Call of the Clouds

In Meghalaya, nature is revered and protected. Namita Kumar discovers the state’s inherent natural beauty in a day spent in Shillong

Meghalaya, or the “abode of clouds”, is a natural gem and a tourist paradise throughout the year. But during monsoon, the charms of the state are unbeatable, wooing and soothing the soul. What makes Meghalaya so special is the close bond its people share with nature. From creating sacred forests to building bridges with roots and from praying to forests and stones, to believing that cleanliness and preserving the environment is a part of their lives, Meghalaya’s people flourish with the region’s natural surroundings. And there is no better destination to explore this but in the state’s capital Shillong.

>9:30PM  My journey begins as I leave Guwahati airport. From the airport, the drive to Shillong takes about 2.5 hours. But it’s a drive that’s worth every minute. The road is wide and smooth and misty forests and hills are constant companions. I break the 100-km journey at a vantage point to catch the sparkling expanse of the Barapani or Umiam Lake. The Umiam Lake, said to be Meghalaya’s largest artificial waterbody, is a jewel nestled among rolling green hills and fragrant pine forests. It’s mesmerising to watch the mid-morning sun dance on the water’s clear surface. On the road, a few vendors are selling locallygrown strawberries, blackberries and pineapples, a huge hit among the few families, who are enjoying lakeside picnics! I buy a selection of fruits and resume my journey. Outside my SUV window, the pine forests get thicker and the air clearer.

>12:00PM  I reach Shillong by lunchtime and the wafting aromas of a delicious homecooked meal welcome me to Pinewood Hotel, a 100-year-old heritage property perched on the top of Pinewood Hill. A property of the Meghalaya Tourism department, the quaint hotel, with its wooden spires and vibrant flower gardens, is one of the many colonial-era buildings that give Shillong the moniker Scotland of the East! After a quick lunch, I head out for a brief tour of the city, before the sun sets at 5 pm!

>1:00PM  I start with Wards Lake, located at the foot of Pinewood Hill. Locally known as Nan-Polok or Pollock’s Lake, this horseshoe-shaped waterbody is a landmark in the city. With wooden bridges and green isles, the lake looks straight out of a fairytale and is spectacularly idyllic. I stand on the bridge and watch in fascination as schools of colourful fish gobble up the popcorn visitors throw at them. Colourful paddle boats dot the water as the air fills with the chatter of tourists.

>2:00PM  Next, I head to Lady Hydari Park, popular for its manicured lawns and rows of exotic orchids. Drooping willow trees swaying in the afternoon breeze add to the serenity of the park, which also houses a small zoo, an aviary, a deer park and a museum. Just next to the park, tucked away in the dense woods, is the breathtaking 13-m-high Crinoline Falls. At the foot of the falls is a natural pool, which is quite popular with locals and tourists alike. As I hop from one site to another, I marvel at the upkeep of each attraction.

>>4:00PM  Just as the sky darkens suddenly and rain clouds gather, I reach Police Bazaar, a bustling market in the heart of the city. One of the main attractions of Shillong, this market is a cluster of small shops selling fashionable clothing, electronic goods and fresh fruits. It is a great place to buy local handicrafts as well…

>>7:00PM Back in the hotel, I settle for an early dinner as I enjoy a performance by local dancers showcasing the culture of Khasi, Garo and Jaintia tribes from the region. As the dancers in their colourful costumes move to songs, I can’t help but join in. I may not understand the lyrics, but the soulful music touches my heart. Words become redundant!

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