It had been a hectic few months and I needed a vacation badly. I booked tickets to Guwahati on my birthday, as a birthday gift to self! Since then I had been planning my itinerary to Shillong. It was supposed to be Sikkim originally though.
In 2017, I was transcribing a docurmentary on Sikkim for a friend and in the process I learnt quite a bit about the state. I had made up my mind to go there for my next vacation. How did I end up in Shillong then? We had Meghalaya day at work for which I did some research and Shillong replaced Sikkim just like that.
While planning my itinerary, I was amazed to know that Nepal and Bhutan were so close to the North East. I mean, you have a general idea but you only realise certain things when you look closely. The distance from Mumbai to North East still did not hit me.
I did no check ins on Facebook. No updates on Instagram or twitter. Not many people knew about my trip. I wanted it to be a social media free trip, a solo travel in the true sense. I had infact deleted all apps (including Outlook – did not want to be bothered by office mails either) But while returning from Shillong, I did check in to Facebook and FB showed me the length of my travel. I shared the pic with my dad.
And then we googled the distance I had travelled. It was 3000 KM! (From the highest point I had travelled, that was Cherrapunji) My dad was amazed that I travelled such a long distance. Though this would not be a big deal for many, consider this, I was not allowed to get in Mulund college & was forced to study in a college in Dombivli because my parents thought I would not be able to travel in train daily. So it *WAS* a big deal for me!
Coming back to my trip..
North East India has always been fascinating for me. Be it the mountains, lakes, culture or history. We have grown up seeing the beauty of the seven sisters, as the north eastern states are fondly called in photographs, movies and documentaries. I was super excited for my trip and kept browsing for places to visit.
This was my final planned itinerary:
I arrived at Guwahati Airport around 1:15 PM. I was welcomed with a glimpse of Assam and it made me look forward to my trip even more!
The departure area has many more pictures depicting Assam. Also, there is a Goodwyn Tea shop from where you can get different types of teas for your friends and there is a handicraft shop, from where I got a gamchha for dad. The sarees are way too expensive though!
As I was travelling to the hotel, the first thought was, I am in ASSAM! It was unbelievable! I was in the land of Bhupen Hazarika, Kaziranga National Park and tea plantations! But it was terribly hot & once I reached the hotel, I did not venture out. Just enjoyed lazying in my awesome room! One fantastic fact about Guwahati was that all boards (atleast at the bus stops) are in Assamese. I had to rely on one co-passenger to know where I had to get down. Another fantastic thing is that Ola cabs are easily available in Guwahati.
Guwahati is the common point to go to all the North Eastern states. You can get taxis from the airport for any place you want to go to. In Guwahati itself there are plenty of places to visit. Kamakhya Temple, Brahmaputra River, Umananda Temple, War Cemetry, Saraighat Bridge, etc. Book a hotel in the main market area like Paltan Bazar or GS Road. They are focal points to all the places you may want to visit. There is also a share taxi stand in Paltan Bazar from where you can get a cab to Shillong. (A direct cab ride costs 1500 rupees – Ola outstation works too for going to Shillong) A shared cab may cost 300 – 350 rupees. The cab will drop you at Police Bazar in Shillong.
The drive from Guwahati to Shillong is very scenic and you get to see Lake Umiam (commonly known as Barapani Lake) Sadly, I did not get to take a picture but the view of the lake is breathtaking!
In Paltan Bazar, there is an awesome Oyo Rooms hotel available, Onyx Garden. The ambience was very romantic and there was a mirror on the bathroom door. I just fell in love with the room! The service was very good too. They have varied breakfast options for each day of the week and the morning I was there, it was Aloo Paratha. Quality & quantity totally worth the money!
Police Bazar is the main market area in Shillong. Meghalaya Transport office is also in Police Bazar (Jail Road to be specific) Even though everything would be accessible in Police Bazar, if you want peace & quiet, don’t book your stay here. You can stay in Batti Bazar (Laban) where I stayed or Laitumkhrah. Both places are around 2.5 KM from Police Bazar. You can get a cab easily from these places to Police Bazar and you can also walk if you wish, taking advantage of the pleasant climate and walk friendly roads.
