Striking natural beauty and quietude makes Shillong worth a visit

Shillong “the Scotland of the East” may be a cliché, but when in Shillong one finds nothing describes the place better. Perhaps the most explored hill station in the pristine landscape of the North-East , Meghalaya's Capital is easily accessible via Guwahati and Kolkata.

With the North-East being largely absent from the Indian tourism map and some States embroiled in conflict, not many travellers venture out to this region. However, Meghalaya being by and large peaceful, Shillong proves to be the perfect gateway to some of the virgin locations in the region.

Nestled between pine trees and located at an altitude of around 5,000 feet above sea level, Shillong looks very English, especially with its beautifully designed houses and high-dome churches. A reasonably big city with far more traffic than it can accommodate, Shillong is naturally pretty with lovely weather round the year and is a perfect post-retirement abode.

Offering a prelude to the natural splendour of Shillong is the mighty artificial reservoir ensconced between lush hills — Umiam Lake (also known as Bada Pani) — about 15 kilometres before the main city. On the outskirts lie Elephant Falls where the mountain stream carves out its way and falls at two spots. In fact, this is just the beginning as Shillong and Cherrapunjee — one of the wettest places in the world — has been gifted with captivating waterfalls. Sweet Falls near Happy Valley is a case in point. The raging water is at a height of over 90 metres and descends to the rocks into the crevice below. Apart from Wards Lake (an artificial lake with a garden ) and Lady Hydari Park (a park-cum-mini zoo) , one must also visit the Shillong Peak. On a bright and sunny day, this peak offers a bird's eye-view of the city and with the traditional Khasi attire available on hire at a shop nearby, many tourists dress in the local costume and pose for pictures with the Shillong skyline forming the prefect backdrop.

If you are inquisitive about North-East India, then a visit to Don Bosco Museum is highly recommended. It offers an educational insight into all the States in the zone, their cultures, tribes, traditional clothing , farming and fishing methods and their way of life.

One must also keep a day for Cherrapunjee, roughly 60 kilometres from Shillong. The drive to Cherrapunjee is breathtaking and shows a surreal world. The route is dotted with stone monoliths (stones placed by the locals in memory of their ancestors) and graveyards that give it an old-world feel. Locally known as Sohra, Cherrapunjee is about 1,300 metres above sea level and is known for its boisterous waterfalls and limestone caves.

Along the main road lies the valley view point and it is impossible not to halt here and soak in the beauty of the hills and streamlets flowing in between. Cherrapunjee being close to the Bangladesh border, one can see the road leading to the neighbouring country from the hillock next to the Pillar Rock (Khoh Ramhah), which is a commanding single rock formation in the shape of a cone. During monsoons water flows down this rock making a magnificent waterfall.

Seven Sister Waterfalls are another attraction. From a cliff one can see a series of seven waterfalls on the opposite side as they flow down the mountain. The Mawsmai Caves have a myriad natural stalactite and stalagmite formations of varying shapes and sizes with its dark interiors.

Another must-visit site is the Eco Park, set up by the State government, that offers a view of Bangladesh plains and houses many indigenous and hybrid orchids in its Green House. The trip to Cherrapunjee can be wound up with a stopover at Nohkalikai Waterfalls, one of the largest in India. From a distance, the surging water appears like white smoke spreading out from the rocks. The site is particularly striking during sunset.