The monsoon was at its rainy best, and I was on my way to a rendezvous with the clouds. But little did I know that this journey will take me to a place beyond the natural world that I knew. The road ahead led to Meghalaya, called very aptly as the ‘Abode Of The Clouds’. The destination was Shillong, a hill station of beauty, upon which many noble men have had an love affair with. And I was soon gonna be a part of this delightful list.
For a lot of people in Assam, Meghalaya is their favorite destination to escape the heat of the plains. Probably because it just takes a couple of hours drive on good roads to reach Shillong and beyond. It took me just 2 hours to escape Assam, and then, all of a sudden, I was around hills. Tender cold breezes made their presence felt and delicate drops from a very slow paced drizzle reassured my faith in God and nature. I felt hopeful; to see trees and not concrete, to see diversity rather than corporate monotony.
The hills were getting higher but at a very pleasant rate. It felt more like being on a plateau. The tender drizzle had given way to a very heavy rainfall; more like a blitzkrieg. But what I did not know was it was just a glimpse of what I was going to experience in the next few days. The rain had literally brought everything to a stop, or at-least slowed down the world around me. The speedometer of all cars had been hit by a drastic drop of velocity. Visibility was minimum or zero. Even the wipers of a car are of no use when hit with so much rain. Instead, the driver had to stop the car and get down to clean the front glass every other time. It always gives me pleasure to watch machines fail and human cells triumph. But I did kind of feel sad to see the driver suffer and get wet. Though the rain Gods had made all effort to disrupt the life of cars, there was still a loophole. It seemed that tobacco was the only cure to get away from the salvage rain. Glass when rubbed with tobacco manages to stay clear in extreme moisture. Luckily we had cigarettes with us and they were all being smoked by the car.
It took a while for the rain to stop but when it did, it was the perfect moment; right before we reached Shillong. We were happy on the prospect of not getting horribly drenched, especially not when you have a heavy bag and have to search endless hours for a hard to get decent accommodation. The hill station was bustling with wonderful people, the roads were busy with vehicles, and yet there was a presence of happiness and freedom. The culture was a mix between modern-christian-tribal. Handsome men and beautiful women walked around town and all fashionably dressed. We managed to find a decent hotel located around the happening market area at a good deal and after dumping our languages, all we could do was lie down on our comfortable beds and take in the feel of this beautiful hilly town we were in. It was about to be night, so we decided to take a tour around the town and be a part of whatever that was happening outside our hotel room. The market area is an awesome place with shops selling a bewildering diversity of things such as fashionable cloths, cheap electronics, handicrafts, all terrain vehicles, cute umbrellas etc. We felt an intense urge to go shopping, but we did not have much money to spare and refrained ourselves. An umbrella was all we bought and it was more out of necessity. We ate at an over expensive restaurant and did not even manage to fill our hungry stomachs. It was money hard spent and it hurt. A little more of exploring and we found ourselves standing next to an alcohol store. The prices of alcohol in Meghalaya is dirt cheap compared to rest of India, and it felt so good to know that. We quickly bought ourselves some whiskey. It was money well spent and it felt good. Armed with intoxicants, we were on our way to our hotel room, ready for the night. We drank a lot and as usual, had the general drunken conversation about the stale state of affairs of the world, of life and death, and beyond.
I had woken up to a hangover and was not feeling that great. It was raining continuously since the last night. Dull rainy mornings have a thing with them. They make you feel as if it is a holiday. I gathered enough energy to go outside and explore Shillong. We hired a car and set off in search of greener pastures. Our first stop was the Barapani Lake. It is a massive man made lake or rather a reservoir. Created by building a dam in the Umiam River, the lake dominates the landscape and adds a certain charm to it. Water sports activities are available here and it is great to explore the surroundings of the lake, maybe go for a hike. Next we were off to the Shillong Peak which is the highest peak in all of Meghalaya at an altitude of 1965 m. The peak offers exceptional view of the whole town and is a great place to hang out for some hours. The road that leads to the peak goes through dense green patches and shops selling fresh organic vegetables dot the sides of the road at regular intervals. After having re-energized ourselves with the freshness present in the highest peak of Meghalaya, we decided to leave. We made our way to the Elephant Falls. Three sub waterfalls makes up the Elephant Falls, giving it a shape of an Elephant. It was the heights of Monsoons and the rapids were at their raging best, creating a never ending sound of a very loud thunder. I have never seen rapids as deadly as I saw then. The whole day, the clouds had played hide and seek, rendering the weather totally unpredictable. Sometimes it rained, sometimes it was sunny, and at times it rained like havoc. I was slowly and gradually getting used to this rainy world. To my abstract imagining consciousness, it seemed as if the people living in this watery world had all turned into frogs. How else could they survive in this much rain?
We decided to return to the main town and explore around. The town was alive with happy people, living contently, in a world that was so unknown and bizarre to people who lived else where in the world; where it did not rain for 200 days of a years. The dominating presence of Christianity along with the convergence of other tribal cultures has made Shillong somewhat unique when compared to the rest of India. Khasi’s are the dominant tribe of Meghalaya and they are a matrilineal tribe and tend to produce independent women. The conservativeness of rest of India has given way to a very open culture in Shillong. Maybe the reason for this Christian influence lies in the history of the place. When the British first arrived in Northeast India, they made Shillong their area of residence by choice. They felt in love with the pristine beauty and the rain. The rolling hills around reminded them of Scottish highlands and that’s how Shillong got its name ‘The Scotland Of The East’. Another amazing fact about Shillong is that it is officially ‘the rock music capital of India’. Music is a passion here for many people. The likes of Bob Marley and Bob Dylan are famous personalities here. So much so that the birthdays of Bob Dylan and John Denver are more of a national holiday here and celebrated with high spirits. Many local bands have great talent and put up awesome concerts, and country music is amongst the favorite of genres.
…Man, this place barely exists on the map and there are all these wonderful people coming out of the woodworks with Powers of 10 albums and posters that I haven’t even seen in America…(T)hey know everything I have ever done, every tune I have ever played… it’s just bizarre, simply inconceivable…Shawn Lane the legendary guitarist and composer
Our last stop was to be the Siat Khnam (archery gambling) held at 4.30 PM every day. Everywhere in Shillong, one can notice small shops, all displaying a poster with numbers printed on them. They signify lottery by archery, an obsessive culture amongst the locals. Some 40 archers shoot at a haystack in this event. The number of arrows is calculated and the last two digits are of importance. Bets are placed on what the numbers can be. There is no limit on how much you can bet. It can be as low as 1 rupee or can be as high as your bank account statement. The shootings last only for a few minutes and you can see arrows going here and there. Some of the archers are drunk and some are a little professional. The whole event looks more like a fish market, but a very intriguing one, and instead of fishes, numbers are bought here. It was a perfect end to a hectic day. We fed our empty stomachs some hot steamy momo’s and retired ourselves to our comfortable room. It had started raining again and the symphony created by falling droplets of water hitting against anything and everything provided me with a deep sense of satisfaction; as if a thirst had been quenched and there was elixir all around.
It was time to move on and hit the next destination. Much was still left to do in Shillong, but with the hope of returning again someday, we managed to leave. Like many other noble men such as Swami Vivekananda and Rabindranath Tagore, and the Britishers, who have had an love affair with Shillong, I knew that I would be coming here again, in hope of romancing the monsoons again.
How to reach:
The nearest properly functioning airport to Shillong is the Guwahati Airport which has shares plane tickets with all the major cities of India, Guwahati also has the nearest railway station and bus terminal to Shillong.