How to plan a trip to Shillong

Planning a trip to Shillong

Meghalaya is a state in the crevice of India near Bangladesh and Assam.  It was formed on January 21st, 1972 when it was carved out of Assam. Meghalaya has further been divided into twelve districts: East Garo Hills, North Garo Hills, West Garo Hills, South West Garo Hills, East Khasi Hills, West Jaintia Hills, East Jaintia Hills, South West Khasi Hills, West Khasi Hills, Eastern West Khasi Hills and Ri Bhoi. Each district has its headquarters.

The headquarters of West Garo Hills is in Tura and the headquarters of West Jaintia Hills is in Jowai. The headquarters of East Khasi Hills is Shillong, which is also the capital city of Meghalaya, and it has been the hub of diversity and life of all North Eastern people.

People who reside in the Khasi Hills are called Khriam, or a more informal term, Khasi, whereas those who reside in the Jaintia Hills are called Pnar (you may think the P or N is silent, but it is not). All different districts have their own dialects, and although the Khasi language, the Pnar language, and the Bhoi language sound the same when fallen onto unenlightened ears, they are all very much different. 

From the mountains of the Himalayas to the rivers of Uttar Pradesh, Shillong is nothing short of natural beauty. Shillong, also known as the Scotland of the East, is home to many towns and valleys. You’ll find mesmerizing waterfalls and hills with mythological stories behind each one of them.

If you were to plan a trip to Shillong, the best time would be during the summer. The cool breeze mixed with the warm sun makes a great combination for an outdoor adventure. The journey from the airport in Guwahati to Shillong is approximately a hundred kilometres and takes almost three hours. If you want to skip the long car ride, you can always book a ticket to Shillong directly as the city now has its own airport.

There is no right or wrong way to recommend which places to visit first in Shillong as there are so many places to see. It solely depends on the person visiting, but I can recommend which places are worth visiting.

If you would like to travel with a local, there are plenty of people who offer tours and adventures and an overall good time. For people visiting Shillong for the first time, I would recommend going around with a fellow indigenous person. A trusted institute that I guarantee will show you a good time can be found on Instagram under the name Rocky Roads Shillong. A quick contact with them will promise you an adventure of a lifetime.

Shillong has plenty of tourist spots and city attractions. Like two sides of a coin, Shillong, too, has two sides of lifestyle. If a person is interested in the fast lifestyle, the heart of Shillong is exactly where you should be. The sound of busy bustling cars and people’s voices are enough to set your soul aflame. It is also home to beautiful cultures and traditions. Let us first talk about city life.

Every year in April, from the dates 13th to 15th, the people of Shillong gather around to celebrate their culture. People adorn themselves in rich jewellery and traditional attire and proceed to do a cultural dance. This traditional dance, called ‘Shad Suk Mynsiem’, is one of the many unique cultural activities of the people. They erect stalls selling food and unique items like traditional necklaces, garments, and many more. This alone is a great celebration that I believe tourists would be amazed by.

There are also other festivals, such as the Cherry Blossom Festival, which is held every year during November when the cherry blossom trees are in full bloom. Artists around the world fly to Shillong to perform and entertain everyone with a good time. Artists who graced us with a performance in the last Cherry Blossom Festival were Ne-Yo, Hybrid Theory, Ronan Keating and Jonas Blue. If one is not interested in coming during the summer, I promise you, winter is just as exciting. There are stalls filled with food, games, arts and crafts where they paint your faces with a design of your choice, and a photo booth, which happens to be the hottest spot of activity at the festival.

The people of Shillong take great interest in popular trends and the latest styles. Each stall holds a variety of food; from the continental cuisines of pork ribs and mashed potatoes to the local dishes like ja-doh and doh-khleh which is rice cooked with black sesame seeds, the internal organs of a chicken or a pig, and oftentimes mixed with the blood of the animal, and the latter is the head of a pig that is boiled and cut into tiny pieces and mixed with onion slices, ginger slices, and pork brain along with salt. Although it sounds unappetizing, it is a local delicacy that would be appreciated a lot more once given a taste. 

Because Cherry Blossom Festival is a lot more hip, and for young kids, you will see everyone dressed like they are on the cover of Vogue. This happens to be the favourite event of the people.

There is also the Monolith festival that takes place in Khasi Heritage Village in Mawphlang which celebrates the rich and diverse culture and traditions of the various indigenous people of Meghalaya and showcases their heritage. It has happened only twice since the birth of Meghalaya. The first was on October 25th and 26th, 2016, and the second was recently in March 2024 from the dates 7th to 9th. The monoliths in Shillong are placed in such a way that there are three vertically upright menhirs, the middle being the tallest, and a long flat stone laid in front horizontally.

This festival is filled with vibrant performances, exhibitions, dances, traditional games, local food, and wine tasting. For visitors, there are also camping facilities available inside the village so that you can experience the event to the fullest. Beware of taking care of the natural environment, though, as the event takes place in the sacred groves, where the local people indulge in rituals and offerings to their Gods. Legend says if any harm befalls nature, harm shall also befall unto you. There have been many cases where people were cursed just for taking home a piece of nature or ill-treating it.

