Pages 3,4 -The first day was so packed, it didn’t quite fit into a single page!
Backtracking a bit, I intended to post the sketch journal separately from the detailed description of the trip, which was intended to be kind of a guide to other travellers planning on visiting. But it must’ve been a brain-fart because it doesn’t make much sense double-posting, so I’m combining sketch & written detail… I found it pretty hard to get good info on the north-east on the net especially transport availability & pricing, which is what I’ve tried to highlight in the hope my trials & errors will help others.
So here’s the dirt on it 😉
We arrived @ Guwahati airport around 10.30am, intending to head straight to Shillong. Taxis at the airport were asking for Rs.700 to take us into town, but then an auto showed up asking for 300, so we got into it. There are also shuttle buses from the airport charging 150/- per head, but it wasn’t leaving immediately. It was around 1pm by the time we got to Paltan Bazaar, so we had lunch at one of the restaurants serving local food. There are no menus in most of these places, so be sure to ask for the price of the fish/ chicken or whatever you’re ordering with your meal/’rice plate’/ whatever, as they will serve you the most expensive and charge a bomb for it, even when the ‘meal’ costs only 40/-!
Outstation buses/ taxis are available from Paltan Bazaar, but the last bus had already left, so we got onto a shared Sumo @ 160/- per head. Passengers keep getting on & off all the way through. The Guwahati-Shillong road was being widened and the hills were being pretty much eaten away by the JCBs et al. So unfortunately, it wasn’t a pleasant drive up, as the air was full of dust & pollution. Keep in mind, taxi drivers rip like maniacs so you won’t be able to take a single un-blurry picture en route!
We reached Shillong, which is in the Khasi hills of Meghalaya by 5.30pm and were dropped off at Civil hospital. There the local taxis asked us for 100/- to get to our hotel, which seemed rather steep. As far as I could tell, we weren’t far. On calling our hotel, they informed us the going rate was 10/- per person, they have a shared taxi system locally as well, so we got onto one for 50/- since we weren’t sharing. It was really dark outside already, so after we checked into Baba Tourist Lodge, we just took a short walk, had dinner & turned in for the night. Shillong gets pretty cold, so we had our sweaters & jackets out pretty quick.
There are a bunch of places to visit around Shillong, including Umiam lake/ Bara Pani, Shillong Peak, Elephant Falls, but since we were there for only a day, we decided to just walk around the town & take in the atmosphere as I didn’t want to be ferried around in a taxi from A to B to C etc just to cover all the ‘sight-seeing’ points. Instead, we had breakfast at Delhi Mistaan Bhandaar, or DMB, where you the get the ubiquitous aloo puri, kachoris etc. and then headed to Ward’s Lake, next to which are the (not) Botanical Gardens. From the bridge between the 2, we spotted the Rufous-bellied Niltava, Black-naped Monarch, Chestnut-tailed starling, Oriental white-eye, Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher, all first-time birds for us, so just hung about there for ages. Unlike Bangalore, the town’s full of sparrows, which, when one looks closer turn out to be the Eurasian Tree Sparrow. They are bold, gregarious birds that are an absolute delight to watch for us city-slickers. We also met and made a new friend there, Sanjeev a fellow birder who lives in Shillong. He patiently stands there for hours getting some amazing photos of the local birds. Ward’s Lake has geese & ducks swimming around, with all kinds of beautiful flowers growing around it. I’m not too familiar with their names, but I recognised a few like the pansies & chinese cabbage roses.
The Botanical garden is postage-stamp sized and just overgrown and not maintained at all, so we headed back from the lake. Police Bazaar area is full of quaint little tea shops and the chai is totally amazing. Apparently Meghalaya now grows their own tea, pretty much unknown compared to its famous counterpart ‘assam tea’. Post lunch, a walk to Iewduh market, dirty as it was, was quite fascinating and a single sketch wasn’t enough to do it justice. The dominant religion in this state is Christianity (over 70% of the population), which was brought by the British and later the Jesuits. But the road to Bara bazaar/ Iewduh is dominated by Sikhs and Muslims including a Gurudwara, which makes Shillong, small as it is, a fascinating and eclectic mix of cultures & people. Plus that means you get great kebabs & biryani here! The market itself is entirely along stone steps that diverge in various directions. It’s a women’s only market, where you get to see tribal women in their traditional Khasi checks.
From there, we walked through picture-prefect residential areas, in sharp contrast to the messy chaotic Police & Bara Bazaar areas, past cemeteries and down steep, endless flights of steps to reach the Don Bosco museum & Sacred Hearts convent. We probably walked only around 6-7km in all, but when most of it’s uphill, it’s pretty darned exhausting! From Sacred Hearts, we hopped onto a city bus that rambled around town before it brought us back to Police Bazaar.
The plan was to leave for Cherrapunjee the next day, but we had a seriously hard time finding out where to catch a bus from, as we weren’t too keen on taking a shared Sumo. What they don’t tell you is that they seat 10+1, which works out fine for the locals as they are typically small-built hill people, but for us average sized people, it’s a really tough squeeze and every part of your body pretty much seizes up & goes numb by the time you reach your destination. There is an MTDC bus stand at Police Bazaar, but it turned out they only had organised day trips to Cherrapunjee & other places. Eventually we found the bus stand at Bara Bazaar, from where there was a bus leaving at 12pm the next day.
One of the best parts of the trip to follow…