Travel Guide to Shillong - The Meghalaya Odyssey
Meghalaya literally meaning 'An abode of clouds' is one of the few states in India that still remains untouched by the harshness of the modern day vulnerabilities. Meghalaya is one of the ‘Seven Sisters’ of the Northeast India and nurtures the gift of nature in all its glory. The capital city of Meghalaya state, Shillong, is truly a nature’s paradise and should be in everyone's itinerary. Due to its resemblance the British rulers famously named Shillong as the ‘Scotland of the East’. Shillong is the hub of all the commercial activities in Meghalaya and is also by far the biggest city of the state. Shillong also has some magnificent sight seeing spots, interesting places and provides a good insight into how Meghalaya is slowly embracing modernisation. All of these make Shillong a must visit in your trip to Meghalaya.
In this third blog of the series – The Meghalaya Odyssey, we present a detailed travel guide covering everything about Shillong with recommendations from how to reach, where to stay, what places to visit in Shillong and your ideal itinerary. In case you have missed out on our earlier blogs in the series, we suggest you read them to get a better understanding of Meghalaya as a whole and plan your trip broadly before you dive into planning your days in Shillong through this blog.
'The Meghalaya Odyssey' is a series of 10 travel blogs and 2 photo blogs. Check out other blogs in the series by clicking on the below mentioned links or photographs:
3. Shillong Travel guide - This article
Shillong is the highest place in Meghalaya with Shillong peak being the highest point. Being the capital city, Shillong makes everyone feel like being a part of the place. Before Meghalaya was formed as a separate state, Shillong also used to be the capital of undivided Assam. The people here are welcoming and their genuine smiles and gestures gives everyone a feeling of home. Shillong is a hill city dominated by local tribes of Khasi and is a part of Khasi hills (refer our first blog Introduction to Meghalaya to understand who Khasis are and different parts of Meghalaya)
How to Reach Shillong
Shillong can be easily reached from Guwahati, the nearest airport in Assam, by the well-connected highway roads. Guwahati to Shillong is a road that can be called as a melody of nature – every turn of the road, and every bend and curve presents one with unpredictable natural beauty. The route is picturesque and it takes less than about 3 hours to reach the destination. Shillong too has an airport which has too few flights and are costlier and hence reaching Guwahati is the best option. There is no rail connectivity to Shillong.
Best Time to visit Shillong
Now, this topic is debatable! According to us, visiting any place in Meghalaya is incomplete if you just visit once. There are 2 best seasons and each of these have something new to offer you. In the months of October-November, you can visit its many lakes and waterfalls and enjoy seeing the greenery and orchids and flowers in full bloom. In the months of February-April, you can go for the multiple treks that the diverse region has to offer, go for cave explorations, shopping or just a vacation to beat the rising summer heat of the other parts of India.
Duration of stay in Shillong
All the major places to visit in Shillong can be covered in 2 nights and 3 days. However, it will be good to have 3 nights in hand to ensure you truly soak in the essence of Shillong rather than rushing through your much deserved vacation. Also the road trip from Guwahati to Shillong will use up half of your days each side. So in case you spend just one night in Shillong, frankly you will be wasting your hard earned money.
Conveyance in and around Shillong
Several tour operators in Guwahati offer four wheeler for self drive. A few operators also provide two wheeler on rent if you wish to explore the places on your own. Rented cabs can be hired at Guwahati or at Shillong for local sightseeing. Ideally one should hire a four wheeler from Guwahati airport that stay with you throughout the duration of your trip. In case you are short on budget, government buses and shared cabs can be easily found from Guwahati. The same applies for local sightseeing.
Itinerary and places to visit in Shillong
Day 1: Guwahati airport – Umiam Lake (on the route)
Umiam Lake lies on the way from Guwahati to Shillong. It is some 20 kilometers away from the main city of Shillong. Generally tourists visit Umiam Lake as a stopover on their road trip from Guwahati to Shillong, but we recommend spending one night here to delve in the essence of this beautiful lake.
