Our time in Shillong was an incredible break from the heat in Kolkata and Mumbai. Shillong is the capital of the state of Meghalya, which means “abode of the clouds.” Meghalya is in north east India and borders Bangladesh, which we saw multiple times (so cool!). After our drive climbing 1500 meters above sea level, we reached our hotel, which was an actual castle. The temperature was noticeably cooler (about 70 degrees F) than anywhere else we have been in India, which was such a welcome break.
Our first day in Shillong was a relaxing day – we had an academic session in the hotel and gave everyone a chance to catch up on sleep. That first day was when I got to explore a bit of the town with our travel provider and go in search of a fax machine to send my ballot back to Santa Cruz for the primary election (finally found one – read about it here)! We went out around lunchtime and it was really cool to see people out and about. The primary schools were letting out for the day and all the little children in their uniforms were getting picked up by their parents and traveling home via motorcycle, taxi, and car. It was also interesting to see how the traditional clothing (especially for the women) was different than other parts of India that we have been to. Many of the women were wearing much simpler saris, mostly with a checkered pattern, instead of the usual intricate and colorful patterns from the big cities.
The following day we got to explore the area surrounding Shillong. We got into our small cars and began the multiple hour car journey to Cherrapunji and the surrounding sites. The road wound through the mountains, resulting in some pretty awful car sickness. I managed to make it with the help of some Indian Dramamine and we arrived at the Living Root Bridge. The bridge is completely made up of the roots from tree trunks and it travels over a small creek and waterfall. We walked down a tall hill to get there, stopping along the way to purchase fresh pineapple slices from some of the locals who had set up shop on the route. The pineapple was so sweet and delicious and only 10 rupees a pack, so we all bought many, many packets to help quench our thirst. Since we have descended a bit from Shillong, the temperature had risen again and way much warmer than any of us had anticipated.
Our next stop was Mawlynnong Village, which is supposedly the cleanest village in Asia. Before walking around a bit, we got to explore a bamboo tree house that gave us a view of Bangladesh from the top! All of the Shillong area is very clean as they do not allow anyone to throw garbage on the side of the road, which is quite different from pretty much everywhere else in India. I would be really interested to know if there is significant education on environmental awareness in this area as compared to other areas since they are so conscious about keeping their streets clean.
After the village, we stopped for lunch at an unlimited thali place in Cherrapunji. Cherrapunji is the world’s rainiest place, getting on average 472 inches per year. Thali is a common way of eating in India where you get a big plate with 3-9 little bowls filled with different dishes such as curry, paneer (cheese), dal (lentils), rice, and naan. The dishes usually vary, but they are always delicious (and a great way to try many kinds of food!). While we were eating our thali lunches, it began to pour outside, but by the time we were done eating, the sky was completely clear.
We headed to our last stop of the day – the Seven Sisters’ Falls. Since the monsoon had not arrived yet, the falls were not that rushing, but you could still see them. We rested on the side of the road near the falls, drank some tea, and purchased cinnamon bark from some local kids. Back in the cars we went, I took another Dramamine, promptly fell asleep, and missed the rest of the ride back to the hotel.
The next morning we finished our academic session from earlier in the week and then had a free afternoon to explore. We wanted to go to Shillong Peak, the highest point in Shillong, to see the view of the town, but unfortunately, the Air Force base we would have to go through was closed and we could not get all the way to the peak. We still had a great view from the surrounding hills and we spent a lot of time trying the local food (plums, radishes) and taking pictures of the farmland and hillsides. Our next stop was Elephant Falls, where there were unfortunately no elephants. We saw three waterfalls though, which were very full and then got caught in a downpour on the way back to our car. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at Dylan’s Cafe, a tribute cafe to Bob Dylan (the first tribute cafe in northeast India). The cafe was very modern and had records and music posters covering the walls and ceiling, and was very Dylan themed. Even the soda refrigerator had the lyrics to Hey Mr. Tambourine Man printed on it – very cool! I bought a shirt from the cafe that had the logo on the back and says “I Heart Shillong” on the front – very touristy.
I wore the shirt on our final morning in Shillong (of course) when we went to an indigenous culture museum. The museum was really cool and showcased the different traditions of the many indigenous peoples in northeast India. While there, Tavish and I paid 50 rupees each to be dressed in local traditional clothing for a picture – definite ill worth it! I was really surprised by how complex each outfit was and how many pieces were involved in each outfit – I can’t imagine wearing that much clothing and jewelry on a regular basis!
We finished our drive to the airport, hopped on the plane, and made our way to Delhi, where we will spend the next two days before venturing over to Rajasthan (the desert state in NW India).