It was nostalgic to come back to Shillong after four years and run into this old chanawalla. But my feelings hinged more towards sadness, I would have imagined his life getting better, instead of having to walk the streets of Shillong over and over again, carrying a glass container with chanas, minced onions, lemon, oil and some masala. People are supposed to move on and it makes you feel good to see people climbing up the social ladder. But he looked just the same as when I left, only with more grey hair.
How To Reach Shillong:
The only road connecting to Shillong is through the Shillong Guwahati Highway. It is a three to four hours drive depending on the traffic. There’s a whole lot of construction going on at the moment and hardly made for a comfortable ride. But in a few months the spacious road will cut down the travelling time by half and hour or one hour. Dust balloons trailed along as drivers participate in a frantic chase. Getting a shared taxi to Shillong is easy as there are lots of taxis parked outside the Guwahati railway station, ready to take off as soon as seats are filled.
The taxis stop only at Nongpoh, which is almost midway between Guwahati and Shillong. There are few restaurants that seemed capable of wooing these drivers by offering free meals, in exchange for the passengers they shipped in. I ordered a plate of chicken chowmein. I had tasted some of the best chowmein in Shillong; soft and at the same time sticky. During this half an hour stop I managed to explore few shops made from bamboo and so skillfully sequined with various kinds of pickles and pineapples. The pickles are good but what stirred old memories was the sweet smell of ripened pineapple. As we crawled up the mountain we came across many pineapple farms. Then we swished past many makeshift shops in the woods that sell pineapple in winter and bamboo shoots in summer.
How To Get Around the City:
The taxi dropped me at civil lines. Here the taxiwallas can ask for any price they deem fit. There are no fixed rate for hiring, which makes it a lot more difficult for outsiders and tourists. The black and yellow cabs of Maruti 800 cars perfectly fit into this small city with small roads. Shared local taxis are good for city tours, but one needs to hire taxis for places like Shillong Peak, Elephant Falls, Cherapunji and Umium Lake.
Shillong's Traffic Woes:
I embraced Shillong when I first came here. Now, after travelling to a lot of places I saw more flaws. Shillong’s road has become too small for the city. It hasn’t budged (and probably wouldn’t). It is hardly big enough for two vehicles and you can get stranded in traffic at any time of the day. The traffic doesn’t subside even after office hours. It all comes down to poor city planning and it will have a long lasting effect. Shillong has one of the smallest roads, even in North East and it is beginning to look like its weakest link.
Over the past few years Shillong has become more populous. Apart from college students who come here for studies, the number of laborers and small scale businessmen has also gone up. Stepping into the hustle-bustle of shoppers and street vendors at Police Bazaar, I was reminded more of Chandni Chowk than my old days in Shillong.
Where to hang out and eat:
Strolling down Laitumkhrah Street revived old memories of bygone days. At Laitumkhrah I passed Ribok, a tea hotel where we spent our evenings fishing out change from our pockets. Then we would munch on the famed Rs.10 egg rolls at Mughlai, just opposite Ribok. But there was no sign of Mughlai, it had completely vanished like many things that remained only in our memories. The cold chill of late October evening descended on the city and I began to feel at home.
Don Bosco square is one of the busiest hangout places for college students. Like the confluence of many rivers, routes to different colleges like St Mary’s, St.Anthony’s, Shillong College and St.Edmund’s divert from here. Like all popular hangout places, there are many small restaurants on both sides of the road. For Rs.40-50 one can get a good plate of hot momos or chowmein. For a good Chinese food one can eat at the Kimfa Restaurant at Malki. Apart from good food, it is also the company of many youngsters that makes this place more alive.
Police Bazaar has some popular restaurants like Broadway, Centre point, Delhi Mistan and Lamee.
Nothing much has changed in Shillong, but it does look a bit more crowded than my last visit. Then there’s that phenomenal rise of Lajong Club to the I-League. One day I saw a foreigner with a white sports jacket wandering at the Laitumkhrah market. He seemed curious at the same time very much at home. The next day I saw him at Polo Football ground with bunch of his students, training them as hard as they could. Many smaller clubs are taking big strides and following in the footsteps of Lajong. Football is the new big thing here!
Visiting NEIGRIMS Hospital has been on my mind for some time. I don’t know if its one of the best things to have happened in some years but it is much talked about. After riding 7km through small hills and perfectly trimmed pine groves, I arrived at NEIGRIMS. Hidden from all the chaos and steeped in nature, it looked like a perfect place to nurse one’s sickness. It was much talked about that the new Shillong would spring up near NEIGRIMS, a well planned city unlike Shillong. Though it was not to be, the well maintained hospital is a proud addition to what can be called the new Shillong, which will most likely be on the outer fringes of Shillong.
Things to do in Shillong:
1. Try out Jadoh, the famed local food (For non vegetarians).
2. Visit NEHU campus. Thought it is not a tourist destination the University campus sprawled beneath pine groves is pretty sight.
3. Vist Cherapunji the World’s second wettest place.
4. Visit the living bridge of Mawlynnong.
5. Eat out at small restaurants near Don Bosco Square.
6. Visit Bara bazaar, the local market.
7. Shillong may have one of the most vibrant cherry blossoms in India. With, little more effort people would flock to watch cherry blossoms from the last week of October to second week of November.
8. Try out Chinese food. Most Restaurants make decent Chinese food.
9. View Shillong from Shillong Peak early in the morning.
10. Visit the amazingly decorated and lit graveyard on All Soul’s day, 2nd November of every year.