Tip: Break for lunch at Jiva Pure Veg restaurant on your way to Umiam Lake from Guwahati and satisfy your hunger pangs with their mouth watering delicacies especially momos.
Places to visit in Shillong - Umiam Lake
Umiam lake is popularly known as the Barapani Lake. It is located 15-20 kilometers north of Shillong and is a part of the dam built as first Hydel Power Project by the Assam State Electricity Board in Meghalaya. Umiam lake is a very important source of water for irrigation, fishery as well as for drinking. The approach road to Umiam Lake is full of curves, twists and bends and the lake is visible far off from the road itself. Stopping vehicle on the road or photographing on the road is prohibited as the area falls under armed forces surveillance. From the parking, the lake is a 2 minute walk through lush green gardens. Just the very first glimpse of Umiam lake, took our breaths away. It was huge and beautiful beyond words. The crystal water stretched as far as one could see and was surrounded by hills on all sides. A wooden viewing point has been erected just at the banks of the lake. There is a water sports complex from where one can hire speed boats or bus boats at applicable charges. The lake makes a very nice picnic spot and is best for viewing sunsets.
Note: Entry to Umiam Lake closes at 5 PM. The entrance ticket charge is INR 20 per person and INR 20 per vehicle. Boating can be done in lake but people generally avoid it due to higher costs. Speed boat can cost around Rs.400 for 5 mins accommodating 3 people and boating for 10 mins costs around Rs.1200 accommodating 10 people. One can also get a good glimpse of Umiam lake from Umiam lake view point which is further up on the road towards Shillong.
Also note it is possible to stay at lumpongdeng island, the only island in Umiam lake which has a stationary boat house. The place is ideal for those looking for privacy, love nature and do not mind basic accommodation for lovely views. Here is a shot of the place from Umiam lake view point.
Interesting fact - Myths mixed with local history say – Long ago two sisters went out for sightseeing. One of them got lost and other returned home alone, weeping and wailing and there was a lake of tears. This lake was later named as Umiam Lake literally meaning water of the eyes
Day 2: Umiam Lake – Shillong (local sightseeing)
If you read our earlier blog in the series where we help plan your complete itinerary for Meghalaya, you would know we recommend going directly from Umiam lake towards Mawphlang and visit Shillong while returning. However since article only focuses on Shillong, we are directly taking you from Umiam to Shillong. On day 2, we list various interesting sightseeing places in Shillong
Places to visit in Shillong - Don Bosco Centre of Indigenous Cultures
Don Bosco centre of Indigenous cultures or more commonly known as Don Bosco museum is a the perfect introduction to people and culture of North East India. 3-4 hours spent here are highly informative as you get to know rituals, customs, attire, occupation, food etc. of various tribes of North East India. Replicas built make it easy to understand and children too enjoy a visit here. The skywalk on top also gives an amazing view of Shillong city. Don Bosco museum is highly recommended for all.
Note: Don Bosco centre remains closed on all Sundays and public holidays. It can be visited from 9 AM - 5:30 PM except for Dec-Jan when it closes at 4:30 PM. Entry fees is Rs.100 + camera fees. We would recommend going to top floor first through lift and walk down each floor.
Places to visit in Shillong - Ward’s Lake
This lake is located right in the heart of Shillong. The lake is shaped like a horse-shoe. The garden around the lake is beautiful and well maintained. Paved walkways surround the lake and a wooden bridge in the center, like an inverted rainbow, connects one side to the other. The water gives a shimmery reflection as light falls on it while several ducks playfully enjoy doing their daily chores – some swimming while others relaxing on the banks. The trees bear yellow, red and purple flowers making the whole setting very colorful and bright. Even the lake water is decorated with lotus flowers. Several orchids and other flowers are also planted around the lake. Small benches are placed surrounding the lake where one can sit peacefully, listen to the birds chirping and enjoy the tranquility in the atmosphere. Visitors can also enjoy paddle boat rides in the lake.
