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Shillong, the Scotland of the East

Munmi Barthakur

Born and brought up in the North-Eastern part of India, I spent my growing up years in Guwahati, Assam. Hence, I cannot resist recommending Shillong, my favorite hill station in India to visitors. As I try to capture the rugged beauty of the lush green countryside, the imposing hills luring us to escape for a while, the hot, summer months, the simplicity of the people and their warmth towards strangers too, I hope I succeed to a certain extent.

This quaint town on hilly terrain, the capital of Meghalaya, is fondly referred to as “The Abode of Clouds". It stands at an average altitude of 4,908 feet above sea level, with the highest point being Shillong Peak at 6,449 feet. According to popular legend, the hills meandering in a gentle slope across the town reminded the European settlers of Scotland. Hence, the expression "Scotland of the East" was penned down.

Briefly touching upon the interesting historical facts which transports us back to 1874, the British Regime, Assam was declared the Chief Commissioner's Province and Shillong was chosen as its headquarters. Endearingly tucked between the Brahmaputra and Surma valleys with remnants of erstwhile British influence, Shillong remained the capital of undivided Assam until the creation of the separate state of Meghalaya on 21, January, 1972.

Approximately 100 km from Guwahati, beautiful drive past the hills and a view of the panoramic Umium lake, the climate in Shillong, predictably, is very pleasant. The summer months are cool and there is a lot of rainfall. Tourism flourishes during the months, October–November and March–April.

The town merits a visit to the spectacular Elephant Falls and one simply must go on a boat ride on Ward’s lake and feed the fish. There is also the lady Hydari Park, which has a small zoo inside the boundary. Elephant Falls is just 12 km from the city. The beauty of this spot is etched in my heart from childhood memories and I never fail to enjoy it despite my innumerable visits. There are other falls nearby such as the Bishop and Beadon Falls, the Spread Eagle Falls and the Crinoline Falls. There is also, Sweet Falls, called “Weitden,” in the native dialect. It is the most beautiful of all the waterfalls in Shillong.

I must not fail to mention that the Shillong Golf Course is one of the largest golf courses and incidentally, the world's wettest, in Asia. It enjoys the rare distinction of being one of the few natural golf courses in Asia. Tucked away in the valley amongst the pine and rhododendron trees in dense profusion, it never fails to assuage my senses. The tight fairways, carpeted with a local grass which hardens the soil, are difficult to negotiate and poses a challenge to seasoned golfers. The number of out-of-bounds streams that criss-cross every fairway causes a diversion and makes it all the more difficult. Hence, the term "Glen Eagle of the East" was coined at the United States Golf Association Museum.

Another point of interest is the “Stone of France” locally known as "Motphran". Erected in memory of the 26th Khasi Labor Corps who served under the British in France during World War I, the words of the famous Latin poet Horace "It is sweet and fitting to die for one's country” are inscribed upon it.

The Shillong Peak, a popular picnic spot, about 10 kms from the town is beautiful with its breathtaking view of the sprawling countryside. The location also serves as a radar station for the Indian Air Force. So visitors need to submit their identification at the gate which is under continuous surveillance. One can also get a couple of minute’s view of local flavor from a little telescope for ten rupees. Refreshments in the form of some corn or bhutta with chai at the stalls lend its own charm.

The Captain Williamson Sangma State Museum is also a point of interest since it provides an insight into the ethnic tribal culture and tradition of the state. This museum is in the State Central Library complex. Then, there is the Don Bosco Center for Indigenous Cultures which conducts research on cultures, publications, training and animation programs, which is a culmination of the knowledge acquired and shared on the North-Eastern states in particular, as well as on culture in general.  Talking about museums brings to mind the Entomological Museum, interestingly known as the Butterfly Museum. A privately owned museum, it is the only known one in India devoted to moths and butterflies. Other museums include, the Air Force Museum, the Rhino Heritage Museum, the Zoological Museum and the Arunachal Museum at the Cantonment Area to name a few amongst the numerous dotting the state.

I have to mention Chrysalis, the Gallery, in this narrative guide, which is right on Police Bazaar, the commercial hub of Shillong. Chrysalis has flexible spacing to showcase paintings on canvas, unusual sculpture, photography and unique handicrafts. Run by a local artist, the gallery provides a platform to artists and artisans especially from the northeast and also from the rest of India to display their talent.

I would like to recommend the Tripura Castle for a comfortable stay in Shillong. A delectable combination of luxurious rooms and an excellent cuisine, our trip was extremely satisfying in every sense of the word. The ambience, the service and of course, the view which made it so relaxing and rejuvenating made it all worthwhile. A memorable trip, Shillong is a must for a sojourn to the North- Eastern part of Assam.