To the Hills of Meghalaya

In the month of September I took a few days off after finishing with my jury. I was headed for Ziro Music Festival in Arunachal Pradesh but ended up going to Shillong. I had been to Shillong some 13 years back when my dad was posted there. So, it was really fascinating for me to go to a place where I lived once and see what changes had the past 13 years brought to the beautiful city of Shillong.

I took a early morning flight from Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport, Ahmedabad and took a halt in the Delhi. I reached the lush green tree surrounded Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport, Guwahati around 2 pm in the afternoon.

National Highway 40, an all-weather road, connects Shillong with Guwahati and the distance between them is roughly 120km. I had found out earlier that Shillong Municipal Board runs shuttle service (4 times a day, a TATA Winger 10 seater minibus) between Guwahati and Shillong. Booking can be done on phone ((0364) 2222731/ 2224933) or on the spot at the Airport at Meghalaya Tourism Counter near the luggage collection area. The moment I reached I got to know that there was a shuttle which was leaving at 3.30 pm. I got myself a ticket for Rs.400.

There is no railway line to Meghalaya. The closest railway station is Guwahati. There are a lot other transportation options between Guwahati and Shillong. One can take a helicopter, a taxi, a shared taxi or a bus.

I had to wait a bit for my co-passengers and around 3.40 p.m we left Guwahati Airport. My co-passenger Mr.& Mrs. Banker (yes my friends surname was Banker!) were a very interesting couple in there early 30’s. We just started chatting about where we are headed, what we do and where are we from. And we started talking about the local food, music scene, culture, religion etc. Banker told me a lot about the local food and what all to try and a few places where I could go. He also told me the entire history of how majority of people in Meghalaya converted to Christianity and also that in the remote areas there are a lot of communities which still worship the old Nature Gods (like mountains, wind; something similar to the Japanese culture). And once we were talking about this I asked Banker what has he studied and what he told me was quiet interesting. Banker had done a Master in Divinity from Pune and after that he started working with the church. I had no clue that there was a course like this taught in India. And while we were talking about all this on our way to Shillong, it started raining and the view started to get better. Mountains started to reveal themselves after 45 mins of ride and the roads started to turn and twist.

We took a halt in Nongpoh, where my friends took me to a tiny road side shop (Ja Cha). It was super clean and they very serving traditional Khasi food. Banker order Dohjem (which is a dish made from pork liver and intestines cooked with green leafy vegetable), Pu-tharo (an idly like small rice cakes) and some Red Tea. The food I ate was amazing, Dohjem was full of flavor and it was balanced perfectly with the plain Pu-tharo. Red Tea (with or without lemon) was something which I ended up having a lot during my nine day stay in Shillong, it’s really refreshing.

We resumed our journey after a halt of 20 minutes and then the gig of clouds started in the sky. Clouds were coming and going like crazy, going up, going down the mountains. On route we crossed a lot of fields growing rice, pineapples, vegetables etc. 120km might seem a small distance but in hills, it takes a considerable amount of time. The traffic started become a bit dense a bit before Barapani (Umiam Lake) which is about 15-20km from Shillong. It took us considerable amount of time to cover this distance. Banker got down from the shuttle some 5km before Shillong. The shuttle dropped me at Police Bazaar (which is an economic centre and major commercial hub of Shillong) around 7 p.m. My uncle came and picked me and dropped me at the guest house (Aiban Guest House) in Laitumkhrah (a center for a lot of things in Shillong).

When my dad was posted in Shillong, we used to stay in Laitumkhrah. Being back in the place brought a lot of memories. I was merely 13-14 year old when I was last in that place. Things still seem to be similar expect the number of vehicles on the road, their number had increased considerably. I kept my things in the room and went out for for a walk, the weather was really pleasant and a bit chilly. I came back and had my dinner in the guest house and slept.

It was good to be back! More about the places, people and food in the coming posts.