Note: The lake timings are 8:30 AM to 6:30 PM; but it closes earlier at 4:30 PM in winter (from Nov-Feb). The entrance fee is INR 10 per person. The lake remains closed on Tuesdays.
Places to visit in Shillong - Cathedral of Mary Help of Christians
Being a Christian dominated state (refer first article in the series to know more), Meghalaya is ought to have several churches. Cathedral of Mary Help of Christians in Shillong is the largest and one of the ancient churches built by the Britishers in 1913. It is known for its marvellous architecture and is a worship place for several inhabitants from the Khasi and Jaintia tribes. The Cathedral is located on a hill and overlooks the main road. It is painted blue, has high arches and glass painted windows. People of other faiths also come here to worship and seek blessings. We happened to visit the Cathedral on Sunday; hence it was full of people worshiping, singing carols and offering prayers.
Note: The Church remains open only till 5 PM
Places to visit in Shillong - Golf Course
The Golf Course of Shillong looked like a scene out of movies to us. It is the largest golf course in Asia and is located at an altitude of 5200 feet. It is compared with the Glen-eagle course of the US because of its beauty and unique location. It is a 18 hole course that are carved out among several pine and rhododendron trees. Families along with children were seen running and playing around together with a cheerful heart and happy laughs. The fresh air and greenery mesmerised us in the short visit that we had.
Note: As a tourist who just wants to stroll in the green golf course, you can do it anytime and for free. Common public road cuts through the golf course and you will find green grass on both sides which can easily be accessed. In case you want to play Golf, you can check with Shillong Golf club for specific details
Places to visit in Shillong - Elephant falls
PM Narendra Modi’s picture greets you right at the entrance of the Elephant falls and thus conveys how beautiful it might be. The British named this waterfall as ‘Elephant falls’ as a rock besides the falls resembled an elephant; but it got destroyed in an earthquake in 1897. While most of the waterfalls in the Meghalayan region are rain fed and dry down a few months after monsoon, Elephant falls never dries up. Though you will find it best during monsoon (June - Sep) or soon after monsoon (Oct - Dec) as the flow of water is reduced in other months. Elephant falls is also called as a ‘Three step fall’ as the water falls into 3 different steps and there are 3 different viewpoints as you go down hill. At the first point, a big stream of water falls down a steep flat plateau. This is the only point one can see in case one is old and finds it difficult to climb stairs.
The other 2 tiers requires one to walk downwards on stairs. The second tier seems to be an extension of the first fall and the final tier is the most beautiful one with crystal clear water falling over the rocks creating a foam effect. Faint sound of the falls could be heard as one descends to the third tier. Everything including the falls, the dense vegetation surrounding it and the souvenir shopping area outside the entrance was well maintained and clean.
Note: Entry to falls is from 9 AM - 5 PM.
Places to visit in Shillong - Airforce Museum
The Air Force Museum is a great place to gain knowledge regarding India's defence forces, the defence history and the warriors. It has photographs as well as replicas of the fighter planes and aircrafts used in Indo-Pak and Indo-Bangladesh war. It also depicts a little bit of North-east culture through their costumes and jewellery. Full size retired planes, copters and IAF jets are parked right outside the museum and you can click photos with them too.
Note: The museum timings are from 9:30 AM to 4:00 PM but closes at 1:00 PM on Sundays. The museum remains closed on Mondays and public holidays.
Places to visit in Shillong - Shillong Peak
This is the highest point in Shillong (about 2000 meters). The approach road passes through Air Force Base station. Lot of security checks and identity checks are conducted before one is allowed to visit the peak, hence as the peak lies in the Air Force property, you will have to provide a valid photo ID. However, after all this hassle, the Shillong Peak offers breathtaking, panoramic, 360 degree views of the Shillong town. A huge binocular is housed in one corner of the Shillong Peak through which the visitors can view the distant hills, waterfalls and the plains of Bangladesh. A store at the peak rents out traditional clothes and accessories for photography purpose.