The Scared Groves, in Khasi, known as Lawkyntang (pronounced as lao-kin-tang) has always been a place of fascination for both outsiders and local people. There have been many stories and folklore about this forest, some of which sound convincing enough for one to believe in its supernatural occurrences. Many local people have experienced bad omen and paranormal activities for simply carrying home a fruit from the groves, or for cutting down a tree. The curses would be so terrible that the people would have to return whatever it is they took from the forest and apologize to the spirits that reside there. Lawkyntang is a heavenly place to visit, and it is part of the many tourist spots in Shillong. Although it contains bad juju, it is certainly a place of beauty, you just have to be careful in taking care of the place.

Books have also been published telling tales of the forest. If you were to visit Shillong and you would like to know more about Khasi mythology, you can always purchase the books from a local market at a cheap price. 

While modern city life is certainly enticing, the wild nature of Shillong is just as thrilling, if not more. There exists a town called Sohra, which harbours beautiful waterfalls and landscapes. There are plenty of tourist spots which I’m sure you would fall in love with. One of the most popular tourist spots is the Living Root Bridge (distance: 53.2kms), which is a bridge intertwined with rocks on the ground and thick vines and branches wrapping around it, holding it in place. People across the globe come to Shillong just to see this exquisite sight. Another spot in Sohra that is just as pretty is Dainthlen Falls (distance: 54kms), named after a folktale about how a menacing serpent was chopped into several pieces and consumed so it could not regrow anymore. 

The Living Root Bridge is not the only beautiful sight Shillong has. In a town called Dawki, there is a clear river where you can see what is underwater. There are even boats you can rent to sit on to see more of the river. Another water sight is Nohkalikai, which is a waterfall (distance: 55.5kms). There is a story behind it about how a mother named Likai gave birth to a daughter with her first husband. Later she got remarried to a second man who was not fond of the child, so he murdered and cooked her and fed her to the mother. Likai, unbeknownst to her, ate the food her husband oh-so lovingly cooked for her. After dinner, since it is a Khasi habit to eat betel nuts after every meal, she reached down to her betel nut basket and found her daughter’s fingers in it. She knew instantly that she had just eaten her baby. She entered into a state of frenzy and left the house and killed herself by jumping off the cliff. Hence, the fall was named ‘Nohkalikai’ (‘Noh’ meaning fall, ‘Ka’ meaning she/her, Likai being the name of the woman). Several other waterfalls include Nohsngithiang Falls, Tyrshi Falls, and Krangsuri Falls.

We’ve talked about waterfalls, and we’ve talked about the famous bridge in Sohra. Now, let’s talk about caves.

A lovely cave in Sohra is the Mawsmai Cave (distance: 58.1kms). Deep inside this cavity lies fossils of fishes along with stalagmites and stalactites. Many tourists visit this area and enter the cave as deep as they can. However, I must warn you, that claustrophobic people will have a hard time entering enclosed spaces.

Another alluring cave is Krem Chympe, which is in Jaintia Hills (distance: 62.7kms). The photos of this place do not do this gorgeous place justice, and I highly recommend you visit this ethereal cave at least once when you visit Meghalaya. There are plenty of other caves as well, such as Arwah Cave, Siju Cave, and Garden of Caves. Each one of these is beautiful and unique in its own way, and it is a sight worth seeing at least once in your life.

In East Khasi Hills lies a tiny village called Mawlynnong (distance: 77.8kms). This was known as Asia’s cleanest village. Here, people are mandated to help clean the village. Waste is collected in dustbins made of bamboo and then further used as manure. Smoking and use of polythene are banned, while rainwater harvesting is encouraged. The main occupation of the people living here is agriculture, with betel nut being their main crop. The people of Shillong love munching on betel nut.

As I have stated before, Shillong has one of the most fascinating folklore stories. From the story of animals selling items in the local market to the story of mountains having a ladder that leads to heaven. Khasi mythology is anything but dull. There is a story of a giant called Ramhah, who would torment villagers and eat all their crops and farm animals.

The villagers had had enough of him and decided to take revenge by pouring nails into his basket. Over time, his basket turned into a rock and is now a tourist spot for people. This place is called Khoh Ramhah, and it is in Cherrapunji (distance: 54kms). It is a viewpoint where you can see the plains of Bangladesh on a clear bright sunny day.

If you are a lover of sunrise, Shillong must be on your bucket list of travels. Here, in the abode of clouds, early at dawn, you can watch the sunrise, and it is a sight worth beholding. Local people go on long drives to a place called Nongjrong to stand on top of a mountain and watch the beauty of this natural phenomenon, and there are not enough words in the dictionary that can explain how magnificent it is. Sunsets too are just as pretty.

Shillong is a place different from the rest of the world, and it offers a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The people are friendly, the food is unique and the place is magical. Not many people who visit are disappointed by the way of the Khasi people. Each place around the world has its unique quality that sets them apart from the rest. Shillong is just as different. It may come off a little peculiar to first-timers, but if you keep an open mind to new opportunities, I assure you, you will get your money’s worth. So come, book your flight, and visit Shillong today. A marvellous vacation waits for you.

By Afra Jemima Rynjah