriving to Shillong from Guwahati. It's a vast water body and is the source of water to Shillong city. We didn't have time to go boating, we just stopped on the highway and wondered at its size and scale, clicked few photographs and continued to Guwahati. The lake was with us almost for about 3-4km. Military men practice aquatic sports in this lake.


I haven't travelled too many places in India but I feel great to say that Shillong people have the best road sense. I'm not sure if I got that feeling for I live in Bangalore where nobody knows what it means, Shillong people are a lot civilized on road. Not many people honk, people are patient enough to stop and yield to other vehicles, they turn on their indicators while overtaking and many such healthy practices I observed. Also Shillong is a self-proclaimed rock capital of India, which was to an extent justified by few radio stations dishing out classical rock all the time. I seriously miss such a radio station in Bangalore...we've got utterly useless noisy radio stations where RJs shout at top of their voices.


I was truly disappointed by the plight of Shillong - dirt, litter, noise, traffic, population & pollution. I just hope someday it'll be resurrected to its former "laid back hill station" status and preserved so for posterity.










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