Note: The best time to visit is afternoon as the visibility of the skyline is at it's best. The entrance opens at 9 AM and closes at 3:30 PM
Places to visit in Shillong - Market and Cafes
Music is extremely important to Shillong and house parties or celebrations over bonfire and jam sessions are quite common. The city of Shillong is a café hub for people who enjoy coffee and music. Several unique coffee shops can be found in the entire city and Shillong sightseeing is incomplete without exploring a few cafes and food joints. Police Bazaar and Bada Bazaar are Shillong’s main markets where merchants from different parts of Meghalaya gather to sell everything from Khasi artefacts and jewellery to clothing and footwear.
Note: Markets in Meghalaya remain closed on Sundays
Day 3: Shillong (Far-away sightseeing)
There are some points which are little away from Shillong which can be of interest.
Places to visit in Shillong - Sweet Falls
This waterfall is located some 10-12 kilometers away from the main town of Shillong. It is termed as one of the ‘most beautiful’ waterfalls in Meghalaya. Sweet Falls is not as popular as the other waterfalls and that’s what makes it more offbeat and scenic. It is however labelled as one of the most dangerous waterfall in Meghalaya due to several incidents of drowning and death. It is quite steep and the sound of the gurgling water can be heard from a distance. The gorgeous view point is located in Happy Valley and it is advisable not to go beyond that point. Just sitting at the view point and watching the falls as the strong wind tries to change its pace with the birds chirping around is quite a peaceful experience. You can also visit Ever living museum on your way to Sweet falls.
Note: The entrance closes at 5 PM in summer and 4 PM in winter. The entrance ticket charge is INR 10 per person.
Places to visit in Shillong - Laitlum Canyon
To get a bird’s eye view of the magnificent surroundings of Shillong, there is no better place than Laitlum Canyons. It is an hour’s drive away (25 kilometers) from the town of Shillong. Laitlum meaning – End of Hills give justice to the name of the Canyon as it opens up to an expansive valleys, golden meadows and breathtaking green path. A trek down to the village involves descending about 3000 steps. It takes about 4-5 hours for the round trip trek. From the village, you can get amazing views of the gorges with lush greenery, hugging mountains and tiny streams flowing here and there. The rope trolley that the villagers still use to transport food and other necessary items is antique and quite interesting to see.
Note: Laitlum Canyon should be visited before 5 PM after which it starts getting quite dark.
Apart from these, Lady Hydari park is popular among kids though adults might not find it interesting. A relatively new trekking trail - Rhododendron Trek is slowly gaining popularity. And there are some more seasonal waterfalls and few other museums which you can visit in case you have more time.
Accommodation in Shillong
Many budget as well as luxury hotels/ resorts are available for stay in Shillong. Prices can range from INR 500 per night for backpackers choosing to stay longer to upwards of INR 10,000 per night for the most luxurious rooms in high end resorts. We would recommend 3 properties all away from city crowds in more peaceful areas each having its own charm. A Guest house nestled in nature near Umiam Lake, a homestay with lovely views in Upper Shillong and an old world charm boutique holiday home near Shillong city center.
Ri Kanaan Guest House - Nestled in nature near Umiam Lake
‘Ri Kanaan’ meaning ‘Country blessed by Jesus with constant flow of milk’, truly stands to its words when we visited the guest house. Calling it a guest house is like belittling its standards as it is no less than a beautiful small resort. Located very close to Shillong airport and Umiam Lake as well, Ri Kanaan Guest House is an offbeat property and offers relief from the hustle-bustle and maddening crowd of Shillong City. There is a small natural waterfall and stream within the premises of the property which has running water through the year. It is an ideal stopover for those coming from Guwahati airport and going towards Shillong-Mawphlang or Jowai side.