I stayed in Oyo Homestay in Batti Bazar. It was a decent place and friendly people. I got allotted the best room because I was a solo female traveller :p There were lots of ATMS and shops around. There was also a church (laban presbyterian church) and a school around. It’s more of a residential area, Fun Fact: Swami Vivekananda lived nearby. Unfortunately, I could not have a look of the house he lived in.
I reached Shillong around 1:30 PM, took a cab to my hotel (50 rupees if you take a “reserved” cab. 10 rupees if you take a shared cab) After freshening up, I went to the Rhino Heritage Museum in Bada Bazar (Lewduh) and then walked towards the Meghalaya Transport Corporation as I had to book tickets for Cherrapunji (I had decided to travel by public transport as much as possible)
The tourist tickets for Shillong / Cherrapunji are available at the Meghalaya Tourist Centre (and not in the main building of MTC) The office is next to Purbashree Emporium (I found it the best place to buy souveniers for friends and family) and Meghalaya Handloom House. The office timings are 7:45 AM to 7 PM in the evening. It is better to book tickets on the previous day. There is also a chance that the trip might get cancelled if there not enough tourists (like the trip to Mawsynram was cancelled as not enough people)
The MTC conducts various tours – Dawki Mawlynnong (500 rupees), Cherrapunji (350 rupees) and Shillong (300 rupees) You can also get cars on hire from them. You can also get private cabs on hire (Plenty of taxi and Sumos near the MTC office) You can share the cab or take one for your own.
Since I was super tired after the Dawki trip, I took a cab next day to explore Shillong. They charge you 1500 rupees for the tour and 2000 if you include Laitlum Canyon.
The day begins very early in the North East. Daylight happens around 4 – 4:30 AM & sunset around 5 PM. The climate is very pleasant and it also rained couple of days I was there. The shops and restaurants close down at around 9 PM. There is a Subway in Police Bazar, You can get north indian chaats and all kind of Indian sweets in the Dilli Mishtaan Bhandar (It is in the lane of Golden Arrow) They do have a seating area, if you want to sit & have a bite. In the morning, you will find lots of tea stalls selling tea and Puri Bhaji. Somehow, didn’t feel like experiencing that. I did find an amazing restaurant in Police Bazar – Madras Cafe. The entry was narrow so I was sceptical, but it is actually a wonderful place for Indian food.
Cherrapunji is rightly the wettest (now second) place on Earth. It is so so beautiful! All you see is mountains, dense trees on the mountains and clouds for miles at stretch. The mountains are peppered with waterfalls. The locals say that the real glory of the waterfalls can be seen from June to August. It rains all times of the year, except for the winter months. It is recommended to stay for couple of days so that you can enjoy the beauty of the place and also can go for the Living Root bridge trekking. Will take atleast 4-5 hours to cover this place.
Even though I was travelling alone, I did not feel lonely. The other tourists on the bus were very friendly and after a while we became one family. When we took a pit stop on the way to Shillong, my purse was locked in the dicky and I wanted to buy a bottle of water. A honeymooning couple let me borrow money to buy it. And they kept asking if I wanted to buy fruits or chips. Once when we got lost in the Mawlynnong village, a South Korean woman (who was also travelling alone) went to search for me and when I wanted to do boating in the Dawki River (They rent the boat and do not take single passengers), one uncle gave up his place in the boat they had already hired so that I can enjoy the boating (I did pay my share of fare though). I also got lots of admiration from fellow travellers and locals when they came to know I was travelling alone & I had come all the way from Mumbai. Most of the tourists are from West Bengal or Guwahati.
As my sisters said, travelling alone is liberating and you get a chance to discover yourself!
Here’s to more travels, more experiences and many more stories to share!!