My Rendezvous With The Scotland Of The East And Its Autumn Cherry Blossom Blooms
As a student with a tight budget yet bit by the travel bug, Shillong has been on my bucket list for a long time. So when I came across the Instagram pictures of its autumn cherry pink blooms, and yet another quick google search revealed that the Government of Meghalaya is hosting the India International Cherry Blossom Festival from 8th to 11th November this year, the tickets did not take long to book.
My first stop was Guwahati, where I put up at a friend’s place. On the 8th morning, I took one of the share cabs that take you from one of the central points in Guwahati to Shillong for only 300 bucks in about two and a half hours. By the time I checked in at the hotel that I was staying at, located near Police Bazaar in Shillong, it was almost 2 pm, so I freshened up and decided to take a walk around. For someone like me, who not only loves travelling solo but takes pleasure in the anonymity of crowded places-it was blissful.
Noodles, Khasi Cuisine And Coffee -- The Aroma of Shillong
Police Bazar is actually one of the street shopping destinations in Shillong where you get super stylish looking winter wear for cool bargains. However, like most mountain towns, Shillong pretty much closes down around 8 o’clock in the evening, meaning I did not have a lot of time left to really explore. The market area offers really affordable food options in the form of a little shack, serving momos, fried rice, noodles and whatnot- mostly with both chicken and pork. In case you are interested in trying out the Khasi cuisine, right at the beginning of the Police Bazar market, you will find a little establishment named ‘Trattoria’ that is pretty popular with tourists. However, there are many other places that offer the same option for cheaper prices. In either case, Shillong is pretty sympathetic to your pockets, except for the souvenir shops like anywhere else. Coffee lovers can try out the little outlet named ‘Smoky Falls Tribe Coffee’ that offers Meghalayan light and dark roasted brews, and pies to compliment your experience.
Picture Perfect North Eastern Hill University
Next morning, my friend picked me up on his scooter and took me to the North-Eastern Hill University campus which is pretty much, excuse the cliche, paradise on earth. Even though I hail from a central university campus myself, I did not expect the amazement that I experienced when I looked at the horizon and saw the hills looking back at me. The NEHU campus has a ton of little canteens you can eat and chill at, with amazing infrastructure and little cottage like hostels that pretty much ensured that I would be applying here come next admission session.
Then we went off to Polo Grounds, one of the venues that the festival was taking place at. Much to my dismay, and probably many others, this year the blooms have arrived late. The grounds that are otherwise overwhelmed with pink cherry blossoms, this year stood sulking. However, I got to sample some of the amazing local home-made wines, that came in flavours such as gooseberry, peach, pear, and my personal favourite, ginger! Even though these are non-alcoholic, they still packed quite the punch.
The Pine Forest From Harry Potter’s Set
There are other stalls where local groups came in with their handicrafts and food, all very reasonably priced. My lunch was a Khasi dish called Jadoh, a preparation of rice and meat from a little hole-in-the-wall place that probably sells more than any of the posh restaurants. Speaking of popular places, one also needs to sample the beef burgers from Cafe Shillong. Our next stop was the ML 05 cafe that stood amidst a pine forest, which looked like it has been plucked straight out of the Harry Potter set! Those who answer to calls of the mountains, each and every winding road in Shillong is a journey in itself.
Man Proposes, God Disposes, But Shillong Never Disappoints
The Shillong cathedral is another spot, one definitely should visit if in Shillong. Let the serenity of the place speak for itself. Ward’s lake was my final stop, and here too, the blossoms were not in their usual exuberant abundance like I had seen in previous pictures. However, the lake premises itself is a beautiful quiet place and coupled with the fairy lights and other decors, it emanated the festive mood like it was meant to. Music enthusiasts around me were having a gala time, with some of the amazing local bands that were performing while helping themselves to waffles and pancakes that smelled divine. Even though I had an absolute blast in this pretty little town, there still was a twinge of disappointment about the late blooms. But Shillong taught me the lesson to take my mind off commercialization in true mic-drop style!
The next morning, when I took the ride back to Gauhati, the entire route up to Umiam lake flaunted some of the prettiest pink cherry blossoms I had ever seen, that pretty much made me forget to take my camera. I guess nature was upset with the social media enthusiasm for a while, but in the end, I got my reward. Shillong loved me back. I don’t have Instagram worthy pictures, but the souvenirs that I see every time I close my eyes now beat every other competition. My tryst with Shillong was a short one, but I am not going to fall out of love anytime soon.