Varied well furnished room types (Riverfront deluxe and executive rooms, waterfall view rooms, standard double rooms and family rooms) offer something to each kind of traveller – be it a solo backpacker, a honeymoon couple, people on business trips, families and elderly people who seek to spend time with nature in peace and silence. The property houses a very cozy restaurant that serves home cooked food, a 200-300 pax conference hall, children’s park and lots of small gardens and space to move around.
Dew Drop In - Homestay with lovely views at upper Shillong
Dew Drop In is a family-run homestay situated in the Upper Shillong area. Due to cold weather, dew drops are formed on the outside of the windows which falls drop by drop every morning and hence the name – ‘Dew Dropping’ which was cut short to Dew Drop In. The location of the home stay is perfect and offers a panoramic view of the city of Shillong. The owners and caretakers are very polite and courteous ensuring you never feel away from home. The home stay is ideal for guests who seek to stay away from noisy city areas, relax and would love to interact with welcoming locals.
Dew Drop In has 3 rooms to offer – 1 Family room and 2 Double rooms which are extremely clean and well maintained with latest facilities like geyser, LCD TV, Wi-Fi and electric kettle. Though an in-house Chinese restaurant serves guests, they also offer home cooked local cuisine freshly made on request. The open-terrace on the first floor is decorated with several plant pots that bear colorful flowers. One can also request for meals served on the terrace. They also arrange for cabs for airport pickup-drop or local sightseeing in Meghalaya. The only Buddhist monastery in Meghalaya is at a walking distance from Dew Drop In.
Aerodene Cottage - Boutique holiday home closer to city center
Geographically not very far from Police bazaar but eons away from the city madness, Aerodene cottage is a unique holiday home that would capture your heart through its old world charm and peace. Aerodene cottage is almost 70 year old Assam style house built on wooden panels and walls which has been renovated to provide modern touch. There is an old colonial feel in the style and decor fused with contemporary features and amenities that tends to teleports you into a different reality. The open garden spaces, ornamental plants and cosy sit outs blend well with the aura created. Aerodene cottage is ideal for those looking for a stay closer to center of city and yet does not want to compromise on tranquility or amenities. It is also highly recommended for those looking to stay longer in a reclusive environment.
The interiors of Aerodene cottage stand out as white wooden walls match with white linen and couch covers, peach coloured curtains go well with the dim yellow lighting and the folds and drapes all around gracefully adds a delicate charisma to the room. Every piece of furniture including light fittings plays a role in adding harmony to the place. While there is clearly lot of thought put into the concept and details, comfort is given its due importance as the room houses LCD TV, electric heater, kettle, enough toiletries and each bed gets its own electric heating pad. Even the cutlery is chosen carefully to prevent even the slightest deviation from the style and theme. The in house kitchen offers delicious freshly cooked food.
You can book Aerodene cottage by contacting them on their website only.
Shillong thus is a must visit during your trip to Meghalaya. Ensure you have woollens as Shillong tends to be the coldest place in state. Shillong seems to be struggling to keep up its infrastructure with rising population and traffic on roads. Traffic jams or slow moving traffic is common due to narrow roads and hardly any flyovers in place. It is hence recommended you start early in morning to get in or out of city. If you start after 9AM, it can take you an hour or so (depending on where you start from) to get out of the city on your way to your next destination. The people of Shillong are just like those in any other city of India - embracing development and keeping pace with rest of the world with unique style and spirit borne out of their history and culture. Do interact with them whenever you get a chance and you will love how humble they can be.
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Hope this in depth guide to Shillong would help you chart a detailed itinerary and make your bookings for stay. Do you feel we have missed out any specific place to visit in Shillong? Would you like us to add any other detail? Do let us know your thoughts in comment section below. You can check out the next blog, a detailed guide about Mawphlang, Cherrapunjee and Mawlynnong.