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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.

Beautiful reflections in Wards lake at Shillong, an ideal place for those seeking calm and peace
Beautiful reflections in Wards lake at Shillong, an ideal place for those seeking calm and peace

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.

Roads throughout Meghalaya are great and taking a rented cab or self drive is the best option to go around Meghalaya
Roads throughout Meghalaya are great and taking a rented cab or self drive is the best option to go around Meghalaya

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 on the way to Shillong is perfect for seeing sunsets
Umiam lake on the way to Shillong is perfect for seeing sunsets

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

lumpongdeng island and boat house seen from Umiam lake view point
lumpongdeng island and boat house seen from Umiam lake view point

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 visite